Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vegan Kugel for Yom Kippur

G'mar Hatimah Tovah!

Today is Yom Kippur. It is a day of self-reflection, and the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Though I don't consider myself Jewish, my father was raised Jewish and our family celebrates the High Holidays by having dinner together. My favorite Jewish dish has always been the noodle kugel that my aunt makes on Yom Kippur. I may not be fasting, but I'm still very much looking forward to indulging in that meal tonight! I've experimented with a few vegan versions of noodle kugel and though this one doesn't taste exactly like the real thing, it's pretty good!

Vegan Lokshen Kugel

  • 1 pound wide noodles **
  • 1/3 cup vegan "butter" such as Earth Balance
  • 1 (6 ounce) container of plain nondairy yogurt
  • 1 (8 ounce) tub of vegan cream cheese such as Tofutti
  • 1 (12 ounce) tub of vegan sour cream such as Tofutti
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of cinnamon
** I've always used the Manischewitz brand of wide egg noodles, but they are of course not vegan. There are some vegan kosher noodles available, such as the Gefen brand. If you can't find them you can certainly use regular old linguine or fettucini.
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 F.
  2. Grease a 9x12 casserole dish
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the hot pasta with the butter, yogurt, sour cream, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla until combined.
  5. Pour noodle mixture into prepared casserole dish.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Strawberry Sauce
  • 1 pint of fresh strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. Combine the strawberries with the sugar and simmer until mixture thickens and reduces by about 1/3.
  2. Pour the strawberries over the slices of kugel and enjoy!!!

 Yield: 12 servings

Remember, vegan doesn't mean good for you! Here is a nutritional analysis of the kugel without the strawberry sauce.
Calories per serving: 440 Calories from fat: 227 Total Fat: 25.2g Saturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 43mg Sodium: 385mg Total Carbohydrates: 44.9g Dietary Fiber: 1.5g Sugars: 10.2g Protein: 7.4g

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I Don't Wear TOMS

The terms are being used more and more frequently, but it's important not to take every "eco-friendly" "sustainable" or "socially responsible" branding message at face value.

TOMS shoes are a hugely trendy brand, best known for popularizing the "Buy One, Give One" business model. For every pair purchased, another is donated to someone in need. I was tempted to nab a pair of the shoes for myself, but ultimately I decided against it, and here's why.

Teach A Man to Fish

TOMS gives shoes to people who need them, and that's great. But what happens when the "Buy One Give One" trend comes to an end? Will they be barefoot again? Perhaps it would be more beneficial to set up shoe-making facilities in the target communities. Provide them with jobs. Or better yet, teach them how to make their own shoes! This article from the New York Times opinion blog states the problem better than I could:
"'There is definitely a need for footwear in underserved markets,' said Valeria Budinich, vice president of Ashoka, a nonprofit that supports social entrepreneurs. 'But those markets need new technology, production processes and distribution chains that [are specifically designed for] rural areas. Models like Toms have many great features but aren’t designed to come up with that level of transformation.'"

Made in China

Check your labels. TOMS are made in China. They aren't handmade by artisans in South America. They aren't bringing manufacturing jobs here to the good ol' U.S.A. In fact, it's hard to find any information at all about TOMS manufacturing practices. Here's a paragraph taken from the "Corporate Responsibilty" page from the TOMS' Web site:
"...our shoes are made in China, Ethiopia and Argentina. We are aware of the challenges associated with overseeing a global supply chain and our global staff actively manages and oversees our suppliers and vendors to ensure that our corporate responsibility standards are upheld. During 2012, we will ask our material suppliers to certify that the materials they supply to us are procured in accordance with all applicable laws in the countries they do business in. We also clearly define appropriate business practices for our employees and hold them accountable for complying with our policies, including the prevention of slavery and human trafficking within our supply chain."

I'm not sure what that means. What are your "corporate responsibility standards?" Who is actually manufacturing your products?

From what we know about manufacturing practices in many third-world countries, we can only assume they aren't ideal. It's quite likely that your super awesome vegan shoes are being manufactured by underpaid overworked child factory workers.

Dolla Dolla Bills Ya'll

It's important to remember that TOMS is a for-profit corporation. The money you spend on their (overpriced cloth) shoes is not being donated to communities in need. It's going into rich guys' pockets. It's sitting in coroporate banks and being invested in things like offshore drilling (ok I have no idea what their money is directly invested in. I don't have access to their financials. But big banks don't typically make the most ethical investments!)

To clarify, I don't think that Blake Mycoskie (Founder and "Cheif Shoe Giver" at TOMS) is a bad guy. I'm quite sure that when he started the organization, he had great intentions and sincerly wanted to help others. Somewhere along the line though, he may have lost sight of the real impact of his business practices.

Other Shoe Options

Wondering how you'll cover your feet without your precious TOMS? Don't fret! There are other options out there.

Sole Rebels - These shoes are hand-crafted by artisans in Ethiopia who receive fair wages for their work. They're made from recycled and locally-sourced organic materials, and are the world's first fair trade footwear company. On top of all that, the designs are attractive and the shipping is free!

Sseko - I have a weak spot for convertible apparel. These awesome sandals are no exception. They are manufactured in Uganda by young women who need to earn money for university. The sandals themselves consist of a leather base, and interchangeable straps that can be tied in a seeminly-infinite number of styles. To learn more about Sseko's mission and the women they support, watch this video.

Ethletic Footwear - These sneakers resemble Converse One-Stars but are made with organic and fair trade certified cotton. The rubber is also fairly traded and FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council.) The shoes are assembled in Pakistan by workers who receive fair wages as well as access to health and welfare facilities. They can be purchased domestically via The Autonomie Project.

Still want to help those in immediate need of shoes?

Soles 4 Souls is a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the distribution of used (and new) shoes. Donated shoes are distributed to those in need both stateside and overseas. For more information, visit

Further Reading (You don't have to take my word for it...)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Simple Message: Simplify

I came across this video on one of my new favorite blogs, Buy Nothing New for a Year. The message is simple, and beautiful. I hope I will able to conjure these sentiments the next time I'm tempted to buy something I don't need.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Responsible Fashion Choices from Fashioning Change

I won't say that they inspired this blog, but it was while I was trying to share their message via other online and social media that I decided to start it.

Fashioning Change is a Web site dedicated to being a one-stop-shop for fashion consumers seeking responsible alternatives to popular fashion.

I came across the site while searching for eco-friendly apparel options for my own wardrobe. Though my main concern was initially eco-friendly fashions, Fashioning Change has led me to consider human rights issues in apparel manufacturing as well. It is not enough for shoes to be made of organic vegan materials if they are still manufactured by underpaid child laborers. Fashioning Change presents clothing by comparing popular fashions to responsibly-made options. Using the site, fashion consumers can shop multiple responsible brands, and can search for items similar to old favorites. Like most consumers, I assumed that the eco-friendly or more responsible fashion options would all be more expensive than their more familiar alternatives, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most items on the site are actually cheaper than their counterparts.

Shoppers can earn credits for sharing the site with their friends, which is great. I'm all about educating the masses about making responsible choices! Check out the "Wear This Not That" section for some great comparisons of trendy fashions and their responsible alternatives. It's not an exhaustive list of all the sustainable apparel brands out there, but it's a great place to start!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Small Ones Surround Us Every Day

"Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day."  -Sally Koch

Welcome to Small Ones Surround Us. I'm here to share small steps I'm taking, and steps I hope readers will take, to make every day a little bit better for people, animals, and the planet. That means seeking out responsible fashion, buying and cooking food that's better for us and the planet, and teaching others about how they can make small changes of their own.

Sometimes small changes locally can have an impact on big changes globally, so occasionally my posts will be specific to my hometown of Buffalo, but everything I share is about making small changes that affect the big picture. I'm slowly making adjustments to my lifestyle that I hope are making every day better for our planet, our fellow man, and our animal friends.