For the first time in two and a half years, I recently traveled for work. During my travels, I found it surprisingly difficult to secure vegan options; whether it was supply chain, or other influences, who knows? I mention this because in traveling with others who are not accustomed to dining with me, questions emerged as I painstakingly reviewed menus, asked questions of waiters and waitresses, and cautiously selected my meals.
One of the questions that I generally get is "what does that mean you eat?" I'm conditioned to say what I "can't" have and phrase it in such as way as it sounds burdensome. I think the recent less that favorable phrasing on my reply stemmed from the fact that was difficult to travel and be SURE that I'm dining within my desires and choices for food. The next statements are hardly better as I rarely get to define my "why?" I chose to eat this way as a benefit. Often, I'm met with blank stares and shakes of heads (almost imperceptible) of the restrictions (in reality, I eat MORE options, truly!). Then, inevitably, a deft change of the conversation happens to move the discussion away from my choices. Almost as if I'm a member of a fanatical group bent on shaping opinions of others and to force conformance to my lifestyle choices onto them does the table shift their eyes and avert their attentions. If they do not divert me, there is a general feeling that I am liable to start my "soap box" speech. Note: These reactions are also conditioned by a society that finds eating no animal products should be framed in a negative / weird way, and rarely represent the quality of the person with whom I am conversing.
How do we change the narrative? Both within our community (from I "can't" to an "I choose to eat") and outside (it's not only about the animals, it's not only about choosing to eat vegetables to save the planet, and it's not only about veganism as "good" vs. other diets).
This is a question I most ask myself - how can we truly convey dietary choices as a wholistic support to the planet, but never a simple, or 100% incontrovertible, approach to sustainability?
For example, research continues to be released where factual data (not feelings, not opinions) incontrovertibly shows that supporting a less (or no) animal product diet can have sweeping, positive, changes on climate. However, that's only a part of the story.
Where your food is derived (shipping, production metrics and harvesting metrics) along with how you cook your food and using what energy source (grill, oven, stovetop, etc.), all of which I've highlighted on this blog in other Sustainability Spotlight notes, are factors in what is "good" for the environment.
In other words, it's not JUST about eating a vegan, plant-based or vegetarian diet, and we need to highlight this as a part of the sustainability conversation.
According to a 2020 study by Angelina Frankowska et al., as published in Nature Food, the total climate impact (in kg CO2e per kg of food cooked) ranges widely between foods as shown in this graphical representation of the findings.
The light colors in each of the represented foods represent growing, harvesting / processing, and shipping emissions. The dark color in the bars represent how the food is cooked; considering the length and methodology. Each of the above were tested as oven-based (not grilled) or stove top cooking regardless of the gas or electrical component to the cooking appliance. "Results reveal that home cooking accounts for as much as 61% of total emissions associated with specific foods, and that this can be substantially reduced through alternative, readily available cooking practices." (How home cooking methods and appliances affect the GHG emissions of food).
For this recipe, I'm featuring tofu as a "baked chicken" type dish, and I'm considering my impact above on how much emissions I've contributed in both my selection of protein and my cooking methodology. Check out chicken, that I'm substituting via my vegan choices. Between the two options, despite roasting my food, I'm using less total emissions (70% less overall), but I've used more energy resources to cook that food (20% more than chicken).
What is my point to all of this for sustainability and the conversation about dietary choices? There is not a singular right way to structure your diet for the planet. You have to consider access to food choices. You have to consider how you cook that food and what energy sources you are accessing to prepare that food. You have to consider the processing and impacts of how that processing of food affects the planet. And you have to be OPEN to hearing facts; even if they go against your conditioning.
Be worthy of change, and be worthy of individual choices. Everything in this world is a trade-off - everything. Think about the conversation in terms of what you gain overall, and the discussion will shift. The more shift we have around positivity in the way we choose to support the planet through our dietary choices, the more we will have the climate shift (for the positive) that we need.
In the meantime, enjoy making this amazing dinner and know you have saved 70% total emissions over chicken with your vegan meal swap for traditional. Now, that's positive change!
1 tbsp avocado oil
1 package high protein (super firm) tofu - pressed, drained, cut into triangles and marinated overnight in vegan Italian dressing (any kind that's your favorite)
(1) 14-oz jar marinated whole artichokes (chopped)
1/6 red onion (sliced thin) - maybe 1/4 cup
1 bunch curly kale (coarsely) chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lemons (one juiced and one sliced into 8 wedges)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp Hemp-Sunflower Parmesan
1 small handful of fresh parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup roasted (unsalted) sunflower seeds
3 tbsp hemp seeds
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp each of the following seasonings:
Add avocado oil to a small roasting pan, place pan in oven and Pre-Heat oven to 425 degrees F
When the oven is up to temperature, remove pan (Carefully! it's hot!) and add tofu to bottom of pan (it should sizzle!)
Sprinkle artichokes and red onion over tofu and slide into oven for 25 minutes to bake.
While the tofu is baking, add kale, olive oil, the lemon juice and crushed red pepper to a large bowl. Massage oil / lemon into kale - set aside.
Make Hemp-Sunflower Parmesan by adding all ingredients listed to a spice grinder (if you don't have one, a food processor will work, but it will take longer to blitz). Blitz until a fine crumbly powder has formed.
Add 1 tbsp of the Hemp-Sunflower Parmesan to the bowl with the kale; massage again and set aside.
When the bake time is done on the tofu, pull the pan from the oven (Carefully! it's hot!) and add kale to top in an even layer. Nestle lemon into kale.
Slide pan back into oven and bake for another 12 minutes. Once done, remove one last time (Carefully! it's still hot!) and sprinkle with parsley.
To serve, use a spatula to get under tofu and pull up - flip onto plates to reveal that gorgeous glazed underside of the tofu and enjoy!
With love and hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie