Category Archives: Vegetarian Living

Caring, courage and a little knowledge

October is National Vegetarian Month so we thought this might be a good time to talk about how you, or perhaps a close friend or relative, could actually become a vegetarian (I’m using vegetarian in the broadest sense of the word, including total vegetarian or vegan). What does it take? Of course, it’s different for each person, but there are three ingredients which are common to almost everyone, and those are caring, courage and a little practical knowledge.

Many people tell us, it’s all very well for you, but I just don’t know how to get started. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to explain what we see as the essential ingredients to becoming vegetarian. Let’s start at the beginning.

First of all, you have to care deeply enough about one or more of what we call the legs of the vegetarian table, and those legs are health, animals, global hunger, the environment and whatever spirit practice you may have.

Many people care, and some are even worried, about their health. They learn about the many health benefits of a vegetarian diet: the reduction in the risk or severity of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, several kinds of cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and many more. The list of diseases that a vegetarian diet helps to prevent, or even treat, is long.  If people decide that they really want to live a longer and healthier life, once they know the facts about how their diet impacts their health, they are often prepared to change their eating habits to help achieve that goal.

Others care passionately about the animals. When they learn about the reality of the harsh conditions that animals endure on factory farms, how they are regarded as nothing more than objects to be manufactured into food, they decide that they want no part of it.  They don’t want their food choices to cause an animal any hardship, and they certainly don’t want them to wind up in a slaughterhouse, and so they decide to go vegetarian as a way of saving the animals.

Some people learn that it’s the world’s growing appetite for meat that is one of the largest driving forces behind most of the food shortages and the record levels of global hunger. This is because farm animals are really food factories in reverse, returning only a small percentage of the nutrients we feed them, to us in the form of meat. They don’t want their meat-centered meals to contribute to the worldwide crisis of starvation and malnutrition that’s occurring in many parts of the world, and so they decide to switch over to a vegetarian diet, thus leaving so much more food potentially available for others.

Others care about sustaining the environment and they learn about the latest studies documenting how raising livestock is either the main, or a leading cause, of almost every major kind of environmental damage. They learn that raising meat causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world put together, and so they decide to follow a greener and more eco-friendly vegetarian diet.

And last, but by no means least, many people find that choosing a vegetarian diet enhances their spiritual life. They gain increased spiritual or religious fulfillment with having a clear and informed approach to making their food choices.

Once you know enough about the impact of a vegetarian diet, and you care enough about one or more of these factors, you then have to find the courage to make the change. It takes courage to leave the safe and familiar ground of the status quo, and to change the habits of a lifetime. It takes courage to decide to eat differently from the people around you.  It takes courage to raise the issue with family and friends, and explain why you want to change your diet, and it even takes courage to try new foods, new recipes, and new restaurants. Courage is the ingredient which many people don’t realize they need, but if you can identify the fears that are holding you back, a bit of courage makes a huge difference in changing your diet.

The third ingredient to successfully making the change is a bit of knowledge.  You need to learn about the basics of nutrition.  You need to learn about the new essential food groups – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and how you can get all the nutrients you need, including protein, from these food groups. You need to learn about different ingredients and products – how to cook with tofu, tempeh or quinoa for example as well as convenience products such as veggie burgers and veg-dogs.  You need to find new recipes to make at home, and new restaurants where you can eat out, or at least new menu options at your favorite restaurants, before you’ll feel comfortable to start eating as a vegetarian.

Here at Vegetarians of Washington, we try to help you in all of these areas.  We give you the information you need and the encouragement that’ll help you to give vegetarian food a try.  We act as helpers and supporters, because we know that people are looking for help and not a hard time when it comes to making changes.  Our books give you an introduction to all of the facts about the legs of the vegetarian table, how to shop for healthy vegetarian food, and how to deal with family issues. And our cooking classes give you the basics of cooking some new ingredients, which you may not be familiar with. Our dinners (when there is no pandemic) enable you to taste a wide variety of delicious vegetarian meals, so that you know you won’t feel deprived. Vegfest, our annual vegetarian food festival (now scheduled for May 14 and 15, 2022), gives you the opportunity to taste from hundreds of different kinds of foods, and learn so much more. And finally our newsletter helps remind you of why you decided to go vegetarian, and gives you support and advice as you change your diet and move on with your life.

So if you’re sitting on the fence, trying to decide whether to make some changes to your diet, decide which aspect or combination you care about the most – your health, the animals, the environment, feeding the hungry or spiritual enhancement.  Learn more about it.  Then pluck up your courage, grasp the opportunities we provide, get the information you need to get started, and jump right in.  Remember though that you don’t have to do it all at once.  Find a few delicious dishes to replace your old favorites, take it step by step, and before you know it, you’ll realize that you’re pretty much a vegetarian already.  We’re here to give you a helping hand at any time.

For those who have already become vegetarian, perhaps long ago, just think back to before you were a vegetarian, and remember how you felt.  Why not reach out to someone who expresses an interest and offer to give them a helping hand. Share your favorite recipes, invite them to one of our dinners, let them know that you too were once in their shoes, and that while you’ll respect their need to proceed at their own pace, you’ll be there for them if they have any questions or need any extra help. We think that you’ll find helping others a very gratifying experience.

As more people become vegetarian, it gets easier for all of us.  There are more and more healthy vegetarian products available in the stores, more and more restaurants offering tasty vegetarian options, and more family and friends who are open to the idea and willing to support you in your decision. And of course, you’ll be helping to improve your health, save the animals, help the hungry, heal the environment and nourish your spirit. We thank you all for caring, being willing to learn and having the courage to change your diet and to help others to do the same.

Vegan chicken nuggets for school lunch

Thousands of school children in six school districts in Washington and California have a new option on the lunch menu this year, Kickin’ Nuggets.  These vegan chicken nuggets are made by Rebellyous Foods, a Seattle-based startup founded by Vegetarians of Washington member, Christie Lagally.  The aim of her business is to develop affordable plant-based products for the food-service sector, focusing in particular on schools and hospitals, where they can make the biggest impact.

The nuggets are made from textured wheat with corn-based breading.  They qualify for two meat alternate credits under the National School Lunch Program and are nutritionally superior to animal-based nuggets since they’re lower in sodium and saturated fat and contain no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics.  They also reduce the impact on the planet from raising chickens, while saving the chickens a lot of pain and suffering in the process.

“Schools play a pivotal role in shaping children’s dietary patterns, so we are thrilled to be able to offer Rebellyous Kickin’ Nuggets to help acquaint our diners with delicious plant-based options while teaching the importance of eating a wider variety of foods,” Frank Castro, Director of Child Nutrition Services at Dublin Unified School District, said. 

Let’s hope that many more school districts recognize the benefits to the children, the animals and the plant, of choosing plant-based nuggets, and they adopt the Kickin’ Nuggets more widely.

Vitamin D – Are you in the dark?

Vitamin DAs the days grow shorter and colder at this time of year, we get much less opportunity to expose our skin to sunlight. We all need to ensure an adequate Vitamin D intake during the winter months, since it’s almost impossible to produce Vitamin D in the skin at this time of year. In fact, there’s been a lot in the news recently about Vitamin D. You may be wondering what the fuss is about, and whether vegetarians and vegans need to worry about it more than anyone else, so we’ve gathered the latest facts to help you decide what to do.

Read more

Top restaurants dip their toes

Top restaurants and chefs are embracing plant based cuisine. As they open up again after the pandemic, some of the top restaurants are switching out specific animal products for plant-based alternatives, while others are choosing to go all in as a fully plant-based restaurant.

Chef Josef Centeno recently replaced dairy with vegan cheese in multiple dishes at his Tex-Mex eatery Bar Amá in Los Angeles, CA. An acclaimed chef who holds a Michelin star at his other LA eatery Orsa & Winston, Centeno partnered with So Delicious to make the switch. Centeno—a nominee for Best Chef at the 2020 James Beard Awards—realized that he could switch out regular cheese for plant-based alternatives without sacrificing the texture or flavor, so he now uses vegan cheese in place of dairy in some of his most popular dishes, including Cheddar Almond “Queso” and Chile Relleno.

In 2018, Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier removed foie gras at his French restaurant Gauthier Soho in London. Prior to the change, the restaurant sold more than 40 pounds of this especially cruel animal product every week. While he has offered a vegan menu since 2015, Gauthier decided to reopen Gauthier Soho as a fully vegan restaurant earlier this year after going vegan himself. 

Here in the US, the chefs at the restaurant “Eleven Madison Park” in New York were looking for a creative way to reopen their popular top restaurant and realized that the world has changed.  Chef Daniel Humm said, “It was clear that after everything we all experienced this past year, we couldn’t open the same restaurant. With that in mind, I’m excited to share that we’ve made the decision to serve a plant-based menu in which we do not use any animal products—every dish is made from vegetables, both from the earth and the sea, as well as fruits, legumes, fungi, grains, and so much more.”

While there’s no sign yet of any of Seattle’s top-rated restaurants going 100% plant-based, we are lucky to have several excellent vegan and vegetarian restaurants, such as Cafe Flora, Plum Bistro and Harvest Beat in Seattle, plus many more casual vegan eateries throughout the area.  We encourage all restaurants to try out the many plant-based alternatives available and find which would work best for their popular dishes, as a solution to the climate crisis and to reduce the suffering of animals.

Leather made from pineapple leaves!

Good news for vegetarians who don’t want to wear leather! Dole Sunshine Company (the world’s largest producer of fruit and vegetables) just announced a partnership with Ananas Anam, the British owners of the vegan pineapple leather brand Piñatex.

Ananas Anam will use leaf fibers collected and extracted from one of Dole’s farms in the Philippines—home to some of the largest plantations in the world—in its Piñatex products. The partnership marks a significant step towards Dole’s goal of zero produce loss by 2025.

Typically, the industry burns pineapple leaves or sends them to landfills, contributing to the production of carbon dioxide, methane, and other harmful emissions. By using pineapple leaves as a base for the production of its patented fabric, Piñatex simultaneously removes them from the waste stream and provides a sustainable alternative to high-polluting and destructive traditional leather.

The sheer scale of Piñatex and Dole’s new partnership also presents a unique opportunity for the companies to support developing farming communities, and to simultaneously increase output to match the growing global enthusiasm for vegan leather. This adds to the other forms of plant-based vegan leather that are being made from cactus, mushrooms and fique. What will they use next, we wonder?

Panda Express launches vegan orange chicken

Panda Express has launched a vegan version of its iconic orange chicken at test locations in the New York and Los Angeles areas.

Many people think of Panda Express as the place to go for American Chinese comfort food.  This left those people looking to avoid animal products in a bind, as they used chicken broth in many of their recipes.  Fortunately, the chain has responded to the growing demand for plant-based options.  In February 2019, the company added a number of plant-based items to its menu, like super greens mixed veggies, vegetable spring rolls, eggplant tofu and chow mein. 

Their latest offering is a rework of their classic Original Orange Chicken, which has been on the chain’s menu since 1987.  They’ve partnered with Beyond Meat to produce the new Beyond The Original Orange Chicken, which features a fully plant-based breading and vegan sauce.  Chef Jimmy Wang, executive director of Culinary Innovation at Panda Express explained, “we co-developed Beyond the Original Orange Chicken with Beyond Meat to capture the irresistibly crunchy texture of our signature entrée, while still giving our guests a plant-based option of the dish they know and love”.

While the new vegan orange chicken is only available at the limited test locations, its performance will inform Panda Express’ strategy of a wider launch.  “With this regional launch, we’re gathering insights and learning how we can improve the guest experience with this brand new product for a wide future rollout,” Wang said.  “We are confident that people will love the new menu item.”

Helping Black-owned restaurants serve vegan food

Rapper RZA

Many restaurants have struggled to survive during this past year.  Black-owned restaurants, which often serve as cultural hubs for their communities, have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and so a special program has been established to support them.  RZA, the rapper and founding member of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, has worked together with the plant-based cheese brand Violife,  to establish a Plant Grants program, whereby five Black-owned restaurants will be chosen to receive a $20,000 grant to help with revitalizing their businesses by incorporating plant-based dishes into their menus.

RZA explains that “I’m partnering with Violife because we share a similar philosophy about eating plant-based, and we want to make plant-based eating more accessible, affordable and sustainable to all.” He added that “The influence of hip-hop and the culinary history of plant-based eating in Black communities contribute to a movement of embracing meatless options. I’m proud to support Plant Grants to continue this movement and make plant-based eating more readily available at Black-owned restaurants that are at the heart of communities.”

The program is designed to help the restaurants develop new menu items with plant-based ingredients and create dishes and recipes, so that more people will be able to choose to eat plant-based foods.  To help facilitate the transition, the program comes with a coaching element where 2 plant-based pioneers will guide recipients in adding plant-based options.  The program also includes marketing and publicity assistance. Grant recipients will be chosen based on a number of criteria, including their commitment to add plant-based options and engage their community. The Plant Grants program is open now through July 31 and recipients will be announced in September 2021. 

RZA has been working to promote vegan options for several years, along with Wu-Tang members GZA and Ghostface Killah.  They helped to promote the launch of the Impossible Slider at White Castle in 2018.  In a previous article, RZA explained how he became vegan for the animals.  This latest program is a creative way for him to promote vegan food choices, while helping black-owned restaurants get back on their feet after the pandemic. 

Vegetarian Living – Going to Parties

Say No to Meat book coverWith the resumption of life after Covid-19, many are enjoying the opportunity to socialize and go to parties again. But if eating vegetarian or vegan is new for you, you may have some anxiety around how to maintain your food choices at parties.  This answer may be helpful to reassure you.

The following is an excerpt from our book “Say No to Meat“, by Amanda Strombom and Stewart Rose, published by Healthy Living Publications.  This book includes answers to all the questions you may have about becoming a vegetarian, and is invaluable to new and existing vegetarians alike!

What do you recommend when going out with friends or to parties?

Research beforehand and come prepared. When going out with friends to a restaurant, encourage them to choose a restaurant that you know has some veggie options you can choose. If you aren’t able to influence the choice of restaurant, it may help to look online beforehand to see from their menu what options are available to you. You may need to ask for something special to be made, if you can’t find a suitable menu item. Most chefs and restaurants don’t mind special orders, so it’s important to speak up. Another alternative is to eat beforehand, and just go along to enjoy the company.

Know before you go. At a catered dinner, ask beforehand if possible, whether the caterer has any vegetarian options. When going to a private party, it’s a good idea to mention to the host that you are vegetarian, so that they can cater for your needs if food is to be provided. Alternatively, you can just ask which dishes include meat when you arrive, so that you can be sure to avoid them, rather than putting your host to any special trouble.

Some people just need a little help. You may wish to offer to bring some food, so that you know you’ll have something to eat. At a barbecue, bring a package of veggie burgers or veggie hot dogs for the grill. A potluck is a great opportunity to show others how delicious vegetarian food can be, so it’s worth making a special effort to bring a particularly appetizing dish or two. You can pick something up from a natural foods deli section if you don’t wish to cook. Be sure to eat when you first arrive, since others may like your food so much they eat it all before you get any!

Do vegan labels matter?

Book cover for shopping guide

Millennials and Gen Z-ers make shopping decisions that largely depend on certifications and labels, a recent survey shows. A survey of more than 23,000 consumers internationally found that 91% prefer products provided with an independent stamp guaranteeing the product is really vegan, without having to read all ingredients list or spend time comparing and looking for alternatives.

While there is no one standard label in use in the US, the various symbols designating a product as vegan can be an aide for shoppers and we have found them to be reliable. We have also found products that don’t have a symbol but merely state “vegan” on the package somewhere, to be reliably vegan. However, there are also many great products that neither have a symbol nor the word vegan on the package. Perhaps these may even be the majority of vegan products, so reading the ingredients label is important. The ingredients on the product label are mandated by law and hence are the most reliable source of product information.

In fact, there is no legal definition of vegan. Our definition of vegan would be food that has no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and anything else that came from an animal. Vegan products that are not overly processed carry additional health advantages, so we recommend a whole-food plant-based diet. Packaged foods can be minimally processed and considered a whole food, but it’s important to check the ingredients.

Therefore, we still encourage nutrition and ingredient label reading. It takes only a moment but it’s worth the effort and will help keep you from unnecessarily limiting your purchasing decisions. These labels can also provide extras such as what vitamins and minerals and how much fiber the food contains. It can tell you how much salt, sugar and fat is in the product and a long list of unrecognizable ingredients may indicate that it is overly processed.

Considering how important our food is to our health, the animals and the environment, food shopping is a skill well worth cultivating and we can help! We have a handy take-to-the-grocery-store shopping guide, In Pursuit of Great Food, that includes how to understand the nutrition facts label, some labels to look out for and lists of ingredients to avoid, along with an invaluable description of all the foods you might want to keep in your kitchen so that you can make delicious meals at short notice!

Plant-Based Shopping Tips

In Pursuit cover 1.0Shopping is a vital link in the chain for those who follow a plant-based diet, or for those who are curious and want to give it a try. Our handy shopping guide, In Pursuit of Great Food, is a practical guide to help you learn about the many different plant-based choices to stock in your kitchen, and how to get the best value in time and money from your food budget.

Many people are on a tight budget and worry that eating healthy, plant-based food will be expensive. However, if you are willing to plan and prepare your own meals from basic ingredients, you can save quite a bit of money. For those who often find themselves short on time, there’s a wide selection of convenience and prepared products to choose from in many local grocery stores. Read more

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