Are you trying out Veganuary or trying to lower your carbon footprint for 2021? Let's look at a few easy vegan swaps for meat eaters who want to make a few simple changes in their diet to help the planet. Don't worry, it's gonna be awesome.
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I'm not a vegan and have no intention of becoming one. But I also know it's probably the best diet to try to slow the effects of climate change. I've consulted my favorite vegan, and also one of my favorite humans, to get her best recommendations for some easy and accessible vegan swaps to try this year.
Jasmine is a talented musician (check out her music at Modern Sonder) and my yoga teacher. She absolutely loves food and cooking, but she's not pretentious or preachy in any way. I've shared lots of greasy fries in grimey pubs with this girl, so I know I can trust her recommendations.
Simple swaps for vegan baking
One of the main reasons I haven't gotten much into vegan baking is because my kitchen always has butter and eggs stocked, so it just doesn't make sense to have specialty ingredients on hand. But if I want to share the love that is cake, I've got to learn some new tricks.
Jasmine says her favorite way to substitue for eggs is with a flax egg. The Minimalist Baker has a great tutorial on this, and flaxseeds can be found pretty easily at the supermarket these days. She also recommends Free & Easy Egg Replacer. These options both seem simple enough.
Of course, margarine or vegetable shortening are simple replacements for butter. They do have slightly different chemical properties (not to mention other concerns of their own) though, so you won't get exactly the same results.
Jasmine warns that vegan chocolate can sometimes be really expensive. One could argue that given it's colonialist history, chocolate really should be expensive. On the other hand, cost has always been a factor for me in my cooking. She says just to look at labels. A lot of cheaper dark chocolate is "accidentally vegan" and just as delish when chopped up for baking.
And apparently, Jasmine's mom keeps bucketloads of Alpro cream in her fridge and swears by it. It's made with soy, so if you don't have that brand in your area, check to see if there's a soy cream alternative and give it a try.
Plant-based dairy options
I've already switched to plant-based milk at work. I like it because in addition to being vegan, it's usually packaged in a cardboard container rather than plastic. And it seems to last forever, so I don't end up throwing out half the container at the end of the week. I don't know. Maybe I've been slowly poisoning myself all year, but it never really seems to go off.
Each type of plant-based milk has its own concerns. Soy is usually not sustainably farmed and uses a lot of pesticides. Almonds need a ton of water to survive, sometimes more water than the area they're grown in has to give. There's no perfect answer. Do some research and find what's best for you.
My favorite, and Jasmine's as well, is Oatly oat milk. Again, if you can't get this specific brand, experiment with what's available in your area. Oat milk seems pretty light on the environment, all things considered. The important thing to remember is that when you look at the environmental impact of any type of plant-based dairy, they're all way below cow's milk. So whatever you choose, it is making a difference.
I'd give up meat way before I'd give up cheese. I am skeptical that vegan cheese can be good, but I'm willing to give it a try. Here's what Jasmine had to say about it.
You can make your own vegan parm from cashews. Again, Minimalist Baker has your back. Apparently, it's cheaper and healthier to make your own. I find that statement is true of most things.
Jasmine's favorite brand for vegan cheese is Violife, particularly the mature cheddar and smoked Applewood cheeses. She says just experiment and see what you like.
Other vegan dairy
Jasmine turned me on to Oatly plain vegan yogurt as a substitute for sour cream or creme fraiche. I used it in this Vegan Sweet Corn and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup, and it was perfect.
There are tons on plant-based yogurt options just for eating with your morning granola as well. If you've never checked your grocery store for vegan yogurt, I think you'll be surprised by the options.
But what about the meat
Jasmine says you can make healthy bacon with eggplant, aka aubergine. Given that I don't like most vegetables to begin with, this is a hard sell for me. Maybe when we can finally meet up again, I'll get Jasmine to make me some before I try it myself. I'll keep you posted.
She also loves pulled jackfruit in place of pulled pork. Jackfruit is becoming more and more prevalent in my grocery store, but it can sometimes still be tricky to find.
In terms of store-bought meat alternatives, the choice in major supermarkets is starting to get really impressive. But those foods are still processed, so their carbon footprint is going to be a bit higher. They can also be really expensive, not that meat is exactly cheap. All that being said, I know for me, it would be a much easier gateway to eating vegan.
Jasmine likes This Isn't for bacon and Beyond Meat burgers. You can also turn the burgers into lots of other beefy alternatives.
No step is too small
I know often times we can feel so overwhelmed by the immensity of a problem like climate change that it seems pointless to even try. Every solution seems to lead to more problems. But I think trying to reduce our carbon footprint in the kitchen is the perfect example of the saying, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Yes, we should probably all only be eating food that we raise ourselves in our own backyards, but that's not the world we live in. If we each do a few small things, they'll add up. Hopefully, these easy vegan swaps will give you a place to start.
I'll report back throughout the year with the options I've tried. I'll also endeavour to bring you more vegan recipes that I think are truly awesome. Until then, please share your favorite vegan swaps or other tips for reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen. Leave a comment and let me know what else we can all do to help.
Stay awesome, kids. Don't give up.