Last month I had the opportunity to speak at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I enjoyed my time there with professors and students who are exploring positive changes in our food system, and it was also great to visit with dedicated activists and Farm Sanctuary supporters in the area. I had amazing vegan meals both on campus and off, including at a restaurant called Tofu House. Given its name, I assumed this was a vegetarian restaurant, but I saw dishes with beef, pork and chicken on the menu. I asked if these were veggie meats, but was told they were not. I almost walked out, but ultimately decided to stay.
It turned out that Tofu House was a Korean restaurant. Before the main course, I was served several bowls with kimchi (a traditional Korean dish), bean sprouts, vegetables, grains, and legumes. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, which was very healthy and reminded me about the wisdom embodied by traditional foods. For millennia, civilizations around the world have survived and flourished on plant foods.
In recent years, citizens in affluent countries like the U.S. have been eating too many animal foods, and we are now seeing the resulting health problems, including higher rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Now, there is a growing interest in eating better: Fast food restaurants are offering salads and at least one (Burger King) sells a veggie burger. The meat and dairy industries’ influence on the National School Lunch Program is starting to be questioned. Farmers markets, community gardens and home gardens are sprouting up everywhere. We are in the midst of a burgeoning food movement.
It is common for people to incorrectly assume that eliminating animal products from their diet will limit how they eat. However, when people choose to go vegan, their food options typically expand and include many international foods that they hadn’t tried before. That was certainly my experience. In the U.S., groups of immigrants have brought interesting and varied food traditions from every corner of the globe, and most of them are centered on plant foods. Along with a vegetarian restaurant, there are a number of establishments, including Japanese, Indian and Lebanese ones, with many vegan options within walking distance of my house in College Park, Maryland. Eating vegan is easier than ever.
As we choose foods that nourish our bodies, we often find ourselves returning to dishes that have sustained humans for generations. As we go forward, there is much we can learn from our past.