Plant-Based for the Planet?

Change 3: Moving to a Plant-Based Diet (and Making Cooking for An Omnivore and a Vegan Managable)

The next step in my food journey was a move to a plant-based diet. I’d been teaching a politics of food class for several years and knew too much about the impact of the livestock and poultry industry on the environment (and, of course, the animals). I decided I no longer had any excuses to keep eating dairy and eggs.

After 20 years after opting for a vegetarian diet, I knew the transition would be easier than going cold turkey from full omnivore to plant-based. I thought I’d experiment for a month to see just how much of a change this would be. After all, I loved cheese.

It was back to reading food labels again, where I found lots of milk by-products and eggs lurking. But after a month-long trial, I realized I didn’t miss anything. I’d come across articles saying that something in cheese makes it addictive. But like the South Beach carbohydrate fast that resets your sweet tooth, if you can avoid cheese for a week, you can make the break forever, without cravings. I never checked out the research, but in my personal experience, I honestly didn’t find myself craving cheese, so maybe there’s something to it.

Vegan cheese

Some pretty impressive vegan cheese I made.

Plus, the world is a very different place from when I became a vegetarian, living in a rural area where tofu wasn’t even available. If I really needed to eat faux cheese, even my local grocery store stocks plant-based alternatives. My biggest reservation was that I wouldn’t be able to do much baking anymore. But I found that it’s really quite easy, and certainly more nutritious, to use butter substitutes like plant oils or mix up a flax seed egg substitute. (1 T. ground flax seed with 3 T. water, if you’re curious…)

His & Hers Meals

Even though I eat a fully plant-based diet, I still cook for an omnivore. For years, I apparently made the best pot roast in town, but I never even tried it. I’ve never pressured my spouse to change his diet, but I was clearly rubbing off on him. I remember one time in the car when we saw a truck full of pigs that were most likely on their way for slaughter and Michael said, “Wow. I eat them.”

Over time, as Michael reassessed his dietary needs and ethical principles, he decided to limit his omnivore meat choices to just poultry and fish. He’s kind of a picky eater, but he’s willing to try anything once. He discovered he liked more vegetables just corn and his version of a salad (croutons swimming in Italian dressing). He also found some of the fake meats and mock cheeses to be not only palatable, but preferable, along with vegan mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese, which is great because these have far less cholesterol. Zero grams, that is : )

However, while I’m quite happy to eat a plate of vegetables, Michael would understandably rebel if that’s all I fed him. I don’t have a lot of extra time to make two different meals every time we sit down to eat. I’ve managed to simplify the process by making dishes that have some common components or require similar preparation. I still make pots of chicken and turkey soups, but I have integrated our eating patterns for maximum efficiency.

For instance, when I make the Spinach Fettuccine recipe I posted for dinner, we both eat that. To complement it, I bake and then broil an Italian chicken sausage in the toaster oven for Michael along with vegetable meatballs (yes, I realize that’s an oxymoron) and broccoli for me. For our ‘Parmesan’ night, I make a spaghetti squash for both of us, and bake chicken or a spicy ‘chicken’ patty (a chicken breast/patty, covered in spaghetti sauce, topped with Parmesan/vegan cheese). When I make Reubens, Michael’s is turkey and mine is tempeh, but the rest is the same.

This strategy has worked well for me, helping to keep me sane, especially on school nights. But after talking to my friend Melissa, who said, “You’re going to put more than just your vegan recipes online, right?”, she made me think. Until that point I hadn’t considered posting anything other than plant-based recipes, but realized that there are others out there, like me, who cook for family members who don’t all have the same dietary needs and might benefit from my experience.

So I decided to share this part of my food education as I post recipes with the hope that I can help others who personally made this plant-based lifestyle change, cook for someone who has, would like to transition to a plant-based diet, or just want some healthier recipe options. Most of the ingredients I use are readily available; some even ordinary foods you might not have tried. And I’ll help to demystify some of the odd ingredients that might appear from time to time.

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