One of the main protests I hear from people who will not consider vegetarian dining over meat focused options is the difference in taste. Maybe, they are also expecting a texture and a mouth feel which vegetables do not provide. Additionally, there is a primal ceremony and sense of satisfaction from the sizzle of a piece of meat roasting on the heat of a flame. This is not replicated with vegetables either. At least not yet.
When the diet craze of the 1980’s banned all fat from our plates, the quest for the food industry was to create something that looked and tasted the same as the high fat version. Enter sugar. Conveniently, low-fat and no-fat substitutes for all your favourite processed foods came into being. Sugar ruled the day. In hindsight, we realize that was not a good thing to do and from a health perspective we were better off with the fat which occurs naturally in whole foods.
Now there is a new war being waged in the food industry. This time it is the environmental impact of certain kinds of animal meats which are being consumed at an ever-increasing rate. I think it is the rate of increase where the problem exists. Just like everything else where the first world consumes without much care for the environment. Driving our cars everywhere, shipping our goods around the world on huge ocean freighters. Cutting down our forests. Eating all kinds of foods out of season. Burning coal. And the list goes on. If everyone on the planet behaved like this, we would have an even bigger problem on our hands.
The solution to many of our global environmental problems, begins with the examples being set in the first world. We need to clean up our act, be responsible and take the lead. We cannot afford to continue to cast blame on everyone else if we are not setting a good example ourselves. It is hypocrisy of the highest order and there is no more time for that.
One area I have always felt passionate about, the place where I could take a stand and make a difference is food. I love cooking and creating new taste sensations. Everyone I know thought I should have become a chef, maybe that is for my next career. For now, I just like to cook for my family and friends.
Increasingly, I am drawn to the idea of eating ‘lower on the food chain’. I credit my nephew for giving me that idea a dozen years ago, when he was about 4 years old. He was virtually a vegetarian. Not because my sister was, it was just his thing. He did not like animal proteins of any kind, in solid form. Growing up 1,000 kilometres away, my daughter was the same. In a restaurant, we would often order her a hamburger – hold the meat. But if the server was smart they would get the message and just ask, “so she just wants a bun?” Yep.
So began my quest for good sources of vegetable protein. Balanced against the males in my house who really wanted half the plate to be animal protein. Then, out of nowhere my son decides he wants to become a pescatarian. He has been reading about the environmental impact of the meat industry and is horrified. He feels that he cannot support this anymore. I am completely shocked, in a good way. My husband feels his grasp on the meat in our house and eventually on his plate, slipping away.
The food we eat is responsible for almost a third of our global carbon footprint. In research recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production we ranked fresh foods based on how much greenhouse gas is produced from farm to fork. (How to reduce your kitchen’s impact on global warming, December 8, 2016)
Our family adventure into becoming almost vegan will have to wait for another day. I think for my husband, he hopes that day will never come. But, I could move in that direction. I know I would feel better in my physical body if I did. I have experimented with vegan cleanses and felt better for it than at any other time in my life. The only reason I don’t stick with it is, it is so hard. Grocery stores are full of processed and packaged food, with huge dairy sections. Usually a deli counter and a meat and seafood area, both fresh and frozen. Vegan grocery stores, on the other hand are surprisingly small. These specialty grocers are not widespread.
Becoming more plant centric means planning. Each and every bite of food has to be thought of, shopped carefully for and probably prepared in some way beforehand. The only convenience is in the fruits and vegetables which can be consumed as is. Granted, there are many to choose from, but I am usually the only one who puts them into the grocery cart. And there is major seasonality to our choices in Western Canada.
I like the idea of experimenting with vegan recipes. When I find a good tasting one, I go off in that direction. I love the type of raw ingredients, usually simple preparations and a really clean taste. After, my body feels good. Not overly stuffed, but satisfied. I’ll probably also break down and buy a juicer, to go along with my high-powered blender. I want to start experimenting with mocktails. I believe there is a whole host of lovely taste sensations, which will be excellent for your health.
At the moment, all I really know about preparing vegetables are the rudimentary things I have learned from home and along the way. In truth, many of my go to recipes involve white potatoes, not exactly the most healthy vegetable in the kingdom. Of course there is the standby crudite platter. When the vegetables are at the peak of freshness and the plate is just made, this is a lovely option. But even by day 2, I don’t care so much for this anymore. I will have to do more research! That is a challenge I am excited by, make it taste better.
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