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updated: 6/29/2011 1:10 PM

Part-time veganism, full-time health

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  • Vegan meals like this beautiful and tasty vegetable dish from "Vegan Family Meals" offer simple alternatives to those wanting to eat less meat.

    Vegan meals like this beautiful and tasty vegetable dish from "Vegan Family Meals" offer simple alternatives to those wanting to eat less meat.
    Courtesy of Andrews McMeel

By Marialisa Calta
Newspaper Enterprise Association

Three years ago, Mark Bittman -- New York Times writer, best-selling cookbook author, food blogger and TV personality -- surprised many "gourmets" by advocating a diet he called "less-meatarianism."

In his book "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes" (2008 Simon & Schuster), Bittman combined his concerns about his own health and that of the planet and concluded this: Our diets may be killing us, and they are not doing much for the planet, either. Here's an example: According to Bittman, industrial meat production is responsible for one-fifth of the world's production of greenhouse gases. If we all ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers (or "cheeseburger equivalencies") a week, he said, it would result in a reduction of greenhouse gases equivalent to taking all of the SUVs in the United States off the road. Bonus: We might even get healthier and lose weight. He did.

After a doctor advised him to adopt a vegan diet, Bittman -- whose job involves sampling some of the finest food in the world -- instead adopted a "vegan until 6 p.m." diet. That meant eating no animal products (no fish, meat, poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, etc.) until 6 p.m. For dinner, he said he eats "pretty much what I want." The results? He cut his animal-protein consumption by two-thirds and lost 35 pounds, reduced his cholesterol level and his blood pressure. And he has helped, even in a small way, reduce greenhouse gases.

For most of us, veganism seems, if not scary, simply unappealing. But if you think about just going for a SEMI-vegan diet, it's a piece of (egg-free, dairy-free) cake. It's not hard to substitute a bowl of oatmeal for bacon and eggs for breakfast, or to have PB&J instead of a tuna melt for lunch. And for the more adventuresome, the number of approachable vegan cookbooks is growing. A new arrival is "Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone" by Ann Gentry (Andrews McMeel, 2011).

Here, from that book, is a simple, tasty, visually appealing vegetable and tofu dish. All of the ingredients are available in most supermarkets. You can add or substitute any vegetables that you have on hand. You can skip the rice entirely, or substitute soba or udon noodles. And it's perfectly packable -- and microwaveable -- for lunch.

• Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to

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