In her new book, The Book of Veganish (Pam Krauss Books/Avery, 2016), Kathy Freston shares her own journey from omnivore to vegan — including many stops along the way. “I’d always been an animal lover, and one day after seeing a pamphlet depicting animals being led to slaughter, I realized that I wanted to be someone who loved animals, not ate them,” she recalls. That was 12 years ago, but she didn’t go cold turkey on burgers, ice cream, cheese and eggs. Instead, she gradually started leaning toward a more plant-based diet. “I didn’t give up anything until I’d found an alternative I liked as much or more, so it never felt like I was depriving myself,” she says.
So what exactly does it mean to be “veganish?”
Kathy Freston: I’m all about the -ish. I get upset with the ‘vegan police’ who insist on purity and a strict regime. Too many people will reject that message because it’s just too hard. It’s OK to give yourself a little wiggle room as you investigate plant-based eating and move away from eating animals. But it should be a joyful process done in your own way at your own pace. ‘Veganish’ is about individual choice and not putting too much pressure on yourself to do it perfectly.
What do you suggest as a starting point for someone who wants to be veganish but doesn’t really know where to begin?
KF: When I started eating this way, I didn’t have the benefit of social media to help me out. Now, the best thing you can do is check out Instagram, type in #VeganFood or #VeganRecipes and you’ll get tons of amazing ideas. It’s really inspiring. And once you see all of the options, it doesn’t feel so daunting to eat this way.
You mention in the book that 12 percent of millennials call themselves vegetarians (as opposed to just 1 percent of baby boomers). Why do you think plant-based diets are becoming more popular?
KF: I think a lot of forces are converging right now to make people of all ages more inclined to eat veganish. There are so many more restaurants — from upscale to quick serve — that offer delicious vegetable-focused dishes. Entrepreneurs are starting companies devoted to creating plant-based meats and cheeses that are incredibly delicious. And people are also becoming more conscious of what’s happening to animals, the environmental impact of our food and also how food affects our own health.
What do you say to those who think that it’s too hard to eat a veganish diet — too hard to feed a family, too hard to stay on a budget, too hard to get meals ready in a hurry?
KF: Making any change is challenging, but I think it’s easier now than ever because there are so many more options at the grocery store and when you go out to eat. There are plenty of convenient plant-based foods you can keep on hand for quick meals: frozen veggie burgers, cans of cooked beans, frozen rice or grains. And if you’re cooking for your family, you don’t have to try to convert them. Just make new things and be excited about sharing them. It’s about experimenting together — not telling others what they should or shouldn’t eat.
Hearty Peanut and Red Bean Stew
Makes 4 servings
4 cups chopped kale or spinach
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups vegetable broth
One 15.5-ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Steam the kale in a steamer basket over boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well, pressing out any remaining liquid, and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato, bell pepper and garlic. Cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, cumin and cayenne (if using), and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, the broth, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, add the kidney beans, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, thin out the peanut butter with 1 cup of the hot liquid from the stew, stirring until blended, then stir the mixture back into the pot. Add the cooked kale, stirring to incorporate. Serve hot, sprinkled with the roasted peanuts.
Recipes and photos courtesy of Kathy Freston
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.