iScream – Raw, Vegan Ice Cream for EVERYONE

— Amber Roniger 

Khenpo Tenkyong doesn’t like ice cream.  He’s a spice-loving-monk and sweets just don’t cut it for him. I know this, yet I’m determined to serve him ice cream – but my own style – the type vegans affectionately term: “nice crème,” “kind cream,” and all manner of compassion-emphasizing, non-ice-cream, ice cream names.

Why DO vegans spend so much time dreaming this stuff up? Because everyone (aside from Khenpo) loves ice cream! It seems almost totally universal (again, Khenpo aside) – and in America, in many ways, synonymous with childhood.

When I serve Khenpo his first bowl of iScream, he makes SUCH a face!  But I know he loves fresh fruit and I’m determined. So I pick up my bamboo spoon and take an emphatic scoop. Grudgingly, he takes a tentative bite. Is that a glimmer of affirmation I see flashing across him? He continues eating.

“What’s in here?” he asks.

“Bananas,” I reply, knowing I’ve already told him (so many times).

“What else?” he prods.

“Just bananas.”

He nods approvingly and continues eating.

Doing my monk-in-the-moonlight dance inside, but maintaining my Akshobya-cool exterior, I know he’s hooked. Everyone eventually gives into the iScream because, frankly, it’s delicious. And it’s the just about the easiest thing to make because it’s the simplest mono-meal (one ingredient only) – just frozen bananas pushed through a Champion juicer. Even the cones are only blended bananas and water, poured in circles and dehydrated.

Photo, Grace O’Keeffe

iScream is about giving everyone, even kids with dairy and gluten allergies (big kids too), a real “ice cream experience” – not an anemic, tasteless, soft-serve “frozen dessert” (goodness knows what it really is) in a sad little cup “treat.” (Spare me, Buddha, please!)

“Just wait until I make it for you in a cone,” I tell him, planting seeds.

“You will do a demonstration for Family Day,” he decrees.

OK… WO – it’s a large leap from feeding Khenpo to doing an official presentation, but I accept his challenge. A week before Family Day, he sends a preview of the Buddhism 101 curriculum (happening simultaneous with Family Day) and my demo is on the schedule.

“Khenpo, can you please call me?  Immediately!!!”

OK, so I come to find out this teaching is not only for a few kids and their parents, but for 25 Buddhism 101 students as well.  And I’ve never given an official teaching on anything – oh boy, here we go!

Please check out the full iScream PowerPoint presentation here.

So I’m faced with the looming dilemma vegans are always faced with – how to spread a passionate message without preaching, sounding condescending, or making enemies of friends.  The iScream demo is about a lot more than ‘making healthy treats with organic fruit’ – as it is represented on the schedule.  It’s about beginning down the path toward veganism.  I know, however, this is a really touchy subject for a lot of people – it’s complex, with many associations and ramifications (“life is echoes,” as Khenpo says).

I was “mostly vegan” for a really long time (after watching “Earthlings” in one sitting, I was totally vegan) – so I truly understand how slow the transition from meat/dairy to vegetarian to vegan can be, and how each person needs to be given the space to change in their own time.  Without wisdom and knowledge, compassion can fade.

I know I need to emulate my Buddhist teachers and meet students where they’re at. So I take most of the cutesy stuff I had planned for the Family Day kids out of the presentation and boil it down to the essential elements.

“VEGAN” really isn’t the central message here.  ‘Healthful living’ is much closer to the heart of the matter. Yet it so happens that “VEGAN” IS synonymous with healthy humans, healthy animals and a healthy planet – all living interdependently – which I think we can all agree is desirable, VERY Buddhist, and pretty well encapsulates ‘healthful living.’

Right before the demo, I’m in the KTD dining room setting up my computer, while Khenpo is busily setting up chairs in a circle.  I see him adding more and more, but assume he’s just being ambitious (as usual). No joke, I look up and there are at least 40 people sitting, waiting patiently.  It must be time to begin.

[Khenpo later tells me he walked the monastery grounds, recruiting people for the demo.  He says when he mentioned an ice cream demo, a number of people declined.  But when he said ‘vegan,’ many changed their minds.]

It’s critical to have food for everyone to share. I’ve been to food demos that were practically slugfests for tiny scraps, and I’m not up for that. Talking is one thing but tasting is another. No need to sell the iScream – just serve it up! So I give a short talk about how to make iScream and some of the benefits.

And then it’s time to feed the people. As I anticipated, the kids jockey for position to help out: grabbing frozen bananas from the tray, pushing them through the Champion juicer, holding the cones for the ensuing iScream.

Photo, Grace O’Keeffe

I’m eating a bowl of iScream as I write this, and contemplating the total impact and why it’s so important to me. I used to eat loads of store-bought vegan ice cream and sorbet – sometimes a pint a night. Truth be told, they made me feel ill, but I was hooked on the taste, the sensation and the comfort they afforded me. The iScream I make now has a MUCH smaller impact than any prefabricated frozen dessert – when you calculate the energy and human power required to grow ingredients, harvest, ship, combine, package and ship again for consumer consumption. Not to mention the price mark-up. I’m sure we all agree that a smaller carbon footprint is a worthwhile and desirable goal, and a major component of healthful living.

To those ends, I deeply love and appreciate that the Kagyu lineage is vegetarian. (I call Tibetans the ‘original hippies’ – and it’s no wonder Karmapa’s North American seat is in Woodstock.) In my eyes, Karmapa is the 21st Century “Lorax.” However, in my opinion, even compassionate vegetarianism doesn’t go far enough. Karmapa speaks so passionately about as a boy, watching animals slowly suffocating to become meat for human consumption, and the pain it caused him. And how this, combined with his innate love for animals and the environment, led him to a lifelong vow of vegetarianism for himself and all Kagyu monasteries worldwide, and an appeal for all Kagyu Buddhists to do the same.

Compassion should absolutely be the lynch pin in our vegetarian vow – it’s best for people, animals and the planet. But is it really best for animals? Does a diet including eggs and dairy eliminate suffering for animals?

For a very long time, in my “mostly vegan” phase, I would eat dairy only occasionally, at a fancy restaurant, for example. I hadn’t truly made the connection between the dairy and meat industries. A video PSA by Stella McCartney, explaining the interdependence of the leather and meat industries, began transforming my vegetarian into a vegan mind. I started making connections I had been willfully ignoring and imagining a total lifestyle revamp. “Earthlings” only put the nail in the coffin. Full disclosure: all the information is out there, if you want it.

I call my current lifestyle, “raw till yoga.” I eat high raw fruit content throughout the day (a bit like grazing at times) – including whole, juice and blends – and then an 80/10/10 dinner at night (approximately 80% carbs; 10% fat; 10% protein).  I believe blends are superior to juice in most cases because the fiber balances the natural sugars so you don’t get a “sugar spike.” You also get more for your money because you don’t discard any of the fiber.

I crafted my diet/lifestyle based on so many experiences, experimentation and reading; and most especially a week spent at the Woodstock Fruit Festival (coincidentally, also NOT in Woodstock), where I got to experience firsthand how a totally raw, fruit-based diet works so well for my system. Buying non-GMO, wholesale fruit in bulk, helps keep this lifestyle affordable and positive for me.

I hope you all have some freedom and space in your own life to experiment with different diets and lifestyles, and find what truly works for you – body, mind and heart, interdependent.