For The Scout Guide Huntsville on World Vegan Day by Chef Adyre Mason

For many, especially here in the South, not eating meat may sound like a cardinal sin. And admittedly, I once felt this way too. Before I went vegan the idea of no meat or dairy sounded sad, as if those who ate that way were destined for a life of cold lunches and unfulfilling dinners. 

But over the years we’ve seen vegan food transition from crudités, hummus, and French fries into mouth-watering burgers, a flood of innovative plant-based products in stores, and an increased number of dining options for vegans at traditional restaurants. But why now? Is veganism a fad, is it healthy, and is going completely vegan the only way to save our planet? Below we explore a few reasons why vegan food is on the rise, and how it can help even if going vegan isn’t for you. 


The Traditional Stuff

Some years ago, vegans were stereotypically usually seen as hippies who wore flower crowns and protested big business in the name of the environment. Yet some of the earliest reasons that many people ate vegan was not by choice, but out of necessity. Depending on where they lived or their economic status, eating meat and dairy were luxuries that many people couldn’t afford. Netflix shows like Flavorful Origins and High on the Hog show us the level of transformation and time that many put into their food in order to heighten flavors or find new ways to transform mundane foods. 

Equally as powerful as the necessity of choice is the necessity of moral conviction. In recent years we’ve seen an influx of documentaries that have shown the lesser known sides of meat and dairy consumption. Insight into these processes and the conditions in which animals are kept and slaughtered have been a catalyst for many people to stop supporting these industries. If you’re not ready to watch the heavy stuff, try Netflix show Rotten, a true crime series of food industry romps that exposes a variety of aspects of the food chain process from farming to potentially dangerous food processes that can impact public health. The goal is not to make viewers feel bad but instead, to help them be more informed consumers. 

And of course we can’t travel along the train of vegan tradition without mentioning the environment. Flower power is undoubtedly real as are the other amazing aspects of our ecosystem that as consumers, we may take for granted. The impact to societies as we make more efforts to consume rather than to repair or slow the damage of meat and dairy production to our environment is a real, ever emerging threat. The United Nations Environment Program stated recently that tackling meat production and consumption is “one of the world’s most urgent problems.” The excessive amount of land, water, and other resources necessary to sustain this industry are a large cause for higher greenhouse gas emissions and global acidification.  

Health is Wealth

As the saying goes, you can’t outwork a bad diet. Gym memberships, Pelotons, and cute athleisure wear are a start, but not enough to overcome every health problem. In our area we see many people who suffer with diabetes, heart disease, and allergies. Many of these issues, or at least the severity of them, can be reduced by paying more attention to what we eat. Whether it’s subbing out a steak for a burger made with pea protein or incorporating more vegetables into your diet, there are small ways to make changes that can have lasting benefits. Suffering from chronic pain? Paying more attention to the chemicals in your body care products, reducing red meat consumption, and eating more whole grains and leafy vegetables can reduce inflammation. Are you a singer who’s plagued by seasonal allergies or sinus issues? Reducing your consumption of dairy products can slow the production of mucus and nasal pressure. Becoming more informed about how what you eat affects your body can do wonders for your health and quality of life. 

When in Doubt, Innovate

As plant-based food has become more popular, the options have increased. Years ago it was hard to find a vegan cheese that actually melted, or a meat substitute other than tofu or Boca burgers. In the last 5-10 years we’ve seen explosive innovation in vegan food that cover just about any food you’d imagine. It is now easier for those with food allergies or who have fully adopted a plant-based lifestyle to access options that align with their heath needs and preferences. Most vegans don’t actually hate the taste of meat, but they don’t want to contribute to meat production either. Therefore meat and dairy-like substitutes that remind them of the foods they used to eat are a great way to keep consumers excited about food and provide them with similar tastes that satisfy, without the harmful effects to their bodies. As someone who’s allergic to beef, I went years without a burger (insert agonizing cries) until great vegan options with a similar taste and texture like what I remembered came along! 

Vegan, Kinda

The onslaught of vegan innovation in the food space has also opened up options for those who fall somewhere in between raw vegan and pit master. There are many people who want to eat healthier or contribute less to the effects of meat production, and now there are so many ways! The Flexitarian lifestyle is growing, especially in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand- and you may even be one yourself! Flexitarians seek to reduce, not eliminate, their consumption of animal products. For some people this choice is based on personal convictions about the aforementioned issues and for others, it’s simply about the growing availability of tasty and healthy plant-based options. Growing options, food blogs, and even mainstream media that includes and advertises vegan food is contributing to people’s desire to try something new and do some good while they’re at it. 

Now is the Time!

Is it our goal to turn you 100% vegan? Well, only if you’d like to be. The more realistic goal for producers of vegan products and alternatives, as well as those of us who are a part of the vegan restaurant industry, is to increase people’s knowledge and provide them with alternatives that could improve their lives. We want people to be armed with information about how their food choices impact the world around them. We want people to know how their food is produced and what is deemed acceptable so that they can make conscious decisions about whether to consume it or not. We want people who suffer with health conditions that prevent them from enjoying a traditional diet not to miss out on the things they love. Quite simply, we want to do our part to make life better for as many people as possible, starting with how we treat our planet. 

Whatever your reason for changing your diet, there’s no better time than now! Vegan food will continue to innovate and be a staple in stores, restaurants, and even sports. It’s not a quick fad or viral moment, it’s a delicious and healthy way for many to live. This doesn’t mean you have to feel compelled to go vegan, but it does mean there are a variety of alternatives for you to choose from and enjoy. 

This World Vegan Day I challenge you to learn more about the plant-based options that exist in our community in local health stores, chain markets, and restaurants. If you’ve never tried vegan food, make an effort to support a local vegan business in the city that can expose you to tasty alternatives and new dishes. Most importantly, do your part to be an informed consumer so that you know what you’re eating and how it can impact you. Your body, and the planet, will thank you!

Chef Adyre Mason, Contributing Editor

Chef Adyre Mason is a University of Alabama-Huntsville and George Washington University alum who decided to trade in her job as a Weapon Systems Engineer for a chef’s coat. When her mother passed away in early 2017, she decided to take the leap to fulfill their shared dream of entering the food industry. Now the chef and owner of The Veggie, she honors her mother’s classic dishes by transforming them into modern vegan fare and using her diverse palette to create original dishes of her own.

Chef Adyre began her journey to vegan in 2014 and over the next year and a half, she transitioned carefully to pescatarian, then vegetarian, and finally vegan. She believes in the power of healthy eating and most importantly, being informed consumers. Her ultimate dream? To cook for Beyoncé. The Veggie specializes in relatable vegan comfort food served at their quick service cafe located at Lowe Mill. There you will find a fresh cafe menu, alkaline drinks, prepared meals for healthy eating on the go, and catering services.

She is in love with the quality of work and attention to detail that The Scout Guide Huntsville gives and is looking forward to expanding the representation of plant-based food in the city and sharing more food-related content with Huntsville readers!

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