11 Learnings from 11 Vegetarian Years

In quarantine, days blend together and weeks seem to crawl and fly by at the same time. This is making it less surprising that a year ago, I was celebrating 10 years of being vegetarian and had big plans for a (catchier) blog post on it. In the way I’ve only heard grandparents say, I blinked, and now here we are a year later.

Before I start with what I’ve been sitting on for a year, I want you to know I’m not going to ask you to be a vegetarian. Breath out a sigh of relief. Everyone who is pretending they weren’t worried about that, you exhale too. If quarantine has taught us anything, it’s that shaming or “shoulding on yourself” isn’t an effective call to action or motivator.

We don’t need a few people to be hardcore vegetarians or vegans. What will have even more impact, is EVERYONE eating less meat. Not a few people doing it perfect, but everyone doing it a little bit better.

It is, however, a time where we have heightened awareness of how small actions we make have big ripples to our family, communities, and world. That little twinge of inspiration, responsibility, and empowerment that allowed you to make a mask or change your grocery store behavior, that’s what I hope you walk away with.

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May 17, 2019 Cheersing to my 10 year anniversary at Art-a-Whirl

Quarantine is also a time where you have nowhere to be so you can read this, and Netflix will still be waiting for you.

For the sake of this conversation, a few terms I’ll use as I’ve explored all of these “diets,” with pescetarian being what works best for me.

  • Vegetarian: Do not eat red meat, poultry, seafood, anything considered “meat.”
  • Pescetarian: Same as above but eats fish/seafood (salmon, tuna, shrimp) but likely still eats mainly vegetarian
  • Vegan: Does not eat any animal by-products. No meats mentioned above, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and sometimes honey.

In May of 2009, my high school Current Events class watched some footage on the meat industry (mainly fast food) and how the animals are treated. As a lifelong animal lover, I was horrified by what these animals were enduring so that I could have meat in my diet, mainly out of habit.

The treatment of animals, with the addition of the toll the meat industry takes on our environment, amplified by the fact that I didn’t really care about meat, began my first day of vegetarianism on May 17, 2009.

I think the only way this choice could have stuck this long was from it being unequivocally my own decision, and the same is true for you.

Whether this propels you into a meatless decade, or makes you think more about your next meal, I’ll be thrilled. Reason being, if I said the only solution was being vegan, the majority of people (likely including myself) would say, shoot looks like I won’t be part of the solution…

I also take this approach because I can tell you after 11 years of being vegetarian it isn’t always easy. Having a less diverse diet has led to some digestive issues, and has called for a lot of trial and error of what my body needs (a large part of why I was technically vegetarian for four years, and pescetarian for the last seven).

In my opinion, this is a matter of quantity over quality. That’s how eating less meat becomes a cultural norm; and calls for grocery stores, restaurants, and the marketplace adapt to different demands.

I know you’ve heard why this matters, so I’m going to cover that with a selfish lens (if selfish is motivating, embrace it) and how to do it.

Why eat less meat and what’s in it for you-

  1. Your Health & Wallet If you’ve grocery shopped, you won’t be surprised meat is an expensive habit. It saves money in the long run too, by being significantly better for your health. A meat free or less meat diet has been shown to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, along with lower risk for diabetes, chronic diseases, and cancers.
  2. The Environment For every one pound of meat you purchase, it took 2,400 gallons of water to create it. As large of a problem as our climate crisis is, I like having a tangible way I know I am helping, while other changes may be harder to make.
  3. The Animals Simply put, any hormones or antibiotics intentionally put into livestock, or waste/bacteria they unintentionally ingest, goes into your food. As eating clean and clean products becomes more and more top of mind, looking at how clean the source of your food is is often overlooked.
  4. Other People Even outside of COVID-19, meat packing plants are dangerous for employees and take a large toll on the nearby communities. By knowing where your meat comes from, you’re investing in the well-being of the essential workers that make your meals possible, and how safe those meals are.

How to eat less meat, with more purpose-

1. Don’t recreate the wheel: Instead of viewing less meat as a change to everything you’ve been doing, look at is as making substitutions. Write down all of your favorite meals/recipes and look for swaps that could be made. My favorites-
  • Substitutes for ground beef: Limiting red meat in one’s diet is getting more and more popular, making Gardein’s beefless ground and their meatless meatballs a super easy and impactful swap. I also love impossible burgers and their italian sausage. I try to always order impossible burgers in restaurants so they continue to be carried!
  • Substitutes for chicken: Two options that aren’t super high in protein but are great for taste are using jackfruit (easiest place to get it is Trader Joe’s) which can easily mimic pulled chicken or pulled pork. One product I like are Morning Star’s buffalo “chicken” patties, though the protein count is a bit low.
  • The deal about tofu: Chances are you’ve made tofu without really knowing what was going on, or god forbid, tried it raw…try to suppress that memory and try this again. Tofu is the easiest protein to manipulate the flavor to match any recipe, and as a result is a grocery staple of mine. It’s also super affordable (usually a block will be $2 or less, which will be enough for at least 3 meals). Here’s a great recipe for how to PROPERLY make tofu!
  • The Minneapolis-based Herbivorous Butcher probably deserves its own blog post, but I’ll just leave you with the link for now. My favorites are the maple sausage, sriracha brats, korean ribs, and vegan cheese! Online deliveries are available anywhere in the US ūüėČ

2. Meatless Mondays: Start with one day, one meal. Meatless Mondays have become so popular, there’s no shortages of recipes out there. You might do meat-free dinners on Monday, then to all meals on Monday, etc. Many popular bloggers, like Half Baked Harvest, now have vegetarian sections to help you out. And of course, Pinterest won’t disappoint.
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3. Start with breakfast: This is the easiest meal to eliminate meat from. If you’ve gotten in the habit of bacon or sausage, Morning Star has my favorite veggie sausage. Make a veggie egg bake, oatmeal (even if you prefer savory), yogurt parfaits, etc. and you’ll grow to not even miss it.
IMG_5352 4. Build-your-own bars: “I want to eat less meat but I can’t get my partner/family on board!” I credit my mom for coming up with this as she shopped, prepped, and cooked for our family with one lone vegetarian. Instead of changing the plan for everyone or making me something completely different, I would add a different protein. You can leave all toppings off in the same way to give everyone a say. Think fajitas, tacos, lettuce wraps, pasta, stir fry, pizza, salads, burgers, etc.
D944A899-D906-4D2E-8414-937B597A2406 5. Up your veggie intake: Instead of thinking as meat or protein as the “point” of a meal, center it around your vegetables. Aim to have vegetables take up half of your plate, with grains being 1/4 and protein 1/4. Treating protein as a supporting actor rather than the lead makes it easier to substitute the protein source.
IMG_1126 6. Look to Thai, Indian, and other Asian recipes: It might make you feel less trendy, but this is nothing new. Many Asian cultures have long relied on vegetarian recipes for religious or economic reasons. This means finding meatless recipes you love or recreating favorites from restaurants is that much easier!IMG_4495 7. Serving sizes are not created equal: This is where eating less meat refers to more than frequency. This is where nutrient packed veggies, like green peas, spinach, and broccoli, and grains (shown below) can add up to stretch a main protein source through more meals.
protein-serving-sizes 8. High protein grains: Changing your protein source or decrease portion size can call extra attention to what’s on your plate and how it’s serving you. I also often hear people are worried about not being full if they have less meat. This tip will help, my go-to grains are quinoa, farro, and brown rice; but there are many other protein packed options. This means adding farro to salad, making soups with quinoa, using buckwheat noodles for pasta or pad thai, etc. A little bit goes a long way.
9. Soup!: Another shout out to Mama Reed for this one. My mom would make soup for the family, but would split a smaller batch off for me before adding their chicken in. This is also an easy way to make something that lasts throughout the week, so you don’t have to go back to the drawing board every day. There is also countless vegetarian soup recipes, and I promise you the best one ever is shown/linked belowIMG_4621 10. Create more filling snacks: Staying satisfied throughout the day releases the need for protein-heavy meals. My go-to especially now that I’m working from home is making a smoothie in my magic bullet with a cup of spinach, 5 frozen strawberries, a scoop of protein powder, and almond milk. So quick! Here’s my recipe for chia pudding (protein powder is option, I like the texture that creates; you could use a yogurt instead). Last but not least, these amazing energy balls that my coworker called bites of joy ūüôā
11. Embrace the challenge: Many of us have more time on our hands right now, and have saving money top of mind. Use this to your advantage by having fun trying new recipes, challenging yourself to stick to strict budgets while shopping, and embrace meal prep. While you might be thinking, wow Sarah really knows how to have a good time…I promise it is fun! Whip up a new recipe and meet friends for a picnic to see what they think. Here’s two veggie buffalo dips I trialed for the Superbowl a few years ago. Be patient and kind with yourself, progress is the goal- not perfection.
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Regardless of what you’re eating, I think the most important practice is expressing gratitude. Thanking any animals involved in making your meal possible, the farmers, any factory workers, store employees, so on and so forth. This practice becomes a lot easier and more meaningful when some of those steps are cut out, for example by shopping at a farmer’s market.

This is a practice I was challenged to face head on. When studying abroad in Rome, our Sustainable Foods professor (who is by no means vegetarian) said that in the States our meat looks like play-dough, there’s no connection to what you’re eating or what provided it. I had recently reintroduced seafood into my diet, and liked the anonymity and denial canned tuna offered. One of my first meals in Rome, I got a seafood pasta and it arrived with multiple creatures looking at me. I panicked. Over the semester, I learned to not hide from this but embrace it.

If I’m going to eat meat in any way, the least I owe these animals who gave everything to sustain me, is to give them my attention.

“We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals? … Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded. To do nothing is to do something.‚ÄĚ Jonathan Safran Foer

Author of Eating Animals and We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

Zoodle + Shrimp Pad Thai

Yes, please. If you haven’t heard me talk about my zoodler, you aren’t asking the right questions. I am obsessed.¬†If you aren’t familiar, I’m referring to a handy tool that can make noodles out of any vegetable. {Zucchini noodles–> zoodles –> zoodler} Technically it’s called a veggetti…but that name has obvious issues that the entire marketing team somehow overlooked. If you want to convince anyone that your dish is better than regular¬†noodles, I recommend staying away from that word.

Let’s hit it:IMG_4491

What you need (Prep 20 mins)
-First and foremost, a Zoodler! Aka a vegetti…but that name has obvious issues that the
entire marketing team somehow overlooked. So I call it a zoodler. Rice noodles could be used if you aren’t convinced this tool will change your life.
-6 zucchinis (on the smaller side)
-3 eggs
-15 shrimp, defrosted
-1 can chickpeas
-3 tbsp garlic
-Simmer sauce (Trader Joe’s Red Thai Curry is my fave)
-Crushed red pepper
-Lemon & pepper seasoning

IMG_4492How to (Cook time 15 mins)
-Start boiling the water and zoodle all zucchinis into a large bowl, set aside.
-Sautee shrimp and season with lemon & pepper spice, set aside.
-Add zoodles to boiling water, cook for 5-7 minutes; drain
-Chop shrimp into thirds, add to zoodles with drained chickpeas, garlic, and stir in simmer sauce to cover mixture. Low heat for 5 minutes.
-Scramble the 3 eggs, and stir in.
-Add crushed red pepper to taste, and serve!

Serves four. Or in my language, bring to work in a large tupperware and have with salad for four days ūüôā Why Zoodle?

  • Zucchinis are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins (A, B6, C & K), potassium, magnesium, and folate. This is true for zucchini squash as well!
  • Sweet potatoes are an amazing source of vitamin A (shout out to that beta-carotene), vitamin C, copper, magnesium, fiber, vitamins B1 & B2, and phosphorus. And then you get to say sweet patoodle. My kind of perk.

Compared to pasta, which usually has at least 200 carb-dense calories/serving. For me, the main differentiator is that vegetable noodles have one nutrient-rich ingredient going into their production, while pasta is processed and preserved.

I can tell you from my four months of living in Italy that all of those ingredients, preservatives, and coloring agents do make a difference. Fresh and homemade pasta was not reserved for the most gourmet restaurants, it is just how Italians make pasta. As a result, Americans who are gluten-intolerant/sensitive tend to not experience issues.

If a trip isn’t in the near future, start experimenting with fresh zucchini noodles!¬†Have a favorite zoodler¬†recipe? Please share!

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Birthday Feast

My approach to cooking is very much rooted in over-confidence.

IMG_3402That’s why committing to 6 weeks of clean eating (and drinking) for the Alchemy 365 Challenge was the perfect motivator in discovering how many dishes I am capable of making. I have always believed recipes are up for interpretation, and now I have taken this farther and started making them up completely.

That’s why when my boyfriend, Brandon, asked where we could go for a 365-approved birthday dinner, I insisted on a completely homemade meal.

I think it’s a rule of thumb to not serve people something you make for the first time. But if you can’t tell, I really don’t like rules.

STARTERS

IMG_3394Zucchini fries
-3 to 4 zucchinis, I used 4 on the small side and that made a full pan of fries
-1 egg
– 1/3 to 1/2 cup flax seed (enough to cover fries)
-Spices or salt & pep

Cut zucchinis the long way and then chop to be the size of fries. Coconut/Olive oil on a cookie sheet and lay down fries. Brush with the beaten egg; sprinkle flax seed and any other desired seasoning. Bake at 375 for 15-20 mins.

Crab cakes
IMG_3375-1 pound lump crab, this can be super expensive so if you end up opting for a more imitation crab route, whatever.
-1 sweet potato
-2 eggs
-1/3 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup parsley
-1.5 tbsp garlic
-2 tbsp flax seed
-Sea salt and ground pepper as you please

Cook the sweet potato in a pot with water for ~20 mins. In the meantime shred up and chop the crab into thin pieces. Add the eggs, oil, garlic, flax seed, salt, parsley, and any other seasoning you want, and mix.  When the sweet potato is done, IMG_3391mash it separately and mix it in to the bowl.

From here, roll them into balls a little bit bit bigger than a golf ball; then flatten into small patties. The cakes can be cooked right away, or saved in the fridge. When ready to cook. use coconut oil (or oil of choice) in a pan, and cook patties until brown on each side, and flipping them like tiny burgers. I served with lemon and it was AMAZING.

MAIN COURSE

This was Brandon’s time to shine. From my understanding, here’s what we had going on.

IMG_3393Cajun salmon filets:

Cooked to PERFECTION in a cast-iron skillet on the stove. We used this amazing Southwest salt mixture from Arizona for seasoning.

Basically any combination of spice and salt will do. Served with lemon.

Spicy green beans:

Steamed in the rice cooker for 15 minutes. Place in pan and stir in olive oil, red pepper flakes, and 1 tbsp of soy sauce.

DESSERTAka Why We’re All Here

Paleo pumpkin pie:IMG_3392
-1 can of pumpkin
-Two eggs
-Two egg whites
-Can of light coconut milk
-Half cup almond milk
1 Tsp cinnamon
-1/2 Tsp nutmeg
-1/2 Tsp ginger
-1/4 cloves
-2 Tsp vanilla

Mix until it’s all well blended and pour into pie plate then bake for 35 min at 350 degrees. My pan was on the smaller side so it turned out a little odd. It won’t look like a ton of mix, but go for a bigger pan anyway so it cooks all the way through.

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I Am Malala supervised the blender

1 Ingredient Ice Cream:
-2 bananas
-Cinnamon to taste (for me, like 15 shakes)
-3 tbsp peanut butter
Peel and chop 2 ripe bananas and freeze for at least 2 hours, I did overnight. Place bananas in blender and blend for about 2o minutes.

At first, it will seem like the bananas are not making much progress- do not worry. I walked away so that I wouldn’t be tempted to add water.

When it starts to have a creamier consistency, add your flavors (I did PB and cinnamon) and continue blending until it looks like a shake. From there, pour into a tuperware and freeze, again for at least 2 hours.

This is the new cure to my sweet tooth!

There you have it, the absolute tastiest food, all guilt free. I am a big believer in eating what you want and how much you want, but knowing exactly what you are eating. When you start focusing on ingredients and where your food comes from, your taste buds change with your perspective.

In my opinion (and in Brandon’s), this meal wasn’t about restriction, or what wasn’t on the table. While nutritious, it was all filling, delicious, and fun. That’s how food should be-especially a birthday dinner. If healthy food doesn’t taste good,¬†it makes skipping the donuts and pizza an uphill battle.

Can’t wait for you to try these recipes (and make up your own) and hear what you think!