It’s not worth trying to persuade anyone to become vegan, for a couple of very good reasons: one, it’s a losing battle, and two, it’s far from certain that a diet with no animal products is best for everyone. It’s increasingly evident, however, that a part-time vegan diet — one that emphasizes minimally processed plant food at the expense of everything else — is the direction that will do the most to benefit human health, increase animal welfare and reduce environmental impact. The remaining challenge, an undeniably big one, is to figure out how to make such a diet, which you might also call “flexitarian,” the standard.
My own diet, which I call Vegan Before 6 (and wrote a book about), is one way of tackling part-time veganism, but it isn’t the only way. An intelligent adaptation of the Mediterranean diet, one of the popular “fast today, feast tomorrow” diets or even a so-called paleo diet — one that stresses vegetables rather than animal products (our great ancestors, after all, were gatherer-hunters who saw meat not as routine but as an occasion to feast) — can put you on the right track.
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I’m partial to chickpeas — or garbanzo beans, if you prefer — and not because they were among the first legumes I ever ate. (My mother would open a can and put them out at parties, with salt and pepper; you can do better than that. Sorry, Mom.) They have what to me is an irresistibly robust and nutty flavor, and a texture that can run from crunchy to tender.
In addition to canned, you may see fresh chickpeas; peel them and cook them quickly, as if they were favas or peas. Increasingly you can find chickpea flour, also called besan or gram flour, in Indian markets, where it’s most common, though it’s also becoming more popular as a flour substitute for the gluten-intolerant.
But dried is the most common form. Dried chickpeas take longer to cook than other beans (two hours is a likely cooking time); use enough water, and the process is stress-free. One major benefit to cooking chickpeas yourself — aside from the superior flavor and texture — is that the water you cook them in becomes particularly rich and flavorful by the time they’re done. Save it for soups like the cold one here, which is a refreshing riff on hummus.
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There was a time when few of us thought about what we ate, but that’s been turned upside down since the reigning wisdom first decried salt, then cholesterol, then saturated fat, then almost all fat, then red meat, then carbohydrates and so on. Recent culprits include so many foods and foodlike substances that at least twice a week someone asks me: “What’s left to eat? I feel like nothing is safe.”
Before the end of innocence, when hyperprocessed food dominated the diet, we might eat a breakfast of Pop-Tarts or another sugary pastry, followed by a lunch of burgers, fries and a shake, and a dinner of meat-laden pizza, and feel not even a twinge of guilt. Now, almost nothing can be eaten without thinking twice.
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Not surprisingly, experiences like mine with dairy, outlined in my column of two weeks ago, are more common than unusual, at least according to the roughly 1,300 comments and e-mails we received since then. In them, people outlined their experiences with dairy and health problems as varied as heartburn, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, eczema, acne, hives, asthma (“When I gave up dairy, my asthma went away completely”), gall bladder issues, body aches, ear infections, colic, “seasonal allergies,” rhinitis, chronic sinus infections and more. (One writer mentioned an absence of canker sores after cutting dairy; I realized I hadn’t had a canker sore — which I’ve gotten an average of once a month my whole life — in four months. Something else to think about.)
Although lactose intolerance and its generalized digestive tract problems are well documented, and milk allergies are thought to affect perhaps 1 percent of the American population, the links between milk (or dairy) and such a broad range of ailments has not been well studied, at least by the medical establishment.
Yet if you speak with people who’ve had these kinds of reactive problems, it would appear that the medical establishment is among the last places you’d want to turn for advice. Nearly everyone who complained of heartburn, for example, later resolved by eliminating dairy, had a story of a doctor (usually a gastroenterologist) prescribing a proton pump inhibitor, or P.P.I., a drug (among the most prescribed in the United States) that blocks the production of acid in the stomach.
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In the wake of my column about dairy last weekend, a half-dozen or so of my friends and relatives have gone off dairy to try to conquer chronic heartburn; the success rate seems to be around one-third, which is pretty impressive. But I’m wondering how many of you have experience with dairy and heartburn or other chronic conditions, and whether you’re willing to share your stories. If so, please email me at email@example.com. I’m going to follow up with a column next week. (I won’t use anything beyond the most general information without clearing with you first, but please make sure to email me from a valid email account.)
Drinking milk is as American as Mom and apple pie. Until not long ago, Americans were encouraged not only by the lobbying group called the American Dairy Association but by parents, doctors and teachers to drink four 8-ounce glasses of milk, “nature’s perfect food,” every day. That’s two pounds! We don’t consume two pounds a day of anything else; even our per capita soda consumption is “only” a pound a day.
Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews. The myplate.gov site helpfully suggests that those people drink lactose-free beverages. (To its credit, it now counts soy milk as “dairy.”)
There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage; the site simply encourages us to switch to low-fat milk. But, says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Sugar — in the form of lactose — contributes about 55 percent of skim milk’s calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda.”
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A few weeks ago, in “The Ethicist,” Ariel Kaminer asked readers of this paper’s Magazine to explain why it’s ethical to eat meat. The contest generated around 3,000 submissions, and as a judge I read about 30 of them. (Here are the responses from the winner and the finalists.)
A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.
The purely pragmatic reasons to eat less meat (and animal products in general) are abundant. And while I’ve addressed them before, I’ll continue until the floods come to Manhattan.
Read the rest of this colum here.
IT is pretty well established that animals are capable of suffering; we’ve come a long way since Descartes famously compared them to nonfeeling machines put on earth to serve man. (Rousseau later countered this, saying that animals shared “some measure” of human nature and should partake of “natural right.”) No matter where you stand on this spectrum, you probably agree that it’s a noble goal to reduce the level of the suffering of animals raised for meat in industrial conditions.
There are four ways to move toward fixing this. One, we can improve the animals’ living conditions; two (this is distasteful but would shock no one), we might see producers reduce or even eliminate animals’ consciousness, say, by removing the cerebral cortex, in effect converting them to a kind of vegetable (see Margaret Atwood’s horrifying description in her prescient “Oryx and Crake”); three, we can consume fewer industrially raised animals, concentrating on those raised more humanely.
Or four, we can reduce consumption, period. That is perhaps difficult when people eat an average of a half-pound of meat daily. But as better fake plant-based “meat” products are created, that option becomes more palatable. My personal approval of fake meat, for what it’s worth, has been long in coming. I like traditional meat substitutes, like tofu, bean burgers, vegetable cutlets and so on, but have been mostly repelled by unconvincing nuggets and hot dogs, which lack bite, chew, juiciness and flavor. I’m also annoyed by the cost: why pay more for fake meat than real meat, especially since the production process is faster, easier and involves no butchering? And, I have felt, if you want to eat less meat, why not just eat more of other real things?
Read the rest of this column (and watch the video) here.
Among your other resolutions — do more good? make more money? — you’ve probably made the annual pledge to eat better, although this concept may be more often reduced simply to “lose some weight.” The weight-loss obsession is both a national need and a neurotic urge (those last five pounds really don’t matter, either cosmetically or medically). But most of us do need to eat “better.”
If defining this betterness has become increasingly more difficult (half the diet books that spilled over my desk in December focused on going gluten-free), the core of the answer is known to everyone: eat more plants. And if the diet that most starkly represents this — veganism — is no longer considered bizarre or unreasonably spartan, neither is it exactly mainstream. (For the record, vegans don’t simply avoid meat; they eschew all animal products, including dairy, eggs and even honey.)
Many vegan dishes, however, are already beloved: we eat fruit salad, peanut butter and jelly, beans and rice, eggplant in garlic sauce. The problem faced by many of us — brought up as we were with plates whose center was filled with a piece of an animal — is in imagining less-traditional vegan dishes that are creative, filling, interesting and not especially challenging to either put together or enjoy.
My point here is to make semi-veganism work for you. Once a week, let bean burgers stand in for hamburgers, leave the meat out of your pasta sauce, make a risotto the likes of which you’ve probably never had — and you may just find yourself eating “better.”
These recipes serve about four, and in all, the addition of salt and pepper is taken for granted. This is not a gimmick or even a diet. It’s a path, and the smart resolution might be to get on it.
Get the recipes here.