Being a vegan is not my thing. My love affair with butter is an embarrassing second to Paula Deen’s (which is really humbling, because I hate Paula Deen). I’m also quite attached to all things pork. However, my commitment to eating ethically also tells me that consuming huge amount of meat and dairy is not good for my long term health plan or for the environment. I’d rather spend more money on a smaller quantity of ethically produced, very delicious meats and dairy products. So I buy butter that costs seven dollars a pound, and use less. I buy less than 2 pounds of meat a week for myself and my husband. I’ve more or less given up drinking milk, but I’m not going to tell you how much cheese, cream and sour cream I buy. It’s my last food indulgence. But I do try and be conscious of my consumption. I try to eat at least half of my meals without meat and a few meals a week as vegan friendly. This also encourages me to eat more vegetable and whole grains, which everyone can use.
The push to be vegan, popularized recently Whole Foods’ “plant strong” initiative or Bill Clinton‘s miraculous weight loss, is really a way of simplifying things we all should do to improve the condition of our collective health. A vegan diet CAN make you healthier, CAN improve the state of our food system and CAN help you lose weight, but so can being an omnivore. You just have to use your brain and think about how to eat and how to spend your money. The vegan thing is not for me. And not because I just loooove meat. Because I am a human and I don’t like restrictions, nor do I like buying produce from other countries. I also uphold the fundamental belief that we are biologically designed to eat animals and that God put them on Earth for our consumption. Also, being a vegan is really expensive if you also want to cut out refined sugar and oil out of the picture, which you really should outside of a little cooking oil for things like tomatoes or other vegetables that give you fat soluble vitamins.
But the diet craze continues, and it’s not a surprise. We suck at eating. Marketing has made believe that food should be cheap, greasy, meaty, cheesy and full of protein and calories. Beyond that, the weight loss industry makes us believe that simply by consuming low fat foods or low calorie packaged snacks that we can achieve optimum health. This, of course, is all complete bullshit. Just remember that anytime anyone is telling you what to eat it’s because they’ve found a way to make money doing it. They don’t actually care about your health. Cynical much? Perhaps, but the more you learn about nutrition and weight loss the real answers are more or less free. Education, discipline, keeping track of what you put in your fat face, exercising, etc. It’s hard, and don’t get me wrong I am not thin by any means but I have successfully lost weight after trying many diet plans, and the only one that worked was calorie counting with exercise. Most people who have lost weight and kept it off will tell you that.
But maybe you are a vegan because of your love of animals, or believe it’s the best way to support the environment. I personally believe the best way to support the environment is to eat what is produced locally and in season, but I get it if you think your Chilean avocado is saving the air from too much methane gas or something. Everyone has their own ideas, and I honestly don’t know who is right on this one. My conclusion is to just eat more vegetables, and if you need a strategy, I like to eat vegetarian for either breakfast or dinner, vegan for lunch, and omnivore for either breakfast or dinner. I like to eat eggs in the morning because they give me more energy than oatmeal or cereal, but other people have the opposite experience, so it’s also good to know what your body specifically responds to.
So, if you want to be more vegan, either for health, ethical, or political reasons, I humbly suggest these ideas:
- Stock your pantry with staples: quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, vegetable stock, canned beans and tomatoes (unsalted if you can, organic if you can)
- Make a meal plan every week, make a grocery list organized by store sections and stick to your plan! I like to use Tasty Kitchen or Food.com for recipe inspiration. You can filter by dietary needs in your searches.,
- Don’t eat too much processed crap- ie: fake meat and seafood, fake cheese, yogurt etc. Think about what needs to happen to a soy bean to turn it into that crap. Read the ingredients on those labels… do they look healthy to you?
- Learn your substitutes. You can replace almost any animal product with multiple plant options in any recipe. Here are some of mine:
Meat- mushrooms, lentils, tofu (sparingly, this falls into the processed crap category), zucchini, eggplant, black beans,
Cheese- roasted cauliflower, chopped nuts, nutritional yeast, cashew or almond butter
Butter- organic palm or coconut oil, vegetable stock, vinegar, wine (alcohol, like fat, is good conductor of flavor in cooking), fruit preserves
Smoked Meats- Try cooking with Lapsang Souchong or Russian Caravan tea, or season foods with Liquid Smoke. or vegan Worcestershire sauce.
Cream- Coconut milk, cashew butter, pureed potatoes or other root vegetables, stock, tomatoes, almond milk
I would also suggest signing up for a CSA, a service that delivers a surprise box of local produce to you each week or every other week. This will encourage you to branch out and eat vegetable that you other wise wouldn’t think to eat. Have fun, and play with your food!
Quinoa Salad with Kale and Grapefruit (The occassional optimum awesomeness: tasty AND healthy)
2 cups cooked quinoa, according to package directions (tip: cook your grains in stock for more flavor!)
1 bunch dino kale, stemmed and chopped
1 bunch curly leaf kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock
3 tablespoons walnut oil
Preheat a nonstick pan on medium high heat, add the kale and stock. Let the kale get wilty, then toss with the quinoa.
To supreme a grapefruit, check out this video, then assure that your knife is VERY sharp. Sharp knives are your friend. I cannot stress that enough. Keep. Your. Knife. Sharp! Do it! And buy a decent one, for chrissakes. Then, supreme your grapefruit, and squeeze out the juice from the remaining pulp. Add the grapefruit segments to the quinoa, then mix the juice and walnut oil together. If you need more liquid, add either stock, vinegar or more citrus juice to the salad. Enjoy your tasty lunch or snack!