Three Plant-Based Food-Hacks For New Veggies
Nearly everywhere you look these days is touting the benefits of a plant-based diet for the body, the mind, the soul – and for the planet. And although some remain sceptical, the figures don’t lie.
Currently, 13.7% of the British public are pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan (4.7%, 6% and 3% respectively), and according to research by Finder.com, a further 12% are intending to give up meat this year.
Of the generational groups, younger people are the most likely to follow a meat-free diet, with 20% of Generation Z having already ditched meat consumption, while a further 26% of Gen Z are intending to adopt a meat-free diet this year.
Veganism is expected to have the biggest statistical growth of all diets this year: if everyone expecting to go vegan is successful, the total number of people in the UK following a vegan diet will increase by 132%.
Interestingly, although vegetarianism and veganism are often stereotyped as a ‘women’s lifestyle choice’, there are significantly more male vegetarians and vegans than female, with 13.9% of men being vegetarian or vegan as opposed to just 13.4%.
However, it appears that most people transitioning to veganism are female, with 87% of Veganuary – the annual challenge to refrain from eating meat during the month of January – participants being women.
Why Are More People Going Meat-Free?
According to research by Mintel (2018), the most popular reason for eating less meat remains animal welfare, with approximately 54% of non-meat eaters saying they were doing it for the animals.
The other most popular reasons were health, weight management, environmental worries, concern over antibiotics, and taste.
Plant-based diets offer several opportunities for modern-day society: firstly, they reduce the impact on the environment, which is a growing area of concern as we begin to fight climate change.
Eating a vegan diet may be the biggest way to reduce environmental impact, and according to statistics released by The Independent in 2018, could reduce carbon footprint by up to 73%! Eating a vegan diet reduces land and water consumption significantly, as there is no need to feed and graze livestock.
It also reduces the use of fossil fuels, as there is less need for transport between farms, slaughterhouses, butchers and packaging plants. In fact, ombar.com estimated that animal products constitute 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Eating meat is also a large contributing factor to deforestation and habitat destruction. It is estimated that a football field’s worth of land is cleared every second in order to graze livestock, and three times more land is required for a meat-eating diet than for plant-based. In fact, every pound of beef equates to 200 square feet of destroyed rainforest.
Another consequence of this is pollution. Animal waste products are released from meat farms and packaging plants, which washes into our waterways. The excess phosphorus and nitrogen cause algae growth which kills the fish by depriving them of oxygen. This leads to toxic water, and the creation of ‘dead zones’, where no life can survive in the local area.
Secondly, eating a plant-based diet reduces animal cruelty. It doesn’t take much research to find out the cruel conditions that livestock for meat are raised in.
According to statistics by OneGreenPlanet, 80% of pigs were found to have pneumonia on slaughter, chickens are kept in a smaller space than an iPad, and the growth rate of animals has been artificially increased to three times faster, in order for an early slaughter and less production cost.
Dairy cows from factory farms are killed after just three lactation cycles, 5-10 per cent of chickens die from forced melting and animals are routinely mutilated, including teeth clipping and removal, cutting off tails, and beak cutting. The mutilation of chickens’ genes has left 90% unable to walk, and little to no factory-farmed animals receive any veterinary care.
With speculation surrounding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns about the wet markets in China, there is good reason to be concerned about the potential impact of mass breeding and animal diseases on human health.
Aside from potential disease transmission, there are multiple other reasons to be concerned about the impact of meat on health. Eating particularly red meat is associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bowel cancer, and obesity.
A study by NHANES (2009) found that the people who ate the most red meat were up to 30% more likely to be obese and have central obesity (excessive fat around the waist). And while red meat is reported to be the worst for health, there are other health risks associated with fish and other animal products.
Fish can contain high levels of potentially poisonous mercury, and carcinogens like PCBs. As levels of environmental pollution grow, we can expect fish to become more contaminated. Meanwhile, dairy products and eggs are associated with higher cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes, and other weight-related health concerns.
So Now What?
You may have already decided that you want to go vegetarian or vegan, or to cut down on your meat consumption, but not known where to even start. If you come from a strictly ‘meat and two veg’ family, it is quite a leap to make, and it will be quite natural to become stuck on how to structure your meals from here on. If this is you, rest assured that many, if not most, long term vegetarians and vegans have been where you are now.
A good starting point is to think about your favourite dishes that you eat regularly, and how you might recreate these without animal products.
For a starting point, here is a list of commonly-used vegan meat replacements and protein sources:
Tofu: Bland in taste, used to absorb flavours through seasoning or marinating, and very versatile. Can be soft and gelatinous, or firm depending on the type bought and how it is cooked.
Soft tofu can be used as a dairy replacement and sauce thickening in desserts, for example, by replacing the sift cheese in cheesecake. By seasoning and frying, you can add it to stir-fries, curries, and other savoury dishes.
If you crumble it into a heated frying pan and cook it through, you can make it into a mince replacement for chillis and bolognese.
Tempeh: The unprocessed form of tofu, made with fermented soybeans. Has more flavour, and a sweet, nutty taste. You can marinade and fry it, or crumble and cook it for chillis, bolognese etc. Very refreshing in a salad. You can also use it as you would bacon, on top of pizzas, in a vegan carbonara, etc.
Seitan: Has more bite than tempeh or tofu, and a texture a little like chicken. It is made with hydrated gluten, so be aware of this if you require a GF diet.
That being said, seitan makes a great red meat replacement and is very versatile. Put it in anything you would use red meat for; from Washingtons to Enchiladas to BBQ fake ribs.
Jackfruit: This is a fruit, which you usually buy in a can from Asian food stores. Jackfruit has a ‘pulled pork’ texture when cooked and a slightly sweet and smoky taste, and makes a great filling for Bao buns, in burgers, or as a vegan ‘pulled pork’.
Soy Mince: This is ‘mince’ made from soybeans. Usually comes dry, and will swell when added to liquid. Makes a convincing meat replacement texture-wise, but flavour needs to be added to it with the sauce: for example, to make a bolognese sauce, you would need to add vegetable stock, seasonings and some kind of vegan umami flavour.
To get this flavour, you can use a range of ingredients. Dried mushrooms or mushroom sauce both work well, alternatively, you can use soy sauce, red wine, or even Marmite! Experiment with the flavours you like and see what fits best for you!
Beans and Pulses: This includes beans, lentils and chickpeas. Used to add protein to plant-based dishes. They don’t really resemble meat, but provide the textural interest and protein source that meat often functions in a dish. Great in curries, chillis, dips, etc. You can also use lentils to make the ‘mince’ for a cottage pie.
Nutritional Yeast: Used as a replacement for ‘cheesy’ flavour, especially in dishes that use Parmesan.
Vegan Cheese: You can buy vegan cheese in a range of supermarkets across the UK now. Some melt and some don’t, and each has a distinctly different flavour. Why not experiment with making your own ‘vegan cheese board’ and see which you like?
Avoiding The Expense
You will often hear people say that they couldn’t go vegetarian or vegan because of the cost. And it’s true that some of the high-end vegan food brands are expensive.
But eating vegan doesn’t have to be.
The truth is that the only reason that people think eating meat is cheap is because the industry is subsidised by the government. In fact, meat is much more expensive to produce than vegetables, but we simply pay for the meat industry through our taxes.
In contrast, vegetables are much cheaper to produce and better for the planet. And you can get all your nutrition easily from cheap sources, if you know how to structure it right.
The First Food Hack is to avoid the large brands and buy from small wholesalers, such as your local grocers. Try to base the majority of your meals around beans, pulses and seeds to keep your nutrition up and the cost down.
Chia seeds, for example, are a great staple food because they contain high amounts of Omega 3 and protein, while chickpeas, lentils and beans are also great protein sources.
If you are concerned about yor calcium levels, swap out your milk for increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables, and adding a calcium-enriched soy milk to your diet.
If you are prone to losing weight, and this concerns you, ensure you are eating adequate amounts of healthy fat, such as avocado oil and coconut oil.
You can buy most tofu, tempeh and seitan cheaper from Asian food stores than at the supermarkets, so make sure that you ‘shop around’ a bit, and support your local community, and your pockets will reward you too!
The Second Food Hack is to get to know how each ingredient functions and how you can use it. Be curious in your cooking.
For example, you could pay up to £2.00 for an egg replacement powder that is in fact mostly potato starch. Or, you could buy a larger quantity of chia seed for a fraction of the price.
When mixed with the water, the chia becomes gelatinous and acts in the same way as an egg for baking. And it’s healthier for you too!
The Third Food Hack is to talk to other vegetarians and vegans. Find out their recipes and try them out for yourself, making improvements where necessary as you go. By learning from other people, you can expand your cooking knowledge and try new dishes you might now otherwise have eaten.
Try to leave your food habits and preconceived ideas about food at the door if you can: much of vegetarian cuisine is a hotch-potch of flavours from a variety of cultures, due to influences from vegetarian communities across the world. You may find that you love jackfruit, or perhaps you’re a chickpea chica!
Have fun with it, learn new things, and enjoy the journey!
Article by Caterquip