Eating Plants

I’ve been a vegan for four weeks, and I’ve decided I’m going to keep it up. For now.

Mind you, I’m not rigid about it (as I mentioned in comments in the previous post, I had some Gannons Isle homemade ice cream on Saturday). And I’m not going to bend myself into a pretzel to avoid every animal product and all the myriad uses they can be put to. A coworker, for example, mentioned some gins filtered using animal bones. If I happen to be fortunate enough to be offered a gin and tonic, I’m not going to interrogate the bartender about the processing of the gin.

In the past month, I’ve learned a lot of interesting, inspiring and annoying things related to going veggie, and I’ve read a few more books and blogs.

I still crave milk, cheese and yogurt, and the substitutes (soy milk, vegan cheese, almond milk, etc.) are not too impressive. But when you’re 20 pounds overweight, as I am, you’re getting the message that you’re eating too much of something (or, I suppose, everything) and the likeliest culprit, in my case, is dairy foods. Just because I like them so much, I’ll overeat them when given the opportunity.

On the other hand, a Freedom of Espresso (my local coffee shop) soy milk mocha latte from time to time is pretty good. At home, I lighten my coffee and tea with almond milk, and it froths up nicely and tastes fine, in its way. And I’m beginning to discover some of the many uses of tofu. For instance, I made some tofu-based ricotta, as a pizza topping, from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ Vegan With a Vengeance cookbook, and it’s delicious. Really! Floured tofu fried in oil is also quite yummy.

And, yes, I’m aware that soybeans contain phytoestrogens, and there’s some concern that eating too many processed-soy foods can cause undesirable adverse effects in people. However, I’d like to point out (as you probably know) that most conventionally raised dairy cows, beef cattle, chickens and turkeys are filled with hormones to promote growth as well as antibiotics to combat the bacterial illnesses that plague animals eating foods (like grains instead of grasses, in the case of ruminants like cows) that their bodies are not well-adapted to eat. So pick your additives; at least phytoestrogens are naturally occurring in soybeans.

Venturing into animal-product-free cooking has been one of the stimulating aspects to my experiment, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz (among the most famous vegan cookbook authors) has been a pleasant discovery.

On the other hand, I’ve had middling luck with the recipes in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet–the book that propelled me on the vegan(ish) way. A lot of the ingredients she uses are astoundingly expensive. Her brownie recipe called for $12 worth of maple sugar. I substituted less-healthy white sugar. And the brownies, with substitutions, were very crumbly and not especially tasty.

I would need to experiment a bit more to determine how to compensate for the different properties of the ingredients I used. So the brownie failure is surely not Ms. Silverstone’s fault. That’s apart from the cluelessness–yes, I said it–that makes a person attempting to promote a vegan lifestyle employ an ingredient that costs $18 per pound in her recipes.

Her book describes two levels of eating–Vegan (no animal products) and Superhero (macrobiotic and ultra-healthy–supposedly). On the Superhero side, I made the Adzuki Bean and Kombu Soup, and I was unimpressed with its squishy blandness. And, unable to find the magical kombu squash, about which Ms. Silverstone rhapsodizes, I substituted butternut. I can only say: eh.

But the Dried Fruit and Walnut Cookies were delectable. No eggs–no problem!

I’ve also made several recipes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I checked out Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook from the library. Some of the recipes look simple and tasty, but I’m having a lot of trouble taking in the useful information she offers while overlooking her obnoxious “voice” or “brand.” That is: Thanks, Kim, but do not call me “bitch.” Because I hate it. I thought I could deal. But I don’t even like having the book and its “Bitch” on the cover in my house.

Ultimately, it’s been pretty easy to go vegan. I give my omnivorous husband and sons one or two vegan dinners a week–a stir-fry or legumes and rice–and the rest of the time, I make them something that has meat or cheese in it and fill in, for my dinner, with a tofu or seitan “main dish” along with the vegetable sides. (I made my own seitan! I didn’t love it to start, but it’s growing on me and the experiments are ongoing.) Sometimes I just eat a whole lot of sweet potatoes. Have you had them grated and sauteed in olive oil with garlic and fresh sage?And did you know that tofu is amazingly good (really, what isn’t?) when accompanied by Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sauce?

So far I’ve found a lot to like about this new lifestyle. I’ve lost five pounds so far, and I am eating plenty of food. I’m learning all kinds of new things about different foods and I’m having fun solving the problem of “what to eat” in novel ways. And the uneasy feeling I’ve long had about my wasteful Western lifestyle has been quelled–okay, it’s not gone, but it’s a little less oppressive. Eating plants and plant-based foods has been good for me, and I don’t think it’s hurting anyone else. Maybe it’s even helping.

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16 responses to “Eating Plants

  1. We avoid soy products. My 25-year-old daughter freaked me out about the hormone issues so we just avoid soy. In answer to your previous question, yes, we eat those kind of grains, and tortillas and noodles and other less-than-wonderful carb choices too. I just get hungry if there isn’t enough bean base. Like eating oatmeal in the morning barely holds me till lunch time. On the other hand, maybe the three cups of coffee doesn’t help with this problem.

    • Far be it for me to give medical advice when I am no kind of medical professional whatsoever. I will note that soy’s connection to cancer is poorly understood and there is some evidence that less-processed forms of soy (such as tofu and tempeh, as opposed to heavily processed soy dogs and soy milk) might be beneficial in preventing cancer recurrence, at least according to the JAMA study referred to in this article. As for the perpetual hunger–I just don’t know. Perhaps raw foods that require a lot of chewing will help you feel fuller–perhaps carrots, celery, apples? Just a thought!

  2. Reid, I am still fascinated with your experiment. You didn’t mention bean/beans other than soybeans. Have you found them useful in cooking and stretching the protein in another direction? Also, have you read the Neil Barnard book “21 day weight-loss kickstart” or something like that. He has a number of books but that is the most recent I think. He is the guy on PBS but I haven’t seen his show. I’m not there yet but I’m leaning towards the less dairy, more grains, and whole food not only for my health but since R had his heart attack, I really think that is the way we need to eat. I find the thought process away from the meat/potatoes standard fascinating. Love Bittman for just about anything. You are right to allow special treats; and to put yourself in a vacuum would make it impossible with your family. I’m very impressed!

    • Like most of the women I know, I could probably get some kind of nutrition degree from all the reading I’ve done since age 12 in the areas of weight loss and/or healthy eating. And my research indicates that the American diet is oversupplied with protein, overall. It’s useful because protein-heavy foods tend to be more filling, just like fats. But unless you’re a child or a serious athlete, you probably need a lot less protein than you’re getting. And the need to combine legumes and grains in a meal for a “complete” protein, is, as you’ve probably heard, a myth. You can get protein from many sources throughout the day, and your body completes them as needed. Even lettuce has protein in it (though not a lot).

      That said, I have been exploring the wonderful world of legumes and pulses (whatever they are … are lentils pulses?) and my favorite discovery so far has been French lentils, which have a bit more body and flavor (Bittman describes the taste as “earthy”) than red or brown lentils. I remain a fan of chickpeas as well. I also like black rice, which is weird looking but offers a sort of Goth rice experience. If you know what I mean. (Which you may not.) Okay, it’s just a wild black rice, but sometimes an offbeat color is interesting in and of itself.

      I continue to do research in cookbooks and the bulk bins in a local health food store, and I encourage you to do the same. As I said above, one of the best parts of this vegan thing has been the license to try foods I previously avoided out of ignorance or fear or both. You don’t want to do expensive experiments with, say, maple sugar (I’m talking to you, Alicia Silverstone), but most of the foods in the bulk bins are not expensive and you can afford to give them a try and see what they are like and how they work with different herbs, spices and oils. And once the farmers’ markets get going again, you’ll have even more choices. Discovering new foods is a real pleasure! As is finding that a food you didn’t used to like has actually grown on you. I’ve opened my mind and found I enjoy beets, red cabbage, daikon, sweet potatoes… lots of good stuff out there.

  3. Now the experiment begins to sound like fun! Mark Bittman is a welcome addition to a vegan’s library (although his dip recipes from 3/20’s Sun.NYT would not make the cut & they sound yummy). We try to source our dairy, although I would not be confident until I saw firsthand how animals were treated. We have chickens who live a lavish lifestyle, more so recently when they’ve been released from their sizeable-for 11 hens-coop into the barn to scratch in the dirt, take the impt. dustbath. As far as eating meat, that is a real dilemma. Can I just say no to a coney given the opportunity?

    • Yes, it has been fun. Nothing like a giant dietary change to make the last of winter (it’s snowing as I type) a bit more bearable! I just got a new cookbook–Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar, and I am looking forward to making brownies and other treats on the weekend. Because I know that it’s possible to raise laying hens in a humane way, I don’t have big problem with eggs. But then I never ate a lot of eggs–whereas I did drink a lot of milk. Hence, my conversion to vegan(ish). The conclusion I’ve come to is that, really, the only reason not to be vegan is personal preference–most people have grown up eating and drinking certain things, and we’ve developed a taste for them. But if you put your mind to it, you can develop an appreciation for other foods. They may not be what you’re used to–but if you have what you consider compelling reasons to avoid the “old foods,” you can resist them and find ways to enjoy alternatives. That’s my line today, in any case.

  4. Azuki beans + squash + kombu is awesome, served with brown rice!!! And great for the spleen meridian, or something like that. But you must be careful not to eat too many azuki beans; they are very potent; I was told to eat no more than 1/2 cup (a day?). Also delish: beets with roasted sesame seeds and brown rice. And try making kale chips; so far we haven’t succeeded in making them taste good, but apparently they can be delicious. (Kale is a superfood, so please share good kale recipes, if you’ve found any.) Starting off the day with miso soup with daikon or carrot, plus kombu, is very cleansing. Did I already tell you about the book I’m reading now, called “Disease-Proof Your Child,” written by a doc? It’s good (albeit very repetitive), and has useful info for all of us, not just for kids. Oh, and you can make your own almond milk; a friend of mine does and says it tastes much better than the store-bought stuff (which usually contains veg gums, etc.). I’ve never craved dairy, really, but eating sweeter veggies such as carrots takes care of sweet cravings most of the time. And quinoa is awesome. Ok, that’s all I’ve got right now.

    • Wow, LV, you know lots of vegan recipes. I’ve read about kale chips but haven’t attempted to make them yet. I’ll let you know if I figure out the trick to good ones. I’ve read about making my own nut milks but so far I’m still attached to some convenience foods, though I know they’re inferior to homemade. Your eating sounds way more evolved than mine! I like quinoa, too. I’ll have to check out the book you mention. Though I doubt very much I could get my sausage-loving sons to consent to disease-proofing foods.

  5. Dear Reid, So excited your experiment is going well. I found Peter Berley to be an absolute genius during my foray into veganism. His book, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, sits uncreased and without stains on your parents bookshelf so perhaps, if you don’t already own it, you can steal it without them noticing. His recipe for quinoa salad is truly divine. I made your mom the tofu scramble and she thought they were eggs and asked for seconds. In his book, Fresh Food Fast, he has added dairy to his recipes for much the same reason that I have added dairy back in: I feel better physically if I am eating some dairy. So I have to live with this knowledge that in general my cheese/milk and egg eating behavior is supporting an abhorrent industry. I try to minimize it and make the best decisions I can, but given the multiple ways that I am trying to stretch my life I am OK with this compromise. I have to be. I wish you the best and look forward to much soy protein consumption (and vegan all you can eat indian lunch buffet) when next we meet! Keep it up!

    • Alice-Lee! Thanks for stopping by. I’ll have to take another look at the Peter Berley oeuvre. I wasn’t impressed the first time I read his recipes, but maybe I wasn’t ready for the benefits of his teachings. And, yes, we all have to do the best we can. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or something like that). Having your whole family be vegetarian is quite an accomplishment already–for your health, for the benefit of many animals, and for the environment. And when other people see an entire busy family that’s gone vegetarian, they know it can be done. So you’re doing good just be serving as a role model for others.

  6. That’s funny, my wife was just telling me how badly she wanted to eat some lobster–I don’t THINK that’s vegan, is it? I recommend you eat lots of Indian food.

  7. crustaceans don’t count

    • On the one hand we have this article in the New York Times that argues for the sentience of plants and explains how they express their desire to live (and not be eaten). On the other hand, there’s Mark Bittman’s Opinionator blog post (also in the Times) that refers to the much greater suffering experienced by animals on factory farms. He links to video on the Huffington Post site (I couldn’t watch this one though I saw a similar clip in the movie Food Inc.) that depicts the grinding of male chicks. I’m much more concerned about the suffering of mammals and birds (and even fish–maybe I’m just unreasonably biased) than I am about that of shellfish.

  8. We Have used Alice Lee’s gift cookbook and plan to more, and she shouldn’t encourage such nefarious behaviour on your part. Never mind. Your experiment is going great and I’ve very pleased for you. I think the Indian Vegatarian cookbook is pretty good, and there are a lot of great Veg recipes in Mada Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, which is our goto cookbook these days.

  9. Whether one is concerned about the suffering of fish or not, a larger concern is the degradation of the planet, of which the decimation of ocean fish species for human food is a significant part.

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