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Vegan Flu Shots — 2015 update

Last year, I wrote a guide to getting a vegan flu shot (in the US), covering the science, and some of the reasons why flu shots, and recombinant flu shots in particular, are a good idea.

The science hasn’t changed much since then, but vegan flu shots are a bit easier to find. This update covers getting FluBlok, the recombinant flu vaccine approved in the US, in 2015.

What is FluBlok?

FluBlok is a flu vaccine produced using recombinant genetic techniques to grow virus with coat proteins from the flu virus in cultured insect cells, instead of in chicken eggs. This produces a flu vaccine without animal ingredients, compared to conventional flu shots, which take about an egg per dose of vaccine to produce. The science is covered in a bit more detail last year’s guide.

Flublok Shot

FluBlok is approved in the US for adults over 18 years old. Only conventional flu shots are currently approved for children.

How to find FluBlok

Most major pharmacy chains (eg. Walgreens) still do not carry FluBlok. Here are some places you can find FluBlok this year:

Target Pharmacies – The biggest change from last year may be that Target pharmacies now carry FluBlok. No appointment necessary, but it may be wise to call ahead. I had no trouble getting a FluBlok flu shot at a Target Pharmacy, but they indicated that they only had a few doses left. They take insurance, otherwise the vaccine costs around $30.

Passport Health Clinics – Passport Health offers FluBlok by appointment, also for around $30. I got a FluBlok flu shot at Passport Health last year, and this is described in last year’s article. (SF residents: Passport Health has moved to Laurel Heights since last year.)

Some clinics and smaller pharmacies may carry FluBlok. You can use HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find pharmacies that carry FluBlok. I recommend calling and asking though, as some clinics that are marked as carrying it may be out of stock, and some data may be entered incorrectly. (For instance, Pharmaca in San Francisco is marked as carrying recombinant vaccines, but I’ve contacted them twice, and they explained that their supplier does not provide FluBlok, so they do not carry it.)

Asking for FluBlok

Even pharmacies that carry FluBlok may not know it by that name. If the pharmacy you contact hasn’t heard of Flublok, try asking for the “recombinant” or “egg-free” vaccine. If you’re not sure, you can always ask your pharmacist what the manufacturer of their vaccine options is.

You may be asked multiple times if you have an egg allergy, since that is the common reason for requesting FluBlok (or the “egg-free” flu shot, as it is often referred to). You can answer truthfully, even if they ask repeatedly. They are very likely simply trying to make sure you filled out the paperwork correctly, and that you did not misunderstand the form. They are probably not trying to pressure you out of that vaccine type, even if it may seem that way.

(I was asked if I ate eggs, “even in cookies”, and I informed them that I did not, but that it was not due to an allergy. That seemed to be sufficient.)

As far as I’m aware, anyone can request FluBlok. Most insurance plans will cover it regardless of egg allergy status, and it’s only around $30 if you pay for it yourself.

Other alternatives

I’ve focused on FluBlok, since I think it’s an interesting technology, however Flucelvax is also a technology worth supporting. Flucelvax is another vaccine grown in vitro in cell cultures, rather than in eggs, for production. Flucelvax uses virus samples delivered from the CDC in chicken eggs, but does not use eggs in its manufacturing process, so the process has a tiny, but nonzero egg footprint.

Moving medicine forward

A lot of medicine is not entirely vegan. I do not recommend avoiding medicine, especially medicine with serious public health implications such as vaccines, regardless of animal product content. For instance, I recommend conventional flu shots when recombinant flu shots are not available (including for children, for whom alternatives are not yet approved).

However sometimes we have the opportunity to help push medicine forward — toward biotechnology and away from animal products. Flu shots are currently such an opportunity, and vegans should embrace and advocate for recombinant flu shots.

In addition to reducing animal use, these technologies could overcome weaknesses in the conventional egg-based process — vulnerability to changes in egg supply, long delay to ramp up production, slow response to virus mutation, inability to respond quickly to an outbreak, and losing vaccine efficacy in “reassortment” process that adapts the virus to growing in eggs.

Recombinant flu shots also demonstrate why I would like vegans to be open to biotechnology. Recombinant genetic techniques gave us insulin for diabetics without needing to take it from slaughtered animals. Current research projects may give us DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid not found in plants) in canola oil, B12 in plant foods, and even dairy made from yeast. Opposing biotechnology and delaying these projects could do real harm to animals.

One of the ways that we will reduce our use of animals is by using biotechnology to replace animal products in medicine and food. We should be open to this technology as a community, and should support biotech projects that reduce animal use.

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Cooking Lesson with Jesse Miner

Emily and I recently had a cooking lesson with Jesse Miner, a vegan personal chef based in San Francisco. I met Jesse at one of the first vegan events I went to, and it was great to reconnect with him for a cooking class.

Jesse came to our home with the ingredients we’d be cooking with, as well as equipment in case we needed it. We cooked for several hours, then had a big meal. The menu was put together by Jesse, based on our interests and culinary skill level. The lesson introduced us to several new foods, some of which were instant favorites.

Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Japanese Sweet Potato

This was a new food to us, and they’re so good! These don’t require preparation, and can be put in the oven at 350 for about an hour, and served sliced. They keep in the refrigerator once cooked, and make a great snack, so we’ve been cooking a few at a time, and eating them throughout the week.

I brought some to work in a mason jar. Depending on how much eccentricity you’re comfortable projecting, this is either a brilliant work snack, or bizarre and shameful behavior.

Spring rolls

Spring roll mid-preparation

Spring rolls are a food we enjoy at restaurants but hadn’t made ourselves. If you use store-bought baked tofu, they’re pretty straightforward to make.

Spring Rolls

Folding them is a bit challenging. You win some, you lose some.

Umeboshi Onigiri

Onigiri

These are a Japanese street food. There’s a food truck in SF that sells them, which is how we’d come across them in the past. The ones we made were filled with pickled plum (umeboshi), a favorite sushi filling of Emily’s, which we’d never cooked with.

They turned out great! As with the spring rolls, we haven’t mastered making them geometrically consistent.

Korean Lettuce Wrap

Ssambap

This was our favorite discovery of the night. Emily and I haven’t been exposed to much Korean food, and vegan Korean food can be difficult to come by. However this was amazing.

This is a lettuce wrap (ssambap) with rice, soy curls Korean barbecue (bulgogi), and a fermented hot pepper sauce (ssamjang).

This wrap has so many flavors, and a few of them were new to me. I’d bought some soy curls ages ago, but I’d never cooked with them. Soy curls are a bit intimidating looking if you’ve never had them, since they are packaged dry, and don’t really look like anything before you rehydrate them.

The bulgogi marinade was delicious, and the ssamjang sauce, based on gochujang, a fermented pepper paste, is a very unique flavor that I was craving the rest of the week.

I plan on writing more about vegan Korean food in another post. However suffice it to say that we loved this dish, and made it twice more that week (until we ran out of soy curls).

Haupia

For dessert, we made haupia, a sweet Hawaiian dish. Haupia is made with coconut milk and corn starch, and results in a gel-like consistency. It’s a bit hard to describe, but it’s a unique dessert that we hadn’t come across on our recent trip to Hawaii, so we were happy to try some.

Haupia

And more!

Other foods we cooked included a peanut sauce and a Vietnamese hoisin dipping sauce, a cole slaw using the peanut sauce, and collard green wraps using the cole slaw.

Jesse Miner cooking class - for blog - 6

The takeaway

The cooking lesson was a great experience. It was great to prepare so many foods that are very different from what we usually cook, and it was great to get outside of our comfort zone culinarily.

Cooking lessons are a fun way to expand your culinary repertoire, and participate in the catering and chef businesses that are the heart and soul of the vegan food movement. I had a great time, and I hope to take more cooking lessons in the future.

Restaurant Review: Sutra (Seattle)

On a recent trip to Seattle, I had the opportunity to eat at Sutra.

Sutra is a vegan restaurant with a set menu and one seating per evening. As people arrive and are seated, they are given a menu that lists today’s meal and offers drink options. Dinner begins when the chef rings a bell to get everyone’s attention, and goes through the menu, explaining each dish. Then food preparation begins, and each course is prepared in batches.

We sat at the bar, where we could watch the dishes being assembled. I highly recommend sitting at the bar. Watching the kitchen was engaging, and added anticipation and curiosity to the experience.

Soup and salad course

First course: Salad with tangelo and candied sunflower seeds, and stinging nettle soup with miso

The food was amazing. I don’t think I’d ever had stinging nettle soup before, and it was absolutely delicious. It had a thick, almost creamy texture, and a salty, savory taste. The salad complemented the soup nicely, with sweet components.

Second course

Second course, mid-preparation: Fermented quinoa-cashew cheese being removed from a mold.

Second course

Second course: Lentils, fermented quinoa-cashew cheese, beets, chard, and jerusalem artichoke chips.

Another great dish. A lot going on, but it worked well together. The fermented quinoa-cashew cheese had a much lighter texture than fermented cashew cheese. It has a mild taste, which works with the stronger tastes of the lentils and beets.

Third course

Third course: A rice and mung bean crepe with cauliflower, mushrooms, and a soy and mirin sauce.

Also great. The rice and mung bean crepe had a slightly chewy texture, a little bit like an omelette. The sauce was great, although dipping was not really an option given the small cup, so you have to flood the plate.

Dessert

Dessert: Chocolate flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

And finally, a chocolate agar-agar based flan with a spelt and pumpkin seed cracker.

I don’t have photos of the drinks, but we split one non-alcoholic flight between the two of us. A drink came with each course, plus one before food was served. The drinks were creative, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out at all by ordering the non-alcoholic flight.

Especially great is the CommuniTea kombucha, a local Seattle kombucha, which they have on tap. It’s worth a try if you’re visiting Seattle, since CommuniTea can’t be found outside the city.

Sutra was a great experience. I can’t remember a meal that I enjoyed more thoroughly. Very highly recommended.

Vegan Halloween candy

It’s Halloween! This was my first year looking for vegan Halloween candy. Here’s what I learned:

First, don’t stress over it. There are really a lot of options. For a fairly comprehensive guide, see this Big Fat Vegan Radio episode. The show notes list the candy that they recommend (near the bottom of the page). Examples of widely available vegan candy are Skittles, Twizzlers, Swedish Fish and Oreos.

There’s also some really great higher-end vegan candy available if you’re interested (and don’t get too many trick-or-treaters; otherwise these might be a little steep).

Here’s what I wound up getting for this year:

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Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups won Our Hen House’s Facebook poll about favorite vegan candy. (Note: only the dark chocolate variety are vegan.) I got them partly because I wanted to try them myself. I also got a few small Alter Eco dark chocolate bars in case we run out of peanut butter cups.

Alter Eco and Justin’s are both on the Food Empowerment Project Chocolate List, a list of producers of vegan chocolate products that do not source chocolate from regions where slavery is rampant. (Note: the list includes Justin’s nut butters; it’s not entirely clear that this includes Justin’s dark chocolate. I’m following up with Justin’s.) I got both at Whole Foods.

I also learned (from Big Fat Vegan Radio) about Go Max Go, which makes vegan translations of a number of popular candy bars. It’s a little pricey for Halloween, but is a great idea for candy nonetheless. They are not Food Empowerment Project recommended, but their site takes slavery in the chocolate trade seriously, as well as palm oil environmental concerns. I’m following up with them about how they source cocoa.

Not directly Halloween related, but speaking of vegan chocolate — I’ve become a huge fan of this stuff:

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I came across this while looking for slavery-free alternatives to a favorite chocolate protein bar of mine.

Alter Eco’s Quinoa Dark Chocolate is Food Empowerment Project approved, is delicious chocolate in its own right, and the toasted quinoa gives it a satisfying crunch, similar to Nestle Crunch. It’s also fairly cheap for single-origin fair-trade (non-West African) chocolate at $4 / bar. It can be found at Whole Foods or online. Try some!

That’s all for now, Happy Halloween! What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

This week in veganism

It’s been a big week. Some highlights:

  • I tried tempeh bacon for the first time at Frida’s Vegetarian Deli while visiting St. Louis, MO.
    Frida’s tempeh BLT was amazing! We went back and had the same thing the next day.
  • I had my first vegan boba tea at Boba Guys in the Mission in SF.
  • I had the first soy yogurt that I really liked. (The fruit flavored Silk yogurt, the only soy yogurt you can get anywhere.) It’s definitely sweet, but it’s pretty good.
  • I ordered (but have not yet tried) Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon from Vegan Essentials.

However today I’m excited about this: a new vegan food truck is stationed a block from my house!

Hella Vegan Eats (also on Facebook), which does catering and hosts vegan pop-up brunches in the area, has a new food truck, stationed in Dolores Park for the weekend.

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We tried almost everything: the Scallion Pancake Tacos (our favorite!!), Lusty Lovers Tacos (also good!), the Donut Burger (see below), and a chocolate cupcake.

Here’s the donut burger, in all it’s umbrellaed glory:

[Donut burger photo]

Introduction

I’m a software engineer, living in San Francisco. I recently went vegan after a few years of vegetarianism. I’m learning to cook, since I started out only able to cook stir-fry and roast vegetables.

I’ve been reading several food blogs, and figured I’d create one to share my experiences and photos of food I’ve made, or just food I’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

I have no particular culinary skill, so anything I’ve pulled off, I’m pretty confident you can too.