After being diagnosed with celiac disease, I took a long and hard look at my diet. Obviously, I had to take out everything gluten-related immediately. Being gluten-free was an adjustment all by itself, but a few years later, I realized that several other foods just weren’t doing it for me anymore. I also recently removed all traces of dairy from my diet as well. I was doing just hard cheeses for a few years, but it was still upsetting to my digestive tract. Now, I am happily cheese free and live off of Daiya, GO Veggie, and Teese cheeses. I hardly remember what real cheese tastes like anymore (okay, that was sarcastic – of course I remember how delicious cheese tastes). It was only in the past few years, when I started befriending a couple of vegans, that I really explored the depths of what a plant-based diet could be.
Vegans are strict about not allowing any animal-based food or (even milk, eggs, and honey) or animal by-products (ex. leather) into their life. I really appreciate the diet from an ethical and value-based aspect. However, I’m not sure I could go more than a Meatless Monday without having chicken, turkey or pork. But I also know that my genetics are crying for help. My inflammatory factors in my blood work are telling me to take a deep breath, quit stressing, and to eat a more balanced diet – and away from the standard American diet of processed foods and meat-based products.
I recently attended a session on plant-based diets by Karen and Andrew of KarenandAndrew.com at the International Food Bloggers Conference. They stressed the trends of plant-based dieting as a way to combating preventable diseases. According to Karen and Andrew, despite spending so many years on the margins, vegetarianism is now mainstream, with 54% of Americans either vegan (2%), vegetarian (5%), or semi-vegetarian (as in actively seeking to reduce their consumption of meat, or 47%).
They presented three major trends are helping grow the plant-based diet movement.
#1: Meat Consumption is Falling
Google Trends has seen a massive public increase in a vegan diet over the past years. Mark Bittman of the New York Times even reported that meat demand in America is steadily decreasing. But why is meat consumption falling? Studies speculate that the decreased consumption of meat is due to rising meat prices, environmental impacts of eating meat, animal welfare issues, and potential health issues of consuming large quantities of meat. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s also been all over popular culture (much like the gluten-free diet is today). Oprah and Ellen highlighted vegan diets. Books like the China Study, Engine 2 Diet and the Forks Over Knives cookbook and movie showcased potential benefits to eating a cleaner more plant-based diet – and they are converting Americans to a plant-based whole-foods diet.
#2: Vegetables are Taking Center Stage
But we can’t forget the stars of the plant-based diet show. No, not Ellen or Oprah – but they do make a difference to pop culture. Vegetables are finally taking center stage in dishes. Look no further than cauliflower pizza crust recipes on Pinterest and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The home chef can now incorporate vegetables spiralizers into their menu plan with something as simple as a $10 Vegetti at Bed Bath & Beyond.
#3: Chefs Treating Vegetables Like Meat
I might have scoffed at this last trend, but what’s happening in high-end high-brow foodie restaurants will filter down to popular culture. There’s actual vegetable “butchering” at these restaurants – treating something like cauliflower like a piece of meat (and they actually call that “steaking”). They are salt curing, smoking, sous-vide cooking, dehydrating, confiting, and charring vegetables and making them just as appealing as their meat dishes.
However, you can give me a ton of research, but it still doesn’t help me in the kitchen. I really tried to spend time on Pinterest (okay, it’s not that hard to try to waste a few hours there), on foodie-based blogs (not just food allergy blogs), and vegan websites to try to find some plant-based inspiration. Once I found easy-to-make recipes using vegetables, it made it more accessible to explore a plant-based diet. Once I had creative ideas for what to eat, Meatless Mondays and things like “meatless weekday lunches other than salads” became a very real possibility, and something easy to implement with a stocked pantry and refrigerator.
Have you moved to a more plant-based diet, or are you embracing more ways to incorporate plants into your diet? What’s your favorite plant-based meal to eat?