Vegan French Toast

The last month has been very busy as I’ve been gearing up for Oakland Veg Week, beating the streets at Farmers’ Markets on the weekends to get people to take our pledge and otherwise spread the word. With that behind me, I relished the extra couple of hours I had this morning by making breakfast, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend.

If you think you can’t have French Toast without eggs, think again. This French Toast recipe is super easy to make and just as good as any French Toast you’ve ever had. You can top with pineapple and coconut for a taste of the islands or just douse with maple syrup and eat with a side of fruit and tempeh bacon like we did this morning. You’ll wonder why you ever wasted time with eggs in the first place.

Helping hens

Today is a landmark day for America’s egg-laying hens. The first ever federal legislation to protect them, H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, was introduced with the support of The Humane Society of the United States and The United Egg Producers. Currently about 250 million hens are confined in tiny, barren cages called “battery cages” for the purpose of egg production. Each cage contains 5-8 birds and the space allowance per-bird is less than a standard sheet of paper! These cages are devoid of perches, scratching areas, nesting boxes—things that are highly important for hens’ good welfare. The birds live like that, unable to take more than a few steps or even spread their wings, for their entire 12-18 month production cycle until they’re slaughtered.

As of now, there’s not a single federal law to protect animals raised for food while on the farm. And most state laws exempt animals being raised for agricultural purposes. If passed, H.R. 3798 would essentially double the space requirement for each egg-laying hen and birds would be provided enrichments like a nesting box and scratch pad. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a lot better than the barren environments that they currently suffer in.

The legislation would also ban forced molting by starvation. It’s currently legal to starve birds to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. Though it’s against UEP standards, there are still tens of thousands of egg laying hens raised by non-UEP certified producers. The legislation, too, would create a labeling program that would require the type of system in which the eggs were produced to be indicated on cartons (i.e., “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens”) so consumers are able to make informed purchasing decisions.

It’s important that we all support this monumental legislation and The Humane Society of the United States has made that very easy. You can fill out a web form here to contact your U.S. Representative to ask them to support the legislation. It’ll only take a minute and could do a world of good.

Baking without eggs? Piece of cake

For full disclosure, I did not bake the vegan chocolate cake with mousse icing seen here. Beautiful and decadent, it was lovingly prepared by the bakers at Whole Foods who my husband commissioned for a special surprise. I’ve done my fair share of vegan baking though and with the holidays approaching I anticipate doing a lot more.

Baking without eggs and dairy is a cinch. It typically entails simple substitutions, some involving things most people have around the house, like mashed bananas, applesauce, or even a combination of vinegar and baking soda. Vegan baking is growing in popularity too. Twice on the television show, The Cupcake Wars, the winning recipes have been vegan. Babycakes, a vegan bakery in New York City, is deemed a favorite by stars like Madonna and Natalie Portman.

So how do you bake without eggs? There are commercial egg replacers you can purchase from natural foods stores, online, and in the natural foods section at many mainstream grocers made by Ener-G and Bob’s Red Mill. And there are simple substitutions you can make, like these ideas from PETA:

• 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. potato starch
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup mashed potatoes
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup canned pumpkin or squash
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup puréed prunes
• 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. water + 1 Tbsp. oil + 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 egg = 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed simmered in 3 Tbsp. water
• 1 egg white = 1 Tbsp. plain agar powder dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water, whipped, chilled, and whipped again

There are vegan cookbooks galore, like Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and The Joy of Vegan Baking that offer recipes for old standbys as well as fun, new ideas. The bottom line is eating without eggs and dairy does not mean a life of deprivation. You can have your cake vegan and eat it too.

Baking for a cause

I spent a lot of time baking this weekend. There was a vegan bake sale Saturday to benefit Harvest Home, a sanctuary in Stockton, California that provides refuge to homeless and abused domestic and farmed animals. I baked some lemon scones, which ended up so freakishly large that I decided to eat them myself and start over. Next I made some blueberry-lemon muffins, which I’m told sold out—and for a great cause.

Harvest Home rescues animals and when possible carefully adopts them into permanent loving homes. Some require special lifelong expert care which Harvest Home provides to more than 175 animals representing ten species. Their focus is on poultry and rabbits.

A few years ago I helped transport some “spent” battery hens to Harvest Home. Spent hens are those who are no longer producing enough eggs to be considered useful to keep. After being confined in cages for 12-18 months, laying about 260 eggs a year, hens become weak and their bodies become debilitated. Hens at the turn of the century laid about 100 eggs per year. Modern egg laying hens are genetically bred to lay more eggs than ever before, but this takes a real toll on their bodies. Their bones become weak due to the depletion of calcium and the lack of exercise.

Many suffer from a disorder called cage layer fatigue where their bones become so brittle the birds collapse, some dying inches from their food because they’re unable to move to reach it. Typically at about two years old, a fraction of their natural lifespan, hens are killed on-site at the egg factory farms or transported to slaughter.

Lois the henFortunately for some lucky hens, Harvest Home helps them live out their days in a peaceful environment looked after by people who care deeply about them. To see these animals–who have been caged their whole lives–take their first steps on solid ground, is at once remarkably uplifting and utterly sad.

This vegan bake sale had a double impact: to demonstrate to the public that we don’t need to use eggs to make delicious treats, and to help provide direct care to dozens of laying hens, rabbits, goats, dogs, ducks, pigs, turkeys and other residents. Some wonderful volunteers are running a race to raise money for Harvest Home. You can donate online here to support their good work.

Starting today

I gave a talk tonight at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. to a small, but impassioned audience. Davidson is a liberal arts college that was founded pre- civil war. It’s the anchor of this friendly community about 20 miles north of Charlotte.

Vegetable garden at Davidson College

Before the talk, I had the opportunity to meet with student food activists, professors of ethics and environmental studies, and staff who work in dining services and school operations to discuss ways the school could improve animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Farm animal welfare is more my area of expertise; I’m still a student in the other area.

Davidson is already participating in an impressive number of initiatives. The school has switched its egg purchasing to cage-free, has switched to a pork producer that is moving away from using gestation crates for confining its breeding pigs, and is switching beef producers to a natural beef company. They’re also participating in Meatless Monday.

Aside from purchasing higher welfare animal products, the school has an herb and vegetable garden and an active composting program. The school has diverted more than ninety percent of its waste! Students have started a food cart that sells healthy and sustainable food on campus to students and faculty. I’ve heard another student was responsible for starting the Davidson Farmers’ Market, which is a thriving Saturday farmers’ market in the community. Dining services director, Dee Phillips, told us that they’re already serving only fair trade coffee and now she’s working to source only fair trade chocolate.

This is a school that cares about sustainability and is walking the walk. Dee said of her work that she learned about animal welfare issues during a meeting when her group purchasing organization hosted the Humane Society of the United States to discuss cage-free eggs. She realized she couldn’t do everything, and certainly that she might not be able to do it all immediately, but she could do something, so she switched to cage-free eggs right away. It’s wonderful to see someone so passionate about doing the right thing. We can all do our part, starting today.