This article gives a nice overview of the vegan trend and highlights that, what was once an obscure diet regimen, is now reaching mainstream status. Being vegan or eating a vegan meal means eating vegetables which are healthy and less destructive to the environment to produce on a large scale. It also means expanding the reach of one's compassion and reducing, as much as possible, one's footprint on the environment. It's a positive way of life and it's nice to see more people learning about it. The article also discusses nutrition topics relevant to vegan diets.
I have to admit, when I first became a vegetarian, I faced three challenges. First, I had to create food I liked to replace my meat based meals. Second, I had to learn how to cook better, especially when it came to new ingredients such as tofu, mushrooms, leafy greens, and root vegetables. Third, and probably the more difficult part for me, I had to get used to chopping vegetables before cooking.
I'm not saying that I was lazy, but when you rely on instant cooking or fast food for most of your meals for such a long time, it's habit forming. Further, when your working life and commute home consume so much energy, it's hard to walk into the kitchen at night and start cooking and chopping veggies. Even though it takes minimal effort, it may not be the most fun thing to do after a long day.
You can overcome this once you start to enjoy the food you make and once you get used to and familiar with the vegetables. With a bit of practice and discipline, I realized that it didn't take that much time and it was very simple. Peeling carrots, potatoes, yams, and beets can be done each in 30 seconds and chopping them up takes just another 30 seconds. After that, you throw them into a pot with water or a skillet with some olive oil and you're cooking. When you get used to chopping veggies for salads like cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes, it goes so quick, you forget you are cooking.
With some discipline, I reduced the effort further by making larger batches of food, especially soups, so that I could store it in the fridge, heat it up in minutes after getting home, and start eating in less than 10 minutes. That is eating instantly and nutritiously at the same time!
Part of the process of enjoying to cook is getting to know the vegetables you use and what chopping techniques suit the meals and your taste. You start to become and expert and you also learn to pick out good veggies and fruit from the store which makes cooking even better.
In fact, after a while, once I started getting good at cooking with certain veggies, I actually wanted to explore new ones to see what they were like and how they handled in recipes and tasted in the end. So to some extent, it becomes a hobby, and it gave me new things to think about that benefited my experiences in the kitchen and health. So don't worry too much about having to chop veggies. It will lead to good cooking and good times! This article shares some similar experiences.
It's nice to see vegan cooking becoming more mainstream. If it helps people include a few more vegetable meals during the week, then it's a good thing. Here is a segment from NBC's Today Show where Mark Bittman of the NY Times demonstrates how to make vegan meals including bean burgers. It gives the recipe details as well.
Mr. Bittman also wrote a nice editorial on why meat consumption is dropping in the U.S. He covers a lot of points and statistics including a recent survey which reported that 50% of Americans are aware of the Meatless Monday campaign. He also mentions flexitarian diets which are semi vegetarian as an example of people reducing meat consumption. Here is the link to the article.
It seems logical to add a new category for the Nobel Prize - the environment. The dramatic issues facing the planet, including climate change, sustaining population growth, habitat and natural resource conservation need a champion and a focal point. One of the best ways to do this on a global scale is to award a Nobel Prize. It will bring recognition to the cause and the efforts to help along with more research and needed innovation. It may also help pressure governing bodies to be more proactive and collaborative. This article advocates creating the prize and provides some cogent arguments in support of it.
This amusing article describes the challenges of being vegetarian where a meat culture is dominant. It's not always easy to find good veggie meals if you're on the road and the restaurant options are limited. This scenario is likely almost anywhere in North America when you leave major urban areas.
Buying vegetables in season is a great way to enjoy fresh food and also minimize the impact to your shopping budget. This article lists some wonderful winter vegetables, many of which can be roasted, making a nice meal. These vegetables and fruit also deliver nutritious amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Enjoy the season!
I'm continuing on a low salt, low sodium campaign in my blog. This is a very comprehensive article about sodium and health. It illuminates an interesting correlation - sodium and potassium. Potassium may balance, to some degree, the bad effects of high sodium intake. Also, according to the article, the human body only needs 220 mg of salt per day, but the average American intake is around 3400 mg, mostly from processed and packaged foods. It urges everyone to reduce sodium levels in our daily diets. Good advice!
We are lucky in the U.S. to have supermarkets filled with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. Some countries don't have this resource, making it difficult to be vegetarian. Cuba is one of those countries where a dominant meat culture and lack of access to vegetables limits vegetarian cooking. However, it seems that things may be changing. Check out this article.
The first question one gets when talking about vegan diets is about protein. How do you replace the protein from meat or fish? This article lists 5 common protein sources for a vegan diet. They are all great ingredients in vegan meals, adding texture and bulk, balancing well with the seasoning and other vegetables, and taste delicious. I add tofu to stews, marinated tempeh to salads, quinoa to replace rice, blackbeans in vegan burritos, and almonds to garnish kale. Once you become comfortable using these ingredients, you'll be surprised at how many great and simple meals you can make. Just practice with the flavor you enjoy and integrate these protein source slowly as they combine well and see what you like.
Tofu has many different forms which have unique textures, depending on the meal you want to make. If you want to try various versions before cooking them yourself, visit a Chinese restaurant and ask them for dishes with the different tofu styles. Most stores offer soft/silken, firm, and extra firm tofu. I use firm and soft/silken tofu frequently. Both types will absorb the flavor of the ingredients used to cook the meal. Soft tofu can be used in smoothies. Firm tofu is very good in stews and mixes well with mushrooms, a favorite combination of mine!
Buying local fruit and vegetables is a major trend and expect it to gain even more momentum in 2012. I have started buying more vegetables from farmer's markets near to where I live. Usually there are ones on the weekend and some during the week throughout the day. The vegetables are pesticide free, fresh and full of true flavor. When you start cooking with vegetables, it becomes apparent that the fresher the vegetables are, the better the meal tastes. Nothing beats fresh ingredients.
Farmer's markets are fun, too, since you get to know the farmers and sellers after a while. The atmosphere is usually festive and convivial (except when it's really cold). Sometimes, the markets offer more exotic vegetables than grocery stores such as heirloom tomatoes, Peruvian purple potatoes, and unique chilies. It makes cooking a bit more fun when you're buying the veggies directly from the farming family.
Now with the development of 'urban farms', the veggies and fruit may be growing next door to you if you live in the city. I'm intrigued by the concept and practice. I'm not sure if I've bought vegetables from an urban farm yet, but I'll be on the lookout. It seems like a good use of space and maybe more efficient to support food needs in cities. Perhaps new high rise condos will have a farm on the 20th floor and you'll just take the elevator up to buy corn and lettuce! We'll see what happens. Below is an article about urban farms.
Make Simple Vegan Meals