Sunday, April 19, 2009


I wrote this piece for Boulevard Magazine in Victoria.

Where’s the Beef?
To vegans, it’s nowhere to be found

By Greg Pratt

If you’re looking to spice up your eating habits, one way to add more is to take away. To take away the meat, that is, and switch over to a vegan diet (abstaining from any animal products, including dairy: bye-bye, cheese!). It’s healthy, it’s fun and it’s tasty. These days there’s no shortage of information and organizations to help out; the worldwide vegan scene has come a long way in the past 20 years.
And the face of the local vegan scene is certainly Sarah Kramer. Kramer has written (or co-written) four vegan cookbooks and has become something of a celebrity in food circles. As Kramer and I sit down to eat and chat at a local café, she is recognized by someone who asks, “You write the vegan cookbooks, right?” After Kramer accepts some compliments, she tells me about her growing up vegetarian.
“My mom raised me vegetarian since birth in Regina in the ‘70s, so it wasn’t easy,” she says, as we dive in to a delicious vegan lunch of huge yam crackers with various dips (it may not sound like much but, yes, it’s very filling and very tasty). “There was one health-food store, in the basement of our friend’s house. And there weren’t products; my mom had to make everything from scratch. I think that’s part of where my love of creating stuff in the kitchen came from. I was vegetarian my whole life, except for a small period in high school where I did a little experimenting, like teenagers do,” she laughs.
Kramer, now 40, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in her early 20s; she says switching to a vegan diet helped her beat the condition. These days she feels and looks great, and goes non-stop promoting the vegan lifestyle. When we got together to chat she had just returned from a book tour for her latest, Vegan A Go-Go!, and is busy putting together a 2010 calendar and unabashedly debunking the myth that you won’t have any energy if you don’t eat meat.
Another myth is that veganism is inherently more expensive than a meat-based diet. Kramer says that if people are buying a lot of fake meat products or other pre-packaged food this may be the case, but if you’re making more meals from scratch, it’s not an expensive way to eat.
“I can make a giant pot of chili for six bucks if I go out and buy all the ingredients,” she says. “But a can of Amy’s chili is four dollars. Making your own wheat-gluten fake meat products is so easy and you can do it for pennies. It just takes a little time.”
The biggest vegan-related myth is that all vegans eat is bread and peanut butter, maybe some twigs for flavour, a bit of dirt as a spice . . . the truth is much different. Chatting with Kramer, we dive into a date/avocado/chocolate vegan cheesecake of sorts, which is almost too tasty for either of us to handle.
“Bland food is bland. So bland vegan food will be as bland as bland non-vegan food,” says Victoria’s Dave Shishkoff, the Canadian correspondent for Friends of Animals, a 50-year-old organization that promotes respectful treatment of animals through animal rights and vegan advocacy. “The most common way to de-bland foods is to spice them up, and luckily the all herbs and spices I can think of are plant-based. Veganism actually opens up a whole new world of flavourful delights for many people. Suddenly, the entire produce section of the grocery store is more in focus, and there is a very wide range of fruits and vegetables out there. Veganism encourages people to expand their horizons and try them all.”
I ask Kramer what her favourite vegan dishes are and it sounds anything but bland: Portobello Mushroom Bake, a side of Edamame Hummus and Vegan Nanaimo Bars or Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie for dessert. So Kramer and Shishkoff (who has been vegan for over 18 years) agree that vegan food doesn’t have to bland; they also agree that vegan living doesn’t have to be expensive. He says it can work well on a tight budget and can offer many very healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
“I favour and recommend a whole-foods diet, with a big focus on greens,” he says. “Since I buy primarily organic produce, it’s a bit pricier, but it’s worth it. One can be vegan and extremely frugal—think of how cheap dried beans, flours, fruit and other bulk items are, along with produce like potatoes and carrots.”
And consensus is having a vegan diet isn’t hard work like some may think it is. Shishkoff says that it takes some effort and a lot of commitment in the beginning, but don’t sweat it: it gets easier.
“It’s like any endeavour one might take on and requires education and adjustment,” he says. “One needs to spend some time learning about all the ‘secret’ animal ingredients in food, such as whey or casein, and apply this knowledge by reading labels and possibly finding new brands that are vegan.” “It can be tough but I think the trick is to be prepared,” says Kramer. “We’re really lucky in Victoria; there are a lot of places downtown where you can get vegan food.”
She’s right: one visit to local restaurants like Bliss (where Kramer and I eat as we talk), Mo:Le, Green Cuisine, Lotus Pond or the Joint, to name a few, will open up your taste buds to a whole new array of delicious, animal-free foods.
And good news for those who are vegan or thinking about making the switch over: things are getting easier. Local organizations like Vancouver Island Vegetarian Association (go to for more info) help people make the transition. Grocery stores are carrying more and more speciality products, and you’re no longer speaking a strange, impenetrable language when you tell your restaurant server you’re vegan.
“I remember back in the day when I’d be hanging out with my friends and all I could order would be salad and a baked potato,” says Kramer. “It’s not like that any more, at least on the west coast, for sure. We’re really lucky.”

No comments:

Post a Comment