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.

Advertisements

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.

Save

Save

Save

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!

Save

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. :)

Save

Save

Save

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!

Save

Save

Vegan Small-Business Interview + GIVEAWAY: The Vegan Potter

One of the most under-rated aspects of being an ethical vegan is the sense of community it offers. I love meeting other vegans and gushing about the best new dairy-free ice cream on the market or swapping recipe tips. I especially love meeting vegans who bring their passion for animals and a cruelty-free lifestyle to work with them. Even better? Meeting folks who create a business that centers around and celebrates being vegan.  And I love connecting vegan consumers with businesses that they can feel good about supporting.

So today I bring you the first in what (I hope!) will be an ongoing series, where I’ll chat with vegan small-business owners to share their stories and help bring a little publicity to their good work. I’m starting with the Vegan Potter, a fabulous Connecticut-based small business run by Lyndsay Meiklem.

I first learned about the Vegan Potter from my mom, who encountered Lyndsay and her pottery pieces at New England VegFest earlier this year. Mom enthusiastically shared what she’d learned about this fantastic business and gifted me with a small appetizer plate (see left!), which now has pride of place on my counter. With any luck, you, too, can own a vegan-emblazoned piece of original pottery!

Read on for my interview with Lyndsay, and don’t miss the giveaway at the end.

Interview with Lyndsay from the Vegan Potter

Which came first: the veganism or the pottery?
The veganism came before the pottery.

I went vegetarian at age 17 when I was still in high school. Vegan at age 19 in my second year of college, and I started taking pottery classes at age 20.

Why did you become vegan?
I became a vegetarian after researching the food industry and animal rights for an opinion paper in a high school English class. Two years later I came home from college and worked at a health food store. The owner was well-versed in many health and wellness issues (keep in mind, this was in 1994!). She encouraged me to read a book called Diet for a New America by John Robbins, son of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. Each chapter focused on an animal and recounted in a very factual and non-inflammatory manner how our food industry processes the animals for human consumption. When I got to the chapter about how milk and eggs are produced, I felt like a total hypocrite for claiming that my reasons for being a vegetarian were motivated by animal rights, because the conditions that laying hens and milking cows endure are equally as deplorable as those in which animals are raised for slaughter. When I went back to college that year, I went vegan.

The Vegan Potter: spoon rest

Your spoon deserves a beautiful resting spot.

How did you get started as a potter?
I studied English and Creative Writing with a minor in Art History at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. I always loved the arts and had taken many metalsmithing and photography classes in high school but actually dropped a ceramics class in my senior year because I didn’t like getting my hands dirty.

During my final year of college, paint-your-own pottery studios were just starting to pop up and I went to one and painted a plate with a friend. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to learn how to actually MAKE the plate. I sought out a summer pottery course at another Montreal college but the enrollment was too low and they cancelled the class before it began. Shortly after, I discovered an art gallery owner who had a third floor studio space in an industrial building and had a small pottery studio in the back of the gallery to hold “classes.”

I signed up with my boyfriend at the time, and in the first class it was very clear this was not a teaching studio. The teacher gave us a quick demonstration and then left us on our own. I found out a few weeks later that the ‘teachers’ simply got use of the studio in exchange for teaching a class. During the pottery session my relationship ended, and as a result I spent ALL my free time in the clay studio, which was open most nights and weekends for practice. I watched and I practiced and after just a few weeks I remember calling my parents in Connecticut and having a conversation with my dad in which I recalled something he always told me: “Find what you LOVE to do and then find a way to make a living doing it.” I knew I had found what I love.

The Vegan Potter: cheese board

Cheese board and knife, complete with vegan cheese.

I continued to practice at that Montreal studio for another year when I had a thought: to open a pottery-teaching studio back in my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut. I tested my skills and endurance and spent the next two summers teaching 7- to 15-year-olds at a residential camp in southern Maine. I got a TON of practice teaching and honed my own throwing skills over the next two summers and then moved back to CT and spent the next year making pottery in my parents’ barn, which had no running water. I lugged 5-gallon pails and used a wood stove for heat and I threw pots on a partially motorized kick wheel.

In 2002 my dad rented me a small building next to his furniture craftsman shop, and after a few weeks of renovations and using a good portion of my savings buying 10 brand new pottery wheels and a kiln, I began my business. I’ve been teaching ever since, and in 2006 I purchased a property with two buildings on it and renovated one into a 2,500 square foot art studio, gift shop, and office. In the years following I renovated the building next door into a yoga and wellness studio and we’ve been thriving ever since.

How do you describe the type of pottery you create?
Functional one-of-a-kind stoneware made with love.

What does a day in the life of a full-time potter look like? I imagine it varies greatly depending on where you are in the process for each piece!
You’re right! Each day is very different, but in the past 15 years since starting my studio, a TON of time has been devoted to running the business! For the first 10 years I had my wheel in the main studio space where classes were held and over 40 students a week filtered in and out. When I added on to my building and created a 12 x 12 dedicated studio space for my own private workspace, things began to change. I was able to spend more time diving back into my craft and have fallen completely back in love!

The Vegan Potter: sloth life tumbler

Fabulous “sloth life” tumblers in lots of colors.

The making cycle often goes like this: Throwing pots on Tuesdays, trimming and finishing Tuesday’s pots on Wednesday/Thursday, and sometimes finding a few hours of hand-building time. Saturdays are often glazing days. I also teach four adult pottery classes each week, and loading and unloading kilns eats up at least a few hours each week. When I’m in the studio, I work 12- to 13-hour days. When I’m not in the studio, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do the next time I’m in the studio! Coming into the holiday season I’m in high production mode, and some weeks are devoted to packing and readying for weekend shows and events like veg fests!

If you visited the home of someone who’d purchased some of your pieces, where would you hope to see them?
Typically my work lives in the kitchen or dining room! I absolutely love seeing my work in use, filled with home-cooked food.

As you create new styles and lines, what inspires you?
I’m equally inspired by nature and function. I’m obsessed with drinking vessels and most recently began experimenting with a new clay body. I thought I was going to use it on its own but realized I could combine my white and brown clay and it gave me the opportunity to play with techniques that leave wonderful swirls and organic lines throughout the pieces. This encouraged me to want to leave the exterior of the pieces as raw clay. The finished work reminds me of wood grain AND swirled ice cream all at the same time.

When I have time to play and vary from tight deadlines or set projects, I’m able generate new forms or ideas for pieces. The medium has held my attention because I’m constantly learning and honing my skills making new forms or playing with new colors.

What motivates you to include overtly vegan messaging in your work? I’m thinking both of your pieces that include the word “vegan” and your social media accounts, which show lots of vegan love. Do you consider your work a form of activism?
I’ve always made a few pieces here and there that said “vegan” or “ahimsa,” a yogic word for “non-violence,” but in recent years I’ve had many more people ask me about my food choices and I’ve run a few vegan-eating info programs at my studio. Last winter I had a revelation when I discovered a holiday gift bazaar that was ONLY for VEGAN vendors — Compassionfest in Hamden, CT. I created a few pieces of pottery that said “vegan” and they were the first things to sell. I realized I had found my tribe and I got much more serious about the Vegans Unite collection. Since then, it has grown to include bowls, bread plates, mugs, tumblers, ornaments, and magnet sets.

The Vegan Potter: vegan bowls

No one will think your ice cream is dairy-based when you eat it from this bowl!

I’ve always used my social media accounts to discuss my food choices in non-inflammatory ways by simply posting pics of delicious food, which are often enough to spark discussions with folks about veganism. In the past 20 years, I have seen a tremendous amount of change here in the Northeast. 20 years ago, the only brand of milk alternative was soymilk in tetra packs and it tasted terrible. Health food stores were far and few between and bulk food was just making an appearance. There were NO meat replacements or protein sources outside of tofu (which you certainly couldn’t find in a mainstream grocery store). We have come a really long way in the past two decades BUT I have also noticed a trend for new vegans or vegan curious to lean heavily on the vast array of “fake” meat and protein replacements that are so abundant now in mainstream stores.

When you’re not eating delicious vegan food or creating beautiful pieces, how do you spend your time?
I love taking day trips with my husband to explore New England towns and seek out vegan restaurants. I can also be found taking photos of the local cover band my husband plays in.

And finally, do you have any companion animals? Who are they?
Living in a very tiny studio apartment we don’t have any pets but our dream is to build an earth berm home and we have big plans for several companion animals when that happens!

The Vegan Potter: garlic keeper

The perfect vessel for your garlic.

Five quick-fire questions

Favorite vegan indulgence?
Any vegan dessert! I’m a sugar-holic!

Favorite restaurant?
Crazy Burger in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Although they are not exclusively vegan, they have an extensive vegan section on their menu and they catered our wedding!

Favorite vacation spot?
Vacation? What’s that? When you do what you love, there is little time for time away!

Favorite kitchen tool?
Vitamix for smoothies, and I love my microplane for zesting and grinding fresh nutmeg and herbs.

Favorite animal?
I can’t think of any animal I don’t love! Someday I’d love to meet elephants!

~~~

Find the Vegan Potter!

Main site // Facebook // Instagram //

~~~

GIVEAWAY TIME!

Vegan mug giveaway by the Vegan Potter

Giveaway closed!

From 77 entries, the randomly selected winner is Judith Rontal. Judith, I’ll be emailing you to get your information. Thanks for entering, everyone!

Lyndsay has graciously agreed to give a lovely mug from her vegan collection to one lucky reader! Enter below to win the vegan mug with turquoise trim. The only thing you must do is visit the Vegan Potter website and leave me a comment saying which of her pieces appeals to you most. Then fill out the Rafflecopter form below. (Only Rafflecopter entries are eligible!) You can rack up extra entries by completing a few other tasks.

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

This giveaway is open to both U.S. and international readers! Giveaway closes at 11:59pm, EDT, on Tuesday, September 5. Good luck!

~~~

Ethical Product Review: Oka-B Taylor Flats

I am not exactly a shoe fiend. Sure, I like shoes, I admire different styles, I enjoy wearing everything from cute heels to kick-ass boots, but I’m not the type of person who gets buried under an avalanche of footwear when opening her closet. I prefer to keep things minimal and to identify gaps in my footwear wardrobe before buying another pair. My desire to purchase only ethically made, cruelty-free, vegan footwear* certainly helps; there are fewer options that fit those criteria, especially affordable ones.

So when I realized I was sorely lacking in work-appropriate shoes for summer, the search for a pair of flats commenced. I have very few light-colored shoes (beige or tan), so I focused my search on that color.

Oka-B Taylor flats in blush. Image copyright Oka-B.

Oka-B Taylor flats in blush. Image copyright Oka-B.

Eventually I settled on the Taylor ballet flats by Oka-B, and here’s why. Oka-B is a woman-owned company that produces affordable shoes in the United States and has a real focus on sustainability. What I really love is that they’re recyclable: You can send your worn-out Oka-B shoes back to their factory, where the company will recycle them and use the material in new products. This sort of closed-loop production really gets me excited. What makes this possible is that the shoes are made of a patented plastic blend. Yes, I know — plastic shoes. I realize that for many folks, this might put you off if you try to avoid plastic altogether or if you’re worried about sweat. I am #blessed with feet that are never particularly sweaty, so I wasn’t too worried about any stink. And the plastic does have an up side: You can wash these babies in the sink or in the dish washer with just water and soap.

Although there are some reviews of the Taylors floating around the internet, none are particularly comprehensive. So I ordered the Taylor flats in blush and tried them for myself. Here’s my experience.

How do Oka-B Taylor flats fit?

The best I can say is, “They fit OK.” Unfortunately, Oka-B does not offer half sizes. This is a real bummer for those of us whose feet fall smack-dab between two whole sizes! I typically wear a 7.5, so first I ordered a 7. I’d read that the shoes can sometimes stretch, and I have narrow feet, so that seemed like a safe bet.

It was not a safe bet. I should not have taken that bet. Oh man. The first time I wore these all day long, I was in pain by 5:00. They squeezed, they pinched, and I was in agony. Instead of stretching, they seemed to contract, while my feet swelled in response. The result was… not good. That night, I gave the pair a thorough cleaning and immediately exchanged them for an 8.

Oka-B Taylor flatsAhh, [relative] bliss. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the 8s are just a smidge too big for my feet, just a little bit too loose. They’re serviceable, though, so I kept this pair. But when I’m walking downhill they sometimes slip off my heels, and overall they just don’t feel perfect.

If Oka-B would only offer half sizes, this would not be an issue. I hope they consider doing so in the future!

How comfortable are Oka-B Taylor flats?

My experience with the Taylors has been mixed, even aside from the sizing issue. Although the site’s ad copy touts “soothing massage beads” and “premium arch support,” anyone with high arches (me!) will unfortunately not notice these perks. My arches sit well above the massage beads, although they do look comfortable. To be clear, though, these shoes are definitely more comfortable than cheaper ballet flats I’ve owned in the past, the ones with totally flat footbeds and no cushioning to speak of.

Unfortunately, I also experience toe pain with these shoes. Although these flats are somewhat flexible, the tops of the shoes dig into the bone of my right big toe. Though the pain isn’t acute, after a full day of wear, I’m definitely ready to take my shoes off. This seems to be a very specific problem though; if you read the reviews for the Taylor, many people find them absolutely comfortable.

One aspect I do like is the sole: These shoes have nice grippy soles; no slipping here!

Are Oka-B Taylor flats a good value?

With a list price of $40 (less on Amazon), I’d say the Taylors are a great value for made-in-the-USA vegan shoes! They come in a ton of colors, so if you find a size that fits, you could get a few pairs.

Oka-B Taylor flats

Would I buy them again?

Honestly, no. The size is not perfect and my stupid toe anatomy means these are comfortable only up to a point. (A day in the office is fine; two days in a row, not so much. And I would not walk long distances in them.) I’m disappointed; I’d hoped they’d fit well so I could buy a second, more colorful pair at some point.

I might experiment with another Oka-B style. I think I might be able to get away with a 7 in the open-toed wedges, for example.

Would I recommend the Taylor flats?

I recommend at least giving them a try. Thousands of positive reviews should count for something, and perhaps you can find a size that fits.

Note that Oka-B has a sister company, Okabashi, that makes casual sandals; I have a two-year-old pair that’s still going strong. So the quality seems good.

~~~

All in all, I’m glad I tried the Taylor flats, even if they weren’t a perfect fit for me. Let me know if you’ve tried them or other Oka-B styles!

*I’m not perfect. Desperate for shoes to match a specific dress for a wedding, I’ve purchased heels that were likely not made ethically. Vegan, yes, but not necessarily cruelty-free if you consider unfair working conditions a form of cruelty (and I do).

~~~

PIN IT

Oka-B Taylor flats: an ethical shoe review on govegga.com~~~

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from Oka-B nor compensated in any way for a review. I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in an Oka-B shoe review. This post does contain affiliate links, which come at no additional cost to you.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Vegan on Etsy: Ethical Women’s Clothing!

vegan on etsy cruelty free etsyToday, I’m sharing some great options for purchasing handmade (women’s) clothing on Etsy! In my last Vegan on Etsy installment, I offered up a bevy of bags and a… sackful of satchels? Sure. I’ve also got a post on lip balms, which are plentiful on Etsy.

The pursuit of ethically made clothing is near and dear to my heart. (See: this post about ethical fashion and a few mainstream purveyors of ethical vegan clothes.) I’m on a constant quest to whittle my wardrobe and populate it with clothing that’s made to last and that fills multiple purposes. Yes, this often means spending more than you would if you went bargain-hunting at the mall, but it also means you’re (typically) investing in businesses who value treating their workers right. That’s worth it to me, especially since I put a premium on well-made clothing that will last and not need replacing in just a few years.

And the good news is that Etsy is chock full of independent makers who are doing great things with fabric. Here are a few standouts, with the important caveat that — just like I mentioned in my previous post on ethical fashion — there is a long way to go in terms of accommodating all body shapes and sizes. Sigh.

Blue Ridge Stitches

With its affordable cotton basics handmade in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Stitches is a gem. I love this open jersey-knit cardigan; those giant pockets are extremely appealing.

Image copyright Blue Ridge Stitches

Image copyright Blue Ridge Stitches

Prices are fair for handmade clothing, and there’s even a sale section with quite a few ready-to-ship options.

Ellaina Boutique

Image copyright Ellaina Boutique

Image copyright Ellaina Boutique

SaveThe cotton dresses, shirts, leggings, and other apparel at Ellaina Boutique are all simple, sweet, and versatile. Shop owner and seamstress Sue chooses fabrics in rich tones and vibrant patterns and creates timeless pieces that should fit in just about anyone’s wardrobe. I took advantage of a sale last summer to purchase a sweetheart crossover dress in a gorgeous blue floral pattern (not currently available). It’s incredibly comfortable (yay, cotton jersey!) but looks dressy because of the pattern.

This day dress (above/left) is another cute style that would look great on quite a few body types. Note that while you can choose from straight sizes, you can also provide your own measurements. Sizes only go up to XL in the drop-down menu, but it does seem like she’s able to customize these garments.

Loft 415

Don’t let Loft 415’s “minimalist bohemian” descriptor deter you: This California-based shop offers plenty of basics that should appeal to folks with a variety of styles. For example, this simple black pencil skirt is a wardrobe staple, whereas fans of a more boho aesthetic might like this dolman-sleeved shirt. There’s even a maternity section!

I particularly appreciate Loft 415’s ethics. They source the raw fabrics from a company in LA, use eco-friendly inks on their screen-printed tees, and are committed to paying workers a fair wage.

PlatForma

For slightly pricier — but more design-forward — options, check out PlatForma. These carefully designed and crafted clothing items run the gamut from crisp cotton frocks to summery linen blouses.

Image copyright PlatForma

Image copyright PlatForma

This linen shirt with a tie-neck collar intrigues me! It’s such a wholly unique design, and I love the look of that linen.

Everything at PlatForma is made to order and ships from Bulgaria — a boon for you Europe-based readers!

Yana Dee

Whereas most of the other shops on this list rely solely on cotton for their ethical vegan clothing, Yana Dee also uses hemp, cotton, and soy fabrics. They also offer a wider range of styles than many competitors, with pants, scarves, jackets, and even casual wedding dresses alongside the usual suspects (skirts and dresses, mostly).

Note that Yana Dee has a few leather headbands on sale, but at least they’re using salvaged leather and not the brand-new stuff. There are also a few wool and silk items, unfortunately. But on the bright side, Yana Dee includes sizes up to 3XL as part of the standard offerings, and you can also request a custom size.

Other options

Never fear if none of these styles appeal — Etsy is a treasure trove for vintage clothing! Of course, you’ll pay more than you would if you hit up some Goodwills yourself, but if you’re not into the thrill of the thrift store hunt, you might appreciate someone else doing the hard work for you. Here are a few of my favorites, but there are hundreds of other shops out there. Don’t forget to check out the sale sections, too!

If you happen to be handy with a sewing machine, Etsy has quite a few makers who sell original patterns. I really love Hey June Handmade‘s clean, modern styles, though I have yet to try one myself, while OhMeOhMySewing has some pretty vintage-inspired dresses and shirts. You can also search for knit or crochet patterns if that’s more up your crafty alley.

Have any other favorites? Let me know what I missed!

PIN IT

Finding vegan clothing on Etsy // govegga.com

Cruelty-free and vegan clothing on Etsy // govegga.com

Editor’s note: This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. And my primary purpose here is to connect vegans with quality, handmade goods that help support small businesses and indie designers. :)

Save

Save

Save

Ethical Clothing Companies with Cruelty-Free Vegan Options, and Why You Should Care About Your Clothes

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

Original photo by
Roberto Trombetta on Flickr

One of the most infuriating “questions” lobbied at vegans sounds something like this: “Why do you care about animals when there are HUMAN BEINGS suffering all over the world?!” This is infuriating for many reasons, of course: It assumes that one cannot care about and work to help both human and non-human animals; it assumes a near-speciesist distinction between humans and animals; it is often “asked” by speakers who they themselves are not doing much for humans or other animals. Plus, it’s never really a question; it’s a goading comment designed to rile up the vegan target.

But despite all this, there’s actually a kernel of relevance to the question. If your veganism is founded on ethics, on a desire to reduce suffering and not take part in suffering as far as is possible and practicable, then caring about your fellow humans and striving to reduce their suffering should also be important to you. It’s not that you have to do it all, but that you should be conscious of suffering and work against it and the systems that encourage it when possible.

Which all leads me to my point: that we as vegans should probably be a little more ethically conscious in stores other than the grocery store. Specifically, when we’re buying clothing.

It’s no secret that the clothing industry—especially the fast-fashion industry—is notoriously horrendous in terms of human rights and worker safety. The horrific 2012 garment factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed 117 people, is a particularly poignant example of what can happen when safety isn’t a priority, but the day-to-day injustices and inhumane working conditions in the garment industry are no less important.

On top of this high human cost, fast fashion hurts the environment. Getting rid of textile waste is a real problem, and even so-called “recycling programs” (where fast-fashion retailers like H&M will take back their unwanted garments, ostensibly to turn them into recycled fibers) might actually encourage consumerism. Plus, the products use to dye that brightly colored T-shirt or make that non-biodegradable polyester sweater are terrifically harmful to the environment, so much so that the textile industry ranks as one of the worst industries in terms of pollutants.

All these facts, when taken together, form a pretty strong case for caring a little more deeply about—and putting a little more thought into—one’s clothing purchases. Buying fewer pieces of clothing and keeping them for longer is a great place to start.

The good news is that there’s a new crop of ethical designers and retailers, mostly online, dedicated to producing ethically made clothing that’s friendly to the environment, to people, and frequently to animals. Below I’ll share with you my favorite brands doing great work in this space, but first, a quick list of points to look for when you’re trying to determine whether a given retailer is “ethical.”

How to tell whether a clothing or apparel manufacturer/retailer is ethical

These are just a few things you can ask and look for as you find brands that you think might produce their wares ethically. In a nutshell, transparency counts! And don’t be afraid to email companies and ask questions—it’s good to keep them accountable and let them know that people want more ethical clothing options.

  • Do they mention sustainability or ethics on their website? (Scroll down to the bottom of their homepage and check for a link to a dedicated page or read through the FAQ to start.) If there’s no mention at all, there’s a good chance that this retailer produces their garments in sweatshops and/or has not even signed on to any labor/working condition agreements. Retailers that are actually committed to ethics, fair trade, and/or sustainability almost always explain why they hold these values and how they put these values into practice. On the other hand, beware of statements so vague as to be essentially meaningless. Greenwashing is real, and if a brand can’t give concrete examples of its commitment to ethics and/or sustainability, it’s probably just paying lip service to those ideals.
  • Do they list sources for any materials? For example, some sustainable producers use recycled polyester, and they’ll always call that out. Other ethical brands use “waste” products or use only environmentally-friendly dyes. if a brand doesn’t give any information, the information they do have is likely not going to meet your ethical standards.
  • Do they include the exact country in which the product was made? Many retailers will just list “imported” next to a product, which can indicate a lack of transparency. On the other hand, most ethical companies will tell you exactly where each product was made. And although you might see something like China and immediately assume the worst, note that some factories do follow higher welfare standards and pay a living wage. A truly transparent and ethical company will explain how they choose their factories and will often perform in-person checks.
Original photo by Joel Kramer on Flickr // ethical and vegan clothing

Original photo by Joel Kramer on Flickr

My favorite ethical clothing brands with vegan options

Alternative Apparel

Why I love it: I practically lived in Alternative Apparel’s super-soft athleisure-focused pieces last summer: I’d get home from work and immediately change into a sports bra, tank top, and shorts or yoga pants and head outside, either to work in the garden or sit with a beer and a book in the backyard, soaking up the sun. They have an impressive range of mostly casual pieces for men and women, mixed in with a few slightly dressier pieces that could fit into a business-casual wardrobe.

Why it’s ethical: Alternative Apparel’s statement of social responsibility ticks all the boxes: Eco-friendly fabrics? Check. Recycled materials? Low-impact dyes? Fair labor conditions? Check, check, and check again. Their base in LA is even certified green, meaning they encourage and promote small-scale environmentally friendly practices, like ride-sharing and using green cleaning products. And they use almost exclusively non-animal fabrics; you’ll find the occasional woolly garment, but it’ll be labeled clearly.

What it’ll cost you: At full price, AA’s clothing tends to hit the middle of the spectrum, with a few items skewing pricier. $28 organic cotton T-shirts are pretty comparable to similar brands, but the $112 flannel shirt-dress seems a bit much. Note that many of the more expensive items are the private-label brands AA carries. Look for their own house brand for more affordable options.

Want a discount? AA is great for discounts! I’ve never paid full price for anything. First check out the sale section for discounts that hover around 50%, then head over to the last-chance section for truly bargain-bin prices. Sizes and colors tend to be limited, so hop on a sale whenever it’s offered. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list to be the first to know about their (frequent) sales, and note that shipping and returns are always free in the 48 contiguous states. New customers can use my referral link for 20% off a purchase of $30 or more.

American Giant

Why I love it: For whatever reason, many ethical clothing companies seem to shy away from color. (I think it’s because many of these companies want to offer eminently neutral—and therefore versatile—basics.) Not American Giant. This brand embraces color, from vibrant red to jewel-toned emerald to dusty purple. It also offers an impressive range of mostly casual basics: Think waffled henleys, simple T-shirts, and an oft-praised hoodie. I have a simple grey sweatshirt from AG that’s both warm and comfy, but I’d love to try their ponte pant/legging—it looks like the epitome of comfort and perfect for traveling.

Why it’s ethical: The name should be a dead giveaway: everything is made in the USA with American-grown and crafted cotton. Plus, 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. And because all products are cotton (along with some new nylon offerings), you don’t need to worry about wool or silk sneaking in!

What it’ll cost you: Although not the cheapest brand on this list, American Giant offers a relatively low price for fully made-in-the-USA goods. Women’s T-shirts will run you anywhere from $25 to $40, while their much-lauded hoodie is about $90. Sales are rare but not unknown, so keep an eye out.

Want a discount? Like I said, sales are infrequent, but new customers can score 15% off with my referral link.

Photo credit: Brass Clothing

Photo credit: Brass Clothing

Brass Clothing

Why I love it: This woman-owned, Boston-based company focuses on basic, foundational pieces. Although it’s designed with a capsule wardrobe in mind, these basic pieces will fit into anyone’s closet. I particularly appreciate the muted tones and fairly timeless shapes. The company will also reimburse you up to $15 if you need to get a piece tailored to fit, which is a nice gesture. Plus, Brass uses “real models” to demonstrate how their clothing fits on a variety of body shapes. Sizes run from XXS-XXL at present.

Why it’s ethical: The women who run Brass ensure that their fabrics are high-quality and their garments are well-constructed so that they’ll last—these are not items you’ll throw out in a year because they’ve developed holes. They design their clothing here in the USA and manufacture it in Hangzhou, China, at two factories that they visit fairly regularly. Most fabrics are vegan, though they do use silk occasionally.

What it’ll cost you: These are not inexpensive clothing items; expect to pay $20-$30 for a T-shirt and ~$90-$125 for a dress. That’s because they’re truly built to last. Check out the last-chance room for occasional deals: I bought the grey sweater dress on sale last year and it’s absolutely a winter staple for me.

Want a discount? New customers get $10 off by signing up for the Brass mailing list—just scroll down on the home page and enter your email address at the prompt.

Editor’s note, 12/14/17: Brass has recently started introducing more clothing with animal products, including cashmere and wool. They still have a fair few animal-free styles, and I hope this isn’t a trend.

PACT Apparel

Why I love it: Similar to American Giant, PACT focuses on cotton basics. Unlike AG, whose wares are eminently casual, PACT offers a broader range of goods, from undies to cute dresses. It’s a particularly great choice if you want simple basics (socks, undies, tights) that are fairly made and don’t cost a fortune. I particularly love their tights, which are thicker than regular tights without venturing into legging territory—perfect for winter! I’ve also been eyeing this cute pocket dress for a while, and at $29.99, it’s really a steal.

Ed. note: I purchased the pocket dress when it went on sale recently, and I LOVE IT. It’s soft, super comfy, and a great length (I’m 5’5″ and an XS hits just above the knees). Plus, the pockets fit even the largest smartphones!

I also appreciate the breadth of PACT’s line; they provide clothes for women, men, and babies (a rarity), and they offer lots of fun colors (just check out all the legging patterns!).

Why it’s ethical: The PACT motto is “Change you can wear,” and a good-for-people, good-for-the-planet ethos drives their work. Everything is sweatshop-free, ethically produced, and features certified organic cotton (which uses less water to manufacture than conventional cotton).

What it’ll cost you: One of the most affordable brands on this list, PACT won’t break the bank. Yes, you’ll pay more for a pair of socks or underwear here than you would buying a six-pack at Target, but that’s the trade-off of purchasing fairly made goods. And honestly, PACT’s prices are pretty much as low as you’ll find for ethical basics. T-shirts run an extremely affordable $15.99, while a four-pack of basic crew socks is $22.99.

Want a discount? Use my referral link and get 20% off your first order! Then sign up for PACT’s mailing list for frequent discounts (they recently offered 30% off winter favorites). And watch out for their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales—you’ll get some amazing deals! I scored an $8 T-shirt last year.

prAna

Why I love it: Yes, this is a bigger company than most others on my list, but I had to include it for its commitment to fair-trade and sustainability. You can read their full sustainability statement here, but here’s the short version: PrAna is committed to using sustainable materials (think hemp and recycled polyester), reducing waste (no plastic-wrapped clothing when you place an online order!), offering fair-trade certified clothing (since 2010!), ensuring that they know where their materials come from (thanks to traceability projects), and avoiding harmful pollutants (by partnering with bluesign to meet high environmental standards). I own a few prAna pieces (yoga pants, everyday pants, swimsuits, and a winter jacket) and they’re all high-quality, investment pieces that I think will last me years.

On top of all that, prAna has an amazing commitment to customer service—they want you to love your clothing and wear it till it wears out. I purchased a pair of pants and wasn’t 100% happy with them (they were just a little big) and found I wasn’t wearing them that often. Six months after my purchase, they were willing to exchange them for a smaller size at no cost to me!

Why it’s ethical: Well, see above! PrAna walks the walk when it comes to ethics. Note that they do use some animal products in cool-weather clothing, mostly down (ugh, though it’s allegedly responsibly sourced), wool (often recycled), and the occasional suede elbow patch (why?!?). Luckily, everything is clearly labeled online so you won’t get any unwelcome surprises when your order arrives.

What it’ll cost you: PrAna is not cheap, but they do have a robust sale section with seasonal discounts up to 50% off. That’s my preferred way to shop!

Want a discount? Check out the aforementioned sale section and sign up for emails—you’ll be the first to know about shipping offers or new discounts!

Photo credit: SmartGlamour

Photo credit: SmartGlamour

SmartGlamour

Why I love it: When it comes to body-positive style, SmartGlamour stands alone. This brand is amazing in so many ways. It’s a woman-run, New York-based company; in fact, owner, designer, and general powerhouse Mallorie Dunn makes all clothing items to order. So while the company offers straight sizes in a truly amazing range (XXS-6XL+), you can customize any aspect of your garment (including the fabric!) to fit your body and sense of style. And Dunn is 100% committed to body positivity; the SmartGlamour Instagram account features real women of all shapes and sizes. (Check out the photo above for proof.) This inclusivity doesn’t end at size and shape; Dunn features women of color, women of all ages, and women all over the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including trans women. Reading her Instagram captions fills me with joy because of how overwhelmingly positive and inclusive they are—this is what America looks like, and I’m so happy to find a brand that’s committed to outfitting every single woman!

Why it’s ethical: Because everything is handmade in NYC, no shady labor conditions are contributing to your cute new dress! Aside from the occasional well-labeled wool, all fabrics are vegan—in fact, I first found SmartGlamour while perusing the #veganfashion hashtag on Instagram!

What it’ll cost you: For handmade (and often customized) clothing, SmartGlamour is surprisingly inexpensive (probably because Dunn keeps overhead low too). A classic (and classy) fitted sheath-style dress will run you $65, while a drape-y cardigan costs $40.

Want a discount? Check the sample sale section and follow SmartGlamour on Instagram to see additional sample materials as soon as they’re available.

Sotela

Why I love it: The driving idea behind Sotela is disarmingly simple: women should have a few pieces of clothing that will always fit, regardless of weight fluctuations or shape changes. Founder Hanna Baror-Padilla  wanted to address this issue after severe digestive issues left her so bloated and uncomfortable that most of her existing clothing didn’t fit. She decided to design a line of simple, basic dresses with a decent amount of give to allow for changes in size and shape. In practice, that means that Sotela’s dresses don’t match up with typical sizing. Instead, you’ll find just three sizes, each of which corresponds with a set of straight sizes. The largest size (3) fits traditional sizes 14-18.

Why it’s ethical: Baror-Padilla is committed to using environmentally friendly fabrics, such as modal, which can be made from the pulp of renewable beech trees. All items are produced in Costa Mesa, California. If you’re looking for ethical clothing that’s also made in the USA, this is a great start.

What it’ll cost you: Dresses start at $100, although a sample sale running right now offers a $65 swing dress.

Want a discount? Enter your email address in the popup window for free shipping.

Photo by Anthony TwoMoons for Vaute Couture; Belden coat

Photo by Anthony TwoMoons for Vaute Couture

Vaute Couture

Why I love it: It’s the OG high-fashion, all-vegan, cruelty-free brand! Founder Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart started the company in 2008 as a way to unite her fierce belief in animal welfare with a product that would appeal to a fashion-forward crowd. And it most certainly does. Although Vaute Couture is perhaps best known for its uber-warm winter coats, Hilgart has expanded her line to include dresses, sweaters, shirts, and even swimsuits—all vegan and all super stylish. Back in 2011, I split the cost of the original Belden coat (similar to this one, but with a slightly different fabric) with my mom as an early Christmas present when it went on sale—and I’ve been wearing it ever since. It’s a beautiful, well-fitting coat that got me through a few killer Wisconsin winters!

Why it’s ethical: Let me count the ways! For one, Vaute Couture is a 100% vegan brand, so you can always trust that the materials are cruelty-free. Vaute Couture uses sustainable materials (recycled, organic, or even waste-free) and makes its coats ethically in New York City by teams paid a living wage.

What it’ll cost you: This is easily the most expensive brand on this list: at full price, expect to spend about $400 to $600 for a snow- and weather-proof coat that will keep you toasty. Sweaters and skirts will run you upwards of $150, in line with similar high-fashion brands.

Want a discount? The good news: Vaute Couture frequently offers end-of-season (and even pre-season) sales, with discounts of up to 50% off. (That’s how I could afford my jacket; in those days, Vaute Couture funded its winter runs by pre-selling coats.) Yes, you will still pay a pretty penny, but you’re purchasing an investment piece that will last. Six years later and my coat is going strong!

A few more brands for your consideration

  • Everlane: The darling of ethical fashion bloggers everywhere, Everlane was one of the first web brands to focus on transparency. They share the cost breakdown of each item so you can see exactly what their profit margin is, and they forge relationships with their factories to ensure working conditions are fair and safe.
    So why didn’t I include them in my list of favorites? Well, they do use a LOT of animal products, from silk to cashmere to wool to leather. They also don’t have anything that’s certified fair-trade, as far as I can tell. And finally, I find many of their styles to be puzzling: a recent email hawked a pair of bizarre wide-legged cropped pants as “the most flattering pant you’ll ever try,” which is just absurd. Their boxy shapes seem unfriendly to many body types (nor are their models inclusive of all body shapes and sizes), and their persistently drab shades just feel bland (and that’s coming from someone who loves neutrals). That said, I have one plain black v-neck T-shirt I really like, and it was well-priced. Note that the clothes run big—I had to order an XXS!
  • Good Apparel: A newcomer to the world of ethical/sustainable women’s fashion, Good Apparel is the brand-new house line of Good Clothing Company. The latter is a Massachusetts-based production partner that works with designers who want an ethical, made-in-the-USA option for producing their designs. Good Apparel creates small-batch collections, releasing new ones every 2-3 months to buck the traditional fashion calendar. They focus on sustainable, locally sourced fibers, avoid waste by producing small batches, and pay their staff living wages.
    So why didn’t I include them in my list of favorites? The company is brand-spanking new, and there’s not much press on the quality of their clothing (though it should be top-notch). I also find their designs a bit puzzling and perhaps too fashion-forward for the average consumer ($138 split-leg pants?). I appreciate what they’re doing and imagine they’ll be a great fit for a very specific audience. I am not that audience, however.
  • Seamly: Founder Kristin Glenn wanted to create clothing that’s made to last, that doesn’t support unethical labor practice (it’s all made in the USA), and that supports the environment by using primarily “waste” products.
    So why didn’t I include them in my list of favorites? Here’s the catch: Seamly is currently not offering new products, but is relaunching in spring of this year with a new line of “modern staples.” However, this means that their existing inventory is on sale for 50% off! Pickings are somewhat slim, but take a look. I’ll update this list when Seamly officially relaunches.

Notes and thoughts on buying ethical clothing

  • Cost: I won’t deny that ethically made clothing costs more than fast fashion. But if you’re already paying more for your vegan almond milk than you’d pay for cow milk, you’re familiar with the trade-off: truly ethical products don’t come cheap. As you switch to a more ethical wardrobe, you might need to rethink your shopping strategy: Gone are the days when you can hit up the mall for two-for-$15 T-shirts; instead, you’ll typically spend more on a single shirt! Personally, I’ve enjoyed paring down my wardrobe to figure out what I really need and to find pieces I love, pieces that are versatile and that will last. I fully acknowledge that this practice might not be as attainable for anyone who is truly struggling with money and needs to prioritize other necessities. That’s OK. Just do the best you can.
  • Thrifting: Much of my wardrobe right now is secondhand. I don’t feel bad about purchasing so-called fast fashion when (1) it’s used and (2) it fits a specific gap in my closet. (For example, I have a few cotton sweaters from cheap brands that I bought at thrift stores. They’re lasting quite a while, and they were way more affordable than purchasing a $75+ organic cotton fair-trade sweater.) There’s an argument that buying items like this, even secondhand, feeds into the market for those items existing in the first place, but for many people, thrifting is an affordable way to fill your closet without directly supporting unethical companies.
  • Sizing: I tried to note which brands on this list offer a wide range of sizes, but the unfortunate reality is that many ethical brands don’t cater to my larger sisters. I am 100% on board with the health at any size movement and with fighting the gross fat-shaming culture that exists in the vegan movement, and I’ll update this list if I find great ethical brands that also want to clothe bigger women.
  • On chasing perfection: Once you learn about the horrors of the fast-fashion industry, it can be tempting to throw everything out and start anew. Slow down; that’s not sustainable! Don’t worry about perfection, about making sure that every single item in your closet is immediately sustainable and ethical and fair-trade and and and and everything else. Do what you can. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Woman-centric? It’s entirely possible that my inherent bias as a ciswoman who wears mostly clothing designed for women means I’m just missing out on ethical male fashion, but I do think that there’s a whole lot more going on in this space for women than for men (especially when it comes to vegan fashion). And that’s a shame. So yes, my list is very female-focused, but I’m writing what I know. ;)

Further reading

  • From AlterNet, details on the sustainability and and environmental issues inherent in modern clothing production. Also linked above.
  • From Huffington Post, an extremely comprehensive long read on the history of the ethical fashion movement, why it’s hit a wall, and how we need to pursue policies and regulations that make sweatshops and unsustainable practices untenable. A good reminder that “[w]e are not going to shop ourselves into a better world.”
  • From NPR,  a look at the problems inherent in fast fashion and how corporate-driven “recycling” efforts could be problematic. Also linked above.

P.S. Another great way to support ethical, independent makers is to shop on Etsy! Check out my list of cruelty-free clothing on Etsy here.

~~~

Like this post? Let me know and I’ll work on guides to more specific types of ethical vegan apparel (undies, shoes, etc.). And please share your other favorite brands!

PIN IT

Ethical clothing brands with vegan, cruelty-free options // govegga.comEthical clothing brands with vegan, cruelty-free options // govegga.comNote: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through my links, it costs nothing extra for you. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. :)

Save