I used to eat meat like nobody's business. Two Big Macs in one sitting? Check! A big juicy steak for dinner? Check! Cheese, eggs, dairy? Check! Check! Check! The only line I had was baby animals. I have never eaten veal, lamb, suckling pig, etc. As I grew up, though, I became more educated about the health, environmental and moral implications and I am now in the process of going vegan. I have been a pescatarian for about nine years (and feel MUCH better than before, health-wise). I am now working on cutting out the fish, eggs and dairy. I have some helpful links including the best vegan BBQ burger, all kinds of artisanal cheeses, vegan seafood (!!!), and non-dairy milks below with links to their sites and where you can get them for those who want to try to do this and still enjoy the taste of cheese, seafood, etc., below.
Why? Health, Environment and Heart
First, though, why do it? There are the health reasons not to eat meat or dairy. Study after study has urged that plant-based diets are critical for disease prevention and overall health. Many aestheticians and dermatologists recommend people with skin problems stay away from dairy (although studies are inconclusive - the best thing to do is cut it out for several months and see if your skin improves). The American Cancer Society warns:
"[S]tudies have linked eating large amounts of processed meat to increased risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. This link may be due in part to nitrites, which are added to many lunch meats, hams, and hot dogs to maintain color and to prevent bacterial growth. Eating processed meats and meats preserved using smoke or salt increases exposure to potential cancer-causing agents and should be reduced as much as possible."
See more study links at https://thevegangut.wordpress.com/tag/american-cancer-society/
Then there are the moral and ethical reasons for those of you with good hearts. You just have to do a google search to see the kind of torture that will turn your stomach that animals go through to be turned into food products. One goat farmer turned sanctuary owner described how they would sell baby goats for meat and people would come, hog-tie the sobbing babies and fling them into the back of a pickup and drive away with the baby screaming in terror. One day, she and her husband finally decided to stop.
But, if that doesn't bother you (and, if it doesn't, kudos to you for continuing to read this), the environmental impact of mass producing meat for consumption is pretty scary, too:
"Livestock & Climate Change, a report produced by two researchers with the World Bank and published by WorldWatch Institute, has documented that over 51% of all global warming impact is being caused by animal agriculture. The implications are staggering, as it means that individual people eating a meat-based diet, by adopting a plant-based diet, have the ability to cut a major percentage of their carbon footprint. If enough people were to do that, climate crisis could conceivably be solved, without the need for exotic new technologies, coordinated government action and complex international treaties. "
There is FAR more written on this topic elsewhere. I recommend starting out here.
On to some recommendations for FOOD for those of you - like me - who did eat meat and eggs and dairy and liked and miss the taste but want to do the right thing for their bodies and their world. The toughest items for me were milk, butter, cheese, seafood, and BBQ burgers at first, however....I found the healthy, cruelty free ones!!! If you're just getting started and want to sample all kinds of different savory vegan meats and cheeses, you can order sampler packs from The Herbivorous Butcher - loads of "meats" and "cheeses" that are all vegan to taste and try and decide on which are your favorites. If you live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they have a store located at 507 1st Ave NE. Call 612-208-0992 for more info. The sampler packs can all be ordered online though so don't fret if you're not in Minnesota!
Some basics that are BETTER than the animal product: for cream cheese lovers, Kite Hill makes an incredible, delicious, cruelty-free cream cheese out of almond milk.
For butter, my favorite is Earth Balance. It's better than dairy butter!
For milk, hand's down, ripple wins.
Because everyone usually screams, "What about bacon?!" when I say I'm vegan, I have an entire blog post about healthy, plant-based " meats here, however, I must note that Phoney Baloney has somehow been able to exactly replicate that melt-in-your-mouth savory deliciousness of bacon - without hurting any pigs! Their food is scrumptious! More here: www.phoneybaloneys.com
Here are more of my favorites:
1A. The Best Vegan BBQ Burger
Organic Sunshine Burgers are my favorite if you want truly healthy meat-free BBQ burgers. They're gluten, soy, cholesterol, and nut-free (the nut-free part can be hard for vegans allergic to tree nuts). They also have 9g of protein and are thick and "meaty." I make them as regular "burgers" but also crumble them in soups and stews. You can buy them in the frozen section of most heath food stores. More at www.Facebook.com/SunshineBurger and Twitter.com/SunshineBurger.
1B. The Best Basic Burger
Beyond Meat wins my favorite burger award. It's the burger of Ripple milk. Ripple is the only non-dairy milk alternative I've found that looks, tastes, smells, etc., like - and is virtually indistinguishable from cow's milk. Likewise, Beyond Meat burgers look, taste, smell - are virtually indistinguishable from hamburgers made from a cow's body. I know because I grew up eating meat. My significant other and I both kind of freaked out the first time we ate Beyond Meat burgers because we thought they had to be "real" meat. I re-read the packaging ten times just to reassure myself I was not eating an animal. The Beyond Meat burgers look like raw beef in the package and, in Whole Foods, I've found them in with the meat-meat section and I bet you money someone took them home, having no idea they were eating vegan. They sizzle up from red to cooked-burger color in about 5 minutes in the frying pan.
2. My Favorite Vegan Seafood
Hand's down: Sophie's Kitchen is the best! Even my significant other, who grew up loving crab cakes, was fooled by her vegan crab cakes. The breaded "shrimp" don't taste like real shrimp in his opinion, though, but I liked them. http://sophieskitchen.net/html/products/crab.html Sophie's Kitchen also makes vegan scallops, fish fillets, salmon and tuna. All their products feature Konjac root, an Asian superfood and they're soy, gluten and GMO-free. For a store locater or to buy online: sophieskitchen.net/html/buynow.html
A trick to make vegan scallops - and, I promise you that they will taste like scallops: get trumpet mushrooms and cut the stems into scallop-sized pieces. Soak them overnight in the fridge (or for at least 3 hours) in 3 cups of cold water and 1-3 Tablespoons of Tamari. Then, fry them in olive oil and/or Earth Balance vegan butter with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper. You will be glad you did! You can also bread them with brown rice, flaxseed and/or cornmeal and pan fry them. If you also core them and serve with marinara, they can also pass for a pretty delectable vegan calamari.
3. Non-Dairy Milks
This was the hardest one for me. I love milky lattes in the morning. I tried everything. I'll go through what I tried but, instead of making you wait for my Eureka! moment, I'll give it to you now. Hand's down, the absolute most dairy (cow) milk tasting vegan milk is ripple. It's made out - wait for it! - peas. Sounds crazy, right? But it looks like cow milk, tastes like cow milk and has the consistency of cow milk. It also has 50% more calcium than milk and a ton of protein. Not just that, it's also very sustainable and environmentally friendly because peas require so little water (unlike dairy milk or almond milk, for example). Read more here. It took me almost a year to find ripple and I am so glad that I did because I was so tired of thin, chalky lattes.
Anyway, I recognize taste is very subjective and, especially with food and beverages, what one person loves may be disgusting to someone else, so here are all the other dairy alternatives I tried that you may want to check out - again, I love the addition of a heavier, creamier milk in my lattes and non-dairy milk tends to be a little more water-y, which I don't like, or have another, less-neutral flavor (like coconut milk, which has the creaminess I want but not the neutral flavor). You kind of have to just experiment with the different non-dairy varieties until you find the best one for you. What I found helpful before discovering ripple was - for lattes with a creamier froth of the milk - a latte with 3/4 flax milk mixed with 1/4 Califia Farms coconut cream and almond milk creamer. Not bad at all though it can be a little chalky.
So, some other options:
1. Flax Milk. A good source of omega -3 's but not of protein.
2. Coconut Milk (has a specific flavor that I only like in cereal or curries, stews and rices - but experiment with it - you might love it in everything)
3. Rice Milk
4. Almond Milk (it does take a LOT of water to produce almond milk so if you want to be super environmentally friendly, you may want to avoid this one. If the choice, like at Starbucks, is actual dairy or almond milk, obviously, almond milk is the clear winner both for health and environment, though)
5. Hemp Milk - less creamy for those who don't like a "rich" taste.
6. Soy milk
More helpful info on non-dairy milks: www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/14/non-dairy-milk-almond-milk_n_7282908.html
4. Healthy and Yummy Vegan Cheeses
Some people make their own(!!!) To try this, I recommend One Green Planet:
You'll notice a lot of the recipes use cashews for the consistency but if you have a tree nut allergy, you can substitute coconut or seeds - especially sunflower or hemp seeds, which are also nutrient dense.
If you're lucky enough to be in NYC, you can visit Riverdel, a vegan cheese shop, in Brooklyn (820 Washington Avenue), which has a wonderful selection and really knowledgeable staff who can answer all pretty much all the tough questions. Orchard Grocer in Manhattan is another terrific option (and they also carry ripple milk!)
If you're in Minneapolis, Minnesota, you can visit The Herbivorous Butcher - they have heaps of vegan cheeses to taste and try! You can order their sampler packs online, so don't fret if you're not in Minnesota!
Other delish non-dairy cheese favorites of mine:
My favorite for if you have heaps of food restrictions (this one is dairy free, nut free, soy free, gluten free AND it's "clean food," meaning free of preservatives, GMO's and 100% plant based) is Violife. They make a kick-a** cheddar block! Heaven!
My favorite cheese for melting (grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, etc.) is Field Roast's Chao slices.
My favorite for crumbling in salad and eating with crackers, bread (and wine!) is Bryt Life's To-Feta.
My favorite for Caprese sandwiches is MozzaRisella.
For cream cheese lovers, Kite Hill makes an incredible, delicious, cruelty-free cream cheese out of almond milk.
For butter, my favorite is Earth Balance. It's better than dairy butter!
Here's a list of the top rated vegan cheeses from One Green Planet that includes everything you need from slices to shredded to "goat" cheese to artisanal fancy varieties to cream cheese to ricotta to parmesan:
1. Field Roast Chao Slices – a vegan coconut cheese alternative. The cheese is a collaboration of a Greek cheese maker, a family in Taiwan who makes Chao, a traditionally fermented soybean curd, and Field Roast who brings it all together in Seattle to create Chao Slices. The vegan, non-GMO cheese comes in Creamy Original with Chao Tofu, Coconut Herb with Black Pepper and Tomato Cayenne with Spicy Pepper. Chao slices can be used in both hot and cold dishes, melted in amazing grilled cheese sandwiches or on burgers or eaten straight out of the package.
2. Tofutti makes non-GMO slices in American and Mozzarella flavors, Better Than Sour Cream, Better Than Cream Cheese which also comes in specialty flavors Garlic & Herb, Herbs & Chives and French Onion. Tofutti ALSO makes Better Than Cheese Ricotta.
3. Daiya cheese stretches and melts but is soy-free, made from tapioca. Daiya Shreds are now available in Mozzarella, Cheddar, Pepperjack, and Classic Blend Style. Daiya’s Slices which come in Cheddar, Swiss and Provolone. If you want to grate your own cheese or make cubes for hors d’ouvres, choose one of Daiya’s Blocks: Cheddar, Gouda, Jack or Jalapeno Havarti. Daiya Cream Cheese Style Spreads come in Plain (I have used this for cheesecake and it worked!!), Strawberry and Chive & Onion. Daiya also makes six flavors of vegan Pizza, four types of Cheezecake and three flavors of Cheezy Mac.
4. Go Veggie! makes vegan slices that stretch and melt in Cheddar, American, Pepper Jack and Mozzarella. and Vegan Grated Parmesan Style Topping.
5. Follow Your Heart, the company that makes Veganaise, also makes non-dairy cheeses.
6. For the fancy cheese aficionados (as long as you don't have a nut allergy), Treeline Cheese is "totally dairy-free and can rival any artisanal cheese. It is made of pure, wholesome cashew nuts, acidophilus culture, salt and pepper. Treeline makes Soft French-Style Nut Cheeses which are tangy, creamy and spreadable." (One Green Planet)
7. Kite Hill makes vegan cheeses and other products from fresh nut milk, including ricotta, cultured cream cheese style spreads and ravioli entrees with whipped ricotta.
8. Punk Rawk Labs is an all-women owned company that makes gourmet dairy-free artisanal nut cheeses that taste like dairy cheese.
9. Another fancy one for those without nut allergies who desire artisans cheeses: Miyoko’s Kitchen
10. Heidi Ho makes a live culture cashew cheese that tastes like "goat cheese – without the goat – and Ne Chèvre Lava which has a layer of crushed hazelnut and black lava salt for a salty, nutty kick."
11. Vtopian "makes dairy-free, vegan and handmade cheeses in Eugene, Oregon. They make innovative special cheese that will please all palates with organic ingredients and probiotic cultures." Careful if you have a nut allergy with these, though - they use cashews.
Green Planet didn't list Bryt Life or MozzaRisella or Violife, but they should have because Bryt Life and MozzaRisella and Violife are awesome, so:
12. Bryt Life
Bryt Life Foods is a cruelty free food company specializing in delicious dairy free cheeses and yogurt.
Made from sprouted brown rice, these slices are terrific for caprese salads and avoid common allergens like nuts and soy! Eureka!
Blocks of sharp cheddar, mild and creamy white cheeses, shredded cheeses. This one is now my go-to for when I host vegan wine'n cheeses because these are the vegan cheeses EVERYONE can eat - they're nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, and soy-free. Plus, they're 100% plant-based with no GMO's or preservatives.
For brunch, tofu makes a great scramble. For baking, you can use applesauce as an egg substitute or you can use chia seeds or flaxseed meal for an energy-packed nutritional powerhouse. To do this: combine 1 T flaxseed meal OR chia seeds with 3 T water (per egg needed) and let sit for 5 minutes before adding to your recipe.
For more breakfast ideas, check out my blog on brunch here.
6. More Recipes
Here on Ethical is Beautiful, of course! And also check out: www.theherbivorousbutcher.com/pages/recipes-1
Other helpful links:
Cruelty Free Meat Lovers Guide (Bacon, Sausage and all the rest)
**A tip I love from "Better Nutrition" for carb conscious lasagna lovers - cut large zucchinis lengthwise into thin strips, sprinkle with a tad bit of sea salt to help remove excess water and let sit 15 minutes and then pat dry and use in place of carb-heavy lasagna noodles! Use vegan cheese, of course, for your lasagna.**
Thanks for reading and happy eating! :)
Ethical is beautiful! Be beautiful!