It's easy eating green

There are more choices for the vegan diet now than ever before — even in restaurants.

Once, asking for no bacon on your Caesar salad got you odd looks. Now, with celebs such as Bryan Adams and actress Sandra Oh eating vegan, it’s almost trendy to eschew not just meat, but dairy and eggs too. “When I went vegan 13 years ago, there was nothing, and no one knew what it meant,” says Doug McNish, a chef and author who runs Doug’s Public Kitchen in Toronto. But now, “there’s a market for it,” he says. “We’re busy, and seven out of 10 of our customers are not even vegan.”

Most who fill themselves with a plant-based diet consider themselves ethical vegans aiming to protect animals, but also the planet. It takes five-to-seven kilograms of grain to produce just one kilogram of beef. A 2016 study out of the University of Oxford calculated that if people worldwide followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions would be lowered by as much as 70% by 2050. Changing eating habits has health benefits too: the same study said a plant-based dietary shift would lower death rates by up to 10% by reducing heart disease, cancer and stroke.

If you’re avoiding meat, dairy and eggs, what can you eat to get the required protein? Vesanto Melina, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and co-author of Becoming Vegan, says to get the 45 g to 75 g of protein you need daily (depending on how much you weigh), one option is a veggie burger on a bun, which can contain about 25 g. Vegetables and whole grains contain protein as well, as do tofu, beans and nuts.

To cook delicious vegan meals, McNish says, “if you take something out, you need to put something back in.” Nutritional yeast, which comes in flakes and looks like fish food, adds flavour and a cheesy taste. It’s a key ingredient in McNish’s popular squash mac and cheese. Melina says to bind ingredients together, mix ground flax seeds with water and you have an effective egg substitute.

The rise of vegan comfort food restaurants means you can find a juicy veggie burger, cauliflower chicken wings and tofu scramble on menus.

When he goes to high-end restaurants, McNish calls ahead and makes it clear he doesn’t just want pasta. He’s been astounded by what meat-loving chefs come up with, including one dish of roasted morel mushrooms filled with tofu cheese served in a smoked tomato broth. “I’ve had some amazing meals over the years at traditional restaurants, better than vegan ones.”