Because vegetarianism has many models and definitions, knowing how much of the world practices abstention from meat and/or poultry, fish, dairy, etc. is largely inestimable. In India–where it all began–the practice is so popular, however, McDonald’s opened its first vegetarian restaurant near the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 2012.
October 1st is World Vegetarian Day, a day set aside to honor vegetarianism. Once way to celebrate might be to look into the tenets and evolution of this increasingly popular dietary choice. In India, the word “ahimsa” means non-violence towards animals and is the root of vegetarianism in that country. In fact both India and much of ancient Greece espoused the idea of boycotting animal flesh, often extended to include fish.
While vegetarianism found a place in subsequent civilizations following its earliest years, including Buddhist adherence in China since the 7th Century, it ebbed and flowed until the Renaissance, reemerging in Europe. Trumpeted by such proponents at that time as Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Tryon–who, among other self-help books, wrote “Health’s Grand Preservative” and “The Way to Health”–vegetarianism later counted Benjamin Franklin among its disciples. Though only practicing for a time, Franklin is credited with introducing tofu to the world.
As it developed, vegetarianism came to include categories such as lacto vegetarians whose diet excludes meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as any foods containing eggs, though dairy products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt are allowed. Lacto ovo vegetarians practice the former but do include eggs in their diets. Vegans, who some say are the most ascetic practitioners of vegetarianism, avoid eating all flesh and animal products and eggs and dairy products, as well as any foods containing byproducts of these. Some avoid honey, and all eschew wool, silk, leather and other nonfood items made with animal byproducts.
For those considering vegetarianism, concerns about adequate protein sources have been on the debate table for a long time, but diligent devotees find the solution in beans, lentils, legumes, tofu and tempeh (and other soy products), seitan (wheat gluten), nuts, nut butters, quinoa (a high-protein grain-like crop), and seeds.
In the last 30 years, with exploding obesity, diabetes, and heart disease part of the daily dialogue, a plant-based diet espoused by Dr. Dean Ornish (a primary component of his comprehensive lifestyle change for coronary artery disease) and others has ratcheted vegetarianism up the lifestyle ladder. While unimaginable at one time, and shattering all former convention about bland plant food, evolved vegetarian cuisine has inspired Zagat-reviewed restaurants that cater to the most discriminating adherents. Celebrated “green chefs” like Alice Waters, Chloe Coscarelli, Jose Garces, and eco-lifestyle guru/organic food author Ani Phyo are front and center in inspired vegetarian design, their recipes turning even the most die-hard carnivores into green gastronomes.
Try these vegetarian and vegan ideas for a flavorful introduction if you’re new to it all, or add to your recipe repertoire if you’re already a veteran vegetarian!
Spicy Vegan Sloppy Joes
1 pound cremini mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 3/4 cups light beer
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons tomato paste
6 whole grain hamburger buns
Shredded red cabbage or lettuce, pickled jalapeno and scallions, for serving, optional
Pulse mushrooms in batches in a food processor until finely chopped. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, 1 tablespoon beer and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add walnuts and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, and chipotle powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are just cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Add remaining beer, ketchup, tomato paste, and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook while stirring until the sauce is the consistency that you like, about 2 minutes. Spoon mixture onto each bun. Serve with toppings if desired.