Greener Habits: 7 Tips for Avoiding Food Waste | How Not to Waste Food

Greener Habits from govegga.com

This post is the first in a recurring series I’m calling Greener Habits, where I’ll share tips and recommendations for cultivating a more earth-friendly lifestyle. Let me know what you’d like to see in this space! 

Whether you’re doing it to save money or to reduce your household’s garbage as you move toward a low-waste lifestyle, using up every scrap of food you buy (or grow!) is a great goal. According to NRDC, 40% of the food in the United States goes to waste.  FORTY PERCENT. Nearly half! It’s both a waste (of food and money) and a terrible irony, given the fact that many Americans don’t have access to healthy, fresh food in the first place.

In my quest to cut down on waste, I’ve cultivated some strategies for reducing food waste. Am I perfect? No. Am I getting better? Yes! In the past year especially, I’ve gotten much better at managing what’s in the fridge and not leaving scraps to languish until they become an unrecognizable puddle of green. Here’s how to avoid food waste in seven tips.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden in a blue basket

Learn to love your freezer.

This tip informs many of the following recommendations! As soon as you see your produce wilting or your herbs getting a little yellow, put ’em in the freezer. If you think, “Oh, maybe I’ll use it tomorrow,” ignore your procrastinating self and put it in the freezer. Don’t worry too much about how it’s packaged or wrapped up. Yes, there are plenty of best practices for freezing produce, but honestly? If you know yourself and know that you’re too lazy to properly blanch that windfall of cherry tomatoes from your garden before throwing ‘em in the freezer, just put them in raw. They’ll be fine for use in a soup or stew or other cooked dish later on. Using less-than-optimal freezing practices is still better than letting the freezable ingredients go to waste! (As long as food safety isn’t compromised.)

Use scraps in smoothies.

A while back, we had some long-forgotten spinach that was on the verge of going slimy, so Steven quickly blanched it and threw it in the freezer. Fast forward a couple months, when I was craving veggies. I grabbed that spinach out of the freezer and whizzed it up with a banana and some almond milk for an old-school green smoothie. Super easy, and I could’ve easily done the same with any non-frozen greens I wanted to use up. You can throw all sorts of odds and ends into a smoothie, frozen or not. Experiment with different fruits and veggies — you’d be surprised what you can get away with adding!

Make quick jams or simple syrups.

Berries. One day they’re perfectly ripe and juicy and basically summer concentrated in a brightly colored tiny orb… and the next day they’re squishy and smelling a little overripe (anathema to those of us who get queasy when anything smells remotely off). The solution? Well, you could certainly freeze them for later use, but you could ALSO whip ‘em up into a quick jam. (Find a quick jam recipe here and one with chia seeds here.)

Don’t have enough berries to make jam? I’ve used up small amounts of less-than-luscious berries by turning them into a simple syrup. It’s dead simple: Boil the berries with water and a little sugar until the liquid reduces, then strain the concoction. Use the syrup in a cocktail, mixed into sparkling water, or drizzled on oatmeal or ice cream. (Adjust sugar to your preferences, and feel free to add vanilla or other spices.)

Follow food storage best practices.

This isn’t as exciting as some of the other tactics, but it’s important! Avoid getting to the point where your produce is wilty or overripe by following these tips from the EPA. Storing herbs in water has been a game-changer for me; when I buy a big bunch of cilantro from the Asian market, I can keep it fresh for weeks by standing it upright in a jar of water.

Rosie and Moria, yawning into the abyss

Share scraps with your companion animals.

Depending on your pup’s (or kitty’s, or rabbit’s… etc.) preferences, she might enjoy the scraps you can’t bring yourself to eat or throw in a smoothie. For example, my dogs love the tops of strawberries, leaves and all. Experiment and see whether your companion animals enjoy (or turn up their noses at) various scraps, but be sure to avoid any foods that will make them sick.

Regenerate your scraps.

You’ve seen it on Pinterest, and it’s true: You can indeed regrow certain veggies from the bare ends of their predecessors! I get a second (and sometimes third) life out of my green onions by sticking the bulbs into a jar of water. Legend says that celery and some lettuces will also regrow, but I’ve had little success with those.

COMPOST!

I get a real big case of the warm fuzzies when I tip a container of scraps into the compost tumbler and realize that I’m going to use those same scraps in their compost form to grow new food in my garden next year. It’s a closed(ish) system! I know composting is not an option for some people; if you live in a small, shared apartment, it might be unfeasible.  (A few companies make countertop composters, although I have no personal experience with them.)

No option of your own? Some cities are implementing compost pickup, which is great — try urging your city or town to start a similar program! You could also collect scraps to share with someone who does have a compost bin. I’m lucky to have a robust compost program at work. And because I help run it, I get first dibs on that black gold when it’s ready throughout the year. It has made a noticeable difference in my garden; seeds I started indoors in a compost-vermiculite mix did far better than those I started in a potting soil-vermiculite mix.

BONUS TIP: Freeze your scraps! Avoid the stinky, slimy ooze of prematurely rotting vegetable matter by chucking your skins and ends and bits and bobs into a bowl in the freezer. Store ‘em till you’re ready to throw everything in the compost bin.

Resources:

Not sure whether that scarred tomato will taste good? Check out Eat or Toss, a site that explains the science behind blemishes, bumps, and bruises on food items — and more importantly, tells you whether you can still eat them!


Note that this post contains a few affiliate links, which help me keep the lights on at no extra cost to you.

Ethical Product Review: Will’s Vegan Store Biker Boots

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.com

Badass black boots: It’s my personal belief that every lady needs a pair. Put ‘em on when you need an extra boost of confidence or a reminder that, yes, you can do whatever it is you need to do today!

I haven’t had a real good pair of badass black boots in a while, but that changed when I purchased these kick-ass vegan biker boots from Will’s Vegan Store (formerly known as Will’s Vegan Shoes — they’re expanding!). I had actually been eyeing the work boots but didn’t love that the tread was so deep; it seemed a little at odds with the more delicate, slender profile of the work boots. If I’m gonna get a pair of boots with big, deep, treads, I want a similarly badass design to match! So I turned my attention to the biker boots, a style that hadn’t previously been on my radar. With an autumn trip to Estonia and Finland coming up fast, I knew I needed a sturdy pair of boots for city tromping and bog hopping, so I took the plunge and bought a pair.

Truthfully, I was dubious. I have skinny ankles and calves, and I kind of thought my legs would look like little sticks poking up out of the wide openings (hence my initial interest in the narrower work boots). But as soon as I received these suckers and zipped ‘em on, I was in love. Yeah, they opening is a little wide for my legs, but that’s the style. Plus, all the more room for slouchy, cozy socks!

Just as I did for my dock boots, I figured I’d write up a Will’s Vegan Store biker boots review for anyone who may be considering a purchase. Please check out the dock boots post for a little more info on Will’s in general, including why it’s one of my  favorite ethical vegan shoe companies.

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.comHow do Will’s Vegan Store biker boots fit?

I have a few different styles of Will’s shoes (bought both new and used), all size 39. )For reference, I wear a size 7.5 U.S.) I do find the sizing a little uneven — while my dock boots were snug from day one, the footbed sandals are a little loose and long, unfortunately. The biker boots are somewhere in the middle. The width works fine for my narrow feet, but when I first got them, my heels would sort of lift out of the back because they were a tad large overall. The solution? Add some soft gel insoles. They both provide comfort and take up a little room in the shoe. Doing that (and tightening the buckles) made a huge difference, and they fit perfectly now.

I also tend to wear these with cozy thick socks (like these) for maximum comfort and  warmth. (Note on those socks: I looove them and thought I’d read they were ethically made in the USA, but now I’m not so sure! Sad face.)

How is the quality?

I think Will’s in general are well made, and the biker boots are no exception. I’ve had them for about six months and wear them multiple times a week, and they’re not scratched or showing much wear. I will say that the soles have pulled slightly apart from the shoe proper in a couple small spot, but that hasn’t affected their watertightness. I’ll update if something changes, however!

Are the biker boots comfortable?

After adding a gel insole to perfect the fit, the biker boots are super comfortable! Not that they were problematic to begin with, but insoles make most shoes better. I wore these almost exclusively during my trip to Tallinn, where I was walking 7-10 miles each day, with no issues. I did make sure to break them in first, but even then only got one tiny little blister on my ankle (?!) that hasn’t bothered me since.

How warm are the biker boots?

I’ve worn my boots on and off through this winter, and I’ve never been cold — even though they’re not insulated. If I’m wearing a thin pair of socks, I occasionally double up, but I do that with most of my shoes. :) I wore these for one night during a trip to Montréal last December, and my feet were plenty warm — even though the temperatures dropped to 5˚F that evening!

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.comAre they waterproof? How sturdy are they?

These are sturdy shoes. Will’s markets them as water-resistant, not waterproof, though I’ve worn them in plenty of yucky conditions (see photo at left!) with no ill effects. Plus, because they have super deep treads, they provide great traction. I’ve worn them in light snow and rain, and they helped me complete a very muddy, very slippery, very steep hike in Austin on New Year’s Eve without falling once.

Are there any downsides to the biker boots?

If you’re planning any sort of maneuver that requires stealth, seek alternate footwear! Here’s why: The biker boots squeak. Not a lot, but noticeably. I don’t quite know why, but I do know that whenever I walk down the hall during an (uncharacteristically) quiet moment at the office, I feel very conspicuous. No big deal when you’re strolling down a busy city street, but not ideal for moments that require silence and/or stealth.


What did I miss? What else do you want to know about these fab vegan biker boots?


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Review of Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from nor compensated in any way for a review. (Although I would happily try another pair to review!) I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in a Will’s Vegan Store shoe review. This post does contain an Amazon affiliate link, however.

Where to Find Ethically Made Vegan Winterwear

Original photo by Roberto Trombetta on Flickr // vegan ethical fashion

Original photo by
Roberto Trombetta on Flickr

Last updated 09/2019.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a big ol’ master directory of ethically made winterwear, listing everything from thermal undies to big puffy parkas. And while it was a pretty comprehensive list, it was also not entirely relevant to me as a vegan: If I wanted to see which brands had products free of down or leather or wool, I had to click through and do my own investigation. Plus, it didn’t include a few all-vegan brands that I know produce their products ethically. I sighed and thought to myself, why not compile my own list of brands producing ethically made winter clothes without animal products? And thus, this list.

I’ve categorized this post by product type to help you find the specific items you need, so some brands are included in multiple sections. I’ve also marked fully vegan winterwear brands in case that’s important to you, and I’ve included what rating the company gets from Good On You, an app that evaluates brands’ ethics in terms of labor, the environment, and animal welfare. (Learn more here.) The app is fairly new and has mainly focused on Australian brands, so not all brands mentioned here are rated. That doesn’t mean they are not using ethical practices, however!

Let me know if I’ve missed your favorite brand!

Where to find ethically made vegan winter coats

Brave Gentleman (fully vegan)

Who they are and what they offer: Don’t let the name fool you: Brave Gentleman doesn’t just produce vegan clothing for men. According to its FAQ, the brand is “geared toward individuals who enjoy menswear aesthetics because there is a disproportionate emphasis on femme lifestyle products in the “eco”, “green” and “ethical” realm.” Fair enough! As of November 2018, the brand has just a few vegan jacket styles, but this tweed-y double-breasted overcoat is a great option if you’re looking for a classic overcoat style. (It’s also available in houndstooth, plaid, and solid colors.)

Why it’s ethical: Brave Gentleman ensures that workers receive a living wage and healthcare coverage. All styles are vegan, and the brand works to minimize pollution and use sustainable materials.

Good on You rating: Not yet rated

How to save: I haven’t seen Brave Gentleman offer sales, but I don’t follow this brand terribly closely. Checking BG out on social media might be your best bet.


Finisterre

Who they are and what they offer: Founded with the goal of producing sustainable garments for British surfers (yes, really), Finisterre has a few solid vegan options among its wool-heavy line. The packable Nimbus is available for both women and men, and many of the parkas are also free of animal products.

Why it’s ethical: The company uses eco-friendly materials like recycled polyester, and it was founded with sustainability as a key practice. It’s also a B Corp. Finisterre doesn’t use leather, fur, angora, or down.

Good on You rating: Good

How to save: Sign up for the mailing list for a discount, and be sure to check the sale sections.


Hoodlamb (fully vegan)

Hoodlamb's sustainably made vegan Nordic puffer

Image copyright Hoodlamb

Who they are and what they offer: This cheeky Amsterdam-based company relies on hemp — that darling of the sustainable fashion world — to create parkas, bombers, hoodies, sweaters, and more for both women and men. Need something über-warm to get you through a Nordic winter? Try one of the thigh-length puffers. Seeking something more casual to wear indoors to avoid cranking up the heat? Check out one of the long hoodies.

Why it’s ethical: Clean-growing hemp is the backbone of most products, and the company uses certified organic textiles in its shell fabric. All products are vegan, and Hoodlamb carefully chooses the factories that produce its garments (see more here).

Good on You rating: Great

How to save: Full-price items are not cheap, but sign up for the mailing list to get access to sales. You’ll find deep, deep discounts in the off-season.


Patagonia

Who they are and what they offer: This well-known activewear brand offers plenty of vegan options for men, women, and kids. The Nano Puff jacket protects you from winter and water; try the Snowbelle jacket for a versatile, 3-in-1 option.

Why it’s ethical: Patagonia is arguably a pioneer in the realm of ethical activewear; it uses eco-friendly materials, has a repair and reuse program, incorporates many sustainable practices, and is quite transparent about its supply chain and workers’ wages. It’s also a certified B Corp.

Good on You rating: Good

How to save: Check out the web specials section or shop for Patagonia products at various outdoorsy stores. Moosejaw, REI, and Sierra Trading Post all sell Patagonia and have clearance/sale sections.


Save the Duck (fully vegan)

Who they are and what they offer: An Italian brand, Save the Duck makes down-alternative coats, jackets, and vests for women, men, and children. You’ll find both puffer styles and parkas in just about every color.

Why it’s ethical: Save the Duck uses no animal products and says its garments are “environmentally friendly.” (See below for more info.)

Good on You rating: Not good enough

(Save the Duck claims to use sustainable practices but hasn’t provided enough information for Good on You to fully evaluate those claims. I’m not sure I want to keep Save the Duck on this list, given those concerns, so let me know what you think.)

How to save: You’ll pay top dollar for brand-new items; sign up for the mailing list for the occasional sale. (Last Black Friday, discounts peaked at 40%.)


Vaute Couture (fully vegan)

Photo by Anthony TwoMoons for Vaute Couture; Belden coat

Photo by Anthony TwoMoons for Vaute Couture

Who they are and what they offer:  Founded by designer Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart, this fashion-forward brand made its name offering hand-sewn, ethically made vegan winterwear for women and men. The Belden is a classic women’s style, and I love the Charles for men. Vaute even makes gender-neutral styles! (I’ve also written more about Vaute Couture here.)

Why it’s ethical: This vegan brand relies on sustainable materials and ensures that all its products are made in the USA by employees making a living wage.

Good on You rating: Great

How to save: Check out the clearance section for discounts, and sign up for emails to get notified.

Note: Vaute Couture will be on hiatus after this season as Hilgart figures out what to do with the brand and tries to scale up. Read more here.


Where to find ethically made vegan winter boots

While many ethical footwear companies offer vegan boots, I’m only featuring styles that are specifically designed for winter. So you won’t find vegan dock boots, work boots, Chelsea boots, etc. on this list. As such, please consider this a curated, highly subjective list, and know that more options exist if you don’t need heavy-duty winter boots designed to keep out the snow, keep you warm, and keep you from slipping on ice!


Beyond Skin (fully vegan)

Who they are and what they offer: A vegan company offering dozens of styles for women, Beyond Skin has baked ethics into its business philosophy. Serious vegan winter boot offerings are scarce, but check out the Misty vegan sheepskin boots (also available in black) if you want an Uggs-esque look. (Note that as of November 2018, Beyond Skin only offers women’s shoes but says it’ll be launching a men’s collection soon.)

Why it’s ethical: Beyond Skin strives to use recycled materials when possible and produces its shoes ethically in Spain.

Good on You rating: It’s a start

How to save: Check the sale section!


Bhava Studio (fully vegan)

Photo copyright Bhava Studio

Who they are and what they offer: This small, woman-owned vegan company produces a limited line of fashion-forward women’s shoes — including some extremely stylish winter boots. Check out these faux fur-lined combat-style winter boots and these winter platforms (!) in particular.

Why it’s ethical: Bhava uses recycled materials and organic cotton and manufactures its shoes in Europe under fair labor conditions. It’s also committed to promoting a healthier approach to fashion, focusing on the idea that less is more when it comes to your closet. Learn more here.

Good on You rating:  It’s a start

How to save: Use my referral link to sign up for Bhava’s rewards program — you’ll get $30 off your first purchase. Once you’ve joined the program, you can earn points by completing relatively simple tasks (liking Bhava on Facebook; completing your profile) and redeeming the points for gift cards. And be sure to follow Bhava on Instagram for access to special pre-order sales.


Jambu

Who they are and what they offer: Sporty shoes with a bit of style is the name of the game at Jambu. While winter boots don’t make up the majority of their line, you’ll still find a few vegan styles for the colder months. (Note that although Jambu does offer some men’s shoes, their selection is very limited — women will have better luck with this brand.) You’ll find all the vegan options here; try the Evans boot if you’ve got light winters; check out Lorna if you need serious warmth and traction.

Why it’s ethical: Jambu has an impressive variety of animal-free shoes for all seasons, and they say their manufacturers in China are “strictly monitored.” (I can’t find much information on their overall sustainability practices, and I’m a little skeptical about their manufacturing. I’m not 100% sure they belong on this list and will reach out to the brand for more details.)

Good on You rating: Not rated yet

How to save: Check the sale section for deals, or get a $10 discount on your purchase of $50 or more with my referral link. (Also, fellow vegan blogger Amey is a Jambu ambassador and frequently offers special discount codes — check out her vegan Jambu reviews for details!)


Kamik

Kamik vegan winter bootsWho they are and what they offer: A family-owned Canadian brand, Kamik sells winter boots (along with rain boots and sandals) for men, women, and kids. A vegan filter makes it easy to find animal-friendly options; there are plenty of vegan winter boots for women this season. Options range from these no-nonsense tall snow boots to this fun pair — they look like moon boots to me! (I own an older style and really like them — they’re cute without being too trendy, and they have nice sturdy treads perfect for icy conditions.)

Why it’s ethical: Kamik is working toward a zero-waste production facility, uses recycled materials in their boots, and makes the majority of their products in North America. Plus, they offer a recycling program so your old and well-loved footwear doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Good on You rating: Not yet rated

How to save: Subscribe to their email to get deals or check the banner near the top of the page for special sales. You can sometimes also find marked-down boots on Amazon.


Vegetarian Shoes (fully vegan)

Who they are and what they offer: An OG vegan shoe brand based in the UK, Vegetarian Shoes offers plenty of styles for men and women — including a few winter-appropriate options. The unisex Ice Patrol style is a great no-nonsense option, or try the Caribou if you live in gentler climes.

Why it’s ethical: Vegetarian Shoes uses no animal products and ensures that workers are treated fairly. That said, I haven’t been able to find much information about the products and materials they use — I need to look into this a little more!

Good on You rating: Not yet rated

How to save: Check the sale section!


Where to find ethically made vegan winter sweaters/jumpers

American Giant

Who they are and what they offer: American-grown cotton and American-made garments for both men and women are at the center of American Giant‘s business model. Check them out if you’re in the market for casual apparel — think sturdy pullovers, heavy-duty (yet stylish) moto sweaters, and cozy hoodies. The company offers free returns on any item at any point in time for any reason, a quality guarantee that demonstrates how strongly they stand behind their products.

Why it’s ethical: Everything is made in the USA, and the vast majority of products are made of cotton. (Note that American Giant just introduced a merino-blend sweater.)

Good on You rating: Not yet rated

How to save: Discounts are rare, but sign up for the mailing list so you get first dibs on their yearly sale. New customers can also score 15% off with my referral link.


PACT Apparel

Who they are and what they offer: My favorite source for fair-trade, organic cotton basics (think hoodiessocks, and undies) for men, women, and kids, PACT also recently introduced a line of sweaters. This cable-knit tunic sweater looks lovely and cozy, but I really like the oval cardigan. In fact, I recently took advantage of a sale to buy it at half price. The thistle heather color is just gorgeous!

Why it’s ethical: Organic cotton, fair-trade practices, and no animal products make PACT one of the best options out there.

Good on You rating: Great

How to save: Use my referral link and get 20% off your first order! Then sign up for PACT’s mailing list for frequent discounts, like the aforementioned half off a single item.


Where to find ethically made vegan winter hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and more

Hoodlamb (fully vegan)

Hoodlamb's sustainably made vegan infinity scarf

Image copyright Hoodlamb

Who they are and what they offer: This cheeky Amsterdam-based company relies on hemp — that darling of the sustainable fashion world — to create parkas, bombers, hoodies, sweaters, and more for both women and men. Happily, they also offer some lovely accessories, including a few for children. I love me an infinity scarf, and this faux fur-lined hat looks so cozy. Shopping for kiddos? They’d look adorable in this cute beanie!

Why it’s ethical: Clean-growing hemp is the backbone of most products, and the company uses certified organic textiles in its shell fabric. All products are vegan, and Hoodlamb carefully chooses the factories that produce its garments (see more here).

Good on You rating: Great

How to save: Full-price items are not cheap, but sign up for the mailing list to get access to sales. You’ll find deep, deep discounts in the off-season.


Where to find ethically made vegan socks and vegan base layers for winter

Why lump vegan base layers and vegan winter socks together? For one, they serve a similar purpose in my mind. But also… there just aren’t a lot of ethical companies making vegan versions of these items! Yes, you can find vegan socks pretty easily, but few are what I’d call winter-specific. Honestly, I usually just double up on my socks if I really need to keep warm in the winter! 

PACT Apparel

Who they are and what they offer: PACT offers fair-trade, organic cotton basics (think hoodiessocks, and undies) for men, women, and kids. I think you could also get away with using their leggings as base layers.

Why it’s ethical: Organic cotton, fair-trade practices, and no animal products make PACT one of the best options out there.

Good on You rating: Great

How to save: Use my referral link and get 20% off your first order! Then sign up for PACT’s mailing list for frequent discounts, like the aforementioned half off a single item.


Patagonia

Who they are and what they offer: This well-known activewear brand produces some of the best base layers for vegans looking to avoid wool. Patagonia’s Capilene base layers come in myriad weights, styles, and sizes for women, men, and children and use a recycled polyester fabric to keep you cozy. Just be sure to avoid the Capilene Air line — that one is blended with merino (boo!).

Why it’s ethical: Patagonia is arguably a pioneer in the realm of ethical activewear; it uses eco-friendly materials, has a repair and reuse program, incorporates many sustainable practices, and is quite transparent about its supply chain and workers’ wages. It’s also a certified B Corp.

Good on You rating: Good

How to save: Check out the web specials section or shop for Patagonia projects at various outdoorsy stores. Moosejaw, REI, and Sierra Trading Post all sell Patagonia and have clearance/sale sections.


A few notes and thoughts
  • I think there’s a real discussion to be had about the ethics of recycled wool vs. synthetics. Read any list of recommendations for winterwear and wool gets rave reviews: It wicks away moisture, it keeps in heat without getting you sweaty, and it doesn’t trap stinkiness. As an ethical vegan, though, I haven’t worn wool in years because the industry is absolutely horrendous from an animal welfare perspective. But to be honest, the alternatives — synthetics or cotton — don’t quite measure up. Cotton tends to get a bit sweaty, while synthetics are produced at quite a cost to the environment (as is non-organic cotton). Recycled or secondhand wool may be the way to go if you can make peace with that option, though I’m still not quite comfortable with it for myself.
  • Many of the points above also apply to recycled down. Patagonia offers a recycled down collection, but I personally don’t feel comfortable using it.
  • This is a very truncated list — I will add more to it as I do more research!

Bear in mind that I am just one person trawling the internet, so I’m sure I’ve left some brands out! Please leave a comment if I’ve missed your favorite ethical vegan brand and I’ll add it to the list.

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Where to find ethically made vegan outerwear // govegga.com

Ethical Product Review: Will’s Vegan Shoes Dock Boots

You can take one of two perspectives when it comes to finding vegan shoes. One, that it’s a frustrating endeavor because you have limited options — and especially limited budget options — and you will likely have to order online, with no chance to check sizing in person. Two, that it’s freeing! Rather than suffering from the paralysis of choice, with literally thousands of options at big-box shoe stores and hundreds of online shopping sites, you have a select few vegan shoe brands from which to choose. You can just put on your blinders, ignore the non-vegan options, and not have to stress out about which of 284 nearly-identical pairs of trendy black Chelsea boots is the “right” one for you.

I’ve decided, unsurprisingly, to take the latter perspective. Once I know that I want cruelty-free vegan shoes that are also made ethically, my options are, frankly, slim. Not many brands meet both those criteria, although I have seen more and more pop up over the last couple years. But one long-time purveyor of ethical vegan shoes has long been on my radar: Will’s Vegan Shoes, AKA Will’s of London. And this brand has a lot going for it.

Will's Vegan Shoes dock boots review // govegga.com

Here’s what makes Will’s Vegan Shoes great:

  • Ethics. All shoes are 100% vegan (and labeled as such!), and the company manufactures them under fair labor conditions in Portugal.
  • A commitment to the environment. Will’s just rolled out a new carbon-neutral delivery process, and they are moving towards using more eco-friendly materials in their actual shoes.
  • Free shipping. Not only do U.S. orders get free shipping from this UK-based company, but you can return or exchange your shoes FOR FREE if the sizing doesn’t work! This is a huge benefit. Shipping shoes across the pond can be expensive, often running between $15 and $20. Knowing you can exchange or return your shoes if they don’t fit is massively comforting. Plus, the shipping is fast — see below for details. (Note: Arguably, shipping shoes back and forth across the ocean is not super eco-friendly, so keep that in mind if you’re the type who likes to online shop just to “try things out” without an intent to keep the product.)
  • Stellar customer service. If you follow Will’s on Instagram or elsewhere, you’ll frequently see Will himself (yes, he’s a real person) responding directly to questions. Reviews confirm this observation: The team is truly invested in keeping customers happy and will do what it takes to get you shoes that fit and that you love.
  • The price. Although you may balk at spending ~$100 for a pair of shoes if you’re used to, say, Payless prices, ethical vegan apparel is not cheap. Yet the prices at Will’s are actually quite affordable compared to similar ethical shoe brands. And the free shipping mentioned above really helps reduce the cost.
  • The shoes themselves! Will’s has a truly impressive range of both women’s and men’s vegan shoes, a rarity in this already small world of ethical vegan shoe brands. Choose from the formal (faux-suede heels) to the casual (biker boots) to the eminently versatile (ballerina flats). I particularly love the more androgynous women’s styles, like the sleek work boots and dapper derbys.

Although Will’s had been on my radar for years, I never really *needed* to buy from them until last fall. At that point, my new commitment to buying ethically produced clothing meant I couldn’t settle for big-box store specials when I wanted a pair of leather-free boots, so I pointed my browser to Will’s with the intent of making my first purchase.

I’d been eyeing the super-snazzy dock boots for a while and finally pulled the trigger. Steven and I were preparing for our vegan cruise to Norway, where I knew we’d spend our shore days doing some (relatively light) hiking. I wanted to have an alternative beyond the vegan Jambu sneakers I was also bringing, and the stylish chestnut dock boots fit the bill. Here’s how my purchase turned out.

Note: I also recently purchased a (gently used) pair of Will’s sneakers on eBay (and got a great deal). They seem to be this style, but in a grey color that’s not in stock at the moment. So although my review here is primarily of the dock boots, I’ll also draw on my experiences with the sneakers for added anecdata!

Will's Vegan Shoes dock boots review // govegga.com

How do Will’s Vegan Shoes fit?

Given that Will’s is a British brand, its sizing doesn’t correspond directly to American sizes, so I had to guess and hope for the best. I usually wear a U.S. 7.5 and opted for a European 39 in the dock boots. I’ve seen a 39 equated to both a U.S. 8 and an 8.5, but it fits me perfectly, so take that as you will. This is true for both the dock boots and the sneakers.

The good news, of course, is that Will’s generous return policy takes some of the stress out of the size conversion. If your shoes don’t fit, you can exchange them at no charge.

How is Will’s Vegan Shoes quality?

Both my dock boots and sneakers seem well-made and thoughtfully designed. Neither pair is remotely flimsy or cheap; and the faux leather on the dock boots is really nice — none of that flaky stuff you find on cheap vegan shoes. I bought the sneakers (gently) used, and they really have no marks on them. I’ve now had the dock boots for about five months and they’re also in great shape, although admittedly I don’t wear them all that regularly. But they certainly didn’t sustain any damage from my Norwegian hiking endeavors!

Are Will’s Vegan Shoes comfortable?

Here’s where my answer gets a little complicated. Yes… ish. I made sure to break in the dock boots before our trip since I knew they might irritate my ankles, and that definitely helped. Neither pair is remotely uncomfortable, and I did not get blisters from them, but I do notice I’m wearing them, if that makes sense. With some shoes, they’re so comfy you feel like you’re just wearing an extension of your own feet. That’s not the case with my Will’s shoes, and I think it’s because the soles are quite flat and very inflexible; I have high arches and prefer soles with a little more shape to them. I’ll probably need to add inserts to both pairs just to make them a little comfier. I also noticed that both pairs of shoes are quite stiff — I think the high-quality materials they use are just a lot sturdier than the cheaper shoes I’m used to!

Where can I buy Will’s Vegan Shoes?

I’d start with their official site for a list of all available styles, the best prices, and that unbeatable free shipping. But I have occasionally seen them at other vegan shoe retailers, although most don’t carry every style. If you are in the UK, I believe some brick-and-mortar shops stock them as well. There are even some styles on Amazon, but I would exercise caution there — it’s unclear who’s actually selling them. Finally, check out eBay — like I mentioned, I got my sneakers there and got a great deal!

Where can I find other Will’s Vegan Shoes reviews?

Other than the short reviews on each product page on the official site, truly informative and comprehensive reviews are sparse. Mihl of Seitan is my Motor has a review of three separate styles, which I found quite helpful when considering my purchase, and The Spooky Vegan reviewed two styles here. Vegan Miam has a great review of both the desert boots and work boots, and it includes an interview with Will himself.  I also just found this “test” of the brand over at Gentleman Buddha, which includes five separate pairs.

The lack of plentiful comprehensive reviews is one reason I decided to write my own. If you’re going to invest in a quality vegan product, you should be able to read other folks’ experiences! I hope this is helpful to other potential Will’s customers. :)

Would I buy Will’s Vegan Shoes again?

Yes, definitely! The Will’s Vegan Shoes dock boots are beautiful, well-made, ethical footwear, as are the sneakers. I think I just need to figure out how to make the flat soles work for my feet! I’ve got my eye on a few other styles as well, and I’ll continue to monitor eBay for more affordable gently used pairs.

PIN IT

Will's Vegan Shoes Dock Boots Review // govegga.com

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from Will’s nor compensated in any way for a review. (Although I would happily try another pair to review!) I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in a Will’s of London shoe review.

Q&A with The Humane Gardener — and a Book Giveaway

The plant charmed me the first time I saw it. With its lanky stalk and cloud-like clusters of white flowers, it reminded me of a slightly more unruly version of Queen Anne’s Lace. From a distance, the plant seemed to have a few large flower heads; up close, those flower heads resolved themselves into hundreds of tiny white blooms. Looking even closer, each little flower sported a few tendrils of white, snaking up toward the sky. Bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of wingéd friends crowded in for a snack, like thirsty office workers bellying up to the bar at happy hour.

I wanted to identify the plant so I could add it to my yard. After coming up with a few possible options, I posted a photo on Instagram and tagged my go-to plant expert. “Is this boneset?” I asked.

Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener, responded quickly to my query. “That’s boneset!” she said. “The best plant ever!”

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pearl crescents on boneset. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

That enthusiasm for what’s commonly considered a weed typifies Nancy’s approach to the world outside our doors. She’s an advocate for all that’s green and good, and for the creatures small and large with whom we share the globe. In her work as the Humane Gardener, Nancy advocates for a return to plants that support our native wildlife and for a gentler, more tolerant approach to living with those animals. She blogs at humanegardener.com and recently published her first book. The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife introduces key concepts for making your backyard a haven for wildlife, and its gentle, welcoming tone makes the subject approachable and inviting. (Read on for a chance to win the book!)

I had the pleasure of working with Nancy for a few years, and today I edit her Humane Backyard column for All Animals magazine. I invited her to answer some questions about her work to share with Go Vegga readers, to introduce everyone to the concepts she espouses, and to give some helpful, actionable tips for making your own green space — whether it’s a big backyard, a tiny apartment balcony, or even a shared communal green space — more hospitable and welcoming to wildlife. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring a concept as I do. (And I hope you’ll enjoy her photos as much as I do!)

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Pickerel frog. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

First, what does being a humane gardener mean to you? And what are the benefits of gardening this way?

A humane gardener is someone who is compassionate toward all creatures, someone who appreciates the milkweed beetles as much as she appreciates the monarch butterflies who also visit the milkweed — who understands that rabbits and groundhogs and deer all need to eat plants just as much as we do. A humane gardener knows that the outdoor spaces we care for, whether it’s two acres in size or a postage stamp yard or even a balcony, are not really “ours” to cultivate in whatever way we deem pleasing to us. The earth and the sky belong to all species trying to make a life here, and our actions need to reflect that.

Milkweed beetles mating on milkweed while a voyeur looks on. Photo by Will Heinz.

We are so heavily marketed to by lawn care, pesticide, and nuisance wildlife control industries that we often think there is a right and a wrong way to garden. We buy into the notion that the plants that help wildlife most are “weeds,” that animal nibbling of plants is “damage,” and that some of the most life-giving habitat elements — dead wood, leftover stalks, fallen leaves — are “messy.”

It’s usually the animals themselves who break through this negativity. It often takes only one discovery — that the holes in the rosebush leaves are the handiwork of a mother leafcutter bee lining her nest with leaf pieces, for example, or that the dead tree slated for removal has become the perfect nesting spot for bluebirds — to change a gardener’s whole perspective. Watching a rabbit chow down on a dandelion becomes a revelatory experience. I actually get chills, and my spirit lifts, when I walk among the plants around our home and see all the creatures large and small who are eating, nesting, and sheltering there. What could be more joyful than knowing how much difference we can make for so many lives even in a small space?

A rabbit takes care of the weeding. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

How has your personal journey as a humane gardener evolved? What led you here, and was there a single moment when you started thinking about gardening and land usage differently?

I’ve never been a fan of lawns. I grew up in Bowie, Md., a community built in the 1960s by the Levitts, famous for pioneering cookie-cutter homes in communities known as Levittowns in New York and New Jersey, and for implementing strict lawn requirements that associated masculinity and the paternal-family-man ideal with manicured turfgrass. My father resisted all of that and planted flower gardens in the front and back yard when I was a kid, and those were the places I would gravitate to. I watched ants under the trees and played with my dolls on the pine needles and made little bouquets of spring flowers in Fleischmann margarine tubs for my teachers. Wherever there were plants, there was life and beauty and great joy. It was apparent to me even back then that life did not thrive in a frequently mowed, heavily fertilized space treated with pesticides.

Mama Goose and her baby. Photo by Jennifer Howard.

But what really opened my eyes to the tragic consequences of conventional landscaping was a conversation with wildlife biologist John Hadidian in the late 1990s. He and I were both working for The Humane Society of the United States at the time, and he was leading an effort to help people resolve conflicts with geese humanely. Unfortunately the standard answer to perceived goose “overpopulation” was to cull them by rounding them up and mass gassing them; that practice continues today in communities that decide they can no longer tolerate their presence.

From John I learned that geese are attracted to mowed-down landscapes directly adjacent to water — a common landscaping aesthetic in the U.S. These environments provide visibility and easy access to the water, where geese can quickly escape from predators, especially during nesting season. Efforts to revegetate such areas with native plantings had already proven successful, creating natural buffers that made geese just uncomfortable enough to avoid nesting there.

Well, this was a revelation to me! I was just becoming interested in native plants at the time, but I hadn’t yet made specific connections between plants and their effects on wildlife. I began to refer to the idea as “humane landscaping,” and I put it into practice in my own yard, but it took 12 years for me to begin really writing about it and exploring it as a career.

 

Nancy’s husband Will found this young Eastern box turtle in their lawn. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What are some common actions or behaviors that are actually harmful to animals and/or the environment? There are so many things we don’t even think to question, like using netting to protect vegetable gardens!

Rescuing a snake trapped in netting. Photo courtesy John Griffin.

Oh, there are just so many. Yes, using netting is a perfect example because it seems so innocuous, yet it can so easily strangle animals, especially birds and snakes. Another action people mistakenly think is humane is relocation of squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs and other mammals. There are so many detrimental effects of relocation. First, you could be separating a mother from her young without even knowing it. Also, the stress of transport to another territory could be overwhelming for the animal. But just as importantly, even if that animal is not being separated from her young, and even if she survives the journey, what then? What is she supposed to do in a new territory she’s never seen before? She no longer has a cognitive map of where her food sources are, where she can escape for cover, and where the threats and competitors are. Imagine if someone forced us into a car and drove us to a foreign land with no money, no map, no knowledge of the local customs and people. We would be very vulnerable, and that’s often what happens to relocated animals; they are easy prey.

Of course, it goes without saying that pesticides of any kind — insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, can be very damaging, both in ways that we can see and in ways that we can’t. Mowing kills countless animals — from the turtles and toads to the butterfly caterpillars. When we first moved to our home, we accidentally ran over a turtle with a mower. It was awful. And turtles can live for many decades, yet they reproduce very slowly, so the untimely demise of just a few can lead to local population extinction. To help these animals and many others, we have to reduce our lawns. Keeping a play area for kids or dogs or a hammock is fine. But do we really need the 42 million acres and counting that we have in the U.S.? Most of it is not even used by anybody! What a travesty.

Green metallic bee on coral honeysuckle. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

What does the ideal humane backyard (or apartment balcony, or communal strip of land, or whatever!) look like to you? What have you done in your own yard to make it welcoming to wildlife?

Beautiful broomsedge. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ll start with the second question because I think it leads naturally into the first. The best way to describe our evolution is to say what we haven’t done. We stopped mowing more than half of the backyard. In place of lawn, there are now broomsedge and purpletop grasses, both native plants. (And I almost bought these plants once at a nursery before coming home to realize how many hundreds of them were starting to volunteer on their own!). Goldenrods and boneset and native sunflowers are also coming up in this area; some of these plants were likely seeded by birds in their droppings, while others were likely already dormant in the seedbank. They just needed a chance to sprout without constantly being mowed down.

In the other half of the yard, we’ve added as many native plants as time and money allow. I’ve grown a lot of these plants from seed — it’s very easy to do! — and I’ve also bought many of them at native plant sales and nurseries over the years. What you’ll usually find with natives is that — since they are accustomed the soil and have longstanding relationships with animals who eat and spread them — you might start with one or two plants but eventually have lots of offspring to transplant and share with friends. I’ve heard people call this “planting it forward,” and I just love that!

In the front of the house, we’ve also planted and nurtured as many natives as possible. My neighbors have become very interested in the plants because they are seeing just how insanely attractive they are to an amazing variety of butterflies, bees, wasps, and so many others. Really, animals help sell these plants if we let them. People understand that our pollinators are in crisis.

Green tiger beetle on leaves. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

We never remove leaves from the property, instead using them to create new garden areas. A nice layer of leaves will kill grass and enrich the soil and the plants as they break down. We also create brush piles out of twigs, fallen branches, sticks, and we line beds with branches and logs. This creates habitats for salamanders, beetles, and wood-nesting bees (30 percent of our 4,000 native bee species nest in cavities) — and then the birds come to forage on all these little creatures.

So really, the ideal humane garden is the thoughtful one — the one that takes into account what’s already there for wildlife, nurtures that, and then modifies in ways that will enhance that space for our fellow creatures. There isn’t really any one recipe for a given space, and I think that’s what people get hung up on — they worry about whether they’re doing the right thing, but if you take a little time to watch the animals and plants, they will help guide you.

Masked bees mating on shrubby St. Johns Wort. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

When I think about this movement towards humane gardening, it seems to me that it’s above anything else a mindset change — it’s altering how we view and understand different elements of nature, and then further altering our behavior to do what’s best for those elements. (I’m thinking of the “A Harvest for All” chapter of your book in particular, and especially about the poor maligned rabbits!) What mindset changes do you think are crucial?

You are exactly right — it’s all about questioning our long-held, culturally ingrained assumptions and learning to view the world from the perspective of other species, both plant and animal. One of the most unfortunate phrases I hear from people is “I have a brown thumb.” There is this notion out there that plants need constant coddling and inputs to survive, when the truth is that plants were far better off on this planet without our help! They managed just fine without us for about 700 million years. We are a blip in evolutionary history, yet we’ve managed in a very short time to obliterate many species across the planet.

We need plants to survive, but often what they need most of all from us at this point is for us to just leave them alone. One mistake made by many people trying to care for a plot of land is to assume that the things they didn’t plant are “weeds” — that whatever wasn’t purchased or designed by humans is somehow of less value. In reality, the opposite is often true. Whereas our big-box centers and mainstream nurseries are experts in selling invasive plants that crowd out wildlife habitat and sometimes even directly harm animals through toxic berries and leaves they can’t digest, nature excels at providing everything our local flora and fauna need — if only we would let her.

Groundhog eating lawn forbs. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

The dominant societal attitude toward plants has a direct impact on animals. That is one thing I really want my animal-loving friends to know. If you care about rabbits, leave clover and dandelions and other forbs in your yard for them to eat; grow hedgerows where they can take shelter. If you care about groundhogs, leave your fleabane and sassafras volunteers and other herbaceous and woody plants that will get them through hot summers and long winters. If you care about bees, nurture native plants that feed the specialists — the native bees who’ve evolved to gather pollen only from violets or spring beauties or asters or goldenrods or common evening primroses.

Don’t buy into the idea that there are “too many” deer or too many of any type of animal; who are we — the species that has taken over the Earth and holds her fate in our hands—to declare that? Deer were nearly shot out of existence, as were geese, and then bred and released back into the wild in many regions in an attempt to restock them for hunters. Humans have subjected many different kinds of animals — turkeys, mountain lions, wolves — to cycles of decimation and reclamation. Then we get angry with them when they do happen to start to thrive again, instead of looking inwardly and challenging ourselves to ask: What mistakes have we made in the past, and what can we do now to avoid further harm? In the case of deer, for example, our mowed-down landscapes create inviting habitat for them because they like open land near woods’ edges. There are so many things we can do to change this, starting with planting more plants and nurturing the ones we already have.

Great spangled fritillary and pearl crescent on Joe Pye weed. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

For folks who are reading about this concept for the first time, it might seem overwhelming. What are some simple yet effective first steps people can take to start turning their outdoor space into a more humane area?

Cardinal munching a caterpillar. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

Start by looking at what you already have, and don’t assume that everything good and helpful to wildlife has to have our imprimatur on it. Many people first learn the connection between native plants and wildlife through this essential statistic quantified by entomologist and ecologist Doug Tallamy: 96 percent of North America’s terrestrial bird species feed their young spiders and insects — mostly caterpillars, and often thousands of them just to raise one brood of chicks to the fledgling stage. Those caterpillars rely heavily on native plants; 90 percent of plant-eating insects can eat only plants of certain lineages that they co-evolved with. So if we don’t have native plants, we’ve broken the food supply chain for baby birds.

That resonates with people, and when they start to understand the connections, they want to replace all their plants right away. This is not a reaction I want to discourage, necessarily, because a garden filled with native plants is the ideal. However, it’s not exactly doable for most people in the short term, both for time and financial reasons. But I also worry about this from the animals’ perspectives. For example, we have a forsythia bush that’s been here since we moved in. It was once the only bush in our expansive backyard. Animals need shrubs for cover and nesting, not just for food. Cardinals, catbirds, rabbits, finches, and many others use that large bush. Of course, since it’s not a native plant, the forsythia likely doesn’t provide the same level of floral and foliage resources to bees and caterpillars that native plants would. But instead of ripping it out and leaving one less space for birds to nest in, we started adding native bayberry and spicebush near it — so that eventually we will have a native hedge that can expand. At some point I will then be more comfortable with reducing the forsythia presence.

Forsythia and bayberry in the backyard. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’ve begun to think of this concept as the Three Rs, something I borrowed from the animal protection field — which of course uses the Three Rs as a way to advocate for reduced consumption of animal products and reduced use of animals in research. My husband and I apply it to the outdoors in this way:

  1. Reduce invasives and lawn areas through gradual removal.
  2. Refine plant choices by buying only native plants, which have been proven to be more helpful to wildlife they co-evolved with.
  3. Replace nonnative plants with native plants whenever possible.

So it’s not hard to start. I like the advice of Ken Parker, a horticulturist I interviewed in my book: Start with a dozen native wildflower species — four for each season of bloom. Add a few native grasses, a couple shrub species, and a couple of nut-bearing trees. But if that’s too much, start with three native wildflowers and one shrub. You don’t have to go crazy. Just do what you can, and it will be more than the animals had before.

Do you have any favorite animals or insects, ones always put a smile on your face when you see them hanging out in “your” space? Any plants that you particularly love?

Sleeping bee on mountain mint. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

It seems almost impossible to choose! I can’t help but love the little guys I affectionately refer to as the bachelor bees or the sleeping bees. Every evening and morning in the summer through early fall, male bumblebees find a flower to sleep under. Usually they hang upside down, and often they choose flowers with umbrella shapes that will protect them from rain. Male bumblebees aren’t really allowed back in the nest once they leave; they pollinate flowers and, if they’re lucky, get to procreate, but they otherwise aren’t helping the colony the way the females are. Sometimes they hang out in clusters to sleep. I think of them as little ancient Romans; they sleep all night under a beautiful flower, wake up when it’s warm enough, and climb onto a nearby flower to start drinking all over again!

We have had some rare sightings, including a scarlet tanager who showed up in the staghorn sumacs just beyond our patio for about half an hour one night this summer. That was a real treat, and I didn’t realize just how difficult it is even for experienced birders to see the species. To me it validated how inviting our place has become.

Seeing a groundhog or a fox, hearing a coyote in the middle of the night, coming upon a fresh molehill in my walks around the land—all of these things are magical experiences for me, too. I tend to gravitate toward the misunderstood animals and plants. The plants that give me real joy are the ones that grow in the cracks of the driveway or pioneer a disturbed spot in the meadow. Often they are the ones most helpful to wildlife, too; boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) sprouted here on its own and has spread to many spots, drawing more and more bees, wasps, butterflies, bee flies, and others with each passing year. Other plants that warm my heart are blue mistflower, ironweed, Joe Pye weed, milkweed, jewelweed — all the species that aren’t really “weeds” at all to our wildlife. They are self-seeders, self-starters, lifesavers, and survivors.

Newly hatched male monarch drying his wings. Photo by Nancy Lawson.

I’m so grateful to Nancy for answering my questions with such thoughtfulness and candor.  Trust me when I say that this open-minded, gentle tone is exactly the same approach she takes in her book — which is partially why I’m giving away a copy!

The Humane GardenerTo enter, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter giveaway below. And why not purchase an extra copy, for yourself or for someone else? The Humane Gardener would make a perfect holiday gift for someone who might want to invite more wildlife into their yard!

While Nancy’s book does focus on plants and wildlife common to the U.S., her principles are universally applicable. If you live in the U.K. or Europe, Nancy recommends A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm, A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees, and Moles (The British Natural History Collection).

~~~

This giveaway is open from Wednesday, November 29th through Sunday, December 10th, to entrants from any country.

Please read the Rafflecopter instructions carefully. You must leave a comment on this blog post to enter, and then you can earn extra entries in a few other ways.

>>>Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!<<<

The giveaway is closed! Stacey W. of the USA is the winner. Stacey, I’ll be emailing you shortly! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing items through my links costs nothing extra to you, but it does help me cover hosting costs.

On Not Cooking

Hello, hello! As usual, I’ve been relatively quiet post-MoFo. And not just for all the usual burnout reasons. There’s another one: I simply haven’t been cooking! If you read between the lines of my MoFo posts, you’ll find a formerly exuberant home cook who was becoming extremely tired of cooking. Or, more accurately, tired of planning and preparing meals.

Steven and I have had a long-standing arrangement wherein I do the cooking and he does the clean-up. Mostly for dinner, but also the occasional weekend breakfast. Leftovers often serve as lunches for us both. And we both thought it was an equitable arrangement.

Until I realized it wasn’t.

One day toward the end of October, I was at work. As the afternoon passed, I began to think — and stress — about what to make for dinner. I was already pretty worn out from MoFo cooking, so I decided to use a big bowl of leftover beans and rice and recycle it into bean burgers.

Then I got home and discovered that Steven had eaten the leftovers for lunch.

I overreacted. I was unduly upset, and it took me a while to figure out why: I was so, so worn out with the anxiety of planning meals, of managing — in my head — the pantry, of making sure we had ingredients, of thinking ahead, of spending all this time in the goddamn kitchen not for the love of cooking, but just to get something on the table. I realized that all the emotional and mental energy I was putting into cooking — not to mention the time — was not equal to the simple task of cleaning up, post-dinner. Steven could plug in his earbuds and mindlessly wash dishes. No stress.

I should mention here that I don’t at all “blame” Steven for this. There’s no blame to be had. He never set unfair expectations about what we’d eat for dinner and was happy with semi-frequent “fend for ourselves” nights. We both thought it was a good and fair arrangement. But after six years, it wasn’t. And the instant I realized what was bothering me, the instant I articulated it, Steven volunteered to cook all our dinners — and the occasional weekend breakfast — for the indefinite future. And this marvelous human has also been doing 85% of the post-dinner cleanup, too.

It has been wonderful.

Wonderful for both of us, I think. Because I created this role for myself as THE cook, Steven has never really had the chance to develop his own culinary skills. In the past, when he tried, I was a bit… overbearing. The kitchen was *my* domain, and I knew best. So I would hover, giving him “tips” and “pointers” and generally being a pain.

But now I stay the hell out of the kitchen while he’s cooking, only offering advice if asked. I banish myself to the living room and take the time to work on freelance assignments or to simply read. And then I get served up a nice hot meal, which I did not have to think about or plan for or prepare. It’s glorious!

I feel very lucky to have such a kind partner. I know this is a silly, self-induced “problem” to have, but it was causing me legitimate stress. I hope that by stepping out of the kitchen for a while, it’ll rekindle my enjoyment of cooking. I think it will. We’re going to share the cooking for a low-key Thanksgiving we’re hosting for Steven’s mom and step-dad, and I’m actually looking forward to it. That’s a good sign.

So! Where does this leave us? Well, I realize that I should have peppered this post with pictures of Steven-prepared meals, but I shamefully haven’t photographed a single one. I’ve just enjoyed them. But I do have some great content planned for y’all, including a really lovely interview with an author and a giveaway of her book. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I’ll be over here eating food I did not cook. ;)

Vegan Treats for Furry Friends | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Five

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Cook for your best friend. Tell us about your best friend and their favourite dish, and make them a vegan version of it.

My best friend is a grey-furred, four-legged little beast with an under-bite and an uncanny ability to throw some serious side-eye shade.

Moria

Oh. A human best friend, you say? How boring. My best two-legged friend is Steven, but I cook for that dude just about every day! (He does all the clean-up; it’s a mostly fair trade.) He’s also a plant-eater like me, so all his favorite dishes are already vegan. That’s why I’m going to show you what we feed our best furry friends instead! It’s also the perfect chance to introduce our new dog: Rosie!

RosieWe adopted Rosie from a local rescue this weekend. We don’t know too much about her past; she was brought to Maryland from a high-kill shelter in the south and was with the rescue for about three months without getting much interest from potential adopters. Dummies! She is the sweetest. This lady is probably 5-7 years old, and she has the best ugly-cute face. Her left eye is smaller than the right, probably due to a genetic deformity. She has the serious case of snaggleteeth, and she occasionally limps (luxating patella?). Since we just love broken dogs nobody else wants, she was the perfect fit.

She’s been with us for three days and has settled in beautifully. Her former foster family said she didn’t really like sleeping in bed with them, but guess who spent both the past two nights snuggling us? Yep, this girl.

She and Moria seem to be mostly ignoring one another, which doesn’t surprise me — Moria and Luna had a similar arrangement. Honestly, I don’t think Moria particularly likes having a second dog around, but we make sure to share the love (and the treats) equally.

Which brings me to the prompt! If Moria could talk, she’d probably say that her favorite food is “everything,” followed by “treats.” The good news for Moria? There are tons of vegan doggie treats out there! Moria particularly enjoys Whimzees, a brand of chews, breath bones, and other delicacies derived from plant sources. They’re the perfect substitute for those nasty animal-based chews you’ll find at pet stores. They even make one that looks like a pig’s ear…. which is both disturbing and probably unnecessary. Pretty sure Moria doesn’t care what her treats look like, as long as they taste good! And apparently Whimzees do.


Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something from one of my links, it costs nothing extra to you, but I get a few pennies to cover hosting costs.

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Fun Foods for Festivities | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Four

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Party! Canapés, finger foods, something to share.

Guess what? We already have our annual winter holiday party scheduled. People’s calendars fill up fast come December, so we decided to send out the evites nice and early this year. I’ve also started thinking about the menu. Typically we like to set out a massive spread of savories, sweeties, and lots of drinks, and I doubt we’ll stray from that formula this year. But I am toying with the idea of a more themed menu — like, maybe I’ll feature recipes from different countries. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a slightly blurry shot of last year’s spread — with bonus Moria butt under the table. This was our first holiday party in the new house!

Holiday party 2016

Here’s a tentative list of what we’ll prepare for our lucky guests, heavily inspired by last year’s menu.

  • Savories:
    • Homemade vegan cheeses
      • One of Maple Spice’s almond-based cheeses — you can’t go wrong with these!
      • A nut-free cheese ball from Vegan Richa; this one is particularly yummy
      • A third cheese, probably one of Miyoko’s
    • Crackers!
    • Hot caramelized onion-bacon dip — we are pretty much contractually obligated to serve a double batch of this dip at every party.
    • Sliced baguettes for dippin’
    • Veggie crudités, also for dippin’
    • One more dip, perhaps a mushroom pâté
    • One or two more little nibbles. Last year I made lasagna bites and Steven made sausage rolls, so we’ll do something along those lines again.
  • Sweeties:
    • Maple fudge
    • A couple batches of cookies. Duh. I think I’d like to bring back Isa’s Mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles; I haven’t made these in ages and they’re so good.
    • Candied nuts, ‘cuz they’re good for easy snackin’.
    • Some kind of cake, or maybe gingerbread?
  • Sippables:
    • Mulled wine
    • Assorted beer, wine, and hard liquor
    • Various mixers (cranberry juice, apple cider)
    • At least one cocktail — maybe something featuring aquafaba, because I’m digging it in flips and fizzes lately.

If you have any recommendations, share away! And if this post seems familiar, you’re right — I posted a similar one last year during MoFo. :) You’re all invited to this year’s party!

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Restaurant Dishes I Have Known | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Three

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Fancy AF. Dazzle us with your haute cuisine or gourmet dishes.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am going to take some, ahem, creative license with the prompts this week. I alluded to it earlier this month, but I just haven’t approached this year’s VeganMoFo with much of my usual gusto. The trend continues this week. I’m tired; I’m busy with freelance work on top of my full-time work; I’m not in the mood to spend hours on fancy meals. We just adopted another dog (more on her later!); Steven’s not eating added sugar, so what’s the point of making yummy desserts; I’m stressed out by the horrible political climate in my country; sexist jerks on Facebook have gotten me down; the list continues.

It’s been difficult enough to follow the prompts up till now, but this week’s batch? Even worse. Terrifically worse! I have zero interest in spending hours with fiddly little cakes or troublesome sheets of fondant or the massive Thanksgiving-inspired hot water crust pie I briefly toyed with making. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I rebel!

So! Here’s what I’m doing instead: Showing you photos of restaurant meals I’ve known and loved but mostly haven’t shared here, because that’s about as fancy as I’m going to get. (Case in point: For breakfast today I ate leftover buckwheat porridge, and lunch will probably be a lentil soup we recently dug out of the bowels of the freezer. Dinner is anyone’s guess. I will accept deliveries of vegan pizza; enquire within for my mailing address.)

…and now, having gone back through about a year’s worth of photos on my phone, I’ve seen too many photos of Luna and I miss her so much.

HAPPY FREAKING MONDAY. Here, let’s distract ourselves with food.

Vegan roast from 222 Veggie Vegan in LondonAn incredible take on a classic roast from 222 Veggie Vegan in London. From the menu: “Hearty vegetarian roast with potato and parsnip mash laced with fragrant herbs. Served with onion gravy and steamed french beans.”

Gosh, this was SO flavorsome. Perfect textures, just the right amount of seasoning, and a massive vat of tasty onion gravy with which to smother everything. Oh, I loved this dish so much, and what a gem of a restaurant! We went there on our last night in London on a bit of a whim (more to come on that trip later!) and it was such a perfect way to end our holiday. I haven’t heard too much about this place but we both loved our meals.

Beet carpaccio

Beet “carpaccio,” just one of the many — many! — dishes we enjoyed on our all-vegan (!) cruise of the Norwegian fjords last month. More posts to come on that experience!

Vegan Irish coffee

Vegan Irish coffee, also on our cruise. Steven and I both indulged in many of these tasty treats, usually while lazing away an afternoon reading. Vegan introvert perfection.

Soup and sandwich at Kaf in Bergen, NorwayThe one meal we paid for in Norway because we were going to miss lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner on the boat that day!

We stopped at Kaf, a tiny veg-friendly cafe in the adorably quaint Bryggen section of Bergen. I opted for a combo meal, which included a spiced sweet potato lentil soup and a half sandwich. The latter was topped with avocado, tomatoes, radish, mango, a balsamic reduction, and a piquant pesto. Steven had a full sandwich with lots of veggies, including tender slices of roasted eggplant. Everything was tasty, fresh, and clearly made with care. So good. So expensive. I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for any other meals in Norway — ouch!

Porridge from 26 Grains in London

Fancy AF porridge from 26 Grains in London. Nordic Pear on the left; Plum and Bay on the right. This is probably the most hipster thing I’ve ever spent money on but it was goooood. (So was their oatmilk flat white.) I need to improve my own oatmeal game!

Crabcake from Great Sage in Maryland

The drool-worthy crabcake from Great Sage — our one and only “local” fully vegan restaurant — during a pre-work-trip brunch this summer. This is a do-not-miss classic at Great Sage!

Carrot lox salad at Great Sage

My 30th birthday dinner from this past March, also from Great Sage! I had their carrot “lox” salad and an order of the amazing cheesy spinach and artichoke dip. The dip was good as ever, but the lox was just too salty. Luckily I saved room for dessert!

Vegan meal at Seasons 52Steven’s mom got married about a year ago, and we all went to Seasons 52 for a late lunch after their sweet little courthouse wedding. This fancier-than-my-usual-dining-establishment has a separate vegan menu!

I chose the vegan paella, which comes with roasted asparagus and a grilled kohlrabi steak on the side. Truthfully, I don’t remember many details about the meal; it was a year ago! They also have a great bar, and I enjoyed a really nice Old Fashioned or two. We’re heading back to this restaurant in a couple weeks to celebrate the couple’s one-year anniversary. :)

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Vegan-Friendly Online Grocers | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twelve

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Two: Behind the Scenes
Grocery store tips and tricks

It’s not exactly a stretch to say that I owe my veganism, in part, to the internet. It gave me the opportunity to research issues endemic to the dairy and egg industries and to realize that being vegetarian wasn’t morally consistent for me. It gave me access to the first generation of vegan bloggers, folks who normalized a lifestyle I still considered a bit out there. As I read their recipes and reflections on being vegan in what was then a much less vegan world, it seemed like something I could do. I did do it, and I haven’t looked back.

So for today’s topic — grocery store tips and tricks — it seems fitting to highlight another way the internet is there for vegans: by providing access to veg-friendly shopping! Even if you live somewhere remote, without easy access to a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, co-op, or even a regular ol’ grocery store, you can stock your pantry by shopping online. Here are a few of my favorite online grocers. (These are all U.S. based, because the cost of shipping internationally would be prohibitive! I’m sorry I don’t have a similar list of international grocers.)

The best vegan-friendly grocers

Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexel

My favorite vegan-friendly online grocery stores

Vegan Essentials

Based in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Vegan Essentials is a treasure! Along with food (including freshly baked pastries!), they carry a fantastic variety of other items: health products, cosmetics, books, accessories, and more. I particularly enjoyed ordering from VE when I lived in Wisconsin; the shipping was super quick and cheap since I was so close to their HQ! Prices are generally fair, but don’t forget to check out their sale section for marked down goods.

Best for:

  • The aforementioned pastries!
  • Hard-to-find niche ingredients (vegan gelatin, anyone?)
  • Sweet sales!
Vitacost

While not entirely vegan, Vitacost has lots of cruelty-free vegan options and focuses on health-related food, health and beauty products, and more. They have a house brand of products (including vitamins and supplements) that are priced competitively, and they offer frequent sales and promotions. I do find their vegan product filter a bit untrustworthy; some products that don’t include the word “vegan” in the title won’t show up.

Best for:

  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Shelf-stable ingredients
  • Health, beauty, and personal care items

Pangea

Pangea is the real deal — they’ve been an online business since 1995 and have the coveted veganstore.com URL! Besides food, Pangea sells everything from cosmetics to clothing. They’re also truly cruelty-free, offering only products that are produced and manufactured ethically. The website feels like the online equivalent of an old-school natural foods co-op in the best way possible.

Best for:

  • Old-school vegan ingredients and brands
  • Companion animal products
  • Household items you know are vegan, cruelty-free, and likely environmentally friendly.

Amazon

Sigh, I had to include it! For price and variety, it’s really difficult to beat Amazon. I’d prefer to put my money into the vegan-owned companies on this list, but Amazon is always a solid fallback.

Best for:

  • Most things :(
  • Cheap shipping (especially if you have Prime)

So — which retailers did I miss?

Note: For a while, the idea of ordering food online and having it shipped concerned me from an environmental perspective. But I’m honestly not sure whether it’s worse than getting in my car and driving to the market… to pick up food that was already shipped from afar, in most cases. And for items you just can’t get locally, the point becomes moot. I welcome stats on the environmental costs of both options, though!

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