A Plant-Based Diet: the Solution to … well, a lot of things
11 Minute Read.
In 2013, a friend lent me the book Eating Animals. It gave me a new perspective about the human-animal dynamic we are all a part of without imposing its beliefs on me. The book allowed me to process the information without graphic imagery or feelings of guilt, and it encouraged me, rather than pressured me, into going vegetarian. Today, my diet is about 90% plant-based. I feel as healthy and energized as ever, and take comfort in the fact that the foods I eat are not having a significant impact on the planet.
A 2015 study by the EPA found that 9% of US Greenhouse Gases were produced by the Agricultural industry. An earlier study by the UN found that that number is closer to 18% on a global scale. These gases originate from livestock raised for food consumption and are mainly comprised of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane. Collectively, they are major contributors to global warming because the Earth cannot absorb them at the vast rate that they are being produced.
Not so fun fact: Cows produce methane when they burp and fart
The Environmental Working Group did a full lifecycle study on Greenhouse Gases (GHG) produced by 20 of the most common proteins, vegetables and grains. They found that the production of animal-based proteins generates exponentially more Greenhouse gases than plant-based proteins. In layman’s terms, this means that livestock contribute far more to global warming than crops. Here’s a snippet of the results:
- Lamb produces 43 times the amount of GHG as Lentils
- Beef produces 13.5 times the amount of GHG as Tofu
- Cheese produces 5.8 times the amount of GHG as Nuts
(Kilograms of Carbon Dioxide Emissions per Kilogram of consumed food )
Study done by The Environmental Working Group
Need a few more reasons for eating a plant-based diet?
1. HEALTH: Plant-based diets lower your chance of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity (U.S. News).
2. SPACE: The average meat-eating American needs about 2.5 acres of land a year to produce enough food to sustain his/her diet. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, requires less than half of an acre (Quartz). If the majority of people switched to plant-based diets, it would free up much more land to feed the world’s growing population.
3. ANIMAL WELFARE: Due to high production levels, the majority of farm animals are exposed to deplorable and inhumane treatment and conditions. I won’t go into the details here, but a simple google search will fix you right up. If you’re brave enough, you can watch Cowspiracy or Food, Inc, which are documentaries about the factory farm industry.
So who wants to lower their carbon footprint, slow down global warming, improve their health, support sustainable farming, and show the animals some love?
Ok, so you’re still a bit hesitant. I get it. Maybe you start off with “Meatless Mondays” or the “VB6 Diet” where you Eat Vegan Before 6:00pm. Those ideas seems doable, don’t they? To put it in perspective, participating in Meatless Mondays would reduce your animal-based food consumption by 15%, and the VB6 diet would reduce your consumption by 70%.
Many people associate plant-based or vegetarian eating with consuming copious amount of beans and greens, but there has been so much development in alternative meat industry, that it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some plant-based meals I made recently. No meat or dairy was used in the creation of these dishes:
Beyond Banza Ziti:
Banza Chick Pea Pasta with marinara sauce, black olives, and Beyond Chicken Strips (this is a meat alternative; see below for details)
Banza Chick Pea Pasta with homemade Cashew Alfredo sauce, mushrooms and Beyond Sausage (meat alternative)
Smokey Veggie Chili:
Zucchini, mushrooms, black beans, Beyond Meat Burger (meat alternative), and a boatload of spices.
But what about the packaging?
Some may argue that plant-based alternatives often come in non-recyclable packaging, and for the most part, they’re right. But the truth is: unless you’re buying meat and cheese package-free from your local store or farm, the animal-based versions are just as heavily packaged as the plant-based alternatives. With that said, I’d like to present to you:
The Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegan (or vegetarian) Eating!
The Dark Meat:
When it comes to dark meat like sausages, burgers, ground beef and meatballs, Beyond Meat is the Ultimate plant-based solution. Their products are high in pea protein, taste exceptionally meaty, and even resemble the look of meat. I usually sauté their products in a pan with olive oil for about 5 minutes and add them to any dish that needs a MEAT FACTOR.
My secret weapon for all cooking, but in particular for Beyond Meat, is Pig Tickle. Wait . . . Pig what? I thought we were talking about vegan alternatives here!?!?!? Allow me to explain: Pig Tickle is pretty much the best thing EVER invented. Einstein, Tesla, Edison . . . you ain’t got shit on Pig Tickle. It’s a spice blend made by a company in Colorado, and in the kitchen, it’s the yin to my yang, the salt to my pepper, its . . . a total game changer. And although I have never used it with actual meat, I’m sure it would blow that out of the park as well.
So anyways, going back to Beyond Meat . . . The Beyond Burger totally changed my plant-based game and it was my first introduction to non-soy plant-based protein. Prior to this, the only meat alternatives on the market were soy based, but we’ll talk more about that later. I eat Beyond Burgers about twice a week, and have even rolled them into meatballs for my Beyond Spaghetti and Meatball recipe (shown below).
In addition to the burger, Beyond Meat recently released the Beyond Sausage. It’s delicious and even meat-eaters agree that its the perfect substitute for all your wiener needs!
Beyond Meat Crumbles taste a bit different from the burgers, but they are great for meat sauce, or for my favorite dish in the world . . . TACOS! Get some Adobo seasoning or pig tickle in there, and you’re golden!
The White Meat:
Beyond Meat Chicken Strips have a few different flavors. If I had to compare it to chicken, I would say that the texture is a bit more dense, but it pretty much absorbs any flavor you put on it (just like chicken). My favorite is the Southwest Style because I don’t have to season it very much. These also make a great Chick’n Salad.
When it comes to chicken or turkey alternatives, Quorn is the hands-down winner. Their products are made from Mycoprotein and are the closest thing you’ll get to actual white meat in terms of texture and taste (Not all of their products are vegan; some contain egg whites, and others contain gluten, so it’s important to keep that in mind if either of those are no-go’s for you).
Quorn Chik’n Cutlets: I bet if I cooked this for you without telling you it wasn’t chicken, you would never know. The texture, the flavor profile, the look . . . Quorn has their Chik’n game down to an art! These are also packaged in a paper box with no plastic inside. So its a Double Win!
Quorn’s Turk’y Roast is also out of this world, and is a perfect alternative for Thanksgiving turkey. It has literally won over every Thanksgiving dinner I have brought it to. (Ok, I’ll be honest: I only brought it to one Thanksgiving, but everyone seriously loved it! 😉 )
So What About Soy Protein?
There is a lot of conflicting evidence about whether soy should be avoided or not. This article gives you all sides of the discussion, so you can decide for yourself. Truth be told, if something I’m consuming has even the slightest chance of messing with my hormones, causing cancer, or leading to some other abnormality, I air on the side of caution and avoid it if its within my control. With that said, there are tons of soy-based meat alternatives that taste great. In particular, Gardein and Morning Star have a wide variety of alternatives that are super quick to whip up:
**During my soy-eating days, I literally ate Gardein everyday. They have so many options that it never feels monotonous.
- Breakfast Sausages (these totally taste like the real thing!)
- Sausage Patties
- Chik’n Nuggets (these are so good with BBQ sauce, and they also have a buffalo wings version that has a great kick to it)
I’m gonna be honest with you, I’ve tried a few of their products and they tastes like . . . dog meat, but there is one product that I like: The Tofurky Veggie Roast. It tastes just like turkey (in my opinion), and is a great dish to bring to Thanksgiving without feeling like the only person not eating turkey. And even though I’m not a huge fan of the rest of their products, I really commend Tofurky for their sustainable practices as a company, and for being the first to get the ball rolling on meat alternatives. They are a family owned and operated B-Corp; support animal sanctuaries and animal welfare; use harvested rainwater and solar power at their facilities; and utilize zero waste techniques to eliminate food waste during production.
On to the Cheese!
I have yet to come across a vegan cheese that tastes like real cheese, BUT what I’ve realized about cheese is that it’s just as much about the creaminess and the texture as it is about the taste. If you get some loaded nachos with guac, salsa and melted vegan cheese, you don’t miss ‘real cheese’ at all. The entire experience and texture is there. Of the vegan cheeses I’ve had, these are two of my favorites and are great for making pizza, nachos, eggs, and pasta, among other things. Kite Hill also has a ton of yummy options, although they are a little pricier.
The company that makes these cheeses, Daiya, also has a Vegan Gluten-Free pizza that I love. It sells for $10 at Whole Foods, which I think is a little pricey, but it often goes on sale for $7. When it does, I usually scoop up about 4 of them! The Supreme Style is my favorite as it has mushrooms, peppers, and Beyond Meat Crumbles. They also have a Vegan Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese that’s super easy to make, and goes great with any meat alternative for a plant-based twist on a classic.
I honestly don’t miss anything about dairy yogurt, as the plant-based alternatives are just as delicious and creamy. My favorites are Forager Cashew Yogurt and Kite Hill Almond Yogurt. SoDelicious is a bit more affordable but isn’t as concentrated as the other two. Personally, I prefer the Unsweetened versions, but that may not be everybody’s cup of tea.
Its insanely easy to make your own plant-based milk, and you can get the ingredients without any packaging in the bulk section at your grocery, but if you want to dip your toes in the water, here are some options you can try:
There’s also an emerging industry called the “Clean Meat” industry that’s worth taking note of. It takes cell samples from farm animals and grows them in a lab, creating meat without the animal. Its the most cruelty-free meat could ever be. But still tastes just like the real thing . . . because it is the real thing! If you’re interested in hearing more about clean meat, check out this Rich Roll Podcast: “What is Clean Meat?”
Here’s my Beyond Spaghetti and Meatballs: