The awkward conversation I'd like to have with my niece

The Talk

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

I don’t have children myself, nor do I plan to. But kids abound in my life, including the three amazing children that my sister and her husband have ushered into the world. I think about them a lot, and as they get older I wonder when they will start coming to ask questions or have conversations that they don’t want to have with their extremely engaged parents—simply because they are the parents, and I am the crazy aunt who lives in the city. 

I have also thought about whether it’s appropriate to start a conversation that is probably not at the top of my sister’s list: where most of our meat comes from. 

I’d like to tell my niece, who is 15 and thinking of becoming a doctor, that when I was growing up, I would ride along on large animal rounds with a local veterinarian, intoxicated by his pipe smoke and our noble charge, considering whether to dedicate myself to that kind of medicine. 

It was thrilling to get a glimpse behind the scenes: the cow that needed antibiotics for mastitis or manual help removing uterine tissue, a horse with an infection from a run-in with barbed wire, a pig with a stomach ache. All of them were respectfully treated as the individuals they were, whether they were a working animal or destined for slaughter. (Truthfully, the plethora of barn cats likely didn’t get much veterinary attention, but a downed animal in the field was definitely cause for alarm.) My niece should know that there are still good farmers out there, right here in Pennsylvania, who take animal husbandry seriously, some of whom dote on their animals just as she dotes on her dog. 

I would also tell her how sad I was the day at the Bloomsburg Fair when, petting a giant hog raised by a young girl about her own age who was participating in the 4-H program, I saw a handwritten sign tacked to the door of the pen reading, “Thank you, Hatfield, for buying my pig.” And then, I’d like to show her footage from inside a place like a Hatfield meat processing plant, or an online video from a confined animal feeding operation, otherwise known as a factory farm. 

I’d like to watch the compelling, funny and disturbing movie “Okja” with her—an updated “Charlotte’s Web”-esque yarn that features a young Korean girl who heroically protects her giant pig in a chase over two continents and into the bowels of a heartless, multinational corporation that believes, rightly, that the public will eat anything if it’s cheap enough. 

I’d like to tell her that, unfortunately, the most hard-to-watch scenes in that movie are more fact than fiction, and that every fridge she’s ever known is stocked with animal products produced in exactly that manner.

The vegetarian/omnivore debate is complicated, but some complications melt away when you think about how you might explain things to a young child or a young adult. I want to tell her that I’ve oscillated between vegetarianism and omnivorism for decades, and that no matter how much I learn, and how much I entertain different arguments and diets, there is one thing that always remains true for me, and I hope that it will remain true for her and her brothers: If you wouldn’t treat the family dog a particular way, then farm animals, even those who will die on the way to our dinner plate, don’t deserve that treatment either. 

Just last year at a family picnic that involved a roasted pig, an adult asked me if I was going to partake. I asked if it was one of my uncle Harvey’s pigs, or from somewhere else. “Why does it matter?” was the sincerely befuddled response. But, of course, it matters a lot. Harvey is not Hatfield—and that means everything.

August: To-Do List

Illustration by Nicholas Massarelli

Illustration by Nicholas Massarelli

1. Protect those paws
August heat is hard on everyone, but if you have a dog, don’t forget that the blacktop of roads and red brick can get hot enough to seriously burn your pet’s pads.

2. Try a barbecue without the beasts!
See this issue for a full plant-based menu of delicious recipes, from satisfying burgers and sides to a frosty summer dessert that will beat the heat.

3. Get inspired
The theme of this year’s BlackStar Film Festival is “resistance,” so if you’re in need of inspiration or energy, check out the roster of great films offered Aug. 3 through 6 in University City.

4. Folkies, start your campsites
The mainstage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival may be sponsored by Martin Guitar—but the main event is the campground ruled by factions of folkies who have staked out their ground and created a Brigadoon-like city on the hill. Do yourself a favor and spring for the camp pass so you can enjoy the all-night hootenanny. Aug. 17 to 20.

5. Get out on the water
You can always cool off in a neighborhood pool, but we’re a river city—let’s enjoy it! How about a kayak trip in Manayunk? For other water fun, see this issue

6. Head out to Two Street North
We all know that the real Philly New Year’s celebration is with the post-parade mummers on Two Street. But during the summer, the 2nd Street Festival will lure you to Northern Liberties for multiple stages of local music and a ton of vendors. Pro tip: If the crowds are too much for you, duck into Heritage for a drink and live music.

7. Start planning your Fringe binge
We know, we know! It’s overwhelming to flip through the Fringe show choices, but you’re missing out if you don’t get to one or two of these boundary-pushing performances. They start Sept. 7, so get your tickets now.

8. Fix up that bike!
Still have to go to the bike shop for a flat? It’s time to learn some basic do-it-yourself maintenance to keep those wheels spinning. See this issue for advice and tips.

9. Get your greens
Nothing is more healthful than fresh-from-the-garden greens, and if you planted collards, it’s time to harvest. Zucchini and other veggies are ready to eat, too.

10. Try your hand at canning
You’ve got more tomatoes and zucchini than you know what to do with, so maybe it’s time to learn how to put some away for winter. There are classes all over the city to help you, and you can hit up a foodie friend who may have canning equipment you can borrow for a kitchen project.

August: Comings & Goings

Peace Park Settles Disputes with Housing Authority
North Philly Peace Park, a community garden and activity space in the Sharswood neighborhood, announced an agreement with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to remain at 22nd and Jefferson streets. 

A Facebook post from July 4 states that the park “has achieved a long-term, multi-decade lease from the Philadelphia Housing Authority and has conclusively secured the park’s recognition as a permanent community-controlled green space in Sharswood, North Philadelphia.” 

The park was forced to relocate from its original spot on Bolton Street after PHA introduced a plan in 2014 to build 57 affordable housing units on the land. By that time, North Philly Peace Park already had more than 1,400 volunteers, an operating budget of more than $230,000, a staff of eight people, and established educational and food-distribution programs, according to interviews from Generocity.

“The Peace Park shall remain strong and will grow and prosper for generations to come as an autonomous urban charitable ecology campus dutifully serving the women, children and seniors of North Philadelphia,” reads the park’s Facebook post.

New Director Named at Fairmount Park Conservancy
Fairmount Park Conservancy announced Jamie Gauthier the new senior director of public partnerships. Gauthier has served as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and as a program officer with Local Initiatives Support Corporation. She is also a board member of PennFuture, University City District and Garden Court Community Association. 

Fairmount Park Conservancy’s previous executive director, Rick Magder, left after nine months. A statement from the organization said that the change in management was a “mutually arrived upon” decision.

MOVE Bombing Site Gets Historical Marker, But No Official Installation
A ceremony was held June 24 to unveil a historical marker for the site of the 1985 MOVE bombing—where police dropped explosives onto a communal home during a standoff and caused a fire that claimed 11 lives and destroyed about 60 homes. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission told Billy Penn in late June, however, that paperwork to secure a permanent location for the sign has yet to be submitted. 

Students from the Jubilee School successfully applied for the marker and held the ceremony at Osage Avenue and Cobbs Creek Parkway.

Sunoco Continues Damage Control After Drilling Issues in Chester County
Sunoco Pipeline LP will pay to extend municipal water mains to Chester County households whose private water wells were affected by pipeline construction in early July.

The Newtown Square-based company’s horizontal directional drilling caused some wells to stop flowing and others to go cloudy, reported. Sunoco supplied bottled water and paid for some families to stay in hotels after the problems were reported in West Whiteland Township on July 3.

After a July 17 spill of 1,500-gallons of bentonite drilling fluid in Middletown Township, state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware, called for a moratorium on further construction of the project.

“The repeated, preventable spills illustrate why we need stricter safety standards for pipelines and more timely communication about pipeline activities for homeowners and communities affected by their construction and operation,” Krueger-Braneky said in a statement. 

“We’re witnessing what happens when a pipeline is constructed through a densely populated area without any regulatory agency having to sign off on its path. That is why I have asked [the Department of Environmental Protection] to conduct independent water testing in all potentially impacted private wells, as well as the Chester Creek, so that residents have independent confirmation that their water is safe. I am also working with other legislators on a package of bills to address siting safety and other regulatory gaps.”

The $2.5 billion project will deliver natural gas along a 350-mile route.

Water Stewards Test Schuylkill River During 100-mile Sojourn
More than 200 people tested drinking water in the 112-mile area spanning Schuylkill Haven to Philadelphia during a Schuylkill Action Network scholarship program held June 3 through 9. 

The Schuylkill River Sojourn provided equipment for “sojourn stewards” to paddle through the river and test the drinking water for nearly 2 million people. The findings were then uploaded to the international, education-based GLOBE program so that users around the world can compare data.

“Throughout the sojourn, the water test results showed the river staying within healthy ranges,” said Sarah Chudnovsky of Shillington, Pennsylvania, a sojourn steward who blogged and shared social media updates during the testing process. “However, we did see the amount of [dissolved] oxygen decrease as we traveled downstream from the forested headwaters in Schuylkill County. We also observed the levels of pollutants like salts, fertilizers and metals increase as we paddled through areas with increasing development, like Berks and Montgomery counties.”

Lawsuit Brought to City for Cars Parked on Broad Street Median
Political action committee 5th Square is suing the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Parking Authority following a campaign by 5th Square to get the city to enforce parking regulations on the Broad Street median in South Philadelphia. 

People commonly park their cars on the median, but authorities have for many years looked the other way. 

Advocates for bicycle and pedestrian safety say the jumble of cars in the area is dangerous.

“We’ve tried to work with the city and the parking authority to enforce the existing law,” Jake Liefer, co-founder of 5th Square, told PlanPhilly. “They have not done so, but we believe the enforcement of the law will be upheld by the court.”

Rivers, pools and lakes are waiting to refresh your body and spirit

Photo by Carrie Hubbard

Photo by Carrie Hubbard

Six Waterlogged Days

by Lauren Johnson

It’s August, and the race is on to beat the heat, so pack a picnic, grab a towel and get ready to get wet. Swimming, tubing, kayaking and more are all available as options if you want to leave those hot sidewalks behind, cool down, slow down and reconnect to nature.

Canoeing on Brandywine River
West Chester, Pa.
Keep cool as you cruise the currents of the scenic Brandywine River. For nearly 40 years, Northbrook Canoe Co. has been leading canoe tours through beautiful Chester County, offering refreshing fun for the whole family. Programs include a canoe basics clinic where folks learn proper grips, steering and how to right your canoe. There are also ladies-only canoeing tours and guided family tours, with plenty of time to play in the water as you watch for wildlife. The river is a “Class 1” waterway, which means the current is gentle and meandering, making it perfect for both beginners as well as those who just want to relax. To further put your cares at ease, the average depth is 3 feet in most places, making it easy to hop out and explore. Customized trips for groups and Scouts are also available.

Delaware River Tubing
Milford, N.J.
There’s no better way to enjoy the hot, lazy days of summer than floating carefree down the peaceful Delaware River. Tours are unguided, giving you the choice to float the whole stretch or paddle to shore to explore and cool off along the shady banks. The trek starts in Milford, New Jersey, and ends about 6 miles downstream (it takes about three to four hours to complete), where shuttle buses await to bring you back to your vehicle. Tubers have the choice of single-, double- or triple-passenger tubes, and can customize their experience with special tubing hand paddles and straps to keep their group connected. In addition, no tubing experience is complete without a visit to the Famous River Hot Dog Man—a floating hot dog stand situated halfway down your journey where you can fuel up for the second leg. You can also organize your own tubing trip: Just make sure you have at least one car at the end to take you back!

Delaware River Water Trail
Multiple locations
If you’re looking to cool off in more ways than one, the Delaware River Water Trail is just the spot. The trail was used in the 19th century as a way to transport coal and supplies to and from the small adjacent river towns. 

It’s extensive, with more than 70 miles of mainly shaded walking and biking trails, as well as dozens of parks, historic sites and recreation areas along the way, including Washington Crossing Historic Park and Bull’s Island Recreation Area, both of which include parking and amenities. Water lovers can pack up their kayak or canoe and put in at one of the many launch sites along the river. The trail runs through many charming Delaware River towns where visitors can veer off to grab a refreshing snack or drink, or simply explore.

Bellmawr Lake
Bellmawr, N.J.
For a refreshing summer excursion with the kids, try Bellmawr Lake. A short 20-minute drive from Center City, this family friendly spot makes for an easy getaway to escape the heat of the city. The lake includes recreational activities such as beach volleyball, mini golf, horseshoes and more—not to mention a 100-foot waterslide. Pack a picnic to eat on your beach blanket, stake your claim in one of the many picnic areas, or settle down under the shaded pavilion. For a summertime indulgence, the beach bar and grill serves up classic summertime fare and thirst-quenching beverages.  

Lake Nockamixon
Quakertown, Pa.
A day trip away from the city takes you to Nockamixon State Park, where a glistening 7-mile-long lake awaits. Visitors can bring their own gear or visit the boat rental concession to choose from canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and more. Picnic tables are dotted throughout the park and all along the water, allowing you to take in the endless view. Though swimming is prohibited in the lake, the park has an impressive pool complex complete with two water slides and a shallow end with fountains for children to enjoy. In addition, the park has more than 35 miles of hiking trails that meander through the woods and along the shoreline, where you can enjoy cool lake breezes while watching for wildlife.

Atsion Recreation Area
Shamong, N.J.
Located in Wharton State Forest, about an hour drive from Center City, Atsion Recreation Area offers canoeing, fishing, hiking, birdwatching and more. Atsion’s swimming facilities on Route 206 in Shamong Township are open from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day, while lifeguards are on duty. After a long and relaxing soak, visitors can check out the nearby historic Batsto Village, a former bog iron and glassmaking industrial center from 1766 to 1867, with a visitor center, exhibit gallery, museum shop and interpretive center. There are also designated camping grounds and cabins throughout Wharton State Forest, which is the largest single tract of land in New Jersey’s park system.

Swim Philly aims to activate our public pools with water fun

Come on in, the water's fine!

by Brittany Barbato

As I stared out at the water wobbling in front of me, I hugged my yellow and purple towel tight around my body. Should I have shaved my legs? What if my bathing suit doesn’t, you know, keep everything in? Everyone else is wearing sunglasses; should I have brought sunglasses? My mind had been captured by a riptide, dragging with it the confidence in my decision to join a friend for aqua Zumba at the Francisville Playground pool. I’m not even good at Zumba on land... What had made me want to try it in water? 

Well, for one thing, it was free. Swim Philly, a program initiated by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation last year to increase amenities and attendance at municipal pools, offers the class and other aquatic programming to the public throughout the summer.

So there I was, fighting my mental current, when an energetic, athletic instructor assumed her position on deck and motioned for us to get in. Um, if I have to do this in the water, then doesn’t she? My internal resistance was futile; last one in the pool is a rotten egg. I dipped my left big toe into the cool blue and eased myself down the side wall. 

With a slight head nod to an off-duty lifeguard, the instructor cued the music. We dove into the first routine with the same high-energy steps as regular Zumba—we grapevined and galloped and shimmied and shook—but we were moving at a more elongated pace (think: dancing in Jell-O). Our upper body movements often resulted in a splash, smack or swoosh. Kids nearby giggled and pointed: There is something silly about adults flopping around like fish in shallow water. We laughed, too. This is good for you. I reminded myself the awkward motion was also a benefit: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aquatic exercise can be less stressful on joints and muscles, and may improve mental health and mood.

When Marc Anthony’s dreamy, strained voice kicked off the next song, we cheered. “Voy a reír, voy a bailar/vivir mi vida la la la la!” He was coaxing us to join him in laughing, dancing and living life. And Alain Joinville, public relations manager for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, says this is exactly what Swim Philly offers the community: a time to have fun exercising and connecting with neighbors. In fact, inspiration for the program originated from a community member who felt that enhancing the pool experience for patrons would also make it more inviting and make neighbors feel more comfortable at the pool.

The sun was warm, the music was hot, the water was cool and people were sharing smiles with each other—I definitely felt more comfortable. After class, there was a buzz in the air. Two seniors exchanged phone numbers. A teen who had watched us from afar approached the instructor to ask if the class would be back next week. It would. And so would I, because the water, it turns out, is just fine.

Swim Philly Summer 2017 Information

Francisville Playground Pool
1737 Francis St.
Poolside Yoga: Tuesday, 7 to 8 p.m.
Aqua Zumba: Wednesday, 6 to 7 p.m.

Lawncrest Rec Center Pool
6000 Rising Sun Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Monday and Thursday, 6 to 7 p.m.

Lee Cultural Center Pool
4328 Haverford Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Wednesday, 6 to 7 p.m.
Poolside Yoga: Thursday, 6 to 7 p.m.

O'Connor Pool
4328 Haverford Ave.
Aqua Zumba: Monday, 6 to 7 p.m.
Poolside Yoga: Tuesday, 7 to 8 p.m.

Pleasant Playground Pool
6720 Boyer St.
Aqua Zumba: Thursday, 7 to 8 p.m.

Complete List of Philadelphia Public Pools and Hours: 

Regular bike maintenance—and fixing your own flats—is easier than you think

Up Your DIY Game

by Neighborhood Bike Works Staff

To many people, bicycles represent personal freedom. As a means of transportation, biking means self-sufficiency (and in Center City Philadelphia, it usually means getting there faster than by car). Gaining the knowledge and experience to perform basic bike repairs oneself can take that self-sufficiency to the next level: Everyone loves a great bike mechanic, but learning the basics is just common sense. Here’s some expert advice from the staff at Neighborhood Bike Works, which is dedicated to getting more Philadelphians out on two wheels.

Fix a Flat
The key to repairing a flat tire is to be prepared. Whatever type of riding you’re doing, carry a pump, two tire levers, a patch kit and a spare tube when you’re on your bike. Make sure you’re comfortable removing either wheel from your bike, so that you’re not trying to figure it out for the first time on the roadside, in the dark or in the rain. Once the wheel is off, use the two tire levers together to remove the tire from the rim. Hook the first tire lever around a spoke before using the second lever to work the tire off the rim.  Once the tire is off, inspect the tire for holes, rips, or shards of glass or metal lodged into the tread.

If you carry a spare inner tube, use it so you can patch the old one later, when you’re not late for work. Before installing the tube and tire back onto the rim, inflate the new tube just enough to give it a round shape. Then place the tube inside the tire, making sure to first insert the inner tube’s air valve into the rim, and then install one bead of the tire.

The second bead is trickier to install. Take a moment to ensure you won’t pinch the tube between tire and rim as you push the last bit of the tire onto the rim. Avoid the temptation to use your tire levers for this part—that will often rip the tube. As you inflate the tire, check every few pump strokes to see that the tire is properly seated on the rim. Remember that practicing this skill beforehand will give you confidence to fix a flat later, when you need it.

Adjust Your Rear Shifting
Being able to adjust your gear shifting while on a bike ride can greatly add to your comfort and confidence. Nothing is worse than failing shifting during a long, hot, tiring bike ride. The good news is that it’s pretty simple once you’ve taken the time to learn the basics. Try riding slowly and looking down at your shifter cables as you shift your rear derailleur up and down through your gears. Notice that when using your right-hand shifter, tensioning your shift cable (or using the shifter to pull the cable toward the front of your bike, to the shifter) will shift your chain into a smaller, easier gear. 

Now, take a look at your barrel adjusters—you’ll have one, and often two, somewhere between your right-hand shifter and your rear derailleur. If you’re having trouble shifting into an easier gear, that generally means you need to adjust the tension of the cable. Use the barrel adjuster to increase or decrease the distance the cable must travel from the shifter to the derailleur. Try threading the barrel adjuster out (counter-clockwise) by a quarter-turn, and test your shifting again.

Maintain Your Bike Chain
A bicycle’s chain is easy to maintain, yet is often overlooked. A clean and lubed chain is more efficient, less noisy and will facilitate smoother shifting of your gears. Keep it lubricated by dripping one small drop of chain lube on each and every link of the chain. With the bike on the ground, do this by turning the pedal backward. Apply the slightest drop on each link—the smallest amount you can dispense from the bottle at one time. Once you’ve done the whole chain, then use a rag to wipe off any excess lube. To clean the chain, there are many chain cleaning products on the market. A simple solution, such as a clean rag, also works great. Pedal backward and vigorously wipe away as much grit and grime as possible. For especially dirty chains, use a degreaser (citrus degreasers are relatively eco-friendly) before relubricating.  And don’t forget the pulley wheels of your rear derailleur. These can get caked with grease. Try using a small flathead screwdriver while backpedaling to remove the grease.

Check and Replace Worn Brake Pads & Tires
Your bike’s brakes and tires are key to your comfort and safety when riding. To identify brake pads that are worn to the point of replacement, look for the wear indicators on the pad. These are notches in the material of the brake pad, found on rim brake pads and on some disc pads, too. When the pad wears to the point that the notch is no longer visible, the brake pad must be replaced. But try to anticipate when pads are about to go. Many bicyclists will replace pads when they’re about 75 percent worn, especially if the bike is being used for commuting, racing or long-distance riding. And keep in mind that pads will always wear much faster in rain, mud or snow.

Tires can wear out in two ways: either from long-term use through which the tire’s tread slowly wears away, or from nicks, cuts or tears that occur from sharp objects on the road or trail. Inspect tires after every ride or so to look for signs of the former (tread marks that are no longer visible, bald spots or threads of the inner casing that show through the tread) and the latter (holes or slices in the tread or the sidewall of the tire). In a pinch, it may be possible to “boot” a tire with a patch or a dollar bill if there’s a small puncture in the tire. But tires with larger cuts or with casing threads visible in the tread should be replaced immediately.

Find a Bike Shop You Trust
For any bicyclist, it would take a lifetime’s knowledge of bikes, and a houseful of bike tools, to match the resources of a good bike shop. The best shops will treat you and your bike knowledge with respect, and meet you where you’re at. And whether it means doing the work for you or empowering you to do it, the best shop will help you get your bike safe and performing at its best. Find a shop you trust, where you can develop a relationship with a mechanic who can, in turn, get to know you, your bike and your riding style.

About Neighborhood Bike Works:
For 20 years, the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works has educated and inspired youth and adults through bike-mechanics education and bike riding. Located on Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, NBW aims to make bicycling more accessible for everyone - especially for youth, people of color, women and LGBTQ folks. Take advantage of out-of-school-time youth programs, adult bike repair programs and a full DIY bike repair workshop for adults. NBW also operates a community bike shop that sells quality, refurbished used bikes at affordable prices. Find out more at

Embrace your natural-born omnivorism. But leave the factory farms behind.

Illustration by Natalie T. McGarvey

Illustration by Natalie T. McGarvey

Back to the Land

by Jerry Silberman

Question: Is vegetarianism the right thing to do?

The Right Question: Is vegetarianism breaking the chain of life?

Voluntary vegetarianism is a relatively recent phenomenon in human society. One of its principal rationales is moral, and insists that killing animals for food is cruel and violent. It also posits that vegetarianism is better for the environment because raising livestock causes air and water pollution, and that it’s wasteful to feed animals food that we could eat ourselves. There are still a lot of hungry mouths to feed. 

But the rationale says more about the lack of understanding of the individuals putting it forward than the dynamics of the food chain, and it confuses the impacts of the way that animals naturally live and how they are raised in industrial, concentration-camp agriculture that no one can morally justify. 

Any ecological community that evolves in the absence of human tampering and that survives for any length of time has reached an equilibrium, in which resources are continually recycled with the energy input from the sun. Animals of all types eat plants, and each other. Their waste products and corpses release nutrients as they are consumed by other animals and microbes, which break them down far enough to be reabsorbed into green plants. Nitrogen, oxygen and carbon cycles are stable. 

Particularly in temperate regions, soil—the living bank of nutrients—is continually growing as chemicals withdrawn from the atmosphere join with minerals brought up by roots from bedrock to create steadily increasing organic matter in the soil. That’s how the soil of the most fertile parts of the Midwest was accrued, in some places several meters deep. This fertile soil is a vast bank of organic matter and humus, storing carbon, nitrogen and other minerals in the compounds that are useful to plants.

The keystone species in creating this soil were buffalo and the grasses they ate. Modern sustainable agricultural practices, studying the habits of the buffalo and other ruminant grass eaters, has shown that the most effective way we have to sequester carbon is to intensively manage grazing. Tons of carbon can be sequestered per acre per year, with little equipment besides some portable fencing to manage the movement of herds. 

This buffalo-built soil of the Midwest has largely been washed down to the Mississippi delta, and despite recent efforts to change some agricultural practices, continues to erode. While no-till techniques minimize soil disturbance and reduce erosion, they cannot rebuild soil. That requires the presence of grazing animals, a vital link in the chain of soil fertility, soil building and carbon sequestration.  

Raising animals in feedlots, and feeding them grain, is the worst of all possible regimens. Under these conditions, animals are not healthy, their concentrated wastes become noxious pollutants, and huge inputs of chemical fertilizers, manufactured with huge inputs of fossil fuels, are needed to raise their food, which is limited to corn and a few other species along with huge doses of growth-stimulating and prophylactic antibiotics. 

The science of rotational grazing is gaining followers steadily, including ranchers who see that healthier animals, healthier soil and much lower inputs are possible. Many of those livestock farmers also understand and appreciate the broader impact of their work in the sequestration of carbon. Milk produced from cows, sheep and goats raised completely on grass (including stockpiled grasses in the field and in harvested hay) has a dramatically different and superior nutritional profile than that produced from confined cows, which is mirrored in the quality of cheese, butter and yogurt manufactured from it. 

“100% grass-fed beef” from a Pennsylvania beef ranch, in other words, is one of the best dinners you can have if you are concerned about eating pure, nutritious food, minimizing greenhouse gases, reducing energy consumption and supporting local economies that have a different set of values from the feedlots that supply supermarket shelves and fast food burgers. 

The differential impact on our health and environment between a McBurger and a local, grass-fed steak could not be more stark, which is why I haven’t had the former, under any brand name, in a few decades.

Worried about the cruelty in killing the animals? Think again. Wild herds of ruminants have their population controlled by predators, weather and disease. If their natural predators haven’t been exterminated by man, a significant chunk of calves, fawns, et al., will be taken every spring by them. Aging or injured animals will face the same fate. Blizzards and droughts take their toll. Animals raised in intensive rotation have greater safety, and much less stressful lives, than their wild relatives. Everyone has to go sometime, and modern, humane slaughter is a good bit less painful than being shredded alive by a wolf’s jaws.

We must continue to study how nature works in order to understand how we might help feed everyone while managing healthy ecologies that benefit all the species in our ecosystem. And that means starting with the fact that our food chain is a closed loop, with life and death in every link.

Jerry Silberman is a retired union organizer who now devotes his time to negotiating a resilient future for all of us.  

According to ancient yogic texts, peace is incompatible with the mass slaughter of animals

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt 

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt 

Consciousness Raising

by Devamrita Swami

Whether it is a new vegetarian restaurant around the corner, a doctor who recommended a vegetarian diet or environmentalists contemplating the growing impact of the livestock industry on the planet, you may have caught yourself wondering—what is vegetarianism all about? What is the full impact of vegetarianism on our lives and society as a whole?

The impact is undeniable, most noticeably on the environment. A 2006 United Nations report tells us that the livestock sector plays a greater role in greenhouse gas emissions than driving cars. A recent article in Time magazine, “How a Vegetarian Diet Can Save the Planet,” quoted research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA to show how the widespread adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets could save millions of lives and trillions of dollars. “There is huge potential,” says study author Marco Springmann, a researcher at Oxford University, “from a health perspective, an environmental perspective and an economic perspective.” 

Surely the shift to a plant-based diet will be instrumental for creating a healthier planet, but what does a healthier planet truly mean? Are we simply talking about more trees and clean water, or does a healthier planet include higher consciousness? Is there a connection among spirituality, self-realization and a vegetarian diet?

Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, the prime yoga text, presents anna-maya—realizing our dependence upon food for existence as the first of five progressive stages of self-realization. Simply put: “I eat well, healthy or organic.”

The Bhagavad-Gita also presents the concept of annad bhavanti bhutani, or, “all living bodies subsist on food grains,” directly acknowledging the value of vegetarianism. However, while recognizing the value of vegetarianism, the yoga texts point out that other species like pigeons and elephants are also vegetarian, but that in-and-of-itself does not guarantee higher consciousness, the real asset of human life. The essential question yoga texts raise is therefore not whether you are vegetarian, but who you are and what is the nature of your connection with the source of all existence. It is this yoga, or connection, with the source that is the quest of human life.

While yoga texts recognize the value of vegetarianism in creating fertile grounds for the seeds of compassion and ahimsa (nonviolence) muscles to grow, they also point out that it is not the end of the journey, and that there are much higher stages of consciousness achievable in human life. The yoga texts define “evolution” as “evolution of consciousness,” or a living entity’s progressive journey from bodies of lower to higher consciousness. 

Having passed the industrial revolution, we earthlings now live in the era of factory farming, complete with specialized equipment to facilitate the mass slaughter of animals. Not only is the experience painful for the animals and disastrous for the planet, according to yoga texts it has deep consequences on individuals and our society as a whole. 

How can there be global peace if such mass-scale atrocities are propagated just to sustain the most basic level of our existence? How much do you really understand what you are eating? If we know so little about the food we eat and its effects on our consciousness and society, then why cry for global peace in a world so disconnected from food and its sources? What chance do we have to get a glimpse of the higher stages of self-realization when we have yet to address the issues at the most fundamental level of our consciousness? 

So, let’s go beyond the confines of economics and social trends to consider a deeper, more holistic perspective on vegetarianism.

Beyond vegetarianism, the Bhagavad-Gita emphasizes the role of consciousness in transforming the quality of our food and society by applied mantra meditation for the distillation of our consciousness. In the world of yoga and meditation, consciousness is understood as the major player on the stage. Your consciousness is deeply influenced by the consciousness of not only the food you eat, but also the cook who makes it. 

Certainly we have had the experience of food tasting special when made by loved ones. Could it be that the consciousness of the cook somehow transfers to the food? And what, then, about the last conscious feelings of the animal who may have become our food? These questions are at the heart of the ancient yogic texts.

The adoption of a vegetarian diet is not the end, but rather is an essential beginning for laying the groundwork in our consciousness for the process of self-realization. Try the ancient yoga technology as presented in the Bhagavad-Gita. We may discover that what we are dealing with is not just a food problem or an environmental problem—but a consciousness problem.

Devamrita Swami is a monk in the Krishna tradition, born in New York and a graduate of Yale University. His books include “Hiding in Unnatural Happiness.” He is the director of Philadelphia’s Mantra Lounge meditation studio and Gita Nagari Farm Sanctuary. His pioneering work of building the farm-city connection brings to Philly a working model for sustainable living and spiritual thinking.

A vegetarian philosopher questions his own eating practices

Illustration by James Heimer

Illustration by James Heimer

To Eat or Not to Eat Meat?

interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Philosopher Andrew F. Smith wasn’t prepared for PETA and an army of committed fellow vegetarians to go on the attack when he released his last book, “A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism.” But they did—and he’s still recovering. In the book, he reasons that in the closed loop of our ecosystem it’s impossible to even be a vegetarian: Our soil and plants are made up of the remains of formerly living beings. He also examines the idea that it’s immoral to kill sentient beings for food, and finds a rather large loophole: There is voluminous research to suggest that plants are sentient. “Once we set aside the obvious problems with factory farming,” he writes, “the case for vegetarianism is less cut and dry.” The book also explores the perils and limits of a food system—and economy—based on fossil fuels.

You wrote this book both as a vegetarian and as a philosopher, trying to understand a more academic/moral framework for vegetarianism.
AS: Philosophers and vegetarians alike don’t really have a sense of the experiences of plants, of the beings who we make our food. People think, “Well, plants are just these, sort of, inert beings. They’re alive, but they don’t have feelings, they don’t have any perceptions or experiences.” But… these things just aren’t true. I foundmore research than I can possibly digest in a lifetime that suggest plants are sentient, that they have many experiences that count as sentient in the way that we think of animals—human animals and nonhuman animals—as sentient.

We want to treat animals well. We don’t want to embrace factory farming. But there are better and worse ways to be a vegetarian. [Plants], too, suffer forms of wounding when raised through industrial process. So, a better way to be a vegetarian is to eat organically, eat locally, know your food better.

You look at the transient property of food in our ecosystem—essentially that grass eats animals and animals eat grass, and note that, due to our environment and food system, “We are junk food for the soil.”
AS: All of us, omnivores and purported omnivores and purported vegetarians alike, are “toxitarians,” as [a friend] put it. And I like that phrasing. All of us live in eddies and swells of chemicals and heavy metals. You and I both have had DDT in our bodies, even though DDT—incredibly harmful, incredibly carcinogenic—was banned some 40 years ago from use. So one of the key issues that I focus on in the book is tryingto think about ways to improve our relationships with the beings who we make our food through improving our relationships on which both our food and we depend, which is the land, or ecosystems. And if we’re to do that, it’s going to require a bit of cleanup—trying to do a better job of ridding ourselves and the beings who we make our food of exposure to these sorts of chemicals.

You argue that even if we go on identifying ourselves by whether plants or animals are the last strand in the web of life that leads to our mouths, we can still have a care-sensitive relationship with our food.
AS: I take three basic steps in the book, and I encourage my readers to stick with me until they find a step that they can’t embrace. The first step is to take more interest in plants and to consider the lives of plants. The second step is to develop what I call this care-based relationship with the beings who we make our food, which necessitates a sort of context-specific way of thinking about eating. Thinking about our relationship with our food in the same way that we think about our relationship with our neighbors—these neighbors being my next-door neighbors and the rowhouses next to me and the trees that are across the street from me. 

[That] requires having a level of interest in their lives and, again, the land base that we both depend on, that we generally restrict for animal life, or some of us only restrict to human life. The third step is to argue that we can’t be vegetarians—and there’s a bigger context even for that, that we can get into at another point if it comes up. And most readers don’t go there with me, and that’s perfectly fine.

You also explore some of the practical, sustainability-based framework around vegetarianism and omnivorism. How does the ever-growing human population play into those discussions?
AS: I’m so glad you asked this, because this is all too frequently overlooked when we’re talking about these issues. We eaters, we humans, often forget that we’re part of the equation, too, to the extent that there are more of us, we are going to cut into the amount of biomass that there is on Earth, whether it’s meat or whether it’s plant life. So, one question that I faced in this is, “What do we do about that?” We have an ever-increasing population. Vegetarians and vegans are correct that vegetarianism and veganism is better for feeding the growing world. There’s no doubt about that. There’s excellent research to suggest that.

One issue that I wish I would have been clear about, and it gets to this issue of population, [is] “energy dissent,” or the proposition that our ability to use fossil fuels, especially oil, is not something that we can sustain ad infinitum. It’s really difficult to get a sense of how much more oil we have that we can use to sustain the lifestyles that we have now. The latest research that I’ve seen is about 30 to 40 years. But no matter how long we have, no matter what that number is, energy dissent is going to happen, transitions to alternative fuels are going to happen. 

Getting to the population issue, here’s why this is important: You often hear the proposition of the idea that human population has exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity—there are more people on Earth than this world can sustain. Well, that’s not true. It can’t be true. Exceeding carrying capacity isn’t possible. Carrying capacity is a limiting factor—for any population. There’s going to be less [human] population, and that also is going to necessitate returning to a focus on a local or bioregional level, since without as much oil around, we’re just not going to be able to sustain a global food network.

One of the conclusions that you come to is that embracing vegetarianism is not “unreasonable, nonsensical or crazy, even if it is morally indefensible and ontologically illusory.” You were worried a little bit that some of the arguments in the book might be used against people who had made the decision to be vegan or vegetarian. How much did you worry about that, and how much has it been used against those folks?
AS: Being a vegetarian or vegan, given current conditions, is not crazy, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it makes perfect sense, given the way our food gets to us. And even under the best of circumstances, even under circumstances I would find ideal, the amount of meat that just about anyone would eat would greatly decrease. But, yeah, one thing that I found over and over and over again in the comments on the book was that they sort of corroborated a stark divide.  From the vegetarians and vegans, [there was] a real concern that I was giving support to the factory farm industry. And I got a lot of praise, not from industry supporters, but from people who are interested in the paleo diet… which is really sort of a grass-fed meat movement. That’s all fine and good, but often the larger point that I was trying to make in the book was missed, and I blame myself for that as much or more than I blame my readers.

What was that larger point that you want to be clear about?
AS: What matters the most for our own health and well-being is understanding how our food lives and dies and recognizing our deep connection to that food. Secondly: If not for us, at least for our children, and certainly our children’s children, they’re going to live in a world in which their eating will depend on being able to find foods relatively close to home. We have the luxury of being able to get foods from distant places. That’s going to change, and insofar as that changes, we need to create relationships with the land on which we live that sustain that land. One of the best ways to do that is to improve our relationship with the food that’s available here. So it’s a more environmentally focused argument than it is a “which diet is the best?” focus.

Andrew F. Smith is a professor of English and Philosophy at Drexel University and is the author of “A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism.”

Recipe: Bean and Bulgur
 Veggie Burgers

Create the ultimate, at-home veggie burger

by Brian Ricci

The veggie burger can get a bad rap—it can be bland, muddled or (worst of all!) a facsimile of its meaty counterpart. To avoid these pitfalls, let me suggest going for robust flavors and good texture. This you can easily achieve by blending beans, nuts and spices and binding them with egg, but it’s not always necessary. Vegan burger patties require more attention on the grill and are more delicate than their beef brethren—treat them tenderly, but most of all, celebrate them for what they are—not what they are not.

Makes 8 burgers


  • 4.3 ounces red onion, chopped
  • 2.5 ounces carrots, chopped
  • 4.5 ounces red peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3.5 ounces bulgur wheat, cooked
  • 5 ounces canned kidney beans, liquid drained
  • 2.5 ounces raw walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, raw
  • Handful of mixed herbs, chopped (parsley, mint, thyme)
  • 2.5 ounces breadcrumbs, plus more for dusting
  • Ground cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 slices large heirloom tomato
  • 8 leaves romaine lettuce
  • 8 burger buns
  • Condiments: mustard, ketchup, pickles, hot sauce


  1. Wash bulgur in cold water and cook 2 ounces in 4 ounces of water lightly seasoned with salt. Gently simmer and allow the bulgur to absorb the water. Cool this down before proceeding. 
  2. Take all the ingredients and pulse them in a food processor. Do it in 2 to 3 batches so as not to overwhelm the food processor bowl. 
  3. Put on a pair of food-safe plastic gloves and mix the ingredients by hand while seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Weigh out into patties about 7 to 8 ounces at most. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours to allow patties to chill and firm.
  5. When ready to cook, dust patties lightly with breadcrumbs. 
  6. Lightly oil a hot grill or grill pan, then place patties on grill to leave marks. Flip with a spatula after about 4 to 5 minutes. Allow to cook a further 5 minutes to cook patties through. 
  7. Transfer them to a rack above the grill or to a 350 F oven for another 5 to 7 minutes to complete cooking. 
  8. Place onto a bun, then top with lettuce, tomato, pickle and your condiment of choice.

Recipe: Roasted Chickpea Salad with Pine Nut Gremolata

Serve up some sides

by Brian Ricci

It’s fun to blend hot and cold with summer food—the ephemeral nature of this dish asks that you keep hot and cold items apart until just before serving. Timing and patience are required. This dish translates well into a warm pasta dish—orecchiette would be my recommendation.

Serves 4 to 6


  • 32 ounces cooked chickpeas, drained
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • Mint, basil and parsley, 5 sprigs each
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, gently toasted
  • On hand: extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Drain chickpeas well through a colander. 
  2. Roughly crush the cumin seed with a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, then set aside. 
  3. Now for the gremolata: Thinly slice your onion and mince the garlic and place into a mixing bowl.
  4. Add lemon zest and about 1/2 cup of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Roughly chop all the herbs and toss into the oil. Mint and basil tend to discolor quickly after they’ve been cut, so I prefer to wait until the last moments if I want to keep their colors bright when serving this salad. 
  6. Add about 2/3 cup of olive oil to a large sauté pan and place on medium-high heat. (Alternatively, you can roast on high heat in the oven.) 
  7. When the oil begins to simmer, add chickpeas and let them gently sizzle.
  8. After a minute, begin to roll the chickpeas around the pan to ensure they cook evenly. This process will take about 5 to 7 minutes—you are looking for a robust, golden caramel color. 
  9. Take the chickpeas off the heat and add the cumin and smoked paprika—you can also add the pine nuts at this time. Mix this together in the pan. The residual heat from the pan will bloom the cumin—you should smell the aroma wafting up off the pan. 
  10. Transfer the warm chickpea mixture to your serving bowl. Gently spoon over the gremolata, then taste again for seasoning and adjust. The reserved lemon juice can be added gradually to increase the brightness. The salad is a mixture of cold and hot and is best eaten immediately.

Recipe: Summer Slaw

by Brian Ricci

Crunchy purple cabbage and green cucumbers make for a bright and colorful slaw base. Made and served the same day, the textures will be firm and the flavors vibrant. As it sits refrigerated, the purple and green colors begin to bleed slightly—and the flavors mellow. This doesn’t make it worse, only different. It serves wonderfully as a side, as well as a potential topping or stuffing for a warm sandwich.

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1/2 head of red/purple cabbage, sliced thinly, with large ribs removed
  • 2 ounces capers, drained from brine
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 English cucumber, split lengthwise and sliced in a 1/2 moon, with seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin, preferably toasted
  • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 9 ounces tahini
  • 1/2 bunch of flat parsley and mint, hand shredded
  • Salt to taste


  1. Mix the cabbage, onion and cucumber together. Add capers, oil and cumin and season with salt. 
  2. Fold in lime juice/zest, then tahini. Taste for balance of briny/spicy/salty flavors that should be rounded out with tahini. 
  3. Add herbs just before serving this slaw. Keeps for 7 days refrigerated.

Recipe: Grilled Mushrooms,
 Lebanese Style

by Brian Ricci

Mushrooms are like sponges—they absorb moisture very well. When grilled, they release their moisture, leaving behind their inherent earthy flavors, enhanced by the heat of the grill. Also left are the flavors we impart in our marinades. They tend to become stronger and more concentrated as the water content of the mushroom is expelled. Balancing these distilled flavors is a mild dressing using soy yogurt as the base to “cool” the flavors down.

Serves 6


  • 6 medium or 3 large portobello mushrooms
  • 10 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 2/3 teaspoon allspice, ground
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Garlic Dressing:

  • 8 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Soy yogurt to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • On hand: flat parsley, chopped


  1. Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel working off any dirt. Remove the stems and leave the caps as whole as possible—they will be easier to manipulate on the grill this way. 
  2. Mix your garlic along with the rest of the ingredients until well combined. Pour over mushrooms in a large wide pan. Allow them to marinate for at least an hour, turning often to distribute the mix evenly. 
  3. Over a hot grill, gently place the mushrooms with the cap side up. Let them roast over the grill until they begin to develop discernable marks—about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn them 30 degrees and continue cooking for 2 more minutes.
  4. Turn over and repeat this process. Use your senses to judge doneness; they will have shrunk by 1/3 and will be tender to the touch. 
  5. Remove from the heat and let them rest before you portion them. Cut into attractive slices and drizzle the garlic sauce over top, garnish with chopped parsley.

For the Garlic Dressing:

  1. Add garlic and lemon juice inside a food processor. Turn processor on and slowly blend in olive oil to develop a creamy consistency. 
  2. Remove from processor to a bowl, season and gently whisk in soy yogurt. 
  3. Finish with parsley and chill until serving.

Recipe: Watermelon and Lime

Don't forget dessert!

by Brian Ricci

In all the heat of grilling and last minute adjustments and mixing, it’s nice to have a finished, refreshing dessert in your “back pocket.” This should be prepared 1 to 2 days in advance so you can take it off the prep list and move on. Just remember not to actually keep it in your back pocket.

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1 pound ripe watermelon, seeds removed
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 pinch salt


  1. Purée your watermelon as smooth as you can get it. If it is still lumpy after you’ve blended it, try straining it through a small mesh strainer—the smoother the better. 
  2. Make a simple syrup by combining water and sugar. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and then cool this down. Then add the watermelon liquid, lime juice and a pinch of salt to the syrup. 
  3. Use a wide, shallow, freezer-safe container to hold your granita. Place the container in the freezer, and in 1/2 hour intervals, gently rake the top layer of the mixture with a fork. Over the course of a few hours, you will have a delicious, refreshing granita that resembles snow. This can be kept frozen and covered for 7 to 12 days. Fresher is better, as freezer items will tend to absorb flavor from the freezer.
  4. Scoop the granita into a chilled serving vessel or into individual chilled glasses and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh mint. This can also be used as an excellent base for a chilled margarita-type cocktail.

Expert food recommendations from the ‘Philly Vegan Lady Gangsters’

Photo by Chaucee Stillman

Photo by Chaucee Stillman

Pledged to the Plant Life

by Karen Chernick

When LJ Steinig won her Grand Champion title at Philly MAC-Down 2016, the city’s first vegan mac and cheese cooking contest, she had the whole group of Philly Vegan Lady Gangsters rooting for her.

The gang is a closed Facebook group of more than 500 “vegan women who all work in a variety of ways to make the world a better place for animals and for each other.” Steinig, a high school English department chair for an online school, initially started the group in July 2015 to make more like-minded pals. A small group of her female Facebook friends had been meeting monthly for vegan dinners at Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Point Breeze (a practice that many of the gangsters still maintain), and Steinig turned those dinner parties into an ongoing virtual vegan feast.

The group also provides a space for the city’s lady vegans to share product recommendations, broadcast which local supermarkets stock plant-based canned tuna, ask for advice about how best to navigate a particular steakhouse’s menu, and vent about recent altercations with omnivores.

“Beyond dinner parties and talk of products,” Steinig says, “the gang has really evolved to do some wonderful things together.” The Lady Gangsters often fundraise for Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and the Humane League, volunteer their time and protest for animal rights.

Always eager to point a hungry lady (or fellow) vegan toward a worthy dining option, the Philly Vegan Lady Gangsters were happy to share recommendations for some of their favorite and least-known plant-based eats around the city. Below, please find their crowd-sourced advice.

Memphis Taproom

The clientele at Kensington’s Memphis Taproom may be mostly bearded and meat-loving, but the gastropub promises that their vegetarian and vegan options will knock your nonleather shoes off. PVLG’s junk food vegans agree. Gloss over the menu’s meaty Mr. American Cheeseburger and McMemphis Chicken, and look for the Spaghetti Sandwich. Complete with lentil meatballs, marinara sauce, vegan cheese and, of course, spaghetti, the sandwich is a perfect precursor to the restaurant’s peanut butter pie (also vegan). If you can convince someone to go halfsies with you, have them order the Smoked Coconut Club with grilled lemon garlic tofu and tomato herb mayo.

Better yet, visit the taproom’s summer beer garden and order a jackfruit po’ boy with Creole remoulade (you might also try one of three other types of vegan burgers—or multiple varieties of vegan hot dogs).

Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya

This family owned Indonesian restaurant in Point Breeze doesn’t have a website, but somehow word got out among the Lady Gangsters that Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya caters to vegans. Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry recommends trying the vegan sayur singkong—collard greens simmered in a coconut milk broth. Other PVLG members swear by the sweet-braised jackfruit stew (served only on the weekend) and say that any of the tempeh dishes are bound to be delicious.

Subscription Boxes from Crust Bakery

As befitting a Lady Gangster recommendation, Crust Bakery is owned and operated by a team of self-proclaimed sassy ladies (some of them PVLG members themselves). Since they have no storefront, their subscription boxes offer diners a way to keep abreast of what’s going on in their commissary kitchen.

Boxes ($30 each) include an assortment of five mystery desserts, combining both classic items and seasonal favorites. Past subscription boxes have included desserts almost impossible to find anywhere else: vegan twinkies, cannolis, dunkaroos and baklava. Each month is different, and subscriptions can be purchased on a month-to-month basis. 

Tattooed Mom

A punky South Street establishment for 20 years, Tattooed Mom’s menu is half-omnivore, half-veg. Steinig and the rest of the gangsters swear by the Vegan Pickled Fried Chickn Sandwich (which washes down nicely with a pickletini cocktail from the bar). The house-brined, fried chickn is topped with fried pickles and hot-sauce mayo in a sandwich that is sour, spicy, crunchy and sweet all at once.

Insider tip: Also order the Vegan Chubbsteak. Steinig heard from a friend to ask for it before it finally made it onto the menu, and says the vegan cheesesteak and tater tots in a wrap are pure magic.

Thang Long Noodle Restaurant

Individual vegan Vietnamese dishes are found easily enough all over the city, but a full, vegan, 16-item pho menu is rare. Head to this mom-and-pop pho shop in East Kensington for vegan shrimp summer rolls, vegan seafood noodle pho, and vegan duck and mushroom egg noodle soup.

And it’s all at an affordable price—the vegan beef pho will only set you back $8, cheap enough to order another for tomorrow’s lunch.

The Chilly Banana

PVLG’s answer to the Good Humor truck, this food truck serves a variety of banana whips—all-natural ice cream made entirely from frozen bananas. The whips and other fruit-based treats can often be found in West Philly’s Clark Park and Manayunk. Follow the truck on Facebook to find out where it will park next.

Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen

As a restaurant committed to sustainable practices and preserving Philadelphia’s natural resources, it is no surprise that Fishtown’s Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen has a respectable list of vegan and vegetarian options. The retro-American classic menu includes standard fare such as veggie burgers and plant-based breakfasts, but also boasts barbecue seitan wings served with an apricot horseradish cream and fried brussels sprouts.

Cedar Point also serves a twist on the iconic Philadelphian hoagie with its red curry cheesesteak, a sandwich stuffed with grilled seitan tips, red curry aioli, peppers, onions and daiya cheese. (Pairs well with a Beetlejuice cocktail from the bar, a gin-based drink made with fresh beets.)


Martha’s Vegan Jawn Hoagie is a plant-based Philadelphian sandwich at its best: Stuffed with eggplant, carrot terrine, radish and arugula—then dressed with tofu mayo—it is worth the trip to Kensington. If you’re not in the mood for finger food, try the vegan quiche with fermented ramps, chile roasted carrots and a crispy hash brown crust, or sample any of the house-made pickles.

PVLG recommends ending your meal at Martha with the vegan blackberry tea cake, garnished with a lemon berry glaze, fresh mint and raspberries.

A unique café offers life skills to former foster youth

Photo by Palette Group - 

Photo by Palette Group - 

Serving the Community, One Espresso at a Time

by Emily Kovach

Consider the archetypal barista: too cool for school, perhaps tattooed, serving and pouring your coffee with no lack of mild disdain. But at The Monkey & The Elephant, a nonprofit coffee shop in Brewerytown, prepare for that image to be shattered. The shop employs former foster youth with the goal of offering job and life skills to adolescents who might otherwise struggle to acquire a foothold in the job market.

Founder and Executive Director Lisa Miccolis spent time in her own youth working as a barista, as well as for social engagement nonprofits such as AmeriCorps and YouthBuild. After a trip in 2008 to South Africa, where she met a teenage refugee from Zimbabwe who was faced with a loss of refugee status, Miccolis was inspired to help youth in similar situations in the U.S. The idea of a coffee shop just seemed to make sense, she says, because of the variety of life and job skills that coffee service entails, and “the community element of coffee shops... the community that each café creates naturally.” 

Six years and much research, planning and many pop-ups later, Miccolis hosted a pilot pop-up at the now closed Impact Hub in Kensington, which she sees as a touchstone for the development of the The Monkey & The Elephant. She remembers observing the two young men who were working side-by-side, making excellent cups of coffee and engaging easily with the customers. She knew she was really on to something. 

“Watching them then, and even observing our youth employees now as they support one another, get to know our customers and generally build positive relationships within the community is what it is all about,” she says. 

In 2015, M&E opened as a storefront café on West Girard Avenue in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Raising the capital for the buildout of the existing space was a feat, and they relied heavily on donations and grant money. A real challenge came in the form of trying to convey to potential donors how powerful their mission of helping foster youth could be. “As a new nonprofit, we had to be able to tell our story and educate people on the importance of investing in former foster youth, and in our organization,” she remembers.

Under the leadership team and a robust board of directors, M&E’s doors have been open for two and a half years. In that time, they’ve seen six youths “graduate” from the program with 100 percent postprogram employment and housing. Miccolis describes the graduation parameters: “Completion of programmatic exercises, which range from crafting and practicing using your personal elevator pitch, to budgeting, to walking around two different neighborhoods and noticing what looks and feels different... all of the exercises are aimed at building hard and soft skills, self-awareness and self-reflection, and creating opportunities for new experiences.” 

The shop, which serves a rotating list of local coffee roasters as well as standard café fare, is anything but ordinary. Every day behind its counters, lives are being shaped and changed. 

“We’re really looking at guiding our young people to build a strong foundation for themselves, so the changes we see while they are in the program may seem small to some,” Miccolis says. “We had one young man who was pretty soft-spoken when he started at M&E, and he set the goal of wanting to find his voice and speak up more often. Every time he does, I can’t help but smile.”

Three coffee businesses go brick-and-mortar

Photo by Jason Varney

Photo by Jason Varney

Four Walls and a Cup

by Emily Kovach

Backyard Beans Coffee Co.
408 W. Main St., Lansdale, Pa.
Since 2013, Backyard Beans Coffee Co. has been roasting high quality coffee in Lansdale for wholesale, always favoring responsibly sourced beans from small farms and co-ops. Owners Laura and Matt Adams began selling their beans at farmers markets and, over time, grew to the level where they were on shelves at retailers such as Whole Foods. In the spring of 2016, they made a splash with their Punch in the Face canned cold brew, in both nitro and dry-hopped varieties.

On July 15, the duo celebrated the grand opening of a retail coffee shop, right near the Lansdale train station. This shop is all about coffee, naturally, but the menu also includes beer, wine and cocktails after 2 p.m. The bar program is a collaboration with Round Guys Brewing Co. and showcases local spirits and wines, as well.

The new café also houses a production facility, and thanks to the modern open floor plan of the shop, guests are able to see the “behind the scenes” aspects of the business in action.

While Backyard Beans has grown in size and scope, it has stayed true to its roots: The bags of beans, in compostable packages, are still available at plenty of local farmers markets.

West Shore Coffee
4600 Woodland Ave.
Many coffee shops have lofty goals about serving the best coffee for an ever more educated and adventurous customer base. But for Sochi Thomas, the idea of West Shore Coffee began with a different kind of objective: “I have always hoped to one day be able to create a space that could become a center for my community,” she says. Thomas is a single mom with two young kids, who lives a block away from 46th Street and Woodland Avenue in West Philly, the future site of West Shore Coffee.

Thomas felt inspired by the hublike nature of the location, with trolleys whizzing by, and the mix of families, students and neighborhood folks traversing the intersection. She envisions a place where coffee is accessible to everyone regardless of their ability to pay (thanks to a community coffee fund); where quarterly donations are made to local nonprofits; and eventually, a business that is worker-owned.

West Shore won’t open until 2018, but Thomas is busy promoting her GoFundMe campaign to raise capital. More info is available at

Rival Bros. Coffee
2400 Lombard St. & 1528 Spruce St.
After starting up as a coffee truck, Rival Bros. Coffee staked its claim in Philadelphia’s coffee community with a sleek, hip shop at 24th and Lombard streets. Owners Jonathan Adams and Damien Pileggi recently moved farther east and deeper into the city grid with their second retail shop at 15th and Spruce.

While their original shop has a certain wry masculinity, with its matte gray espresso machine, dark wood surfaces and a hand-lettered sign that asks, “You gonna pull those pistols, or whistle dixie?” the new shop could easily be mistaken for a university club, or another place where one might expect to find many dapper people in pantsuits. Black walls are offset by a gorgeously tiled floor, blond wood accents, cream-colored columns, leather-cushioned banquettes and light fixtures that could be borrowed from Jay Gatsby’s parlor.

On the no-nonsense menu, discerning coffee drinkers will be happy to find Rival Bros.’ own roasted coffee in blends such as Whistle & Cuss, as well as single origins. Pastries, fancy toasts and weekend collaborations with South Philly favorite Stargazy round out the food menu.

Collingswood’s Constellation Collective

Seeing Stars

by Emily Kovach

Maura Rosato, Lindsay Ferguson and Valentina Fortuna met the way so many chance encounters begin: at work. In 2013, they were all employed by The Farm and The Fisherman Tavern & Market, and all felt a natural connection with one another. A year later, Rosato and Fortuna kicked around the idea of hosting a pop-up dinner together, but before long, they were already dreaming much bigger. The idea of opening a café got stuck in their heads, and they set forth to see what was possible. 

In the beginning of 2015, they signed a lease for a kitchen space at The Factory in Collingswood, New Jersey, a member-based co-op space for artists, and began the slog of converting the zoning to commercial and starting on renovations. On March 27 of that same year, they held a “kitchen warming party,” which they still consider to be the true beginning of their business. The Constellation Collective brick-and-mortar café in downtown Collingswood came later that year, in October.

They’ve been hustling ever since (Ferguson is out on maternity leave “till an unknown date”), doing everything from “the biscuits to the books,” as they put it. Rosato and Fortuna chose Collingswood because they have roots there from growing up in New Jersey, and it appears that the town shares that sense of connection—the spot quickly became a community favorite for coffee, treats, lunch and brunch.

Constellation Collective serves a full coffee menu from Revolution Coffee Roasters, another local business, which roasts a custom blend of Ethiopian yirgacheffe and Papua New Guinea beans specifically for the shop. The duo spends lots of time in the kitchen, cooking and baking everything from scratch, and sourcing from local and responsible farmers and producers as often as possible. 

“We roll with the seasons, and mostly we like to feature our fave farmer D&V Organics’ produce,” Rosato says. Savory dishes such as hot chicken biscuits, frittatas, waffles and tacos, and sweets including French toast, housemade doughnuts and coconut macaroons are all on rotating offer.

What does the future hold? “We definitely have the desire to keep this party going,” she says, “but there’s nothing firm planned yet... We’re open to whatever our fair universe brings us!” 

685 Haddon Ave., Collingswood, N.J.

5 café drinks to keep your summer chill

Nice Ice, Baby

by Emily Kovach

1. Milkshake Lattes at River Wards Cafe
3118 Richmond St.
In a stroke of genius, Joe Livewell at Riverwards Cafe in Port Richmond blends three scoops of Bassetts vanilla ice cream with milk and a double shot of espresso to create a creamy, sweet and caffeinated treat. If chocolate is what you crave, try the Mocha Milkshake, similar to the above but with a hefty dose of Ghirardelli syrup.

2. Barista Signature Drinks at Function Coffee Labs
1001 S. 10th St.
Inspired by a rotating list of of single-origin coffees each week, the coffee geek crew at this Bella Vista shop dream up a special iced beverage to complement the tasting notes. Recent favorites include the creamsicle-esque Orange is the New Black: a citrusy, brown-sugary shot of Colombia El Mirador from NEAT Coffee that is mixed with a splash of cold water, a splash of half and half, and a housemade orange syrup, shaken in a cocktail shaker until frothy and served over ice.

3. Lavender Light & Sweet at Square One Coffee
1811 JFK Blvd. and 249 S. 13 St.
Square One’s hot-bloomed cold brew coffee is as smooth, robust and nuanced as it gets, which makes sense, since the staff roasts all of their own beans from their production space in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In this floral iteration, cold brew, local half and half, and housemade lavender syrup are shaken together and then poured on ice in an adorable, Instagram-worthy “Light & Sweet” banded Mason jar.

4. The Elixir at Elixr Coffee
207 S. Sydenham St.
Wake up on the double with this new specialty drink at Center City’s hippest café. The Elixir is a fizzy coffee soda made with Ethiopian Konga espresso and housemade syrup made from chamomile, smoked peppercorn and orange—and a splash of soda water. If that didn’t sound “mixologist” enough, the pint glass is garnished with candied orange peel. Don’t wait—the Elixir is only available in the summertime.

5. Chai Draft Latte at La Colombe
Various locations
This homegrown (now national) company is back again with another canned drink sure to develop a cult following: the Chai Draft Latte. The “first and only canned chai tea latte in America,” according to La Colombe, this to-go beverage combines cold-brewed chai and a heady blend of herbs and spices, including ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Four-packs are available in La Colombe’s brick-and-mortar cafés, in select grocery shops and on its website.

Dispatch: From a chance meeting at a D.C. metro stop to the James Beard House in New York, a lifelong vegan journey to save animals and the planet

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Celebrating V-Day

by Kate Jacoby

One evening in 1999, I ascended the monster of an escalator out of the Dupont Circle Metro in Washington, D.C., fresh from my idealistic internship at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, African Subdivision. I was definitively out of breath because my angsty, prove-something-to-the-world, late-teen self would never just stand on the right. 

After a huge, deep breath to mask my heavy breathing, I caught a leafleter out of the corner of my eye, and for some long-forgotten reason, I walked over to engage. The 20-ish, shaved-head, punkish, white man in front of me spoke: “Ever think of going vegan?”  

My eyes lit up, I cracked a big smile, I accepted his “Compassion Over Killing” leaflet with great joy and said, “As a matter of fact, yes!”  

We spoke for a few moments, indulging in a solidarity that, at that time, was quite rare. See, I was a regular at Horizons café back home in the Philly suburbs, and I logged quite a few hours chatting with my local DC Natural Foods store manager on P Street about the benefits of organic grains in aiding digestion and how best to incorporate some Bragg amino acids into my stir fries. But this was back at the birth of the Atkins diet, and many of my acquaintances were subsisting on beef jerky, peanuts and Cool Whip.

What I was consuming the most of was more and more information. The animal rights issues that originally caught my attention were merging in a perfect storm with revelations about human health and the veil lifting on the environmental degradation that stems from our factory farms. Ignorance was not an option. Vegetarianism wasn’t enough. My only way forward was vegan.

That was a long time ago, and a lot has happened since. Heated discussions with friends, embarrassing moments at holiday meals centered around Tofurky, the pitfalls of detecting shredded pork in a tamale after the food truck chef assured me that what I’d ordered was vegetarian.

I never thought that in just 20 years, there would be such a transformation in our culinary landscape, that “vegan” would be printed on so much packaging and that so many dishes would be stamped with a little “v” on restaurant menus. I definitely would not have believed you if you told me I would marry the best vegan chef in the world and that together we would cook the first vegan dinner at the James Beard House and co-author vegan cookbooks that would be top sellers.

I would have raised an eyebrow at the notion of entire schools and cities embracing Meatless Monday, let alone the idea of my own hometown mayor citing Vedge, the vegan restaurant I run with my husband, in his proclamation that Nov. 1 is now Philly Vegan Day.

I’m thankful for countless wonderful and fortunate experiences I’ve had in my life, but I’ll forever be grateful for that day in Dupont. The day I took the leaflet will always stand out as the day I really dug my heels in for the long haul. The day I never looked back. You could call it my own personal V-Day.

Kate Jacoby lives in Philadelphia with her 9-year-old son and her husband, Richard Landau. Jacoby and Landau are the team behind the city’s top-rated restaurant, Vedge.