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Interview with Zoe Peled

Pumpkin Cocoa Cashew Butter Bars by Zoe Peled

Pumpkin Cocoa Cashew Butter Bars by Zoe Peled | Recipe recreated & photographed by Anna Pelzer

Zoe Peled

Zoe Peled

If you live in Vancouver, you have likely attended an event organized by one of Vancouver’s inspiring vegans, Zoe Peled, who we were pleased to interview this week. You may also know her from The Vegan Project, Blue Heron Cheese, or her work with SAINTS Rescue. Be sure to stick around after the interview and try her mouthwatering gluten free recipe for Pumpkin, Cocoa Cashew Butter Bars!

Zoe Peled comes from a vast professional background of Marketing, Events, Personnel Management, and Production. Since 2007, she has worked with a wide range of businesses and projects, including 5 years as Marketing Manager at Fortune Sound Club, Marketing/Events at The Vegan Project, and a variety of projects with local, Canadian, and International groups.

She received her BFA in Photography from Emily Carr University, with additional studies in Critical Theory, examining the positioning and terminology around animals. Her personal studies continue to examine the role of animal welfare and animal/human relationships; which has led her to both speaking engagements and internationally published work (Antennae Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, UK.)

Zoe became vegetarian at a very young age, and has been vegan for (almost) seven years. She is passionate about animal rights/welfare and redefining how we regard vegan food and culture. Additional interests include Music/Arts Culture, pit bull/senior animal advocacy, and work within Community Accessibility.

How did you first decide to go vegan?

My whole family went vegetarian when I was 12. We were introduced to PETA, so our reasons for going vegetarian at that time were all related to animal welfare. Animals, animal products, and the critical conversations around them were always prominent on my radar growing up.

A heightened awareness of health played a role, as there are a few medical issues in my family history. A lot of these medical issues, or the risk factor of having them, is lowered with reduced or no consumption of animal products. Around the same timeframe, a TCM practitioner suggested that I cut out animal products completely, to help address a skin condition.

Despite those factors playing a key role, the animals have always been my primary reason for being vegetarian, and becoming vegan over six years ago. It simply made no sense to have dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products remain in my life, when the reason I went vegetarian was to minimize and reduce animal suffering. Animal suffering, in various capacities, is present in all of these industries. This suffering is not exclusive to the meat industry. The best way to combat it: stop supporting the industries that perpetuate it.

You are rocking the vegan ink! Is there a story behind any of your tattoos?

In my early tattoo years, I had a theory that I would get a piece for every animal that ever played a significant role in my life. Naturally, it didn’t take long to figure out that would be many, and I would cover my body fairly quickly!

The first tattoo I got that relates directly to veganism also serves as one central piece, to representation the significance and protection of all the animals I have encountered, and will encounter: St. Francis of Assisi. The piece has St. Francis positioned with six animals, each to represent one of the different industries: a lamb (Meat/Dairy), a rabbit (Animal Testing), a deer (Hunting/Sport), a fox (Fur/Leather), and a dog (Domestic/Pets).  There is also a beautiful cow portrait by Ashley Horncastle on that leg. Cows are one of my favourites, and are also one of the most mistreated, and misunderstood animals.

My left thigh-­‐to-­‐knee is a combo piece, which started as a floral scene representing all the women in our family. Designed and currently under the talented hand of Kyle Harding, It now includes all of the fruits and vegetables, which are personal favourites, and/or have significance to our family, and a degree of nostalgia. (Thus far, the part that receives the most responses and reactions is definitely the avocado!)

How has the Vegan Project evolved over the years?

After following the Project for a while in my early vegan years, I became involved with it in the summer of 2013. At that time, had been established for a few years, by Bridget, who remains the original founder, and a few others who have since moved on to other amazing ventures.

Since 2013, I’ve observed the most significant changes in two areas. The content has been greatly diversified. At its inception, the VP was primarily food-­‐based. This remains a major part of the site and our work, but a wide range of other components have been incorporated that are also big parts of the lifestyle. Fashion. Critical thinking pieces. Cruelty-­‐free beauty, and a heightened awareness of it having Rhiannon on board (our vegan, cruelty-­‐free esthetician, stylist and more!)

We have observed further diversity in the folks who are utilizing the VP as a resource. Many vegans use the site on a regular basis, but we are also welcoming vegetarians, the veg-­‐curious, omnivores looking for new recipes, and folks who want to shift their views on food and animal products in general. The conversations about veganism are expanding far beyond vegan-­‐specific circles, which is very exciting for us, and all members of the community!

What can we expect to see from the Vegan Project in the New Year?

In the Spring, The Vegan Project launched a panel series. We held our first edition at The Juice Truck, and featured April Bellia, Chris White, Zach Berman, and Colin Medhurst, to discuss Marketing and Developing of Plant-­‐Based Business. This series will be expanded in 2017, to highlight new subjects, panelists, businesses, and create additional resources and support for vegans in the city.

Additionally, we will work with more contributors, expand our collaboration base, and naturally; a few surprises!

How did you get started in planning vegan events?

My professional background is in Marketing, Production, and Events Management. For many years, I kept the “professional” side separate from the “passion” side. Some folks in the industries told me that this was an appropriate thing to do, and I assumed that was the case, without questioning.

Before long, I realized how beneficial it could be to actually utilize those skills that had been developed within my professional life, and merge them with veganism, and animal welfare/rights issues. This is one of the most powerful things about supporting or advocating for any cause. Each of us has a unique background, skillsets, and strengths.

When you’re able to pinpoint what they are, and how you can support a respective cause with them, you’ll have great success. It will be different for everyone, but I truly believe that’s how you can contribute. For me, it has been able to do this to benefit animals.

The first vegan event I ran was a photography fundraiser, and it simply grew from there. The events I have overseen since that time have ranged from more fundraisers and dinners, to panels, art shows, clothing launches, concerts, and more.

What details make an event extra special?

The things that I believe are important are those that I appreciation and highlight on both sides of the equation, either as an event producer or an event attendee.

Focusing on your attendee experience is key, and providing outstanding attendee support and engagement from the beginning of the event right through to the end of it, is at the top of the list. This includes answering questions, addressing any concerns, and expressing genuine appreciation when they are supporting a cause. A good old-­‐fashioned thank you is a rarity these days, and it goes a long way.

For me, an event that is supporting something (animals, humans, and/or other causes), always will get my vote over something that is strictly for-­‐profit. If you’re able to give back, in any capacity, that’s the obvious choice. We should be working to incorporate more opportunities do this into events, and event production in the city.

Events should be taking steps to ensure they are accessible. This means physical access, gender access, and ensuring that a space and experience is being created that can be shared by many folks, from all walks of life, with a wide range of abilities. I would like to see Vancouver events and festivals working towards greatly accessibility considerations in general, so this is something at the top of the radar for me when hosting/attending.

What is a go-­‐to meal that you make when short on time?

The nature of Events and Production work involves long hours, inconsistent hours, late nights, and unconventional schedules. When a busy time of year hits, I always resort to the At-­‐Home, Make-­‐Your-­‐Own, Custom salad bar.

Once a week, I have a cooking session, and prepare the following: chopped, washed greens (kale, spinach, and lots of parsley and cilantro), and parsley), quinoa and/or brown rice, shredded veggies (carrots, beets, turnip), sliced veggies (cucumbers, yams), and some washed and seasoned black beans or chickpeas. Everything is packed in separate containers in the fridge.

I grab a bowl (or a container if I’m taking it to-­‐go), and literally grab a handful of everything. You’re getting a strong nutrient base, and with everything ready, you can’t use the excuse that you didn’t “ have time!”. If I’m running out of the house, a lemon and an avocado always get thrown in my bag as well. Pro-­‐tip: always, always, have an avocado on hand.

And tell us what you would make when planning something more elaborate!

Half of my family is Italian, so for me, large gatherings of friends and families always should include classic Italian comfort foods. Start with good bread, paired with olives, and the ultimate combo: beautiful olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For a main dish, fresh pasta or polenta (a family favourite) is essential, topped with sauce made from scratch and heaps of vegetables. A few salads to top it off are always on the table, and the ultimate: dessert. This is the one part of the meal that may not always be inherently an “ Italian class”, but my go-­‐to is usually pie and vegan ice cream of choice (favourites: Coconut Bliss, or Nice Vice!)

What are three must-­‐visit destinations for vegans who might be visiting Vancouver for only a short time?

Though it’s very hard to pick only three, I think it’s important to highlight the diversity in our vegan scene to anyone visiting for a short time.

  • The Acorn: The Acorn is not only making vegan alternatives to many dishes that exist, it is constantly redefining what can be made, how it can be made, and what new ingredients we can be using. This is innovation. Vegan food isn’t always about recreating foods, it’s about creating new ones, and The Acorn is at the top of the list for doing this.
  • Sanctuary visit (Hearts on Noses, The Happy Herd, SAINTS Rescue): We’re lucky to live in Vancouver, and have relatively fast access to many rescues and sanctuaries. Our relationship to animals within veganism is part of the conversation that is growing in the city, and there’s definitely an activist component that is more prevalent now. These rescues reflect this sentiment.
  • Willow’s Wax Bar: The concept of a vegan spa as it stands is a relatively new one, and Willow’s is the only one in Vancouver thus far. Cruelty-­‐free, vegan-­‐ friendly products, lines and services; ranging from lash extensions and facials, to waxing.

What would you like to see in Vancouver for 2017?

There are many, many amazing vegan restaurants and cafes. I would like to see more of these (always), but also a heightened vegan community: more spaces and opportunities for events and networking, in a wider range of communities, in Vancouver and beyond.

I would like to see non-­‐vegan restaurants with a heightened awareness of always having a vegan alternative, not just as an afterthought, but as something that should be happening automatically (and can happen, quite easily!)

Though it’s a lofty goal, I dream of the day that Vancouver (and beyond), will not have any animals in captivity anymore: The Vancouver Aquarium, The Greater Vancouver Zoo, and beyond. We have the opportunity to set some examples for other major cities, and it’s time for us to re-­‐define how we look at entertainment, education, and the role that animals play within both.

 

 


Thank you so much to Zoe for answering our questions and sharing her delicious recipe. If you’ve been inspired by Zoe like we have, follow her on Instagram @zoemarg and visit veganproject.com

 

Pumpkin Cocoa Cashew Butter Bars by Zoe Peled

 

For those of us that grew up on the West Coast these are basically Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars. For everyone else, they are decadent, almost raw and insanely good. The chilling steps are crucial. Be patient, they’re well worth it!

 

Ingredients

  • Layer 1 (base)
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 cup almonds (raw or roasted without salt)
  • Layer 2 (middle)
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup cashew or almond butter
  • 1/3 cup – ½ cup coconut oil
  • ½ cup dates
  • Layer 3 (top)
  • 1/3 -½ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup agave syrup
  • 4 Tbsp. unsweetened cacao powder
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (optional, but adds a nice chunky texture to the top layer)

Preparation

  1. Begin the first layer by grinding up almonds in your food processor. Add one third of the dates, and pulse to combine with almonds. Continue with second portion, until no dates remain. This will make for smoother integration between the two ingredients, and make things easier on your processor.
  2. Press mixture into a pan that has been lined with wax paper. We used a vertical loaf pan because the edges were straight up and down. This helps to maintain the shape and clean corners for the bars.
  3. Let the almond/date mixture set in the fridge for minimum 15 minutes.
  4. For layer 2, combine the first set of ingredients: pumpkin/almond butter and coconut oil. (Note: The coconut oil will give a strong flavour so use more or less based on preference and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.)
  5. Once mixed, gradually add in dates as outlined in step 1.
  6. Using a spatula, spread the pumpkin mixture over the base layer so it’s level throughout. Let this layer sit for minimum 1 hour. You can move on to the next layer if you wish, but allowing ample time for each layer to set gives you the definition between the layers that makes the bars so beautiful!
  7. For layer 3, combine coconut oil, agave, and cacao first. Add chocolate chips last. The final texture of this will be chunky due to the chocolate chips, and that is intended.
  8. Pour layer 3 on top of the pumpkin mixture, and smooth with your spatula to ensure even distribution.

Optional: you can garnish the top with a sprinkling of additional cacao or place whole almonds across the pan so each piece has a whole almond pressed into the centre!

Let the entire dessert sit for two hours (minimum) so it can set completely. This dish serves best straight from the fridge, so keep cool and refrigerated as long as possible before serving. Cut into pieces, and enjoy!

 

 

 

Have any comments or questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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