I grew up in Boston, MA with a firm belief in the All-American steak and potatoes diet that would make us all big and strong. We had eggs and bacon for breakfast, turkey breast for lunch and steak tips or spaghetti with meatballs for dinner. And how could I forget the meatloaf. Just like the Brady Bunch, we had our fair share of ground beef. My better half grew up in Eastern Europe where the four-course meal consisted of pork tenderloin, sausage, potatoes and a side of sausage. Needless to say, we were both bred to eat meat. How could we ever consider diverting from everything we were told? Anything without meat was bland and tasted like cardboard. To not eat meat was sacrilege.
I have been in the restaurant business my entire life. When someone would come in and say they were vegan or vegetarian, a server would just roll their eyes and the kitchen would scream profanities in frustration. Now I understand the kitchen’s annoyance. They were taught to cook with butter, milk, sour cream, lard, and the list goes on. You want a good steak? Cook it in butter. You want good toast? Slather it in butter. You all know what I mean. I was taught the same thing. But the world has changed, and so are the offerings of the food we eat.
Human beings have been using herbs and spices for eons. They not only enhance flavors, but they are vital in a healthy diet. When mixed with vegetables, legumes and fruit, a meal becomes robust and tantalizing. You feel full but not bloated. I personally feel great and energized. It was an experience I did not expect. All I had known about eating vegan or anything close was that it was tasteless. Snacks tasted like cardboard and everyone I saw that was vegan looked emaciated and unhealthy. That was all I really knew. After some exposure to new ideas, it was time to learn more.
Our journey together began approximately 3 years ago. As the years rolled by, we began eating less meat. It didn’t seem like it was by choice. It just kind of started removing itself from our meals. What once was the cornerstone of our protein rich diet was quickly becoming the furthest thing from our minds. We began learning that protein is found in many renewable resources such as beans, quinoa and broccoli to name a few. On their own, they may sound boring, but with the proper concoction, the flavors were explosive!
I have been blessed with an amazing woman in my life. She keeps me alive. While living on very little, she would make meals that were just amazing and nutrient rich. She would take classics she knew how to make and challenge herself to convert them to taste just as good or better and remove all animal product from them. The result was almost always just great food that anyone would like. Even her Eastern European family has been treated to her meals, and to their surprise, it was GOOD!
We continued to learn about the different options. It didn’t sound easy, but we were considering removing all animal products from our diets, but we loved cheese and baguette. Brie cheese and grapes? Mmmm! We enjoyed pizza and sandwiches. We loved baked potatoes with sour cream, butter and chives. It wasn’t going to be easy. Then we saw a movie called Forks Over Knives, and we decided to give a plant based diet a shot after learning about the connection between animal proteins and cancer cells. We call ourselves vegans instead of having to explain our motivations all the time. We enjoy honey, beer and wine (often not considered “vegan” items), but we avoid all products that are derived from anything with a face. No meat, poultry, fish or dairy. We avoid fake sweeteners, high processed food, high fructose corn syrup and anything with ingredients we can’t pronounce. It’s tough. HFCS is in everything, but we avoid it like the plague. There’s a lot we choose not eat, but contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot we can.
We used to really enjoy dining out. The experience of trying new concoctions and a great bottle of wine was just so fun. It has been a part of our lives for the last 20 years. But after making the decision to change our eating habits, dining outside of our home wasn’t so fun anymore. We got a few eye rolls from servers, but mostly, everyone’s options are a salad of some sort. After creating what was possible at home, we knew better, and we wanted to affect change.
Fortunately, I’m in a position to affect change. Diners who are vegan, vegetarian or gluten free are almost 10% of diners and they deserve to have more choices than just a salad. We have just started the process, but I am proud to say we have options that few people offer. At Hussong’s Cantina we offer vegan Mexican rice and beans as well as vegan burritos, quesadillas and tacos to name a few. At Slice of Vegas Pizza you can get a vegan pizza with Daiya cheese, a vegan burger, vegan Panini, gluten free pasta among the options. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In November of 2012, in honor of World Vegan Month, we are launching menus that have numerous options. This is not only to honor vegans. It’s also to create awareness that things can taste good and be healthy alternatives to what we’ve been eating our entire lives.
We are vegan hybrids that still enjoy life and try to avoid synthetic foods. We believe in fresh healthy alternatives, and so do our chefs. In honor of a month dedicated to those who choose or have no choice to be vegan, vegetarian or gluten free, try the new alternative and be surprised. Who knows, maybe there’s a vegan hybrid inside you. At least you can say you tried it.