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Making a vegan scene

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Making a vegan scene

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Barbadian author Taymer Mason explains to EASY Magazine why she is living meat-free and dairy-free.
When did you realise that you needed to change your lifestyle food-wise? How did your family and friends react to your announcement of being a vegan?
I started to put on weight after my 17th birthday and no matter what I did, it would keep coming back. By the age of 22 I weighed around 235 pounds on a five-foot-seven-inch frame.
I tried everything – yes, including diet and exercise – but it just would not push my body to lose any more than 15 pounds. I was in a weight rut and felt miserable. I first dabbled in vegetarianism during my teen years and even that made my weight go up as I was ignorant about nutrition.
One day after gorging myself with meat I decided to give it up that same night. I felt relieved but scared all at once. Would I be strong to keep up with this new way of life? Suppose I get bored? This may just be one more failure in my quest to revamp my health and body image! It really was a now or never moment for me.
One thing I was sure about was that eating a balanced plant-based diet could only be to my benefit. My father went vegan with me and he was very supportive. He is also an excellent cook, which only helped make the transition easier. My mother, not a vegan, understood what I was trying to achieve and was also fully behind me.
Whilst there was complete understanding in my household, the reaction amongst my peers was conflicting. To some, this “blink of the eye” change caused confusion. It would appear one day I was eating pork and the next I was not. Others understood my motivations and would even come over to my family home to sample whatever I or my father was cooking up in the kitchen.
What is the difference between vegetarian and vegan?
Vegetarians do not consume meat, poultry or fish but consume eggs and dairy products. Vegans, for ethical reason, choose to eat a vegetarian diet without animal by-products like dairy, eggs, honey, leather, fur, wool, silk and so on. Vegans also try to avoid products, wherever possible, that are tested on animals. (Reading labels is very important!)
Are vegan diets expensive?
The question of cost all depends on your approach. They are many processed products and ready-to-eat meals available outside Barbados which cost more than their traditional processed-meat counterparts. If someone chooses to use the majority of processed products in their everyday life as a vegan, then of course this way of life would be expensive and quite unhealthy too. If you choose to eat whole foods by obtaining your protein from beans, nuts, peas, tofu or quinoa, balance your protein with a carbohydrate like brown rice, and buy local vegetables and ground provisions . . . it can be even cheaper than an omnivorous diet.
Do you spend a lot of time cooking?
Time is of the essence for many, including myself, and there are times when the thought of coming home to chop and sauté are discouraging. There are a lot of shortcuts I take to make life so much easier. For example, when I am running short on time, rinsed canned beans can make dinner in less than seven minutes. Wholewheat cous-cous takes about two minutes to put together, as you do not have to cook it but just hydrate it with water.
Make a large pot of bean or tofu stew and you have a go-to meal for the entire week. Pre-soak brown rice before you go to work so that the rice can be placed into a saucepan and cooking time will be just as fast as white rice. Keep things like baked whole sweet potatoes in the fridge that can be chopped and sautéed in a snap. If all else fails, stock up on veggie burgers and veggie hotdogs, which you can season up yourself with some garlic and seasoning and additional vegetables in the stir fry. Do not forget to add your wholegrains and vegetables for a well-balanced meal. You do not need to spend a long time prepping healthy, vegan meals.
I wouldn’t know what to eat! What do you eat?
Vegan food is already a huge part of our everyday meals and many do not realise it. Think rice and pigeon peas, steamed or stir-fried vegetables and bean stews; all 100 per cent vegan. Even the popular Trinidadian street food doubles are vegan! Implementing more vegan foods in your meal plans is quite simple. Use non-dairy milk in porridge or tofu instead of eggs for breakfast scrambles.
Shepherd’s Pie and Lasagna can be made vegan. Substitute a brown spicy lentil stew for the minced beef in your Shepherd’s Pie and use sweet potatoes instead of English potatoes for a surprisingly healthier, pleasant change. Make your own tofu ricotta in two minutes to use in lasagna, add grand burger, and load up your lasagna with vegetables and a cheese sauce made from nutritional yeast or raw cashew cream.
Simple exchanges can be made. Look at your existing dishes and go for healthier alternatives and non-meat alternatives. Switch white pasta to integral or wholewheat pasta, white rice in some dishes to brown. Protein-wise, instead of chicken, try frozen and thawed tofu seasoned with Bajan seasoning and use the same recipes you have been using all the time to make baked chicken.
Want to make a cake for a special occasion?  Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too! Use wholewheat pastry flour or unbleached flour, vegan margarine or canola oil to sub your fats – and if you do not want to use any fats at all, applesauce is a good replacement.
Another important point to note is that you do not need eggs to make a moist and tasty cake. Eggs can be replaced by ground flax seed, commercial egg replacer or vegan yogurt. Experimentation is how I got to this level and you can find many local recipes in Caribbean Vegan.
What is a “typical” vegan meal?
Vegans sample food from all over the world and what they eat depends on what is available in their countries. For me, I think a typical meal would be balanced like an omnivorous plate. The dish should have a low glycemic source of carbohydrate (like brown rice, integral pasta, sweet potatoes, wholegrain pita bread), a lean source of protein (like black bean stew, tofu scramble, seitan ham, veggie hotdog, “granburger”, hummus dip) and a vitamin-rich side of vegetables (ratatouille, green bean casserole, sautéed sweet pepper, spinach reduction).
Do proteins and calories count?
Proteins and calories need to be monitored for everyone, no matter what diet they are following. Protein is the only nutrient that cannot be stored in our body like fat and glycogen. Like omnivores (people who include animal products), protein inclusion at every meal is primordial. Veganism is about substituting protein in meals and making sure the meal is well balanced.
There is this misconception that meat is the only protein source available. There are so many vegan sources of protein: tofu, tempeh, seitan (such as mock duck), beans and peas, nuts, non-dairy products such as milk and yogurt, and commercial vegan products. Vegan calcium sources include Brazil nuts, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, parsley, broccoli, tofu, fortified soya milk, okras, blackstrap molasses, almonds and apples.
Getting enough quality fat is important in a vegan diet and one must try to integrate cold-pressed oils like flax seed and rape seed, which are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Coconut and avocado are two healthy vegan saturated fat sources.
Taymer Mason is a qualified and trained microbiologist and food technologist. She attended the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. She is a writer, Caribbean food specialist and consultant and also does recipe and product development freelance. Taymer now lives in St Marteen with her husband. Caribbean Vegan is 227 pages long and can be found at  Days and Best of Barbados. It is available worldwide from Borders to Barnes & Noble and

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