Monday, June 20

The Vegan Option

(an essay I wrote about the wonders of being vegan! I guess it wasn't right for the publication that asked me to write it, but I thought I would share it here!)

Humans, the incredible omnivores that we are, can live happy and healthy lives eating plants. It takes some convincing, I know. I’ve been there.
More accurately, I’ve been to the Copper Onion and happily ate a plateful of pasta carbonara. Mixing a raw egg into a plate of house-made fettuccine with smoked bacon cream sauce is pretty much the opposite of vegan. Sometimes my curiosity has gotten the best of me (duck fat peanuts) or I’ve given in to my Italian heritage and enjoyed fresh ricotta with salt, pepper and Triscuits (my godparents owned a goat farm and I was raised on the stuff!).

Weighing my personal pleasure against an animal’s life is an uncomfortable thought for me. There are foods I like, and then there are foods that I like and feel good about eating. Luckily there are lots of amazing vegan things to eat out there. Easily enough to hold my attention.
My favorite comfort foods like pizza, lasagna and macaroni and cheese can be made vegan. Vegan cheese has come such a far way since you’ve tried it last. Vegans do not want for cheese. We have gooey, melty cheese, like Daiya, creamy spreadable cheese from We Can’t Call it Cheese and most importantly, cream cheese from Tofutti (cheesecake!). Raw cheese can be made from soaked cashews and it is creamy and delicious. Perfect for hors d’ouerves and little tea sandwiches.
All sorts of dairy goodness can be made vegan. Coconut milk, almond milk and soy milk are available, as is yogurt made from all sorts of milks. Most importantly, we have ice cream. We have crazy amazing ice cream. My favorites are made from coconut milk. They are flavorful, dense and creamy. You can also make a easy ice cream by blending frozen bananas with a little vanilla extract.  
That leaves eggs and meat to replace. Simple. My favorite egg dishes like quiche and scrambled eggs are easily made vegan by using tofu. There are many faux-meat products on the shelves today that are remarkable. My favorite brand is Gardein. I always have a few packages in the freezer for cooking emergencies. They pan-fry up quickly and can be added to noodles or rice for a quick lazy meal. Seitan (pronounced say-tan) is easy to make at home from wheat gluten flour and a few other ingredients. You can honestly do anything with seitan; it can become everything from fried chicken to roast beef depending on what spices you use to make it and how you prepare it.
Eating out offers a whole new world of possibility. A lot of ethnic foods are already vegan like Indian and Asian. In Salt Lake we have a good Thai or Indian restaurant on nearly every street! My current guilty pleasure is fresh-mex places; I’m pretty crazy about rice and beans with guacamole and lime. Last week my husband and I hit Barbacoa three times. (Did I mention that  being vegan is easy?)
Besides being easy, it’s also a lot of fun. Crazy things happen when you take the leap to a plant-based diet. Each season brings new foods to experiment with and every day is a chance to be creative. The more you cook without the safety net of meat, dairy and  eggs, the more exciting it becomes!  
Seasonal vegan foods are the most fun. Fall and winter call for curries and soups bursting with squash and pumpkin. Roasted veggies like brussel sprouts and sunchokes always makes people feel warm and happy inside.
Summer and spring is where veganism shines. It’s where you want to eat salads that are a rainbow of colors, a variety of textures and five inches deep. Salsa is a kind of a given, but think about all the fresh veggies in there! It’s full of peppers, onions and tomatoes and can go on everything. Cold soups are easily my favorite things to eat in the summer. Avocados or cucumber based soups are refreshing, or you can make a quick, healthy gazpacho and pair it with a crusty baguette. I love it either way.  Smoothies full of fresh fruit and greens are a perfect way to use up all that produce you picked up at the farmers’ market.
For me a vegan summer means all of this and more. I love grilled and marinated portabellos or tofu, home-made veggie burgers, and pizzas topped with fresh pesto ripe tomatoes and vegan mozzarella. Whole pineapples can be thrown on the grill, slices cut like a ham and served with coconut ice cream.  

With a world full of fruits and vegetables, farmers’ markets, CSA’s and my little porch garden, living a vegan life is an easy choice for me. I love animals, don’t want to eat them and don’t need to. There’s been moments where I’ve waivered, but I always come back to veganism. It tastes good and feels right.

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