Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegan Month Part 4: Reflections on a Vegan Lifestyle

With the exception of some holiday favorites, I spent the entire month of November eating nothing but plant-based foods. Following Dr. Colin Campbell's dietary suggestions from The China Study, I avoided animal protein in my cooking and dining out and shared some of my favorite vegan recipes. What I've learned is that a local food lifestyle is not that far away from a vegan lifestyle and that avoiding animal-based food is a lot easier than you'd think.

Many friends asked how I did it and what I would eat. My answer, straight from an anecdote Dr. Campbell relays in his book, is always "I'll eat plants." Eating out can be a challenge, but most restaurants in Charlotte have the option to order three or four vegetables from their side item menu. On more than one occasion, my co-diners would exclaim that I had more variety on my plate than they did!

So how was this endeavor local? Easy: the majority of products at a farmers market are plants. Plants are cheaper to grow and take far fewer resources than animals so you find more of these items at farmers markets. Furthermore, animal farmers often see less return on their investments when they sell at farmers markets than when they work with large industrial markets so you just don't find as much animal protein at your local market.

The great part about eating only plants is that you are encouraged to be much more adventurous in your plant eating to add some variety to your diet. I picked up some bok choi which I have never used in my cooking and really delved into the world of tofu. Since I didn't use any butter for the month, I also tried some spices that have been gathering dust on my shelf like garam masala and chili pepper to make dishes more interesting.

Will I stay vegan? Probably not completely because of the difficulty of eating out (which I do a fair amount) and meeting the desires of friends and family that I cook for often. However, Dr. Campbell's book suggests that if you're not battling a serious health concern, a 5% animal protein diet can be very effective in reducing your risk of cancer, diabetes, weight gain and the like. Thus, my goal is to keep my animal product intake to a minimum with just a small amount of high quality cheese, a small serving of yogurt or some butter on my local sweet potato.

The moral of the story is that going vegan isn't that difficult. If you can avoid typical American fair at restaurants and social gatherings, you can cut out most if not all of your animal protein intake. I would highly suggest trying this way of eating at least for a couple weeks and see what health benefits you experience!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vegan Month Part 3: Planning Vegan Meals

With the exception of eating out, this whole vegan thing really isn’t that bad. I admit that I have snuck a tater tot or two while getting drinks with friends and I had goat cheese on a sandwich this weekend but for the most part, going vegan can work for any lifestyle if you want it to. 

Vegan meals are not hard to put together. Here are some past dishes I’ve posted that are either already local and vegan or can be made so with one or two small modifications:

And finally, a menu from a dinner I put together for my household last Thursday. It just goes to show that even I, an amateur cook that just does this for my health and not for a living, can put together easy vegan meals on weeknights and weekends alike that are filling, local and vegan!

A regular Thursday meal:
Bok choi from Houston Farms, sautéed in olive oil from Ohh-lio Express
Sweet potatoes from Bell’s Best Berries, baked for 40 minutes
Gold rice from Simply Local
Beans (from Trader Joes)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vegan Month Part 2: Tofu Mania

Like many people, I've never been a huge fan of tofu. It looks funny, it smells funny and it drips water. Totally weird. Recently, however, I have been introduced to several recipes that include tofu and they've been amazing. I never believed my vegetarian and vegan friends that said tofu takes on the flavors around it until I started experimenting with different recipes and the truth is that it can taste like just about anything if you make it right.

So what's local about tofu itself? Not much unless you're really lucky to have a local tofu maker nearby. The way I make tofu local is by using it as a protein surrounded by local produce and products. Below are my three current favorite recipes that use lots of local alternatives even though the tofu comes from the grocery store. Thus, the recipes are not 100% local but they are almost entirely vegan.

Tofu Quiche (V)
You may see "quiche" and wonder what is vegan about this recipe. The answer is that if you make your own pie crust out of non-animal-based shortening, you don't need any animal protein in this recipe. I used broccoli from the Lomax Incubator Farm, olive oil from Ohh-lio Express, onions and garlic from Houston Farms, and Lusty Monk Mustard from Simply Local.

1 9 inch pie crust
1 lb local veggies of your choice (I suggest broccoli or greens), chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb tofu (small curd, extra firm)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 teaspoon mustard
About 1/2 teaspoon of each of the following according to taste: salt, ground nutmeg, ground red pepper, black pepper, dried parsley
  1. Cook veggies till tender but not overcooked
  2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat and saute onion and garlic
  3. Add veggies and heat through
  4. In a blender or food processor, combine tofu, soy milk, mustard and spices until smooth
  5. Combine blender mixture with veggie mixture in large bowl then pour into pie crust
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until quiche is set and crust is light brown
Tofu Masala (V)
This is another super easy one. I used an onion and carrots from the Lomax Farm, olive oil from Ohh-lio Express, ginger and rice from Simply Local, and tomatoes from Houston Farms.

1 lb tofu, pressed and drained (I do this by putting the block of tofu in a strainer and putting a heavy bowl on top of it for 10-15 minutes) then cut to 1/2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon garam masala
2-3 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
A healthy handful of peas
1-2 cup cooked rice or couscous
  1. Toss tofu with cornstarch gently
  2. Heat oil and saute tofu on both sides until golden brown
  3. Remove and drain tofu and set aside
  4. Saute onions and carrots about 5 minutes then add ginger and cook another 3 minutes
  5. Add garam masala, tomatoes, then peas, water, tofu and simmer low for 15 minutes
  6. Serve over rice or couscous

Tofu Stir Fry (V)
And finally, here's the simplest recipe there is for a vegan tofu meal. The zucchini and squash I got from Houston Farms, olive oil from Ohh-lio Express, and the rice from Simply Local.

1 lb tofu, cut into 1 inch strips
1-2 zucchini or squash
1-2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
  1. In a large wok on medium-high heat, add oil and zucchini and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes
  2. Add tofu and turn over gently. Douse in soy sauce
  3. Allow to cook until zucchini are to desired tenderness
  4. Serve over rice

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vegan Month Part I: Sweet Potato Squash Bake

It's vegan month here at Charlotte Local Eats! This month I post recipes that don't require meat, eggs, or dairy products. After reading The China Study and learning all about the benefits of a completely animal product-free diet, I've been testing some recipes that avoid those ingredients.

If I hadn't strategically titled this post, you probably would have guessed that I was going to give you a tofu recipe. Luckily for you, that post comes next week. This week I celebrate the hallmark of Dr. Campbell's diet: whole unprocessed plants. There's so much you can do with just veggies and one or two other ingredients. This recipe is so incredibly simple, the hardest part is waiting for it to come out of the oven. 

Actually, peeling the squashes is a bit of a trick. My suggestion: cut the thinner part of the squash from the bulbous part, remove the tip and base and then use a really sharp knife to cut down towards the counter top. You may loose a little bit of the meat of the squash, but you won't cut yourself or spend an hour trying to peel one squash.

Houston Farms has had beautiful butternut squash and Bell's Best Berries has had sweet potatoes and green apples. That makes this recipe easy, local and, as a bonus, totally vegan. The recipe below makes about 4 servings.

Sweet Potato Squash Bake (V)
1 butternut squash
1 sweet potato
1 green apple
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
1-2 T brown sugar
  1. Peel the potato and squash then cut apple, potato and squash into roughly the same slice size, no more than 3/4 inch thick
  2. Put squash, then potato, then apple in a brownie-type dish
  3. Pour over vinegar and dot with sugar
  4. Cover with tin foil then Bake at 400 for 45 minutes
I added almonds when I made it but they didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. The rest was delicious though!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

LynnErin Tyler and Selling Local Food

Greetings from Simply Local, a small local grocery situated within Atherton Market, located in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood. Simply Local grew from a concept to bring together the best of local food in a way that would make finding local goods easier for consumers, while providing farmers and small producers with a more convenient way to get their goods to market. Essentially, I knew there was a lot more good local food out there than most people had easy access to purchase and I had heard enough farmers talk about the limitations of farmers markets in making their economic model work that I believed there must something that could be done to bridge the gap—we’re making progress but, in all fairness, we're not there yet.

Creating a local food grocery – what does it take?
·         Finding a location
·         Finding the food
·         Finding the customers
·         And like it or not, learning to run a business!

After nearly a year of considering various business models and working with lots of individuals committed to local food, I settled on the relatively low-risk option of being a part of an existing market. Atherton Market then and now has plans for expansion with a goal of being open 5 to 6 days a week with hours convenient to consumers; for now, we’re open 3 days a week—Tuesday (3 – 7), Wednesday (11-7) & Saturday (9 – 2.). The obvious challenge here is getting to consistent hours so customers don’t have to try to keep track of when we’re there and when we’re not.   

So given a location, it was time to determine the food. Being in an existing market provides both opportunities and challenges. Getting started with an established customer base has been great; however, it would work against my stated goals to bring in food that competed directly with the food farmers bring to market, so that meant focusing on food that wasn’t regularly available at Atherton Market. This is what brought me to my initial focus on dairy goods. Simply Local’s primary food focus is cheese, milk, butter, and ice cream.  

People who are not all that familiar with NC’s agricultural landscape are often surprised at the variety of dairy products available in our state. Some of the products were previously well known to me and many are new finds resulting from the research I have done.  Research means talking to anyone willing who might know about local food options, scouring the web, and attending food events when possible. 

Once I have confirmed there is a product I want to pursue, I generally go to the source (this is the fun part: visiting the farm, meeting the actual producers of these great products, learning the process to create the fantastic food we enjoy.). Site visits remind me why eating local matters. I see the communities that are impacted, see how families rally to make farming work, and generally see the love and concern that goes into preparing each item we are so fortunate to consume. Many of the farms I visit have been in the family for generations and this generation is working hard to balance tradition and the reality of functioning in our very modern world. Simply Local aims to make that effort a little easier.

Once I reached a “critical mass” in cheese offerings (20+ options) and found a dairy (Homeland Dairy in Julian, NC) that worked for me, it was time to look around and start rounding out my offerings to provide a fuller compliment to that which the other farmers bring to market. One of my favorite finds is rice grown by relocated Hmong farmers, now living in Morganton, NC. As expected, we’ve found great producers for jams, juices (all NC fruit), nut products and soon we’ll be branching out into specialty meat products.  

This work in progress, called Simply Local, originated from a love of local food and all that it means to support local food (positive impact on local economies and communities and individual health & nutritional benefits). The reality of making it a success requires enough business savvy to attract customers and manage the daily tasks of running a business. All that’s for another blog and another day, so we’ll just leave it at I learn something new every day and I guess those challenges are good for my brain too. 

The fun is in the search and joy is in the finding of great local food products. The satisfaction of knowing I can help bring some of these great products to more tables makes the effort all worth it.  Come check us out and please pass along your favorite local food finds . . . maybe Simply Local can help make them easier for others to find and enjoy.

LynnErin Tyler owns and manages Simply Local, a regular vendor at the Atherton Market. You can reach her at .