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Opinions of a Canadian real vegan
Another interview on vegetarian cuisine? Yes, this time is not an Italian mother to deal with this hot topic but a Canadian young (at least compared to me) graduate student and freelance writer, Valerie, who “care[s] for the future of the planet and the lives of animals, and believes in the rights of animals to not be exploited”. After having read that strong introduction in her blog, I decided to contact her for this interview.
Luisa in her interview gave us a sort of introductory “lesson” on the vegetarian world, helping us (at least me) to understand the difference among vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotics. She represents somehow a more mild approach to the vegan universe. Now it’s time to go deeper.
The impulsive and hearty energy of a young women could have discover more how a dinner could become a vegan dinner.
Hi Valerie, given you declare in your blog to be die-hard perfectionist, you have the difficult task to support us in defining a complete vegan menu that is able to enchant even omnivore people. First of all, why do you define yourself vegan?
I define myself as a vegan since I have made the decision to abstain from eating animals or their secretions. I avoid eating meat, dairy, honey, and other derivatives such as glycerin or gelatin. I also avoid purchasing animal products such as leather or wool.
(This is really not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, I barely have to think when I go to the grocery store. Most breads have no eggs or milk in them, even bakery breads. Just like anyone, I have my favourite brands of things that I have already checked out for ingredients and purchase regularly. There are many things that would surprise people that are vegan in the grocery store (like Oreos and pasta for example), and also if you eat a healthful whole foods vegan diet, it can even be cheaper than paying high prices for meat and cheese).
Why am I a vegan? Well, I had a personal hobby of researching nutrition. I found it liberating to know what foods nourish us and what hinder us from feeling at our best. As I was researching, I thought to myself, “I wonder what the deal is with vegetarianism and health?” This led me to begin research in this area. Reading some articles and beginning learning about it, I started downloading a podcast by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, called (“Vegetarian Food for Thought” ). Colleen is an amazing role model for animal advocates. She composes eloquent and research comprehensive podcast shows about key issues in the animal world. They are not preachy or overbearing, but feel very open and reasonable – presenting the side of the story that often doesn’t get told. I soon found myself realizing that I might need to go vegetarian, then I had the moment that I am so grateful for – where my world view “righted” itself and I realized that I needed to become a vegan. It was such a clear and immediate moment for me. I took a few months to do comprehensive research on how to eat well as a vegan, looking up recipes and learning about all of the abject cruelty I had been blind to for years. This part of my veganism was painful as I opened my eyes, but I am so grateful for this knowledge. Knowledge really is power, and knowing about the serious things that animals go through and how I can help, feels very liberating.
While my veganism started out as being for health (among other things, research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters), it was soon reinforced by learning about unnecessary animal suffering and so soon became also about the animals. Then, I realized the connection between veganism and our own future, especially environmentally on the planet. (Did you know that animal agriculture has a worse affect than all combined forms of transportation on global warming?) There are so many positive repercussions to engaging in this lifestyle. I only wish I had realized it sooner! I absolutely love being vegan.
Which is your relation with cooking? This is the last introductory question, but as Italian I’m also curious on whether in other countries people like cooking.
Before I became vegan I really disliked cooking and would describe my diet as very unhealthy. I would make many quick-and-easy meals that involved processed and packaged foods. While I would eat some vegetables, the focus on eating meat made it so that I didn’t eat that much variety of veggies, and always the same ones. When I look back on what I used to eat, I think it was SO boring! I eat much more variety now and am always discovering new and delicious vegetables or recipes. I also ate lots of delicious vegan food in Italy! J
When you participate in the vegan lifestyle, your meals cease to be centered around meat. Instead of planning all of your meals around cooked animals, you begin to see how vegetables, grains, legumes and fruits all have protein and a unique combination of vitamins and minerals. As soon as I started to experiment with that different perspective, I began to love cooking! I didn’t have to handle raw meat (yuck) and instead always have new things to discover.
I would say that cooking has become a significant part of my life, an irreplaceable and rewarding hobby, and the key to my long-term health.
To go gradually, if I have to plan a vegan menu, which foods, ingredients have I to consider?
When planning a vegan menu, the simplest way is to take health first into consideration. This means whole and simple food.
Think about four general categories:
Grains: Quinoa (especially nutritious and highly recommended – has more calcium than in milk, plus iron and other good things – also takes just minutes to make, very quick and easy), couscous, brown rice, etc.
Legumes: Black beans, lentils, white beans, split peas (green and yellow), etc. etc. If you are a very busy person like me, you don’t always have to cook beans from scratch. I used a canned bean that doesn’t preserve with salt or chemicals, but uses seaweed. I figure if I am not going to soak beans overnight, if I am going to eat them at all I should just used canned. But split peas and lentils I always cook from the dried bean, since they are very fast to make.
Vegetables: Well you know what goes here. Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, etc etc! But don’t forget your greens! The healthiest vegetables that you should try to get into your diet on a daily basis are the dark greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and swiss chard. These all have unique ways that are best to cook them or eat them raw. I never feel like a meal is truly healthy unless there is something green in it. Try to get them into everything! I would say that spinach is the easiest and most versatile to get into most things, at its most basic a spinach/strawberry/orange salad is delicious.
Fruits: fruit is delicious – can’t go wrong here!
A suggestion for vegan appetizers?
Hmm, some ideas:
· hummus (homemade is especially delicious) and pita bread or vegetables
· nachos and salsa
· bruschetta on baguette
· roasted vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower
· bean (black beans or other types of bean) dip with veggies or tortilla chips
· guacamole with chips
· mini sandwiches (I love the eggless egg salad sandwich recipe by Dreena Burton)
· fruit (a great salad is pomegranate and mandarin oranges)
· and there are lots lots more!
With surprise I found and issue (pdf file) of dessert magazine dedicated to vegan baking. But I trust more you: What about dessert? What can I offer to my vegan friends? I quite worried by the absence of milk, butter etc.
Dessert is actually the most decadent part of my vegan lifestyle. It is SO easy to make vegan desserts, I can’t emphasize that enough. And you really don’t feel deprived at all. In fact, I think it is strange that so many dessert recipes contain dairy and eggs, since you don’t really need them. Most of the time my cookies, cupcakes, cakes and other dessert recipes only contain the requirement for a bit of soy milk (or you could use rice/almond milks as well), and the odd one will need an egg replacer (a kind of cornstarch-style thickening agent, or you could use a ground flax seed and water combination). They taste just as good – if not better, than dairy desserts. I have had the BEST desserts since I have become vegan.
The best way to start with this is to check out some great cookbooks, such as Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, or I highly recommend any of Dreena Burton’s cookbooks that include dessert recipes. If you can’t get the cookbooks right away, I am always finding fantastic recipes on vegan cooking blogs out there. (check out the “Food & veg” section of my links page for some great ones)
Luisa, in a previsions interview, already explained the role of legumes, seeds, cereals, but we are still curious about algae, tofu and seitan. How to use them?
By algae, do you also mean seaweed? First of all, there is a type of blue-green algae called Spirulina that I believe is one of those superfoods – it is a really great source, among other things, of vitamin B12. When I have eaten this before while experimenting with a raw foods diet, I had trouble eating its strong flavour and put it into my smoothies, I believe. Definitely recommended, but you will have to do some research into that.
Concerning seaweed: I don’t use seaweed too often in my diet, but it is certainly a good idea to do so! Ways in which I have used seaweed – delicious veg sushi, “mock tuna” recipes that contain mashed chickpeas and seaweed, a kind of pate made by marinated seaweed, olive oil and garlic, etc.
As for tofu, well many vegans consider it a staple. Tofu is a soy-bean food that is unique in that it absorbs the flavours of whatever it is cooked with, so is often good marinated in advance. I actually prefer to use whole foods such as beans and nuts in my diet more often for balance, but once in a while tofu can be very delicious. There are lots of recipes out there – it actually took me a while to get used to tofu, since it needs to be prepared in the right way for it to be especially delicious to newcomers. A good starter recipe is General Tao’s tofu that can be found on vegweb.com: click here . You can buy prepackaged tofu burgers (that are marinated for you) and other yummy products that save time for those nights you really don’t feel like cooking (it happens to the best of us).
Seitan is a new one for me, made from protein extracted from wheat and actually originated in ancient China. It has a really thick and meaty texture, and can be very deliciously prepared. Again, the food blogs I mentioned have some great recipes, and sometimes you will find directions to made homemade seitan in some cookbooks. Tofu can also be made by hand, which is kind of interesting.
Luisa introduces herself…
Currently I am a very busy student doing my Masters degree. My blog, insuchaworld.com , documents my encounters with research, recipes, interesting artworks, and other experiences.