Book Review: Becoming Vegan, Express Edition

book cover

Did you know that “vegetarian” was first coined in 1842 and has more to do with its Latin root, vegetus, which means “lively, fresh, and vigorous,” than with vegetables?

More and more people are wanting to lead “lively, fresh, and vigorous” lives as vegetarians or vegans out of compassion or for health reasons. Becoming Vegan, Express Edition: The Everyday Guide to Plant-based Nutrition by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD is a helpful resource to combat common nutritional misconceptions and to ensure proper nutrition. This book could be helpful resource for anyone, whether or not they consider themselves to be “becoming vegan” and no matter where they fall on the spectrum of plant-based eating,

As registered dieticians, Davis and Melina offer a wealth of knowledge on how to get enough protein, where to find key minerals like B12 and iron, and what good fats to include in your diet. Last year, I wasn’t able to be a blood donor because my iron level was on the low end of normal, and since then I’ve been looking for ways to get more iron into my diet. Becoming Vegan taught me that cutting back on caffeine and including vitamin C in my meals will increase my iron absorption. In other words, an iron-rich breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and nuts is even more iron-rich when I add a serving of citrus fruit or strawberries to it. Don’t worry if that meal idea doesn’t sound good to you; the book includes a chart of vegan foods and their general mineral content to help you plan nutritious meals to suit your tastes.

In addition, Becoming Vegan offers nutritional advice for those with special dietary needs, including pregnant women, children, and the elderly. I’ve often heard that folate is important for pregnant women. I was relieved to read that vegans and vegetarians who eat beans, greens, and oranges can easily meet their folate needs. Another helpful table lists foods that provide 15 grams of protein per serving and also have high levels of iron, zinc, and folate. You can use this table to help you to maximize the nutrition in your diet. The next time you’re sitting down to watch a movie, swap out the popcorn for a couple cups of fresh pea pods and get a major boost of protein, iron, and folate. These kinds of strategies and sample menus that you’ll find in the book will help you to feel confident that, no matter what your life stage, you’re getting the nutrition that you need to thrive.

Chapter Eight overviews the strengths and weaknesses of ten different vegan diets and in the process reveals the variety of food choices that vegans have. Davis and Melina include tips on how to make those diets work for your nutritional needs. Additional chapters focus on dietary modifications for those who are overweight, underweight, or athletes.

One of my favorite resources in Becoming Vegan is “The Vegan Plate,” a diagram accompanied by a table of suggested servings and tips. I recommend making a photocopy of this diagram and sticking it on your fridge as an easy reference guide. I also appreciate the recipe for “Liquid Gold Dressing,” a whole foods alternative to a vitamin supplement. Each serving contains your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids and half your daily B12 requirement.

I recommend Becoming Vegan, Express Edition to anyone looking for a comprehensive guide to plant-based diets or for those who want to be well-versed in addressing misconceptions about vegan nutrition and current dietary controversies, like whether or not soy is good for you. I learned a lot of valuable information about being healthy on a plant-based diet that will benefit me for years to come, allowing me to be the most “lively, fresh, and vigorous” vegetarian or vegan I can be.


Volunteer Story: The Power of Pay-Per-View

David Smith volunteering

“It was life-changing!” “I’ll never eat meat again.”  “Thank you so much for showing me this.”  “I had no idea!”

As a volunteer for Compassionate Action for Animals, I often hear these comments from people who’ve just watched “Farm to Fridge,” a five-minute video revealing the ugly side of factory farming. Facilitating pay-per-view outreach, I invite passersby to watch the short movie in exchange for a dollar. I’m always gratified to see how they are moved by the video and then consider making changes in their own lives to help animals in need.

I’ve always had a soft spot for those in need, but it wasn’t until college that I learned what happens to animals on factory farms. I was assigned to give an “informative and persuasive” speech, and I chose factory farming as the subject. Though the topic was difficult to research and deliver, I felt a compelled to let people know about the plight of these animals. Ultimately, the process of giving an “informative and persuasive” speech served to inform and persuade, of all people, myself. I instantly began eating more ethically. Since then, I’ve been vegetarian or vegan, or what I like to call “Plant Strong.”

In the years following my college experience, I didn’t feel like I was able to be an effective advocate for animals through conversation alone. When discussing the topic with others, I often felt discouraged, like my words didn’t have an impact. Then, I was introduced to pay-per-view.

Using this type of outreach, I saw people change before my eyes. People who seemed indifferent to the lives of farmed animals suddenly showed deep concern for these animals in the film. Some people were disgusted, angry, or saddened by the cruelties exposed. Most viewers were speechless, unable to make another excuse for eating animals. They realized the undeniable truth that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering and that each one of us can choose not to contribute to that suffering. Often after seeing the film, viewers wanted to know how to help and were open to the idea of eating a more plant-based diet. They happily accepted the “Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating,” a free brochure that shows how healthy and delicious a plant-based diet can be.

Seeing this transformation, I felt a surge of enthusiasm and hope. I thought of how research has reported that ninety-four percent of Americans believe that animals on farms should not suffer. The pay-per-view experience helps people confront that suffering. They begin to understand how their daily actions do or don’t reflect their values. Then, with the right resources and positive encouragement, they can take steps to align their choices with their values.

If you are interested in volunteering with pay-per-view but are feeling unsure, don’t worry. You’ll work beside experienced volunteers. After a little pay-per-view experience, you too will see the value of this form of outreach advocacy and you’ll feel confident in your ability to make a positive change for animals.

The next pay-per-view tabling event is happening at the Pride Festival in Loring Park on Saturday, June 18 and Sunday, June 29, 2014. If you’d like to volunteer for this or another outreach event, contact outreach coordinator Grace Van Susteren at grace.vansusteren@exploreveg.org.

Who needs eggs when there’s Tofu Ranchero?

Tofu Ranchero Taco

Compassionate Action for Animals volunteer and board member Jeff Johnson created this recipe for Tofu Ranchero and demonstrated how to prepare it at the Simple Mexican Vegan Food cooking class on June 19th, 2014. This flavorful vegan take on “Huevos Rancheros” replaces scrambled eggs with spicy scrambled tofu.

Egg-laying chickens are some of the most abused animals in the food industry. They spend the entirety of their lives in deplorable conditions, and they number in the billions. If you want to help animals, finding alternatives for eggs is a great place to start. With options like delicious and healthful Tofu Ranchero, we can stop supporting the egg industry and begin enjoying food that reflects our values.

You can also find this recipe posted on Jeff Johnson’s blog.

Exploring Twin Cities Veg Fest – Part 1

In this first podcast of a four-part series devoted to all things Veg Fest, we give an overview of the upcoming festival celebrating compassionate living. CAA executive director Unny Nambudiripad talks with Twin Cities Veg Fest organizer Dave Rolsky about what the Veg Fest is, how it came to be, and what it offers the general public.

Twin Cities Veg Fest 2014 will be held at Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota on Sunday, September 28th, 2014. Compassionate Action for Animals is currently raising funds for the festival through Indiegogo. The campaign ends on July 1st. Make a contribution today, and become a VegFest funder.

Twin Cities Veg Fest Wants You!

Twin Cities Veg Fest wants you!

What local restaurants and exhibitors would you like to have selling fabulous food and giving away scrumptious samples at Twin Cities Veg Fest 2014?

Did you realize that you can help get them there? Here’s how:

  1. Take a photo of your favorite vegan product.
  2. Post the picture on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account, @tagging the company who made the product and @tagging Twin Cities Veg Fest (on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram).
  3. Last but not least, be sure add the #TCVegFestWantsYou hashtag (you can also include our other official hashtags #TCVegFest2014 and #CelebrateCompassion).

Then, we will repost your image on the company’s Facebook page and in our Facebook album for all the world to see and to “like.” If you don’t have a photo to post, be sure to visit the album and “like” all the photos that look good to you. The more attention a photo receives, the better chances that particular company will bring their goodies to Twin Cities Veg Fest 2014. Now get with the program, and start posting those vegan delicacies of your dreams.

Participating in TCVegFestWantsYou is just one of the many ways that you can support Twin Cities Veg Fest 2014. You can also head over to our Indiegogo page and make a contribution to our fundraising campaign, which continues through July 1st.

We aim to make this year’s Twin Cities Veg Fest the best one yet, and with your help, we will!

Outreach Leadership Positions Available

Do you love doing outreach on behalf of animals? Would you like to do more to spread the message of compassion to the general public? Compassionate Action for Animals is looking for outgoing volunteers with strong leadership skills to help manage our regular outreach activities. Consider applying for a volunteer position as either the Tabling Supervisor or the Leafleting Supervisor. Contact Outreach Coordinator Grace Van Susteren if you are interested in applying for either of these positions.

Tabling Supervisor

about 10 hours/month

The Tabling Supervisor manages a CAA outreach table in a high-traffic area once or twice a month. Alongside two or more volunteers, the supervisor will help to educate the public about factory farming and plant-based diets. The supervisor is not responsible for planning the events or recruiting volunteers but is present for the duration of the event, managing other volunteers and participating in general tabling activities.


  • Attend one or two tabling events every month, including the upcoming Pride Festival, June 28 and 29, 2014
  • Secure the necessary materials for tabling
  • Arrange for transportation of all materials to tabling locations
  • Be present before and after tabling events to manage setup and cleanup of display table
  • Supervise at least two other volunteers for each tabling event
  • Train new volunteers to use effective tabling skills
  • Use pay-per-view and other outreach methods to educate the public about factory farming, plant-based diets, and the work of Compassionate Action for Animals
  • Report volunteer attendance and outreach success to the Outreach Coordinator

Leafleting Supervisor

about 10 hours/month

The Leafleting Supervisor oversees CAA outreach leafleting, which involves the distribution of brochures about factory farming and plant-based eating to the general public at colleges, concerts, and festivals. These leafleting events happen twice a month, and the supervisor will work with two or more other volunteers for each event. The Leafleting Supervisor should be available in the late in the evening for concerts, during school hours for colleges, and in the afternoon on summer weekends for festivals.


  • Locate appropriate venues and events for leafleting
  • Secure necessary materials for leafleting
  • Arrange for transportation of materials to leafleting locations
  • Attend two CAA leafleting events every month
  • Supervise at least two other volunteers for each leafleting event
  • Train new volunteers to use effective leafleting skills
  • Distribute literature about factory farming and plant-based diets to large numbers of people at local events
  • Recruit new volunteers to leaflet
  • Report volunteer attendance and literature distribution to Outreach Coordinator

Qualifications for Outreach Leadership Positions

The Tabling and Leafleting Supervisors are:
  • Passionate about educating the public about factory farming and plant-based diets
  • Organized, detail-oriented, creative, and resourceful, with excellent problem-solving skills
  • Friendly, outgoing, and approachable, with good communication skills
  • Able to interact positively with a wide variety of people
  • Able to handle conversational challenges in a polite, respectful manner
  • Possessing a general knowledge of animal agriculture and plant-based diets
  • Well-versed in CAA’s history, mission, values, strategies, and communication style

For more information or to apply, contact Grace Van Susteren.

What’s Behind Nearly Every Glass of Milk

Play Video

A new undercover investigation conducted by Mercy for Animals reveals shocking abuse at Canada’s largest dairy farm. Heartbreaking video footage exposes workers brutalizing mother cows in ways that would be unthinkable if inflicted on a dog or cat. Yet, these intelligent, social animals are kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy and lactation, while having to endure these egregious forms of cruelty on a daily basis.

This kind of abuse is not uncommon in the world of factory farming, where the financial gain of the business is considered more important than the well-being of the animals. That hierarchical paradigm gives way to such abuses, as the animals’ capacity to suffer as living, breathing individuals is inevitably devalued and ultimately exploited.

While dairy milk was once considered a wholesome treat, its reputation is beginning to sour. Again and again, investigations such as this one show the general public what’s behind the animal products that we consume. With this information, we can make new choices about what to buy or how to eat. Moving towards a plant-based diet, we stop supporting a system that breeds this kind of violence, and we live a life aligned with our values, with the intention to do the least harm possible.

Sadie the cow
Sadie was rescued from the dairy industry where she would have been slaughtered at the young age of 5. At the time this picture was taken, she was 11 and living at Animal Place Sanctuary.

Visit our website for a Free Veg Starter Guide, and if you live in the Twin Cities area please join us at one of our community events. These events are designed to support you on your own journey in joyful, compassionate living.


Another Step on the Pathway to Change

pig in a gestation crate

The Star Tribune announced that Cargill, one of the world’s largest agribusiness firms, has taken decisive steps towards phasing out the use of gestation crates for pigs by the end of 2017. Mounting pressure from both consumers and animal advocacy groups led to the big move. Paul Shapiro, the vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, recently met with representatives of Cargill. Speaking of the pigs, he said, “These are 500-pound animals, curious and smart. To punish them with a type of life sentence of abject misery, it’s just out of step with mainstream American sentiment on how animals should be treated.”

Over the years, undercover video has revealed horrific conditions for pigs on factory farms. Gestation crates, which confine female pigs used for breeding to cramped metal cages for most of their adult lives, are considered particularly cruel and have already been banned in several U.S. states as well as in the U.K. and Sweden.

a happy pig
Pig In Field © Farm Sanctuary
Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

At Compassionate Action for Animals, we acknowledge and appreciate the work that groups such as HSUS have done to bring these issues to the mainstream awareness and to move us further along the pathway to change. We also encourage those who care about animals to continue along that path by making the transition to a plant-based diet. Visit our website for a Free Veg Starter Guide, and if you live in the Twin Cities area please join us at one of our community events. These events are designed to support you on your own journey in compassionate living.

Cookbook Review: 30 Minute Vegan Soup’s On!

The latest cookbook in the “30 Minute Vegan” series by VeganFusion.com teacher Mark Reinfeld is all about soup.

The book 30 Minute Vegan Soup’s On! offers over 100 recipes for a wide variety of soups. “30 minutes” is for real. The recipes follow a measure, chop, and simmer pattern to get the food to the table quickly. Many of the soups tasted better after sitting overnight, but leftovers can be a great thing; when you’re coming in from a cold Minnesota winter, a quick, hot meal is very welcome!

The book divides the soup recipes into a few chapters: vegetable-based soups; soups made with grains, legumes and pasta; creamy blended soups; raw and dessert soups; and garnishes and sides. Reinfeld includes a good selection of gluten-free recipes, and those recipes that were not gluten-free often includeda list of gluten-free alternative ingredients.

Each recipe suggested a possible garnish. The vegan crème fraîche is made from just vegan mayonnaise and lemon, and that’s how it tastes. But some garnishes added a lot to the soup, like the “Crispy Kale” and the “Tempeh Bacon.”

The best soup recipes use coconut milk. The “Thai Coconut Soup with Lemongrass” and “African Peanut Soup” turned out to have a creamy texture with a great balance between the vegetables and spices. On the other hand, the “Indian Chutney Stew with Tamarind” numbed my mouth but didn’t have much flavor. The “Black Bean Tomato Soup with Polenta Dumplings” didn’t taste any more exciting than the sum of its ingredients, but using polenta for dumplings is something I would definitely try again.

Sampling these recipes, I realized how much ingredients matter. For example, shiitake mushrooms can’t always be substituted with cheaper mushrooms; they’re what made the “Thai Coconut Soup” great. Likewise, substituting brown rice for basmati in the “Caribbean Red Bean and Rice Soup” didn’t work. That said, the book is helpful when it suggests variations, especially with vegetables, and it weaves lots of tips for enhancing flavor and saving time into the recipe method. Those specialty foods that you may not have handy in your kitchen are worth the shopping trip.

I also learned that some spices go a long, long way in soup. For me, chili peppers are more unbearably hot than flavorful, so the “Mayan Tomato and Corn Soup” and “BBQ Tempeh and Roasted Corn Stew” were too fiery even when I cut the amounts of chili powder and jalapeño chiles in half. Caraway seeds also dominated the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Red Cabbage Soup,” especially when eaten the next day. My recommedation: ease into the spices that aren’t you’re favorites.

All in all, I appreciated this flavorful assortment of cruelty-free soup recipes, from the spicy, hot soups to warm you up in the winter, to the cool, raw soups to refresh you in the summer. I’d recommend 30 Minute Vegan Soup’s On! to anyone who enjoys soup anytime of the year and wants to make it under 30 minutes.

What’s the point of being friendly?

Volunteers enjoying food

Some of us are naturally friendly, and some of us need to work at it. With this idea in mind, we have included a new page on our site: How to Be Friendly: A Guide for Animal Advocates. This resource for activists offers tips on how to be more friendly as a volunteer, as a host, in conversation, and especially with newcomers.

You might be wondering what’s the point of being friendly.

At Compassionate Action for Animals, we strive to encourage others to cultivate empathy for animals and move towards a plant-based diet. To support this mission, the quality of our communication is vital. We aim to be confident, positive, and welcoming in our interactions with all people. When each of us embraces the intention to be friendly, we are able to connect to a larger community and be a more powerful voice for the animals. We are also living our mission and treating others as we would want to be treated.

Read the guide and consider how you might grow to be a more effective advocate for animals.


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