Eating a plant-centered diet is good for your health and the planet’s, too
I remember the first time I was served a vegetarian “loaf” of some kind as a main dish, circa early 1970s. I wasn’t the only one at the table who found it inedible. We made jokes and concluded that vegetarians and vegetarian lifestyles were weird.
As they say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!” Vegetarian options on menus ranging from fast food chains to high-end prix fixe meals are now expected, and equally as tasty and inventive as their meaty counterparts. This year one of the world’s most acclaimed and expensive restaurants, Eleven Madison Park in New York, went completely vegan. Vegans and foodies of all stripes banged their pans in unison.
The reasons for switching to a plant-based diet are many. In her new cookbook, EATMEATLESS: Good for Animals, The Earth & All, Dr. Jane Goodall—famous for her work with mountain gorillas—reminds us that “Every day we live, we have the choice of what kind of impact we want to make.” She goes on to write that the positive impacts of eating a plant-based diet on our bodies, our climate, and our environment impact is indisputable. How to eat ethically, responsibly, and healthily can play into our daily calculations as we plan our meals, choose from menus, and shop for groceries.
The first time a friend said she didn’t eat “anything with a face,” I thought she was kidding. Another friend, happily living as a vegan, says he feels good that nothing must die for his dinner. “No face, no legs, no feet” is my newest criteria for what shows up as a main dish at my table, which is meatless.
The fact is, eliminating or reducing meat from our diets has never been easier. Or tastier.
If you can’t let go of biting into a juicy, meaty burger, the newest food choices standing up to health and taste tests are plant-based meat substitutes. Beyond Meat produces ground meat in bulk or burger patties, and several delicious sausage varieties. Impossible also offers beef-like products. In taste tests people can’t believe they aren’t eating meat. These products can include soy, peas, spices, and other ingredients that give the flavor and texture of meat. So, check the ingredients if you have food allergies.
The Loma Linda Blue brand of plantbased products (available online) might remind you that Loma Linda, Calif., is home of the Seventh Day Adventists, among the first groups who turned to vegetarian eating and nutritional supplements in the 20th Century. Loma Linda is the only location in the U.S. that made the list of Blue Zone locations. That is, places with a significant centenarian population and healthy lifestyles. Dan Buettner’s bestselling, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Have Lived the Longest, describes how healthy eating, close communities, and living with a sense of purpose contribute to a vital life.
If you want an easy way to dip your tasting spoon into this whole new world, consider one of the many food delivery services that offer fresh menus with all the ingredients and cooking instructions. Some offer heat-and-eat selections, others are more geared to people who like to cook. Be adventurous! The world of meatless eating has gone mainstream and will contribute to your health and that of the planet. (And you can form a connection with your fellow animals guilt-free.)
Eggplant or Zucchini Putanesca
Two eggplants should feed four to six as a side dish. Four medium zucchini can substitute for the eggplants. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to match your own taste for these strong flavors.
- 2 medium size eggplants or 4 zucchini
- 3⁄4 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 3 Tbsp. capers
- 3-5 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste or 1⁄2 can anchovies (or the whole can if you like anchovies)*
- 1⁄4 cup fresh basil or 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme or oregano
- 12 grape, Campari or 4 small good-tasting tomatoes
- *4–8 oz. Feta or Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- Salt and Pepper
*Eliminate the anchovies and cheese if you want this to be vegan.
- Cut eggplants in half lengthwise (same for zucchini), put flesh- side down on plate and microwave for 10 minutes. They will be pretty soft.
- Arrange eggplants or zucchini, skin-side down, on an oiled or aluminum-covered baking sheet and score deeply both lengthwise and crosswise. (The aluminum makes clean-up easy.)
- Chop remaining ingredients in food processor until chunky. Taste for the balance of flavors that pleases you.
- Stuff the filling into the vegetable along the scores, pushing it into the spaces, and piling more filling on top. (Making extra filling will give you topping for bruschetta or baked potatoes or other good things.)
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake at 400 for half hour, or until bubbly and brown.
Serve hot or warm.
Butternut Squash, Kale, and Barley Risotto
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1⁄2 tsp. dried)
- 1 cup hulled barley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1⁄2 cup white wine or apple juice
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 3 cups broth
- 1 bunch kale (curly or Tuscan), washed and cut into strips
- Grated parmesan for serving (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees while you add oil to a warm Dutch oven or large oven-proof pot with a lid.
- Add garlic and thyme, and cook until fragrant (about a minute).
- Add barley and stir with oil until coated. Add salt and pepper.
- Add wine or juice, and cook, stirring until mostly absorbed.
- Add squash and broth. Bring to a boil, stir in kale and cover with lid.
- Bake in oven until barley is tender and the liquid is mostly absorbed, about 30 minutes.
Serve warm, garnished with some grated parmesan.
Black Bean and Corn Salad
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 can sweet corn kernels, drained (NOT creamed corn!)
- 1 small can diced California Chiles
- 1⁄2 bunch of green onions – chopped
- 1⁄2 bunch of cilantro – chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp. cumin (optional)
- Salt and Pepper
Mix together well. Taste for preferred blend of sour, hot, salty, etc. Add hot sauce if desired.
Chill and serve.
Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.