I read an article around New Years last year that had food experts predicting the next food trends of 2014. One expert pegged 2014 as the year of hybrid desserts, in light of the recent cronut craze of 2013.
In our home, if we had to predict what sort of surprises 2014 would bring, I don’t think either of us would have predicted that this would be the year we’d find raccoons living in our attic. But that’s exactly what we were presented with a week ago yesterday. Had it not been for that little fly – er, raccoon – in the ointment, so to speak, last Sunday would have been a wonderful day. It was Easter Sunday, so we packed up our car bright and early, Woodley in tow, to attend church and then a day of festivities and vegan feasting at my parents’ home. It was a beautiful outside – in the 70s and sunny. Once we got home for the evening, we took a long family walk through the neighborhood, enjoying the warm and peaceful evening. As we rounded the corner of the street back to our house for the night, it became apparent that there was some sort of creature up on our rooftop, staring at us as we approached our home. That creature, it turns out, was a quite large raccoon. We locked eyes for a moment before she quickly darted back into, well, our home. From the roof. I was too creeped out to keep watching her, but Gennaro stayed outside only to learn there was another adult raccoon with her as well. The “baby daddy”, if you will (side note: when raccoons take up residence in the attic, they are almost always preparing for babies to come, which would explain why the raccoon who greeted us when we came home last Sunday night was nearly the size of our 45 lb. dog, and why there was a second adult raccoon with her).
A frantic Google search later, we learned that homes like ours – bungalows with dormer rooms built out over the roof – provide the perfect entryway for raccoons into an attic. Did you know raccoons can fit into holes only 4” wide? Yup, neither did we. Keep in mind that, as we were doing this Google search, we could clearly hear the unsettling pitter-patter and thumping of our house guests above us.
Instinctively, without a second thought, I began searching the internet for ways to get them the hell out. This, in turn, presented a rather interesting vegan dilemma that would have me losing sleep in the week that followed.
I ended up calling an animal control place that advertised eco-friendly and humane pest control options. Easy enough, right? No need to let my silly conscience get in the way of this one. But my conscience did somehow sneak in there, once I realized that humane pest control is not as easy as a few hired helpers going into the attic, scooping up our animal friends, and immediately relocating them to another area where they could get right back to nesting and preparing for the arrival of their babies.
This is more like how it goes: you call pest control Monday morning. They come out Monday afternoon, set up a few live traps around the raccoon entry point of your home. They leave live traps baited with cat food overnight. Then they tell you to just call them if you find something in there in the morning. They’ll swing by to pick up the raccoon at some undisclosed time the next day. This would mean we’d in all likelihood had a live raccoon sitting in a small cage, overnight, for up to 24 hours outside our home. We’d have trapped him or her, likely separated them from their family (assuming we didn’t trap both raccoons at once), and would be leaving them out in the cold, without any food or water, indefinitely.
Knowing the raccoons would likely come out of the attic around dark on Monday night, my stomach started to turn and knot at the thought that I would soon be the source of some animal’s fear and, God forbid, suffering. I’d lived the last few years of my life trying to do as little harm as possible to other creatures. Now, I’d become part of what now seemed like a cruel and elaborate plan to trick them into a small cage just because I didn’t want them in my home. I went back to Google to see if I could rectify the situation. Maybe there was another way – a way we could live harmoniously with raccoons in our attic and let them have their babies here and raise them as a family together! What had I been thinking, wanting them out of our home? A “good” vegan would have gladly welcomed these creatures, maybe even thrown a baby shower, or something.
If the above internal dialogue sounds ridiculous to you, think of how it sounded to my husband as I presented him with the thought of just letting the raccoons live in our home. When I saw the look on his face, it was clear the issue wasn’t up for debate, which I pretty much knew all along. But that didn’t stop the tears from pouring down my face as I faced the deep guilt of knowing an animal was going to be captured outside my home, with my permission. I felt even more horrible once I heard the early sounds of struggling and commotion outside, knowing that we’d caught the first raccoon.
In the end, the “first” raccoon would end up being the only raccoon we’d catch. It was the dad. Apparently, the moms can sometimes get spooked and just leave once their partner is caught, which is likely what happened to our couple.
Once I’d heard the noises outside indicating he’d been caught, I couldn’t bring myself to look. Gennaro urged me to go to bed. But it was Gennaro’s reaction to the whole thing that would reinforce for me in the next day what a great “catch” (pun intended) I’d managed to land for a husband. Instead of scoffing at my emotional meltdown over the humane capture of some “pest”, Gennaro comforted me and reassured me that this was really the only legitimate option we had. Then, he made a point to check on the raccoon for several more hours that night. He made a makeshift rain cover for him with a table in our garage once it started to rain. He came out and fed him some of Woodley’s food. He went out again later in the day to give him some more food. He quizzed the animal control guy on where our raccoon friend would be released. And it was reassuring to learn that the company we hired did their best to keep the animals’ welfare in mind. They released them to a wildlife reserve with lots of other raccoons in the area. They also made sure that the raccoons – who can actually go up to 72 hours without food or water – would never have to go 24 hours without it. And if they mother somehow got separated from her young, which they tried to prevent whenever possible, they’d bring the young to a place where they could be raised and fed until being released into the wild.
So that, my friends, is the story of that time we found raccoons in out attic in 2014, and how the whole experience created an inner ethical and moral crisis that would disturb me in a way most would find disturbing in itself. I re-read this article from Piper Hoffman over at Our Hen House what seemed like a million times over the last week, as it helped me come to terms with the fact that we can’t always be perfect. As Piper so eloquently says, “sending a message that being vegan means living with insect infestations is not inspiring to others or tolerable to me” (Piper also has a great follow-up article that can be found here). I would imagine the same could be said for raccoons living in ones attic. The thought that being vegan requires one to dispose of all logic and welcome wild animals into the home seems ridiculous in retrospect. It would mean countless dollars worth of repair bills and exposure to germs and disease. So while I’ll admit that the idea of letting the raccoons stick around was not my finest idea, I’ll also not apologize for caring enough about the raccoons to find myself worrying about their welfare and safety once they were caught.
I believe that every experience teaches us a lesson in life. In this instance, I learned that reason (the idea that it’s probably not the best idea to allow raccoons to take up residence in your home) and compassion (wanting to do as little harm as possible to other creatures) need not always be mutually exclusive, but are both tools we can use to weigh our choices in every moment in order to make the best choice possible for others and for ourselves.
With that ordeal over, I hope the rest of 2014 proves to be a little less eventful in our home. Heck, I hope this does turn out to be the year of hybrid desserts. That is something that seemingly presents no moral conflict. One can have their vegan doughnut, and eat it too. These brownie doughnuts taste like brownies, but have the cakey texture of a baked doughnut. They’re great with a cup of coffee in the morning, or as a sweet treat after dinner. They’re lower in sugar and fat than their non-vegan counterparts, so you can have more than one and not feel weighed down and can avoid that sugar crash that is otherwise inevitable when doughnuts or brownies are involved.
I loosely adapted this recipe from various ones on the internet, I think which were based on the doughnut recipe from Vegan Yum Yum.
Triple Chocolate Brownie Doughnuts:
Makes about 9-10 doughnuts
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup unsweetened soy milk
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup light olive oil or liquified coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons applesauce
1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk or other non-dairy milk
½ cup Lily’s baking chips (same as above)
1 tablespoon Coconut Palm Sugar + stevia sweetener (same as above)
*Note, I list the brand here not because I have any affiliation with them, but because using another brand or mixing your own coconut sugar with stevia might result in varying levels of sweetness. Feel free to experiment, but for best results, please stick with that brand, if you can. It can also be found in most health food stores.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Whisk together dry ingredients (baking flour through xanthan gum) in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, which together wet ingredients (soy milk through applesauce). Add wet to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
- Using a tablespoon, spoon batter into ungreased non-stick doughnut tin. If needed, spread gently to fill each tin. Use about 3 tablespoons batter per doughnut.
- Bake doughnuts in preheated oven for about 13 minutes, or until dough bounces back up when pressed gently.
- While doughnuts are baking, make glaze. Add ingredients to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until melted together, about 3-5 minutes.
- Let cool for a few minutes before flipping over a wire rack to remove doughnuts. Let them cool on rack.
- Allow glaze to cool about 10 minutes before using. Place cooled doughnuts over parchment paper and spoon desired amount of glaze over each doughnuts (about a few tablespoons per doughnuts). Let cool before eating. Glaze will harden completely after about an hour.