Tag Archives: vegan

One Bite at a Time – Part 9!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Coming to a close!

Welcome back! This is the final post in the One Bite at a Time series! I’ll keep this short and sweet, just to impart one last bit of wisdom for you as you begin your plant-based journey!


Final words of advice!

We’ve covered a great deal in this blog: the basics of animal agriculture, its impact on the environment, questions to consider before you begin your plant-based diet, staple plant-based foods, an interview with a seasoned vegan, and a whole lot more! The amount of information is overwhelming, and this blog is certainly not an exhaustive resource or guide for going plant-based. If I were to include everything, you would be endlessly reading! And, despite the value of advice and recommendations, the real learning comes when you jump in and begin to experience life as a plant-based eater. You will grow so much as you face and overcome the challenges (and enjoy the delights) of this life change. All this is to say, at a certain point you’ve got to just start and embrace each step of the journey!

I want to remind you one more time that no one plant-based diet is objectively the “best.” The “best” plant-based diet is the one that works for you, whether that’s having three plant-based meals a week or a full-on vegan diet. It is so important to recognize your life experiences and circumstances and how to adapt your diet to fit your life so you can stick to it for the long term. Keep this in mind as you make the transition to plant-based eating, too. Make the transition work for you—there’s no need to stop eating all animal products overnight if you know that will be hard for you. Take it in small steps so you can adjust to the diet incrementally and ultimately make it sustainable for yourself!

Plant-based eaters: eating out is not off limits! Embrace social eating even as a plant-based eater! Pictured is a vegan Pad Thai from the wonderful Zoo Thai in Missoula, Montana.

No matter what kind of plant-based eater you are, flexibility remains crucial. Remember that straying from your diet is okay! Sometimes you have to deal with less than optimal situations and there’s no reason to get down on yourself or worry if you have to make changes. Flexibility also goes hand in hand with being creative in how you prepare for and handle experiences involving food, how you cook, and how you structure your eating habits. 

Through all this, be patient with yourself! Listen to yourself throughout every part of your journey and make sure each thing you do is for you and not because of what others have told you or expect of you. 

Celebrate plant-based living! Here is an intensely decorated vegan cake my sister and I made some time ago for a special occasion!

Finally, you are not alone in this exciting journey! There are countless resources out there (many of which I’ve included in this blog) to take advantage of. Educate yourself on specific topics of interest concerning plant-based eating, try new recipes, and build community with other plant-based eaters!

Thank you so much for following along the past nine weeks! I sincerely hope some of my advice resonated with you and you’ve been able to apply it to your own life. If you ever have any questions regarding a plant-based lifestyle, I’m happy to answer! You can reach me at lindseymgallagher19@gmail.com

I wish you all the best in your plant-based journeys! No matter where you are, remember to take it one bite at a time!


Recipe of the week: Apple Crisp!

We’ll end with something sweet—apple crisp! This is one of my family’s favorites. Growing up, we would often make it after a fall apple-picking haul. 

The recipe itself is rather simple, though coring and slicing the apples will take some effort and time. All you need to make this delicious treat is:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup vegan butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup oats
  • Apples! You’ll need enough to cover a 9×13 inch pan about 2 inches thick, which is roughly 8-12 apples. You can pick the variety of apple but Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Golden Delicious are some of the best for baking. 

To make the crisp:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. 
  2. Core and slice the apples. You can cut the apples into chunks, you can slice them into rounds, or into the everyday slice.
  3. Place the apples on the bottom of a greased pan so they cover the entire pan and are roughly 2 inches thick.
  4. Add all other ingredients to a bowl and mix until butter is well incorporated. 
  5. Bake at 350 °F for 45 mins. Turn halfway through. At 45 mins, check how it’s doing—the crisp may need more time depending on your desired crunchiness.
  6. Enjoy! This pairs wonderfully with vanilla ice cream!

One Bite at a Time – Part 8!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Interviewing a Vegan!

Emma hanging out with some sunflowers while visiting me in Missoula, Montana.

Welcome back! This week, I interviewed my sister Emma, who has been vegan as long as I have! Emma (she/her) is currently a student, entering her senior year at George Washington University. She is majoring in environmental science, along with political science and geographic information systems minors. She is an exceptionally involved member of her community, and fighting for climate justice is one of the causes most important to her. In our interview, we talked about her journey to veganism, how she has managed challenges the diet has presented, some of her favorite vegan foods, her experience being vegan abroad, and much more! Let’s hear what Emma has to say!


When was the first time you learned about vegetarianism and veganism? What was your initial opinion of it?

I don’t remember exactly when I first learned what it was, but I do remember the first time I really considered it was something that a lot of people actually did. The summer after 10th grade, I went to a summer camp where there was a significant group of vegetarians and vegans. It was the first time I really saw people encouraging and being respectful of the choice in a group setting. In fact, it was so encouraged at the camp that some people even decided to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet just for the duration of the camp. I think prior to that, I had only experienced vegetarians and vegans being made fun of. I think like most people my initial opinion was probably judgmental, an “I could never do that” attitude. I remember laughing along to jokes at the expense of vegetarians and vegans without really knowing what it was like or why people did it. 

One of Emma and I’s first vegetarian creations, a grilled tofu and zucchini sandwich.

Why did you first go vegetarian? Why did you decide to take it further and go vegan?

Around the time I went to this camp, I was simultaneously becoming more aware of the climate crisis and the impact of my individual behavior. At this point, it had become clear to me that I wanted to study environmental issues and ultimately pursue a career that would allow me to turn my love for the environment into something good. I remember reading articles and watching documentaries about the environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts of plant-based diets. A few days after I had returned from camp, I distinctly remember sitting in the living room with my mom and Lindsey and saying that I had been thinking about going vegetarian. As it turns out, Lindsey was too, and we decided to embark on the journey together. It was great to have a support system from the start. I remember making fun vegetarian meals together that summer. It was only a few months before Lindsey and I made the transition from vegetarian to vegan. I think once I realized how much I enjoyed being vegetarian, and that it actually wasn’t that hard, I saw the jump to vegan as an easy feat. 

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a read Emma and I highly recommend! Source

Has your reason(s) (your why) for being on a vegan diet changed over time? 

Initially, my decision was driven by a desire to reduce my environmental impact. But when you are doing something and you love it, it is easy to realize other positives. As a runner, I knew how important health was for performance. I remember reading more articles and watching more documentaries about the negative health impacts of too many animal products. During this time, a group of people on our team also started experimenting with vegetarian and vegan diets. As time went on, I learned more about the practice of factory farming in the US and I was appalled. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Micheal Pollen, and it really opened my eyes to how detached from our food system we are. I think that it is possible to ethically produce and consume animal products, but I believe most of the products in our stores are not derived from ethically sourced places. It would be a stretch to say I am totally tuned into where every single ingredient in every single thing I eat comes from, but I certainly feel more aware than I did before. So I would say my initial reason still stands, but other reasons for doing so have compounded and reassured me of my decision.

How was the initial transition to vegetarianism and then veganism? Was it easier or harder than you expected? What things were challenging? What things were easier? 

Honestly, I don’t really remember struggling too much. Sure I faced some annoyances and challenges, but I was loving my decision. It is totally worth it. At home, it was easy because our family was supportive. I was motivated and excited about my decision, so any cravings for animal products were far outweighed by my larger goal. Plus, it was fun to find so many alternatives I had no idea existed. I often think about how lucky I am to live in a time when vegetarians and vegans have so many more options aside from the staple fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, grains, etc. (but many places still have a long way to go!) Certainly, the most frustrating part was attending events outside my home. Although places usually scraped together something to accommodate me, they were not nutritionally adequate or always pleasing to eat. Most often, the vegan option was a salad or some grilled vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I love both, but after a while, it gets old when that is the only option when you’re out to eat. 

The other aspect was pushback from people who didn’t understand my decision and were judgemental. I remember getting really mad sometimes and thinking, since when do people care so much about what I am putting into my body? Suddenly everyone is thoroughly and deeply concerned about my protein intake! I remember snapping a few times at my friends or family members because I was so annoyed. Since then, I have come to peace with the fact that no matter what you do, people are always going to question or judge you, so you might as well get on doing what makes you happy and what is best for yourself. Now when people share their concerns about my “protein intake,” I just move along. Keeping track of your nutrition is essential, no matter what diet you choose, but I find that people often speak without knowing all of the facts (I know I still have a lot to learn). I think there are a lot of people who consider animal products the best and only source of protein when that is so far from the truth. Many plant products are just as rich, if not richer than their animal-based counterparts, in protein (which you have probably already read about in this blog). 

Emma and I a few years ago enjoying a meal with family!

What was the biggest surprise when you went vegan?

I think the biggest surprise when I went vegan was really becoming more aware of what I was consuming. I suppose most people naturally become more conscious as they get older, but I think being vegan amplified that for me. It made me more aware of the nutritional content of food, where my food was coming from, how to be creative with limited ingredients, and many other things. I somehow feel more respectful of my food now. I was also surprised that there are so many vegan alternatives!!

Emma and I enjoying some vegan food in Washington D.C.

What are some of your favorite vegan foods?

I am always obsessed with Oatly chocolate oat milk. On holidays at home, I usually make a vegan frittata with JUST Egg that turns out great. MorningStar Chik’n Nuggets and SIMULATE CHICKEN NUGGS (dino shaped) are also delicious. Miyoko’s classic chive cheese is a favorite of mine. Ben and Jerry’s has an assortment of vegan flavors but vegan Phish Food is my personal favorite! I go through phases where I am obsessed with Hippeas and White Cheddar Skinny Pop. Many of my favorite snacks growing up, like Oreos, Sugar Wafers, Tofutti Cuties, pretzels, and chips and salsa were already vegan! I love tofu because it is so versatile—you just need to know how to cook it properly (luckily it is actually quite simple). As much as I love all the vegan alternatives, they do tend to be more expensive and processed, so I enjoy them in moderation. On a day-to-day basis, I rely on oatmeal, rice, pasta, bread, beans, nuts, other grains, and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. Burritos are one of my favorite things to eat; I love them for any meal (and they are so easily made vegan). Last summer, one of our close family friends found the most amazing recipe for a vegan lemon cake from Nora Cooks. It is one of the best cakes I have ever had. At home, we use Purple Carrot, and some of my favorite meals are General Tso’s tofu, lemon pepper tofu, black pepper tofu (there’s a theme here haha) and buffalo cauliflower quesadillas

How do you manage people who aren’t welcoming to veganism?

I have come to terms with the fact that there are many people who will be judgmental of my choice. Generally, if someone makes a comment, I try my best to share my perspective and experience in a respectful manner. Some people are receptive and engage in a good conversation, but there are others who remain close-minded. I have learned some people just make comments or ask questions without actually being willing to consider the legitimacy of my response. They really just want to get a rise out of me. In these cases, after I have tried and failed to engage with them, I have learned to just hold my tongue and move along. I understand that there are a lot of misconceptions about plant-based eating out there, like our diets are lacking in protein, and some people just don’t want to try to understand when you go to correct them. But many people are willing to listen. In the beginning, I remember even some of my close friends would make snide comments and I would get mad at them and make comments back. Now, these friends are supportive and have even considered it for themselves. I always try to remember that it is easy for us as humans to attack things that are unfamiliar to us. 

Enjoying a delicious vegan brunch at The Catalyst Cafe in Missoula!

It has been almost four years since I started my plant-based journey, and I have learned a lot. One of the things I have learned is that vegetarians and vegans can be just as rude and critical of others as non-vegetarians or non-vegans. Early on, I remember feeling a sense of superiority because of my decision, but I have come to strongly disapprove of that holier-than-thou attitude in myself and in others. In thinking my diet was “better” than someone else’s, I was being just as judgmental as those who gave me pushback and made me feel frustrated. Even more than that, there is absolutely no “right” diet for anyone. Every person has their own health, cultural, religious, financial, and emotional considerations in determining their diet. Deciding what food to put in your body is a very personal choice, and no one, myself included, has the right to make that decision for another. 

I believe I will be a champion of a plant-based diet for the rest of my life, but I am very intentional about respecting others’ choices. Of course, I am willing to have conversations with and support people wanting to make the change, but I try my best not to make anyone feel shameful or guilty over such a personal decision. I guess what I am trying to say is that because I have experienced and perceived many benefits, I hope anyone willing and capable will try it out, but I never think forcing someone into something, especially something so personal, is a good idea. I have seen campaigns try to use guilt and shame to get people to go vegetarian or vegan. Sometimes it may work, but most often it has the reverse effect and drives people away. If the goal is to encourage plant-based eating, it should be done in a positive, intelligent, and respectful way. Sometimes if someone makes a rude comment to me, it is still hard to hold my tongue, but I am getting better at it. 

How do you manage social situations (or eating out) when there are limited (or no) vegan options?

I always prepare myself. I check out the menu beforehand and strategize about what I am or am not willing to be flexible about. Often a restaurant will not have a completely vegetarian or vegan option, so I will plan two or three options to modify. For example, if there is pasta with meat and a sandwich with cheese I will ask the server if the pasta can be served without the meat or if the cheese can be removed from the sandwich. More often than not, they are happy to make the change. Being vegan definitely requires more attention to detail. Sometimes it is stressful, not because I am questioning my desire to be vegan, but because I don’t want to be a hassle or make others change their plans. But I also know I deserve to eat food that I want to put in my body. And I have learned that my best friends are people that care to plan ahead and make sure there are options for me so I don’t have to compromise myself. If I am in a situation where there truly is no vegan option, I will just go ahead and eat something with a little milk, butter, or cheese because I know that I need to fuel my body. Even still, sometimes I leave a place a little hungry. In cases where I know this will be true, I just eat some more of my own food before I go out or when I return after an event. It is all about planning so you don’t have to compromise your health, well-being, or adherence to your diet. 

Vegan treats at a vegan festival in Washington D.C. that I attended! 

What have you found is the greatest challenge to being vegan?

I think I answer this in previous questions, but it’s unaccommodating service. That is the greatest challenge for me, but I know how to navigate that after a few years of practice. Rude and judgmental comments are annoying, but I don’t let them get to me like I did at the start of my plant-based journey. 

Emma enjoying a White Zombie donut from Veera Donuts, an all-vegan donut shop in Missoula!

What’s the best vegan food you’ve ever had at a restaurant? (Both an entree and a dessert)

Oh god, it is really hard to just choose one. I will just brainstorm some favorites off the top of my head and see if I can pick out just one. Favorite desserts include vegan key lime pie from Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C., chocolate ice cream sundae from Flax and Kale in Barcelona, vegan red velvet and cinnamon apple cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake in D.C., donuts from Donut Run in D.C., donuts from Veera Donuts in Missoula, cupcakes from Sticky Fingers in D.C., Oreo cupcake from Baked and Wired in D.C. Favorite meals include absolutely anything from Aunts et Uncles in Brooklyn, vegan chipotle super sandwich from Brunch and Cake in Barcelona, vegan caesar salad from Flax and Kale in Barcelona, chicken wings from Sticky Fingers. At Essex market in Manhattan, there is a vegan cheese shop called Riverdel that is amazing. If I have to pick just one, I think it would be the french toast at Aunts et Uncles and a Boston cream donut from Donut Run. 

Emma’s favorite spot in Arc Iris, looking down from the balcony. Photo by Emma

What is your favorite vegan memory?

The first thing that comes to mind was actually when I was studying abroad. Right across the street from my homestay in Barcelona was a little restaurant called Arc Iris. They always had a line out the door. For 14 euros, you got bread, a three-course meal, and a dessert. Every day the menu changed, and the restaurant displayed three options for each of the three courses outside on a chalkboard. The service was incredibly quick, the food was fantastic, and it was all vegetarian. I went a few times simply because I so enjoyed sitting up in the corner of the restaurant alone with my thoughts and my delicious plant-based food admiring the thriving eatery. The energy always felt so positive there. It was a simple thing, but I just remember being so happy in there. 

How did you manage your diet while studying abroad? Did you decide beforehand that you would be flexible with your vegan diet? How did it feel to be off the vegan diet? How does it feel now that you are mostly back to being strictly vegan?

A gnocchi dish from Palmenhaus in Vienna. Photo by Emma

Quite honestly, it was often easier to be vegan while I was studying abroad than it was to be vegan in the US. Studying abroad has been something I have looked forward to for as long as I can remember, and I knew I was going to make the most out of every second. Before I went abroad, I knew I was not going to be strict. I wanted to experience parts of the culture and I knew that traveling around almost every weekend to new places would require some flexibility. At the end of the day, I needed to make sure I was eating enough to fuel my body! 

Tofu omelette and side of potatoes from Equilivrium Cafe in Barcelona. Photo by Emma

I decided to stay with a host family for my abroad experience. At first, I was worried about my diet, but then I was assigned a host mother and roommate who both also ate mostly vegan. My host mother was an excellent cook, and it was fantastic to enjoy vegan versions of traditional Spanish food such as tortillas. I was very fortunate. I studied in Barcelona, and I was absolutely blown away by the number of vegetarian/vegan options at restaurants and grocery stores— even more so by the number of plant-based only restaurants. Within a few minutes walk of my apartment, there were three, and the food at each one was amazing! Most of the cities I traveled to in Western and Eastern Europe had great plant-based options. I expect my experience would have been different had I traveled to more rural places, but overall it was wonderful to see how celebrated and respected plant-based eating was. 

Escalivada (a traditional Catalán dish) pumpkin and coconut soup and sangria from Casa Lolea in Barcelona. Photo by Emma

There were a few challenging times, and I strayed from my diet due to need or desire to. One time, my friends and I went on a day trip to Andorra la Vella, the capital of a super small country called Andorra between France and Spain. We arrived early on a Sunday morning, and it was a very cold January day. It was one of our first trips outside Barcelona. We got off the bus and had absolutely no idea where we were going or what to do. We wandered for a while until we finally found a small breakfast place that was open (most things were closed because it was Sunday). The workers spoke French, Spanish, and Catalan, but no English. Between us, we knew a decent amount of Spanish and very little French. Not all of the menu items were available, and most of them were sandwiches with meat. I ended up having to order a sandwich with an egg. I ate as much of it as I could because I knew it was going to be a long day. I got a few bites in and eventually was too grossed out to eat anymore, so I just finished the bread. That was probably the hardest experience I had—yet I survived! 

Vegan Supersandwich and carrot cake cupcake (not plant-based) from Brunch and Cake in Barcelona. Photo by Emma

Many other times, I willingly ate cheese or desserts with milk and eggs simply because I felt like it. I have no regrets! I did not eat any meat because at this point I truly have no desire to and don’t think I ever will, but this of course could change at some point in my life. The longer I have been vegan the more flexible I have become, and being abroad was a great reminder of how important it is to consider and celebrate the emotional and cultural significance of food alongside our moral beliefs about it. In the two months since returning from Spain, I have had an occasional slice of cheese, some ice cream, and Goldfish. Goldfish are definitely the snack I missed most being vegan. And they make me happy! Since they make me so happy, I have decided I will break from my vegan diet when I have a craving because it is not the end of the world if I have a few handfuls now and then. It felt good to break from my vegan diet while abroad, and it feels good to mostly be back to being vegan now that I am home. 

Açaí bowl and pan con tomate from Bristol in Barcelona. Photo by Emma

This experience has reminded me of how dynamic life is and how crucial it is to check in with yourself. During those months, it was important to me to break from my diet, and now it is important to me to mostly go back to being vegan. I will add that although I had a relatively easy and positive plant-based experience while traveling abroad, this should not always be expected. It is best to err on the side of caution and do as much research as you can before you travel. Make any necessary accommodations, and look up grocery stores, markets, and restaurants that will have things you can eat. It is sometimes most convenient to shop and cook for yourself. But always be aware that the potential for you to stray from your diet is there. In some places, it is expected that you eat what is put in front of you. If you are traveling to one of these places and are uncomfortable with this, you might want to reconsider your plans. My personal opinion, and something I live by when I am traveling, is that I do not want to miss out on an opportunity just so I can stick to my diet. My diet is very important to me, but there are lots of other things that are just as or more important. Every person should consider their own priorities and what will make them the happiest. 

Vegan carrot cake cupcake from Melbourne Street Cafe in Ibiza. The server told Emma that they use pineapple to replace eggs—how creative! Photo by Emma

What advice do you have for people who are looking to go plant-based (or for new plant-based eaters)?

The greatest advice I can give to anyone considering the move towards a plant-based diet is to remain open-minded and flexible. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others! You are not tied to anything, and you can always change your mind if something doesn’t feel right for you for any number of reasons. Be flexible, but also know your boundaries. You should know what you are or are not willing to break your diet for and in what circumstances. Of course, these boundaries can always change. For me, I know that eating meat is something I will not do, but I am okay with consuming some milk or cheese if that is the only option. Be as flexible as you are comfortable with and be an advocate for yourself. Sometimes people really don’t understand what you mean when you say vegan, so you might have to clarify what you can’t eat. Usually, restaurants are accommodating enough, but do be prepared to encounter some pushback now and then. It is going to happen! More advice: surround yourself with other plant-based eaters, or at least with people who are going to support your decision. It is a much more positive experience if you are not doing it alone. If there is no one immediately around you, seek out that community. It is there somewhere! (It might even be online ;). 

For both Emma and I, having support from one another as we began our plant-based journeys was crucial! That support remains crucial to this day!

Anything else you want to add?

I ended up writing my high school senior thesis about the implications of going vegan. While I am proud of the work I produced, looking back, I now have a much broader perspective. When I produced that project, I was very much focused on the individual environmental impacts of going vegan. I have mentioned that it is a very personal choice, and I do believe we should each be doing what we can to reduce our environmental impact. I believe even one person making a change can make a difference, but at the same time, I want to emphasize the necessity of situating our individual choices in the context of a larger system. It is very apparent there are several major forces driving climate change, and I wholeheartedly believe that fighting these forces is more impactful than my decision not to eat steak for dinner today. So, in terms of the environment, do as much as you can without compromising your needs, but do not take on the moral burden of forces out of your control!


Conclusion

I’m so glad I was able to share Emma’s perspective and experiences on plant-based eating with you! Emma had so many important things to say! I sincerely hope you enjoyed hearing from her!

Next week, August 11th, I will be taking a break from One Bite at a Time. I’ll be back on August 18th for one more post to conclude the series!

Thanks for reading!

Lindsey 🙂


Recipe of the week: Homemade Red Sauce (my mom’s recipe)!

Red sauce is a staple for most people, considering its versatility. Growing up, my mom made this delicious meatless red sauce that my family always adored. For this recipe, all you will need is one large can (28oz) of crushed tomatoes, 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, garlic salt, and sugar. My mom doesn’t have exact proportions for putting this together, it’s mostly to taste, so do your best! To prepare:

  1. Put minced garlic in the middle of a big frying pan and drizzle with a fair bit of olive oil to surround it
  2. Pour on garlic salt 
  3. Saute for 1-2 mins. Do not let garlic brown up!
  4. Turn off stove
  5. Add crushed tomato. Turn the heat back on low and stir a lot
  6. Add 1-2 tablespoons more of olive oil
  7. Add up to ⅛ cup sugar (to taste)
  8. Mix and taste adding more garlic salt and sugar as needed
  9. Keep mixture on heat for about 10 mins, stirring a lot

This sauce works great with pasta, for chicken or eggplant parm, for pasta bakes, for dipping, and really anything you can think of! Enjoy!

Some homemade eggplant parm and broccoli with my mom’s red sauce!

One Bite at a Time – Part 7!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Common Questions & Challenges!

Welcome back! This week we will explore some common questions and challenges that those new to plant-based eating face. Then I’ll offer my answers and the best advice in response. 


Let’s jump right into this Q and A!

How do I handle social events and peer pressure as a plant-based eater? Can I still go out to eat? What about at restaurants that don’t have any plant-based options?

It’s almost impossible to avoid eating with others—eating is a social event! Certainly we should embrace this and the joy that comes from sharing meals with others. But I would be remiss to say that plant-based eating doesn’t create some complications when eating in social settings. 

Surely you don’t want to be rude to people who cook for you, but you also don’t want to be forced to eat animal products if you’re not comfortable. The best way to avoid uncomfortable situations is to be prepared ahead of time. Of course, there are so many social events with food with many different contexts, but I can offer some general guidelines. 

A meal together is a meal well spent! Sharing a meal (pre-plant-based) with my dad while camping in South Dakota! 

If you are going to someone’s house for a meal and you know ahead of time, be upfront about your diet before you get together. This will give the host time to accommodate your diet (if they choose to). If they don’t accommodate it, it will make it clear that you not eating a dish with animal-products is because of your diet, not you personally rejecting their cooking. I personally never expect people to cook vegan for me, and I don’t want people to feel like they need to, so I often bring my own dishes to events that others can also eat and I can rely on for a meal if I know it won’t be in a vegan-friendly environment. It’s actually quite fun to bring a plant-based dish to share because you can expose others to the diet and show them how delicious and expansive plant-based food can be. 

If you are at a social event and offered something that is outside of your diet, simply decline politely. You certainly don’t have to explain yourself, though you can if you feel comfortable. Sometimes you will find yourself in less than optimal situations where you have no plant-based options. In that case you can decide that is a day to embrace flexibility and have some items you don’t normally eat. In some cases, you can try to remove the non-plant-based item (like peeling cheese off). Or, if your situation permits, you can decide to eat after the event. In most cases when I go to an event and I suspect my diet may not be accommodated, I eat some snacks/a meal prior to the event, or I bring snacks to have after in case I don’t get enough to eat while there. Keep emergency snacks in your glove box, bag, or pocket so you always have something!

In terms of restaurants, you can absolutely still go out to eat! Your diet should never limit your ability to enjoy eating out. There are many approaches you can take when going to restaurants. If possible, you can look at menus ahead of time and pick the restaurant that has plant-based options (or pick the one with the option that’s most exciting to you, if you have many restaurants with plant-based food nearby). If you can’t pick ahead of time, then you’ve got to make the best with what you’ve got. Sometimes this looks like a meal made up of sides. Most restaurants have a variety of sides, like salad, fries, baked potato, veggies, bread, etc. that you can add together to make an eclectic meal from. Another option is to see if the kitchen is willing to make adjustments to some of the menu items, such as holding the cheese on a pasta dish or not adding a sauce with animal-products to the dish. This will depend on the restaurant you’re at, as each one has a different degree of flexibility in allowing alterations. If you are feeling a bit nervous about the restaurant remembering and following your dietary preferences, one trick I’ve used is simply saying I’m allergic to dairy or meat or whatever else it is. Restaurants seem to pay more attention to the word “allergy” than the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” 

A plant-based nacho bowl I enjoyed at Sticky Fingers Diner in Washington D.C.

How do you deal with people (including family) who may not be welcoming to plant-based eating? What do you do when you have to explain your diet or justify your lifestyle?

The truth is, many non-plant-based eaters feel threatened by the plant-based diet. This is for a number of reasons, but like any other lifestyle choice other people always have an opinion about how you chose to live your life and want to tell you the right way is their way. Unfortunately, many people who are not on board with the plant-based diet simply lack education on the topic and perpetuate myths and other harmful ideas (vegans don’t get enough protein, real men eat meat, etc.). For some they feel that you, a plant-based eater, will tell them that they need to go plant-based, too. They fear that you will condemn their diet choices. There is a stereotype about the vegan that thinks they’re better than everyone and shames anyone who is not vegan. For the most part this is not true. More often than not when vegans talk about their diet it is because they are excited to share how it has positively impacted their life. 

Depending on the person you encounter and your relationship to them, you may decide to not engage or you may decide to help share the facts about a plant-based diet. You can certainly encourage other people to try a plant-based diet, but never put them down because they aren’t plant-based. This only turns them further away from plant-based eating. It’s much more likely a person will change their diet if it is done by choice, not force. 

I’ve had a family member tell me I’m “missing all the fun by being vegan” and others have simply dismissed being vegan as a stupid thing to do. When things like this happen, I have found it useful to reframe things when I encounter resistance simply by saying, “I’m not telling you to be vegan. I respect your choice to not be a vegan and I hope you can respect my choice to be vegan in return. This is a choice I am making for myself, not for you.” Importantly, you aren’t required to defend yourself, you can simply ignore it and smile when others are condescending. It’s funny, no one ever questions meat-eaters like they do plant-based eaters. On the other hand, you may find people are curious and want to know more. Yay! When this happens, it’s always nice to have a good sense of your why to explain to them. Having some facts and statistics in your back pocket that show how beneficial the diet can be is also nice!

The absolute best vegan chicken tenders I’ve ever had! These were chickpea-based ones also from Sticky Fingers Diner. 

If you are in a setting where you suspect the group as a whole (perhaps a restaurant) may not be welcoming of a plant-based diet, I suggest avoiding saying I’m vegan, I’m plant-based, I’m vegetarian, etc. I’ve found that these words can actually trigger tension. You could instead say, I don’t eat meat or I don’t eat dairy or ask if it is possible to get the item with the animal-product removed (would I be able to get the fried Brussels sprouts with the cheese on the side?). People don’t catch on as easily and for some reason they feel less threatened by this phrasing, perhaps because it seems like a more individual preference rather than being part of a collective (of vegans, of vegetarians, etc.). 

How hard is it to go plant-based? 

Well, I can’t really answer this question for you because everyone will have a different experience based on their individual experiences and preferences. But I can tell you about my experience, and perhaps that can help. Certainly, it’s not easy. In the transition phase you will spend a lot more time thinking about and preparing your meals. You will also have to think more about your nutritional needs to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that are harder to come by on a plant-based diet. You will need to plan and prepare. Going into it and expecting little to no work only spells an unsuccessful transition and a likely return to your original diet.

The hardest part, I think, is not eating many of your old staple foods or foods that you may really enjoy (for most this is meat and cheese). As humans we’re eating all the time, so losing our staples does have a big impact on our life—we can’t ignore this! With this being said, you will adapt sooner than you think (especially if you plan ahead and find plant-based alternatives to your favorite things). If you remember my first post, I grew up with lots of meat and dairy. In high school, I remember saying I would and could never go vegetarian because I loved steak too much. When I went vegetarian it was a relatively slow transition at first, and then it was cold turkey no meat (pun intended). I got used to it relatively quickly because I filled the gap with other things like tofu and veggie burgers. Over time, I found my desire for meat diminished because I learned more about animal agriculture and its impacts on the environment and human and animal vitality. After learning about these consequences, it was no longer justifiable to eat meat just because I liked it. Sooner than I expected I actually became grossed out by the thought of putting meat in my mouth. And now I’m here a few years later and couldn’t even imagine eating steak, my old favorite—it no longer has any appeal to me. I don’t actually think I would be able to eat it if I had to, which is a complete reversal from my high school self. It’s incredible how much we can change. 

Visit your local Farmer’s Market to find some fun fruits and veggies to add to your rotation!

When I transitioned to veganism, I was more nervous because I knew how big of a role dairy played in my diet. Cheese, specifically, was my favorite thing. Almost everything I ate had parmesan or cheddar on it. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. And, when I went vegan, I didn’t even have any non-dairy alternatives in place to fill the gap. This made it tougher at first, no longer having access to many of my staples (this is why having plant-based alternatives you like before the final switch away from animal products is so important). But I was surprised again at how quickly I adapted and got used to life without cheese. I found alternatives, I was forced to get creative and to try new things. The excitement of this helped me greatly in getting used to the new diet. 

So, no, going plant-based is not easy, and it gets harder with more restrictive diets (i.e. veganism). It will take work, planning, and learning. But I don’t think it’s as hard as you might think it is. Novelty and change have an incredible power to make us excited and resilient. If you asked a plant-based person how hard the transition was, I’d bet that more often than not they tell you it was easier than they initially thought it would be.

How do I cook plant-based?

If you know how to cook veggies, you already know some plant-based cooking! Source

A lot of people think that plant-based cooking is something entirely new. Good news: it’s not! You will still use most of the same cooking methods, and you’ve already been cooking plant-based if you’ve ever had veggies, grains, or nuts in your life! What will be new is simply the ingredients and the combinations of ingredients. You will likely have to learn how to cook tofu, which is really quite easy. It’s just a matter of pressing the water out, cutting it up, and baking or frying it. On that note, I 100% recommend a tofu press if you want it crispy and crunchy. But things like these don’t take much skill or time to learn. Overtime, as you get better with cooking plant-based, you can find recipes for animal-based versions of foods and substitute with plant-based alternatives as you go. I’d say that creativity and flexibility are the biggest keys to plant-based cooking. It is actually quite exciting to try new ingredients and combinations! I found a new love for cooking once I switched to a plant-based diet. If you do want more on plant-based cooking, here are 20 vegan cooking tips for beginners!

How can I be a plant-based eater in an animal-product household? 

If you live with others who eat animal products, don’t try to force your diet on them. Simply let them know what you do and don’t eat (and you will probably have to remind them a lot as most people don’t actually know what plant-based or vegan is). Be patient, especially if they are the one cooking your meal and they now have to learn how to make plant-based ones. I was lucky to go vegan at the same time as my sister, and we were able to work together at the start to prepare our meals. We also had very accommodating parents who didn’t discourage us and actually became vegan after seeing my sister and I’s success with the diet. 

I now live with my partner Rachel who isn’t plant-based and, while I’ve influenced her to have a lot more plant-based food, she still eats meat and dairy. I understand that forcing her to be plant-based wouldn’t work, and she understands that forcing me to eat dairy or meat wouldn’t work either. We have largely had to work together so we can still share meals but have them meet our individual needs. One thing that we do is make the meal in pieces so that an animal-based item can be easily substituted for a plant-based one. For example, if we are having a stir fry we’ll make tofu and chicken separately and then we can each add our protein to the rice and veggie mix that we can both have. Sometimes we have to make our meals relatively separately, like eggplant parmesan, because the dairy and non-dairy cheese gets mixed in. But, sometimes it’s as simple as Rachel having a beef burger and me having a veggie burger. In all cases we get to enjoy the same meal while accommodating our diets. 

What do I do if I want to go plant-based but don’t have access to plant-based alternatives near me?

When I moved from Missoula, Montana I no longer had access to my favorite vegan donuts. So I got creative and made my own version!

This is an unfortunate reality for many people. Our country is moving toward plant-based, but we’re not all the way there. There are still many plant-based food deserts, you might call them. On the bright side, the most basic plant-based foods like produce, grains, and nuts, are available at even the most basic grocery store. What will be hard are the plant-based meats, dairy and specialty snack products. If you have the means you can decide to pay more to have it delivered to you from other areas. But if you can’t afford that, you may decide not to do an entirely restrictive diet for the sake of longevity as a plant-based eater. Once again, flexibility is your friend. Don’t make yourself strictly vegan for the sake of being a “pure” vegan. Be willing to work with what is available to you and branch out from strictly vegan foods. For instance, you might be vegan five days of the week and then eat animal-products that you can’t access alternatives to the other two days so you can enjoy your favorite things, experience eating in social settings where you live, and remain happy and satisfied with your diet! 

I’m an athlete, is plant-based still okay for me?

Yes! Being plant-based can actually improve your athletic performance! One 2022 study, highlights that a plant-based diet “may provide performance-enhancing effects for various types of exercise due to high carbohydrate levels and the high concentration of antioxidants and phytochemicals found in a plant-based diet.” A review in Nutrients highlights a number of benefits an athlete has on a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are responsible for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, which allows an athlete’s heart to stay strong. Cholesterol, which is high in many animal-products, is also known to increase inflammation that can hinder the recovery process. A plant-based diet, because it contains no cholesterol, can reduce inflammation and improve recovery times. This was one of the first things I noticed when I switched to a vegetarian diet, and it became even better on a vegan diet. With less cholesterol (and saturated fat, which is high in animal products), blood viscosity increases, enabling more oxygen to reach your muscles, and this is a benefit to athletes across pretty much all sports. 

It has also been shown “that athletes on a plant-based diet increase their VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen they can use during intense exercise—leading to better endurance.” On top of this, a plant-based athlete will have better blood flow thanks to fewer meals that impair arteries from doing their job well. Finally, a plant-based diet is richer in antioxidants than a diet including meat. Antioxidants are responsible for neutralizing free radicals, which lead to muscle fatigue, slower recovery, and worse athletic performance. 

A review of The Game Changers by Vogue. Source

The research-backed documentary The Game Changers explores the performance benefits a number of elite athletes have seen from switching to a plant-based diet. As an athlete, it will be more important for you to monitor your intake of vitamins and minerals because the demands of sport can deplete you more quickly, but it’s 100% doable. I have been an athlete since I was quite young, so I have been involved in sport on both a diet including animal-products and a plant-based one. I was iron deficient on an animal-product diet at one point. Not once on my plant-based diet have I been iron deficient. I have supplemented iron since my deficiency and, as a plant-based athlete, constantly monitored my levels through blood work, while prioritizing iron-rich foods. I can say with great confidence that going plant-based has not hurt my athletic performance in any way. If anything, it has only improved it. And I’m not the only athlete to say this. Some of the world’s best, including tennis players Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic; NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, and ultra runners Scott Jurek and Rich Roll are plant-based.

For plant-based athletes I would also recommend nomeatathlete.com for resources and support!


Conclusion

I hope you found some useful information here! As you dive into your plant-based journey and experience the diet, know that you will learn even more along the way! It is an incredibly exciting adventure!

Stay tuned next week to hear from my sister Emma about her experiences and perspective as a vegan!


Recipe of the week: Veggie burgers!

After trying many other veggie burger recipes I’ve adjusted and perfected my own. Here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (you can buy or make your own in the blender)
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed or chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup carrots
  • Water (for blending)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Add water slowly until it is well-blended into a fine consistency. Form into patties. They will be pretty soft but they crisp up when you put them on the stove. You can grill these immediately, but putting them in the fridge to firm up for a bit can help them stay together. You can also freeze these to use later! Makes about 4 patties for you to enjoy sandwiched between a bun and your favorite toppings (I love hummus and avocado). You can also crumble the cooked burger and add it in wraps or top a salad with it!

My homemade veggie burger, topped with lettuce, avocado and vegan feta, sandwiched between Ezekiel English Muffins!

One Bite at a Time – Part 6!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Taste Tests!

Welcome back! This week I’m very excited to take you with me for some taste tests of assorted plant-based products. I put some of my favorite products head-to-head with other brands, and I also tried some new items. It was lots of fun!


Clockwise from the top: Gardein, MorningStar Farms, and Impossible Foods nuggets.


Chicken Nuggets

To start, my partner Rachel and I tested the iconic chicken nugget. For this, we put three versions of plant-based nuggets to the test: MorningStar Farms Veggie Chik’n Nuggets, Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders, and Impossible Foods Chicken Nuggets. We’d both had MorningStar and Gardein before, but we got to put them head to head. And we got to try Impossible’s nuggets for the first time!

We assessed seven different criteria to determine the all-around winner. These included:

  • Flavor of the “meat” – the seasoning of the inner meat and an answer to the basic question: does this taste good, or does it taste like chemicals? 
  • Flavor of the breading – the seasoning in the breading and if it had that rich saltiness we so crave
  • Texture of the “meat” – how moist it felt and its composure (was it stringy, firm, chewy, tender?)
  • Texture of the breading – how crunchy and crispy it was
  • How chicken-like – how well the nugget mimicked a nugget made of real chicken meat, which is a sort of combination of the texture and the flavor of the “meat”
  • Protein content – how much protein was packed into the nugget
  • Value – the cost per ounce of nugget

The flavor of the “meat,” flavor of the breading, texture of the “meat,” texture of the breading, and how chicken-like were all scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst. The protein content and value I also scored from best to worst but with a slightly different point system. The one with the most protein per serving got 10 points, 2nd most got 5 points, and worst got 0 points. Similarly, the one with the lowest cost per ounce got 10 points, 2nd lowest got 5 points, and lowest got 0 points. By adding all of these scores together I came up with the nugget’s overall score, which ranged from 0 to 70 points.

Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders

The first nugget we tried, though technically it was a tender, was the Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tender. True to form, these were longer tenders rather than the more circular nugget. The breading on the Gardein was much lighter in color and thinner than the others. You could also see the diversity of grains, with a few visible whole oats. Trying the tender, Rachel was delighted by the texture, which was firm and tender. She also enjoyed the rich variety of seasonings in the breading. She found it had a good taste, but it only did an okay job mimicking chicken. For me, this tender was relatively bland. The texture of the “meat” was fine—nice and tender—but the flavor was forgettable. In terms of the breading, I found there was very little, and it lacked that desirable salty crunch. On another note, these nuggets took far longer to cook and get crispy than the others. Overall, the Gardein was average. I would certainly eat it again, but it wasn’t great. In terms of the protein content there is 7.8 grams of nugget for every gram of protein. For value, these tenders cost 55 cents per ounce. 

Impossible Foods Chicken Nugget

Next in our test was the Impossible nugget. Rachel absolutely loved this nugget, giving it 8s across the board. She said the “meat” very closely resembled chicken meat in texture and taste. She also enjoyed the breading and the satisfying crunch. I, however, was not partial to the Impossible nugget. The “meat” had a pronounced chemical aftertaste that really ruined the whole nugget for me. The texture was like chicken but that wasn’t enough for me to like it. The breading tasted fine but it was less thick and flavorful than MorningStar Farm’s. I wouldn’t pick this nugget to try again, but Rachel absolutely would. In terms of protein content there are 7.3 grams of nugget for every gram of protein and it costs 54 cents per ounce of nugget.

MorningStar Farms Veggie Chik’n Nugget

Our final nugget was MorningStar Farms. For Rachel this nugget was forgettable, as the Gardein was for me. She thought the textures were working for both the “meat” and breading, but the flavor was lacking. In terms of mirroring chicken, for Rachel, this nugget did the worst job of the three. MorningStar Farms has been my favorite nugget for a while, and it was not outmatched in this test. I still feel that this nugget has the best flavor—a non-chemical tasting “meat” and a well-seasoned breading. The “meat” is dense and tender and bites like a piece of chicken and the breading is perfectly crunchy and crisp. This nugget will still be my tried and true and I genuinely think they are delicious. MorningStar Farm also outperformed the other two for both protein content and value: every 6.6 grams of nugget contained a gram of protein and it costs only 44 cents per ounce which is 10 cents less per ounce than the other two!


MorningStar FarmsGardeinImpossible Foods
Flavor of “meat”Rachel- 4, Lindsey- 8Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 3
Flavor of breadingRachel- 4, Lindsey- 9Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5 Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 7
Texture of “meat”Rachel- 7, Lindsey- 8Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 8
Texture of breadingRachel- 7, Lindsey- 9Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 4Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 7
How chicken-likeRachel- 4, Lindsey- 7Rachel- 6, Lindsey- 4Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 8
Protein content Every 6.6 grams has 1g protein – 10 pointsEvery 7.8 grams has 1g protein – 0 pointsEvery 7.3 grams has 1g protein – 5 points
Value (cost per ounce)44¢ – 10 points55¢ – 0 points54¢ – 5 points
Overall (out of 70)Rachel- 46, Lindsey- 61 Rachel- 38, Lindsey- 23Rachel- 50, Lindsey, 43
Putting all of our ratings together

The clear winner of the nugget challenge depends on the taste tester. Rachel, who eats chicken and has a better familiarity with its flavor and texture than I do at this point, loved the Impossible nuggets. I loved the MorningStar Farms nuggets because their flavor was superior to the Impossible nuggets, which had a chemical aftertaste to me. I also feel MorningStar has the best breading. For me, it was less important that the nugget mimic chicken closely; I just wanted a solid-tasting nugget with a crunchy and well-seasoned breading. Rachel cared much more about how well the nugget mimicked chicken and was impressed by how well Impossible did that. She said if you gave her a chicken nugget and an Impossible nugget she would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Rachel would happily eat Impossible nuggets as a substitute for chicken nuggets. In terms of the loser on the taste and texture-based fronts, Rachel disliked MorningStar Farm’s the most and I disliked Gardein’s the most. When it comes to criteria that doesn’t depend on flavor or texture, which are subjective, there is a clear winner and loser. MorningStar Farms was the most protein dense and it had the best value by a large margin. Gardein however, had the worst protein content and it also cost the most (by a slim margin over Impossible). 


A new snack!

This wasn’t a test pitting one snack against another, but I did try a new vegan snack product to share with you: Spudsy Sweet Potato Puffs in the Cheezy Cheddar flavor. I purchased these to see how they hold up to Hippeas Chickpea Puffs (vegan white cheddar flavor), which I think are the golden standard for vegan cheese puffs. Hippeas are incredibly light and airy and their flavor is truly cheesy. They are delightful. Unfortunately, the Spudsy puffs did not hold up. These puffs are crunchier and harder, lacking airiness. In terms of the flavor, I didn’t taste sweet potato at all. And the cheese wasn’t good either—it was super chemical-tasting and pretty awful, honestly. It reminded me of the flavor of Kraft mac & cheese. This may be a controversial opinion, but I used to hate Kraft because the cheese tasted so chemically to me. I would not recommend buying this product, and I’m glad I could save you the effort of trying them yourself. Like any other food, not all plant-based food is necessarily good. Mimicking dairy cheese still seems to present a challenge for many plant-based companies. Still, it is very fun to experiment and try new products yourself! If you’re looking for a cheese puff Hippeas Chickpea Puffs reign supreme!


Protein Bars

I was very excited to try some new plant-based protein bars this week, as it’s often hard with my allergy to find ones that I can eat and have a decent flavor. 

First, I tried a peanut butter chocolate protein ProBar. This bar was coated in chocolate and had a rice-krispie-like filling. It was soft to bite, but the krispies made for a pleasant crunch, too. The overpowering flavor of the bar was the chocolate, which I, a chocolate-lover, enjoyed. The peanut-butter krispie inside had less of a pronounced flavor. All in all, this was a very solid bar—it wasn’t chemical-tasting, and it didn’t have that icky protein powder flavor that really turns me away. Certainly not the tastiest thing ever, but I would certainly buy this again if I was looking for a protein-rich snack.

Since nutritional quality seems to be a factor in many people’s choices for protein bars, I wanted to include some of the basic nutrition facts for this bar:

  • Calories: 280 (70g)
  • Protein: 20g (1g protein = 3.5g of bar)
  • Fat: 9g total (4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat)
  • Sodium: 390mg
  • Carbohydrates: 32g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6g
  • Sugar: 12g (11g of which are added)
  • Iron: 3mg (15% of daily value)

Then I tried a peanut butter chocolate chip No Cow protein bar. This bar was not for me. The No Cow bar was smaller than the Probar and much thinner. It did not have a coating; it was simply a soft bar with chocolate chips mixed in. The overpowering flavor of the bar was the taste of protein powder, which isn’t desirable at all (at least to me). The chocolate chips were hardly noticeable. I think the worst thing about this bar was the soft texture and lack of crunch. It didn’t feel like I was eating a solid, rather something in between a solid and a liquid. That in itself prevented me from taking a second bite. As you can guess, I will not be buying this again. 

As for the nutrition facts for this bar, here they are:

  • Calories: 200 (60g)
  • Protein: 20g (1g protein = 3g of bar)
  • Fat: 5g total (2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat)
  • Sodium: 220mg
  • Carbohydrates: 26g
  • Dietary Fiber: 15g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Iron: 3mg (15% of daily value)

Nutritionally, the No Cow bar has more protein per gram and much less sodium (170mg) than the ProBar. For those who care about the sugar content, the No Cow bar also wins there with 11 grams less than the ProBar. However, in the absence of sugar, No Cow is sweetened with artificial sweeteners Erythritol and Stevia, which have some potentially adverse health effects. Of course, all of us will have individual preferences for our protein bars, but at the most basic level the No Cow bar has more protein per gram. 

On another note, like many plant-based bars these guys are expensive. I paid just shy of $3 for each of these. Certainly, buying in bulk makes it slightly more affordable but these would still put a dent in your grocery budget. There are much cheaper ways to get your protein in!


Cookies!

To end the testing, I tried two different brands of vegan chocolate chip cookies, which are one of my favorite desserts.

To start I had the Made Good chocolate chip cookies, which are mini cookies. The cool thing about Made Good cookies is that they contain a number of vegetables, which add vitamins and minerals. These cookies have extracts from spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets, and shiitake mushrooms. You might be thinking that sounds like a sub-par cookie. However, you really don’t taste these veggies at all! These particular cookies are crunchy (and perhaps a bit dry) but I found they have the right combo of cookie to chocolate. They are sweet but not too sweet. They reminded me a lot of mini Chips Ahoy! cookies. I very much enjoyed the size and these could have great versatility as a topping or add-in for other baked treats. I would happily buy these again! Made Good has a lot of other great products, like granola bars, crackers, crispy squares, and more, too. I highly recommend you check them out!

I also tried Back to Nature Homestyle Soft Baked Chocolate Chunk Cookies. These cookies came in a more traditional size. Since these were soft baked, they were obviously soft, which is my preferred texture for cookies. These cookies were also a bit dry, but they had a lot of chocolate to make up for that. Still, I didn’t like the flavor of the cookie itself—it reminded me of the flavor of protein powder, which is not what I want in a cookie. I don’t think I would buy these again. 


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed coming along on these taste tests with me. Now it’s time for you to get out there, experiment, and try new things. It’s much more fun when you get to do the tasting yourself!

Stay tuned next week to hear about some common questions and challenges new plant-based eaters may have, along with my answers and advice!

A small note: next week’s post will come out early, on Thursday, as I have an adjustment in my schedule. 

Thanks for reading!

Lindsey 🙂


Recipe of the Week: Stuffed Sweet Potato!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Purple Carrot as a great resource for someone new to plant-based diets. While Purple Carrot is a meal delivery service, all of their recipes are accessible online for free! This recipe for stuffed sweet potato with cucumber chickpea salad and miso tahini is one of my Purple Carrot favorites. I never would’ve thought up a combination like this and the miso tahini makes this a phenomenally umami dish! On top of this, this meal is packed with nutrients! Try it out here!

One Bite at a Time – Part 5!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Plant-based Staples

Welcome back! This week it’s time to explore some (but certainly not all) plant-based staples to fill your fridge and pantry with for a successful journey as a plant-based eater! Let’s jump right in!


GRAINS & PASTA

  • Rice – All rice (brown, white, basmati, arborio, etc.) in its basic form is vegan!
  • Farro – An ancient grain of three wheat species that has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is a great source of fiber, iron, protein, and magnesium. 
  • Quinoa – Technically, a seed, but classified as a whole-grain, quinoa is unique from many plant-based foods in that it is a complete protein (i.e., it contains all the essential amino acids). Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain! It is also full of antioxidants and a great source of folate, iron, thiamine, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Even better, because it’s so tiny, quinoa is incredibly versatile (you can easily add it to smoothies, desserts, salads, soups, etc.)!
  • Bulgar wheat – Another ancient whole grain, bulgur is light and nutty, sort of like couscous. A great source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, and iron. 
  • Pasta – Most store-bought pastas are already vegan (Barilla, De Cecco, store brands, etc.). However, if you’re looking for a more nutritionally dense pasta, there are plenty of plant-based options! This includes Banza, a chickpea-based pasta full of protein, or Explore Cuisine’s Edamame pasta, also high in protein. There are also lentil and pea pastas that offer more protein than conventional pasta. Try out some different ones to figure out which variety you most enjoy!
  • Soba noodles – These Japanese noodles, typically made from buckwheat, flour, salt, and water, are vegan! These make a great base in many meals!
  • Rice noodles – These noodles, made from rice and water, are also vegan and great for Asian cuisine. 
Nothing beats a bowl of oats! Source
  • Oats – To me, there is no better breakfast than a bowl of oats. A little bit of oatmeal goes a long way, and there are so many ways to change the flavor with add-ons. If you don’t like oatmeal, you can add oats to so many other things, like baked goods, and they always enhance the flavor! Oats are a great source of fiber and beneficial to heart health as well!
  • Bread – Bread is something you will want to always check the label on because different kinds and brands of bread vary in ingredients. Some breads that are commonly vegan are sourdough, pita, Ezekiel, ciabatta, and baguettes. If you haven’t ever tried it, Ezekiel Bread is delicious because it’s packed with whole grains that give it a rich, hearty flavor (always found in the freezer aisle). 

An aside on honey: Since we’re talking about bread, which often includes honey, we’ll talk about honey. Honey is one of the most contentious foods when it comes to a plant-based diet. It’s generally accepted that honey is not plant-based because it is an animal product. However, some vegans do consume honey. Every person will have to make this choice on their own. From my perspective, it is a very small thing to fuss over. I used to not consume honey on my vegan diet, but as I’ve come to embrace more flexibility, I don’t mind having things that are sweetened with honey here and there. As you make your own choice, just be aware that quite a lot of bread, snacks, and desserts are sweetened with honey, and it can be difficult to accommodate this all the time.

  • Cereal – fortified cereals are great for plant-based eaters because they contain some of the vitamins and minerals that are harder to come by in plant-based products. Cheerios (my favorite), for instance, are fortified with Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, and Vitamin B12, to name just some. Use labels at the grocery store to find fortified cereal you’ll like!
All of the vitamins and minerals in a 1 ½-cup serving of Original Cheerios! 

FLOUR

Flour, like grains (and because it comes from grains), is vegan, so you have many options here! You can turn almost any grain into flour, and if you have a blender, you can even do this from home. Some of your options include:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • White flour
  • Oat flour 
  • Almond flour
  • Rye flour
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Semolina flour
  • Gluten-free flour
  • Rice flour
  • Corn flour
  • Chickpea flour (works great for veggie burgers)

BEANS & LEGUMES

So many beans to choose from! Source

Like grains and flour, all beans and legumes, in their natural form, are vegan! Beans and legumes will also be an important source of protein on a plant-based diet! Since these are a major protein source for plant-based eaters, I’ll include the protein content of each one (per a half-cup serving), which I pulled directly from the packages on these items in my pantry. Do note that there are many other nutritional and health benefits besides the protein content, though.

  • Black Beans – 8g
  • Kidney Beans – 7g
  • Great Northern Beans – 6g
  • Cannellini Beans – 7g
  • Lima Beans- 6g
  • Pinto Beans – 6g
  • Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas) – 6g
  • Peas – 3g
  • Lentils – 7g
  • Peanuts – 8g per 1 oz, Peanut butter – 7g per 2 tbsp
  • Edamame – 6.5g 

OTHER PROTEIN SOURCES

Minimally processed protein sources:

  • Tofu – This soy-based protein is one of the most versatile plant-based foods. It will absorb any flavor! 3 ounces of firm tofu has 7 grams of protein!
  • Tempeh – This soy-based complete protein is more dense than tofu and holds a nuttier taste. It also has a great protein content, with 18 grams from a 3-ounce serving. 
  • Seitan – This is a plant-based protein made of vital wheat gluten that is great for mimicking the texture of chicken. Only two ounces of seitan has 18 grams of protein! 
A delicious tofu bowl! Source

Protein sources that are more processed:

There are a number of companies that make mock meats with a flavor and texture that closely resemble animal-based meat. Many of these products are delicious and I would certainly recommend checking them out, but it’s also important to keep in mind that these are often ultra-processed and may not be the smartest choice health-wise as your main protein source. Of course, any protein is better than none, so there’s no need to completely avoid these. Just keep moderation in mind!

  • Gardein makes a variety of plant-based meats (and even some soups!), all of which are vegan. They have everything from chicken tenders and chicken nuggets to turkey cutlets to wings to meatballs to sausages to burgers to ground beef to fish filets to complete plant-based meals to chicken noodle soup. Another benefit is that many of these products also have a solid amount of protein. The ultimate plant-based burger, for example, has 20 grams of protein. I haven’t tried all of their products but I certainly love the seven grain crispy tenders, which have 10 grams of protein for 3 pieces. 
  • MorningStar Farms, like Gardein, makes a variety of plant-based alternatives to animal-based meat products. They have burgers, breakfast sausage and sandwiches, chik’n and waffles, hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza bites, and chorizo crumbles, to name a few of their products. I should also let you know that not all of MorningStar’s products are completely vegan, many are only vegetarian, so do check the label to make sure the product aligns with your diet. My personal favorite of their products are the Original Chik Patties and Chik’n Nuggets. 
  • Field Roast is a plant-based company making meats and cheese (Chao Creamery). Some of their “meat” products include sausages, appetizers like BBQ bites, hot dogs, various flavors of deli slices, pepperoni, and even roasts! In terms of cheese, they have shreds, slices, and blocks in a variety of flavors from creamy original to Mexican style blend to tomato cayenne to smoky original. My favorite of their products (though I will admit I haven’t tried the cheeses) are the Italian Garlic & Fennel and Apple & Sage Sausages. These are both so flavorful and, being made from vital wheat gluten, have a lot of protein (1 sausage has 25 grams)! My partner who isn’t vegan often prefers these sausages to animal-based ones!
Some Italian Garlic & Fennel Field Roast sausages! Source
  • Impossible Foods is a company you’ve probably heard of as they tend to be the more widely known, and it’s usually Impossible Food products that fast-food and chain restaurants turn to when adding plant-based items to their menu. Like the other companies, they have a variety of products from burgers to sausage to pork to premade meals. I’ve only ever had the Impossible burger, something that I would not repeat, because it actually tasted far too much like animal-meat and freaked me out. But if you’re a plant-based eater missing your meat, Impossible’s products are incredibly similar in flavor (and especially texture) to animal-meat.
  • Beyond Meat, similar to Impossible Foods, has plant-based products that are extremely similar to animal-meat. Beyond Meat has most of the same products that all the others have like sausages, burgers, and chicken products, but they also have some unique ones like steak and jerky (in three flavors). 
  • Soy milk – This is a nice milk alternative because it has a comparable protein content to dairy milk. In terms of protein content this is the best plant-based milk. 1 cup of soy milk has 7 grams of protein (for reference, 1 cup of whole cow milk has 8 grams of protein). 
  • Oat milk – This is another option as a milk substitute, but it doesn’t have quite as much protein as soy milk (only 3 grams in 1 cup). If you are hoping to get protein from your milk, I’d recommend soy milk. But oat milk is still delicious!
  • There’s also almond and cashew milk. I’ve never had either of these because of my nut allergy, but they are still viable options for those without nut allergies! Almond milk has only 1 gram of protein in a cup. I should also remind you that almonds have one of the highest water footprints, so if you’re plant-based for environmental reasons you might want to avoid almond milk. Cashew milk is also low in protein with less than 1 gram of protein per cup. 

NUT & SEEDS

Chia seed pudding! Source
  • Chia seeds – Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant native to Mexico. These little seeds are nutritionally packed—they’re not a superfood for nothing! Just 2.5 tablespoons of chia seeds has 5 grams of protein. They are also one of the best plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are exceptionally versatile, too. You can add them to just about any recipe, like baked goods or oatmeal. When combined with milk, you can create chia pudding. And if you combine one tablespoon of chia seeds with two tablespoons of water and let it sit for a few minutes, the seeds will absorb the water making a great egg substitute or binder for baking.
  • Hemp seeds – Another superfood, hemp seeds have 9.5 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons (they are also a complete protein). Like chia seeds, they contain omega-3 fatty acids along with a number of other minerals and vitamins. 
  • Flax seeds – These seeds pack a nutritional punch, too! Although not as high in protein, flax seeds contain many vitamins and minerals (particularly thiamine, copper, and manganese). They also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Like chia seeds, when combined with water, these make a great egg substitute or binder for baking. Generally, ground flax seeds are better than whole seeds because your body can more easily absorb the nutrients they provide. 
  • Sesame seeds – These little seeds carry a number of health benefits and they have delightful flavor. If you love sesame seeds you should try tahini, which is ground sesame seeds (as peanut butter is to peanuts). Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus and works great in sauces!
  • Nuts (Almonds and almond butter, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, etc.) – These are great sources of fat (which you need!) and they also have some protein.
    • As I’ve mentioned, I am unfortunately allergic to nuts (though I can enjoy pine nuts.) However, you will find that nuts, mostly cashews, are used as a base in many vegan cheese products and recipes. According to my family, cashew cheese is delicious, so it’s worth giving a try!

PRODUCE

No produce is off limits! Enjoy as many fruits and veggies as you want! And make sure you get in some avocado for some healthy and essential fat!


“DAIRY”

Butter

Country Crock Plant Butter with Olive Oil!

There are many brands of vegan butter and I find that almost all of them melt, spread, and taste like dairy butter. I actually think that plant-based butter tastes better than dairy butter! Personally, I love Earth Balance but I’ve recently enjoyed Country Crock Plant Butter. To learn more, here’s a review of the many vegan butters.

Cheeses 

Where do I even begin with cheese? I could make a whole post exclusively about cheese because, well, who doesn’t love cheese! I do feel it important to note that all vegan cheeses are highly processed so don’t make them the base of your diet. Still, absolutely enjoy these because cheese is amazing and makes everything so much better. It’s so important that you actually enjoy your plant-based meals, and if cheese helps you do that, then embrace it! There are so many brands and varieties of vegan cheese, which is exciting but also a little overwhelming. After my experience tasting a number of them, I’ve found that the quality of the cheese varies greatly. In order to find ones that fit your preferences the best thing to do is really experiment and taste test yourself. To start, here’s a list of the many that I know of:

  • Go Veggie
  • Tofutti
  • Babybel
  • Laughing Cow
  • Chao Creamery
  • Kite Hill
  • Miyoko’s
  • Nurishh
  • Earth Grown
  • Violife
  • Boursin
  • Treeline Cheese
  • So Delicious

**If you have a nut allergy make sure you check the label when testing cheese! Some of these are nut-based!

And here’s my favorites: 

  • Follow Your Heart is my absolute favorite brand to go to for vegan cheese. I am a religious buyer of this stuff. Growing up a parmesan lover, their shredded and grated parmesan have been a lifesaver. The flavor, texture, and meltability is impressive and mirrors real parmesan pretty closely. They also have mozzarella and cheddar shreds, slices in six varieties, bleu cheese, and feta cheese. Of all their cheese, I find that the parmesan is best in terms of resembling dairy cheese, but I would also highly recommend their feta crumbles. 
Follow Your Heart, the best cheese in the game!
  • Daiya is my other favorite brand for vegan cheese. They also have many varieties like Follow Your Heart. I would say the flavor of their cheese is slightly below Follow Your Heart, but Daiya really stands out in its meltability (Follow Your Heart does melt just not quite as well/fast). The first time I had Daiya mozzarella shreds on a pizza I thought I had grabbed a non-vegan slice! Daiya also has a number of other vegan products (mac & cheese, pizzas, desserts, etc.) that are worth checking out!

Other dairy products 

Most of the brands I listed for cheese also make other dairy-based products in plant-based form like veganaise (vegan mayo), cream cheese, salad dressings, yogurt, sour cream, and more. I haven’t tasted these products much, so I’ll leave the tasting and reviewing to you!


SNACKS

In terms of snacks, you will find that almost everything has a plant-based version. One of my favorite veganized snacks is Hippeas Chickpea puffs, which resemble Pirate’s Booty and Cheetos Puffs. Hippeas puffs are light and incredibly cheesy! 

There are a number of snacks that are already plant-based, too. These include:

  • Rice cakes, which are great for spreading hummus, peanut butter, or jam on.
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Nabisco Original Graham Crackers
  • Guacamole (I did have one instance where guacamole had sour cream, but this was rather rare. In general, guacamole is a safe bet!)
  • Hummus
  • A number of chips (most original flavors are vegan), including tortilla chips, potato chips, Fritos, and Stacy’s Pita chips.
  • A number of granola/protein bars. I love Lara Bars for a hearty snack, though these are not protein dense. Here’s a great review of 18 different vegan protein bars.
Lara Bars, a delicious and filling date-based snack!

OTHER ITEMS

  • Miso paste – Miso paste is made from soybeans that are fermented with salt and a koji starter. The best way to describe its flavor is very salty but wonderfully umami. The greatest benefit of miso is that the fermentation process makes it rich with probiotics that are excellent for gut health. Miso works well as a soup base, in risotto, in sauces, or in marinades.
  • JUST Egg – This liquid product is an egg substitute made of mung beans that can be scrambled, made in omelets, or used for baking. Like animal eggs, it also has protein. One serving of JUST Egg has the same amount of protein as a chicken egg (6 grams)! This product does a great job of mimicking the texture of eggs. However, even though the flavor is decent, it’s certainly not the same as a chicken egg.
  • Nutritional yeast – This food is sold in flakes (it resembles fish food) and has a wonderful cheesy taste. As I mentioned last week, it is an excellent source of Vitamin B12 for plant-based eaters. This can be sprinkled on almost anything or included in bakes, sauces, and much more!
  • Applesauce – If you don’t have JUST Egg or chia seeds, applesauce makes a great egg alternative for baking. 

DESSERTS

As with the snacks, most animal-based desserts can be found in a plant-based version. Excitingly, more and more grocery stores, bakeries, ice cream parlors, and other treat shops are adding plant-based products to their menus! Here are some of the best widely available desserts that I’ve discovered as a vegan (the best of the best I’ve found in local and small businesses):

  • Enjoy Life makes a number of plant-based snacks and desserts like cookies, brownie bites, chocolate, breakfast bars, dessert bites, and chips. Their semi-sweet chocolate chips are wonderful, closely mirroring the flavor of milk chocolate and melting like it too. I also recommend their soft-baked snickerdoodle cookies! 
  • Ice cream is similar to cheese in that there are so many plant-based brands and varieties. Most of the dessert section will cover ice cream because I’m writing this, and ice cream is my favorite dessert. So, sorry if you don’t like ice cream… For plant-based ice cream there are a number of bases, most commonly coconut, nuts (mostly cashews and almonds), and oats. There are also more obscure bases like soy and avocado. My personal favorite are the oat-based ice creams, as I don’t like coconut and obviously can’t have nuts. Here are my favorites:
    • Oatly has chocolate, vanilla, and so many other great flavors of ice cream! I find that Oatly has the richest flavor of the plant-based ice creams I’ve tried and very closely resembles (in flavor and consistency) dairy-based ice cream. Oatly is also a big seller of oat milk, and dairy-free yogurt. 
    • Planet Oat also makes ice cream. I find that their ice cream is less flavorful and sometimes tastes watery. It’s not bad, just not as rich as Oatly. However, Planet Oat’s chocolate chip cookie dough is amazing; it is far superior to Oatly’s chocolate chip cookie dough.
A big bowl of Planet Oat chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, Oreos, strawberries, and melted Enjoy Life chocolate!
  • Tofutti Cuties, tofu-based ice cream sandwiches, are a must try. It sounds strange but these little sandwiches are phenomenal (though hard to find). I was actually introduced to these when I was a kid by my aunt who lives in Brooklyn. After my sister and I first tried them, every time we visited my aunt it became a tradition to go to the market and buy some Tofutti Cuties. Perhaps I love these because they have sentimental value, but I really do think they’re delicious!
  • Other ice cream giants like Ben & Jerry’s have lots of plant-based ice creams (these are nut-based, so I can’t say anything about their quality), and recently Häagen-Dazs has stepped into the vegan game. 
  • Other plant-based ice creams include Nada Moo, So Delicious, jeni’s, and Favorite Day, among others.
  • A small bit of sad news: I have yet to find a plant-based ice cream that comes in a size bigger than a pint! And plant-based ice cream is alarmingly expensive 🙁 
  • Ice cream is not the only dessert that’s plant-based, though! There are plant-based cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, cheesecakes, muffins, fudge, and anything else you could think of! In fact, most desserts are easy to make plant-based because you just have to switch cow milk for plant-based milk, dairy butter for plant-based butter, and egg with an egg replacer! 
  • VegNews has a whole article on cookies that are accidentally vegan. The exciting news: Oreos, Nutter Butters, some Girl Scout cookies, Fig Newtons, Biscoff cookies, and Teddy Grahams are vegan!!!
  • Before you give your money to these large brands, though, be sure to check ice cream parlors, bakeries, and sweet shops local to you. Support the small businesses that are embracing plant-based options!

Conclusion

Whew! That was a lot of listing! I hope you are ready to try some new foods! Enjoy the tasting!

Stay tuned next week to join me in taste testing some plant-based products!

Thanks for reading!

-Lindsey 🙂


Recipe of the Week: Chocolate Pie!

Since I’m talking about dessert, this week I will share one of my favorite vegan desserts! My partner made this for me as a surprise one day. I absolutely loved it, and we’ve made it many times since! This pie is tofu-based but you don’t taste the tofu; you just taste the chocolate! The rich and creamy chocolate filling pairs perfectly with the crust. Head on over to chocolatecoveredkatie.com to treat your tastebuds!

One Bite at a Time – Part 4!

By Lindsey Gallagher

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Becoming Plant-based!

Welcome back! Last week we explored the many benefits of a plant-based diet. Now, it’s time to actually talk about making the switch!


Forms of plant-based diets

When considering a move toward a plant-based diet, recall that there are a number of different forms, including (in order from most to least strict in terms of what foods are consumed):

  • Plant-based: a diet that is mostly made up of vegetables, grains, and other foods that come from plants instead of animal products. 
  • Mediterranean Diet: a diet that focuses on fruit, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seafood, and olive oil. Animal products such as dairy, eggs, and poultry are included (in moderation). Red and processed meats are also included but rarely. 
  • Flexitarian: a diet that mostly excludes meat and seafood. Flexitarians limit their consumption of meat but may still have it sometimes. For example, flexitarians may do “meatless Mondays” or save eating meat for the weekends. 
  • Pescetarian: a diet that excludes meat but includes seafood and fish. 
  • Vegetarian: a diet that excludes meat and seafood. A vegetarian diet can be broken down in a few different ways:
    • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: A vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs.
    • Lacto-vegetarian: A vegetarian diet that includes dairy but not eggs.
    • Ovo-vegetarian: A vegetarian diet that includes eggs but not dairy.
  • Vegan: a diet that excludes all foods that come from animals (such as meat, dairy, eggs, and, for some, honey).

How do you decide?

There are many plant-based diet options, and it can be overwhelming to decide which one to select. As you are thinking things over, use these questions to help: 

  1. What is your why? Why are you interested in adopting a plant-based diet? Is it for environmental reasons? Health reasons? For animal rights? Something else? What is your ultimate goal? (Not just I’d like to be vegan, but what changes would you like to see in your life, whether that’s physically, mentally, philosophically, etc.)?
  1. What is your starting point? How often and how much meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs do you consume? Take stock of your last week of eating—how many of those meals included animal products? Once you have this number, you will have a sense of how heavily you rely on animal products. From here you can make a sustainable plan for transitioning to a plant-based diet. For example, if 15 of your 21 meals last week included animal products you might try cutting that number by three meals each week if you want to reach your goal more quickly or just cutting one meal per week if you want to take your time. Knowing that most of your meals include animal products tells you that you probably won’t want to stop eating these foods abruptly, but rather phase them out over time.
  1. Do you have any health conditions (including mental health conditions) that could create complications with a particular diet? While there are health benefits to a plant-based diet, that doesn’t mean that it can’t create issues depending on your individual needs. I am not a medical professional, so if you are considering the switch but have pre-existing conditions, you should talk to your healthcare provider or see a dietician first. For example, I have a nut allergy and I had no idea how this would become a pretty major complication for me as a vegan when I first started. Unfortunately for me, many vegan dairy alternatives, like ice cream and especially cheese, use nuts. Many times, I’ve been excited about a vegan option at a restaurant or a new product at the grocery store only to learn that it includes nuts, and then I can’t enjoy it! Luckily, I’ve found things that work for me, but there are still frustrating moments. And, ultimately, my options are much more limited than vegans without nut allergies, so it would’ve been nice to know this before I began my journey. 
The Vertical Diner, a vegan diner with locations in Salt Lake City, Utah and Portland, Oregon! Source
  1. What accessibility do you have to plant-based products? Where can you get the alternatives that you will want? Certain places, usually rural ones, have a much more limited offering of plant-based products (mostly meat and dairy alternatives, as produce, grains, legumes, and nuts tend to be available even in the smallest grocery stores). 

Remember: no single form of a plant-based diet is “best.” The best one is the one that is sustainable for you and works in the context of your life. Hopefully these questions help you to see how to make a plant-based diet work best for you!


My top tips

Now let’s consider my top tips for a successful transition to a plant-based diet. These are based largely on my experience and what I’ve learned over the years in my own plant-based journey! 

Tip 1: Start small

When I went vegetarian, I did it all at once. Granted, I did have less meat because of the road trip I took in the month leading up when I changed my diet. Still, I went from meat to no meat at all. When I started, I knew very little about protein-rich vegetarian options to replace meat-based protein sources. I had only eaten tofu once or twice before and knew nothing about how to prepare it. I didn’t even know what seitan or tempeh, staple plant-based proteins, were. Instead of preparing ahead of time with research, I jumped right in, figuring things out as I went. Luckily, I did have my sister along for the journey with me. After a few weeks, I consulted my aunt, who had been a pescatarian for years. She offered recommendations on some of her favorite meat substitutes. However, living on a small island with one grocery store, our options were rather limited in terms of what was available. Back then, tofu was really the only thing the store reliably carried. 

When I went vegan six months later, I did the same thing I did as a new vegetarian: I jumped right in. At that point, I was primarily doing it for environmental reasons and really didn’t care how it might impact my nutritional needs. I did little research and had little idea of what would replace dairy in my diet, which was then a big part of it. And vegan was a word I had heard and come to understand less than a year before!

I set a date with my sister to start our vegan journey. It was right before Christmas and I remember my mom telling us we should wait until after the holidays, as it would be hard with all the gatherings. But we did not heed her advice; we were determined to start as soon as possible even if that meant we had to make most of our own food to bring to holiday gatherings, which we did. In the days leading up to the vegan start date, I remember eating lots of dairy because I knew I would miss it a lot. Almost all of my favorite things included dairy: pasta with parmesan, cheddar and crackers, bean and rice burritos loaded with sour cream and cheese, and ice cream. Pretty much everything I ate had either parmesan or cheddar on it. When I went vegan, I missed these things a lot and wasn’t equipped with alternatives to my favorite staples to fill the gaps. Excitement about the change carried me for a bit, but after that, it became a challenge having my normal food routines uprooted and without go-to foods to rely on.

You can certainly stop eating animal products abruptly if you want. However, for the sake of making a plant-based diet sustainable for you, I highly recommend doing it in small steps. The size of these steps depends on your starting point and your end goal. For example, if most of your meals contain animal products, and your ultimate goal is to become a vegan, don’t go vegan in the span of a day. Start by working towards vegetarianism, and once you have stopped eating meat, then begin to decrease your consumption of dairy and eggs. You could also try going vegetarian a few days a week or picking one meal of each day (say lunch) to have vegetarian every day. As you go through this transition phase, branch out and try new things and learn what plant-based alternatives you like so you can build an arsenal of foods that you can rely on and enjoy once you do make the ultimate switch. In the long term this will make the diet more sustainable because if you don’t like what you’re eating, you won’t stick to it!


Tip 2: Do your research

Before you begin your plant-based journey, it is essential that you prepare by doing research. If you jump right in without exploring options, you are more likely to have a bad experience as a plant-based eater and return to an animal-product diet, which is not your goal! In your research, consider the following questions to ensure you are ready to start the journey!

  • What are your favorite animal products? What plant-based alternatives for these exist? 
  • Where can you purchase plant-based alternatives to the animal products that you want? 
  • What are some of your favorite meals? Find plant-based versions of these online or in cookbooks so you can still enjoy your favorite things!
  • Are there any restaurants near you that have plant-based meal options? 
  • If you do have any health conditions that may impact you in the transition, consult a medical professional. After that there are likely resources with tips and advice from plant-based eaters that have the same conditions as you.
  • What challenges do you anticipate facing in your transition? What can you do to overcome these? A common example is ex-cheese eaters craving cheese once they go vegan. Look around to see what other people who have faced challenges you anticipate facing are saying (there are lots of plant-based bloggers out there). Making a plan and being prepared to face these obstacles beforehand will allow you to overcome them much more easily!

Tip 3: Be smart! Make sure you get all the nutrients you need!

While many plant-based foods are packed with nutrients, plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy.’ Don’t immediately assume you will be healthier on a plant-based diet. As always, staying healthy takes work, and as you transition to plant-based, it will take a little more work and time each week to meet your food needs!

I don’t like to use the term “junk food” because all food is fuel for your body or can serve you emotionally, but certainly some foods can offer more benefit in terms of nutrients than others. There are plenty of plant-based foods that aren’t necessarily beneficial to your health, especially ultra-processed ones. This is not to say you can’t eat them; just don’t make them a meal three times a day. This is where tips 1 and 2 come in. If you have a plan ahead of time for what you can now eat and make at home, you won’t be scrambling and relying on freezer aisle and other processed plant-based foods to fill the gap of the missing animal products. These foods can make you feel crummy over time, hurt your health, and ultimately make you likely to return to an animal-product diet. Balance is just as important on a plant-based diet as it is on a diet including animal products!

Vitamins and Minerals

When decreasing your consumption of animal products, there are some specific vitamins and minerals to be aware of to make sure you are still supporting your body! Some of the key ones a person on a plant-based diet should be cognizant of are vitamins B12, A, and D, as well as protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fats. In the United States, most people rely on animal products for these essential things. There’s no need to panic, though, because you can get all of these things, except B12 and Vitamin D, from plant-based foods. And even B12 and Vitamin D, which are not naturally occurring in plant-based foods, you can supplement or get from fortified plant-based foods. I’ll now briefly touch on a few in this list that are more difficult to get on a plant-based diet. 

Iron

Iron is an essential mineral used to make hemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen to your lungs, and myoglobin, a protein that gives your muscles oxygen. Iron is also needed for the production of some hormones. This explains why you feel so tired and energy-depleted if you’re iron deficient. 

Countless times people have told me, “You’re vegan, you’re gonna be iron deficient.” And while this is not necessarily the case, it can absolutely happen. On a plant-based diet, especially a vegan one, you are at a higher risk of iron-deficiency if you are not careful. Though I will say, you can be iron deficient eating animal products (as I was), so it all depends on the choices you make! 

If you are plant-based it’s important that you prioritize eating foods high in iron. These include spinach, iron-fortified bread and cereal, lentils, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, baked potato, and broccoli among other things.

When you have iron-rich foods or an iron supplement, pair it with Vitamin C or Vitamin C rich-foods (citrus, berries, etc.), which enhances your body’s absorption of iron. A big reason that vegans struggle with getting enough iron is because plant-based iron sources are not as easily absorbed as animal-based iron sources. Vitamin C is the solution to this! Alternatively, make sure you don’t pair iron and calcium, as calcium inhibits iron absorption!

Vitamin B12

B12 is a vitamin that helps make DNA and keep the blood and nerve cells all around healthy. B12 is only found naturally in animal foods, which is why it’s so essential to seek out B12 on a plant-based diet. Plant-based foods only include B12 when fortified. You can find B12 in fortified cereal and nutritional yeast, a cheese-tasting flake-like product. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which aids the body in building bones. It can also reduce inflammation and help control infections. There are only a few foods that have Vitamin D and the best sources are animal products. The plant-based foods that include Vitamin D are mushrooms and fortified plant milks and cereals. And, of course, you can get Vitamin D by sitting out in the sun!

Supplementation (taking a pill or liquid form) is another option for getting all of these vitamins and minerals, too! As a vegan athlete, I supplement to make sure I get these things with the demands of my training. Always talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing, though!

To learn more about the other key nutrients and minerals a plant-based eater should pay attention to, visit vegan.com or foodinsight.org.


Tip 4: Be flexible

One of the most exciting things about stepping into plant-based eating is how flexible it is. There is a large spectrum of options from simply plant-based all the way to veganism. An important thing to keep in mind as you approach plant-based eating is that you can always change—you can always return to a previous diet or try a different one if something isn’t working for you. If you decide to go vegan, it doesn’t have to be for life! With any form of plant-based eating, you are in charge of what you eat, and there are no hard and fast rules for how to do it “right.” Flexibility is your friend! 

Flexibility was something that I struggled with in my first few years as a vegan. I believed I could never eat anything non-vegan or I wouldn’t be a “real” vegan. So I didn’t, even though this sometimes hindered my ability to fuel my body or even my emotional desires for specific foods. It was only recently that I truly embraced flexibility on a vegan diet, and this came from adapting to my circumstances. A month ago, I traveled abroad for the first time to Italy with my family. Before the trip I was nervous about how I’d be able to stick to my vegan diet. I also recognized that food is very much a part of culture, and I wanted to be able to experience authentic Italian food (especially the parmesan). 

I ultimately decided before I left that the trip would be more enjoyable for me (and my family) if I was willing to stray a bit from my vegan diet and eat what was available at the restaurants we were at. I decided I would have some cheese and egg (in pasta) while abroad. I also decided that I still wouldn’t have meat because it is now unappetizing to me and would make me exceptionally uncomfortable to eat. It was really important that I made a plan ahead of time based on my comfort levels so I was ready for the experiences I was about to have and not make stress-inducing, last-minute decisions. Throughout the trip, I had meals with cheese and egg, and much to my surprise, it was delightful. It was relieving to eat something non-vegan and see that nothing happened to me—no one condemned me for being a fake vegan. And I recognized that having a few animal products here and there wouldn’t increase my environmental impact much. As the trip went on, I found myself more and more relaxed eating parmesan and delicious Italian pasta. 

Some Pomodoro, topped with parmesan, I enjoyed in Italy!

I learned such a valuable lesson on flexibility from this experience, and I have taken it with me since returning home. On occasion, if I really want something non-vegan, like an old snack from childhood, I’ll have it because it serves me emotionally, and it keeps me satisfied with my diet. In the past, at an event where the vegan “meal” option was a simple salad with no protein, I would’ve just eaten the salad and refused to have anything else that wasn’t vegan. But I now recognize that this was detrimental to my body, especially as an athlete. Now, in those situations, I embrace flexibility and prioritize fueling my body over rigidity for the sake of being a “real” vegan. Now, I might decide to eat a baked potato even if it has some butter in it because I know my body needs a complete meal, and it will make me feel satisfied with what I ate. I never thought that going vegan would help me, a rigid person in all areas of my life, become more flexible. It is just one reminder of many that a plant-based diet doesn’t simply change what you eat, it changes who you are!

For those just starting your plant-based diet, you too should strive to embrace flexibility. You will learn to assume there won’t be food for you when eating outside of your home and be flexible as a result. Making this assumption you can decide, for this dinner, you will be okay having some cheese so you can have one of the entrees. Or maybe you want to stick to plant-based eating that day and will make a meal by combining sides at the restaurant. Or maybe you decide to eat something beforehand so you can still have a meal to fuel your body. Get used to always having extra snacks for unexpected situations so you have the option to stick to plant-based eating and, more importantly, have something to eat. And, of course, there will be times when you can’t plan ahead—sometimes you may have to eat something you don’t want to, and that’s okay. It’s ultimately more important that you fuel your body, even if it is with a food you are avoiding. Over time, you will establish a routine as a plant-based eater and learn how and when you’d like to or need to be flexible and stray from the diet. Trust me when I say flexibility is one of the biggest keys to longevity as a plant-based eater!

As a plant-based eater, always pack snacks! Source

Tip 5: Consider costs

I recognize that I am privileged to have enough money to put food on the table. Unfortunately, for many people, this is not a reality, and the option to spend more money for plant-based products does not exist. Veganism has a long way to go in terms of accessibility, but that’s why sharing this information is so important—the more people who go plant-based, the more we increase the demand for plant-based products and push our country to make these products more cost-effective and more widely available. We have a long way ahead of us to make accessibility a reality, but the plant-based industry is steadily growing! By 2030, the industry is expected to double!

Unfortunately, as it stands right now, if you do buy the plant-based meat and dairy alternatives (which are the most expensive plant-based products) or go out for plant-based meals at all, then it’s likely you will spend more on food. If you are planning to go plant-based, it’s important to determine how many of the more expensive plant-based products you can afford. And consider your food preferences and desires too—the last thing we want is for you to spend more for plant-based products but find you are less satisfied with what you eat. This is not to say you should write off plant-based eating if you can’t routinely afford the more expensive plant-based products. It’s just a reminder that cost is certainly a factor with a plant-based diet. 

The global value of plant-based foods from 2020-2030 in billions of U.S. dollars. Source

I will remind you, though, that many of the foods you eat every day, and are likely already purchasing, are plant-based. All fruits and vegetables (in their unprocessed form), grains (like rice, oats, wheat, barley, quinoa), legumes (like beans, chickpeas, soybeans, peanuts, and lentils), and nuts are vegan! That covers quite a lot of food products! If you are eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, these items will be the large bulk of your diet. It is the plant-based meats and dairy alternatives (cheese, sour cream, milks), which are not necessarily essential for your nutritional needs and often highly processed, that tend to make a plant-based person’s grocery bill increase. And for animal-meat-eating folks, it’s meat products that are actually one of the most expensive things at the grocery store, even more than conventional veggies and fruits. So going plant-based isn’t necessarily exponentially more expensive, as many assume.


Tip 6: Get support, take advantage of resources!

Ask your plant-based friends questions about their experiences. Ask your friends for recipes. Go to plant-based restaurants and festivals near you! And take advantage of the tons of online resources like these: 

  • Vegnews– massive plant-based media outlet. Includes a magazine, website, recipes, reviews, travel, a podcast, news, and more!
  • Forks Over Knives– recipes, meal plans, health information, the Forks Over Knives documentary, and more!
  • Vegan Outreach– a nonprofit organization spreading information about the vegan diet. They have a vegan mentor program where you can get a mentor to help you in your plant-based journey. You can also sign up for 10 Weeks to Vegan for free, which includes a weekly email full of tips and resources to help you make the transition to a vegan diet. 
  • Purple Carrot– A vegan meal delivery service! Just like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron, you can select from many recipes each week and get them delivered right to your door for easy prep and delicious eating! While this is costly, it can be a great way to try new recipes and get ideas at the start of your plant-based journey! You can also access all of their recipes for free on their website if you want the inspiration but not the price!
The 10 Weeks To Vegan program at Vegan Outreach. Source
  • Nora Cooks– vegan recipes!
  • A Virtual Vegan– more vegan recipes!
  • Vegan.com– a center of vegan information! Includes guides, health information, recipes, an FAQ page, and more!  
  • Happy Cow– Great website to find plant-based restaurant reviews and restaurants near you! Also includes a blog and other tips of vegan living. Available as an app, too!
  • No Meat Athlete– A hub of information for plant-based athletes!
  • There are so many places to draw support from, so take advantage of them to make your plant-based journey exciting and successful!

Conclusion

I hope you feel more comfortable starting your plant-based journey with my tips and the resources I’ve provided. For those making the change, I am so excited for you to experience plant-based eating and all that comes with it! 

Stay tuned next week for a comprehensive guide of staple plant-based foods!

Thanks for reading!

-Lindsey 🙂 


Recipe of the Week: Homemade Vegan Feta Cheese!

I discovered this recipe after being at an event that served feta and wondering how I might be able to veganize it at home. (There are pretty good vegan fetas you can buy from the store, but if you want a cheaper, less processed option, this is a great recipe). Again, I’m sending you to someone else because so many of my favorite recipes come from other people! This week it’s vegan feta cheese from Melanie McDonald at avirtualvegan.com. I follow this recipe pretty loosely now and often just taste test and adjust until it’s just right. The recipe calls for coconut oil but you really don’t need it. I have made this recipe without coconut oil every time, and it’s always delicious (I don’t like coconut and it’s also expensive). So, no worries if you’re missing it! 

I like to make this feta and leave it in the creamy blender form and make a meal of it. I’ll cook up some bulgur wheat, crisp some chickpeas, and chop some cucumber, bell peppers, or lettuce. Then I’ll add it all to a bowl and top with the feta! Since I started making this meal it has been a staple for me! 

One Bite at a Time – Part 3!

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


The Many Benefits of Plant-based Diets!

Welcome back! Last week I talked about some pretty terrifying numbers in terms of the impact animal agriculture has on the planet. Now it’s time to talk about the potential a plant-based diet has to help reduce climate change, along with some other benefits to humanity and animals!


Combating Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Getting rid of animal agriculture and substituting it with plant-based diets is “our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change,” say scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley based on a recent model

Perhaps the biggest impact a move to a plant-based diet will have is on greenhouse gas emissions. The model referenced above is just one piece of evidence among many on how emissions would change. The model, created by scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley, sought to determine what the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions would be as a result of transitioning away from animal agriculture. The researchers concluded, a global move to a plant-based diet “would effectively halt the increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases for 30 years and give humanity more time to end its reliance on fossil fuels” (Than). Based on researchers Patrick Brown and Michael Eisen’s estimations, getting rid of animal agriculture could “reduce net emissions by the equivalent of around 1,350 Gt CO2 this century. To put this number in perspective, total anthropogenic CO2 emissions since industrialization are estimated to be around 1,650 Gt” (Eisen and Brown). But the biggest finding from the model is that “eliminating animal agriculture has the potential to offset 68 percent of current anthropogenic CO2 emissions.” That is absolutely massive and, I think, a great cause for optimism. By changing just this one aspect of our lives (though it won’t be easy) we could do so much!

Annual emissions and projected atmospheric concentrations of GHGs under Business as Usual (red) and with a 15-year phaseout of animal agriculture (green). Source

The researchers also broke down emissions and impacts of specific animal products and categories. The main takeaway from this is that a completely plant-based diet (a vegan diet) is not necessary to achieve massive reductions in emissions. A diet without red meat has almost just as much of a positive impact as a full vegan diet! Ruminants (cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats) make up 90% of the projected annualized CO2 emissions through 2100. Therefore, just by replacing ruminants we can achieve 90% of the benefit of phasing out animal agriculture. That means you can still eat chicken and eggs, which are some of the “most efficient animal products on a per protein basis,” as they have per protein emissions 25 times less than that of ruminant meat. The bottom line: you don’t have to give up everything animal-based! 

I’ve broken down the main takeaways from this model, but there are many more details that I haven’t included. To read the full publication in PLoS Climate go here

Many other studies have similar findings. In the 2022 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) listed a move toward plant-based diets as holding great potential for reducing emissions. A 2020 study in Nature Sustainability found that “shifts in global food production to plant-based diets by 2050 could lead to sequestration of 332–547 GtCO2, equivalent to 99–163% of the CO2 emissions budget” which would drastically improve the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Data from Our World In Data (see graphic) reveals that less meat still has a lower impact than sustainably produced meat. More and more across the board, the findings are reaching the same conclusion: plant-based diets could seriously curtail global emissions. 

Water

Last week I spent some time discussing the water footprint of various food products. What I found from my research is that animal products (especially meat) have higher water footprints than plant-based products. And, as you can guess, by moving toward plant-based diets there is great potential to save water, which is becoming an increasingly precious (and always essential) resource. 

A 2016 study in Science of the Total Environment found that a vegetarian diet leads to water footprint reductions of 30-53%. Another study in Water Resources and Industry determined that agriculture makes up 92% of the freshwater footprint of humans and almost one-third of this footprint comes directly from or relates to animal products. By moving away from animal agriculture, humans themselves would have much greater access to water. Addressing clean water access is majorly important; in 2019 the World Health Organization reported that 1 in 3 people did not have access to clean drinking water. 

Other Environmental Impacts

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation. Recall that 35% of the earth’s habitable land is used for animal agriculture (grazing and land used for animal food production). A landmark 2019 study published in Science by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek revealed that a move to plant-based diets could lower the amount of land used for food by 3.1 billion hectares, which is a 76% reduction. 


Pollution and Environmental Racism 

Pollution is another place where the plant-based diet could help. Agriculture is one of the top sources of air pollution in the U.S. This is an issue for the environment because harmful gases like methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide are released into the atmosphere from farms (mostly from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs). However, this is also a major human health issue. A 2021 PNAS study, which estimated the health impacts of air quality, found that “80% of the 15,900 annual deaths that result from food-related fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution are attributable to animal-based foods.” That’s 12,720 deaths. The Washington Post ran an article specifically about this, with a focus on North Carolina, the state with the fourth most CAFOs in the U.S.

As The Washington Post explains, “the most insidious kinds of air pollution are known as particulate matter (PM) 2.5—tiny particles one-thirtieth the width of a human hair, which can become lodged in lungs or absorbed into the bloodstream. Exposure to PM 2.5 can lead to asthma and other breathing problems, and over the long term increases the risk of dying of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.” 

Waste from CAFOs is often put in spray fields around the farm. And the waste doesn’t stay there; it seeps into the surrounding environment in various ways (air pollution, run off, etc.). Source: 2013 Donn Young Photography 

And air pollution is not the only impact of CAFOs. The National Association of Local Boards of Health identifies nine environmental health effects of CAFOs including: groundwater, surface water, air quality, greenhouse gases and climate, odors, insect vectors, pathogens, antibiotics, and other effects (property values). 

But returning to CAFO-caused pollution, another issue emerges: environmental racism. In 2019 I did a research project called “CAFOs and the Poverty Position: Understanding the Impacts of CAFOs on Human Well-being.” What my research revealed was that U.S. counties with large concentrations of CAFOs had a great poverty level and a larger Black population. For my research, I largely focused on North Carolina, because at the time it had the greatest number of CAFOs in the U.S. Here’s one snippet from my research that reveals the CAFOs as a site of environmental injustice and racism:

The two North Carolina counties with the most CAFOs, Duplin County and Sampson County had 300 and 296 CAFOs, respectively. These two counties also have high poverty levels in comparison to surrounding areas (Duplin with 24.3% and Sampson with 26.3%). Alternatively, Wake County is one of two counties in the state with a poverty percentage below 12%. Its CAFOs count is 0. 

Beyond poverty, Duplin, Sampson, Wayne, and Bladen County, which have some of the state’s highest CAFO numbers, also hold the highest Black populations in the state. It’s no coincidence that the areas with the greatest numbers of CAFOs in the state are part of the Black Belt, a band of the south where large populations of slaves once worked on plantations. The impacts of this still reverberate.

“A century later, [B]lack residents of this region still experience high rates of poverty, poor health care, low educational attainment, unemployment and substandard housing,” says Nicole Wendee, science writer and researcher. Due to the clustering of CAFOs in poverty-stricken minority communities and their health effects, both environmental injustice and racism concerns have been raised for this region.

In the context of this blog, by moving to a plant-based diet we can reduce the demand for CAFOs and help reduce negative impacts on human health and cases of environmental racism.

A North Carolina home next to a CAFO. Source: 2013 Donn Young Photography 

Human Health

It is well-known that one’s diet is strongly linked to one’s health. There are many health benefits to be gained from a plant-based diet. To briefly summarize, “Studies ha[ve] shown that people following vegetarian and near-vegetarian diets have significantly lower prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and gallbladder disease, compared with non-vegetarians. In clinical trials, low-fat plant-based diets reduce body weight and blood pressure, and improve plasma lipid concentrations and glycemic control.” 

On the topic of cancer, there are strong links between a vegetarian diet and decreased risk. In 2015, the World Health Organization categorized red meat as possibly carcinogenic to humans and processed meats (bacon, sausage, jerky, ham, etc.) as carcinogenic to humans. The epidemiological studies used as the basis for the categorization established a strong link between the consumption of processed meat and colorectal cancer. There were also links, though not as strong, between processed meat consumption and stomach cancer. In terms of the risk of eating processed meat, according to WHO, “an analysis of data from 10 studies estimated that every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.” Red meat was also linked to colorectal cancer and showed possible links to pancreatic and prostate cancer, too.

Cancer is not the only thing the plant-based diet can help protect you from. A plant-based diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, which is caused by the buildup of plaque from cholesterol. The staples of an animal-based diet—meat, dairy, and eggs—are naturally high in saturated fat and cholesterol. A 2019 study that followed over 400,000 participants for almost 13 years concluded that consuming red and processed meat increases one’s risk of heart disease for every 100 grams eaten. A 2021 study in Cardiovascular Research determined, “the evidence is highly concordant in showing that, for the healthy adult population, low consumption of salt and foods of animal origin, and increased intake of plant-based foods—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts—are linked with reduced atherosclerosis [a form of cardiovascular disease] risk. The same applies for the replacement of butter and other animal/tropical fats with olive oil and other unsaturated-fat-rich oil.” 

It’s also been concluded by multiple studies that a plant-based diet can lower one’s chances of hypertension (this is mostly because plants have a lot of potassium, which lowers blood pressure). In terms of mental health, there is evidence suggesting that plant-based diets can reduce depression and anxiety. 

Many of the links between a diet of animal-products and poor health outcomes are newly established and still being studied. However, more and more research is reaching the same conclusion: a plant-based diet is one of the best interventions for improving health. Though, moving to a plant-based diet does mean you need to be aware of your intake of some vital nutrients that aren’t as prevalent or easily absorbed in plant-based products—but we’ll discuss this next week! This short section is by no means an exhaustive list of the health impacts of one’s diet so I would highly recommend checking out the health topics page on Forks Over Knives if you are curious about more of the diseases and health conditions that a plant-based diet can help combat!


Animal Well-being 

Content warning: graphic language

One last thing worth mentioning is how animals in CAFOs are treated. The only law protecting farmed animals is the Humane Slaughter Act, which was passed in 1958. According to US Legal under this act, “the slaughtering of livestock and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter must be carried out only by humane methods.” Humane methods include: 

  1. “In the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or
  2. by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering.”
Pigs kept in close confinement at a CAFO in North Carolina. Source: 2013 Donn Young Photography 

But this law concerns only the slaughtering. It says nothing about how the animals are kept between their arrival to the facility and their slaughter. And it’s no secret that conditions for the animals are abysmal. Animals are kept in dark, small spaces for long periods of time. Pigs are often kept in gestation crates during pregnancy and egg-laying hens are often kept in cages that prevent them from even turning around. There are many other inhumane methods used across large-scale farms, and this is not an animal rights blog, so I’ll let you defer to PETA for that.


Conclusion

There are many reasons to consider a plant-based diet, whether it’s for environmental reasons, human health and well-being, or animal rights. Everyone has their own perspective and experiences to consider as they make their personal choice. Regardless, I hope I’ve inspired some of you to consider a more sustainable alternative (across many fronts) to an animal-based diet. When considering a decision like this, remember to take it one bite at a time! 

Stay tuned to hear about how to actually go about reducing your consumption of animal-products and moving to a plant-based diet with practical tips and resources, along with my own experience!

Thanks for reading!

-Lindsey


Recipe of the week: Ratatouille!

This week I am deferring to Tasty for another one of my favorite meals. Ratatouille is a purely vegetable-based dish originating in France. It typically consists of tomato, bell pepper, onion, zucchini, squash, and eggplant with a few spices and herbs like garlic, thyme, and basil. In this recipe, the vegetables are sliced with a mandolin or knife, which is relatively labor intensive and time-consuming, but entirely worth it! (To save time you can also buy pre-sliced veggies for a bit more money, if desired). There are many ways to prepare this dish but this specific recipe is wonderfully flavorful! Check out the recipe here. Thanks, Tasty!

P.S. This meal is best when paired with a viewing of the movie Ratatouille. My sister and I like to celebrate New Year’s in this very way—spending time together slicing the veggies and carefully ordering them in a circular dish. Then we sit down with our bowls and have ratatouille with Ratatouille

One Bite at a Time – Part 2!

Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.


Animal Agriculture & the Climate Crisis

Welcome back! 

I’m sure you’ve heard about the impacts of animal agriculture on our environment and how it plays into the climate crisis somewhere. Maybe from a friend, maybe you’ve done research, maybe a vegan has told you. It doesn’t matter where you’ve heard it or if you’ve even heard about it before. What’s more important is to know the truth about the impacts of animal agriculture so you can make an educated choice about how you personally want to respond. I’m certainly not saying you have to go plant-based. Making that choice is up to you. I believe the impact of going plant-based has the most potential for change when it is truly a choice, a conscious decision, one makes. So, I’m here to help you see the big picture, to give you the facts, to show you what is behind a burger. 

What is animal agriculture?

First, let’s talk about animal agriculture (or the livestock sector of agriculture). Agriculture is simply the growth and production of food products. A significant part of agriculture is animal agriculture, or animal farming, which is “the breeding, raising and slaughter of animals for products intended for human use, as well as the growing of crops used to feed farmed animals” (Sentient Media). In fact, over 92 million animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, etc. cycle through this system to be used for food across the world each year. These animals are processed through the system in many ways:

  • Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs): As defined by the EPA, AFOs are “where animals are kept and raised in confined situations” and when the “animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period.”
  • Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs): Sometimes called “factory farms,” CAFOs are simply larger AFOs. They are categorized, from small to large, by how many animals are confined. According to the EPA, a larger CAFO, for example, has over 1,000 cattle or over 125,000 chickens (excluding laying hens). A small one, on the other hand, has less than 300 cattle and less than 37,500 chickens (excluding laying hens).

Animal agriculture makes up a significant portion of the agriculture sector. Based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most recent one, that year the United States had 2,042,220 farms (a farm is where at least $1,000 of agricultural products are made and sold). With 900.2 million acres of land, these farms covered 40% of the nation’s land. In terms of the farming specialization, cattle and dairy farms alone made up 44% of the nation’s farmland and 34% of the nation’s 2+ million farms. If you combine all farms that produce animal products (cattle and dairy farms, hog and pig farms, poultry and egg farms, and sheep and goat farms) they make up 54% of the nation’s farmland and 53% of farms. As you will soon see, the proportion of land used for animal agriculture in the U.S. isn’t quite as large as global proportions. However, animal agriculture still uses half of U.S. farmland and makes up half of the nation’s farms.

If you are interested in reading the full 820 page census report, go here.

Data from 2017 Census of Agriculture on Farm Specialization. Source

Moving to the global scale, livestock makes up 40% of the agricultural output in developed countries, 20% in developing ones. Despite this, livestock uses a disproportionate amount of habitable land on Earth. As you can see in the graphic below, 46% of the habitable land consists of agriculture most broadly. But 77% of the land for agriculture is used for livestock (grazing and land used for animal food production). Only 23% is left for crops that are for human consumption. Despite the incredible amount of land used for livestock, only 18% of global calories come from livestock; 82% comes from plant-based food. And though meat is touted for its protein content, only 37% of the world’s protein comes from meat and dairy. The majority of our protein, 63%, comes from plant-based food. Yes, plant-based food has protein.

What this graphic really shows is just how inefficient animal agriculture is, taking up incredible amounts of space for a rather marginal output in terms of food production across the globe. And the 37 million km2 of land used for livestock has a massive environmental impact, which we’ll explore now. 


Animal Agriculture’s Impacts

Water

An incredible number of resources go into creating the package of meat you see on the shelves at the grocery store. Perhaps the most valuable of those resources is water. And animal products have water footprints that are generally above other food products. The worst offender is beef, which requires 1,850 gallons of water for the production of 1 pound of the meat. This exact number is contested, and it also depends on the animal and how it is raised/produced. However, most agree that 1,800-2,000 gallons of water is the range of the footprint. In terms of categories, meat requires much more water than all other foods (vegetables, grains, fruit, dairy). Here are some water footprints of animal and plant-based products to consider (in gallons required to produce 1 pound): 

ANIMAL PRODUCTSPLANT-BASED PRODUCTS
Pork = 720 gallonsSoy burger = 452 gallons
Butter = 668 gallonsSoybeans = 256 gallons
Lamb and mutton = 626 gallonsWheat = 220 gallons
Chicken = 520 gallonsTofu = 304 gallons 
Eggs= 392 gallonsBrown rice = 260 gallons
Cheese (cow’s milk) = 380 gallonsBroccoli = 36 gallons 

For more water footprints check out this awesome calculator!

I should let you know, though, that nuts have sizable water footprints—almost as much as, and in some cases more than, meat. Almonds required 1,932 gallons of water for 1 pound, cashews 1,708 gallons. So, this is not to say that all plant-based foods have a lower water footprint. However, as a whole, plant-based foods use less water than meat and dairy products. 

Some other bad news: chocolate has the highest water footprint of all foods at 2,064 gallons of water needed to produce one pound. The calculator doesn’t specify if this is dairy or non-dairy chocolate, but either way this is sad news for chocolate lovers (like me).

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Perhaps the largest impact of animal agriculture comes from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the most prominent being methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture produces GHGs in a number of ways:

  • Crop and soil management: Although nitrous oxide is something soil naturally makes, human activities that change the nitrogen content of the soil increase the amount of nitrous oxide produced. Some of these activities include using manure as fertilizer, using nitrogen fertilizer, draining soils with a lot of organic matter, and irrigation and other alterations to land.
  • Livestock digestive process (enteric fermentation): When microbes break down food and ferment food in the animal’s digestive tract, they produce methane which is expelled into the environment through burps and flatulence.
  • Manure management: Manure is a source of methane when it is managed under anaerobic conditions (lacking free oxygen) like in liquids and slurries (try not to picture that). In recent decades, a movement toward liquid manure management systems to manage larger farms led to an increase in manure methane production. If manure is handled as a solid, little to no methane is produced. However, nitrous oxide is also produced by both manure and urine, and solid manure management systems produce nitrous oxide. 
Source

Now the question is: just how many GHGs are produced by animal agriculture?

On the global level, livestock is responsible for 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, which is 14.5% of GHG emissions. The information I could find from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and this report estimate that:

  • Methane = 44% of animal agriculture’s emissions. Also, 44% of the world’s methane emissions across all sectors. 
  • Nitrous oxide = 29% of animal agriculture’s emissions. Also, 54% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions across all sectors.
  • Carbon dioxide = 27% of animal agriculture’s emissions. Also, 5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions across all sectors. 

NOTE: The data in these bullet points reflect 2007 data, which was the latest I could find from a global report. Though the relative contribution of each GHG to livestock’s overall GHG emissions has fluctuated, the overall percentage of emissions from livestock (14.5%) has not changed by more than a few points (estimates range from 11%-17%). 

In the United States, 10% of emissions came from the agricultural sector (crops and livestock). You can read the full annual report that inventories GHG emissions and sinks here. But for a little more perspective on a smaller scale, for 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef almost 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted. As a reference, when you drive a car 1 mile, only 0.4 kilograms are emitted (this does add up quite a bit, and cars certainly have a bigger impact on carbon dioxide emissions than agriculture). 

While animal agriculture is not the largest source of GHG emissions in either the U.S or globally, it does make up a significant portion of emissions, enough so that by cutting down the emissions from the animal agriculture sector, we could make a sizable impact. 

Other Impacts

There are a number of other impacts on the planet caused by animal agriculture including deforestation, biodiversity loss, air pollution, and water pollution, amongst others. But I’ve gone on long enough now, so if you want to know more about these impacts, I’ll leave the research to you!

Beef production is responsible for 41% of tropical deforestation. Source

We’re at the end of this dense, research-filled post now. I do hope this is a helpful starting point! After these astounding numbers, I think it’s pretty clear just how effective a plant-based diet can be in terms of mitigating the climate crisis. 

Stay tuned to hear more about the potential a plant-based diet has to reduce climate change and other reasons why you should consider turning to a plant-based diet.

Thanks for reading!


Recipe of the Week: Balsamic Tofu

My partner discovered this recipe a few years ago. To this day, it is one of our favorite ways to have tofu!

  1. Press one block of tofu (pressing is always optional, but if you want a nice crunch and the balsamic flavor to be stronger, use a tofu press or simply something heavy on top of the tofu block to squeeze out excess water). 
  2. After the tofu has been pressed (~30 minutes), cut the block into cubes. Place in a sealable container that is large enough so you don’t have to stack the tofu cubes on top of one another too much. 
  3. In another container that seals, like a mason jar (so you can shake to mix it), add:
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • Slightly less than 3 tbsp sugar (or sweetener of choice)
  • Slightly less than ¾ tsp salt
  • 3 generous shakes of garlic powder
  1. Once you’ve added the ingredients, shake the container to thoroughly mix.
  2. Pour the balsamic marinade over the tofu cubes in the larger container.
  3. Seal the container and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours. I would recommend letting it marinade overnight (up to 24 hours) for maximum flavor. 
  4. Once the tofu is marinaded, place on a baking sheet coated with oil. Don’t let the excess marinade spill out on the baking sheet. Save that in the container—you’ll use it later!
  5. Place in an oven at 425° for about 30 mins (flip the tofu halfway through). Monitor the tofu throughout the cooking stage as the amount of excess water in the block will determine how quickly it will crunch up. 
  6. Enjoy! I love this tofu with a grain (like a bowl of brown rice) and a veggie (like some asparagus cooked with some of the excess marinade). Combine the tofu, grain, and veggie in a bowl and dig in!