Sometimes a cookbook is about much more than just food. Sometimes there’s also an important message to convey.
Please note that this post covers some emotionally challenging topics. It has a semi-hopeful conclusion.
A Visitor Before the Heatwave
On a Friday in late June, I sat on the front porch admiring the flowers in bloom. Anxiety coursed through my veins because I was filled with concern. Meteorologists predicted an exceptionally hot weekend in the Pacific Northwest, with temperatures shattering multiple records.
Knowing that the flowers might not look so good a few days later, I walked up to snap a few photos with my phone. A hummingbird suddenly approached and hovered directly in front of my face, above the flowers, looking back. Maybe it sensed the approaching weather and was willing to take an extra risk for food while it was still available. I couldn’t help but wonder if could be trying to tell me something.
As I gazed back at this tiny being, beautiful, magnificent, powerful, and also fragile, I considered how its fate depended upon the actions of my species. Would we care for the planet in a way that allowed its kind—and countless others—to survive and thrive, or would we allow things to devolve beyond livability?
The little hummingbird allowed me to take a few photos as it hovered in front of me.
Recalling the Recent Fires
The anticipation of a heatwave was especially unnerving given that the previous September, the Portland region had experienced wildfire smoke so bad that it was literally “off the chart.”
The air quality reporting site airnow.gov, which utilizes a large network of monitoring stations, has a 0- to 500-point pollution severity scale with the following levels: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous.
During that claustrophobic experience, pollution in our region climbed above 500, somewhere beyond “hazardous.”
Staying inside with all the windows and doors shut wasn’t enough, and it was incredibly difficult to find air filtration equipment because everything was sold out. We initially resorted to taping filters made for truck cabins to small fans and sitting near them. We also tried taping HEPA vacuum filter bags to fans to clean the air, but our older pedestal fans weren’t powerful enough.
Over several days and much effort, we were able to obtain one and eventually two box fans with a little more power. The best air filters to be found were just below the level recommended for filtering out wildfire smoke–but better than nothing, at least.
I finally located an industrial supply store with sufficient quality air filters for making effective homemade filters from box fans. But the day we were supposed to pick them up, the supply store was closed—because the smoke was so bad.
By the time I finally got the filters, the lower-quality filter we had been running in a box fan for only 4 or 5 days—shown in the photo below—was already quite brown. Keep in mind that this was indoors with all the windows and doors closed.
Would the smoke have any lasting health impacts? Would lung damage make us more susceptible to covid? We were still months away from a vaccine.
I stopped to drop off a filter at a house of a friend with some immune system concerns. It wasn’t safe to go inside her house due to covid, and we could talk outside on her porch for only a few moments due to the wildfire smoke. There was no safe place to connect, even for a short period.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing—likely my body trying to tell me to run, to escape, or do something, anything, probably like my ancestors would instinctively do when they smelled wildfire.
Several friends and acquaintances had lost property in those wildfires, and many people had been forced to evacuate their homes. At one point we were around 10 miles north of the fire evacuation line, but were very fortunate.
At that time, the George Floyd protests were also still happening, with a small area of Portland about five miles west of us seeming to be a national center of attention. I had attended several non-violent marches, doing my best to maintain distance due to covid concerns.
Memories of the previous year flashed through my mind as I worried about what the impacts of the current heatwave would be.
The Heatwave and Its Aftermath
Over the next few days, the heat in Portland climbed to 116 Fahrenheit, breaking records for three days in a row.
One of the evenings after it finally began to cool down, I came out to sit on the porch. It was still pretty uncomfortable, but bearable. Despite having given the flowers a good watering, they weren’t looking so good. Just after sitting down, I was surprised to see what appeared to be the same hummingbird approach the flowers once again. As it flitted around trying in vain to find nectar amidst the prematurely shriveled brown flowers, I got a few tears in my eyes.
Fortunately, some new flowers opened by later in the week, and I saw my little friend once again, happily flitting about. But I knew that the threat was not gone, and that there was still much work to do. The shriveled flowers and vegetable plants in the yard were nothing compared to some of the damage sustained elsewhere.
Reports of heatwave-related damage were staggering. The heatwave led to more than 500 deaths in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Canada. There were nearly 100 deaths in Oregon alone, most in or near Portland. The heat melted power cable insulation on light rail cars and caused streets and sidewalks to buckle. It helped to spread a massive wildfire in Canada that wiped out most of a small town shortly after the area broke the all-time maximum temperature record for the entire country. Climate scientists concluded that a heatwave of such magnitude would have been virtually impossible without climate change.
Not life-or-death but pertinent to this blog: Climate shifts could even make real maple syrup, a favorite topping of waffle lovers, a difficult-to-obtain luxury item.
Maintaining Hope with a Book
In some ways I felt a bit like a hummingbird, dependent upon a complex world to survive, while also feeling small and uncertain about how much of a difference I was making.
Amidst the chaos, I had been struggling to finalize the cover design of the revised and expanded Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook. Focusing on updating the book had helped me to get through much of the previous year and a half. I decided that I wanted it to symbolize challenge, chaos, and hope all bundled together, with some playful elements. I also considered the numerous purposes of the book, including being more global, reaching more people, impacting the climate, reducing suffering, and also helping people to experience delicious fun and nourishing connection.
I decided that the cover should have bright colors like many flowers and hummingbirds. It would have at least one red stripe, because the hummingbird had a red stripe on its neck. That stripe, surrounding the earth, would represent the challenge of climate change. Green would represent plants and the earth, purple would represent animals including humans, and orange–right down the center–would represent the intersection of living things and climate change. Within that intersection lies our power to have some impact.
The lines would be wavy to represent the various waves that connect life via water, air, blood, sound, light, and other energy. One of the letters would have a giant rainbow spouting out of it and onto the waffle-globe, flooding the world with positive energy and goodness.
Bright colors also mimic delicious fruits and vegetables. They remind us that we can have fun and celebrate flavorful food while helping to address important issues.
How Vegan Waffles Can Help
There is no single or simple solution to complex global issues like reducing climate change or unnecessary suffering. I don’t practice or preach a pure or perfect vegan lifestyle. Still, I believe that every small change makes a difference, including eating vegan waffles.
So exactly how does eating vegan waffles, thereby reducing egg and dairy consumption, tie into much of the above?
Egg and dairy production often relies on large, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, to meet demand while keeping costs down. Such operations not only create great long-term suffering for countless animals, but they have multiple environmental impacts. Since animals consume more food than they produce, more land needs to be deforested to grow animal feed than would be needed to grow crops to feed people directly, and more plants need to be grown and fertilized.
CAFOs also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions such as methane, produce excessive nitrogen and manure that harm nearby water ecosystems (liquefied manure use has increased alongside the growth of CAFOs), and are associated with other nearby environmental degradation.
Furthermore, concentrated animal farming operations provide breeding and mutation grounds for harmful microorganisms that can jump to humans and cause pandemics. Humans who work in such environments often experience adverse health outcomes. When areas with CAFOs flood, microorganisms and chemicals from their waste lagoons can affect people nearby.
The relationship between factory farming and social justice, including the reasons for the George Floyd protests, is a bit more theoretical. I’m not clear how much the protests did overall to help Black people and other people of color. I hope there are some lasting positive impacts; only time will tell. But one thing I do know: In several of the deeply disturbing videos that triggered the protests, I saw people treating one another in almost the same way I’ve seen people treat other animals in factory farms. While these things are complex, I believe that behaviors we tolerate in one setting sometimes spread to other settings, especially when they occur on a massive scale.
To be clear, I don’t believe that people who work in or manage facilities like factory farms are inherently bad in any way—they’re simply trying to make a living by giving people what they are demanding. And what reason do they have to change until people shift their demands?
So by going dairy- and egg-free when you enjoy vegan waffles, you’re helping to reduce the massive demand that grows CAFOs. This has implications for the environment, public health, and how we treat not only other animals but possibly also each other. The effects might be just a small piece of the overall picture, but it’s important to keep trying.
Amidst the seriousness, it’s still important to treat ourselves and have fun. Enjoying delicious vegan waffles is a way to do this while making a difference. You can do so on your own or as part of a waffle party, incorporating the values of kindness, kaizen, and connection.
Hummingbirds deserve sweet things, and so do you. I hope you appreciate the bold new look of the revised and expanded Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook.