Veganism: Liz Lovely Cookies

Liz Lovely Cookies—‘Vegan Decadence…With a Conscience’Nestled in the tiny town of Waitsfield, Vt, in the heart of the Mad River Valley in the lush Green Mountains, is an extraordinary vegan bakery, dedicated to social responsibility, an artisan philosophy, and cookies–with a conscience. It’s Liz Lovely Inc., and its Co-founders Liz Holtz (President) and Dan Holtz (Vice-President) are dedicated to “Baking a Difference in the World,” as the tagline on each package of their cookies states.They came a long way to make their dream a reality. Liz and Dan, formerly entrepreneurs in computer-based commerce, knew they wanted to run their own business, but couldn’t decide what that business should be.Liz admits that she has “always been obsessed with cookies,” and since Liz’s grandmother and her mom are avid bakers, it seemed a natural transition to become a baker. Liz wanted to make vegan cookies that “actually tasted real and that could fool everybody.”Liz spent months perfecting her cookies until, three years ago, she arrived at the perfect recipe.Dan and Liz packed some cookies in boxes and went, hopes high, to a national natural foods market in Maryland. Weeks later, they were thrilled to hear that they had landed a distribution deal.Soon they were placing orders for natural markets and cafes across the country. When the largest natural foods distributor in the United States, United Natural Foods, Inc., agreed to distribute Liz Lovely, they made a whirlwind move to the Waitsfield, bakery, where they have been since 2004. Moving to rural Vermont from their former Pennsylvania home was a big lifestyle change, but one they feel was well worthwhile.Taking “cruelty-free” to a new level, Liz Lovely cookies are certified vegan, using mostly organic, 100% non-GMO ingredients, and chocolate from only 100% Fair Trade sources. True to an artisan philosophy, every handmade cookie is free of chemicals, additives, and preservatives, and made from simple ingredients, such as Earth Balance Buttery Spread, organic peanut butter and Ener-G Egg Replacer, then baked and packaged in the Liz Lovely bakery by a very small staff.The day of my visit was a baking day entirely dedicated to the Peanut Butter Classics cookie, described by Dan as “the closest thing to a vegan Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.” Rich and creamy, moist and chewy, with a coating of dark chocolate on the bottom, the Peanut Butter Classic is truly remarkable, unlike any other cookie you’ve tasted—and heaven for peanut-butter lovers. It’s also beautiful to look at, artfully presented with organic peanut halves sprinkled on top, and drizzled with yet more chocolate. Seven batches were baked on the day of my visit, which equals 100 cases of cookies– a total of 2,400 cookies made from scratch and packaged by only five people. Hand packaging each set of cookies takes about three hours a day to complete, and each package is artfully tied with a piece of colorful twine, and complete with a tag containing the Liz Lovely logo, designed by Dan, with Liz’s signature above the logo.Upon my arrival, the bakers were hard at work, having started at 8am. Dough was being mixed by Eric, a baker who has been with Liz Lovely since it moved to Vermont. Liz makes every batch of dough herself. Formed raw cookies were coming off a small conveyor belt from a machine that was, oddly enough, originally produced to form hamburger patties. The formed dough is then handled by bakers who perfect the shape, place peanut halves on top, and press the cookies with a fork to shape them for baking.After baking, the cookies are coated with chocolate on the back, with more drizzled on top. The dipping process is a sight to behold. They use a machine called the Hilliard coating line, made by an old Boston company. Its 200- pound melting tank drizzles chocolate at 95 degrees; then each cookie spends 7-8 minutes in a cooling tunnel. The machine, tailored to their own specifications, is described by Dan as a “rudimentary chocolate machine” because, from an artisan perspective, it requires keen attention. “You have to really pay attention to the chocolate level, and the temperature, and the temperature of the room. It’s not like it’s doing all the work for you,” explains Dan, while Liz dips drizzles. Before they had the machine, for the first two years of operation, they dipped each cookie by hand with spatulas. The machine brought a 25% increase in production.Expanding on their ethical practices, Dan says that there are too many “junk food vegans and marginal vegans who get by on technicalities because the plant in Topeka, Kan. is a vegan Oreo cookie plant.” To him, “vegan is a whole-food concept; more local food, more organic food, you know, people are animals too, if we’re exploiting people in the process then that’s not very vegan either.”Liz started out “less organic” as she was testing out recipes–because it was cheaper. She found that the taste was inferior, so became dedicated to organic ingredients. Inspired by a brother, Liz dropped flesh foods from her diet at age 13. Ten years ago, upon moving to vegan-friendly Ithaca, NY, and after reading John Robbins’s Diet for a New America, Liz connected environmental issues with animal-rights philosophy and became a vegan. She “just can’t imagine going back.” Fair-trade chocolate is a must, as is part of educating people about veganism is striving to teach people about organic, fair-trade chocolate and the avoidance of genetically modified ingredients, because, as Dan says, “people are very uneducated about the chocolate issue.”ExpandingLiz wants to have more options for cookies, like the one now being invented: the chocolate-dipped Mocha Macadamia. The plan is to release two new cookies a year for the next couple of years. Brownies will likely be next. Keeping their “artisan” quality will be foremost. Although they use machinery in production, they are dedicated to authenticity, so avoiding machines designed for mass-production, the bakery picks small artisan machines that return baking to its traditionsWhile shopping at local Vermont stores, Liz and Dan have been amazed at the diversity of their customers. For example, they’ve seen a 50-something year-old man with a 6-pack of beer and a package of Liz Lovely cookies in his cart, and they’ve seen their cookies in carts alongside of a block of cheese, local bread, and lying on top of a package of ground meat.Vegans are their devout fans; now, they are trying to get to the larger audience. Liz and Dan explain that they might have to make some compromises because they don’t really want to support multinational corporations, but they want people to buy their cookies instead of ‘Chips a Hoy.’ They want to be the ethical alternative. Liz explains that the goal is to change the reputation of vegan products—as their mission statement says, to “build support for vegan foods and the vegan lifestyle by mainstreaming our cruelty-free natural products.”Providing meaningful work is also important. Liz says, “I think success is having an actual sustainable company, we have our own building, where people can come by and buy cookies at the bakery. People can have real jobs here, with real lives, and people want to spend ten years working here.” Liz wants to see the business “really solid, and nationally distributed.”The cookies are distributed frozen; with all natural ingredients, they only have a shelf-life of about two weeks, and must be bought immediately. So try them today, and you’ll understand what the magic is all about. You won’t be disappointed.Cookie VarietiesCurrently there are five Liz Lovely cookies, one to fit every cookielover’s fancy. The moist and chunky Cowboy Cookie is made with rolled oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips, coated on the bottom and decorated on top with rich, dark chocolate.The Peanut Butter Classic is coated on the bottom with dark chocolate, and topped with organic peanut halves; extra chocolate complements the peanut butter’s creaminess.Ginger Snapdragons are filled with organic spices and encrusted with organic raw sugar and hunks of crystallized ginger.Cowgirl Cookies are soft chocolate chip cookies. Moist and lightly laced with dark chocolate on top, they are reminiscent of raw chocolate cookie dough!The Frontier Cookie is the newest invention—the classic Oatmeal Raisin cookie, now filled with cashews and organic spices.Buying Liz LovelyLiz Lovely cookies are distributed semi-nationally in Eastern and Central states through United Natural Foods, the largest U.S. natural foods distributor. Some local retailers are listed below. This is by no means a complete listing, so members in other regions can call theNew York City Friends of Animals office at 212-247-8120 for information on retailers in your area. A complete list is available online at www.lizlovely.com, and you can call Liz Lovely at 802-496-6390.ConnecticutMrs. Green’s Natural Market950 High Ridge Rd.Stamford, CT 06905203-329-1313It’s Only Natural386 Main St.Middletown, CT 06457860-346-1786District of ColumbiaWellness Café325 Pennsylvania Ave SEWashington, DC 20003202-543-2266Yes! Organic Markets:3425 Connecticut Ave. NWWashington, DC 20008202-363-1559658 Pennsylvania Ave. SEWashington, DC 20003202-546-98501825 Columbia Rd. NWWashington, DC 20003202-462-5150New YorkWesterly Natural Foods911 Eighth Ave. (corner of W. 54th St.)New York, NY 10019212-586-5262Millennium Health241 Bedford Ave.Brooklyn, NY 11211718-599-3081Jubilee Marketplace99 John StNew York, NY 10038212-233-0808Green Star Co-Op701 W. Buffalo St.Ithaca, NY 14850607-273-9392PennsylvaniaEast End Food Co-Op7516 Meade St.Pittsburgh, PA 15208412-242-3598All Natural Market30-36 E Lancaster Ave.Ardmore, PA 19003610-896-7717Essene Natural Foods719 S. 4th StPhiladelphia, PA 19147215-922-1146New JerseyBasic Foods204 Washington StHoboken, NJ 07030201-610-1100George Street Co-Op89 Morris St.New Brunswick, NJ 08901732-247-8280MarylandPangea2381 Lewis Ave.Rockville, MD 208511-800-340-1200MassachusettsAnnye’s Whole Foods14 AmeliaNantucket, MA 02544508-228-4554Cambridge Naturals1670 Massachusetts Ave.Cambridge, MA 02138617-497-4521VermontCity Market/Onion River Co-Op82 S Winooski AveBurlington, VT 05401802-863-3659Liz Lovelywww.lizlovely.comLiz Lovely, Inc.PO Box 757167 Mad River Canoe Road #15Waitsfield, VT 05673Telephone: 802-496-6390Fax: 802-329-2043

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