The New York City Vegetarian Food Festival is a space where vegans can unabashedly be vegans. They’re free to eat all the lettuce leaves their tree-hugger hearts desire while talking smack about your carnivorous ways. This is, of course, totally not what happens in the expo center at all. But if you’re a sucker for stereotypes, it’d be easy to believe that this is a two-day event celebrating nothing but salad.
Instead we experienced a vast array of new products, cooking demonstrations and presentations from medical experts, political leaders, and celebrity chefs, all extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet. On top of all the delicious eats, a lot of vegan myths and stereotypes were busted along the way. (For instance, I didn’t eat one leafy green all weekend.) Here are some of the more important takeaways we learned between free samples.
Misconception #1: You can’t get jacked from plant-based protein alone.
If you’re looking to build up muscle mass, you can totally get buff on a purely vegan diet. In a talk entitled “The Protein of the Future,” Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, an internal medicine resident at Metropolitan Hospital, cited a fascinating study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The research, which was published just last year, found that it doesn’t matter whether your protein intake is from plant or animal sources, as long as you get the recommended daily intake. Your body doesn’t discriminate. So the next time you reach for a post-workout smoothie, try incorporating legumes and leafy greens in it as well.
Misconception #2: There are no uses for chickpeas beyond hummus.
Chickpeas are truly a magical legume. They can add texture and flavor to any salad, work as a savory spread when ground as hummus, and obviously they’re the key ingredient to falafel. But based on the array of products on display on the convention floor, the chickpea is working its way into your pantry in a multitude of other deceptive ways.
Banza’s chickpea pasta is among the most buzz-worthy. While slightly gummy in texture, it’s definitely not bad, especially when slathered in lots of tomato sauce. It’s particularly great for those who are gluten-free and if you’re looking to sneak in some protein in lieu of carbs, you can’t go wrong. If you’re looking for a crunchy snack, try Hippeas Chickpea Puffs or Biena Thin Mint Chickpeas. Yes, they are chocolate-coated and approved by the Girl Scouts. They’ll be available in Whole Foods this summer and will leave your mouth feeling conflicted and confused.
Misconception #3: Kids raised without meat aren’t happy or healthy…and they hate their parents.
Raising children on an entirely plant-based diet might seem controversial. At the very least, it’s polarizing. There just haven’t been many scientific studies to assess the benefits and risks of veganism on children. However, raising kids on a vegetarian diet, one complete with eggs and dairy, has been considered a possible health-conscious option, especially as a means of fighting the childhood obesity epidemic.
Some public officials, like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, are taking this nutritional research a step further. Adams was instrumental in helping to implement Meatless Mondays across 15 public schools, where vegetarian lunches are now served on a weekly basis. As keynote speaker, Adams spoke about his recent efforts and future plans with an infectious energy. Given this local success, it’s easy to see how a new generation might embrace a veg-friendly lifestyle.
From a purely observational basis, the Kumquat Kids area on the exhibition floor was bustling with little ones, who likely never tasted a hamburger. And guess what? They didn’t appear grumpy at all. They were completely engaged in crafts, storytelling, and playing on wooden broccoli cut-outs, making for perfect photo opportunities for their parent’s Instagram accounts.
Misconception #4: Vegan cheese doesn’t taste good.
Quitting dairy can be tough, especially cheese. A love of brie and cheddar is often the ultimate deterrent that prevents people from going full-on vegan. While dairy-free cheese hasn’t been completely perfected, it’s come a long way from the waxy, soy-based analogues of yore. eseChé, one of the better brands we tasted, is actually made from cultured sunflower seeds. We were impressed by its taste and texture. Plus, it melted perfectly over fully loaded hash browns and quesadillas.
Misconception #5: Plum vinegar is a pointless ingredient.
I didn’t think I cared about vinegar, but that was before I tried this variation. Made from pickled Japanese plum brine, it adds a rich umami taste to any dish. It also has the incredible property of enhancing the natural flavors of any food. During a dumpling-making demonstration, Chef Adam Sobel, who runs the vegan food truck The Cinnamon Snail, professed to using it in tons of his recipes. From the taste of his miso dipping sauce, we have to agree that it is, indeed, the king of vinegars.
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