The beginning of the year is my favorite time of year because I love any (even somewhat contrived) opportunity for a fresh start. I love Mondays for the same reason. (Don’t hate me!) It’s a time to face all those things that have been nagging me, that I’ve been wanting to do better and haven’t managed to get around to yet.
Last year, I saw a lot of progress in my low waste journey as I prioritized minimizing waste in my bathroom as one of my resolutions. Converting to a “low waste bathroom” has been a gradual process mostly consisting of using up the last of my plastic personal care and cleaning containers and swapping with plastic-free versions. To be honest, I still have a couple jars of disposables you might be surprised to see in there, including some floss picks and cotton swaps we’ve been savoring while they last, reusing the floss picks a few times before tossing and using cotton swabs sparingly. It has been an exhilarating transformation where each swap feels like an improvement, not a compromise. (If you’re thinking about focusing on your bathroom this year, check out my game plan here.)
Meat is the center of my focus this year. I'm what has been recently been coined as a "Reducetarian" or "Flexitarian" -- someone who makes an effort to minimize their meat and animal product consumption but isn't fully vegan or vegetarian. I’m well aware of the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture and the myriad ethical implications of supporting factory farming in particular -- which you can read more about in our blog post “A Case for Eating Less Meat,” and yet I have a complicated relationship with it. Like one of those complicated relationships where you really love someone, they’ve seen you through some hard times, and you’ve shared so many amazing memories together, but deep down you know that the current state of things is increasingly toxic (to the environment). In 2020, I’m telling meat we should go on a break. And then I’m going to need some serious boundaries.
Here’s my game plan for reducing my meat consumption in 2020:
- Step 1: Veganuary
I have always deeply admired vegans like my lovely co-founder Lindsay and consider them modern-day heroes for choosing a lifestyle for which I find myself too weak. If I’m being honest, many of my favorite foods include meat and animal products so vowing to never have them again is something I’m not quite ready to do. I am, however, fully prepared to make my consumption much more sporadic for the sake of our environment and animal welfare.
Having dabbled in vegetarianism on and off and committed to only cooking vegan and vegetarian meals at home for the last few years, I have learned that the easiest way to break the habit and craving for meat is by removing the option and embracing the alternatives. If there’s a choice between a cheeseburger and a veggie burger, I’m always going to want the cheeseburger, but if the cheeseburger is off the table, I often thoroughly enjoy veggie burgers. So to kick off this month of no meat or animal products, I enlisted the help of our talented friend over at Maya’s Healthy Day for some new easy vegan recipes to try:
Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad
You don’t need a grill to enjoy the unique taste of a grilled romaine salad. This simple salad is a great way to impress a dinner date, with no expert culinary skills needed.
-1 head organic romaine lettuce
-1 lemon juiced
-1 cup raw, unsalted cashews soaked 10 minutes hot water
-1/2 cup water plus extra as needed
-1 tbsp capers
-1 tbsp nutritional yeast
-1 tsp dijon mustard
-2 cloves garlic
-1 tsp black pepper
- Blend all ingredients in a blender until you achieve a smooth texture that is slightly thick. Add additional water as needed to thin out the dressing. Refrigerate before serving.
- Preheat the oven to a low broil.
- Rinse the head of lettuce thoroughly and slice it in half, lengthwise, keeping the ends of the head intact.
- Rub each romaine half with olive oil and sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper.
- Place on a non-stick pan or baking sheet.
- Broil for 4-7 min, watching carefully to make sure the lettuce chars, but doesn’t completely burn.
- Allow the romaine to cool to room temperature.
- Serve romaine topped with caesar dressing and optionally croutons or cucumber slices.
Easy Aloo Baingan
This Indian-inspired dish is packed with flavor and is super filling. The basic flavors of roasted eggplant and soft boiled potatoes are given a new life when combined with a fragrant tomato sauce.
-1 large eggplant
-2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
-1 can diced tomatoes
-1 can tomato paste
-1/2 cup water
-1/2 sweet white onion, diced
-3-4 tbsp minced garlic
-1 tbsp minced ginger
-1-2 tbsp garam masala spice mix
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Begin with prepping the eggplant and potatoes, so they can cook as you prepare the tomato sauce.
- Cut 3-4 slits in the eggplant, rub with 1 tbsp oil, and roast on a non-stick dish for 40 min. Set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Once cool to the touch, carefully remove the purple skin off the eggplant and cut the flesh into bite-sized chunks.
- Bring the potatoes, along with enough water to cover them, in a pot. Season with a few dashes of salt. Boil for about 10-15 minutes, just until they are softened but slightly firm.
- Heat a large skillet and add 2 tbsp oil. When it’s hot, add the onions and sauté them over low heat until they are translucent. This may require constantly stirring for about 5 minutes so the onions don’t burn.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and about 1 tbsp of the garam masala. Stir into a paste, adding a touch of extra oil to prevent burning if needed.
- As soon as the paste forms, add in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Mix evenly, and season with salt and extra garam masala to taste.
- Cover with a lid and simmer for 5 min.
- Add the boiled potatoes and roasted eggplant chunks to the sauce, gently mix, and allow to simmer for another 2 minutes.
- Serve topped with cilantro, with a side of basmati rice, coconut yogurt, and naan or chapati.
Cauliflower Fried Rice
This recipe is ideal for the beginner cook or someone with not a lot of time to spare in the kitchen. Cauliflower rice provides for a low carb substitute for rice, and the sesame oil combined with liquid amino acids creates a yummy Asian flavor. To bulk up this dish and enjoy as a main course, add your favorite plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, etc.
-1/2 head cauliflower
-2 cups assorted mixed vegetables (green beans, corn kernels, carrots, peas)
-1 cup white onion, diced
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-2 tbsp oil (I like the taste that coconut oil adds)
-2 tbsp liquid amino acids or low sodium soy sauce
-1 tbsp sesame oil
-Optional toppings: lime, green onions, cilantro
- Break the cauliflower into florets and rinse clean. Chop into rice-sized bits either by hand, with a grater, or with a food processor.
- Steam the cauliflower rice and mixed veggies for about 10 minutes until they are softened, but still crunchy.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet and add the 2 tbsp oil on medium-low heat. When hot, add the onions to the pan and sauté for 3-5 min until they soften.
- Add the cauliflower rice, mixed vegetables, and garlic to the skillet and sauté for about 5 min.
- Pour the sesame oil and liquid aminos over the mixture as well as salt and pepper to taste.
- Continue to mix for another minute or two.
- Serve hot, topped with green onions, cilantro, and lime.
Quick Tip: Don't forget to check the produce and bulk sections for your ingredients. We even found the garam masala spice mix in our local bulk spice section!
- Step 2: Cook only vegetarian food at home.
This has served me well for the last few years a) because I never really learned how to cook meat well, and b) because it’s an easy way to reserve your meat consumption for situations that are truly hard to resist like your favorite soul food restaurant or when your grandma makes her chicken pot pie. Get yourself a vegetarian cookbook like one from Thug Kitchen or follow a vegan blog like Maya’s Healthy Day. If you haven’t explored many vegetarian recipes, you might be shocked to see the wide range of delicious food that you still get to eat (and still be able to avoid tofu if that’s not your thing, although that can be surprisingly good too).
- Step 3: Maintain a vegetarian diet every other month.
I started doing this last year and found it to be a really helpful way to get back on track. Bonus: My body and skin definitely felt healthier during these months.
- Step 4: Only eat meat when it’s ethically sourced.
If I do eat meat or animal products, I want to make sure I’m doing so without supporting the factory farm industry. We recommend reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer if you don’t know much about this topic already. (It’s the book that prompted Lindsay to go from vegetarian to vegan and me to start my slightly less straightforward journey of consuming less meat.) Luckily I live in Portland, OR where locally, ethically, and sustainably produced meat is not hard to come by, but it can still be a challenge and requires asking questions and a little research.
- Step 5: Use apps to help track vegan-friendly and sustainable restaurants.
I’ve found three apps that help me accomplish this. One is Happy Cow that helps you find vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants near you. The second is Ribbit that lets you review and find restaurants that align with your values. And Chinook Book is a third with a coupon app that connects you to sustainable businesses, primarily in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, the Bay Area, and Denver.
Have you switched to a vegan, vegetarian, or reducetarian lifestyle recently? Share any tips that have helped you transition in the comments below!
-Alex Gamboa Grand