Cuisine With a Cause

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Cuisine With a Cause

By Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals
July 2009

Speech delivered at a book-signing event for The Best of Vegan Cooking on March 5, 2009, before the San Antonio Vegetarian Society's dinner meeting at Green Restaurant, San Antonio, Texas.

I’m Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy group. The organization was founded in New York City in 1957, and I’ve been there for 34 years. I’ve also been president of San Antonio’s sanctuary, Primarily Primates, for almost two years.

We’re especially excited about the new vegan cookbook for many of the reasons you are interested in vegan living: to lessen, if possible, the hunger pangs in the world, to respect our own bodies and all of the conscious life around us, and to tread on the earth with gentler steps.

The new collection of recipes highlights creations from wonderful chefs around the country – including Green’s chef and co-owner Mike Behrend, who appeared with me this morning on FOX TV’s Morning Show to prepare his magnificent sweet potato pancakes, and whose recipe for Sweet Potato Gnocchi, which you’re enjoying tonight, also appears in the cookbook.

Part of my tribute to animals three times a day is to turn others on to new vegan recipes that are sensible and sensual. My idea for the new cookbook was triggered last year after I converted a Cauliflower Risotto recipe to vegan ingredients and preparation. The risotto was so outstanding I thought there should be a chapter on vegan risottos in a new cookbook. If cooks learn the reliable formula for preparing any risotto, they can create luscious risottos of gourmet quality in about 30 minutes to show family and friends they’re missing nothing in quality or taste when their diets are plant-based.

At the same time, our diets can reduce energy consumption. Did you know that more than a third of the raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the U.S. are used in animal agribusiness? And that doesn’t even count the deforestation to create grazing land for cattle and other animals. Moving away from animal-based agriculture would allow native animals to live undisturbed in their natural habitat – and spare the trees, the key to preserving the earth’s atmosphere.

Some have said: Why don’t we just raise animals in the old-fashioned way, returning to the good old family farm? The position of Friends of Animals is that these “traditional” or “humane” practices miss the point that other animals have their own interests – and were not put here to satisfy ours. Being kind to other animals does not justify our having dominated them. We don’t really applaud anyone for trading in animals raised less “cruelly” -- for if buying and selling and consuming them isn’t cruel, then what is?

But even to those who look at family farming simply from a practical perspective, by now it must become obvious that free-range farming is just not feasible for most people. It means pasture, and the earth can’t afford all that land being clear cut and allotted to grazing. And no matter how they’re raised, the truth about cows – and it’s not their fault they were bred into existence – is that they all produce methane and waste matter. On any kind of farm.

Today, as the environmental journalist George Monbiot has observed, meat and dairy animals around the world now outnumber people 3 to 1. We have a problem here. Within less than a decade, reality will dawn. The grain of the world can feed the animals of the world’s farms, or it can feed humans. But it cannot feed both.

So, how do we bring food to the table that fits our concern about people, and other animals, and our environment? Together, we are creating a movement that didn’t even exist when I started working with FoA more than three decades ago. Now, we have vegetarian restaurants, vegan cuisine, and people like all of you here tonight.

Living here, you all know about the Primarily Primates Sanctuary in San Antonio. You might ask: How would a vegan cookbook tie in with the refuge? It’s our vision of living in a world where society respects these animals: monkeys, lemurs, chimpanzees, gibbons, birds and others – living in nature on their own terms. In the rainforests of Central and South America, spider monkeys’ habitat is shrinking due to the conversion of forests into plantations, and the cattle-grazing. On top of it all, hunters stalk the monkeys.

Without private sanctuaries to offer safe spaces for apes, monkeys, lemurs, birds and others formerly caught up in trading, kept as pets or for zoo exhibits or for show business, or used in experiments, animals remain trapped for life. Until our society insists on genuine respect for primates and other animals, refuges need to exist, and to be supported.

Stephen Tello is here tonight; he’s Primarily Primates executive director. I met Stephen and PPI’s founder in 1988 after a local San Antonio resident, Don Barnes, directed me to call Primarily Primates after we sprung a 26-year-old chimpanzee and four monkeys from a roadside attraction in New Orleans called The Snake Farm.

This deplorable place was going out of business, and after I walked through it on a lunch break from a conference we attended, The Snake Farm’s owner agreed to release the five primates for the $100 personal check I presented. I had no clue how to proceed, but Primarily Primates took it from there, and I was amazed by the rehabilitation and transformation of these animals into compatible groups when I first appeared in San Antonio two months later to check it out.

In the last two years, under Stephen’s direction, we’ve achieved a complete rebound for Primarily Primates, with an investment of $1.5 million to renovate the 30-year-old sanctuary – to install solar panels and wind energy, a new septic system, new refrigeration, climbing pathways for the animals, new living and sleeping areas, plus a full-time veterinarian, an abundance of produce each week, and full-time staff to care for 450 animals.

We’re acting locally but also have a global vision – a belief that every animal should be looked after.

Acting locally also means supporting Mayor Hardberger’s No-Kill City Proclamation. Last year, Friends of Animals provided the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition with a grant that spayed or neutered 1,000 feral cats at no charge, with the veterinarians at the Animal Resource Center performing the surgeries. This effort is expanding in the next few weeks with free shots, and spaying and neutering for 200 dogs in the southwest area of town – District 4 -- also coordinating with the resource center for surgeries, and community outreach. Again, we see our job as looking after animals, and thinking globally.

Eating vegan food tonight is another example. It lets you save an acre of land each year –land with trees for primates. By eating plants directly, we don’t need to grow feed. We spare habitat, respect our own health and respect animals. We can live in the world in harmony with others – and enjoy the best of vegan cooking.

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