a mostly vegan week

Taking a break from the pandemic diaries to jot down a few thoughts after a little over a week into our gradual transition to becoming a "mostly vegan" family. I haven't eaten beef in a really long time; I honestly can't remember the last time I had a "real" burger and I've never really enjoyed any other red meat. Avoiding beef pretty simply resulted from not feeling well after I ate it. So I stopped. And if you don't eat beef for awhile, suddenly eating it again is akin to inducing a mild stomach bug. No thank you.

Pork, let's face it, is delicious, but I have a bit of a thing for pigs. I've resisted letting my love of animals be the only thing that steered me away from eating meat, but once you dig into the industry of producing animal protein on a massive scale, you can't unsee the things you'll inevitably come across. But I still found it hard to resist the occasional bacon or carnitas. Honestly, it was Kitten Lady's fostering of orphaned piglet Joshua that sealed the deal for me. I haven't had any pork product since.

And until recently, I felt mostly okay with eating poultry and fish. But if you're at all concerned about animal welfare and the spread of contagious disease, poultry farms are among the worst offenders. Quote from the article I'll get to a bit later: “We cannot protect against pandemics while continuing to eat meat regularly. Much attention has been paid to wet markets, but factory farms, specifically poultry farms, are a more important breeding ground for pandemics.”

As far as animal protein and products go, that leaves me with the most expensive eggs and hoping the organic, cage-free, pasture-raised labels are accurate until I can get my own backyard chickens (because I love eggs). We don't eat much fish and I'm still on the fence in terms of how I feel about this particular animal protein when graded against human health, fish welfare, environmental sustainability, and threat of zoonotic disease transmission.

If you need convincing, this is an excellent, well-researched New York Times op-ed from a few days ago. Jonathan Safran Foer touches on ALL the issues, and there are many. In my opinion, you can't say you care about the environment/climate change/global warming, and consume any part of a cow. “If cows were a country, they would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.” And yes, this extends to dairy, which produces a double-whammy if you think about how the calves are immediately separated from their mothers after birth and sent off to the veal industry. The stress this causes can be measured in cortisol levels. And this is probably my biggest challenge because I love butter, mostly for baking, and cheese. But we could all stand to eat a little less fat, especially animal fat. Indeed, there are lots of health reasons to go "mostly vegan."

Meat lovers will say the pandemic is being used to push an agenda, but I really appreciate the open door metaphor Foer uses throughout his op-ed: “Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” Like so many issues facing American society in particular, the door is wide open now; we just need to walk through it (paraphrasing something he says later in the article). Here are some alternatives that are helping my family and me cross that threshold:

Butter. As I mentioned above, dairy is tough because I love to bake (with butter) and we eat a lot of cheese. Miyoko's butter is really good. I haven't baked chocolate chip cookies with it yet, which will be the true test, but assuming that works well enough, we are good to go as far as this animal fat is concerned (we already use a vegan spread on toast and such).

Soy creamer. I've avoided soy in the past because of what seem now to be largely unfounded concerns about hormone levels. I've tried all the coffee creamer substitutes and this is by far my favorite.

Milk. We have smoothies 2-3 times a week and we're still experimenting with which "milk" goes well in which smoothie. Coconut milk-based beverage was acceptable earlier in the week, but we tried oat milk today and it received higher marks all around. As far as cereal goes, which we typically only eat about one morning per week, we collectively seem to not have a huge preference. Whatever works for smoothies will work for cereal.

Sauces and stuff. That said, coconut milk (or cream, since that's all Trader Joe's has had in stock the last couple of weeks) is your friend for making creamy stuff like curries and sauces.

Whipped cream is a staple?? I'll confess we put a little whipped cream on top of our smoothies, and this coconut based alternative works just fine (although there is a subtle coconut flavor, but we don't seem to mind).

Mmm, chocolate. A lot of (dark) chocolate is "accidentally" vegan like this "pound plus" bar from Trader Joe's, a staple in our house (we only have one square at a time, I swear). Their chocolate chips are also accidentally vegan.

Protein. Beans, peanut butter (we eat a lot of PB), eggs, as mentioned in the above caveat, etc. Tofu is, of course, a great source of protein, and makes a mean Mexican chocolate pie, too!

Dinner. Of the dinners we've made, some have obviously not been as successful as others. I suggest you start with something like this pistachio green mole*, paired with roasted summer veggies, corn tortillas, and white rice, plus chips and guacamole, maybe some beans, a classic gin & tonic for you, and aguas frescas for the kids. Totally vegan. Totally delicious.

*A quick recipe hack: if you can't find or don't want to search for all the peppers and tomatillos and such, buy a container of fresh green salsa from Trader Joe's, simmer with a cup of pistachios for about 5 minutes, then blend with 1/2 cup kale or spinach and a cup of cilantro. It's that easy!

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