For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the environment, health, and wellness. And I always considered myself an animal lover. I was vegetarian for a long time before making the shift to a vegan lifestyle about five years ago. (I originally thought that I was one of those people who couldn’t give up cheese, but I was so wrong.) When I started learning about the benefits of a diet free from animal products, I felt inspired to try it out. It was exciting to learn that I could easily shrink my environmental footprint through my consumer choices, and this solidified my decision to go vegan.
I felt lighter eating this way, and quickly noticed that my digestion was improving and my skin was becoming more clear than ever before. At the same time, people around me were also adopting the vegan lifestyle. It was exciting to watch as family and friends healed themselves through their diet. This included my brothers who had both suffered from life-long digestive issues, my cousin who conquered heart disease and shrunk a kidney tumour , and my friend who had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since birth. All of us found our health was restored after giving up the animal-based foods in our diets.
Canada’s revised Food Guide, the first update in more than a decade, was released earlier this year. The new guide emphasizes a high proportion of plant-based foods, and encourages Canadians to consume plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. The guide also recommends choosing proteins that come from plants more often.
A diet with more plants and fewer animal products is not only a healthy choice, but is also better for the environment. Here’s why: Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of all human-related worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Concerns about water use are often at the forefront when discussing sustainability. Animal-based products require a lot of water to produce, much of which is used for growing feed crops for livestock. In the U.S., the growing of feed crops accounts for an alarming 56% of all water consumption. To put this into perspective, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef.
A simple solution is to skip the animal-based products and go directly to the source where the animals get their fuel: plants!
The good news is that, as consumers, we can make more earth-friendly choices by incorporating more plant-based meals into our everyday diets. My best advice to anyone who wants to make this shift is to plan ahead by stocking your kitchen with plenty of whole foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, and dairy alternatives. Whole ‘plant-based’ foods (not the processed ones) are some of the least expensive choices and are widely available. I always say that a serving of rice and beans will never be more expensive than a steak – even if you’re buying organic.
The revised Canada Food Guide promotes the importance of cooking and preparing meals at home. Having a collection of plant-based recipes that are easy to make and that you’re excited about trying is an excellent way to plan ahead for homemade meals. I’ve shared some of my most popular recipes below from my blog. They are simple to make, with ingredients that are easy to find. These recipes are free from animal products including meat, chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs. I’ve made sure to include gluten-free and nut-free options for all of these recipes too.
(Makes 1 large serving or 2 small servings)
This oatmeal-based dish is one of my favourite grab-and-go breakfasts. With no cooking required, these oats are simple to make and convenient. Oats are also inexpensive and easy to find. I like to make my overnight oats the night before and store individual servings in reusable glass containers in my refrigerator. When I’m ready to leave in the morning, I just toss the jar in my bag on my way out the door.
Oats are gluten-free by nature but are sometimes contaminated during processing or even in the field during production. If you are celiac or have a gluten sensitivity, be sure to select oats that are labeled ‘gluten-free.’
This recipe works nicely for meal prep: pre-mix the dry ingredients, and portion into individual containers. The night before, add the wet ingredients and refrigerate.
1) Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir ingredients to evenly distribute. Place in a sealed container in the refrigerator for at least 5 to 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
2) Serve as is, or top with fresh or frozen fruit, mulberries, raw cacao powder or nibs, dairy-free yogurt, or raw nut or seeds. The oats can keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
(Makes about 10 cups of soup, or about 6 to 7 servings)
You can opt for raw crackers or a raw wrap instead of bread if you’d like to keep this meal fully raw.
1) Purée tomato with jalapeño in a blender or food processor. If you’re using a blender that’s not high speed, just purée about 1 cup first to get things going and then add about 2 cups at a time.
2) Pour puréed mixture into a bowl and add remaining ingredients.
3) Serve chilled and enjoy!
(Makes 2 to 3 servings)
This is comfort food at its finest: soba noodles with baby bok choy, peppers, and broccoli, topped with a creamy peanut sauce and sesame seeds!
This Soba Noodle bowl features my Ultimate Peanut Sauce (see next recipe) which has the perfect ratio of sweet and spicy and loads of flavour from the fresh ginger and lime juice. Everything in this bowl is simple to make and equally delicious.
To make this dish gluten-free, opt for a soba noodle that is labeled ‘gluten-free’. There are many varieties of soba noodles on the market and different choices available, including 100% buckwheat, and buckwheat combined with rice or sweet potato.
This recipe is oil-free, and instructions are provided on how to cook with water, but feel free to use an oil that is safe for high temperatures (in place of water) if that is your preference.
1) Cook soba noodles according to the directions provided on the package. (In general, they should only take about 3 to 5 minutes to cook once the water has boiled.) Once cooked, strain and keep warm until serving.
2) Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of water. (When cooking with water in place of oil, you may add extra water as needed.)
3) Add onion, minced ginger, and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes, or until soft, stirring often. Add a tiny pinch of salt.
4) Add peppers, broccoli, and bok choy to the pan and continue to cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until cooked through. Season with pink Himalayan salt and pepper to taste.
5) Place noodles into serving dishes and top with pan-fried veggies and peanut sauce (recipe below). Garnish with sesame seeds.
You may want to double this recipe because – if you love it as much as I do – it won’t last long!
1) Combine all ingredients except for the water in a small mixing bowl.
2) Add 1/4 cup purified or spring water and mix. Add more water if needed until sauce is desired consistency.
To store: Refrigerate in an air-tight glass jar or container.
1) Mix chopped tomatoes and onions in a large mixing bowl.
2) Dress with the juice of 2 limes and your favourite hot sauce to taste. Mix to combine evenly.
3) Add fresh cilantro, using as much as you would like. I personally love cilantro so I usually add about 1/3 of a cup. If you are not a fan of cilantro, try adding another mild and fresh herb like parsley.
4) Season with Himalayan salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and you’ve got fresh salsa.
Best served chilled.
*Note: If you’d like to make this salsa completely raw, use finely chopped hot pepper in place of the hot sauce.
(Makes 2 cups of gravy)
When I first developed this recipe, I served it at a family dinner. My uncle, who is a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, really enjoyed the gravy and told me to call it “meat lover’s gravy!”
This gravy can be made oil-free; to do so, use a couple of tablespoons of water or vegetable stock in place of the vegan butter. (When cooking with water in place of oil, you may have to add extra water as needed.)
1) Add vegan butter to a frying pan or saucepan and melt over medium heat. (See note above about using water or vegetable stock to make this oil-free.) Sauté onion and garlic with a tiny pinch of salt for about 5 minutes. Stir often to ensure that the garlic does not burn.
2) Once the onions have softened, add the mushrooms and continue to cook for another 8 minutes.
3) Add flour and nutritional yeast, stir to evenly coat the mushrooms and onions.
4) Stir in vegetable stock and soy-free seasoning sauce or tamari. Continue to stir, breaking down any clumps. Allow gravy to cook on medium-low heat until it thickens up, stirring often. You can add a couple of tablespoons of water or vegetable stock if you would like to thin out the gravy.
5) Add fresh pepper and more salt, if desired, to taste.
Optional: If you don’t like chunky gravy, put this one in a blender before serving, for a smoother consistency.
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