I’ve been to my fair share of parties, and The Taste for Change was the coolest I ever attended.
While the all-vegan party had many must-haves of a hip soiree, its true coolness came from its low carbon footprint. Held in late July at O’Maine Studios in Portland and hosted by the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility in conjunction with Delicious TV, the event had the express goal of illustrating how our food choices affect climate change.
Not only was all the food vegan at this sold-out event, but much of it was made from organic or local ingredients and all the waste – including napkins, plates, cups and cutlery – was composted by Garbage to Garden.
As soon as I walked through the open garage doors into the industrial space, I was surrounded by food. One minute I was being handed a slice of Flatbread pizza, the next deciding whether to try a Green Elephant banh mi sandwich or a Terra Cotta Pasta veggie dumpling. Or maybe a Pai Men Miyake futomaki?
Fourteen restaurants and food vendors donated to the event.
“We highlighted vegan food because we know that meat and dairy production plays a large role in contributing to climate change,” said Karen D’Andrea, executive director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine chapter.
Another purpose of the event, she said, was to show party-goers how easy and delicious it can be to add more plant-based meals to their lives.
“You don’t have to go, ‘Today I’m done with meat,’ ” D’Andrea said. “It’s not like giving up smoking.” A gradual or partial approach is fine, she said.
Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine counts 3,000 physicians and health-care professionals as members, and D’Andrea said its membership is all over the map when it comes to their personal eating habits. However, whether vegans, meat-eaters or somewhere in between, D’Andrea said all the organization’s members are interested in lowering the carbon footprint of what they eat.
Not only did the party tempt with seemingly unending vegan hors d’oeuvres, the festivities included three cooking demonstrations in the facility’s media kitchen.
Elizabeth Fraser of the Girl Gone Raw cooking school on Munjoy Hill led the first demo, showing how to make three varieties of nice cream using frozen bananas and a high speed blender (see recipe).
She was followed by Toni Fiore, the host of the Maine-produced PBS cooking show “Vegan Mashup,” who demonstrated how to make a tuna-free salad with artichoke hearts and chickpeas. (Find the recipe in Vegan Kitchen, Press Herald, June 11, 2014.)
Fiore urged audience members to “start shifting to some of these foods,” and she spoke about her deep concern for the state of the oceans and endangered fish like tuna. “Understand what’s happening on land with animal agriculture is seriously impacting our oceans,” Fiore told the crowd of onlookers.
The final cooking demonstration featured Kirsten Scarcelli of Plant IQ showing the crowd how to make Super Easy Beans without any oil; the group advocates a diet with no oil.
“Even though we’re not cooking with oil, it’s not sticking,” Scarcelli told the audience as she sauteed peppers, onions, corn and black beans. She later added that once you switch to cooking without oil “you really don’t miss it.”
The other thing no one missed was the meat.
“The food is excellent and the cause is very important,” Dr. Bruce Taylor told me. “As a physician I’m very concerned about the quality of our food and water.”
Taylor pointed out that climate change enables communicable diseases (and the creatures that spread them) to migrate north and it worsens air pollution, which is highly linked to diseases such as stroke.
“We’re in a vicious cycle with the way we produce food,” Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine board member Dr. Daniel Oppenheim told the crowd. “We need to find ways to eat lower on the food chain.”
The party’s final event was the Climate Cake Contest, judged by yours truly, Portland Press Herald food writer Meredith Goad and Fiore. Three gorgeous vegan cakes were brought out and we had the tough task of deciding whether the chocolate cake from The Cookie Jar, the chocolate peanut butter cake from Ice It Bakery or the lime-Bacardi coconut cake from Love Cupcakes should be awarded top marks.
After much tasting and consulting, we all cast our votes for the Love Cupcakes creation.
As Goad said, “It’s like having a key lime pie in a cake.”
No one complained that the moist and flavorful cakes lacked dairy or eggs. And when the party wrapped up, all that was left were a few crumbs for the compost bin.
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at: [email protected]