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Contributed Photo from "The Dirty Vegan" / Easy Ratatouille Stew, from Catherine Gill's cookbook "The Dirty Vegan," amps up the flavor with zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers and pungent seasonings.

With more dairy companies adding almond milk to their lineup, McDonald's testing a McPlant burger and Chipotle carrying Sofritas (tofu burritos), vegans are rejoicing as their options multiply.

What exactly is veganism? Unlike vegetarians, who forgo meat but may eat dairy and eggs, vegans do not consume any products derived from animals.

Their numbers are growing exponentially. According to a study from Ipsos Retail Performance, the number of Americans following a vegan diet has increased 300% over the past 15 years, an upward trend that has restaurants adding more choices to their menus and companies such as Beyond Meat and Morningstar Farms reporting an explosion of sales in plant-based products. Bloomberg News reports that the meat-free market is expected to hit $74.2 billion by 2027.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recognized Chattanooga as No. 7 on a Top 10 list of Vegan-Friendly Small Cities in 2020, singling out the ChattaVegan Festival and restaurants including Cashew, Taco Mamacita and Your Local Seitanist. Asheville, North Carolina, topped the list.

According to PETA, vegans are considerably less likely to suffer from heart disease, mainly because vegan foods are naturally cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat. Studies show that vegans tend to have a lower body mass index, or BMI, than their meat-, cheese- or egg-eating counterparts. An Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper indicates that people who go vegan reduce their risk of heart disease by 29% and their likelihood of being hospitalized for a heart attack by 33%.

Danielle Townsend, a registered dietitian at Primary Healthcare Centers, says if you're on the fence about committing to veganism, you should do some research first to know that you can locate the items and supplements you'll need to assure you're getting the recommended amounts of daily nutrients =.

"I'm sure going vegan in the beginning is fairly challenging, but it's not impossible if one has the determination to make the change," Townsend says. "Another thing you need to be aware of is that even though something is plant-based, you still need to check for egg and dairy derivatives if going 100% vegan is your goal."

One option for testing your resolve is Meatless Monday, a global initiative that advocates skipping meat once a week. Proponents say that starting each week practicing Meatless Monday can lead people to eat more fruits, vegetables and plant-based meals throughout the rest of the week. It works "because it provides a regular cue to take action on Monday, which research shows is the day people are most open to making positive changes," according to MondayCampaigns.org.

Protein is most often gained through diets that include the consumption of meats and dairy. If you're following a vegan lifestyle, those are out. But, Townsend says, "If you're consuming grains, fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, vitamins and minerals will not be an issue. Protein, however, is the challenge. The largest source of protein is animal meats. Beans, lentils and legumes are the next largest source." And those, she adds, can be a vegan's best friend.

If you're looking to begin a vegan diet, do so slowly, Townsend advises.

"People might want to slowly incorporate the vegan lifestyle so they can learn how to plan meals that are balanced with the three main nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat," she says. "I would say among those, protein is the biggest change since you won't be able to rely on animals for that. You could start by incorporating one vegan meal a day and then move to two and three. You'll need to learn where to go to buy certain foods and whether you will need a multivitamin or not.

"I would think a vegan cookbook would be a great help because it would be able to help you with ingredient substitutions."

Catherine Gill, author of the new vegan cookbook "The Dirty Vegan" disproves the notion that a vegan diet is tasteless. Now in her 30s, Gill has been a vegan since 2003, but it wasn't a sudden transition for her. She followed a mostly plant-based diet all her life, with some animal protein. But after watching video footage of the workings inside a slaughterhouse, she cut meat out of her diet entirely and eventually dairy products, too, becoming totally vegan. She says she didn't find it to be a difficult transition with all of the food substitutes now on the market — faux meats, cheese, butter and other products.

"It's very easy to add those to meals instead of ones with animal meat," she says. "After turning vegan, I noticed many health benefits that I enjoy to this very day — increased energy; the acne on my skin cleared up; I lost extra pounds; I'm in better overall health; and I feel happier."

 

Some Chattanooga-area restaurants with vegan and vegetarian-friendly options

As Chattanooga's restaurant scene has expanded, so have restaurants offering vegan menus, reflecting the realization among foodservice establishments that vegan offerings are a must as the number of vegans increases worldwide.

You can even get a vegan doughnut now. Chattanooga Duck Donuts recently unveiled cake doughnuts with a choice of vegan toppings, coatings and drizzles. The vegan doughnuts are made to order and sold on Mondays and Tuesdays only.

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Contributed Photo from Kristin Kellum / Chattanooga Duck Donuts' vegan doughnuts.

"Since before we even opened, we received many questions asking if we will offer vegan doughnuts," says owner Blake Beard. "Chattanooga has a large community of vegans, and they are very appreciative that we now are able to accommodate and serve them, and we are even more excited about being able to do so."

Go online to chattavegan.com and happycow.net for lists with more vegan and vegetarian-friendly eateries in town. Here are some favorites:

Sluggo's, 505 Cherokee Blvd.

Cashew, 149 River St.

Plant Power Cafe, 6215 Lee Highway

* Southern Squeeze, 1301 Dorchester Drive

Home Slice Pizza, 2000 E. 23rd St.

Clyde's, 122 W. Main St.

Your Local Seitanist, 3950 Brainerd Road

The Local Juicery and Kitchen, 48 E. Main St.

* Village Market and Deli, 5002 University Drive

Mayan Kitchen, 507 Broad St.

Mellow Mushroom, 2318 Lifestyle Way and 205 Broad St.

Chattanooga Duck Donuts, 2115 Gunbarrel Road

 

Vegan recipes

Recipes like these may help you on your vegan journey — or at least for your Meatless Monday.

 

"The Dirty Vegan" Easy Ratatouille Stew

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Hatherleigh Press / "The Dirty Vegan Cookbook: Your Favorite Recipes Made Vegan" by Catherine Gill.

7 garlic cloves, chopped

2 large onion, chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup red wine

1 small green squash zucchini, peeled and cubed

5 small yellow squash zucchini, peeled and cubed

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed

1 small red sweet bell pepper, chopped

1 small yellow sweet bell pepper, chopped

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 cup water

2 teaspoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot, sauté garlic and onions in olive oil on low heat for 5 minutes, then stir in sugar and continue to caramelize on low heat, stirring occasionally until garlic and onions are translucent. Deglaze pan with wine. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, and mix thoroughly. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are tender and fully cooked. Serve with crusty French bread. Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Grilled Vegetable Salad

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Contributed Photo from "The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook" / "The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook," from America's Test Kitchen, recommends this Grilled Vegetable Salad as a year-round dish, using an outdoor or indoor grill depending on the weather.

This vegan salad is a year-round favorite from America's Test Kitchen's new cookbook, "The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook," and can be cooked outdoors on your grill or on an electric grill indoors.

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, chives, or parsley

Vegetables:

2 red bell peppers

1 eggplant, halved lengthwise

1 zucchini (8 to 10 ounces), halved lengthwise

1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

4 plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the vinaigrette: Whisk lemon juice, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper together in large bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in oil. Stir in basil, and set aside.

For the vegetables: Slice 1/4 inch off tops and bottoms of bell peppers and remove cores. Make slit down 1 side of each bell pepper, then press flat into 1 long strip, removing ribs and remaining seeds with knife as needed. Cut strips in half crosswise (you should have 4 bell pepper pieces).

Using sharp paring knife, cut 1/2-inch crosshatch pattern in flesh of eggplant and zucchini, being careful to cut down to, but not through, the skin. Push toothpick horizontally through each onion round to keep rings intact while grilling. Brush tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and onion all over with oil, then brush eggplant with remaining oil (it will absorb more oil than other vegetables). Sprinkle vegetables with salt and pepper.

Cook over hot coals or on a gas grill over medium-high heat. Place vegetables on cooking grate, cut sides down, and cook until skins of bell peppers, eggplant and tomatoes are well browned and interiors of eggplant and zucchini are tender, 10 to 16 minutes, flipping and moving vegetables as necessary to ensure even cooking and transferring vegetables to baking sheet as they finish cooking. Place bell peppers in bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam to loosen skins, about 5 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, peel bell peppers and tomatoes, discarding skins. Using spoon, scoop eggplant flesh out of skin; discard skin. Chop all vegetables into 1-inch pieces, transfer to bowl with vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

 

 

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