Diana Stoevelaar hasn’t had a hamburger, a bite of cheese or a glass of milk in 21 years.
She’s not sick. On the contrary, she says, her health has never been better.
Stoevelaar became a vegan more than two decades ago in her search for a non-medical treatment for her arthritis and lupus.
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Author Dreena Burton is a strong advocate of the vegan way of life.
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At first, she decided to give up dairy products, hoping for relief from her chronic pain.
Within 48 hours, her pain was gone, so she decided to make further dietary changes, and on June 23, 1987, she had her last bite of meat — a hot dog.
She’s now vegan, one of a growing number of people across North America who are consciously choosing what they opt to eat.
What exactly are vegans? Think of them as extreme vegetarians. Not only do vegans avoid all types of meat, they also stay away from dairy, honey and eggs — any product that comes from animals of any kind. (Most avoid wearing leather and, it probably goes without saying, fur, too.)
Instead, they eat diets that primarily consist of fruits, vegetables, soy, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
“It’s someone who eats only plant food,” says Stoevelaar. “I usually joke with people that I don’t eat anything that ever had a mother.”
Reasons for becoming vegan are myriad. Some people do it because they don’t believe in killing animals for food. Others do it for environmental and health reasons.
“Maybe it’s just a growing awareness in our society,” says West Coast-based cookbook author Dreena Burton. “We’re more aware of where our food comes from and what it does to the environment.”
These days, vegan-friendly foods are available in every major grocery store, even Costco; vegan cookbooks are sold in every major bookstore. And numerous restaurants and natural foods stores offer plenty of milk-free, meat-free, vegan-friendly options.
Why now? Perhaps we’re simply following in the footsteps of the stars. Actresses Pamela Anderson and Natalie Portman; fashion designer Stella McCartney; musicians Moby, Bryan Adams, Prince and k.d. lang; and record producer Rick Rubin are all vegan.
Then there’s the weight-control appeal. The bestselling diet book Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman (a former modelling agent) and Kim Barnouin (a former model) is making converts around the world with its promise to help women become thinner if they follow a vegan diet.
“You cannot keep shovelling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight,” they write on their website skinnybitch.net.
Then there are the Vegan Vixens, a California-based group of scantily clad women who look as if they just stepped off a runway. Their goal? To “inspire men to live a longer and happier life, by making healthier decisions on what they consume,” says their website veganvixens.com.
Even Oprah Winfrey recently tried out a vegan diet, giving up all animal products, as well as sugar, alcohol, wheat and caffeine, for three weeks in an effort, she said, to become “a more conscious eater.”
“Wow, wow, wow!” she apparently wrote on her website (or at least, various veggie blogs are claiming she did).
“I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying.”
They’re also healthy. A recent Canadian-American study showed an improvement in health for people with Type 2 diabetes who follow a low-fat vegan diet.
Last month, a study was released that suggested a low-fat vegan diet, combined with exercise and yoga, could help fight prostate cancer. And earlier this year, rheumatoid arthritis patients showed dramatic improvement when they followed a gluten-free vegan diet, greatly reducing their high risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Although there are certainly health benefits associated with becoming vegan, it can be difficult for lazy home cooks to maintain a balanced diet, especially if you’re used to getting all your calcium from milk, and all your protein from meat.
That’s where a good cookbook can come in handy. In fact — at least in Canada — much of the popularity of veganism is thanks to a small Canadian publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press.
Arsenal publisher Brian Lam says he first decided to publish a vegan cookbook in 1999, after vegan enthusiasts Sarah Kramer and Tanya Bernard sent him samples of their dishes and a copy of their manuscript — which eventually became the book, How It All Vegan.
“It was a really refreshing, non-confrontational way of dealing with veganism,” Lam says.
“And they brought a really young fresh energy to veganism and the animal rights movement, a provocative way of getting people to think about what we eat and don’t eat.”
And it was, as it turns out, a corner of the cookbook market that was waiting to be filled. Lam notes that to become a bestseller in Canada, a book has to sell 5,000 copies. How It All Vegan sold 5,000 copies in the first two months. It has since gone on to sell more than 150,000 copies, and it has been reprinted 14 times.
“In the 10 years since we published that first book, veganism has really grown up. It’s much more mainstream, a legitimate health movement,” says Lam.
Recent releases include Toronto holistic nutritionist Jae Steele’s cookbook, Get It Ripe (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008, $23.95) and Dreena Burton’s third book, Eat, Drink and Be Vegan (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007, $23.95).
Like Stoevelaar, Burton grew up eating a typical meat-and-potatoes diet.
Then, after moving to the West Coast about 15 years ago, she started flirting with vegetarianism.
The more she researched, however, the more she realized she wanted to become a vegan, not just a vegetarian.
She didn’t like the thought of using animals for food, and she knew a meat-heavy diet was hard on the environment, requiring more water and resources than a typical plant-based diet.
She also knew she wanted to reduce her family’s risk of heart disease and obesity, she says.
“My husband and I both tried (being vegan) for a month, and we both felt much, much better,” she says.
Since then, she’s written three cookbooks, blogs regularly about her vegan lifestyle (vivelevegan.blogspot.com) and is raising two vegan daughters.
Even in Calgary — with its steakhouses, famous Alberta beef and meat-heavy Stampede parties — Stoevelaar says she’s seen a huge shift in people’s perspectives.
Years ago, when her daughters were young, someone once told one of them they’d die if they didn’t eat meat.
“But 21 years later, the public mindset has evolved to the point that now people almost apologize for still eating animal foods, saying that they are not quite ‘there’ yet but are working on it,” says Stoevelaar, who is also a raw foodist, meaning she only eats food that hasn’t been cooked.
That’s good news for publishers like Lam.
This fall, Arsenal Pulp Press will launch its ninth vegan title, Sarah Kramer’s Vegan a-Go-Go: A Cookbook and Survival Guide for Vegans on the Go, and Lam has plans to release a vegan calendar, “with recipes and facts and trivia” in 2010.
Although he isn’t vegan, Lam says getting to know the authors and working with the manuscripts has made him — and the rest of his staff — more aware of what they eat.
“For all of us, it’s been about becoming more conscious of what we put in our bodies,” he says.
“And I think it’s good for everyone, whether you’re vegan or not.”
Ideas for vegan meals
Like the idea of tofu, but don’t know what to do with it?
Here are two fast ways to prepare the stuff, excerpted from Vegan Express: Featuring 160 Recipes for Quick, Delicious and Healthy Meals by Nava Atlas (Broadway Books, 2008, $22):
. Barbecue-Flavoured Skillet Tofu
“I use two 16-ounce (455 g) tubs of extra-firm tofu, sliced, blotted dry and diced.
“The tofu goes into a lightly oiled wide skillet or stir-fry pan with a little more natural, good-quality barbecue sauce than seems necessary. Cook over medium-high heat until some of the tofu starts to brown here and there, stirring regularly. This takes about 20 minutes.”
. Cornmeal-Encrusted Tofu
You’ll need one 16-ounce (455 g) tub of firm tofu and about 3 tablespoons (45 mL) cornmeal, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil and salt to taste.
“Cut the tofu into six slabs crosswise. Blot well between paper towels or clean tea towels, then cut into small dice. Combine the tofu and cornmeal in a plastic food storage bag. Shake gently until the tofu is evenly coated. Heat 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of olive oil in a wide, non-stick skillet. Add the tofu and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until golden on most sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Transfer to a container and cover to keep warm.”
These portobello mushroom burgers are just one of 150 vegan recipes from Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living by Jae Steele (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)
Serves 2 to 4
4 portobello mushrooms, 4-5 in (10-12 1/2 cm) in diameter
1/4 cup (50 mL) tamari or shoyu soy sauce
3 large cloves garlic
4 teaspoons (20 mL) olive oil (plus extra for frying)
2 teaspoons (10 mL) balsamic or apple cider vinegar
Several dashes of your favourite hot sauce
4 Mini fresh whole-grain pitas (in lieu of buns)
Gently slice or break off the mushroom stems and rinse caps quickly. Whisk together the tamari or shoyu, garlic, oil, vinegar and hot sauce in a bowl to make marinade.
Brush the mushroom caps with marinade and place them, tops down, in a shallow dish. Pour the remaining marinade evenly over mushrooms, ensuring each gets its share of garlic. Allow to sit, covered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Lightly oil a skillet or barbecue set at medium-high heat. Place mushrooms, tops down, in a skillet or on a grill, brushing on any marinade that’s dripped off.
Cook for about 5 minutes, then flip to other side and cook for another 4 minutes until they’re tender when you poke them. (Extra marinade can be stored in an airtight container in fridge for up to 1 week and used to flavour veggies, tempeh or tofu.)
Toast the pitas if desired and cut in half. Place each mushroom cap in a mini-pita and serve, stuffed with any topping combination that inspires you.
This recipe is excerpted from Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living by Jae Steele (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008, $23.95).
Moroccan Garbanzo Bean Soup
Serves 5 to 6
1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
1 medium-large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon (or 1 stick)
1/2 teaspoon (3 mL) saffron threads (optional, but recommended)
5 cups (1.25 L) vegetable stock or filtered water
3 cups (750 mL) diced fresh tomatoes (or one 28-oz/796 mL can of diced tomatoes)
2 1/2 pounds (1.25 kg) butternut squash, peeled and cubed 1/2-in (1 cm) thick (about 5 cups/1.25 L)
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-in (1 cm) cubes (about 12 potatoes)
2 cups (500 mL) cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) sea salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh cilantro leaves (for garnish)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 6 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, cumin, cinnamon and saffron, and saute for 1 minute.
Add the stock or water, tomatoes, squash and potato, and stir. Increase heat to bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes, until vegetables are very tender.
Stir in the chickpeas. Simmer for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Add the salt and pepper (and remove cinnamon stick if used). Serve hot, garnished with cilantro.
This creamy, tangy pasta recipe is excerpted from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan by Dreena Burton (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007)
Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto on Pasta
Serves 3 to 4
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons (45 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon (3 mL) dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon (3 mL) sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL), plus 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 25 mL) raw cashews (see cook’s note)
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) fresh basil leaves and tender stems (packed)
1/3 pound (155 g) dry pasta of choice (see cook’s note)
Olive oil (for drizzling)
To make the pesto, combine garlic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, oil and water in a food processor and puree until fairly smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add cashews and basil and puree (may leave some texture).
Cook pasta according to package directions. When almost done, remove 1 cup (250 mL) of pasta water and reserve. Drain pasta (do not rinse) and toss with pesto, using as much as desired. If pasta seems too dry, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Cook’s Notes: Some like a lot of sauce on their pasta, but you may prefer less; use up to 1 pound (500 g) pasta and add extra cooking water or oil to help distribute the pesto through the pasta.
If you’d prefer a wheat-free option, substitute brown rice, spelt, or quinoa pasta. Raw almonds may be substituted for cashews, just add extra water or oil to moisten when pureeing. You can make this pesto in advance and refrigerate in a sealed container until you’re ready to cook the pasta. This pesto also makes a dynamite sandwich spread or pizza sauce (or dollop on pesto as a pizza topping).
Canwest Publishing Inc.