I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!
Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.
Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts
[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]
I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.
It also couldn’t be easier.
Peel and chop some butternut squash.
Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]
De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.
Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.
We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]
Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.
For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.
[I’m kidding about vegan carb-cycling being a starvation diet…but only partially kidding. When your going low carb as a vegan, the pickin’s are slim.]
Since I’ve been talking a lot recently about what I eat, I thought I’d mention that I recently gave a new dieting fad, carb-cycling, a try. When I first started doing this, I scoured the internet for information on carb-cycling for vegans and found very little info and basically no personal experiences, so I’m here to share my story for any vegans wanting to give carb-cycling a try.
What is carb-cycling?
Truthfully, carb-cycling isn’t new. This method of rotating macronutrients to get super lean has been a part of body-building for a long time. It’s only just recently become mainstream, popularized by the ever-growing community of online fitness professionals.
Historically, carb-cycling has been very strict and, admittedly, very unhealthy as a long term diet. But it is so effective at getting body builders in prime shape for competition day, that many, many people put their bodies through this unnatural regimen in order to compete.
Now, however, carb-cycling has been modified to fit the every-day fitness buff who wants to get lean without giving up all the foods they love.
Here’s how it works:
You basically divide up your week into carb days and no-carb [or in my case, low-carb] days. The exact ratio depends on your goals, but if you’re looking to get cut or lose weight, you will have more no-carb days. My plan was to have two low-carb days followed by one carb day and then repeat. This is a pretty typical carb-cycle for every day fitness. On the no [or low] carb days, less than 20% of total caloric intake should be from carbs. And on the carb days, you can eat as many carbs as you want. In fact, you are encouraged to eat a lot of carbs so that your body doesn’t think you’re starving it.
Without getting to science-y on you, carb cycling works because if you don’t feed your body carbs, it will choose an alternative energy source to burn [ideally fat], which is good for losing weight…until your body realizes that you’re not going to give it any carbs and then it freaks out and starts burning as little fuel as possible to conserve energy stores. In other words, your metabolism will go to shit if you go without carbs for too long. So, by only giving your body carbs every few days, you keep it from going into survival mode on you and your body continues to burn fat [fingers crossed].
That’s the theory behind carb cycling, anyway. And I can tell you as a student of a previous body builder, carb cycling is definitely affective. However, the question always is…at what cost?
Carb-Cycling for Vegans
I’ll just tell you right off the bat, most people doing this are not vegans because nearly everything that vegans eat is high in carbs. Vegetables are mostly carbs, legumes have a ton of carbs, grains obviously are high in carbs. It’s actually really challenging to find low carb vegan foods. A typical low- or no-carb day would consist of lots of meat and cheese – the only two food groups that have no carbs. Of course there are also some fat foods like avocados, nuts, and oils, but you can really only eat so much of those things.
So basically, if you want to attempt this as a vegan, you are in for a challenge. Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Foods I could eat on low-carb days:
Leafy greens and other low carb vegetables
Low carb fruit [of which there are not many]
What my food typically looked like:
Breakfast: tofu scramble with spinach
Lunch: salad with oil and vinegar and avocado
Snack: mixed nuts
Dinner: vegetable stir-fry
Breakfast: vegan keto bar [these things are NOT yummy]
Lunch: an avocado, tomatoes with oil and vinegar
Snack: two tablespoons natural peanut butter
Dinner: green goddess salad with tofu
What my low-carb macros typically looked like:
I managed to eat 1000-1200 calories per day [which is not enough for me with exercise] and I managed to maintain this carb-to-fat ratio. But it was HARD. It was hard to eat enough calories. It was hard to find foods that I could eat that didn’t have carbs so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. And I mean, A LOT.
But…I did it.
However, there was a downside.
My carb-cycling experience
Besides the question of whether carb-cycling is doable, I needed to ask is this healthy?
Based on my experience – No.
At least, not for me, not right now.
As a fitness professional and health nut, I’m always interested in trying new things, but this messed me up. I was originally planning to try it for a month, but I only lasted two weeks.
To start with, I had intense stomach cramping for the first few nights as my body rebelled against this no-carb idea. Then I bonked on a five mile run for the first time in my life. A FIVE MILE RUN! [For my non-runner friends, to “bonk,” or hit the wall, is when you run out of energy stores in your muscles and basically feel like you can’t go another step.] In all my years of running long distances, I’ve never hit a wall like that before. I could barely workout on my low-carb days, and forget about cardio. So I would workout like crazy on my carb days, but I like to exercise six days a week, so a sudden switch to only two days was just not working for me.
Besides physical pain and lethargy, I was only eating a handful of foods, when before I was eating the rainbow of plant-based options. And the work required to maintain this diet made it completely unappealing.
Of course, the carb days were fine. I could eat like I always did [except I would avoid all fats], but there were so few of them that I constantly felt weak and slow and lazy. I think advocates for this way of eating would tell you that it gets better as your body adjusts, but I really had no reason to continue to torture myself. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not training for a bikini competition.
Basically, I don’t want it that bad.
We live in a carb-hating society right now. I’ve worked with many trainers and athletes [even ultra marathoners and Ironman competitors] who never eat any carbs. They live on lean meats and dairy with a side of leafy greens. And that works for them. [Though I could write a whole post about the negative impacts of low-carb diet on athletic performance.] As for me, I prefer to fuel my exercise with carbs – plant-based, whole food carbs.
So, anyway, my advice to vegans wanting to carb-cycle: proceed with caution.
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.
This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.
[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]
The biggest problem was veganism.
My Vegan Story
Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.
I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.
Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?
The Problem with Veganism
It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?
The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:
Potato chips [cheese free]
Dairy-free ice creams
Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
Olive Garden breadsticks
Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products
And the list goes on and on.
I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?
[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]
So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten French fries foryears before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.
And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.
I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.
So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] andto be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.
My Version of Veganism
So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].
I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.
So what will I eat?
Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.
I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].
To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.
I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”
Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.
Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.
But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.
I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]
So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.
[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]
Here’s the result:
June 4: Coffee Cake
First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.
Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.
June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash
I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].
Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍
June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast
This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.
Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.
Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!
June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.
Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.
I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!
June 7: Nora’s Birthday
This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.
But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.
June 8: Tofu Rancheros
This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.
June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].
I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]
June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse
Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.
[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]
This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.
My kids love this stuff, and I do too.
Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!
June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta
Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.
Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!
Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.
Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!
June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu
This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]
Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.
As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.
Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.
One of my New Years resolutions for this year was to [re]focus on my health – getting rid of my late night snacking hobby, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, embracing veganism, getting all my needed nutrients, drinking more water, and, in general, rebuilding healthy habits. I am health obsessed normally, but last year’s Covid quarantine got me sidetracked a bit, so I needed to get back at it ASAP. To that end, I’ve added quite a few books about health and nutrition and food in general to my list, the first of which was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which led me down quite a rabbit hole of discovering where my food comes from [let me just say – yikes!].
Beyond that I also read a great book about racism [probably the best of the 10+ books I’ve read on the subject], a book about poverty in America [giving me all the feels with a hefty side order of guilt], a book about loneliness [which I read because I thought I was lonely, but it ended up teaching me to be a better person], an awesome memoir that changed my life forever [Glennon Doyle is my new hero], and one really good fiction book.
My reading tastes are clearly very eclectic.
Top reads so far this year:
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Maid by Stephanie Land
These books couldn’t possibly be more different, but they each taught me valuable [even life-changing] lessons about life and love and health and politics and humanity and faith and forgiveness – and they all give me hope for a better future.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
I was already a vegan when I began reading [or listening to] Eating Animals, but if I hadn’t been, this book would have definitely sealed the deal. I wrote previously in Another Reason to Be Vegan how this book made veganism morally compelling, when before that, I was only in it for the environmental and health benefits. The book was really eye-opening, and for all you meat-lovers out there, pretty fair. While painting an accurately horrifying image of how meat is produced today, he also acknowledges [through a quote from a factory farm management employee] the difficulty [or impossibility] of feeding a billion people with just small, ethical, family farms. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to change our ways. The answer lies in eating less meat – or, even better, none at all.
My favorite quote from the book is not specifically about eating meat, but more broadly about our natural tendency to be willfully ignorant about issues that we know will demand a difficult change. We prefer to turn away rather than to do what is right. This has irked me about a million different causes, not just the animal welfare. This quote is so good, I stopped after reading it and repeated it it to my partner. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate it as much as I did – but I hope you will.
“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
Our society needs to stop pretending to be asleep.
If you are ready to face the truth and make changes, read this book. And then watch some powerful documentaries: Eating Animals, Meet Your Meat and Dominance.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
This is the most comprehensive, thought-provoking, and convicting book on racist ideologies that I have ever read. There is so much information in this book that challenged my understanding of racism – even being decently well-read on the subject – I can’t even begin to explain it all. It challenged so many of my previously held antiracist ideas and showed me how even in many of my attempts to be antiracist, there was still a racist idea at the center.
This is simply a must-read for every American…possibly every human.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
I decided to read this because I wanted to see the Netflix movie [which I still haven’t gotten around to yet], and I really enjoyed it. I don’t read much fiction, but I love a good story and this served as a sort of break from my intense [and largely depressing] nonfiction books. One of the best parts of the book was how skillfully Jordan used foreshadowing to imply the ending, but leaving enough unspoken to still surprise me in the end. It’s a sad story, and of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending – but it ends with hope.
Unknown Valorby Martha McCallum
[Fun fact: I was actually in the middle of this book when Martha McCallum praised the capital rioters and was promptly demoted by Fox News.]
I don’t watch Fox News, and I had never heard of this woman before receiving this book from my in-laws. When I looked her up, I already knew I wouldn’t agree with her opinions on the war, but I gave it a chance anyway and read the whole thing. It was very informative, but in a dry history textbook sort of way. And, as expected, I disagreed with much of her perspective about war in general, like her belief in “total annihilation” as the only effective way to win a war, her insistence on painting everything about the Japanese as terrible and everything that America did as flawless, and also her repeated use of racial slurs to describe the Japanese. There was only one sentence in the entire book about the Japanese internment camps, which seemed to me like a terrible oversight in a book exclusively about our relationship with Japan. The one thing I agreed with was her admittance that America only joined the war because we were butt hurt after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted some revenge. [But all of this could be easily learned through a quick Wikipedia search.]
Anyway, I appreciated the book because it forced me to read a different perspective. And I did learn something new – that there apparently are still Americans who are big fans of war.
Untamedby Glennon Doyle
My feelings about this book are so strong that I’ve had trouble putting them into words. I think what moves me the most was that this book made me feel, for the first time in seven years, like I’m not totally alone in my worldview. Like, omg, this woman gets me. Of course, Glennon Doyle has no idea that I even exist, but knowing that she exists has given me a sense of hope that I haven’t had since I embarked on my own spiritual journey [my own “untaming,” if you will]. Leaving behind what I was trained to believe and how I was trained to live has been a sad and lonely experience. But Untamed gave me hope that there are others like me. It also reinforced what I have come to believe about the world because [yay!] someone else out there actually agrees with me!
Such an awesome book. I listened to the audiobook twice in a week and I will definitely be buying my own copy to proudly display on my bookshelf [which as a minimalist only contains my 5-10 absolute favorite books].
I don’t know what other reactions will be since mine was so personal, but I do know that this book is full of truth and everyone should read it.
In Defense of Foodby Michael Pollan
I watched Pollan’s documentary with the same title years ago and finally got around to reading the book. And it was a great book. [The documentary is also good, so if you have the time, go watch that too.]
The basic principles in the book are so simple and yet vital to healthy eating and, as a result, healthy living. I don’t really want to give away the three rules…so please read this book.
“All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn and soy.”
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
This is the root of the issue – and this book contains the key to healthy eating in our modern times of industrial agriculture.
[And it’s so good, I would later pick up another of Pollan’s books, which I’ll share with you below…]
How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp
This book was interesting. Maybe two stars is too low of a rating because I did think it was interesting, but it was more a compilation of all the psychology studies surrounding eating than actually helpful to me as an eater. How should a restaurant describe its menu items? There’s a study about that. What music should be playing during dinner? There’s a study about that. What affect does an overweight server have on restaurant patrons? Yes – there is even a study about that. Like I said, it was interesting [ok, I’ve said that three times now], but I didn’t find it all that practical, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to find.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma [a precursor to In Defense of Food] Michael Pollan traces the path of three different types of meals: an industrial/processed meal, an organic small farm meal, and a foraged/hunted meal.
For me, this whole exercise just gave more background [or proof, if you will] of what I already knew [and what I believe most of us intuitively know] about food. Food that is processed is not good for us. Food sprayed with pesticides is not good for us. Food that is fed antibiotics and growth hormones and lives knee-deep in its own shit is not good for us. Food grown in nutrient depleted soil, sprayed with chemicals, taken to laboratories and broken into its component parts then put back together into an unrecognizable [by nature] food-like substance is definitely not good for us.
It shouldn’t require this much research or a book of this length to convince us not to eat processed junk like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. And yet, here we are – continuing to eat [and in increasing quantities] what we know is not good for us.
Anyway, the book is really interesting. I learned a lot about our complicated history with corn, which is perfect timing because I live in a town surrounded by farmland and, of course, it’s all used to grow corn and soybeans. I’m literally in the middle of America’s farm belt and I can’t find a single organic family farm from which to buy my produce. Frustrating to say the least. But at least now I know how this conundrum came to be.
The Secret Life of Groceriesby Benjamin Lorr
So, now that I’ve learned about the industrial meat business and industrial agriculture, I picked up this book [at the recommendation from a friend] to learn about the great American waste…er, I mean, food machine: the supermarket.
This book is a little bit all over the place. It covers everything from how Trader Joe’s came to be [at one point I thought that the book was only about Trader Joe’s because this seemed to go on for quite a long time], to the trucking industry [it’s as bad as we all assume, by the way], to getting product on supermarket shelves [all a giant money-making scam], to human trafficking in the fish industry [yep, think about that next time you order fish], to cutting off one eye from each female shrimp [this random little tidbit just stuck in my head for some reason].
Looking back on it now, it all seems rather random and boring, and yet, it never felt random while I was reading it and I was never bored. Only an excellent writer could make this topic so interesting that I looked forward to reading more…
And let me tell you, Benjamin Lorr is an exceptional writer.
Maidby Stephanie Land
This is the first time that I have read a first-hand account of an adult living in poverty in America. Honestly, beyond what she writes here, I don’t know a thing about homeless shelters or food stamps or section eight housing or school grants or anything about it. And I recognize that it’s because I am incredibly privileged.
But I do know that a lot of people like me [who lack any real experiential knowledge of our welfare system] have very strong opinions about it – and everyone who benefits from it. This book brings us face-to-face with our prejudices, with our false stereotypes, with our wrongful assumptions – with Stephanie Land, to be exact.
I didn’t know that it was so much work to get help, or that some programs have waitlists that last years, or that there is such a strong stigma around receiving help, or that people can be so openly rude about it, or that it’s all just so…difficult. I have always been a supporter of welfare and all government programs that help people who are underprivileged, and if anything, this book has reinforced the fact that we don’t help nearly enough.
None of us can help the situation we’re born into and even if our problems are due to our own mistakes [like, in Stephanie’s case, falling for a guy who ends up being abusive] – we all make mistakes. Should we really have to suffer forever without help? Should we have to feel judged by society? Should we have to feel guilty about any leisure time or hobbies? Should have to do it all alone?
Stephanie’s story has a happy ending, obviously, but most stories don’t end that way. We the privileged few have the responsibility to help those who need it.
Ok, getting off my soapbox now…
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
This is the first book I’ve read by Brené Brown and I was drawn to it because I identify with the subtitle. I often feel like I am searching for true belonging, but always end up standing alone. I am always bucking the system, causing a stir, swimming against the current, and don’t have a tribe of my own. I don’t fit neatly into any group.
Though it’s comforting to know that Brené Brown also feels like she is standing alone, it didn’t really do anything for my “quest for true belonging,” but this book definitely holds a lot of wisdom that I will carry with me forever.
My favorite lesson learned:
“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness
It’s easy to make harsh judgments about groups of people without knowing the individuals, but this is damaging because it perpetuates lies and further divides us into categories of “us” vs. “them.” This is especially true when it comes to politics today. I don’t like it when I hear someone say that people on welfare are all lazy, so I shouldn’t say that republicans are all selfish. [Even though I really want to.] Neither of these are true or fair statements. Getting to know individuals allows us to see more clearly that people are not so bad after all.
Other important takeaways for me include:
– We have to stop de-humanizing people [no matter how much we dislike them], which is something I have to work on. [I have a tendency to call men who honk at or catcall me “pigs.”]
– The meaning of true belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are in order to be accepted. My whole life has been an education in “fitting in” and conforming to what was expected of a good Christian girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel true belonging anywhere. [And also why Untamed was such a helpful book for me]
– Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to assume that people are intentionally hurting us [or others], but it may be ignorance. I know some people who are very loving and wonderful individuals, but are also extremely sexist. Because I know that they are good human beings, I give them the benefit of the doubt. So the best response is educating rather than attacking. [On the flip side, I also have to accept criticism and be willing to learn. There is much that I am ignorant of as well.]
You know what I love most about reading? It allows me to hear different perspectives, meet different people, and understand different worldviews than I would ever come across in my daily life. It expands my understanding of the world. And even if I don’t agree with everything I read, every book adds to a more inclusive and well-rounded perspective of the world.
It’s an education in life.
And reading is also a quiet break from my kids. So that’s good too.
A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.
I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]
[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]
My Rant about Breakfast Cereal
I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.
Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.
Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.
On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]
On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.
So, now, on to the recipe.
My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.
But here we go anyway….
This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].
3 or 4 ripe bananas
2/3 – 1 cup sugar
2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 3/4 cup of AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°
Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]
And that’s it!
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!
Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.
So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.
Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.
Broccoli Stem Salad
Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.
Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.
Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!
All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].
And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.
Carrot Top Pesto
I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.
When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.
[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]
My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.
When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.
This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.
Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??
If you’ve been imagining that the cow you are having for dinner lived something like the cows pictured above – you are wrong. While there are an extremely lucky 1% of animals who get to graze freely on beautiful fields, that is not even close to the story for 99% of animals that feed the human population, which are found on factory farms [according to USDA data released in 2019].
I’m sure many people choose veganism because they don’t want to eat animals, but until now, I was not one of them. I became a vegan last year because of the damage the meat industry is doing to the planet, and for health reasons, and because I feel like crap when I eat animal products. [You can read more about why I went vegan here.]
Don’t get me wrong – I struggle with all the usual ethical questions where animals are concerned: Should we keep elephants in zoo enclosures? Should we euthanize dogs with cancer? Should we flush the goldfish down the toilet? I am an animal lover. But since I didn’t believe that it was morally wrong to eat animals, I never bothered to ask what the moral implications are of eating meat, least of all when I was in the grocery store perusing shelf after shelf of it – all pink and processed and neatly wrapped and not at all resembling the actual animal it came from.
All that changed last month when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was enlightened about what animal agriculture in America looks like today. As it turns out, eating animals is an extremely moral issue, not because it is wrong to eat animals, but because of the way in which animals are treated in the process.
Spoiler alert: It. Is. Horrifying.
Anyone with half a heart would be appalled at the circumstances in which 99% of the meat and dairy in this country are conceived, raised [if you can even call it that], and slaughtered.
Seriously, I had no idea [or maybe I had an idea, but chose not to think about it]. And I’m assuming since I was in the dark [or willfully ignorant], that other people are too.
Since finishing the book, I have been doing even more research about the meat industry and, let me tell you, it is all bad. I learned about the lies surrounding the “free-range” and “organic” meat and egg labels, the standard process of killing baby pigs by bashing them against the concrete floor and sending unwanted chicks into a grinding machine [macerator] while fully conscious, how we’ve genetically modified animals to grow so big they can barely walk and some can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, about abuse in the form of violent beatings, death during transport, inhumane living conditions, and even how this type of high yield farming produces pandemics like the one we have been experiencing for the past year.
As a consumer, I share in the responsibility for how animals are treated in order to serve the world’s ever-increasing demand for cheap meat. It’s true that animals are not humans, but it is without a doubt morally wrong to treat animals the way factory farming does. Animals should not be brought into this world only to suffer miserably while they are alive and then experience grotesque, painful and premature deaths.
Is eating meat worth that?
I personally don’t want any part in that system of abuse. Of course, I had already decided to be vegan, but now I feel even more compelled to educate people about meat production in America – or at the very least, to beg people to ask the hard question: Where did my meat come from?
If you bought meat or eggs or dairy from anywhere other than a farmer that you personally know, with animals you can actually see and pet and smell for god’s sake, then you have most likely paid for an animal’s suffering.
But don’t take my word for it. A quick internet search will tell you a lot about how meat is produced in America. Or pick up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer, or watch the documentary by the same title that is based on his book. Or watch the twelve minute documentary Meet Your Meat on Youtube. If you make it through that video, I also recommend the 2018 documentary, Dominion, a full-length film clearly showing the ways humans abuse their power over the animal kingdom [warning: it is graphic]. If we eat meat and support the meat industry with our dollars [aka votes], we should know the reality of the system we are supporting.
[There are a lot of workers and companies represented in these films, and while they may bear some of the blame for our modern farming system, it is us as consumers who have demanded more and more meat at lower and lower prices while turning a blind eye to how that is accomplished – essentially forcing the hands of the industry that is trying to feed the world. So we all share that blame.]
Good rule of thumb for eating animals: visit the farm you are purchasing from and make sure that the animals look as well cared for as the ones in these photos. If you can’t do that, then you are more than likely eating morally compromising meat.
We used to go to a local farm to pick up eggs and produce and we could pet the goats and see the chickens wandering all around the farm and the hogs dosing happily in the sunshine. This is where I would buy my meat – of course, I’m vegan, so I’m not buying meat anyway. But ethical meat does exist. We just have to look harder for it, drive further for it, and pay more for it.
But it’s worth it.
Every time you eat you are casting a vote for the type of world you want, and we need more votes for the animals.
Many of us have experienced an uncharacteristic snowfall this week, so I thought I’d send out a friendly reminder to turn some of that cold, white powdery stuff into ice cream!
Since moving to southern Illinois last November, I have been bragging about the weather down here, [I mean, it was in the 30s and 40s for most of January!] but I was eating my words when we got hit with an ice storm and then one day later a blizzard and now we have somewhere around ten inches of snow on top of a thick layer of ice.
On the up side, my kids are LOVING IT. In fact, I just gave up on school work for the past two days because my daughter wanted to be outside all day. [“Snow day” to a homeschooling family is when we skip school work to go play in the snow.]
So this morning [after finishing school work], we made snow ice cream.
I’ve made snow cream many times since my first experience in Mrs. Winters fourth grade class when she marched us all out into the snow and made ice cream for us right there on the playground. [Mrs. Winters was the BEST.] But, I’ve never made vegan snow ice cream before, and I wasn’t certain how it would turn out.
The kids gathered a big bowl of snow [they had very strict instructions not to get yellow or dirty snow], and we mixed in some homemade oat milk, pure maple syrup, cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt.
[This was also my first time attempting chocolate snow cream. I thought it might help the ice cream taste less like oatmeal.]
And it worked!
This is my favorite activities to do with my kids when it snows [mostly because it involves minimal time actually outside].
I think they enjoyed it too. [After all, there’s nothing like ice cream after breakfast.]
Now that I’ve been on the sourdough bandwagon for a while, I’ve been anxious to find creative uses for the extra sourdough starter I accumulate from feeding it daily [usually called “discard”]. There are lots of ideas out there, but they never interested me much until I stumbled upon the easiest, simplest sourdough cracker recipe EVER. And so, of course, I want to share it with you, on this most special Super Bowl Sunday, because it is a great snack for a game day, for a party day…or for any day really.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, I’ve seen millions of these sourdough cracker recipes! And I totally agree with you. They are all over the interwebs right now – but, I promise you, this is the simplest recipe. I know because after I found this recipe, I lost it and it took me forever to find it again. Every other recipe I looked at had other ingredients like butter, rye flour,sesame seeds, etc. I couldn’t find a single other recipe that just had four ingredients: flour [any kind], sourdough starter, oil, and salt.
So, if you’re going to a party [which you SHOULDN’T BE – ahem, Covid!] or if you’re throwing a party [don’t even THINK about it!], or you’re doing like us, and pretending it’s a special occasion while sitting in your own living room watching the game by yourself, these crackers make a great snack.
If you don’t currently have a sourdough starter, get yourself one! It took me a long time to find one [without ordering one online], but I realize now that I have lots of friends who have them and all I had to do was ask! Sourdough bread is so delicious and simple to make [albeit time consuming] and only requires a few simple ingredients and is quite impressive to serve at your next family get together [after COVID, of course!].
I mean, who doesn’t want to say that they baked a sourdough boule [which is just a fancy French word for “ball”]?
I’ve even started attempting fancy scoring patterns. My latest attempt:
Eh, needs some work….
Anyway, on to the crackers.
The sourdough discard cracker recipe [which seems too simple to even qualify as a “recipe”] comes from Bon Appetit [You can find the original here.]. But I will summarize and add my own tips and modifications for you.
First, combine 1 cup flour [any kind] with 1 cup sourdough starter [ripe or not], 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/4 tsp salt [or more]. I have used all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and a mix of the two – all with the same delicious results.
Next, mix until the dough comes together and isn’t sticky to the touch. After a few seconds of mixing, the dough becomes smooth and elastic. It isn’t dry, but you can touch it with your finger and it’s comes away clean. This far, every time I’ve made these crackers I have had to add a little bit more flour [just a sprinkle] to get the right consistency.
Then, take a portion [I usually pull about a fifth] and roll it out on a silicone baking mat [or parchment paper if you don’t have a reusable baking mat – but then go buy one!]. No flour needed. The dough should not be sticky [thanks to the oil]. I don’t even flour my rolling pin. The key: roll it thin. I roll mine so thin that I can almost see through them. This is important if you want a crispy cracker [and, I mean, who really wants a chewy cracker???].
Next, cut into crackers shapes with a pizza roller, prick each cracker with a fork, and top with salt and/or seasonings. I use a flaky salt or garlic salt.
Finally, pop in a 350° oven for roughly 15 minutes. I put mine in for exactly 16 minutes, but every oven is different, so some experimentation may be necessary. You’ll know when they are done because they will all turn a uniform [and lovely] golden brown.
[Obviously, repeat the last three steps until you’ve used up all the dough.]
This recipe yields at least five dozen crackers when I make it [usually closer to 100], but I’m not much of a perfectionist, so the sizes are all different and sometimes wonky…so, I don’t promise a certain amount of crackers. BUT I do promise that they will be yummy!
Great dips include hummus, guacamole, salsa, peanut butter – or just eat plain, by the handful!