This is the transcript of Episode 4: Food and the Planet of the How to Make a Difference podcast.
Alice Zaslavsky: As more and more people recognise that eating as much meat as we do is unsustainable for the planet, it’s not so much about just going from, you know, zero to hero straightaway, you know. I described in the intro that I’m not expecting you to go cold tofu from, you know, from hot turkey straightaway. You’ve got to have some spectrum in between.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone!
Today we are talking about food and the planet.
When it comes to food and sustainability there is a lot of advice out there – sometimes conflicting. I will disentangle all of this for you. Which food choices really matter? Which ones don’t?
Food is also quite an emotional topic. Most of us grow up loving certain foods, that belong to our family traditions and to our culture. And often, food is also a special treat for us to celebrate special occasions.
Today, I will go into the impact our food choices have on the planet. Just be aware that I am not a nutritionist, so if you have specific dietary requirements please consult an expert. At the end of the episode, I have a really cool interview lined up for you! So stay tuned! It’s worth it!
And before I go on, I just wanted to remind you that if you are looking for a sustainability speaker – maybe I can help. I usually start my talks with an overview of some environmental topics, for example, water, plastic or climate change. And then in part two of my talk, I focus on all the good things: The global environmental movement, the climate movement, the rising number of corporates committing to climate action, how sustainability has really become a mainstream topic, and so on. And then in the last part, I go into what we as individuals can do. Or – depending on the audience – what actions your organisation could take. What works? What doesn’t? What has the biggest impact?
If this sounds interesting – please reach out. You can either send me an e-mail, to hello at elisabeth ignasiak.com, or message me on social media. And you will find all my social profiles in the show notes.
Now,… back to today’s topic: Food and the Planet.
Let’s start with the uncomfortable truth about our prevalent food production system. Or to be more concrete: We need to talk about factory farming.
Factory farming causes so many problems: It’s bad for our health, the environment, the climate… It is such a destructive practice.
But let me start with the most obvious problem: And that is animal suffering.
Aminals have rich emotional lives. Goats have feelings just like us humans. They can be frustrated and happy. They’re really fun animals. Pigs can learn to open doors. They’re actually more intelligent than dogs or cats. Cows form strong bonds with their family and familiar cows in their herds – They have like besties in their herd. They are really social animals.
And yet, we treat them horribly: We separate mother cows from their calves, right after birth. Imagine you having a baby and it’s being taken away from you right after birth. And then in the year after you have another baby and they also take it away. And then the year after, you have another baby and they also take it away. That happens every year. Until you die. So that we can drink your milk.
Chickens are cramped by the thousands into halls. Many chicken have been genetically modified to have these extremely large breasts. They’re not functioning chicken anymore. Their bones don’t support their body weight. They often just lie there, waiting to turn into meat.
The same is true for pigs. They are cramped in spaces that are so small that they cannot even turn around. And even though that practice is illegal in the EU, a recent audit found that in Italy’s two main pig breeding regions, 98% of farmers still remove their animals’ tails without anaesthetics.
Another problem with factory farming is pollution.
Next to pig farms you often have these massive lakes of manure. It’s a toxic purple lake of faeces, that pollutes the environment, it seeps into drinking water, it causes health problems, it’s really bad.
And then there is antibiotic resistance.
To prevent animals from getting sick they’re often given antibiotics as a preventative measure throughout their lives. The other reason why they get antibiotics constantly is because it actually helps them grow faster. Most antibiotic use is actually for livestock. A paper in the journal Science found that “Globally, 73% of all antimicrobials sold on Earth are used in animals raised for food.”
This means bacteria have millions of tries to mutate and become resistant to these antibiotics. What happens when you get sick and no medication works anymore? According to the World Health Organisation antimicrobial resistance is “one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity”. And a study in The Lancet found that in 2019 more than 1.2 million deaths could be attributed directly to antibiotic resistance.
There are more problems with factory farming. The next one is land use.
Growing crops for animal feed is one of the primary drivers of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Let me say that again. Growing crops for animal feed is one of the primary drivers of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
If the world adopted a plant-based diet we would reduce global agricultural land from 4 to just 1 billion hectares. This is land that we need for planting forests, to restore wetlands, to build solar farms and so on. We need this land to store carbon.
Which brings me to the next problem with factory framing: And that is climate change.
14% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock and fisheries alone! 14 %! That is more than air travel and shipping combined.
One of the big emitters – and I’m sure you’ve heard of this – are cattle. Because of how their digestive system works, they emit a lot of methane. And methane is a really really strong greenhouse gas. It is 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
Another contributor the release of nitrous oxide that stems from the use of fertilizers and manure. And nitrous oxide is a more than 200 times stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Finally, a big chunk is also land use. As I already mentioned deforestation is driven by the production of animal feed, and this of course has a big negative impact in terms of the carbon footprint of animal products.
Now… maybe you’re thinking… surely that is the exception and most meat and dairy products are produced in ok conditions…
Let me ask you a question. What percentage of farm animals in the US do you think are being raised on factory farms? Just take a guess. So out of all the farm animals in the US how many of them do you think are being raised on factory farms?
The answer is 99%.
In 2020, there were roughly 1.6 billion animals held in just 25,000 factory farms in the United States. That is 64,000 animals per farm on average
Worldwide that rate is 90%. 90% of farm animals are raised on factory farms
So understanding the devastation caused by factory farming – what can we do?
Let’s start with something relatively simple: A small change you can make is to buy more organic food. Organic certifications generally encourage more sustainable agricultural practices like reducing the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides or crop rotation. And they also have higher standards regarding animal welfare. So this is better for both the planet and the animals
However, for me personally, the biggest reason why I buy organic food when I can – is that organic labels limit the use of antibiotics. The EU organic label prohibits the use of hormones and restricts the use of antibiotics to only when necessary for animal health. And the US organic label (USDA Organic) is even more strict: So you can treat animals with antibiotics when they are sick and other treatments don’t work, however, once you have treated an animal it is prohibited to sell that product or animal as organic.
And one thing you might not be aware of: Antibiotics are not just used in animal farming. Antibiotics are also used for crops for example to prevent fungi. So opting for organic food is a good idea regardless of your diet.
Now let’s get to the more difficult – but also more impactful things you can do.
And this will not come as a surprise to you – it is: Eating less meat, fewer animal products like cheese, eggs and so on…
And let me just say that I understand that this can be difficult. You know – I grew up as a meat lover. And as kids, we drank milk like others drank water. So the thought of giving all of that up can be daunting – I get it. And I will get into how I approached that a little bit later in the episode.
But first – let’s talk numbers. I wanna give you the carbon footprints of some foods. So let’s start on the low end. Here we have for example apples with a carbon footprint of 0.4 kg of CO2 per kg of apples. Or we have Avocados with a carbon footprint of 2.5 kg.
In comparison, eggs have a footprint of 5 kg, so that is double the footprint of Avocados and more than 12 times that of apples. The lowest impact meat is chicken with 10 kg of carbon dioxide released for every kg of chicken. So that is double the footprint of eggs. And more than 25x that of apples. Pig meat is at 12 kg, fish at 14, cheese is at 24, shrimps at 27.
And then there are the really bad ones: Lamb has a carbon footprint of 40 kg of CO2 and beef – 99! That is almost 250 times the carbon footprint of apples and still almost 10 times the carbon footprint of chicken.
What does that mean?
Eating less meat and animal products will reduce your carbon footprint. According to the
carbon footprint calculator by the German Federal Environment Agency switching from a mixed diet to a reduced meat diet will save you 90 kg of CO2 per year.
And as a first piece of advice: If you absolutely have to have meat – go for chicken, which has the lowest carbon footprint out of all meats and please, please try to avoid beef wherever you can.
If you are more ambitious you can try to go vegetarian. That will increase your impact significantly. When you switch from a mixed diet to a vegetarian diet you will save 440 kg of CO2 per year. So that is almost half a ton.
And going vegetarian is actually not that hard. I mean – anything tastes delicious with cheese.
I actually remember when I was still living in Belfast – that was during my PhD – in my science group, every Wednesday, we would go for burritos for lunch. Wednesday was burrito day. And of course, I always went for the meat option, because that’s where all the flavour is, right? I did not want to have a boring lunch.
Until one day one of my colleagues – an Italian – decided to become vegetarian and he started taking the vegetarian burrito. And every Wednesday, he kept saying: “You should try it! It’s really nice!” And I was like: “Naaa… you know… without the meat: How can it be that good? But then at some point, I was like: “Ok, I’ll try.” And you know what? It was really nice! Turns out, you don’t need meat for great flavour! And for me, that was a huge learning.
So I encourage you to just try! Sometimes you will have something boring – but sometimes you will discover something really, really delicious!
Let’s go one step further: Going vegan.
If you go from a mixed diet to vegan you will save 670 kg of CO2 per year. Or if you are a meat-lover, like I am, and you go to vegan you will save 1.1 tons of CO2 per year.
That is what I did – though I have to say that my journey from meat-eater to vegan took about 10 years. And similar as with vegetarian dishes I had to unlearn a lot of my food prejudices along the way. For example, I used to hate tofu. Like years ago. I knew tofu from things like tofu sausages as a replacement for meat and I really didn’t like it at all. To me those tofu sausages clearly tased fake.
And then at some point, when I was a student, I moved in a shared flat with a friend from Taiwan. And we had this amazing deal, that once per week, I would cook for both of us and another day she would cook for both of us. And she would cook these amazing Taiwanese dishes and some of them had tofu in them and meat. And this is where it clicked in my head when I understood that tofu is not meant to be a meat replacement. It’s like an ingredient with its own reason for being. And turns out tofu is actually really nice – if you ate it as tofu and not as a meat replacement. So of course, it doesn’t taste like meat, but that’s because it was never it’s purpose.
So that opened up a lot of new possibilities for me. Say when we went to a Thai restaurant, where they have all these amazing Thai curries. I started picking the tofu option…. And it’s actually really nice. You know… curries are dishes that make it really simple to eat vegan because they have all these spices and flavours that make the food delicious and you don’t need meat for that.
What else can you do? And I’m sure when it comes to sustainable food you’ve heard that it’s important to eat local and seasonal.
That brings me to my next chapter, which is myth-busting.
Myth #1: Eating local and seasonal
If you look at the numbers, packaging, transport, storage and retail combined contribute just between 1 and 9% to the carbon footprint of the food you buy. Just between 1 and 9%. It matters much more what you eat, rather than where it’s from, or whether it’s seasonal. Your local cut of beef will almost always have a much larger carbon footprint than an avocado that has travelled to you from another continent.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: Eating local and seasonal is great! As long as you’re aware that this is a small impact action compared to reducing your meat and dairy intake.
Which brings me to Myth #2: Avocados
Avocados have a bit of a bad reputation because they need a lot of water to grow and often they come from far away. And sometimes you get meat-eaters throwing mud at vegans for eating avocados…
So let me give you the actual numbers: Avocados have a water footprint of almost 1200 litre/kg – which is a lot. However beef has a water footprint of more than 15000 litre/kg. That is more than 10 times that of avocados. So if you really want to conserve water… Stop eating meat. And in particular beef. And we already talked about the carbon footprint. Meat has a much larger carbon footprint than avocados. Beef is 40x worse than avocados. Chicken is 5x worse than avocados. So if it takes you eating avocados to stop eating beef or meat in general – by all means – please do so!
Myth #3: Sustainable Meat
Sometimes people ask: “Ok, but what if I eat sustainable meat? Is it ok then?”
Again, looking at the data: If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, eating less meat is almost always better than eating even the most sustainable meat. Because even the most sustainably produced meat will in almost all the cases have a worse carbon footprint than even the most unsustainably produced plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, nuts, and so on.
And remember what I said earlier: 99% of farm animals in the US are raised on factory farms. That remaining 1 % is not even necessarily sustainable, it’s just not factory farming – which is an incredibly low bar. The likelihood that you will come across truly sustainable meat and dairy products is really, really low.
Let’s set aside how unlikely it is to come across sustainable meat just for a minute… and talk about what sustainable even means in this context?
And maybe you’re thinking of organic farming right now, but that is actually not the best way of farming. Organic farming is about doing less harm than conventional farming, so it’s fewer pesticides, fewer fertilizers, less antibiotics and so on.
But there are farming practices that not only do less harm but actually restore the land, improve soil health, help the nature to thrive. And this is called regenerative farming.
Regenerative farming is all about restoring the soil, the land and sequestering carbon. Regenerative farming practices include: compost application, cover crops, crop rotation, green manure, no-till or reduced tillage, and organic production. So to my previous point, you can see that organic farming contributes to regenerative farming, but regenerative agriculture actually goes much further.
Project Drawdown lists a number of sustainable farming practices that can be climate solutions, for example, silvopasture, which integrates trees and livestock or something called multistrata agroforestry where layered trees and crops mimic natural forests. And there are many more farming solutions that are positive for the climate. So I do encourage you to check out Project Drawdown for more on that and I will put a link in the show notes. If you have the opportunity to support regenerative farms – please, please do so. Be it by buying their products or maybe by helping to pass laws that support regenerative farms.
Unfortunately, the reality is, that regenerative farming is incredibly rare. When it comes to livestock it is a fraction of a per cent. And unless you happen to know a regenerative farmer personally the likelihood that you will come across regenerative aminal produce is near zero.
And if you don’t have a direct way of supporting regenerative farming – the best thing you can do is to stop supporting the worst practices – and that is factory farming with all the problems it causes for the planet, the climate, our health, and the poor animals that are being raised in such cruelty
So… How does that look in practice? I already mentioned that for me it was a long, long journey to go from meat-eater to vegan. I mean, I love meat and cheese and milk and eggs and butter… I also love good food. What I’m trying to say is: I understand your struggle. So let me give you some tips from meat-lover to meat-lover on planet-friendly diets:
Tip #1: In your favourite restaurants, experiment with vegan and vegetarian dishes. For a long time my husband and I, when we went to a restaurant, we would pick 1 meat dish and 1 vegan dish and then share them both. So this was a way for me to be sure to have something nice – the meat dish – while trying out new things – the vegetarian dishes. And over time I learned which veggie dishes I really liked and often now we both get vegan dishes.
Tip #2: If you absolutely have to have meat: Go for chicken. Out of all the meats it has by far the lowest carbon footprint!
Tip #3: If you can choose between a tofu and a chicken option: Try tofu. As a former meat-eater, I know the prejudices against tofu. Don’t think of it as a meat replacement. Think of it as an exciting new ingredient.
Tip #4: Substitute, substitute, substitute. Replace cow butter with vegan butter, replace cow cream with vegan cream, replace cow Milk with plant milk.
The nice thing about substitutes like this is that you don’t have to learn new recipes. So even if you cook with meat you can veganize the rest of the dish. The same goes with baking. Eggs are tough to replace, but milk and butter can easily be replaced with plant-based options without affecting the taste of your cake. And by the way, a secret tip from me for baking: I tried all the different milks – rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk and so on – and I found that for whatever reason oat milk works best in baking.
And continuing on the topic of substitutes: I encourage you to experiment with meat substitutes and cheese substitutes and so on. You might have to try a few different brands until you find the one you like, but I really want to encourage you to try your way through, because every day there are new products out there and they’re getting better every day.
And often you hear people say – and to be honest, I was exactly the same – if you’re vegan, why not just eat dishes that are vegan by design, rather than trying to replace meat? And the answer is: Because it’s simple! Sometimes you just want to eat your comfort foods, be that a burger, a burrito and cheese just makes all the difference. So using a vegan cheese is a super simple way to have your favourite foods, while still being conscious about the planet.
And the available options have just exploded in recent years. Because more and more people are deciding to go vegetarian and vegan for the climate and so the market is responding accordingly and finding substitutes has never been easier.
Another concern that people have about these cheese and meat substitutes is whether it’s healthy. And the answer is: Of course not! I mean this is highly processed food. It’s just as unhealthy as meat-based fast food. I mean – no one who eats a burrito or a burger it’s it because they think it’s healthy! Let’s not kid ourselves – we eat fast food because it’s delicious. And if health is your concern – you will be eating a lot less meat and a lot more vegetables anyway…
So, my final tip, Tip #5 is: Try new recipes.
And the easiest way to do that is with new cookbooks. If you’re a bit of a foody, like me, you will want to make sure that the books are good and I have two book tips for you: One is a vegan cookbook the other one a flexitarian one.
Book number 1 that I really like is called Vegan and Easy and it’s by Bianca Zapatka. And she really knows what she’s doing. I’ve cooked through about half the book so far and I like everything – and remember I am saying this as a former meat-eater.
And by the way, I am not getting money for advertising her book – though now that I’m saying that I feel like I should ask for some kind of deal…
Book number 2 is In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky. It is basically a vegetable bible. She has all the vegetables you can think of in there – sorted by colour – and then for every vegetable there are 2/3 recipes, what you can do with it.
And… imagine a drumroll now … Alice Zaslavsky is the person I’m interviewing for this episode! So you’ll hear us talking about her book more later. She is an amazing cook and her interview is full of cooking gold!
I will put both books in the show notes so if you’re looking for inspiration, check them out.
One thing people are often concerned about when considering to move to more plant-based foods is their health. So while I’m not a health expert, I do want to point you to some resources that might be helpful for you.
Let’s start with the advice from the experts on being vegan: proveg International. They say as long as your diet is balanced it is healthy. And this is true for any diet, to be honest, not just plant-based ones.
There are certain nutrients that you should be conscious of including in your diet – for example, omega-3 fatty acids which can be found in linseeds or calcium which you can find in soy, in beans, in leafy greens, or vitamin B12, for which you can take supplements. And their advice is to have a blood test done every year or two just to be sure – and to be honest – that’s probably good advice regardless of your diet.
If you are looking for a more neutral source: a good place to go is the NHS – the National Health Service in the UK. They give advice on how to eat healthy as a vegan and it’s pretty standard advice on eating healthy. So it’s: Eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, drink plenty of fluids and so on. And they also mention various nutrients that vegans should focus on and which foods contain them. So it’s quite similar to what proveg International says. I will put both links in the show notes.
So what is life like as a meat-loving plant-eater?
It’s only been half a year that I decided to take this final step in my food journey and go completely vegan.
I approach this in a rather flexible manner. At home, I cook vegan, with very, very few exceptions. My husband is not a vegan, so sometimes for example he would buy non-vegan cheese. And if it’s about to go bad I will cook a dish with it – because of course throwing the cow cheese away would also not be sustainable. Or sometimes he would buy me sweets because he knows I like them, that are not vegan… and sometimes I resist the temptation and sometimes I don’t. But other than that at home, vegan is pretty much the standard.
When I go to restaurants, I always pick the vegan option unless in very rare cases there is none, then I go for vegetarian. But to be honest – that is very rare. I live in Berlin and here eating out as a vegan is actually really easy.
When I’m invited to friends I eat whatever they offer me. Even if it’s meat. If they decided to cook vegan or vegetarian I really appreciate it, but I also know that it’s not that simple. So for me, this is really about connecting with friends and I don’t think that being an annoying guest is helpful to the cause at all.
So for example, when I told my mum, that I’m now a vegan, and I came to visit. And just for me, she made ravioli with a cream sauce. And you know, am I gonna complain to her and tell her: “You know… cream is not vegan, it’s vegetarian” and reject the food she cooked just for me? Of course not! I mean to me that would be really mean, and I try to meet people where they are.
So I see… I see me being vegan more as an invitation and not as a judgment of others. Because I get it – we love the foods we grew up with and judging people for it is really not helpful at all. When people ask me about it, I explain why I made this decision. And sometimes I can inspire people to experiment with a new substitute or try one of the cookbooks I recommend.
So… do I miss meat?
And you know what? Not anymore… That’s because I didn’t go from meat-eater to vegan in 1 day but rather over the course of a decade, so in the meantime, I learned many vegan recipes and found restaurants with amazing vegan food… And you know when you’re eating food that is tasty and fulfilling – you’re not really missing anything.
But I will say, that for me, it did take time. Experimenting with new foods also means that sometimes you try things that you don’t like. So it’s also a matter of not giving up.
Climate-friendly food can be delicious and full of flavour – so just be open-minded, try new things, don’t give up – and you will discover how exciting plant-based foods can be.
And talking about exciting food… it’s time for our interview! If you love cooking – you will not want to miss the amazing tips that Alice gives to turn your dishes into a celebration. Here comes the interview with Alice.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: I’m talking to Alice Zaslavsky, today. She is a cook, a writer, a radio host and tastemaker. Her best selling book, In Praise of Veg, has been translated into multiple languages and won many awards. Alice, welcome to my show.
Alice Zaslavsky: Thank you very much, Elisabeth. It’s good to be here.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do? I know you’ve been doing so many things. Please share that with your audience.
Alice Zaslavsky: I think tastemaker is probably a good way to describe what I do. Because, you know, all of my roles kind of lead to helping to guide people’s tastes in terms of what it is that they cook you know, what they’re interested in, in the world of food and more broadly. And, you know, my kind of remit in all of my roles, whether I’m writing recipes, or broadcasting, or connecting with people on the socials is to make my content matter as delicious and digestible as possible.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s actually how we got in touch. Because I was trying to become more vegetarian/vegan myself and I got really frustrated by recipes I was reading online that didn’t really taste good to me. And you must know I grew up in a meat-eating family. And so one day I was like: “Okay, I’m going to the bookstore and I’m gonna buy a vegan/vegetarian book because I need some guidance.” And I came across two books and one of them was yours. First of all, I love the fact that it was, you know, sorted by colour, but then also, you know, I’ve tried so many of your recipes by now, and they’re all so delicious. Please explain more about… about your book and what you’re trying to do.
Alice Zaslavsky: Thank you. Well, In Praise of Veg is the book that you’re referring to, or in Germany, it’s called Colours of Greens – the German translation. And In Praise of Veg is available all over the world. So the book really, I think you hit the nail on the head,… a lot of books that are written for vegan/vegetarian diets start out with what it is that you’re cutting out. Whereas the kind of thinking behind In Praise of Veg is more about what it is that you’re adding to your diet by bringing in more vegetables.
Even sorting it by colour is making it more inclusive for people that may not necessarily know what a vegetable’s called, but do know what it is cause they’re looking straight at it, you know. They might have received it in a vegetable box or they might have seen it at a farmers market and thought: “Mmh.. I’m gonna try this” and they think “Ok well it’s white… It’s from the… I’m going to look… look it up in In Praise of Veg, and there we go: It’s fennel.
And so… I think that the… the point of that book was that I wanted to make the love of vegetables as easy and accessible and inclusive as possible, not just for people who are vegetarian or vegan, but for everybody, even people who might have grown up in a family like yours that are more kind of carnivorous. And there are, you know, culturally some diets have geared for a long time towards meat because culturally that was seen as a mark of affluence and access. But as we move towards a world that is more climate-conscious and more sustainability-focused, it’s a privilege for people to know what it is that they can do to make the plant world more delicious. So that’s a privilege that I think everybody should… can and should be afforded. And the best part is that it’s more affordable and I think it’s more exciting as well as a cook and an eater.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, for sure. I really resonated with your book because in, you know, my cooking background, meat was always the thing that gave a taste. And so once you’re taking that away, you’re left with something that doesn’t taste like much. So I wanted to talk a little bit about your approach, like in your book, in your introduction, you wrote that your book is actually not vegetarian and flexitarian. Can you expand a little bit on that?
Alice Zaslavsky: It’s for people that may not necessarily even want to put a title on themselves. As more and more people recognise that eating as much meat as we do is unsustainable for the planet, it’s not so much about just going from, you know, zero to hero straightaway, you know. I described in the intro that I’m not expecting you to go cold tofu from, you know, from hot turkey straightaway. You’ve got to have some spectrum in between. And my family too, we’re not fully vegetarian or vegan. We’re very much in that kind of veg-forward camp. So the reason I say veg-forward is that I want people to think about the vegetables first. Start with the veg and then build around so that the meat or fish or whatever animal protein you choose to use is more like a flavour enhancer rather than the main, you know, the main event.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah… I really like that approach. So when let’s say one of our listeners wants to… is inspired by what we’re saying and wants to start cooking more vegetables. What tips and tricks would you give them?
Alice Zaslavsky: Think about the natural shape and texture of the vegetable that you’ve chosen. So for example, if it’s part of the gourd family, or if it’s… so orange vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot all fall into a pretty similar camp when it comes to their texture. And they all benefit from being burned. A lot of vegetables do actually. If you think about… meat too. How do we like to cook our steak? We like to caramelise, we like to sear the outside and access and activate the Maillard reaction, which is where you know proteins and sugars start to caramelise. And the same goes for vegetables. There’s plenty of sugar, natural sugar that you can amplify and intensify by burnishing the veg. So whether you’re roasting it, or searing it, or char grilling it you want to kind of bring out the burned bits. And the same goes with the brassicas, so cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, all of these vegetables that otherwise used to get overboiled and underseasoned… if you pop them in the oven, you know,… Brussel sprouts are a classic example, of people just growing up not liking them. Split them in half lengthwise, pop them in a pan, in a preheated pan, face side down, in a hot oven, plenty of fat, you know, whether that’s olive oil and some sort of flavourings. In the book, I’ve got my 17 sprouts, but it could be as simple as, you know, some honey, some soy, if you wanted to go plant-based fully, you could go maple syrup and soy. And you know toss that around with some olive oil or just a neutral oil, into the oven real hot, burnished… 10 to 12 minutes later, you’ve got yourself the most delicious, like as far as I’m concerned, the most delicious way to eat Brussels sprouts. And people will say things like oh, you know, add bacon to brussels sprouts and it tastes delicious. You don’t have to add the bacon. You can just make sure that Brussels sprouts are well-seasoned. Or if you want to add bacon, again, it’s an accent so you only need like two rashes instead of six. So it’s kind of about you know, just enough to bring out the flavour and not so much where it just drowns out the best bit which is the vegetable itself.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I actually remember when it was pumpkin season looking at one of your recipes for pumpkin soup, and I was so surprised to discover that it was… you would bake the pumpkin and then later mash it into a soup. I was like: “Oh… that is not how I learned to make soup! That’s so interesting!” And it was really really good.
Alice Zaslavsky: Yes! Thanks! Well,… again, it’s looking at the kitchen science of what happens when you bake something like pumpkin. You help to draw out a lot of that excess moisture which can make a pumpkin soup quite watery. This way when you pre-roast it, it just creates such a sweet creamy soup. So I’m glad you gave that a go.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. So I know this might be a difficult question: Do you have a favourite vegetable?
Alice Zaslavsky: Haha! It depends on the season. So in summer, high summer, I love tomatoes, mid-winter, I’m kind of more in the potato camp. I love onions and garlic in every savoury dish and being from Eastern Europe, I can’t go past beetroot.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Oh really? Interesting.
Alice Zaslavsky: Even eggplant, you know, and I know your neck of the woods to be all about cabbages. So I do love… we’ve got the great borsch which is in the book, in the purple section, we have borsch in our fridge all year long. So and we just swap out what vegetables are more in season.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Anything else you would like to share with listeners that want to go on this more vegetable journey?
Alice Zaslavsky: Yeah. What you’ll find if you are eating more vegetables is that you need to supplement with things like more fat in the dish. So for example, adding extra olive oil or if you’re still including butter, you know, add more butter. And the same goes for cheese, you know, everything tastes better with cheese. You really should get in and around some vegetables raw. If you didn’t like a vegetable cooked when you were a kid, see what happens if it’s raw. Like that brussel sprout that I mentioned earlier, if you didn’t love it boiled, see what happens if you pop it into a slaw, you know the Brussels sprouts slaw with plenty of parmesan. That’s so tasty. And the great thing actually you know I mentioned cheese a bit in the book but a great innovation of our time is how many fantastic plant-based cheeses there are around that will give you all of the rich creaminess of a cheese and they’re made of cashew or cauliflower or almond or coconut.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, to be honest, I hadn’t realised that you know you need to add more oil and butter and but… though it totally makes sense right because that is what gives things that taste, right?
Alice Zaslavsky: Well it’s that, you know, it definitely adds to the flavour but we are naturally predisposed to be satisfied after we’ve eaten a certain amount of fat you know our body needs fat in order to function. Our brains need it you know the form of nuts and you know fats like what you get from avocado or from olive oil, you know, quality extra virgin olive oil. So it’s not just that you need to add fat to flavour but you need to add fat to indicate to your body that you’ve eaten enough and you’re satisfied.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s really interesting.
Alice Zaslavsky: And the other flavour… yeah, the other flavour too, that your body needs is umami. You know, the savoriness that we get from things like aged cheeses, aged meats, tomatoes, mushrooms, caramelised onions. That umami flavour also signifies to our brain that we’re satisfied and we’ve had enough. So whether you added in the form of some extra tomato paste into a stew, or whether you caramelise vegetables because again that gives you that savoriness too. That really helps to make your guests and you more satisfied when you cook with vegetables.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: And maybe one last question before I let you go. I’m sure you must have encountered people who are very sceptical about vegetables. What is the most common maybe critique or… or fears you hear when you present people with: “Cook more vegetables”? Like, what kind of prejudices are coming up and how do you respond to that?
Alice Zaslavsky: Yeah, the main… the main thing that comes up for people is feeling like they’re back at the kitchen table, as a kid, being forced to eat vegetables. So there’s a lot of tension there, which you do need to push past. But the message that I give those people who tend to have kids of their own now is that you know, we tell our children to eat more veg and yet we’ve got all of this baggage. So healing your inner child and saying you know, you don’t have to eat everything. In fact, if your kids are sitting at the table, and they don’t wanna eat the brussels sprouts, it’s not the time to say: “You can’t leave the table without eating your sprouts.” It’s the time to say: “Okay, you didn’t like them this way. Let’s try them a different way another time.”
That’s why the book is full of you know different types of recipes, because I want everyone to have an entry point. And when I say everyone I mean you know if you are fully plant-based, there are swaps in order for people to go fully vegan in a dish. But by the same token, if you’ve got a family of carnivorous, hungry teenagers, there are also some dishes where I’m using secondary cuts of meat or using meat as the kind of accent or the garnish so that people don’t feel like they’re missing out. So really, I guess the main message, no matter where you are on that spectrum, is that it’s not a place of judgement. Food is very emotional and very loaded as a topic of conversation…
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: It is, it is… very much so!
Alice Zaslavsky: Very much so… but we’re all on the same side. You know, I talked about it all the time. We’re all trying our best. And so you know, wherever it is, wherever you are, there is a way that you can eat more sustainably for the planet. And if you eat more veg, You’ll naturally eat less meat. So that’s why you load up on vegetables. Eat more than you think you need as well because you’ll probably… you probably will need to eat a bigger portion if it is a fully plant-based meal. But it means that you’re getting more nutrition too. And it means that you’re kind of… your hip pocket will be happier, your family will be happier because they’ll just kind of vibrate with life because they’re getting more rainbow in their lives. And ultimately the planet will be happier too.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: That was a beautiful summary to end on. Thank you so much, Alice.
Alice Zaslavsky: Oh, you’re so welcome! And thank you for inviting me on the podcast.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, it was a pleasure to have you and I’m sure our listeners will really appreciate it as well.
Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s it for today. I hope I was able to give you some tips and tricks on how to eat more sustainably, more conscious of the planet and if you liked this episode I would really appreciate it if you could forward it to a friend, a colleague, or a family member. Because this is how this podcast can grow and how we can inspire more people to make a difference! Thank you.