Get ready to broc your world

This marks the end of the third week on the journey to one year as a vegan. Detailed below are things I learned, cooked and helpful resources discovered.

What I learned this week

1. Vacuum fried vegetables are delicious

If I had to describe my approach to vegetables growing up in a word, ‘desperation’ is the word I would choose. Even to this day, I find myself consuming the least enjoyable items on a plate first to leave the delicious prize until last in a nod to this ingrained belief that vegetables are to be endured on the path to other amazing riches. A steak, chicken parmigiana, lamb chops, what bounty awaits once the vegetables are dealt with? The only situation I approached vegetables with any feeling that could be described as fondness was school camps. Specifically, at night after a full day of hiking, covered in scrapes and bruises from the bush scrub and waterlogged from constant rain. Exhausted and hungry, surrounded by other teens jostling for position around a campfire for warmth. Staring intently at the flickering light and the nourishment promised by the iron pots perched atop. With no menu to pick from, the choice is either camp fire cooked vegetables, or go to bed hungry. I chose life. And vegetables. And they tasted delicious. At that point any food would have been the best mouthful I had ever eaten.

The other situation I would consume vegetables was when they came with an appropriate level of parental bribery. Sweets, a trip to the movies, or that mythical trip to the toy store were all dangled by my parents. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrot and peas could all disappear with a pinch of the nose and a glass of water to hide the taste, so long as the reward justified it.

Fast forward to today. Innovative food companies have figured out how to turn a simple vegetable into a delicious snack that kids want to eat. The magic phrase? Vacuum frying. I recently tried a vacuum fried broccoli snack that encouraged consumers to ‘Rock out with your broc out’ – clever. Whilst delicious, not entirely sure this is what doctors and dietitians had in mind when they encouraged us to eat our greens. Even cardboard vacuum fried might taste delicious… there’s an idea. Consume in moderation, as can’t imagine ‘vacuum’ frying is great for the waistline.

Broccoli snacks

2. How evolution has impacted our diet

If you contemplate trying a vegan diet, it is a matter of when not if you will start receiving advice on how humans aren’t supposed to live purely on a plant based diet – just look at our caveman ancestors, right?!? To understand the role diet has on our bodies (notably brain function and physical performance) there is a plethora of material out there proving and disproving similar lines of argument. To gain further insight, I decided to step back in time and read (well listen to in audio book format) Yuval Noah Harari’s divisive book ‘Sapiens: a brief history of humankind’.

In Harari’s book, he explores 3 fundamental revolutions that have impacted the evolution of homo sapiens, namely the cognitive, agricultural and industrial revolution.

The exploration of the cognitive revolution looks at the increasing cognitive abilities of homo sapiens, including social cooperation and the ability to harness fire. The harnessing of fire is suggested to have enabled homo sapiens to consume previously indigestible foods with high calorific content (such as various grains) due to changing the underlying structure of the foods. This seemingly minor change acted as a catalyst for some of the physical adaptations homo sapiens exhibited relative to our neanderthal ancestors, most notably in the form of a shortened digestive tract, smaller jaw and teeth. With less time required to eat (the amount of time to consume calories from a raw diet was immense) and less energy required to digest it, homo sapiens were able to direct more and more internal energy to brain development, further increasing the cognitive gap between homo sapiens and neanderthals. Homo sapiens are unique in that our brains equate to ~2-3% of our mass and yet draw on 25% of our energy stores.

Next came the agricultural revolution which saw homo sapiens evolve from hunter gatherers to the agricultural farming practices we see today, along with the reorganisation of our social structures from nomadic tribes to larger and larger cities. Harnessing of fire proved useful once more as homo sapiens exploited its power to clear large amounts of land to make way for agricultural plots. This saw a boom in the amount of food produced and wide scale ‘domestication’ of animals to meet the increasing consumption required to feed the swelling cities and human population. Dietary patterns also changed to reflect this new bounty, with increasing consumption of animal products given the increased availability. This change in diet also saw introduction of new diseases and illnesses, albeit medical records substantiation this are unreliable if not non existent.

The industrial revolution brought with it energy and transportation that effectively increased the scale and reach of our communities. With these changes came a more varied diet as ingredients could be transported previously unfathomable distances without spoiling thanks to the emergence of steam powered trains and ships.

So what does all this mean? Well I took away that whilst there is evidence of dietary patterns changing over time through the various revolutions, there is no strong linkage indicating that one diet is better than the other. Anecdotally the book suggests the introduction of additional animal proteins into our diets resulted in the proliferation of new illnesses, however, am hesitant to take this as categorical proof and more digging will be required to look into this.

I give this book a 3 out of 5. Interesting content, but didn’t exactly answer my questions on how our diets have evolved (and whether that evolution is a good or bad thing). Lots of interesting content, and maybe under different circumstances with different expectations I would have got more out of it.

What I cooked this week

Vegan lasagna

This week marked a return to the Americas Test Kitchen cookbook ‘Vegan for Everybody’ for inspiration. I chose the vegan lasagna mainly as it looked tasty and the notion that cauliflower and cashews could be combined into a cheese like sauce with a flavour profile to match needed to be seen/tasted to be believed.

This was a mini epic. Didn’t realise how many steps would be involved and one of the ingredients, namely vegan friendly lasagna sheets, were difficult to come by (stopped counting after the fourth failed supermarket trip). But like any epic, the peaks and valleys were worth it, and the end product was delicious. Even on the third night in a row of leftovers.

Crammed into the lasagna was a serious amount of vegetable matter, including zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, butternut pumpkin, tomato, basil, garlic, and of course the cauliflower and cashew sauce. I was skeptical about the cauliflower sauce in particular, as some of the ‘vegan cheese’ products I’ve tried from the supermarket probably had a worse flavour profile than they plastic package they came in. With the aid of a food processor and a bit of salt and pepper, this sauce came up as a formidable alternative.

The verdict? I give this recipe a 4 out of 5. Taste was great and the recipe is achievable even for amateurs like me. The complexity comes in sourcing some of the ingredients (over time this should get simpler).

Cashew and cauliflower cheese sauce
Sauce post blending looks like cheese
Roasted eggplant, zucchini, pumpkin and mushrooms
The assembly line
Almost ready for oven cooking
The finished product

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Key resources used during the week

  1. Sapiens: A brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  2. Vegan for Everybody by Americas Test Kitchen

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