By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager
Michelle Wilson’s Carbon Corpus, in our fall gallery show Going Up, explores food and carbon – for this conceptual art piece Wilson ate vegan for each week that participants sponsored, essentially selling credits for the carbon saved by eating vegan (estimate at 35 kg of carbon per week of veganism).
Inspired by this, eight of our staff gave veganism a try. Here, they reflect on learning to eat without animal products for a week.
Emily, Public Programs Coordinator
Having been vegetarian in the past, I was not at all worried about missing meat. I was terribly surprised how much I did miss it once I started (I having gotten used to eating meat again)! However, about three days in I was very much back on the bean-over-meat train. I had been most worried about yogurt, egg, and cheese. Egg and cheese I did surprisingly okay without! In terms of yogurt, I explored both the almond and coconut substitute, and they were both pretty good (albeit expensive).
For recipes, I reverted to my vegetarian go-to: Quinoa, black bean (or any bean), and sautéed greens. I spice up the greens with oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, and ginger. Quick, easy, cheap, and good for making in big batches. I also really enjoyed making butternut squash soup again, especially this time of year.
Emily’s Butternut Squash Soup
- Cut and de-seed squash. Sprinkle inside with salt, pepper, oil, and bake until almost fully cooked. Not done completely, but enough to where peeling is easy (425 or so for about 30-35 min – I like to let it finish cooking with the other ingredients).
- Peel the squash and cut into about one inch cubes. In a big pot, sauté shallots (or onion, you can also add garlic) in oil until caramelized.
- Add squash and enough vegetable stock to cover squash (you have to kind of eyeball this-how thick do you want the soup).
- I then add more pepper, and cayenne or nutmeg/dash of cinnamon depending on my mood.
Let it all simmer together until the squash is soft, then I use an immersion blender to blend into soup.
Elisabeth, Manager of Public Programs
I was consciously aware of the treatment of animals after trying the vegan challenge. This is something that’s frequently in the back of my mind. To me, being vegan is a very delicate balance between what’s good for humans, animals, and the environment. And a lot of those things compete with each other. So I did make a conscious decision to shop at a store that, while I know is not perfect, is one where I can at least be more broadly knowledgeable about where the food is coming from.
I found that transitioning to a plant-based diet takes time, money, planning, and also failures. You can re-contextualize your commitment through your failures and reflection on those failures. For me, I’m trying vegetarianism. Veganism was too much of a challenge for me in my current lifestyle.
Christina, Director of Environmental Art
I’ve given up meat for Lent a few times, and one time both meat and cheese, but this is my first time going without any animal products at all. I always find that restricting my diet in some small way helps me make healthier choices about what I am eating in general – it’s a heightened consciousness of eating: I can’t eat meat, hmm, I should eat a salad. Just an extra beat to make a more mindful choice. Overall, I feel like it is helpful and productive to realize how much my diet relies on animal products, and how unnecessary that is.
Besides the fact of not eating cheese (which as a person of Italian descent I think I am just not equipped to do) and having cream in my coffee, what I didn’t like about eating vegan was that it sometimes forced me to make choices that felt less healthy for reasons that felt somewhat arbitrary. For example, an otherwise healthy breakfast of (non-dairy) yogurt, berries, and honey is off the table, so if I want to take the edge off the unsweetened yogurt, more refined sugar it is. Getting enough protein has been a little bit of a challenge also, without being overly reliant on soy and other super processed synthetic proteins.
In terms of meals, I enjoyed Mollie Katzen’s Curried Squash and Mushroom Soup (I always skip the yogurt topping) and came up with my own soba noodle salad recipe. I also found an amazing chocolate peanut butter pudding recipe which I had to share.
I’ve come out of this vegan journey with a renewed sense of balance and moderation in my approach to eating – I think I’ll reduce the portion of my diet coming from animal products, but not to a strict degree.
Christina’s soba noodle salad:
1/3 C vegetable stock
4 Tbsp peanut butter (could use another nut butter)
4 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Sesame oil
Scallions to taste.
Veggies: thinly sliced/grated kohlrabi, bell peppers, carrots.
Mix together the peanut sauce and combine with veggies, seitan, and noodles.
Donna, Director of Finance and Administration
I knew I loved cheese but I don’t think I realized just how much I love cheese. This was by far my biggest challenge. Non-dairy coconut creamer made a nice addition to coffee; an addition I may continue in the future. I did miss my yogurt but, again, cheese was harder.
I went into the week striving for a 90 to 95% success rate and made it to around 85%. I showed up at my 84-year-old mom’s house to take her out to lunch and she had food on the table that she wanted to “use up” so she didn’t wish to go out…food consisting of eggs, cheese, turkey… I couldn’t turn her food down but went heavy on tomato and light on other ingredients.
In summary, as I was hoping, this challenge raised my consciousness for the foods I consume. While I certainly am promising no one I will give up cheese and dairy forever, I will be more mindful of my choices in the future, and continue to strive to support ethical and responsible food suppliers.
Jenny, Environmental Art & PR Intern
Vegan week was a little challenging but I went really hard on lentils and chickpeas, and had to cave for pizza one time but it felt good to abstain from dairy for the most part, especially with allergies and seasonal colds going around. I made pumpkin oats in a crockpot and a vegan “tuna” salad out of chickpeas which was pretty great and lasted all week for lunches. I ate it on toast with greens all week (sometimes with sriracha). Really good with some sliced avocado, too, and if you’re really hungry, a veggie burger layered on top.
Jenny’s Chickpea “tuna” Salad:
1 can chickpeas
Big scoop of veganaise (vegan mayo)
Some garlic powder
~1/4 of an large yellow onion, diced
Tiny bit of olive oil
All you do is mush it all up in one bowl and enjoy!
Jenny’s Pumpkin Oats in a Crockpot
2 cups steel cut oats
7 cups water
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp table salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ cup dark organic maple syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. 1 cup serving size.
Optional: ½ cup honey, peanut butter for a layer of protein and deliciousness!
Seven of eight staff joining in the vegan challenge stand inside Michelle Wilson’s “Carbon Corpus.” Left to right: Mike Weilbacher, Jenny Ryder, Michelle Havens, Patty Boyle, Donna Struck, Emily Harkness, Elisabeth Zafiris. Not pictured: Christina Catanese