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Forget Tricks — Choose Treats

On day two of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, I'm awash with strange feelings of sadness and hope, weariness from reading too much news, and some confusion that it's also Halloween today. Trick or treat? The sun and a little blue sky peek through fluffy clouds. It's easy to feel a little better and forget about yesterday's mayhem looking out the window, sipping my pumpkin-spice coffee.

In my little corner of Queens we got off easy. The power held through the night (only a few flickers, usually reserved for the dog days of August), and the next day left me with a productive day of cooking, reading, cleaning, and playing games. Both nights I couldn't help but think of friends less fortunate: those sent to evacuation centers whose basements and apartment lobbies flooded, and, by far the most horrifying of all, friends who lost their homes to the raging fires that engulfed Breezy Point near Rockaway. By the time this post goes live, surely this post-apocalyptic image of Breezy Point will be a familiar sight to many of us keeping tabs on the aftermath these next few days and weeks. Over the past few summers, I've spent many delicious beach days on those boardwalks since Rockaway Beach has been deemed a foodie hot spot (the zesty tofu tacos of Rockaway Taco are an absolute must). To imagine the damage to the businesses, homes, and lives in the area is absolutely heartbreaking.

My thoughts also go out to the food-industry workers of our city, those millions that commute into Manhattan from the outer boroughs every day to steam hundreds of thousands of lattes, flip endless burgers or tortillas or pizza, and deliver mountains of pad thai to offices and apartment buildings. Living wages are notoriously in short supply in the food-service industry. A food-industry job in Manhattan often just barely pays for an apartment in Brooklyn (and not a lux or hip location like Park Slope or Williamsburg — typically a shared arrangement in Marine Park or further), Queens, Staten Island, or New Jersey. Somehow, some way, many of these people are getting to work. Hell or high water, or exploding power stations, the island will be fed.Somehow, some way, many of these people are getting to work. Hell or high water, or exploding power stations, the island will be fed. While it's easy to joke about not getting one's caffeine fix due to a Starbucks closure, it's also easy to joke when it's not your low-wage job on the line when the entire mass-transit system isn't expected to be fully operational until the weekend.

I'm saddened that a public-transit shutdown, a power-station explosion, and massive flooding in downtown canceled — or possibly postponed — Halloween in NYC. I love that people in NYC love Halloween so much. It's not the most important thing right now, of course, but it's undeniably a bummer.

Yesterday was also the "official" release date for Vegan Eats World. I'm feeling a little guilty about the suggestion of anything eating one's world after this week's events. In the introduction to VEW, I confess that this book is really a vegan love letter to Queens, the borough I call home — how its diverse population and lush ethnic-food culture influence my approach toward making great vegan food. Knowing that so much of Queens is hurting after this record-breaking hurricane, I feel I must connect the dots between what we feed ourselves and how it impacts the rapidly shifting world we live in.

Ripples in the media that this Frankenstorm may be evidence of global warming are hard to ignore. Many of us are becoming aware that our daily food choices have far-reaching effects, including the connection between eating meat and the climate. I don't like the view from the top of the soapbox, so while I climb up there (and quickly climb down), I offer my deepest apologies to all, including a few to myself.

I'm completely invested in helping others make tiny choices that add up to big changes. Among the smallest are the ones we make several times a day: what we eat. These tiny choices are often thoughtless, shoved into our mouths, bites caught in between life and work, to be forgotten within minutes. The good news is that better small choices don't require a lot of time either. And sometimes they're even fun.

I've made it a life mission of mine to help others make those better, tiny, even enjoyable choices. Making tasty vegan food is my favorite teaching method. Teaching better choices improves the world threefold: it helps us right now (our health), it helps us achieve long-term goals (improving the lives of domesticated animals and the folks who work in our agriculture system), and it changes the great-big picture (moving away from unbalanced food systems that impact our stressed-out environment). Choosing one meatless option for lunch won't stop coastal flooding, but maybe a lot of those choices made by many people over a long stretch of time could make things a little better for somebody.

I'm feeling tempted myself to be a Halloween Scrooge (boo humbug?), but today I'll chin up, help someone out who might be having a tough day, and try and spread a little pumpkin cheer. Today there are no tricks, only treats.

÷ ÷ ÷

Terry Hope Romero is a vegan chef and author of several bestselling and award-winning cookbooks. She contributes to VegNews‘s “Hot Urban Eats” column and has hosted the public access/podcast vegan cooking show the Post Punk Kitchen. She lives in Queens, New York.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Vegan Eats World: 250 International...
    Sale Hardcover $14.98

Terry Hope Romero is the author of Vegan Eats World: 250 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet

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