So you want to be vegan (ish)?

My 70 year old uncle contacted me a few weeks ago, telling me that he wanted to be vegan. My cousin, his son, had introduced him to Dr. Esselystyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook, which if you’re not familiar with it is based on a study where the doctor prescribed a vegan (aka plant-based) diet for his heart patients. Not only did their condidions improve, some of them even reversed the heart disease entirely. When I was in the Chef’s Training Program at The Natural Gourmet Institute of Culinary Arts and Health (NGI) we learned about this study/book, and also the effects of what we ate on health (makes sense, huh?) The old adage, you are what you eat, really is based in truth. What you put into your body will definitely have an impact on how it performs.

While I commend his and my aunt’s willingness to dive into this new way of cooking and eating, I advised them to go in stages, i.e. eat meatless meals a few times a week, cut out red meat and then other meats and animal proteins slowly. I was not trying to be discouraging, but as someone who has not willingly eaten animals for 33 years (and who for the past few years has seriously cut back on dairy (as it makes me feel horrible), I know that it’s not easy to do. I also know (from personal experience that it’s not easy to find vegetarian, much less vegan meals outside of big cities.

I visit my nephew once or twice a year and he lives outside of Atlanta. I can say that it can be difficult to find meatless meals, vegan meals are harder. Yes. Atlanta has come a long way in the 14 years that I’ve been going there. But truthfully, i still have to look. And most times the vegetarian option is pretty cheesy. And while I’ll eat cheese and dairy now and again, I don’t like to do it often because I don’t want to end up with my cheese headache and nausea and stomacheache (among other things) that comes along with my over indulgence of dairy. My aunt and Uncle live in Central Florida, and while i have never been, I can only imagine that once leaving your home, there is a dearth of vegan options.

I do have hope however! While doing lots of research for my business plan, i came accross many snippets of interesting information about how mainstream veganism is becoming. While I would love for everyone to stop eating animal products, I am a total realist. I know that there are some people who will NEVER stop eating meat. Fun facts: 3% of Americans are vegan and 6% are vegetarian. I found this colorful chart that shows this.

What I learned also is that many people have cut back on meat and the rise in dairy-free milks (soy, oat, nutmilks, etc.) and other alternative meat products have not been driven by vegans and vegetarians, but in actuality, but by meat eaters. People are eating less meat these days!

I saw a post on Instagram by my cousin (other side of the family) who was at the Portland Vegan Festival. When I teased her about coming over to the dark side with me, she said she feels so much better healthwise since cutting out animal products. Wow! I actually am pretty shocked! Joining my family members are many athletes (Venus Williams, Colin Kaepernick, 15(!) members of the Tennessee Titans Football team, Tom Brady (and his wife Gisele Bundchen, a supermodel), lots of other stars Ellen deGeneres and her wife Portia Del Rossi), Natalie Portman, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Lopez, Joaquin Phoenix and even as I’ve recently learned, the town of South Park, Colorado! (though given that it’s an episode of South Park, I’m sure it won’t be all embracing of the lifestyle…though, you can’t get more average american than the gang from South Park….)

I know a lot of you have seen the hoopla about the Beyond Meat and Impossible products. Many fast food restaurants are offering these as an option. While I can honestly say I am not a huge proponent of super processed food (though I do eat it from time to time), I know that these products are often a gateway and transition from meat eating to meatless. I know that people want familiar tastes and textures that they feel that they will be missing out on by not eating their animal based versions. I always say, that it can be difficult in the beginning. Start slowly and instead of replacements which may disappoint because they’re not EXACTLY what you’re used to eating, try to find different but deliciously tasting things. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten meat for so long, but there’s nothing that I really miss. I use herbs and spices to build flavor and umami.

Some other interesting facts: in NYC there are not one, not two but THREE plant-based elementary schools (P.S. 244, Flushing, Queens – the original, P.S. 343, Lower Manhattan and P.S. 1, Sunset Park, Brooklyn )

Why do people stop eating meat or cut back? Clearly it varies from age group, to individual. The IPP(UN) just releasted a study that says that eating less animal products including dairy could help with climate change as less land would be used for animal feed and growing of animals themselves. Other people, like my family members are to improve their health.More and more people are hopping on the bandwagon (This Washington Post journalist turned his health around by stopping eating meat and dairy. He grew up in the South and loved southern food.

Then, there are people like me, who stopped eating meat (I was 14) for animal reasons. It really bothered me to be eating my four footed and two footed and non footed friends.I’ve since added envirornmental and health reasons to my list.

It can be daunting to make a dramatic change in your life. Many of you many have seen the article I pdosted the other day from the New York Times on what omnivores need to understand about vegetarian cooking. It’s a good start and she recommends a bunch of good resources to help you in your journey. Burnt Toast KItchen NYC can also help you get there.

If you are interested in becoming vegetarian or vegan, or at least practicing Meatless Monday (or Tuesday Wednesday Thursday), I can help! I created Burnt Toast Kitchen NYC to promote plant based diets and to show people that vegetarian and vegan food does not have to be bland, boring or weird. I love spices and believe in whole food cooking. I can come to your home to cook a meal or multiple meals for you and your family. I can teach you one on one or a small group of you to cook. I can even do a videoclass if you are far away and can’t come up to NYC! Let me know what you’re interested in and I can help you achieve it. As I always say the world is your oyster mushroom and what you crave, I can help you get it.

In November, I’m going to be doing a cooking class on plant based (vegan and vegetarian) Thanksgiving food. We’ll do some sides and a dessert and my favorite main dish. I’m also goign to be selling vegetable focused meals for Thanksgiving and then the winter holidays. In the next few weeks, check out my events/classes page on my website for details. Sign up to receive my blog. Like my facebook page. Follow me on instagram (@burnttoastchef). All are good ways to keep in touch with what’s going on with me and my business.

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