For years, it was just a minor offshoot of vegetarianism, more associated with barefoot walking and bohemian wear. We’re talking veganism.
Today, it is a mainstream lifestyle as across the globe, plant power has taken hold.
And there’s no better time to indulge your interest in veganism than November - World Vegan Month.
Established in 1994 and kicked off by Vegetarian Awareness Month in October, this 30-day celebration of a plant-based lifestyle is all about discovering some key arguments and mooing over why ditching meat helps.
What is veganism?
A vegan menu consists of no ingredient that comes from animals, including meat, cheese, milk, and even honey. Instead it’s back to the basics, consuming grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and beans, and dairy alternatives such as almond, soy or coconut milk. Whoever said going vegan wasn’t cost-effective simply doesn’t know this list – debunking the vegan-is-too-expensive myth isn’t difficult when you look at some of the staples of the diet.
Is it an expensive lifestyle?
As the oldest vegan organisation in the world, The Vegan Society, says, “Ultimately, even though a vegan diet can theoretically be expensive, the perception that veganism will automatically cost you more is not an accurate reflection of every vegan’s experience."
Even lifelong meat eaters can abide. Vegan staples are not all about tofu, and no, you don’t live just on lettuce.
For example, you could be saving about Dh7 to Dh10 per day when you eliminate the chicken from your home-cooked meal of vegetables, lentils, and rice might (based on market prices and consumption of volume). That's a whopping Dh210 to Dh300 per month.
The 78 million people around the world who have adopted the lifestyle would agree.
How popular is it?
Veganism has surprised detractors by rising high up the approval charts. The knock-on effect has seen vegan menus sit alongside existing ones, supermarkets carry vegan ranges, and whole restaurants now having only have vegan offerings on the menu.
Festivals, cookbooks and documentaries centred around veganism have sprouted, and there’s vegan versions for so much – vegan mayonnaise, vegan turkey and sausage, yogurt without dairy, vegan mozzarella, and even nuggets (made of pea). Tastes and textures of meat are being recreated by companies such as Beyond Meat. Vegan celebrities abound, from Bollywood’s Sonam Kapoor and Aamir Khan to Hollywood’s Natalie Portman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ellen Page. Fast food companies from McDonald’s to Burger King have introduced vegan options. Vegans have never had it easier.
Jackfruit pulled chicken and burgers that “bleed” like meat (via beetroot juice), anyone?
Social media has given the movement a lot of airtime recently and helped spread the word. Data from Google Trends shows interest in veganism is at an all-time high, while #vegan has about 102 million posts on Instagram. Proof of further popularity is there’s now two months to celebrate it – besides November, remember the Veganuary movement in January, where you got to try the lifestyle for a month with a whole community, advice and recipes?
And meat-free meat just got a huge boost in Europe when the European parliament ruled that vegan/vegetarian products that do not contain meat can continue to be termed “sausages” or “burgers”, rejecting a proposal backed by the meat industry to ban the labels.
The benefits of going meat-free
Its benefits reach far outside the kitchen. Your motive for a shift towards veganism could be three-fold - for your health, for animals or for the environment. With a diet high in fibre and low in cholesterol and salt, vegans score high on health markers. Cutting down on meat means cutting down on saturated fat. Vegans tend to have better heart health in comparison to their meat-eating counterparts. They also have a lower body mass index. Studies show overweight or obese individuals who switch to a plant-based diet lost body fat and have better insulin sensitivity and gut bacteria.
Meanwhile, University of Oxford researchers found cutting meat and dairy from your diet could reduce a person's carbon footprint from food by up to 73 per cent.
You could be going vegan as a form of protest against the meat industry and its ugliness. You could have been persuaded by gory visuals from slaughterhouses, or hard-hitting climate change stats. Whatever the reason, the gains far outweigh what you’re giving up.
Just limiting your animal product intake to a few days a week can make a huge difference – you can be vegan in stages.
Plunging right in isn’t for everybody, and adopting a flexitarian approach – a primarily plant-based diet with occasional meat consumption – works well at the start.
If you ever doubt the lifestyle, remember, bread is vegan. A lifestyle that allows you to have carbs can’t be bad at all!
And we would love to help you along, so here are a few recipes from restaurant chefs in the UAE so you can dip your toe into veganism:
Mixed mushroom salad
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 3-4 mins
50gm king oyster mushrooms
50gm shiitake mushroom
50gm brown shimeji mushrooms
2 tbsp chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp sliced red onions
1 tbsp grated carrot
20 pieces cashew nuts
For the salad dressing
1 tbsp chopped coriander
4 pcs coriander root
3 cloves garlic
½ tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon Juice
Optional (bird’s-eye chilli, whole – if you want to spice it up!)
Boil all the mushrooms until they’re 90 per cent cooked (2-3 mins).
Cut all the vegetables, place in a bowl. Add the mushrooms and cashew nuts and mix well.
Place the coriander, coriander root, garlic, sugar, salt, lemon juice, water and chilli (optional) in a pestle and mortar and pound for 30 to 45 seconds.
To serve, pour the dressing over the vegetables and mushrooms in the bowl, mix well and sprinkle some coriander on the top.
- Recipe courtesy of Café Isan’s head chef and co-owner, Chef New Chaklang
Chili sin carne
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Scant 1 1⁄4 cups (250g) dried red beans
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
A little olive oil for frying
5 tbsp (80g) tomato paste
2 large eggplants, washed and cut into small cubes
2 red bell peppers, washed, seeded, and cut into small cubes
450gm button mushrooms, washed and chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, washed and chopped
2⁄3 cup (160ml) water
1 tsp paprika
1⁄2 tsp mild chilli powder
1 bay leaf, washed
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp (60gm) vegan cream cheese
4 tbsp (60gm) pico de gallo (made by combining diced onions, tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and lime juice)
Soak the dried beans in a bowl of cold water overnight or for at least 10 hours. Drain and put the beans in a large saucepan of fresh, salted water.
Bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes or until the beans are tender. Drain.
Fry the garlic and onion in a little olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir in the tomato paste and all the vegetables, and continue frying.
Pour in the water and add the spices, bay leaf, and red beans. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking till all the vegetables are tender.
Divide among 4 plates and accompany each serving with a tbsp of vegan cream.
Remove and discard the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Divide cheese and pico de gallo. Accompany with lime wedges to squeeze over.
- Recipe courtesy of Wild and the Moon
Chia rose pudding
Prep time: 10 mins plus refrigeration time
1 1/2 cups dairy-free milk (use creamier milks for creamier, thicker pudding, such as full-fat coconut or cashew)
1/2 cup chia seeds
1-2 tbsp maple syrup (more or less according to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla seeds (or vanilla extract)
2 tsp rose water
A pinch dragonfruit (pitaya) powder for natural colour
Sliced strawberries and blueberries, to serve
To a mixing bowl, add dairy-free milk, chia seeds, maple syrup (to taste), vanilla, rose water and dragonfruit powder. Whisk to combine.
Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours). The chia pudding should be thick and creamy. If not, add more chia seeds, stir, and refrigerate for another hour or so.
Serve in a glass topped with sliced strawberries and blueberries.
- Recipe courtesy of 100 Café at The Hundred Wellness Centre