Michael and Ethan are the Vegan Mos. Ethan is a podiatry surgeon, and on the board of directors for the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. Michael is a recovering lawyer who’s switched his skills to speaking for the speechless, and he’s also a Food for Life instructor through PCRM. They’re both making strides in the vegan world and I was lucky enough to be graced by their presence in Victoria Moran’s house at the Main Street Vegan Academy in NYC a couple months back, where they came to speak. These two are full of positivity, life, good energy, and vegan vibes. Their new cook book, ‘NYC Vegan, Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple‘ is packed to the brim with crazy delicious vegan comfort food (including their infamous Black & White Cookies, seen below!)
Let’s get to know them…
Hooked on Plants: Ethan, you were the first one to go vegan, and you weren’t exactly soft or silent about it to Michael (haha). Eventually Michael caught on! Can you expand on this? Why and how did you both go vegan?
Ethan: I initially went vegetarian for health reasons. At 38 years old I was already taking medication for high cholesterol and was 40 pounds over weight. I saw being vegetarian as way to lose weight and get my cholesterol under control. I then read The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food by Jeffrey Masson and learned the horrors of factory farming. I knew that I could not continue to eat any animal products or benefit in any way from any kind of animal abuse. Ethically, being vegan was the only logical choice, and after 5 months of being vegetarian, on Thanksgiving 2009 we went to Michael’s family for the traditional meal, but I didn’t eat anything. When we came home, I prepared the Tofurky Thanksgiving Feast and realized that if I could do Thanksgiving as a vegan, I could be vegan all the time.
Michael: During this time, I was working out of the house and doing most of the cooking. I had to learn how to make food that Ethan would eat and that I would like. So, even though I wasn’t even considering being vegan, I was learning how to cook vegan food. Also during this time, Ethan, like most people when they first learn the horrors of factory farming, became full on vegangelical and would continually ask me questions like, “how is your plate of murder?” ….Rather than getting me to go vegan, this had the opposite effect. I can be very stubborn and wasn’t about to be bullied into doing something. Thankfully, Ethan soon realized that this approach wasn’t working and accepted the fact that he was the one who changed and it wasn’t fair to expect me to change as well. As soon as Ethan stopped pushing, space was created that allowed me to walk forward. After seeing Kathy Freston on Oprah talk about “leaning in to veganism” and being “flexitarian,” I started doing Meatless Mondays. I eventually added in Tofu Tuesdays, Wegetable Wednedays, Tempeh Thursdays, etc. I didn’t say a word to Ethan about what I was doing, but as soon as I completed a full 7 days vegan, I looked at Ethan and said, “It’s been a full week, I am vegan now.” I then of course went through my own vegangelical phase and found myself doing the exact same things Ethan did. Luckily, I soon stopped.
HOP: What are your tips for talking to non-vegan family members?
Ethan: My best advice is to accept that you might not necessarily be able change them. Just like you are asking for them to accept you and your choice to live vegan, it is important to understand that they may not be in a space where they can receive the same information that you did, much less integrate it or act on it. Often, it is hardest for our closest friends and family to receive this information from us because our relationships are steeped in lots of history and baggage. It is always important to share your truth with the people you love and you should never tolerate relationships where you are ridiculed, teased or not accepted because of the ethical choices you make, because that cuts at the trust and mutual respect which is at the core of any healthy relationship.
At the same time, respect goes both ways. Even though it might be difficult for us to never truly respect our loved one’s choice to not personally embrace a vegan ethic, it’s important to separate that from respecting them as individuals and respecting their right to make their own choices, even choices with which we strongly disagree. In my experience, when you come at folks without an agenda of “getting them to go vegan” it’s far more likely that they actually will.
Michael: Don’t pressure them, as we both learned, that never works. It is better to inspire by example…we need to meet people where they are. If they bring it up, I like to follow the advice of Colleen Patrick Goudreau who said, ‘if you are asked about being vegan during a meal, let the person know you are more than happy to have that conversation, but ask if they really want to have that conversation right now.’
HOP: The Vegan Mos NYC Vegan cookbook is so drool-worthy and packed with old time comfort-food faves! Can you tell us what ‘Vegan Mos’ stands of and how it started?
Vegan Mos: The “Mos” in our name is short for homos. Our friends Dan and Mike already had The Gay Vegans, so we decided to use vegan as the adjective to modify Mos. In the 90’s in the LGBT community, using the term “mo” became a way of referring to one another “oh, he’s a mo,” so we decided to reclaim it. We began Vegan Mos as a way of sharing recipes for delicious, homemade vegan food. We wanted to show people that going vegan did not mean giving up any of the flavours we loved. We also wanted to highlight the intersection of LGBT rights and animal rights. We wanted to help people see that speciesism is no different than homophobia – both stem from a fictitious belief that one group of beings is superior to another and therefore can oppress the perceived lesser one.
HOP: Can you tell us one of the most life changing moments you have had on a farm sanctuary?
Ethan: I remember when The Tiniest Herd was rescued at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary back in 2016 and the first time I went up and met all the tiny baby goats (like many folks, I can get a little obsessed with the cuteness overload from baby goat videos). When I got to meet all of these babies and watch them with their young mothers, I had my first “Ah-ha” moment about how special this truly was: here were Mothers who got to keep their babies. That just doesn’t happen to the overwhelming majority of farmed animals out there. It really hit me right then and there: when we support industries that use animals for food or some other human purpose, we’re actually destroying families. It was such a special experience to witness these cute babies playing around us with their equally adorable young Mamas who were keeping a watchful eye on them, occasionally disciplining them as needed. I thought, “this is how it’s supposed to be.” That experience infused my already deeply-rooted animal rights activism with a deeper layer of commitment: to keeping families from being separated, whether they are animal families or human families.
Michael: It was when I first got to meet a piglet at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary named Mishka. Ethan named him Mishka, after me. Mishka was my name in Russian class and when my cousin Karen learned that, she began calling me that, and still does to this day (I won’t say how many decades later). At Woodstock, they don’t like to use the same names for different residents to avoid any confusion when talking about the animals. As there already was a Mike there (even though I never go by Mike, they didn’t want to risk confusion between Mike and Michael), Ethan chose to use Mishka. Mishka and his family (3 brothers, his sister, and his mother) were rescued from a horrible situation of neglect. Sadly one of his brother’s passed away, but Mishka will get to live his life safe and happy with his family. Mishka was the littlest of the bunch and they were not sure he would survive, but he did. This is much like my start in life having been born as a premie and no one knew if I would survive. When I finally got to meet my namesake I was overwhelmed with emotions I began to cry. I will never forget that moment. To know that this little pig is getting the life that so few farm animals will ever get and the fact that he was named was truly remarkable. It was this bittersweet experience of joy for this family and sadness for all the other pigs, and really all the animals, that will never get to live free from harm with their families.
HOP: What are your top 3 tips for people out there who want to go vegan?
- Take it one meal at a time. Don’t worry about what you are going to do on Thanksgiving, or about your birthday cake, or any other far-off meal.
- Shifting your focus from yourself to the animals you are saving really helps. No animal product tastes as good as saving that animal’s life.
- Instead of focusing on what’s “missing” from your plate, see that empty space as an opportunity to discover new foods. Try wheatberries, quinoa, amaranth or barley if you haven’t tried them. Maybe you could try Anasazi or Fava beans? Ever try a broccolini? What about Romanesco? There are so many amazingly delicious, unique and nutrient-dense foods out there. We just need to open ourselves up to trying them.
HOP: What makes you happy on a normal day outside of being vegan superstars? 🙂
Ethan: When I can remember in the middle of my day to practice mindfulness and focus on my gratitude it shifts my mood immediately and lifts me up. It’s super easy in our current sociopolitical climate to feel threatened and overwhelmed if you’re an LGBT person (or any other minority for that matter.) Sometimes I’ll just stop and think, “You’re breathing… and it’s easy and painless” and I shift my focus and awareness there and just go with that and it immediately de-stresses me and reconnects me to the innate joy and peace that’s always there, but that is often covered up. It is something that I can do anywhere, anytime and radically increases my capacity to feel joy during everyday moments and when doing otherwise mundane activities.
Michael: Spending time with our dogs Riley and Charlie gives me so much joy. There is nothing as wonderful as the love of a companion animal. Also, I am a TV junkie, so sitting on the couch a being able to lose myself in a good TV show is wonderful.
HOP: Where is the next place you’ll be for people to come meet up with you?
Vegan Mos: Our next scheduled public appearance will at the Hudson Valley Vegfest on either November 3 or 4.
HOP: Let us in on your favourite recipe from your cookbook!
Vegan Mos: That is like trying to pick which of our dogs we love more. All the recipes in NYC Vegan have some special meaning to us. However, in the list of truly iconic NYC food, Black and White Cookies are near the top (scroll down for the recipe)
Where to find the Vegan Mos:
- 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup nondairy butter
- ¼ cup nondairy milk, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ cup boiling water, plus more if needed
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup nondairy semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 (18 x 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In another large bowl, combine the sugar and butter and beat until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in batches, beating after each addition, until combined.
- Scoop the dough, ¼ cup at a time, onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the scoops 3 inches apart. Flatten them slightly with your hands (keep your hands wet to prevent the dough from sticking). Allow room between the scoops as the cookies will spread as they bake.
- Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cookies to cool 2 minutes on the baking sheets and then carefully flip the cookies over and transfer them, upside down, to a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cookies are cooling, make the icing. In a large mixing bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, boiling water, and vanilla. Mix well to get a spreadable icing. Add a little more water, if needed. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of icing onto the flat side, the former bottom, of each cookie. Return the cookies to the wire rack to dry. You should have about ½ cup of icing left.
- While the white icing is drying, melt the chocolate chips in a microwave or double boiler. When the chips are all melted and smooth, whisk the melted chocolate into the remaining icing. The chocolate icing should be thicker than the white, but still be spreadable. If it is too thick, add a little hot water to thin it out. Use the offset spatula to frost one half of each cookie over the white icing. Return the cookies to the wire racks to dry. Store leftovers in a covered container for up for 5 days.
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