Sunday, November 25, 2007

Correction on the (typo) temp for the pumpkin pie post ...

That should be *325* to *350* F on the temp for the pumpkin pie, not 425-450. Sorry!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving ... Chocolate "pumpkin" pie

Okay, I just "invented" this. Don't know if anyone else has done it but
don't think so.

I've been playing with a way to try and make chocolate pie without a lot of
starch. Knew I could do one with a chocolate pudding base, but too much
refined carb for me w/ cornstarch.

Then one day I'm plopping together my standard ever-so-easy pumpkin pie
(which I make a lot), and I stopped and thought, "What if I just put some
cocoa in the filling?" So I did and oh, drool. It's luscious and chocolate
and you can't even tell it's pumpkin (even though I very much like pumpkin).
So don't be fooled. This is lusciously decadent but oh-so-good for you. ;-)

First the standard recipe:


2/3 cup oat flour (plain old rolled oats whirred in a blender, dry, till
finely ground)
1/3 cup flour (I use whole wheat)
Drizzle (canola) oil (~tblsp.)
pinch salt

In a medium bowl, blend everything together with a fork till well mixed.
Dump into sprayed 8x8 square or nine-inch round pan and tap to distribute
evenly across the bottom and up the sides (will not fully cover sides).
Press in evenly.

Then in same mixing bowl (to save dishes ;-) ) mix:

1 can (15-oz.) plain pumpkin
12 oz. (soy)milk
3-4 droppersful refined stevia OR 1/2-3/4 cup sugar, to taste
~tsp. vanilla
pumpkin pie spice to taste (I like about 2 tblsp.)

Option 2: Chocolate "pumpkin" pie

Same ingredients as above except omit vanilla and pumpkin pie spice and add
~3/4 cup of cocoa (I like dutched) instead.

Mix thoroughly and pour filling into previously prepared crust, then bake at
325 to 350 (depending on your oven; mine runs hot and I use 325) for about
50 minutes. No sugar, very low fat whole grain yum that you can guiltlessly
get your chocolate fix on, too. :-) Freezes pretty well, too, though it's
just a tad "softer" on thaw.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ambivalent vegetarians

There’s an article today in MSNBC’s health section on one semi-vegetarian’s quest to reconcile her craving for meat with her knowledge that the animals who become that meat suffer terror and pain in the process.

Of course, that’s a conundrum, and no doubt it’s an issue that every human who gives this any thought at all faces every time s/he picks up a fork, especially if you’re someone who struggles with the need for some meat despite the desire to be “purely” vegetarian. (As a vegan who has utterly no desire or craving for meat myself, I nonetheless struggle with this too, somewhat, because of the meat I feed my kits.)

But, here’s the thing (and I know this may likely offend some people at first, so bear with me for a moment). I don’t doubt that we would not question a natural predator’s need to kill a gazelle, for example, be it feline or canine, in the necessary pursuit of food. That gazelle may very well experience some pain and terror in the process, but short of exterminating the predator, it’s something that has to happen in the natural order of things.

Now, arguably, we’re a rung or several up the predatory ladder, and we have the means and intelligence to refine the process so that that “predatory target” experiences as little pain and terror as possible – but I would argue that for some of us, we still have to pursue that food source and be the “predator,” for lack of a better term, as the natural order of things. Hence my position that while those of us who still must nosh on a bit of meat may do so with a bit of guilt, it might just be the way things have to be – and we can use that “guilty energy” as a catalyst to make needed changes in the meat production industry. I don’t believe the guilt can ever go away entirely (mine certainly won’t), but we can live with it knowing we’re doing the best we can.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

On grilling out veggie style

If you’re like me, you’re making the rounds at various barbecues during this Fourth of July holiday. Although this is a perfect opportunity to have your occasional foray into meat eating if you’re a part-timer or dabbler, veggies have to give it a little more thought.

If you’re a lazy vegan like me, you probably just pop into your grocery and snag a four-pack of veggie burgers or “Not Dogs” to take along so you can grill out along with your meat-eating comrades. Just slap them on the grill and then slather with fixings as usual. (If you don’t want juices from meat-based burgers to “contaminate” yours, wrap them individually in tin foil first or have the host do yours first, before the others.)

If you’re a little more creative, try a tofu-based shish kebab; take it with and have your host grill it for you. (You’ll likely have meat-eating friends salivating over your plate if you do this, too.) Simply prepare a block of tofu for grilling by freezing solid, thawing completely, then rinsing. Squeeze the water out, then cube the tofu into kebab-sized pieces. Skewer with veggies like onion, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and fresh mushrooms, then sear on the grill. Delish.

If you’re vegetarian and can eat dairy and/or eggs, you don’t have to do anything special to get your fill, unless you want to. There are likely plenty of potato salad and bean-based dishes that pack a protein punch, and vegans, too, can indulge in vegetarian baked beans even if the potato or macaroni salad is off limits.

If you’re the host, you can be a vegetarian’s delight and provide the veggie burgers, hummus, etc., for those who want them. For guests who eat meat, ask them to bring their own (unless you know what to buy) and grill it themselves. (I’ve never trusted my own meat-cooking skills on the grill, since I never do it; better to leave that to experienced folks.) They’ll be happy to do so. And you as the host can rustle up a spread any veggie’d be proud of. You might just surprise a few meat-eating friends, too.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Before you “go veggie” (or try to), get rid of the junk

Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds and want to see if going vegetarian part time will help you pare down a bit, or have just decided that you want to be healthier.

Whatever your reason, you might want to take this in stages and get rid of the junk food first, before you go veggie. Why? In my opinion, if veganism isn’t quite for you and you’re one of those folks who needs “just a little meat” to feel satisfied, you might end up reaching for the chips to help take care of increased hunger pangs. And it’s also often true (as it was in my case) that even if being vegetarian *is* for you, you’ll feel “hungrier” at first on a vegetarian diet than you do on one with some meat in it. In that case, it’s not really true that you feel “hungrier,” only that it’s a lighter way of eating and that feeling full feels different as a veggie than it does as a meat eater. Until you get used to it, though, you’ll likely be eating more, so it should be healthy food and not junk.

Finally, junk just isn’t good for anyone no matter how you slice it, whether you’re a veggie or a meat eater. Occasional sweets, or chips and soda, are fine as treats once in awhile, but more and more Americans are eating them in vast quantities. (And yep, veggies, that goes for soy ice cream, too. It’s as “bad” for you and as high in sugar/refined carbs and fat as the real stuff, the only difference being the dairy vs. soy base, so moderation is still the key, just like with the non-veggie stuff. Terribly disappointing, I know. ;-) )

While it’s true that going vegan or vegetarian likely lowers your overall calorie intake and increases your fiber intake so that you can probably “get away” with cheating on junk food or refined carbohydrates more than you would otherwise, it’s still not a good idea to do so a lot. Health is the key either way, so drop the junk. You’ll feel better for it, whether you decide being veggie is ultimately for you or not.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting along in a non-veggie world: “Eat before you go”

Let’s face it, we veggies are in the minority when it comes to society in most parts of the US, if not other parts of the world. Whether you’re a lazy vegan like me or are a bit more stringent in your views, it usually comes to pass that at some point, you’re going to be in a situation where you’re flying solo as a veggie; some of your comrades probably won’t even know that “vegetarianism” does not embrace chicken as a food (ever have someone say, “Oh, you don’t eat meat? Okay. Well, we have chicken. Do you eat chicken?” Um …).

Most of the time, family and friends are probably perfectly willing to prepare something special or you can bring your own, but if you’re at a company gathering or someplace you can’t check ahead to make sure you can get something substantial for dinner, eat before you go (at least for me, half a baked potato and some canned green beans just won’t fly for an entire evening). Not so much that you’re stuffed full and not at all hungry, but enough so that if all you’re going to get is some lettuce, you’re fine until you get home and can finish filling up. That way, you can eat your salad without wanting to rudely devour the wax fruit on the table, and even enjoy the evening without worrying that you’ll faint from hunger.

Monday, June 25, 2007

More on satisfying our sweet tooth safely

As one commenter pointed out in a previous post, stevia has not been approved by the FDA as a sweetener and its safety not established by them. Normally, I would agree that this might give me pause, but my own research shows that stevia has a history of use thousands of years old. You may not be able to drink a gallon of it a day ;-), but used in moderation and given its safety profile historically (if not on the FDA’s radar), I would wager that it’s as safe to use as sugar, especially given the health benefits reducing your intake of sugar can bring. Fructose too can be a good substitute as the commenter pointed out, and so can other natural unrefined sweeteners like turbinado sugar and molasses.

To be honest, I used saccharine (sparingly) in beverages if they needed sweetening with limited use of sugar for cooking and baking until I found stevia, with a brief dabble in fructose (not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup); Nutrasweet gave me headaches, so I never used aspartame in any quantity. I would probably still be using saccharine in my tea if I hadn’t disliked the aftertaste so much, and stevia fills the bill insofar as it tastes just like sugar to me. Of course, I also like the fact that it’s a natural herb with some history to it and not a chemical with an iffy side effects profile, but for me, it’s always come down to what’s going to be of greatest benefit and least risk. A little sugar is okay, but only used sparingly, again, mostly in baking with just a little for browning purposes or to make bread rise. I pretty much follow the same rule of thumb with stevia; “everything in moderation.” I think where we get ourselves in trouble (Americans especially) is that we attack everything with abandon and no sense of control, so that we eat or drink ourselves into trouble with our liter-sized jugs of soda consumed in one sitting, for example. Nothing is safe in that quantity, IMO, even “natural” sugar.

Of course, there’s another facet to this, too. One of the problems with relying on the government to tell you what’s safe and what’s not is this constant tug of war that goes on in the various studies feeding us this information. One day, coffee’s horrible for you, and the next, it’s not only not horrible for you, but actually good for you in moderation, with an antioxidant profile that rivals that of green tea. So again, it’s a matter of weighing what’s of benefit to you and making careful choices based upon your own needs. It’s the “careful choices” element that’s missing in a lot of the poor nutritional selections we make rather than the specific safety profile of a particular substance like stevia, in my opinion.

The history of lazy vegan cooking

This is a repost from my original website about how I got started with "lazy vegan" cooking. :-) Thought it might be useful to those who hate to cook but would like to stay away from convenience foods as much as possible. It's cheap to eat this way, too; I spend about $40 a month for my grocery bill, up from about $30 before the gas price hikes, and there's no special shopping involved.


Last week and again this week, I dragged out my two big crockpots, assembled my ingredients, checked to make sure I had a sufficient supply of clean, portion-sized freezer containers, and set the crockpots to burbling in the kitchen with entrees of chili, split pea soup, lentil soup, and refried beans, two entrees at a time. I did it with a minimum of mess and effort, hands moving surely and almost automatically through the processes of chopping, measuring, rinsing, and boiling; when the crockpots were ready to simmer away unattended, I set the temperature just right, and didn’t have a single, boiled-over mess to clean up. When the entrees were done after several hours, I unplugged, cooled, portioned, and froze just as automatically, and tossed the crockpots (dishwasher-safe, natch) into the dishwasher for a good scrub later. Not much effort.

It wasn’t always that easy. I tried my hand at cooking for the first time when I was twenty, alone in my studio apartment; I’d been a vegetarian for two years at that point, but living in college dorms for those two years had allowed me to avoid cooking because I ate in the dining halls.

The first dish I tried was split pea soup. I carefully measured the peas and water, chopped the celery, onions, carrots, and potatoes, and plopped the whole thing on top of my tiny stove in a big dutch oven. “Stir occasionally,” the package read. Okay, probably once an hour, I thought. Easy.

I came back an hour later to find green slime dripping off of the top of the stove, onto the floor, and oozing under the refrigerator. I sloshed through the mess frantically, lifting the pot’s lid to see if anything remained in it. Oh, not too bad. Add some water and stir, we’re back in business. A little scorched? No problem, a little salt will cover that up just fine.

I had horribly scorched, crunchy, too-salty split pea slime for dinner that night in my garishly green-smeared, foot-printed kitchen. No one could have decently called what I choked down soup. But it was my first attempt at real cooking, and boy, was I proud of it.

I discovered one thing that day, though. I hated cooking. With a passion. And I really didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting any better at it. Cleaning up was even more work. So I supplemented occasional, grudging sessions of (slowly improving) bread- and chili-making with a subsistence on canned baked beans and veggie soups, microwaved potatoes, fruit, veggies, and soy protein shakes. I’d have loved to do whole-foods from-scratch cooking and more consistent bread-making the way the folks in Vegetarian Times magazine did, but those people sounded like they enjoyed cooking. I didn’t, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

Then one year I got a small crockpot as a Christmas gift. Huh. This thing cooks soups and stews without needing to be watched? I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. Pretty soon I was having hot homemade meals without a lot of effort. Bread-making was still a chore, and I didn’t want to buy expensive whole-grain bread or settle for white bread, so I mostly did without.

Then in 1995, after I’d been freelancing for about a year, I bought a bread machine on sale. Oh, joy. Whole-grain, hot, fresh bread without the work. And since then, these two machines – crockpot and bread machine – have kept me well-fed on completely whole-foods cooking, for about $40 a month in groceries and supplies.

And that’s it. It’s taken lots of time, practice, and trial and error, but I no longer think of cooking as such a chore. I still dislike it, but it’s easy enough now that I consider it a minor nuisance. Not too bad. :-)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hate cooking and want convenience? Try a bread machine and crockpot

Even if you hate cooking, you can still do largely “from-scratch” cooking, depending on your particular set-up, and rely only occasionally on convenience foods. Although convenience foods are wonderful, they do produce a lot of garbage and can be hard on the environment because of this. To balance things out and rely on packaged foods less often, invest in a crockpot.

I hate to cook myself, but I’ve gotten around this by using my crockpot and bread machine to keep me in homemade, “whole foods” dinners on what boils down to about four hours’ work a month. Whether you’re a full-time or part time veggie, the crockpot can be your best friend. For vegetarian folks, bean and legume-based soups and stews make a hearty meal with very little work. If you’re a meat-eater, you can also plop in some beef chunks in there or even do a pork roast and potatoes. Many sites online now have specifically crockpot-based recipes.

Another machine I can’t do without as a lazy vegan is my bread machine. In this case, it’s just because I don’t want to pay whole-grain bread prices at the store, but it’s also wonderful to have fresh hot bread at the touch of a button for pennies. It’s also a lot cheaper to eat “from scratch” than it is to rely on convenience foods. My own grocery budget runs at about $40 a month right now (up from about $30 before the gas hikes). I’m also lucky enough to have the room for a 13-cu-foot freezer, so I bulk cook about once a month and eat off of the results the rest of it. Even if you don’t have this advantage, though, you’ll still cut down on your time in the kitchen and ease up on your budget (as well as help the environment) with this kind of cooking.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Want to cut back on sugar and still be “sweet”? Try stevia

Even if you watch your diet religiously, you might still have a sweet tooth. I do, and try to fulfill it with healthy foods instead of ignoring it altogether. I used saccharin for several years, but of course it leaves a funny aftertaste and there are doubts about its safety, so I switched back to using sugar and just tried to be as sparing with it as possible.

Then I discovered stevia. This wonderful herb is actually slightly caloric rather than completely non-caloric, but is something like 600 times sweeter than sugar so that you can use very little. It does not promote tooth decay and in its unrefined form can even help stabilize blood sugar and act as an anti-fungal. Its unrefined (liquid) extract tastes very much like black licorice, so I only use it in coffee and tea, not in cooking.

The refined stevia has no health benefits to speak of but tastes exactly like sugar, in my opinion. It’s very, very sweet, so must be used sparingly and mixed very well in whatever you’re using it in, but I use it in baking and cooking as well as to sweeten beverages. Its only drawback (if it has one) is that it leaves baked sweetened goods like cookies slightly rubbery and a little sugar seems to help the texture, so I use about one-eighth the sugar called for just to help the browning and then sweeten to taste with stevia. It’s available at any health food store or online. I generally get my unrefined stevia at and my refined at Puritan’s Pride ( or, as they’ve generally had the best prices for each kind.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are you really vegan (or should you be) if you crave a lot of fake “meat”?

Back when I became vegan more than 20 years ago, Vegetarian Times had articles in it all the time about what it “really” meant to be a vegan, asking questions like, “If you think meat is so terrible, then why do you even want the ‘pretend’ stuff?” There were kind of two camps: the “purists,” who thought it was silly and made one a bit of a traitor to squash soy-based, artificially flavored, ultra-processed gelatinous mush into the shapes of the very “dead animal” foods one purported to disdain, and the folks who just wanted guilt-free burgers as close to the real thing as possible without having to think of the poor dead cow who might otherwise have sacrificed its life for that burger.

I have to admit, this has never been a particular quandary for me. I never liked meat (actually, it made me rather ill) and was very relieved to find out that I didn’t have to have it. So eating an artificially flavored soy-based substitute has never held particular attraction and I’m fine with unadulterated beans and rice, tomato-y cabbage stirfries with chickpeas, that sort of thing, with an occasional nod to fake burgers and whatnot if I’m going to a cookout (never have been able to find a burger recipe that’ll hold together on a grill).

Therefore, I don’t really know the experience of craving meat and thus needing a fake meat substitute to satisfy that craving. However, I suspect that if I did, I’d have a touch of the real thing now and then instead of lots of the fake thing.

First of all, I think it would likely be a healthier option; as I’ve said previously, I think we’re all just a bit different and need different things, so if we crave just a touch of meat, are we doing ourselves any favors by ignoring it? I’m not saying you should go ahead and just give yourself over every night to a 16-oz. porterhouse; that’s not healthy for anyone (as our burgeoning waistlines can attest), but just a touch now and then.

Second of all, I think we might very well be doing the environment a favor by doing the occasional nod to meat vs. eating lots of processed, overly packaged fake meat. It takes a lot of energy and resources to super-process and then package soy into the stuff that looks like meat. It takes a lot of energy to produce the meat itself, too, but I’d still think the resources are fewer for the meat you’d eat a bit of once a week versus the soy stuff you eat a lot of every day in the attempt to squelch cravings.

Certainly, the animal cruelty of the meat industry is enough to make anyone with even a hint of compassion want to turn away from it forever, physical needs notwithstanding. For myself, I’ve had no trouble doing that, since I already had an aversion to meat even before I found out the true conditions therein. Even so, I can still somewhat identify with the struggles vegans who still crave meat face when they try to avoid it, because I have my own guilty tugs when I pluck my kits’ chicken wings out of the freezer to thaw for their dinner. But I do it anyway, because I think it’s best for them. So I’d wonder whether we should all do ourselves the same favor, if we need it, and give our energies to changing the meat industry instead of perhaps wasting them trying to "willpower" ourselves into complete veganism, if it's unnatural to us.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Mutual Menu blog

This isn't a post per se, only a note that there's a great blog at called "Mutual Menu." Brian and Joselle are a "mixed" couple (one vegan, one omnivore/"trying veganism") who bring those particular challenges to light; I sort of touched on this issue in one of my articles, but didn't address it nearly as thoroughly, so I hope you'll give them a look. Plus it's another platform for more great discussion between veggies and omnis. :-)


If you’re vegan, you can’t be overweight … right?

I read something the other day online that declared, to paraphrase, “It’s impossible to be overweight if you’re vegan!”

Now, I’m as keen as anyone to get someone to go vegan if they can, but I had to laugh at that. As much as I would like to woo someone with this phrase, it’s not quite true. Plain and simple, you absolutely can make poor (vegan) food choices that will render you overweight. And yes, you still have to exercise even if you chow down on beans and rice instead of steak.

It’s true that it’s probably a little harder to be overweight if you’re vegan; after all, if you eat even a moderately healthy diet, you’re getting a lot more fruits, veggies, and fiber, and a lot less fat, than someone who eats a meat-centered one with few fruits and veggies. One of the reasons it’s easier to gain weight in general with the typical meat-based diet is because meat has no fiber at all, so this makes it much more calorie dense than a veggie-based one. The fiber in the veggie-based one also forgives a few calories, since some of them pass on through undigested. Serving for serving, veggie-based meals also just have fewer calories in general than meat-based ones, so you can load your plate up and eat to fullness without worrying that what you’re eating is going to end up on your behind in quite the same way.

Even if you’re vegan, though, you still have to pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. If your favorite forms of subsistence are soy ice cream, peanut butter, and grilled (soy) cheese sandwiches but you skimp on the fruits, veggies, legumes and beans, you’re eating a relatively nutrient poor, very calorie dense diet.

To make eating as effortless as possible (meaning that you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and ignore food the rest of the time), limit sweet treats like soy ice cream and high-sugar refined flour baked goods to occasional treats. Stock the fridge and cupboards with whole grains, fruits and veggies. And unfortunately, vegans also have to exercise just like anyone, so shoot for that 30 minutes a day experts recommend.

Just a note that as healthy as I like to eat, I have a definite sweet tooth. I’ve developed some very easy, healthy low sugar “treats” that are still truly good for you, like oatmeal cookies and pumpkin pie, so I rarely am even tempted by junk food anymore. If you’re interested, stop by, which is the website I have. Lots of good, very easy recipes there for the “kitchen-challenged” among us. :-)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vegan is as vegan does … and then there are our pets

Okay, here’s a conundrum I bet any pet owning, animal loving vegan or vegetarian goes through. If you’re like me, you live a life as free as possible of animal products, do the vegan diet, keep a watch on animal cruelty and try to avoid products that do animal testing, etc. You just don’t want to support that kind of thing, so you don’t. You’re feeling pretty proud of yourself for your anti-cruelty, anti-meat position. Yep, doing just fine. Until …

“Meow.” Your beloved feline baby wants dinner, so you reach into the closet for some Meow Mix, or get a can of food out of the cupboard.

Stop. Now, think about this for a minute. Just *where* do you think this stuff comes from? Pressed tofu and dried carrots? Nope, folks, it’s MEAT (or more accurately the leftover junk thereof euphemistically called “byproducts” on the label), that nasty stuff you thought you’d so carefully (and maybe with just a touch of superiority) excised from your life. Well, think again.

Plain and simple, even if you’re vegan in your own diet, if you’ve got a pet, you’re not entirely so (unless you want to cram Fido or Fluff into a diet so unnatural to them as a species that you’ll actually have to feed them supplements to try to keep them alive, never mind truly healthy). You have to buy pet food, or make your own. Therefore, you are a meat consumer, whether you like it or not.

Now, I’d do anything for my babies. I am, after all, an animal loving vegan. My babies are animals … and so are the poor chickens and cows, et al, *they* eat. It is in part because of this continual tug between my own values that I will always be a lazy vegan. I cannot judge someone else’s desire or need for some meat in their diet while I lecture them on the evils of meat, *and* hold my nose while I boil chicken for my kits’ dinner at the same time. I’m just not that ambidextrous, nor do I want to be.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More on “to be or not to be” vegan

There was a comment posted this morning on yesterday’s blog that got me thinking, and I thought I should give the “to be or not to be … vegan” ;-) question a bit more attention.

First, let me make it clear that I would positively love it if every human on the planet could jump on the vegan bandwagon tomorrow. It’s better for the environment, it saves massive energy resources, it’s kinder to animals, etc. If any of us here have been vegan or vegetarian for any length of time, we know our own reasons for doing it and one or more of them are likely at least a variation of those. (Of course, this raises other issues, such as how we animal-loving vegans would feed our carnivorous – and domesticated – kitties especially without the meat industry to help us, but let that be a topic for another post at some point.)

But it’s not just that I think it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will become vegan with some education and perhaps a little pushing. I do think it’s unrealistic, actually, but that’s really another issue. It’s that I don’t think everyone *can* be completely vegan. Here’s why.

I used to think that everyone could be vegan if they wanted to be. I still think it’s true that *most* people could probably be vegan if they wanted to (which is yet another issue), but not everyone anymore. This is a conclusion I reached after a lot of years spent watching and learning in this lifestyle. Like I’ve said before, I know one person who has to have animal products in his diet regularly or he’d literally die because he can’t make his own cholesterol like most of us can. Two more have more subtle discomfort, but nonetheless they feel they do best with just a little meat. I don’t think this is a mistake, or greed, or misdiagnosis, whatever. I think it’s simply a fact that some people need a little meat to be healthy.

Why? Because the human species has been the most adaptive on the planet, and in evolutionary terms, our ancestors had to adapt to the food sources they had around them. Some had mostly fruit, beans, veggies and grains, while others had a lot more meat. You ate what you got, period, or you didn’t survive. So I think it stands to reason that we’ve come through history with traces of those diets embedded in our genes, depending. Some of us can’t stand the sight of meat, some of us need just a little, some of us can adapt either way.

Given that the medical community can’t agree across the board whether or not veganism is healthy (Dean Ornish supports it, for example, but I can’t tell you how many lectures I’ve heard other docs give about the need for dairy in the diet to get calcium still … and they’re not uncommon), I think this is probably an illustration of needing different strokes for different folks, not an endorsement of “one size fits all,” even if we’d like it to happen for veganism.

Again, what I most hope is that those who eat a meat-centered diet now switch to one that’s plant-centered with some meat in it if they need it. This would be no small change. After all, if three die-hard meat eaters drop their meat consumption by about 30% (for starters), that’s the same as if one person goes completely vegetarian. Still a huge impact. :-)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

That jiggly stuff called “tofu”

Okay, so maybe tofu as usually represented by the uninitiated should be called “tof-ewww,” but really, if you prepare it right, it’s delish. (It’s also expensive for this lazy vegan’s price range, so I don’t use it much, only as an occasional treat, but anyway.)

If you really, really don’t even want to try it, it’s okay. You have plenty of options out there, like TVP, that taste much more like meat without any preparation or at best minimal preparation. But if you’re just curious and do want to try it, don’t be put off if you don’t like it as it is right out of the package by itself. I don’t, either. So what’s it good for?

If you want to use it as a meat substitute in something like a stirfry or casserole, take the block of tofu you got from the store and stick it in the freezer overnight, in its original packaging. Then take it out, thaw it completely (usually takes a few hours, depending on the size of the block), rinse it thoroughly, and squeeze the extra water out. This will change its consistency from that of cream cheese to a chewy, meat-like texture. When I’ve used it in casseroles sometimes, people have thought it was chicken, for example, and didn’t even know it was tofu.

If you want a soft creamy tofu to use in something like a cheesecake (which tofu works wonderfully in as a complete sub or partial replacement for cream cheese), you’ll need to use it as is. (If you freeze it, its texture will change to a chewy one and won’t work.) In that case, take it out of the package and give it a gentle rinse, then just substitute equal amounts of tofu for cream cheese, etc.

Easy ways to go veggie “part time”

If being a vegetarian full time isn’t for you, you’ll still help the planet (and yourself) a lot if you do some minor “veggie” tweaks here and there, not too much. You don’t even have to actually replace a complete meat-based meal with a veggie one, ever, unless you want to. How’s that for easy? Just figure out, roughly, how much meat your family eats in a week, then start slow. Cut back your meat intake the first week by about 10%. (BTW, your digestive system will thank you, too, if you go slowly, as will those around you. :-) As healthy as a vegetarian diet can be, you’ll have some trouble adjusting to it if you go too fast and you’re not used to all of that fiber and bean sugar, which can cause major gas and bloating.) Do it without changing the flavor of your meals by replacing part of the hamburger in your meatloaf or burger patties with mashed kidney beans, textured vegetable protein, or lentils. Or serve a tasty stir-fry made with your family’s favorite veggies over rice, and cut the chicken or beef in it by 10%. If you want to “replace” the meat protein in it that you cut back on, toss in a few chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans).

About once a month, cut back another 10%, until you’ve reached the level you want, but 30% is a good reduction to shoot for if you can. It won’t impact the flavor of your meals markedly, and you’ll still feel like you’re eating plenty of meat. You’ll also be getting plenty of fiber effortlessly, so no need to worry that you’re getting what you need. Even better, the soluble fiber in the veggie-based protein can help cut your cholesterol if this is something you need to pay attention to, since soluble fiber absorbs excess cholesterol and removes it from your body. And you’ll feel full on less food and fewer calories, so this is also an easy way to lose some pounds if you need to.

A note about textured vegetable protein, also known as TVP. It’s not something I use a lot, since grocery stores here don’t generally carry it. But if you’re interested in trying it, it can replace meat in soups, stews and stirfries effortlessly. Its texture so mimics hamburger that even die-hard meat eaters won’t know they’re eating it in ground beef-based dishes if you cut the hamburger with it by whatever percentage you’re reducing your meat intake. It’s available in any health food store, and some larger grocery stores also carry it, depending on demand.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What if everyone can’t be vegan?

I understand what those who push for veganism for all are going for, but I don’t agree with it for a few reasons. First of all, IMO, this thinking assumes that everyone physically *can* be vegan, meaning they don’t need animal protein or meat. That’s just not true; yes, most people probably can be, but not everyone.

Why? For most people, the liver can produce all the cholesterol you need by itself; you don’t have to actually ingest cholesterol in your diet. (And yes, despite its evil reputation, you do need some cholesterol to produce certain hormones, avoid osteoporosis, etc.) No plant food actually contains cholesterol, only animal-based foods. My father has this condition; if he doesn’t eat some every day, he’d literally be dead, because he would be getting no cholesterol in any form. Small group of people, I admit, but still there.

Second of all, I don’t think any of us fully understand the fine workings of the human body (and I’m no doctor, for sure) enough to say that *everyone* can follow a purely vegan diet and be healthy. Not just that small group of people I spoke of earlier who clearly need to ingest cholesterol, but those with varying degrees of need to ingest what is chemically a very different kind of protein than vegan-based foods but who have no exact diagnosis of any disorder. I have a couple of friends who desperately tried to become vegan because they so believe in it as a lifestyle, but they just couldn’t. They need to consume small amounts of meat regularly to feel their best. And I absolutely understand that, because I spent the first 18 years of *my* life feeling “off” because I *wasn’t* vegetarian. I didn’t even know you could be until I was in high school, and when I became one in my freshman year of college it was like an undercurrent of constant mild nausea was just gone. This had been a “natural” feeling to me previously that I didn’t even know was abnormal. So I’d never judge someone’s need to have a bit of meat in their diet for the same reason; BTDT. I *do* think we make the mistake of consuming a meat-centered diet instead of a plant-based one supplemented with meat if necessary, but this, too can change. Certainly, the mainstream medical community is *finally* jumping on board by advocating a largely vegetarian diet, even if not every doc believes you can be entirely vegan.

Third of all, although some would consider this less important than the other reasons, a lot of vegans, me included, have pets. So if you’re a pet “parent,” you’re an indirect consumer of the meat industry even if you don’t eat meat yourself. I have no idea how I’d feed my beloved kitties and keep them their healthiest were the meat production industry to disappear tomorrow. I know you can feed them taurine supplements and try, but I don’t think it’s healthy for true carnivores to have a meat-free diet. So, what to do then? Feed them freeze-dried mice? Set them loose and let them try to fend for themselves? I’m sure this could happen, but I don’t know if it’s best, and as I said, I don’t think it needs to happen. I think a modification in the industry will help a lot, so that the environment *and* the animals who make the ultimate sacrifice are both cared for and appreciated appropriately.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How do you handle “militant” vegans and vegetarians?

Okay, this might seem an odd thing for a fellow vegan to say, but I don’t like it when other vegans/vegetarians think *everyone* should be vegan/vegetarian, or even worse, if they become confrontational to try to “persuade” others to adopt their point of view.

I realize this is a relatively small group of people, but I’ve seen it happen a few times and it usually makes me cringe in embarrassment. Unfortunately, every so often when I tell someone I’m a vegetarian (I usually don’t say “vegan” in general company just in passing anymore because too many people are unfamiliar with the term and at least once in the past have thought it means I’m part of a peculiar religious sect), they’re afraid I’m going to start to lecture them on the evils of meat eating right there on the spot.

That’s too bad, not just because I think it’s unfair to them, but because I think it makes it harder to connect and work together to make some positive changes happen that could help us both.

For instance, current commercial meat production practices are both inhumane and hard on the environment. Now, I don’t think meat production should or even can go away entirely. We depend on it too much; I might even say we need it for various reasons, as I’ve said before. It does need to change both because humane food production practices are both kinder to the animals in question *and* gentler to the environment, but just how will embarrassing someone over his porterhouse and baked potato persuade him of this fact?

The current system is entrenched and will need to change slowly over time, with education. And when we do make that shift, we also have to make sure that those who raise the animals for food are fairly compensated. Right now, the system is based on cheap volume-based mass production. To make that feasible and still marginally profitable, many resort to the inhumane but cost-effective methods that are currently in place. If vegans and vegetarians can take a stand and make it clear we have no intention of trying to “convert” those who aren’t, we’d be much more likely to have a meaningful conversation about these truly important changes with them.

To food combine or not to food combine

One of the things that always ruffles me a little is when I hear folks say that you have to be ever so careful to get so-called “complete protein” or risk wasting away from malnutrition if you want to be vegan or vegetarian. They make it sound so hard! But is it really?

I can say that in 20-plus years of being vegan, I’ve never, ever given a thought to “food combining” or “complete protein” versus “incomplete protein,” and I’m fine and healthy. If anything, I worry less about meeting my nutritional requirements than I’d imagine most meat eaters do; my diet is utterly mindless and driven solely by hunger cues, for the most part. Although it does take just a bit of diligence to keep junk food at bay (because I’m a sucker for a potato chip just as much as anyone is), I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever even given a thought to getting my “five a day” servings of fruits and veggies or enough fiber the way the government is now on the horn about for the average citizen. And as long as I stick to healthy foods, I can eat as much as and as often as I want, no calorie counting, no hunger; effortless weight control.

You do have to make sure you get enough calories and eat a variety of foods every day, but go ahead and eat those pinto beans without the rice if you so choose. If you simply try to stick to a healthy diet, don’t worry about “special combinations” to get your “complete protein.” It’s already there, effortlessly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do “mixed marriages” work?

Let’s say you’re what is affectionately known as a “veggie” (or maybe just taking a bit of a dabble in it, to try), but your significant other or mate isn’t and has no interest in even giving it a go. How do you handle it then? Is your relationship doomed unless one of you “converts”?

In my experience, no. Know what? Not a single one of my three serious post-vegetarian relationships has had both of us meandering along the veggie trail. It’s a road I’ve traveled solo in every case. I will say that it worked for me because except for wanting an SO to cut down on meat consumption for health reasons (not eliminate), I didn’t care that my partner wasn’t vegetarian, and I wasn’t set on any children I might have eventually had becoming vegetarian, either. The only adjustment we made was that each of us did our own cooking; handling raw meat is a very squeamish experience for me and I just couldn’t even if I’d wanted to, but since I also hate to cook in general, this worked out fine and I was glad I didn’t have to.

If you’re someone who’s interested in getting a partner to convert either way (veggie, or not veggie?), then I would imagine that it’s kind of like conversion to a particular religion – fine if one partner doesn’t mind converting, or perhaps a relationship breaker if there’s just no way that’s going to happen and it’s central to the relationship continuing. If you’re interested, I’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.

Monday, June 11, 2007

That pesky fiber requirement

There’s a commercial on TV that I see once in awhile that advertises one of those “fiber in a pill” supplements, supposedly meant to help fiber-starved Americans get their daily allotted requirement of 25 grams a day. It cracks me up. It shows a woman continuously chewing on a broccoli stalk, a carrot, and a bran muffin as she moves through her day, working hard (and failing, natch) to cram what she needs into her mouth before the day is up. The message is, “Who has time to get what you need?” And although those fiber-pill makers would have you think otherwise, the answer is, “You do” – with very little effort (and much more cheaply and nutritiously than you can with a pill).

Plain and simple, you do not have to continuously nosh on broccoli (without cheese sauce, raw, and as bland tasting as possible) to strain for your fiber requirement, and you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian, either. Incorporate just a serving of beans or legumes into your diet a day, and you’ll get a good 10-14 grams, depending on the bean. In one serving. Toss in an apple and a few dried prunes (delish, even if they’ve got a rather unattractive reputation) and you’ve got another five or so. Substitute three cups of popcorn for a few handfuls of those potato chips and you’ll get about three. Try out some of that whole grain bread at the store; use one slice of your favorite white bread and one slice of whole grain to get you started, or try one of the newer “white wheat” brands.

Combine hamburger with cooked lentils or mashed kidney beans (half and half or two-thirds meat to one-third beans), to make your meat loaf or burgers fiber rich, painlessly. And viola! You have your fiber requirement without even trying.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Veganism or vegetarianism and “effortless” weight loss/maintenance

In my previous post, I discussed some of the benefits to the environment that going vegan or vegetarian even part time provides. Committed environmentalists will see the merit in this, but a more immediate and personal effect you might not have considered is that becoming vegan or vegetarian (even partially) is a wonderful, nearly effortless way to help control your weight.

With something like 60% or better of the US population overweight or obese, it’s clear that the country has a chronic health problem it needs to address. Of course, the biggest reason for this explosion in obesity is our lack of activity, coupled by a dependence on refined foods, fast food, and high sugar intake.

But what if, at least to start, you could “have your cake and eat it,” too? If you just replaced a high-fat meat-based meal with lots of refined carbs three days a week with a veggie-based one, you’d save yourself anywhere from several hundred to a thousand or more calories a week, boost your fiber intake without having to ingest any artificial or expensive “fiber supplements,” and improve your nutritional profile without even trying.

Don’t think you can do a whole meal at first? Then just start “cutting” your meat intake in soups, stews and stirfries by replacing part of the meat with beans and veggies. Lentils are a wonderful “invisible” hamburger substitute; if you replace a third of the hamburger in your favorite meatloaf or burger recipe with cooked lentils, you won’t be able to tell the difference, but you’ll have cut calories and boosted fiber substantially. A bonus is that lentils are super easy to make and cook as quickly as rice. Just rinse a pound of lentils, put them in a saucepan and add enough water to cover by two inches, cover with a lid and simmer on medium heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, adding water midway if necessary. The lentils are done when tender.

For more “lazy vegan” recipe ideas, visit my website at:

Saturday, June 9, 2007

More on what it means to be a "lazy" vegan

When it comes to being a “lazy” vegan, I’m not just talking about cooking. Certainly, I love being a “lazy” vegan in part because I can have a positive impact on a lot of things without even trying. I love the positive impact it has on the environment (without my even trying), love that it’s a cheap, nutritious, and simple way to eat so that it doesn’t strain my budget (again, without my even trying), but it’s not just that. I’m also talking about being “lazy,” or more appropriately, laid back, really, about my vegan lifestyle. In other words, I don’t necessarily think everyone should be a vegan.

“What’s that?” you say. Yep, I don’t. See, just like I think I need to be a vegan to be my healthiest, I think some people need just a little meat. I do think we eat too much of it (in America, at least), and we could do ourselves, the environment, and the animals themselves a big favor if we ate less of it. We also need to change our commercial meat production practices in a major way, to make them much more humane to the animals and to the environment (it couldn’t hurt the nutritional content of the meat, either, if the animals aren’t stressed out and shot up with antibiotics, among other things). But dispense with it entirely? Nope.

The other thing is, I’m not completely vegan in my lifestyle, and I’m willing to bet that most vegans aren’t. If you’re vegan, you’re probably scrupulous about your own diet. Maybe you also shun leather, honey, etc. But if you’re an animal lover and have a cat especially, you probably use at least some meat in Fluffy’s diet, be it through commercial food or by cooking your own, which means you’re an “indirect” consumer of the meat industry. I give a little of both kinds of food to my girls. The only way to make cats non-carnivores is by artificial means, and I just don’t think that’s healthy. (Dogs are omnivores and can be healthy with a carefully constructed vegetarian diet, although it’s not natural to them to do so.)

So if you’re a vegan and want to lecture your meat-eating neighbor on the evils of meat, take a deep breath and think about it for a minute before you do. If your beloved kitty can chow down on the Fancy Feast you provided (or on homemade food lovingly prepared by you), then in my opinion your neighbor has a right to his own meat-based “chow,” too.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The ramifications of being vegan and its impact on the environment

With the recent popularity of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” people are talking continuously about global warming and its dangers. Right now, of course, the focus is on developing alternative sources for fuel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and this is imperative. We can and should be developing alternative energy sources for homes, cars, places of business, etc. Take Brazil, for example. It runs entirely on its own biofuels; although these fuels are not wholly “clean burning,” they’re cleaner than fossil fuels are. The U.S. can certainly jump on the same bandwagon; we won’t be dependent on foreign energy sources for our fuel, either, if we can literally grow our own.

But if you want to do something now to favorably impact the environment (given that the U.S. is not yet in full swing with biofuels even if individual citizens would like to be), did you know that if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you are already reducing the impact you have on the environment? And even if you reduce rather than eliminate your consumption of meat, you’re still helping reduce what’s called your “carbon footprint.” In a nutshell, your carbon footprint represents the amount of carbon dioxide emissions you contribute to the environment or atmosphere with your lifestyle. This includes what and how much you drive, your monthly energy consumption to heat, cool, and light your home, heat your water, etc.

I can’t find an exact figure to tell me just what a meat-eating diet vs. a vegan one produces in carbon dioxide emissions, but it takes between 10 and 20 times more energy and resources to feed the average meat eater than it does a vegan or vegetarian. The figures are broad because, of course, you’ll have much less impact on the environment as a vegan if you eat only locally grown, organic produce you bought from the farmer’s market than you will if you buy it from your local grocery, as I do. But you’ll still help the environment a lot if you “go veggie” even part time no matter how you slice it. So, go on. What are you waiting for? The polar ice caps are a’ melting!

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Lazy Vegan Blog

Hi, everybody:

Well, I'm venturing into the land of bloggers, with this first Lazy Vegan-related blog. I'm doing this in part to get my own creative juices going again. As you know, The Lazy Vegan was originally meant to be a weekly newsletter, which ran out of steam relatively quickly because, as I've said, I truly hate to cook. So while I can occasionally post a recipe here and there, once I ran out of my stash of "tried and true" recipes, I felt like I really didn't have much else to talk about. Hence, the long delay in between newsletters. I appreciate everyone's posts asking me where I'd gone and I have always intended to make the newsletter a regular thing once again.

I posted to the newsletter in February, because in fact, I did have a recipe to post, but it's not likely that newsletter postings from here on out will have many recipes. However, I want to use the blog for an ideas exchange with you. Is there anything you would like to talk about or know about that I can address as a topic in the newsletter? Feel free to leave your comments here. I'll take ideas from the exchange and use those to write new content for the newsletter.

Thanks, and hoping to hear from you!