Tuesday, 30 November 2010


I love the autumn.  Something really amazing happens to the earth at this time of year: trees burst into brilliant colour (yes, even in London this year), we bring out coats and gloves and become immediately more stylish, and the farmer's markets suddenly become laden with plump and cheerful squashes and pumpkins.  All of these seasonal evolutions remind me that change is more exciting than it is scary.  So I thought this would be an appropriate time of the year to talk about transitioning from meat eating to vegetarianism.

If you are looking to make the leap from omnivore to herbivore, there are a myriad of approaches.  You could start by having three vegetarian days a week, and then add more.  You could turn around one day, and immediately eliminate all animal products from your diet.  You could set a day in the future to be your last meat eating day.  If your diet has been riddled with tons of animal products up to now, throwing them out the door immediately might be a shock for your body.  On the other hand, if you already eat a lot of fresh, wholesome food, an immediate meat-out might feel fantastically freeing. 

Regardless of how you decide to make the change, you are going to encounter some splendiferous benefits, and some causes for concern.  Here are some tips to guide you through the first couple of months:

  • Learn to cook.  I've said it before, and I meant it.  Don't be scared.  If you can read and follow directions, make slicing motions with a knife, and turn on a burner, you can cook.  Everyone should  cook, obviously, but preparing your own food is particularly important for anyone not eating a standard western diet, because most processed, pre-packaged food is aimed at people who do eat a standard western diet.  So unless you really, really, really like toast, you need to start cooking.
  • Buy a good vegetarian cookbook.  So, you've decided you don't want to eat meat anymore.  You've decided you want to turn over a new leaf both for yourself and for the victims of the meat industry.  You're excited and raring to go, but like many people, you were raised eating a slab of meat with some boiled carrots for dinner   What the face are you supposed to eat?  Enter the glorious and inventive array of vegetarian cookbooks.  Buy a good, all-purpose vegetarian cookbook, and try to make every recipe in it (not all at once.  Well, maybe all at once). To start off with, one all-purpose everyday vegetarian cookbook, one special occasion-oriented cookbook, and one baking book will serve your purposes very well.  I could spend the entire blog recommending books, but for newbie vegetarians I would recommend the Moosewood Collective, (UK), (CAN), Colleen Patrick Goudreau, (UK), (CAN), or Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, (UK), (CAN).
  • Scouts and new vegetarians need to be prepared.  I've never really figured out what Scouts need to be prepared for (some sort of Lord of the Flies situation, I guess?), but new vegetarians need to be prepared for the hostility they will encounter from some awesome geniuses who think it's ok to question other people's food choices.  To deal with people who are trying to convince you that carrots have feelings too, I would recommend my boyfriend's method of ending arguments he doesn't want to have: while the other person is arguing, shut your eyes and emit a high-pitched, child-like squeal until they stop talking.  After a few moments of stunned silence, change the subject to TV.
  • Feed your friends and family.  Your parents might be frustrated, worried about you, or even feel rejected, as you suddenly refuse to eat the food they've been preparing you since you were small.  Your friends might not understand, and might feel that you are getting high and mighty.  Most of my friends and family were very supportive of me, but I know that not everyone is so lucky.  The solution?  Patience and deliciousness.  Cook and bake food for everyone.  They will get off your case once you've made them sweet potato burritos.  Happy tummies do more good than all of the animal rights literature in the world.
  • If you are still living with your parents, help them with the cooking, especially if they haven't cooked a lot of vegetarian meals in the past. 
  •  When people ask you about the change that you've made, be sure to explain it personally.  Saying, "I gave up meat because eating dead animals is wrong and disgusting, and anyone who participates in the meat industry horror show should be ashamed of being culpable in the slaughtering of sentient beings, and will die of obesity-driven heart disease at 45" is being kind of confrontational.  I am by no means recommending that you shy away from giving your real reasons for your change; I think you should be absolutely honest, but people are much more likely to be on your side if you explains things in the context of personal decisions, ie "I really love animals, and I found that for me, eating them didn't feel right anymore," or "I personally feel so healthy and clean now."
  • Research nutrition.  We've talked about this before.  Everyone needs to research his or her health, but now you've got an opportunity to become more informed.  Learn what will need to plan for, in particular, vegans need to start supplementing with vitamin B12.  Researching your health will also set your family's mind at ease.  Once they see that plenty of reputable studies and doctors recommend vegetarianism and veganism, and once you've made them sweet potato burritos, they will really get off your case. 
  • Draw your own line in the sand.  Do I eat/wear red meat, white meat, fish, dairy,eggs, free-range, honey, gelatin, stearic acid, or wool?  There are a million different stances that people take on their diet.  Many veg*ns (vegetarians and vegans) debate constantly about these issues with no real answer in sight.  You have to make up your own mind as to what you think is wrong or right, unhealthy or not a big deal, or a manageable change.  That doesn't mean that other people won't come up with arguments that make sense and help you refine your diet, but ultimately it's your decision.  
  • Learn how to shop.  If you are converting to lacto-ovo vegetarianism and you live in the UK, you don't really have to worry about this one.  Every single truly vegetarian food item in the UK is labelled as such by law.  Amazing!  However, if you live elsewhere, or if you are also giving up dairy and eggs, you may want to learn the names of the different additives in food.  The most significant sneaky dead animal additive is gelatin, which is made from boiled pig fat and horse hooves, and is found in jelly candies and the like.  For vegans, the big ones are casein and whey.  Some people choose to worry about every little additive in their food, and some people take the attitude that these things are the byproducts of the meat industry, not the cause of it.  
  • Get familiar with www.happycow.net. Happy Cow is a very comprehensive website and has many uses, my favourite of which is their database of vegetarian restaurants from around the world.  You'll be amazed at the vegetarian restaurants you can find in Paris, Texas, Dubai, or anywhere else in the world!
  • Feel free to experiment with different meat substitutes.  I don't eat a lot of them now, but meat substitutes are perfect for your transitional phase.  Some are amazing, some are disgusting, and some will simply suffice.  If you ever feel yourself craving a meat dish, trust me, someone somewhere has vegetarianised it.  Example?  Vegan meat cake.  Veggie burgers are great for satisfying meat cravings.  They are familiar, they can be dressed up just like their meat versions, they are easy to find even in the middle of nowhere, and there are a million different versions for you to try.  I've also had good veggie mince, chicken pieces, chicken nuggets, and meatballs.  In fact, I like them much better than the meat versions.  Vegans be warned: some vegetarian meat substitutes contain eggs, so check the label.
  • Focus on what you are gaining, not losing.  Most vegetarians find that they have more options than meat eaters, not less.  There are hundreds of different plant foods to explore.  There are only a handful of different kinds of meat.  When you start cooking vegetarian, you start to think outside of the box, and discover culinary creativity you didn't even know existed.
  •  Have fun!  Seriously, I'm a little envious of new vegetarians.  The world is your artichoke!  When people go vegetarian, they will inevitably try new cuisines, new vegetables, new flavours, new recipes, and new products.  So many people say that they feel cleaner and lighter, and have more energy.  
  • Stress.  If you're met with opposition from friends and family, don't worry about it.  They will come around.  Be patient, and feed them.  Trust me.
  • Expect everyone to jump onboard.  You might have watched Food, Inc, (UK), (CAN), or Earthlings and had an irreversible epiphany, but others might not have the same reaction to new information.  You might have been moved by The China Study, (UK), (CAN), to make a change in your own health, others might be moved to go to Burger King.  Your choices are your choices, you can't force them on anyone else.  Don't bother trying.
  • Assume everyone knows what you can or can't eat.  Right at this very moment, someone's grandmother is trying to convince them that vegetarians can eat chicken, because chicken is fowl, not meat.  Plenty of people still genuinely don't really know what vegetarians/vegans can or can't eat.  If someone else is preparing you a meal, you may have to be very specific about your diet, and don't forget to mention things like chicken stock and gelatin. 
  • Get on your soapbox.  When you first find out what's going on behind closed slaughterhouse doors, you might think that if only you could share this information with the world, you could single-handedly bring peace to our furry and feathered friends.  Cut to you berating everyone you meet with animal rights slogans, UN statistics, and World Health Organisation reports.  Cut to you playing Jenga with your cat on Saturday night.  Educating people is all very well and good, but you might want to wait until they ask.  
  • Try to be perfect.  Vegetarianism is not a perfect science.  Period.  You will never be a perfect vegetarian.  Ever.  Excluding every little tiny bit of animal products from your life isn't the point.  And when you take a bite of something you didn't realise contained meat, you can't beat yourself up about it.  That bite won't be the last bit of animal you accidentally ingest.  Shrug it off and move on. 
  • Don't OD on processed substitutes or cheese.  I know I said earlier to have fun with substitutes, but at the same time, a lot of the pre-made meat/cheese substitutes aren't exactly health food, so don't go too nuts.  On cheese, don't make the mistake of 1970's LO vegetarianism, and substitute the meat you've taken out with a whole buncha cheese.  Eating silly amounts of cheese isn't going to help your health or the dairy cows.
  • Worry about going out for dinner.  Almost everywhere has lacto-ovo vegetarian options, so if you are still eating eggs and dairy, you will nearly always have at least one option on the menu, even at steakhouses.  Vegans, eating out at restaurants that focus on British or French food isn't going to be the easiest, and both vegans and vegetarians will find more options at ethnic restaurants.  But don't that stop you from going to western-style place; restaurants do not exist merely as glorified butchers.  If you don't see options for you on the menu, ask for them!  Restaurants are there to serve their customers.  They aren't there so that we can beg a meal from them and eat whatever they are willing to serve us.
This post seems like a good time to give an update on my own transition from lacto-ovo veggie to vegan. 
I like gradual changes.  When I gave up meat, I cut out red meat for a year before I cut out white meat and fish as well.  Now that I'm giving up eggs, dairy, and honey, I'm taking a year to say goodbye to those things I love the most.  I like slow changes because I think it makes me less likely to feel wistful cravings for the things I've decided not to eat anymore.  I won't be turning around saying to a tub of cookie dough ice cream, "we never even got to say goodbye," because I have every intention of slowly and deliberately saying goodbye to Ben and Jerry's.  Thirteen years ago, on New Years, I gave up meat entirely.  I've set the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve as my cut-off point for eggs and dairy.

I thought at this point I would be dragging my heels, desperately clinging onto some brie, but actually, I'm really excited to make the change.  I think I'm going to feel amazing.  I think I'm going to relieved not to be eating any animal products at all, and I'm looking forward to exploring more vegan food.  I'm already noticing that I've stopped thinking of dairy as a staple food, and as for eggs, giving them up is a non-issue.

I'm also really, really looking forward to those vegan superpowers I heard so much about in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, (UK), (CAN).  Who knew?

Karing Kitchen

Dan Gerou's Meatless Spaghetti Bolognese

This yummy recipe is my boyfriend's culinary pride and joy, and with it's familiar, meaty texture, pretty perfect for your transitional phase.  He is reluctantly letting me borrow it.  I asked him if he wanted to contribute an introduction for the recipe, and his contribution is, "don't mess it up." 

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, grated
4 mushrooms, chopped
400g of veggie mince*
2 tins tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
pepper to taste

100g spaghetti per person

Heat the oil a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, saute until onions are golden brown.  Add mince, season with first tsp of salt, mix together.  Add carrot and mushrooms and saute together for a minute or two.  Add two tins of tomatoes and mix together.  Add herbs, remaining salt, pepper, sugar, and red wine.  Bring to a boil, then simmer.  Dan says to simmer for a minimum of an hour, but he's done it for 20 minutes or so before and it's been good.  In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta until al dente.  Plate the spaghetti and top with the sauce.

This recipe makes a large amount of sauce, and will keep well for a few days.

*Choose your favourite veggie mince, but be warned that Quorn contains eggs.  If you are in Canada, Yves Veggie Ground Round is a good option.

    Monday, 15 November 2010

    In Defense of Carbs

    We have no idea what to think about carbs.  We're completely baffled by them, even terrified of them.  We know that we like things that are high in carbs, but we're pretty sure we're not supposed to like them.  They're bad for you, right?  They make you fat. We have some idea that there is a difference between starch and sugars, but we're pretty unclear about what the difference means, so just to be safe, we should probably avoid both.  Because they make you fat. 

    Our confusion didn't come out of nowhere.  While the low-carb movement was not actually started by this infamous man, we can put the blame for the popularity of carbophobia squarely on his pudgy shoulders: Dr Robert C. Atkins.  Most of us know all about this diet, but just to recap, Dr Atkins looked around at the widening waistlines of contemporary America, and decided that the reason behind our plumpness, is that we weren't eating enough meat and cheese.  Genius!  He looked around at our inability to turn off the TV, the computer, and the playstation; our obsessive intake of chocolate; Mcdonald's 245 billionth sale of greasy burgers; our massively excessive intake of animal protein, grease, and fat; our continuously effed-up relationship with food and body image; and our overdependence on machines to do everything for us including walking, and decided the problem wasn't the Big Mac, the problem was the bun the Big Mac came on. Ok, I'm exaggerating a little (but only a little).  What he actually decided was that simple carbs, including white flour and sugar, were responsible for the obesity crisis.  Ok, sugar's culpability is something Bob and I can agree on; sugar is a big, fat problem in our society, which I will give a big, fat post all on it's own later on.  But I can't help feel that he was missing something, namely, the burger.  And greasy fries.  And the fatty milkshake.  And the minivan you stuck your arm out of in order to obtain the food.

    Atkins proposed a diet in which the first phase restricts your carbohydrate intake to 20g a day.  To limit your carb intake to only 4% of your diet you must not only out cakes, cookies, and white bread,  you also have to do away with wholemead bread and pasta, potatoes, both white and brown rice, fruit, and most veggies.  Ah yes.  Raspberries and their infamous fattening powers. The final "life maintenance" phase of the Atkins Diet restricts you to 90g of carbs a day.  That's still only 18% of the average diet, and general medical recommendations are to consume no less than half of your calories from carbohydrates.  So what can you eat without restriction on Atkins?  Red meat, chicken, fish, cheese, eggs, mayo, cream and butter.

    Let me repeat that, because you probably thought you misheard me.  To lose weight, you must replace the brown rice and apples in your diet with cream and steak.  Really?  Really?  Are we that stupid, really?

    Yeah, we are.  Atkins died a millionaire.  Proof, if we ever needed it, that people will believe anything you tell them if they think there's a chance it will make them skinny. 

    But carbs make you fat, so who cares, right?  The low-carb movement has a lot of followers, and there is a reason for this loyalty.  When people go on Atkins or the Zone, or any of the similar diets, they tend to lose a lot of weight very quickly, as much as 10lbs a week.  You can see how the diet made the evening news.  The problem is, this weight loss mostly comes from water loss and muscle loss.  Muscle is heavier than fat, but more compact...so if you trade in some muscle for fat, the number on your weigh scale will be lower, but you will look heavier.  And lumpier.  Do we think the lumpy look is coming back anytime soon?  What's more, muscle tissue burns calories even when you are at rest; therefore losing muscle mass means a decrease in your metabolism, which is not exactly condusive to continued and sustainable weight loss.  

    Low carb diets are notorious for being unsustainable.  Know anyone who initially lost a lot of weight on one of these diets?  Maybe.  Know anyone who kept it off for more than a year or two?  Doubtful.  These diets are unsustainable because your body hates them.  Studies have found that these diets cause artery damage,  long-term damage to blood vessels, inflammation that is linked with heart and artery disease, reduce blood vessel dialation (this is a bad thing), and could more that double your risk of certain cancers.  In 2001 the American Heart Association stated that low-carb diets contribute to heart and kidney disease, and that high protein diets are missing certain essential vitamins, nutrients, minerals and fiber.

    The problem isn't just what low-carb diets lack: fiber, fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and the above mentioned essential vitamins.  Low-carb, high-protein diets also contain too much, well, protein, and we've already discussed the problems with that in the protein blog.  They also contain way too much saturated fat.  The American Heart Association recommends that fat intake in total comprise no more that 35% of your diet, but only 7% of your calories should come from saturated fat.  Eating less than 7% saturated fat is pretty much impossible on a low-carb high protein diet.

    I ran a sample Atkins diet through an nutritional anaylisis tool, and eating this menu would involve consuming 103g of fat (64% of this hypothetical daily menu) and 24.4 grams of saturated fat (27% of the hypothetical daily menu).  I feel greasy and gross just looking at those numbers.  I'll do a seperate post about fat someday soon, but for right now I'll just say that the confusion over saturated fat is driven, not by the general medical reseach community, but by the media and a few rascally instigators.  Saturated fat is just as bad for you as we thought it was in the 90's.

    I know that a lot of people are confused about the difference between good carbohydrates and bad carbohydates, so here's a quick explanation for you.  Carbs are a ideal source of energy for our bodies.  They are more readily converted into glucose than either protein or fat, and sources of complex carbs tend to be high in fiber.  They are divided into two main different kinds:  Complex (good) and Simple (usually bad).  Complex carbs are composed of starches, which are again divided into natural starches, such as some fruits and veggies, beans, legumes, wholemeal bread, potatoes, and whole grains, and refined starches, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice.  Simple carbs are divided into natural sugars (still good), such as those found in fruits and vegetables, and refined sugars (bad), such as found in, well, sugar, as well as, cakes, cookies, and all kinds of other sugary crap.  Complex carbs are the carb heros, they provide slower, more sustained release of energy.  Refined sugars should comprise of no more than 10% of your diet; your focus should be on the fruits, veggies, beans, potoatoes, wholemeal breads and pastas, and whole grains.

    It's probably no secret that the vegetarian community and the low-carb community are constantly at ends with each other.  Following a diet like Atkins and being vegetarian would be pretty darn difficult, and trying to do it vegan would be pretty darn impossible.  So, while it's true that when you attack carbs, to some extent you attack vegetarianism, I'm not promoting the consumption of carbs to trick anyone into vegetarianism.  Everyone should be eating complex carbs, whether vegan or steakatarian.  Reading stories about diabetics avoiding carbs hurts me deeply, especially when they are one group of people who so desperately need the fiber present in complex carbs.  As long as you are getting at least 10% protein and 10% healthy fat in your diet, you are very unlikely to eat too many complex carbs.  Really. You need to focus on the quality of your carbs rather than the quantity.

    So what makes for high-quality carbohydrates?  Just like in drinking buddies, a lack of refinement is best.  The less stuff done to your carbs, the better.  Think about it: sugar cane is ground, juiced, clarified, evaporated, crystalized, and then refined to removed any remaining molasses and minerals, then evaporated again, and then dried.  Not health food.  The much maligned potato is...plucked from the ground.  And then washed, but even that part is optional.  Generally speaking, the closer the food that you are eating is to the state it's found in nature, the more you can pat yourself on the back for eating it.  What does this mean when it's at home?  Good, unrefined sources of carbs include fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, potatoes, and whole grains.

    Now, those of you who know me well probably assume that I'm going to spend the rest of this post talking about potatoes.  Well, I'm a little tempted.  I love potatoes.  I love them a lot.  But no, I think there is another group about the deserves more attention right now.  The mysterious whole grain.  I say mysterious because I think that a lot of people don't really know what to with whole grains, and sometimes don't even know what they are.  I'm not saying this to make anyone feel stupid; whole grains simply aren't talked about enough in the media, which is unfortunely the main source of nutritional information for most of us.  I mentioned wholegrain pasta and bread above, and while I do think these foods are nutritious sources of complex carbs, I really think that wholegrains should have a higher place in our diets than any flour product, which are always more refined than the humble grain.

    Here are some grains with super-amazing nutritive powers of complex carbozation.  Most of this info is borrowed from Alex Jamieson's The Great American Detox Diet, (UK), (Can).

    Barley:  Not only fun to make Brits pronounce, this high-fiber grain has been traditionally used to support the gallbladder, digestive system, and nervous system.  Barley also prevents dietary cholesterol absorption, which is something those Atkins diet followers could sure use.

    Buckwheat (gluten-free):  Known around Eastern European parts as kasha, buckwheat is a complete protein, neutralizes toxic acidic wastes in the blood (I'm not really sure what this means, but it definitely sounds like a good thing), improves circulation and kidney function, and is high in calcium and vitamins B and E.

    Millet (gluten-free):  If you attended Brownies or Boy Scouts, this grain might sound familiar.  Possibly you earned your bird-feeding badge by filling a bird feeder with this stuff.  Good for the birds.  Millet is high in protein, iron, lecithin and choline, and is once again good for keeping cholesterol down.

    Oats (not technically gluten-free but most people with gluten sensitivity can handle them):  Oats are not only comfortably familiar, they are high in fibre, used to stabilize blood sugar levels, high in protein, lower cholesterol, and according to Jamieson, improve stress resistance.  Whatever that means.

    Quinoa (gluten-free):  Quinoa is so trendy right now, you can't look at a hippie menu without running into it.  But who's complaining?  This sacred grain of the Incas is a complete protein, a good source of iron, B3 and B6 vitamins, and phosphorus.  It's also kidney supportive, and just darn cute.

    Brown rice (gluten-free):  Switch from white rice to brown rice and in a few months you will see the obvious superiority of nutty, chewy brown rice, not just nutritionally, but gastronomically.  Brown rice is simply more flavourful and has a more pleasing texture.  I hear you groaning that it has to be cooked more than double the time of white rice, which is true, but it's worth the wait.  Brown rice is packed full of protein, lysine, fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, copper, folate, and iron.

    Wild rice (gluten-free):  Wild rice not only gave it's name to the Southern Ontario lake I grew up nearby, it is also rich in protein, vitamin B3, calcium and potassium.  It does tend to be very expensive, so you may want to mix it in with other, cheaper rices.

    Other grains worth getting to know are cornmeal, kamut, rye, spelt, amaranth, sorghum, and teeny-tiny teff.  Preparing these grains and fitting them into your diet is easy-peasy.  A general method is to combine one part grain with one to two parts water or vegetable stock, a dash of salt, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer until ready.  The cooking time varies from the quick cooking quinoa, to slow cooking brown rice, so check the package.  Grains can be used in salads, pilafs, as the base for curries and stir-fries, porridge, or mixed with nuts, herbs, and dried fruit for a side dish.  Remember that grain has been at the base of many cultures for years.  Asian countries are fanatical about their rice, South American countries love their corn and quinoa, Ethiopian runners blow Westerners away fueled by teff, and Italians fight off heart disease with pasta and polenta.  And we too used to reap the benefits of barley and oats until we decided to kick our own asses and replace grain with meat and fast food. 

    Dr. Atkins liked to broadcast his own good health as a promotion for his diet.  However, at the age of 72, he died after injuring his head, apparently falling after slipping on a patch of ice.  Through some morally questionable actions of a fellow doctor, his medical examiner's notes were released to the public.  Ethics of this relase aside, we now know that Atkins suffered from coronary artery disease, had suffered a previous heart attack, and was overweight.  Quite a lot of debate has occured over the last revealation.  The medical report shows that at the time of his death Atkins weighed 258lbs, which at his height (6 feet) was obese.  Both his wife and brother have claimed that this weight was due to the coma he suffered as a result of the fall, and that upon being admitted to the hospital, he was only 195lbs.  Well, his wife and brother may well be correct, but I think it's worth a passing mention that 195lbs is still overweight for a 6 foot tall man.  I'm not bringing any of this up to make a personal attack on a dead man.  He is, after all, a dead man, and we will never know how much he really believed in his own diet, and how much he was motivated by money, so we may as well give him the benefit of the doubt.  But I don't think we can ignore his medical status, any more than we can ignore the fact that in 2000, 16 year old Rachel Huskey died of cardiac arrest, after following the Atkins diet for seven weeks.  She had no pre-existing health complications.

    Vital Vittles

    Rice Pilaf with Dates and Almonds

    This recipe is borrowed from the vegetarian/pescatarian, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, (UK), (CAN), a very useful cookbook that is one of my favourites.  This sweet dish seems and tastes very decadent, but is really very healthful.  The concept of this pilaf could be adapted for a variety of different grains, or even wheat products such as bulgar and cous-cous. Serve it as a main dish, or serve it as a grain side dish with some steamed greens and tahini dressing, and spiced chickpeas.

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
    1 bell pepper, finely chopped
    1 tsp turmeric
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 cup dates, chopped.
    3 cups cooked brown rice
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    1/4 cup hot water
    1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
    salt and pepper to taste

    Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and add the onions and garlic.  Saute on medium high heat until soft.  Add the bell pepper and mix in.  Stir in the turmeric and cinnamon.  Add the chopped dates, rice and parsley.  Sprinkle on the water, and heat for a few minutes.  When the rice is hot, stir in the almonds, season with salt and pepper, and serve.


    Saturday, 25 September 2010

    This Little Piggy went to the Market

    Shopping in the overly clean produce section of chain supermarkets makes me feel a little dirty.  I have to do it every once in a while, but I feel no connection to food when I walk down the neatly packed aisles, and  pick out a shrink-wraped head of broccoli and a pre-packaged bag of spinach.  In the supermarket, only tiny fluctuations in price and availability give any indications as to the season, and the aisles are stocked with the same items year-round.  Which might not sound like a bad thing, but I can't imagine anything more boring than eating the same thing year-round, unless it's reading Anne Murray's biography.

    But what else is a city-dwelling, flat-dwelling vegetarian to do?  I think my ground floor neighbours might get a little tetchy if I tore up their back garden to grow my own carrots, and I applied for an allotment with my local council, but 174 people in my area have to give up their allotments (or die) before I get one.  So in the meantime, every Saturday morning my boyfriend and I trek out to our local farmer's market to find a bounty of local, seasonal produce itching for my love and attention.

    I think when you look at the reasons why I love farmer's markets, you won't find this habit excessive or unnecessary.  There are many reasons to grab a canvas bag and frequent your local market, and here are my favourite:

    1. Save that Shiny Green Earth:

    The overpackaging in UK supermarkets completely baffles me, but I don't see it ending anytime soon.  I routinely witness customers picking up prepackaged produce that is being sold right next to the exact same, yet less expensive, loose produce.  Baffling.  Never once have I seen a cucumber in an English supermarket NOT shrink-wrapped, nor have I even seen loose salad leaves for the picking.  I wonder if children know that peaches don't grow in cardboard trays and plastic (although if tv programs are to be believed, kids today don't even know what peaches are, let alone how they grow). My Canadian counterparts tell me that rather than becoming more conscious about waste, Canadian supermarkets are becoming more overpackaged as well.

    We all know that excess packaging creates a lot of waste, and that a lot of waste is bad for the environment, and that things being bad for the environment is A Very Bad Thing.  But what you may not realise is when food is wrapped in plastic packaging, there is a risk of the toxins on the plastic leaching into your food.  Toxins in your food are also A Very Bad Thing.  But when I wander into the bustling farmer's market, my sleepy, Saturday morning eyes witness crates full of unwrapped cruciferous vegetables and bunches of leafy greens bound only by a single, reuseable rubber band.  At most, veggies and berries are placed into a recylable plastic punnet, with no wrapping around them.  So much better.

    2.  You can talk to the people who grow your food:

    The possibility of having a conversation with a real live farmer who grew the food I am actually going to eat shouldn't fill me with a sense of amazement, but it does.  Most of us are so far removed from the source of our food that we have no idea how it even grows.  So talking to someone who actually works at or owns the farm that produced the ingredients of my dinner, someone who not only knows what a Jerusalem artichoke is, but can tell me how to prepare it, is a weird and pleasing sensation.  Having the farm workers present at the market also means that you can talk to them about their growing methods; some of the farms aren't organic, but don't use spray pesticides.  Some of them may be in the process of obtaining certification as organic, as the process takes years and is costly.  And you can't beat that personal touch: the boyfriend and I once stared long enough at a patty pan squash, trying to figure out what the heck it was, that the seller offered it to us for free to see if we liked it.  I can only imagine the bewilderment that I would encounter if I were to ask a chain supermarket worker if I could have something for free just to try it. 

    3.  Seasonal Seeds:

    I love the changing of the seasons, and nowhere is this change more apparent than at the farmer's market (especially since the weather doesn't actually change from one season to the next in London).  I love not knowing what I'm going to find, and whether or not rhubarb, or strawberries, or zucchini, or butternut squashes are in season yet.  Markets make me feel connected to the earth in a hippy, crunchy granola, earth goddess, Gaia kind of way.  I feel motivated to make the most of the short seasons of asparagus and tomatoes, knowing that next week they might be gone.  Every week there seems to be something that wasn't there last week, and I leave every week happily anticipating what I'm going to find next week.

    4.  Branching Out: 

    In the last two weeks of market going I've purchased purple cauliflower (yes, I said purple cauliflower), ruby chard, dark and rich green cavelo nero, teeny baby yellow squash, curly kale, humble hubbard squash, courgette flowers, and orange cherry tomatoes, alongside the stock carrots, potatoes, and onions.  I've never seen six of those items in a chain supermarket.  Health experts recommend eating as many different varieties of plant foods as possible, and all of those items I listed above were not only rich in variety and nutrients, they were local produce that was in season.  Who knew that such exotic produce existed right here in England? 

    5.  Being Neighbourly:

    I've got nothing against New Zealand farmers, but I don't particularly want to eat their produce, unless I'm actually in New Zealand.  Farmer's markets give you the chance to support local farmers.  If you're worried about food miles (and I think we all should be conscious of the issue), the produce at your market has at most been driven, not flown, a few hours.  Cooking with local produce is better for the planet, and it's better for you; eating tropical fruit that's flown for 8 hours so you could eat it in January just makes no damn sense.

    So how does one go about fitting a weekly visit to the market into their shopping?  Because you don't necessarily know what you are going to find at the market, shopping has to be done a little differently.  Experienced cooks will be able to semi-plan meals as they go along, but even if you have no idea what you are doing in the kitchen, you can simply estimate as best you can how much produce you will need to make at least 5 wholesome dinners.  Once you come home from the market, turn to your recipe books and the internet for inspiration on what to make.  You can either make a seperate trip to a regular grocery store, or simply pick things up throughout the week as you need them, whichever way fits into your schedule better.  A very easy and delicious way to utilise what you buy in the market is to make simple preperations of veggies with side dishs of legumes and grains.   Using this macrobiotic-esque method creates a nutritious, delicious and easy-to-prepare plate that will also be visually appealing.   If you would rather make more complicated dishes, or follow recipes, don't be afraid to make substitutions; you might end up spending a fortune if you follow every recipe to a T, and most recipes are quite happy to be messed around with a bit.  If you need to do all your shopping in one trip, think about bringing your most-used cookbook with you to the market with a pen and paper, and just sit down and plan your week before you go to the supermarket. 

    The second way to market shop requires less time, but a little more organisation (and glorious, glorious lists).  If you are the kind of person who likes to have a constantly well-stocked pantry, you can simply make a list of every non-perishable/long-life item you want to keep stocked, and mark down when you've used something up.  That way you can visit the market every week, and always be sure of having the non-market items you need to make a recipe.  Using this method, you may only have to visit the grocery store once or twice a month, but the shopping trips will be big ones.  I don't think shopping this way really costs anymore money, but does require forking out more money at one time, so it's not going to be suitable for everyone.  But doesn't the idea of constantly having every pantry item you could ever need always on hand just make your toes wiggle?

    Because you are buying local, seasonal produce to base your meals around, shopping at the market is usually completely inexpensive.  However I should warn you that if you are currently on an emergency budget, you will have to use a lot of restraint during your trip to the supermarket, because making two different shopping trips can often result in spending more.  Otherwise, farmer's markets are competely affordable, delightful options.  And yes, they are a little time consuming, but I think most of us spend our time in a lot less efficient ways that focusing on our food and our health.  Like the 45 minutes you just spent reading the moronic comments on an online article. 

    So look up your local market.  If you are in the UK, a list of them can be found here, if you live in Canada, try going to this page and click on your province (not all provinces are listed), and if you live in the States, there is a national farmer's market search engine on this site

    You can thank me after you're finished tucking into a pile of velvety squash, crispy roasted cauliflower, and lemony kale. 


    Marketable Curry

    Most of the time when I'm shopping, I come up with meal ideas in my head.  However, there are times when we come home, put everything away, I stare proudly into the fridge at the spectacle of vegetable, and then say, "Crap...what the blerg am I supposed to make with all of this?"  That's when I make this curry.  You can shove pretty much whatever veggies you bought into this dish, but try to come up with a similar variety of types of veggies to the ones I have listed.

    3 tbsp olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1 small green chilli, chopped (remove the seeds for a milder curry)
    1 cup of cauliflower, chopped into florets
    1 potato, cut into thick sticks
    1 cup winter squash, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
    1 cup fresh or frozen peas
    4 largeish mushrooms, cut into quarters
    1 cup leafy greens such as spinach or kale, roughly chopped
    1 bunch fresh cilantro, remove the staulks from the leaves and chop (optional)
    2 tins of plum tomatoes
    1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
    2-3 gloves of garlic, minced
    2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional, but adds a rich zing)
    2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted if you like
    1 tsp coriander
    2 tsp turmeric
    1 tsp salt
    2 tsp garam masala

    Heat the oil in a large frying pan (you will likely need the biggest pan you have), and add the onions and one tsp of cumin seeds.  Saute until the onions become translucent.  Add the cilantro staulks, turmeric, salt and chili and saute for a minute or two.  Open the tins of tomatoes, and use a cheese grater to grate the tomatoes into a bowl.  Add the tomatoes to the pan and conserve the remaining tomato juice.  Add the garlic, ginger, remaining cumin seeds,coriander, and optional balsamic vinegar, and simmer together for a few minutes.  Add the potatoes, squash and cauliflower, with the tomato juice of one can.  Coat the vegetables with the tomato mixture, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and peas and chickpeas, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  If the mixture is getting too dry, add the remaining tomato juice, or water if needed.  Add the leafy greens, cover, and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Test the potatoes and squash, and cook longer if needed, adding more water as necessary.  Once cooked through, add the garam marsala and stir it in as best as possible.  Add the chopped cilantro leaves, cover and leave off the heat for as long as possible before eating.  Serve with brown rice.

    Will be toe-curlingly good the second and third day.

    Tuesday, 31 August 2010

    Be Kind to the Meat Eaters

    There are some meat eaters, and I'm happy to say that the majority of my meat-eating friends fall into this category, who give me faith in humanity.  They are the meat eaters who would never dream of challenging the ethics of vegetarians, who never demand that their spinach-munching friends defend themselves, who are completely capable of happily eating a meatless meal when necessary, and who always thoughtfully ensure that vegetarian options are available for any social occasion they host.  These lovely creatures fill me with the hope that one day, all omnivores and herbivores will eat together peacefully, then link arms and go skipping down tree-lined paths singing maritime folk songs and collecting daisies to braid into wreaths.

    This blog is not about those meat eaters.

    This blog is about the other kind of meat eaters.  Long term vegetarians, you know exactly what kind of meat eater I mean.  The kind  who is completely incapable of treating a vegetarian with respect and acceptance, who froths from the mouth with venom in between bites of a bloody hamburger, which they think is oh-so-hilarious to offer you.

    I know, I know.  They're jerks.  They're such jerks.  No, not just because they eat meat.  Contrary to popular belief, very few vegetarians actually think meat eaters are jerks, just because they eat meat.  They make stupid counter-points to arguments about vegetarianism that you didn't even start.  They pester you with inane, asinine questions like, "would you eat a piece of meat if somebody put a gun to your head?"  Some of them badger you so much that you start to fearfully wonder if they possibly are going to put a gun to your head.  One very well-known meat eater and professional bully even threatened to electrocute his children if they became vegetarian.

    So why on earth should we be kind to them? 

    Well, to get to the bottom of the problem, lets look at the different reasons WHY some meat eaters throw their manners out the door when confronted with vegetarianism.  To do so, we should examine the typical interaction between vegetarians and meat eaters.  Here is a normal interaction between a vegetarian and one of the first kind of friendlier, gentler meat eaters:

    Friendly Meat Eater:  Hey, do you want a bite of my hamburger?
    Vegetarian:  No thanks, I'm vegetarian.
    Friendly Meat Eater: Oh, ok. I've thought about being vegetarian before, but I don't think I could give up chicken.
    Vegetarian:  Ah.  I understand. (Conversation moves on to other subjects).

    What a pleasant exchange!  And here is a normal interaction between a vegetarian and one of the second kind of surly meat eaters:

    Grumpypants Meat Eater:  Hey, do you want a bit of my hamburger?
    Vegetarian:  No thanks, I'm vegetarian.
    Grumpypants Meat Eater:  YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE?! (Head explodes).

    See?  Just not a normal reaction.  I think we can assume that there is something going on behind the scenes here.  I think there are a couple of different types of these meat eaters, and a couple of different reasons why they act they way they do.  Here are the categories I have noticed:

    The Deeply Concerned for Your Health Meat Eaters:  These meat eaters aren't really jerks, but they can be very frustrating to deal with politely.  These are the meat eaters who think that they they are doing you a favour by pointing out to that their sister's high school basketball coach assured them that you absolutely must have animal protein to participate in sports, and that all vegetarians are certainly going to die by Tuesday.  Their motivations can generally be divided into two categories: those who use the mis-perceptions about vegetarian diets to justify their own meat eating, and those who are genuinely under the impression that vegetarianism is not good for you.  How to be kind to them?  Treat them all with the benefit of the doubt. Smile and non-confrontationally assure them that you are very well informed regarding nutrition and that you are perfectly healthy, and let the discussion end there.  If they decide to press the issue, and you're feeling up for a debate, refer them the writings and studies of prolific vegetarian doctors such as Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John A McDougall, and Dr. Dean Ornish.  Since this discussion usually centers around protein, refer them to this blog.  Be well-informed, and stay calm and friendly.  Even if they don't.

    The Playground Antics Meat Eaters:  These little rascals are a tiresome group indeed.  These are the meat eaters who demand to know why you don't care about the feelings of plants.  These are the meat eaters who apparently think they are being cute by asking vegetarians what's wrong with them (cute like a stomach virus).  These are the meat eaters who childishly taunt you with how difficult your life is compared to theirs because they "can" eat meat and you "can't."  This group is trying to offend you, yet when you are actually offended, they accuse you of not having a sense of humour.  However, should you ever, say, respond to their joke about rabbit food by pointing out that they are eating cat food, their faces fall as they sputter in dismay and confusion "Wha...that's just...what are you...that's just...stupid...and...MOMMY!"  So why on earth should you be kind to them?  Because just like when they used to pull little Janey's hair on the playground, something is behind their bratty behaviour.  These people are trying to deflect the seriousness of the subject of vegetarianism, not out of any desire for social ease, but because they feel threatened by it.  They may claim to not care about the animals, but they do.  They care a lot.  They wouldn't need to pull your hair if they didn't.  Your ability to look the meat industry in the eye and refuse to accept the omnivore status quo is threatening to them, and you don't have to do a damn thing to produce this reaction in them.  So to be kind to these frightened little bunnies, and don't do anything to increase their fear of threat.  Smile thinly and change the subject.  Should they continue to pester you, gently remind them that you have never questioned their eating habits, and that you aren't looking for a discussion (trust me, you will not get an intelligent one out of these people).

    The Snarky Meat Eaters:  These are the people who make rude, cutting little comments to you like, "I made sure to eat something before I came to your dinner party, because I knew you'd only be serving vegetarian food, " or making comments to others in your hearing, that obviously too much meat is bad, but of course you need to eat a little, or responding, when you tell them that you are vegetarian, "what would you want to do that for?"  Snarkies tend to fall into two categories:  those who are just joking and have no idea that they are actually causing you offence, and those who just don't care that they are actually causing you offence.  The first category deserves your understanding, because even though they are being rude, they probably don't mean to be.  If they are not people you know well, look at them quizzically, and simply respond, "What a thing say," and change the subject.  If they are friends or family, privately speak to them to explain that although you know they are joking, their comments are upsetting to you.  If they continue to make these comments after this conversation, stop inviting them to your dinner parties, introducing them to your friends, and just stop returning their calls, because they aren't feeling insecure or oblivious, they're JUST JERKS.

    The Hypocrisy Police Meat Eaters:  These are the people who really want to check your closet for leather products.  Ever had anyone point out to you that if you take Tylenol there's really no point in being vegetarian, because there may be animal products in the tablet?  That genius fell into this category.  They are desperately trying to catch you out, because they think that you think you're perfect.  They are feeling insecure because of your attempt to stay loyal to your ethics and they think you are judging them for not doing the same thing.  Therefore, they try to find a way to bring you down to their level by attempting to make you look hypocritical.  Assure them that you are not some higher, angelically moral being.  When they make comments like this, simply assure them that because vegetarianism isn't a perfect science, you aren't going to be perfect yourself, but you try your best because you care about the issue.  They will usually calm down pretty quickly when they realise that what they were asking you to do was be just that:  perfect. 

    The Grand Poobahs of Crazy Meat Eaters:  So far we've talked about anti-vegetarianism behaviour that manifests itself in ignorant, irritating, or even rude ways, but now we've come to the bottom of the barrel, the really kind of scary meat eaters.  Every vegetarian has encountered them; the people who react with real hostility and anger when you speak the completely innocent words "No thanks, I'm a vegetarian."  You may not encounter these people so often in real life (although again, every vegetarian has experienced it), but the internet has spread these reactions like the clap, with comments such as " I hope that somebody grabs [vegetarians] and forces a nice big juicy hotdog down their throats," or "Vegetarians = pussys(sic), everyone knows this."  Classy.  Obviously, their reaction is not about you.  I think it's obvious from the very extremity of their reactions, that simply by being the vegetarian in the room, you have touched a sore spot.  Like the Playground Meat Eaters, these people do care about the animals, and they aren't able to deal with their own actions.  Like many meat eaters, they feel judged by you without you having to say anything Do not engage in a debate with these people.  They are not in their happy place.  When they try and provoke you, you can simply ask them why vegetarianism upsets them so much.  Point out to them that you have not tried to convince them of anything, and aren't looking to change their minds.  Tell them if they are really interested in having a debate about it, you can arrange to talk to them later, but you don't think right now is the time and place.

    Fair or not, meat eaters tend to have the stereotype of the preaching, paint-throwing vegetarian in their heads when they talk to you.  I think vegetarians can ease the situation by never being this vegetarian.  Be kind to the meat eaters because:
    1.  They may simply be ignorant: Not everyone has super-amazing bloggers to tell them everything they need to know about vegetarian lifestyle.  Politely correct their misperceptions and refrain from accusing them of not having cracked a book since the 1970's.
    2.  They feel threatened by you:  People are afraid of other people who wear their morality on their sleeves.  Don't make any sudden noises and don't call their own habits into question.
    3.  They don't realise they are being offensive:  I think it's hard for non-vegetarians to understand how deeply vegetarians feel about the subject, probably because we're restricted from talking about it freely.  Let them know they're upsetting you before you write them off completely.
    4.  They're afraid you think you're better than them:  Obviously no one deals with holier-than-thou people very well.  Be humble, and let them know you don't think you're perfect (it helps if you genuinely don't think you're perfect).
    5. They feel that their own actions are being called into question:  As abusive and downright mean as some meat-eaters can be, remember no one acts this way without having some issues of insecurity with their own lifestyle. 

    Remember that most meat-eaters don't actually know very many vegetarians, so you are in a way expected to act as the Ambassador of the Vegetarians.  While your job is certainly not to convert anyone to the cause, a meat eater's impression of you will inevitably be linked to their impression of vegetarianism.  Therefore, who loses out when vegetarians rise to bratty meat eaters' bait?  Not the meat eaters, you'll simply have confirmed their suspicions.  The animals lose out.  So take a little bit of that compassion and kindness you feel towards victimised animals, and turn it towards your meat eating acquaintances.  And hug one of the friendlier meat eaters today.

    Karing Kitchen!

    Baby Squash and Sun-dried Pesto Linguine

    One way to be kind to meat eaters is to feed them delicious vegetarian food!  Italian food is a great middle-ground between herbivores and omnivores because it's both comforting and familiar, and easily made animal-free.   This dish could also be made with courgettes/zucchini, but baby squash have the advantage of being one of the cutest foods ever.

    Serves 3-4

    3-4 baby squash, sliced
    1 tbsp olive oil (you may need a little more later on)
    1 tsp balsamic vinegar (you may need a little more later on)
    300g linguine noodles

    Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

    You can either made the pesto from the recipe below, or use a store-bought variety.  You may not need all the pesto this recipe makes, so if you're not used to using pesto, start with a few spoonfuls, coat the pasta,  taste it, and add more as you like.  Note:  you will need either a food processor, hand held blender, or pestle and mortar to make this recipe, so if you don't have any of these things, don't feel lazy for buying a pre-made jar.

    2/3 cup of oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup of walnuts/pine nuts, lightly toasted
    1 tsp dried basil leaves
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    dash of cayenne
    salt to taste

    1.  Put a large pot of boiling water on to boil.  Add the pasta, stir, and cook until al dente, or your preferred texture.
    2.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat.  Add the vinegar, made the sure the pan is coated, then add the baby squash slices.  There must be no overlapping, so you will likely need to do more than one batch, which is why you may need more oil and vinegar.  Fry on each side until well-browned (even blackened if you like), about 5 minutes on each side, only move the slices to flip them. 
    3.  While the squash is cooking, add the ingredients for the pesto into your food processor, minus the olive oil.  While you are blending, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a delicious paste.  Taste and season if necessary.  You can of course use a pestle and mortar if you're feeling medieval, or forgot to pay your electricity bill, but I've never made pesto with a such a device, so don't look to me for guidance.
    4.  Coat the linguine with the pesto, and toss the squash into the pasta.
    5.  Serve either by itself, or with some nice Italian crusty bread and a small green salad.

    Makes great leftovers!  Any leftover pesto can be stored in a jar in your fridge for about a week.

    Wednesday, 28 July 2010

    Protein gets too much Press

    I can't think of any aspect of our diets that we receive dumber messages about than protein. There is misinformation about protein in the news every damn day. Apparently, none of us are getting enough protein, and not getting enough protein is simultaneously causing you too be too fat and too skinny and we are all just one cheeseburger away from dying of protein deficiency. And since the best sources of protein are eggs, dairy, and steak, there's no way that a vegetarian diet could possibly be healthy.

    Do I sound a little cranky? Well, maybe, but after you read this blog you might be feeling a little cranky with all the protein propaganda too. I guess it's easy to see why people feel so jazzed about protein. Even the name sounds undeniably positive. We've been completely baffled by carbs for a decade, and the problems with fat are in the title, so I can see why people might assume that protein is going to save us from our malnourished obesity crisis. But I think we're forgetting that protein is just one macronutrient, and is something that we can't overdose on, any more than we can overdose on butter-drenched white garlic bread.

    Let's start with the basics of what comprises protein. We all know that calories come in the form of either carbohydrates, fat, or protein, and many of us know that the standard recommendation is to get 55% of calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 15% from protein. Protein is essential for the growth and repair of your muscles, and plays a crucial role in all biological processes in the body. Basically, I'm not saying protein is bad. You need it.

    Now, you may have heard people talking about complete protein and accusing vegetarians of not consuming it. There are 20 different amino acids (proteins), 8 of which are labelled essential, which means that they are necessary to our survival, but not produced by the body, so we've gotta get them from food. I'm never going to reference the individual proteins again, and both of us are pretty likely to forget this as soon as we move to the next paragraph, but for your information, the 8 essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonin, methionin, phenylalanine, tryptophan, lysine, and in children, histidine. Sources of complete protein are foods that contain sufficient amounts of all 8 amino acids. Comprendez-vous?

    Meat does not have different protein, it just has complete protein. Animal sources of protein tend to be complete. Plant sources tend to be low in one or two amino acids (with some exceptions listed later on), so one can see how the myth of the protein-deficient vegetarian diet got started. Eggs are considered to be the ideal protein against which all other sources of protein are measured and milk comes in second place, so Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians really need not worry about getting proper protein. But vegans can rest easy too, because the lack of complete protein in individual plant foods does not mean that vegans lack complete protein in their actual diets.

    So where did the idea that vegans need to worry about protein come from? In 1971, a woman named Frances Moore Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet, in which she recommended that to achieve complete protein, vegetarians combine different sources of proteins, also known as complementing proteins, or protein combining. The idea of combining, say, rice and beans, or peanut butter and wholemeal toast, became very popular in vegetarian diets. Ten years later, Lappe published an anniversary edition, retracting her position on protein combining, saying that "I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought....if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein." Today's nutritional expects back Lappe up; protein combining is just not necessary as long as you are eating a healthy diet with good variety. Despite the fact that protein combining was debunked in the eighties, I've heard tell of the myth still floating around in medical textbooks today.

    So what are good sources of protein for vegans? Soy is the classic vegan protein source, which is no surprise to anyone. Soy protein is equal in quality to eggs, dairy, or meat. But if you don't like soy, you don't need to eat it just because you are a vegetarian. We won't kick you out of the club. There are several other complete sources, including amaranth, buckwheat, hempseed, quinoa, and spirulina. Other good sources of protein are nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and grains. In fact, all plants contain protein. Unless you've ejected all forms of food other than cassava and fruit from your diet, you're getting enough protein.

    And lets think about it: how many people do you know who have protein deficiency? Have you ever met one? Unless you spend your time working with starving Africans (and kudos to you if you do), you're pretty unlikely to come across it. On the other hand, have you ever met someone with cancer or heart disease? Read on.

    With all the positive news around protein, I think that we can too easily forget that getting too much protein is entirely possible. In fact, statistics abound that the average American eats between 50% and 175% more protein than they need. I think we can stop feeling smug and superior to the Americans for a second and admit that in Canada and the UK, we're not doing much better. Excessive protein consumption can cause osteoporosis and kidney failure. Getting too much protein and not enough carbs can cause a state known as ketosis. Low-carbs diets "work" because the induce a constant state of ketosis, causing people to lose weight. However ketosis also increases insulin resistance, which is a major risk factor for increased blood triglyceride levels, increased blood pressure, depression, and the development of coronary artery disease. Ketosis can actually cause weight GAIN as well as weight loss. It also causes glucose intolerance, which may be a pre-curser to diabetes, and can cause hypertension, mild dehydration, dizziness, headaches, confusion, nausea, fatigue, sleep problems, and kidney problems. Awesome. Too much protein is also linked to not getting enough fiber, which can cause constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

    I've had athletes assure me that they NEED animal protein in order to able to compete. Complete bollocks. Not only can athletes manage just fine with plant protein, too much protein and not enough carbs can result ransack your glycogen stores, resulting in crappy athletic performance. Athletes do not necessarily require more protein in their diets. As your caloric intake increases when you take on significant extra activity (which it should), you will naturally eat more protein. Vegan athletes exist. Google it.

    So how much protein do you need?

    You may find slightly different numbers depending on where you look. The government standard number is 15% of your caloric intake, which for the average diet is going to be about 45 grams for women and 55 grams for men. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness tells us that people who train for more than 12 hours a week for 5 years need 1.37 grams of protein per kilo of body weight, as opposed to sedentary people, who only require .73 grams per kilo. Does anyone actually train for 12 hours a week, and keep it up for five years? Amazing.

    Truthfully, I never really worry about getting enough protein. I might think about getting enough vitamins and micronutrients, but in the developed world, we are not running out of sources of protein. People are different, so you might find you like to eat a lot of beans, lentils, and tofu, or a only a little, but the need to sit around with a calculator worrying about your protein intake has bene entirely manufactured.

    By whom, you ask? Hmmm...what industries have a whole lot of control over the media, and stand to gain financially from you thinking that meat and cheese are healthy diet foods? Interesting.

    Vital Vittles

    Savoury Quinoa and Roasted Rooties

    I thought for this blog's recipe I would feature one of the plant sources of complete protein, and what better source than the trendy, kooky, and quirky grain we call quinoa (keen-wah). This salad is my favourite way to prepare quinoa. Any combination of roasted vegetables you like would probably work fine, these are just my favourites.

    1 cup quinoa
    1.5 cups vegetable stock
    2 carrots, sliced
    1 small sweet potato, chopped into cubes
    1 small turnip, chopped into cubes
    2 cups mushrooms, quartered
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 tsp balsamic vinegar (or more if you like)

    1. Turn the oven to 200 degrees C. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and vinegar, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until tender, flipping half way through.

    2. Put quinoa and stock into a small saucepan, and bring to boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook on a low heat until done. This will take about 15-20 minutes.

    3. Once the veggies are ready, combine the quinoa and vegetables in a big bowl, and serve. Can be eaten hot or cold.

    Simple as that.

    Sunday, 27 June 2010

    Emergency Budget Food

    I pretty much always eat cheaply at home, but every now and then I have a budget emergency and have to pull out the big guns of frugality. If you've lost your job and your savings are dwindling, or you're a student and your part-time coffee shop job is barely paying the rent, or you're saving up for something big, you might have to make a few panic-driven sacrifices in your budget. When you don't have enough money to indulge in, well, anything at all, it's really easy to throw healthy eating out the window, and survive on cheap, refined sugar and greasy, simple carbs. But while you're rationing out your tater tots and custard creams, consider that these foods are not only not good for you, they are actually doing damage to your health. You're paying someone to make you sick, which makes even less sense when the only thing in your wallet is a coupon for a free coffee. Also, you will feel like crap if you eat these foods, and feeling like crap makes acquiring more money a whole lot harder.

    Eating healthy food in the middle of your own financial meltdown is completely possible, it just takes a little ingenuity. Below are a list of foods and secrets of the truly cheap to help you through it.

    Emergency food #1: The Potato

    Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes! I love them so much! They are incredibly cheap and incredibly versatile. They are also very nutritious, and the starch in them has been linked to protection against colon cancer, improved gluten tolerance, supressing appetite, and reducing fat storage. As you probably have already noticed, one medium-big potato can go along way in satisfying your hunger, and doesn't need very much to make it palatable. Potatoes can be roasted, boiled, mashed, baked, and fried, and can be the foundation for soups, stews, casseroles, bakes, croquettes, curries, patties, and...I could go on but I'm getting tired. They seem to have acquired a bad rep in terms of what they will do to your figure, but that's just nonsense. They will not make you fat, and they might even make you skinny. Ok, if you load them up with cream and cheese, they might make you fat, but people on emergency budgets don't have money for cream and cheese anyway. Search around your supermarket for the cheapest, biggest bag you can find.

    Emergency food #2: Lentils

    People think they don't like lentils, but they're wrong. You like them. Yum. There is so much that you can do with lentils with so very little effort. The main kinds you will come across will be red split lentils, brown lentils, and Puy lentils (also known as lentilles vertes). Lentils are a fantastic source of cheap protein, iron, fiber, folate, and B vitamins. They are also very filling and very easy to prepare. You can use them to make salads, soups, stews, dahl-type concoctions, curry-type concoctions, on their own with some seasonings as a side dish, casseroles, pasta sauces, and croquettes (why do I keep bringing up croquettes?). As I said in the Art of Shopping blog, make a note in your grocery store of where you can find them priced most cheaply; sometimes you will find them at twice the price in one aisle to the next.

    Emergency food #3: Yellow Split Peas

    Yellow split peas can do pretty much the same things lentils can, so I wont go on about them, except to say that they are a great source of fiber, protein, manganese, folate, vitamin B1, potassium and phosphorus. They are often even cheaper than lentils.

    Emergency food #4: Pasta

    Duh. Everyone knows pasta is stupidly cheap. And everyone knows what to do with it, so I won't tell you. Pasta is another food that has a bad diet rep, but only because idiots are allowed to say whatever they want in diet books. Italians have the lowest rates of obesity in Europe, and last I heard, they were kind of okay with pasta. Again, don't load it up with cream and cheese. We all know whole-wheat pasta has a better nutritional profile than white pasta, but your body still processes white pasta as a complex carb. So don't feel too badly if you really can't spend the extra few pennies, but do remember that the whole-wheat pasta also contains more fiber and other nutrients.

    Emergency food #5: Barley

    Barley is so cheap its just silly. And yet, I never see anyone but me buying it. But it's everyone else's loss, because not only is barley comfortingly chewy and satisfying, it's amazingly healthful. Barley is high in fiber, and has been traditionally used to support the gallbladder, digestive, and nervous systems. Barley also helps prevent dietary cholesterol absorption. Amazing! Barley might sound a little bland at first, but can be used in lots of different ways: soups, stews, casseroles, as a side dish, pilafs, and even as a substitute for rice in risotto.

    Emergency food #6: Brown Rice

    Yeah, white rice is a little cheaper than brown rice, but the difference in nutrition makes it hard for me to recommend buying white rice instead. And white rice may be cheaper but brown rice is still pretty dirt cheap. Brown is a source of protein, fibre, calcium, irion, B vitamins, and zinc. It can be used as a grain accompaniment for countless curries, stews, stir-fries, sautes, and can also make fried rice, pilafs, mock-risottos (real risottos require arborio rice or something similar), and...croquettes. Your best bet for getting it cheaply is to look for the biggest bag in the wholefoods section.

    Emergency food #7: Beans

    Kidney beans, pinto beans, haricot beans, cannellini beans, black eyed peas, chick peas, black beans, azuki beans...you're not going to run out of choices. Beans are fantastic. They are wonderful sources of protein, fiber, complex carbs, iron, and folate. Canned beans are already pretty cheap, but if you really want to tighten the purse strings, buy them dried, soak them overnight, and cook them for about an hour before you plan on using them. Beans are also very versatile, and can be used in soups, stews, casseroles, chilis, burritos, as a side dish, curries (chickpease are best for curries), sautes, simple rice and bean dishes, and, oh yes, croquettes (seriously, I almost never make croquettes). Beans, like lentils, are another thing you want to check various aisles for price.

    Emergency food #8: Tinned Tomatoes

    Perhaps not the most inspiring ingredient, but incredibly useful. Tomatoes contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and lycopene, an antioxident with cancer fighting abilities. Tomatoes can be used to make dishes with all of the above, plus, they're amazingly delicious! If you have the space, you can sometimes get really good deals buying cans in bulk, otherwise, stop being a snob and buy the basic value option. Many cheap, flavourful dishes will be immediately at your fingertips.

    Emergency food #9: Oats

    If you are on an emergency budget, you'd better learn to like porridge. There is no cheaper, healthier, more satisfying breakfast out there. If you go digging around the bottom shelf of your supermarket, you will usually find a budget brand of oats for about £0.59 per KILO. That's a lot of breakfasts for very little money. There are endless ways to dress porridge up: with berries, with bananas, with homemade fruit sauce, with a spoonful of jam, with nuts and dried fruit, or by itself with a little dairy-free milk. I'm sure you can think of even more ways yourself. My favourite budget way is a spoonful or two of St Dalfour jam (it's sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar!).

    Emergency food #10: Spices and Condiments

    Essential, budget-friendly spices and condiments: salt; pepper; olive oil; any kind of cheap vinegar that you like; soy sauce; veggie stock cubes; dried herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, and oregano; spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala. The herbs and spices I picked out are the most commonly used and inexpensive choices, and for these, try looking in your local Asian grocery store, as they will usually have little bags that are a better deal than the little bottles you find in the standard supermarket. As with the tomatoes, the cheapest, most basic version you can find of all of the above will do just fine. Coconut milk is another fairly cheap condiment that you might use less frequently than the others, but can be added into dahl or lentil based soups to perk them up, or combined with some curry paste, veggie stock, and veggies to make a cheap Thai curry. Make sure to alternate between using different flavourings! Nothing will kill your budget faster than getting bored with your diet.

    Now, if you know your nutrition, right now you should be concerned about the lack of vegetables on my list. So here's the budget veggie advice: if you have one of those cheap markets nearby you that sell bowls of veggies for £1, delve in. If you have an Aldi or a Lidl nearby you, stop turning up your nose at it, and suck it up.

    We know that seasonal produce is cheaper, but things that are generally always cheap are: apples, pears, bananas (get fairtrade, they're still cheap), carrots, cabbage (please don't boil it), big bags of bell peppers, brocolli, garlic, ginger, and onions. Sleuth around a bit to find what other good deals they have at the moment. Measure carefully on the store produce weigh scale to make sure you aren't overspending. Frozen vegetables and berries are good deals, and just as nutritious. I like frozen blueberries, corn, peas, and green beans.

    Bring a calculator to the grocery store and add everything down to the pence. You'll look nuts, but who cares? If you overspend, PUT SOMETHING BACK.

    On eating out on an emergency budget: you kind of can't. Your best bet is to hang around your friends who have more money than you, and make big puppy-dog eyes at them. They'll take pity on you and pay. Trust me. And you can return the favour when your financial crisis is over. If your friends are as broke as you, consider inviting them over for a budget home-cooked meal.


    Yellow Split Pea Stew

    1 tbps olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 onion, chopped
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1/2 tsp ground coriander

    1-2 carrots, chopped
    1 large potato, chopped into smallish cubes
    2-3 mushrooms, sliced
    1 generous cup yellow split peas
    1.5-2 cups vegetable stock (I make stock using the cubes)
    Handful of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or chard.
    salt and pepper to taste

    In a soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil for a few minutes until soft. Add the carrots, mushrooms, and potato and saute for a few minutes more. Add the spices and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the split peas and stir until coated. Quickly add the stock, turn the heat up to boil, then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the split peas are cooked, they will be mushy and smushy.  You may need to check it occassionally to make sure it doesn't need more water.  About 5 minutes before the stew is done, throw in the leafy greens if using. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

    This stew can be served by itself, over rice, or with some crusty brown bread.

    Thursday, 3 June 2010

    Mon Histoire

    My parents like to tell the story that when I was 5 years old, they bought a KFC bucket of chicken and took me down to the river for a picnic. There were some seagulls playing nearby. I looked up at my father, and said, "Dad, I'm a little uncomfortable eating bird in front of a bird." They like to joke that from that moment on, they knew I'd end up vegetarian. 11 years went by before I went completely vegetarian, but I can't really remember a time when I really wanted to eat meat. Like many wannabe vegetarian children, my mother was worried about my health, and reluctant to have to make two seperate dinners, and pretty much forbade me to become vegetarian. At 15, my oldest brother having paved the way by becoming vegetarian a few years ago, I gave up red meat for a year.

    The next year, on New Years Day, I grumpily informed my mother that I had done the research she had demanded that I do on vegetarian health, and was not going to eat meat anymore. She reluctantly consented.

    My mother accepted the situation (although was perpetually convinced that I was anaemic). My father resisted by cooking himself steak everynight. But he eventually took over the cooking from my tired mother, and both became excited about vegetarian food. They both still eat meat, but have become very supportive of my vegetarianism. A year or two later, my other brother became vegetarian as well.

    While I was the only vegetarian in my social circle for both high school and university, none of my friends really ate much meat, so considering my family situation, I existed in a fairly vegetarian bubble. I never missed meat, and completely stopped considering it food. The only thing I really ever missed was fish and chips. As a child, fish and chips had been a favourite of mine, and my restaurant standby.

    7 years after having become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I moved to the UK, and this slight hankering for fish and chips became a problem. Everyone knows that England's national dish is fish and chips, and I had a slight curiousity to what my former favourite food would taste like in it's country of origin. And I gave in and had some. A few times.

    About a year after having moved ot the UK I started to date my carnivorous, meat-loving boyfriend. I had been reading a lot (of what I know realise was propaganda) about the health benefits of fish, and a good friend of mine, who ate fish but no meat, told me that fish don't feel pain. I looked up the latter idea and found studies backing her up. I caved, and decided to try introducing fish into my diet.

    I can't remember how long this period lasted. I wasn't really comfortable with the idea, and didn't eat much fish, but looking back, I can't imagine what on earth I was thinking. Luckily, a trip home to Canada came along to save me from my dulled self-hatred. While going home for a vacation, I read an article in the amazing magazine Vegetarian Times, about the supposed health beneifts of fish, and that often heard term, omega 3. The article informed me what I should have already realised, that omega 3 is a plant-based nutrient. The fish gets his/her omega 3 from plankton, and we then kill the fish and eat it, rather than just getting omega 3 from plant based sources, such as nuts, seeds, and sea vegetables. I felt so...relieved. I looked up the studies of fish and pain again, and discovered that the studies proposing that fish felt no or little pain had mostly been debunked. I happily gave up fish again. Since then (about a year ago), I have not looked back.

    I think something good came out of those months as a fish-eater. I came back to the cause of vegetarianism with renewed vigour. Not that I had been, unvigourous, before but the issue had been less fresh in my mind. I began to research vegetarian issues online, and think about it more, and consequentially talk about it more. One day, while looking online, I stumbled across Alicia Silverstone's book about veganism, The Kind Diet, (UK), (Can). I'd always really liked Alicia (what teenaged girl in 1995 DIDN'T want to be her?), and I'd known for years that she was an animal rights activist, so I read through some of the reviews of her book on Amazon.

    For the past 11 years, I had obviously been aware of veganism, and sympathetic to the cause, but I hadn't really personally thought it was necessary. Once I found out about the horrible conditions of modern-day egg farming, I bought free-range eggs and slept witha clear conscience. When I was younger my brother, who is not exactly vegan but hates diary and eggs, once pointed out to me that dairy cows were abused. I asked my parents about it, and they denied it. I believed them. In retrospect, I have no idea are why I believed them, but I did. And once I'd moved to the UK? As if! Despite it's crappy culinary reputation, the UK knows a thing or too about producing delicious dairy. Yogurt, cheddar, somerset brie, sour cream, whole milk...the UK versions of these things laugh in their Canadian versions' flavourless faces.

    So for most of the time I'd been vegetarian, my line on veganism had been, "I completely respect vegans, and think they're probably right, but I could never give up dairy and eggs, and I don't really see why I should have to. I buy organic milk and free-range eggs."

    But in reading about Alicia's book, I heard a few things I probably didn't want to, about the treatment of dairy cows and egg-laying hens. I started to think about veganism, but still not seriously. Ever eaten a cannoli on the side streets of Rome? It would addle anyone's moral convictions. But something in me wouldn't just dismiss the issue. I eventually looked up the comforting statement that every non-vegan tells themself, "cows need to be milked. They would get ill without the farmers doing it for them."

    What I found changed my mind immediately. I stumbled upon Colleen Patrick Godreau's wonderful, WONDERFUL podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, in which she addresses that very question. And the answer? No. Cows don't need to be milked. Because they don't have milk unless they are pregnant; therefore, it is the job of the dairy industry to make sure that they are constantly pregnant, (the babies are sold for as veal), and then sold for meat once they unable to reproduce anymore.

    I will go into the specifics more in a later blog. Suffice to say, I was shocked by the abuse of the dairy industry. And that happy little label "Free Range" on your egg carton means dick all.

    From that moment on, I realised, somewhat dismayed, that I no longer had a choice. Either I cared, or I didn't care, and I had always said that I cared a lot. And caring for me, now meant becoming vegan.

    This was only a few months ago. I have made some changes, and in some ways I'm surprised to notice how vegan I already was. I have not made a complete transition yet, but intend to, once I have said goodbye to anything dairy that I love, and figured out how to eat out as a vegan. And I like being vegan. I'm enjoying coming up with ways to replicate dairy using natural ingredients. I feel lighter. And the transition is opening me up to so many related issues of environmentalism and commercialism that I'm so so happy I stumbed upon all of this vegan information.

    But seriously, eating out is a bitch.

    Karing Kitchen!

    The "I could totally be Vegan" Vegan Brownies

    I've made many, many, MANY a brownie in my day. This recipe is hands down the best I've ever used. And no, they aren't healthy, but they're so awesome you won't be able to care.

    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup brown sugar
    3/4 cup (and a few extra tablespoons if you want them really chocolatey) good quality cocoa powder
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    few dollops maple syrup (or other rich and flavourful syrup)
    1 cup water
    1 cup vegetable oil
    1 tsp vanilla

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
    In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in maple syrup, water, vegetable oil and vanilla, and mix well. Pour into a 9x13 inch baking pan.

    Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.