I became pretty obsessed with this recipe after I made it the first time, and then the second, and then...well it's amazing, no need to keep counting (Note, it tastes best when it's just warmer than room temperature). It's everything you want a big pan meal, easy to make, delicious, travels and warms up well, and it's 100% satisfying. So, really, it's kind of the most perfect dish to celebrate the notion that vegan food is changing the landscape of American diets.
In fact, plantbasednews.org just posted a brief article that notes "plant-based diets are now more popular than keto in the US for the first time (since 2018; 5 years)" Interestingly enough, the data (compiled from Google search popularity trends) found that location plays a large factor in adoption of reducing animal products; no surprise that states with a significant meat-producing sector (by Gross Domestic Product; GDP) are not trending plant-based "by a 'wide margin.'" Clearly, there are more barriers to adoption than locale, but this article made me question: What really is the main challenge for firmly shifting our eating habits away from animal-based diets?
Sustainability Spotlight: Alright, we know that it has been made abundantly clear through logic, science, research, and fact that there are ethical, health and sustainability factors as the benefits of a vegan (or plant-based) food landscape. However, there must be other (or some intangible) barrier(s) that are challenging a full adoption since only 5% of the population has reported (as of 2022) that they have fully adhered to (and would call themselves), vegan. While this is up from the previous 3 years of reports of 3% of the population (static growth), it's still very low against the whole of our approaches to food as a globe. What's stopping us?
In 2022, Science Direct posted a research study originally published in the "International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science (Volume 29, September 2022, 100587) which identified and discussed "How barriers towards plant-based food consumption differ according to dietary lifestyle..." This study was conducted in the European Union (EU), and pan-EU, via a consumer survey and found the following observed barriers to a more plant-based food consumption society:
Overcoming a firm (and entrenched) belief that humans are meant to eat lots of animal-based meat
The expectation that plant-based food products would not be "tasty" enough and therefore the experience of eating these products would not be enjoyable
Plant-based foods would not be filling enough, and / or the participants would not get energy or strength from these products.
Each of the above have been firmly debunked by the vegan community (and those that are driving the consumer approach towards companies that are supporting vegan options - see, as I have noted, we the consumer have all the power. If we demand the products and they are purchased, more products will become available. Consumer-based economy folks!). However, even though these barriers have been increasingly overcome in mindset; I.e. - item #2 (any cookbook, restaurant or blog that are churning out AMAZING vegan foods) and item #3 (check out all the pro athletes and Olympians who have trained harder, longer, and reached peak performance sporting (pun intended) a vegan diet), Item #1 is the most challenging as it protests a groaning cultural belief. We are meant to have meat at every single meal (and sometimes in between).
Humans originally evolved as two groups: Hunters and Gatherers, right? The gatherers would always produce food so they were the larger group. The hunters would potentially produce food so were the smaller group. It was uncommon that meat would be available at every meal. It was uncommon that meat would be devoured in large quantity per person in the tribal group. It was uncommon that meat was relied upon. Even as we discontinued the nomadic life and started settlements with farming, plants were the core basis of the diet as we evolved. How did this mindset change over time modern eras? Simple, modern consumerism and the rise of concentrated animal feed operations (CAFO)s.
Large conglomerates / partnerships / corporations have joined to formulate small farms into one big cooperative. That cooperative works to produce enough animals (~7 billion each year) to be used for human consumption (in a variety of ways; not just for meat). So, it's currently reported that 7 billion humans on the planet need ~7 billion animals each year. But do we need them? Absolutely NOT - we simply want them, and that's where the cultural shift needs to break and move the direction of vegan diets into mainstream societal norms. If we start to think of plants as the base again (get it? plant-based diet) for our food sources, and we then, naturally move beyond the need for meat and animal products in our food supply; animal-based diet approaches we currently have will fade. I'm talking about reducing all the greenhouse gases that go with CAFO operations. I'm talking about reducing all the water, feed, and wastes that are used and generated by these operations. I'm talking about embracing the vibrancy of a society that looks at our consumption methods, and decides that it's not sustainable.
How about you help me continue to change minds and maybe start with this recipe - bring it over to friends, share it with family, cook it up alongside a full plant-based spread and revel in your contribution towards making this cultural shift towards veganism, a reality. Celebrate (and never discount) your ability to make bona-fide "meat-eaters" into vegan converts; it has happened and is continuing to happen every day!
Mix of Veggies like:
1 bell pepper (sliced)
1 medium zucchini (sliced into strips)
1 small eggplant (sliced into strips)
1 small yellow (summer) squash (sliced into strips)
1/2 yellow onion (sliced thin)
1 package vegan deli slices (smoked style - sliced into strips - I used Tofurky brand)
1/2 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
4 tbsp vegan salted butter (melted)
1 tsp stone ground mustard
2-3 roasted garlic cloves
1 package (12 rolls) vegan dinner rolls or slider buns (I used Whole Foods bakery buns and then an off-brand; they CAN be found, but this is probably the hardest part of the recipe. Procuring these rolls / buns).
18-20 total vegan cheese slices (any flavor you like - I used 365 Cheddar Style and Smoked Gouda)
flaked sea salt (to taste)
fresh thyme & rosemary chopped (to taste - I used about 1 tbsp each)
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F
Add bell pepper through olive oil to a large bowl and toss to coat; dump onto a parchment lined jelly roll (lipped) pan. Slide into oven and put 25 min on the timer.
Meanwhile, blitz butter, mustard and roasted garlic cloves in a personal blender.
Spread (using a pastry brush if you have one) ~2 tbsp of the butter mixture to a 9x12 pan.
Now, add the bottom (no need to separate) buns from the sliders to the pan and place one style of the cheese slices to the buns (do not overlap slices).
Once the veggie mix is done, remove from oven and add to the top of your cheese slices in an even layer and top with the second style of cheese slices. Reduce oven temp to 375 degrees F.
Place slider tops on the buns and spread the rest of your remaining butter mixture onto the tops of the buns using the pastry brush.
Sprinkle bun tops with fresh thyme & rosemary, hemp & chia seeds, and flaked salt; cover with foil (don't worry, you can recycle later!)
Bake covered for ~20 minutes; remove foil (recycle) and bake for another 3-5 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from oven, slice and serve.
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie