Introducing Vegetarian/Vegan Meals into the Week’s Menu

2.5, Infinitely-Variable, Large-Bowl Meals 

by Margaret B. Adam

Well over 25 years ago, my family made the transition from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian diet. It took about 4 years of effort on my part, because I wanted them not only to become vegetarians, but to want to become vegetarians. I had the advantage of an agreeable (if initially unconvinced) husband and small children susceptible to my intense propaganda campaign. But, my primary strategy was food-based. I modified our menu very gradually, by changing some ingredients and by introducing new recipes, until the family norm had shifted to all-vegetarian.

Now, the kids are grown and gone, and I have a new project of transition. My husband and I are headed in the direction of a vegan diet. It seems to be taking longer than that first transition, and we might not ever reach vegan perfection, but I’m ok with that. I consider myself an aspiring-vegan vegetarian.

Gradual transition is still the only way I know how to make dietary changes, and one promising strategy is to add a new meal into the weekly rota (instead of trying to replace a much-loved favourite). If it totally flops the household taste test, you can set aside (and maybe try it again in a month, with or without variations). If it seems acceptable, you can try it again in a week or two, and then adopt it into the list of regular meals. This way, you can slowly, surely, and stealthily increase the percentage of meat-free meals, with minimal rebellion.

Here are some ideas with so many possible variations that you can pass them off as multiple, unrelated meals.

barbecue-2920662_1280.jpg

Presentation matters.

Many people are accustomed to seeing three items on their dinner plates: meat, starch, and vegetable. Any variation on that theme may prompt feelings of loss or chaos, impending doom or rising rebellion. If you would like to cut back on your consumption of animal products without causing dinner plate anxiety, you might want to try presentations that highlight abundance. Here are two and a half meal ideas that feature a single base, with multiple toppings. You can serve these meals with additions piled on top or artistically distributed around the base. Or you can serve the base and let the diners select their own toppings from an array of dishes laid out on the table. Try serving the base in a large bowl or an odd-shaped plate, to underscore that this is not a lesser replacement for the previously established meat plus two dinner. Instead, this is an extra special dinner experience, a cornucopia of tasty delights!

Don’t make all of the possible toppings for one meal! Enlist family members or guests in the selection, preparation, and setting out of their favourite toppings. Or, choose only your own favourites to prepare and enjoy. Next week you can make the base again with a totally different selection of toppings. Add and subtract items as you please.

Baked Potatoes and Toppings (US) aka Jacket Potatoes and Toppings (UK)

  • Start with one large baking potato per person.
  • Stab with fork and bake in a preheated oven (high temperature) until done (45-60 min).
  • Slice open and pile on toppings.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable): 
    • Baked Beans (out of the can, warmed on the stove)
    • Hummus
    • Cheese (dairy or vegan), grated or sliced
    • Cheese Sauce (dairy or vegan)
    • Nuts, Vegan Bacon Bits, Nutritional Yeast, Salsa, Salt and Pepper, Herbs, Butter/Vegan Spread, Grated Carrots, Sliced or Chopped Peppers
    • Cooked: Onion slices (sautéed); Garlic (minced or sliced, added to sautéing onions midway through); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed)
rice-2206668_1280.jpg

Risotto

The rice part takes 20-30 minutes. You might want to prepare some toppings first and rewarm them in the microwave as needed when the rice is done. Or, if you are an optimistic multi-tasker, you might try to do it all at once.

Bring to a boil: 4 cups/1 litre vegetable stock (bouillon powder or cubes with water). Cover and keep warm on the stove.

In another pot, heat 3 T olive oil. 

  • Add: 1/2 chopped onion. Sauté and stir 3 minutes.
  • Add: 1 cup/190 grams arborio rice. Stir 2 minutes.
  • Add: 1 ladle of hot stock. Stir gently with wooden spoon and then let the rice absorb the liquid.
  • Repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add: salt and pepper and desired herbs.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable)
    • Pine nuts
    • Sliced almonds
    • Edamame (fresh or frozen)
    • Grated cheese (dairy or vegan)
    • Nutritional Yeast
    • Raw or from jars: Peppers (chopped); Carrots (grated); Fresh tomatoes (thinly sliced or small chunks); Olives; Sun-dried tomatoes
    • Cooked: Peas (fresh or frozen); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed; Asparagus (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed); Fresh Spinach (sautéed)

Easier Brown Rice Version

Cook some brown rice (small, medium, or long grain) with bouillon and 2 T olive oil. Add salt and pepper and herbs. Add Toppings, as above. Try mounding the rice in the centre of each bowl and then placing small plops of toppings in artful designs around the edges.

You can do this! If you are in a hurry, pick just a couple of ingredients and buy them already prepared or at least already prepared to steam or warm.

Each meal with fewer or no animal products helps make another one possible.

Each step you take to reduce the consumption of animal products sends a message to industrial farming, models change to friends and family, and witnesses to hope-filled confidence that Christ’s restoration of all creation is coming.

Friends House in London Signs Up to CreatureKind

We were delighted to be at Friends House in London, the centre for Quakers in Britain, to celebrate their signing up to be a CreatureKind institution. Friends House have been leaders in the ethical sourcing of food products, and were the first religious organization to be awarded Compassion in World Farming’s Good Egg and Good Chicken awards. They were enthusiastic about CreatureKind because of our focus on getting institutions to commit to a cycle of identifying strategies to reduce overall consumption of animal products and identify opportunities to move to higher welfare sources for remaining products.

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

At the launch event, we were joined by Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA), an organization with its origins in Christian opposition to vivisection in the late 19th century. Thom Bonneville of QCA expressed his warm appreciation for this commitment of Friends House and their previous hosting of QCA World Animals Day events.

Friends House provided samples of new vegan items from their menu, which included cashew nut curry, falafels, sausage rolls, and snacks and chocolate. The catering staff at Friends House were recently able to enhance the organization's plant-based offerings with help from a chefs’ training event provided by Humane Society International. The results were quite delicious. 

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

In his remarks, David described how the current unprecedented extent of livestock farming was bad for humans, bad for animals, and bad for the environment. He noted that in 1900 the total biomass of domesticated animals was around 3.5 times that of all wild land mammals, but by 2000, a fourfold increase in domesticated animals together with a halving in wild animal numbers meant the biomass of domesticated animals had grown to an astonishing 25 times that of wild land mammals, with dramatic effects on increased land use and environmental problems. Unlike many other global problems, David noted this was something we can act to address immediately, as individuals and members of institutions, by reducing consumption of animal products and moving to higher welfare sourcing.

David gave an enthusiastic welcome to the commitment Friends House have made to reduce their consumption of animal products by 20% over two years and look for additional opportunities to move to higher welfare sources for remaining animal products. As part of their commitment, Friends House will also launch a new vegan CreatureKind menu for their events catering.

CreatureKind is in conversation with a number of other institutions and organizations in the UK and North America about signing up to CreatureKind. If you belong to one we should be talking to, do let us know!

Top Five Tips on Navigating Christmas as a Vegan

Christmas is a magical time of the year when many people come together to celebrate and indulge in delectable meals and treats. Yet with meat typically served at most Christmas meals, life can be tricky for vegans. Don’t worry, help is at hand!

Veganism is one of the fastest-growing lifestyle movements of our age and will find its way into more homes this year than ever before, but if you find yourself in the position of being the only vegan at the dinner table or gathering this season, have no fear and do not feel overwhelmed. Here are a few tips on navigating and enjoying Christmas as a vegan!

1. Why Not Host Christmas This Year?

If you have the time, opportunity and cooking skills, why not plan and execute a Christmas feast for your loved ones this year?

Start with some tasty appetisers. Swap the turkey for a nut roast or whole roasted cauliflower (yes, this is a thing!). Add some mouthwatering side dishes like spiced Brussels sprouts, coconut and turmeric roast potatoes, bright salads and roasted mixed vegetables. Then finish things off with a spectacular vegan Christmas pudding or chocolate truffles.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything too complicated, but you can still make a big impression with a thoughtfully chosen menu.

2. Show Off Your Skills and Contribute a Vegan Dish!

If you are invited to a meal where the vegan choices may be limited, why not offer to bring a tasty vegan-friendly dish or two along?

Not only does it guarantee that you will have something to eat, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to show your friends and family how delicious and satisfying plant-based meals can be.

It’s also a fun way of getting a friendly conversation about veganism started and chances are that everyone will want to try what you bring, so make sure you take enough.

3. Be Sure to Inform Hosts in Advance

If you are all set to attend a non-vegan Christmas meal, be sure to inform your host in advance to avoid any awkward moments or having to explain your dietary requirements when you arrive.

A gracious host will ensure that there is something for you at the table and you may even be able to suggest ways that they can veganise certain dishes. When in doubt, contribute a dish that you will be able to enjoy as well, or eat in advance so that you are not too hungry when you arrive.

4. Brush Up On Your Vegan Knowledge

Questions about your lifestyle are likely to come up and this is a great opportunity to share your thoughts on how plant-based eating is a compassionate way to care for our animal friends, our health and the environment.

Try to remain patient (even in the face of incredulity or attack) and avoid heated debates, lectures or graphic descriptions of industrial farming around the dinner table. Focus instead on all the beautiful, positive aspects of being vegan. Keeping calm and setting discussion boundaries is a great way of ensuring that you enjoy the occasion as much as possible.

5. Remember Christmas is a Time for Giving!

If you are fortunate enough to spend Christmas with loved ones this year, it is important to remember those who are not in the same privileged position.

Giving back can involve anything from donating your time and energy to helping out at a food bank, donating plant-based meals to shelters, volunteering to cook at your church, and lots more. Let’s use this time as an opportunity to spread the most important aspects of our faith and lifestyle—love and compassion.

This post originally appeared on the Sarx website and is reprinted here with kind permission. Sarx was founded on the belief that creation is the very outpouring of God’s love and their aim is to respond and witness to this divine love by encouraging Christians to strive towards a world in which all animals are enabled to live with dignity, in freedom and in peace. For more vegan recipe and lifestyle inspiration, visit www.vegannigerian.com.

Six Tips for Hosting a Vegan at Thanksgiving

by Sarah Withrow King

You’re hosting the holiday meal this year and have the menu all planned out when you learn one of the guests is vegan. Hospitality is important to you. You want to share the gifts you’ve been given, welcome people with open arms, and create a space where all of your guests feel warm, safe, and seen. But you’ve been making the same dishes for the last twenty years and have no earthly idea what vegans eat or whether they’ll take one look at the table spread and scream, “Murderer!” (<---they’re not going to do that)

These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from  One Happy Table  will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from One Happy Table will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

I’m here to help. I haven’t always been kind or compassionate to plant-based eaters. I hosted a birthday party once and fed my one vegetarian friend a salad while we chowed down on burgers. I laughed at another friend who was trying to be vegan. Then I learned some of the reasons why my friends left meat, dairy, and eggs off their plates and decided to follow suit. Guess what I was served at the very first event I attended as a vegan? A plate of lightly steamed summer squash. I had it coming.

If you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian coming to dinner and want to welcome them with open arms and a full plate, here are six top tips:

  1. Ask What Kind of Food Your Guest Likes. Some vegans looooove meat substitutes like Gardein Chick’n or Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs or Tofurky’s Holiday Roast. Others just like straight-up vegetables. Some vegans are in it for the health benefits and others relish a meal that’s rich and decadent. It’s okay to ask. It’s good to ask.

  2. Make Easy Substitutions When Possible. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock; substitute Earth Balance and a plant-based milk for butter and dairy; make a chia or flax egg to help that casserole bind. If you would normally sprinkle cheese over the top of a dish, leave it to the side and let people add their own if they choose. Here’s a good substitution guide to help get you started.

  3. Offer a Vegan Dessert. If your guest is very health-conscious, fruit or sorbet is fine. But if they love pumpkin pie and other sugary treats, you’ll be a hero if you present them with a baked goody. Seriously. A cape-wearing hero. Not sure how you can make a pie crust without lard or a cake without eggs? Seize the opportunity to learn some new tricks. You might just find a new favorite! Maybe the family tradition is a plate of Uncle Dave’s killer brownies? Pick up a vegan brownie at the local grocery store so your guest can indulge, too!

  4. Offer a Vegan Protein. If you’re not sure what kind of protein your guest likes, just ask! Let them send you some of their favorite recipes. I promise we will put a great deal of thought into ensuring that the suggestions we provide are affordable, practical, and universally delicious.

  5. Let Your Guest Help You. I don’t mean, “let your guest bring all their own food.” That’s no fun. Of course you can ask them to bring a dish that they love (and be sure to give them first dibs at that if there aren’t a lot of veg options), but let them help you figure out what’s available and easy-to-do. We are eager to answer questions, to help you find substitutes, to offer up recipe suggestions. One long-time vegan says, “I find there's a dungeon-master forcefield around hosting and a lot of people feel that if they involve their guests, they're somehow not hosting well. No! Ask the vegan! They've been figuring out what egg subs work best for years! Team Host-Guest FTW!”

  6. Let’s Talk About Being Vegan...After Dinner. The vast majority of vegans I know want everyone at the table to have a good time. We don’t think mealtime is the best place to share the details of what we’ve learned about factory farming and slaughterhouses. Let’s do that over drinks or while we’re washing dishes.

I do hope you will ask your guest about their preferences, but here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that might get your creative juices flowing.

One last word. I eat with meat-eaters all the time. I don’t love to see meat, I don’t love to watch people eat meat. I’ve seen and read too much to be able to turn off my heart and brain, but I’ll still sit down at a table that includes meat. That said...if, like me, your vegan guest is vegan for animals, they might appreciate if a big meat dish wasn’t the center of the table. They might appreciate the cutting/carving/serving being done away from where the eating happens. Or maybe not. It’s worth having the conversation. It’s always worth having the conversation.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

Changing the Menu at Christian Conferences

by Sarah Withrow King

Which vegan has two thumbs, travels a lot, and has been eating pretty well at Christian gatherings of late? This gal!

Earlier this year, my team at ESA let me know that they wanted to show solidarity with my CreatureKind work by making all of our events vegetarian or vegan. Another CreatureKind colleague's team made a similar decision. I had a vegan dessert for the first time ever at a gathering of Christian leaders in June (here it is, it was such a perfect little pudding, I had to take a photo), a dessert that followed a series of outstanding vegan meal options. 

Perfect tiny vegan tapioca pudding. I could have eaten about five of them.

Perfect tiny vegan tapioca pudding. I could have eaten about five of them.

I have received incredible vegan hospitality at Christian events in cities all over the U.S. in the last year, from Portland to Durham, D.C. to Grand Rapids.

I love plant-based food at Christian events for a few reasons:

  1. Providing plant-based meals ensures that vegans, vegetarians, and conscious consumers are able to fully participate in the event. Having to leave to go seek out food, or having to pack and prepare your own is a bummer. 
  2. 99% of the animal products provided at your average event will be from industrial farms and slaughterhouses, which are not only bad for animals, but for the humans who work there, too. 
  3. Eating more plant-based meals is better for the environment. 

And one more: I talk to a lot of people who balk at the idea of calling themselves vegan or vegetarian but who would choose plant-based foods if they were readily available. Providing or (even better) prioritizing plant-based food at Christian events gives people the opportunity to try on a different way of eating without making a (seemingly) daunting commitment. 

Are you part of a gathering of Christians that shares meals? Do you go to a conference every year and want to see more plant-based food? Do you have a positive story to share? Let's talk about how to help make this trend into a norm! Drop us a line or comment below.