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Griffin to Go: In Praise of a Vegan Diet — with a Few Caveats

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The vegan diet fascinates me, despite the amount of pork that I consume. But the more I read about it, the less appetizing it appears. That’s because a recent spate of vegan cookbooks are loaded with a combination of all the foods I can’t eat with a few I don’t care to eat all thrown together.

There's nothing like vegetables at their freshest.

The last three or four I’ve picked up have all been carbohydrate heavy, filled with mixtures of flour, rice, potatoes and corn, all foods forbidden to someone trying to keep his diabetes under control. And with all that flour, recipe after recipe sounded drier than the last, until it got to the point where none of it sounded good to me.

Plus, I won’t eat tofu, that inexplicable bastion of vegan living. Outside of the occasional bowl of miso soup or fried tofu at a sushi bar, tofu has a texture so nasty, slimy and phlegm-like that the mere mention of it can prompt a gag reflex.

What happened to the vegetables?

The cookbooks were so concerned with copycat meat-like substances, all of which sounded horrible, that the vegetables in the vegan diet seemed to have disappeared.

The authors were more interested in what I call quote foods, substances like vegan “bacon” and wheat “meat.” Vegan “hot dogs” aren’t even in the ballpark in terms of flavor. Then there’s the nastiest of all, “tofurkey.” Turkey is bad enough, with dessicated breast meat too often akin to sawdust. But it all begs the question: If you are giving up meat because you don’t want animals harmed, why would you want to eat something reminiscent of a slaughtered animal? Why not have the courage of your convictions and give up the thought of meat? Or cheese? Or butter?

Why would I keep reading about this? Because, most days, one or two of the three meals I eat are vegan. Plus, there’s something about the vibrancy and vitality of raw foods that I find irresistible.

And whether raw or cooked, I’m always looking for a new way to prepare whatever is in season, from radishes and red peppers to cauliflower and cabbage.

The raw mushroom avocado burger at Vegeria.

I was hoping to find a few ideas at Vegeria Vegan Tex-Mex and American Cuisine, 8407 Broadway, San Antonio’s only vegan restaurant, which I visited recently. A glance at the menu bore out what the cookbooks made clear. The majority of foods were like flautas and enchiladas with too much corn, nachos, chips, potato cakes, and tofu “egg” salad. Even the salads were carb heavy, laden with the likes of black beans, quinoa and tofu.

But there was also a raw menu, and though it only had three items, each sounded great.

Raw brownie

I ended up with a raw burger with portobello mushrooms taking the place of bread, and the interior was filled with flavor-packed guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion and, yes, raw cashew “cheese,” which really wasn’t bad.

I also had a cup of an excellent spicy lentil soup and a raw brownie, made with plenty of coconut for dessert. (There were carbs in the latter because dried dates were used, but the natural flavor of the fruit was apparent.)

Lentil soup and salad at Vegeria.

I would hope Vegeria’s talented cooking staff would delve more into the realm of vegetables without all the unnecessary additions. What can you do with braised radishes? Or a mix of spinach, mustard greens and collards? Where are the beets and the cauliflower? Or whatever else is fresh at the farmers markets?

San Antonio is hungry for a greater variety, but with more than 10 percent of the population suffering from diabetes, we need some choices that are healthful for us, too.

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4 Responses to “Griffin to Go: In Praise of a Vegan Diet — with a Few Caveats”

  1. I’m a vegetarian and try not to eat too much of the faux meatstuff out there. Some is better than others both ingredient and taste/texture-wise. It took me awhile to get to like tofu, but it’s so much better (not squishy-slimy) if you press it before cooking with it.

    As for your diabetes, have you thought about going Paleo? More and more of my friends and family are switching to that and loving it. A couple of them have diabetes and it’s helped them a lot.

    • John Griffin says:

      I think raw would be a better diet for me. I just need to do it more frequently. Although I would have to be the raw type person that also included raw milk ice cream every once in a while. Ice cream needs to be a part of every diet, IMHO. 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    I totally agree about the vegan concept being fascinating…but I couldn’t give up butter, cheese or dairy. That said, I am again in agreement that most vegan and vegetarian diets are built on carbs–that was exactly my complaint to Vegeria when I visited the restaurant. Why not have a lovely salad or veg plate? Too many carbs…I was very disappointed. As for shopping at farmers markets, you’d think it was an obvious…but most miss the mark. Restaurant Depot is just too easy. And cheap. But neither local or organic. Rather GMO laden and covered in pesticides. Sounds tasty, right?

    • John Griffin says:

      OK, you got me. The butter would definitely be hard to give up, especially when sauteing vegetables or just crowning the likes of roasted beets with butter and salt. That’s the flavor of my childhood. (I have been told beets were the first solid, adult food I was given as a baby.) And because I don’t have the time to grow those beauties, the farmers market is definitely the next best thing. The difference between the just-picked brussels sprouts at the market and the who knows how many days old sprouts at the supermarket was as different as night is from day. Freshness matters.