2018-01-18 / Life in Leelanau

Leelanau families say goodbye to the brisket, hello to meat-free diets

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff

SOLE WRIGHT and her son, Glen Lake sophomore Jon Wright, smile as they get ready to dig into a family vegan favorite, Red Pepper Mac & Cheese. SOLE WRIGHT and her son, Glen Lake sophomore Jon Wright, smile as they get ready to dig into a family vegan favorite, Red Pepper Mac & Cheese. Is it possible to thrive on plant-powered protein? Some Leelanau County residents give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to leaving meat off their plates.

In a season when many hours are spent indoors, dinner plates heaped with traditional meat and potato comfort food can be a common sight around the table. But for Cedar resident Sole Wright and her family, comfort comes in the form of quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”).

“I’ve never been a big meat eater to begin with, even as a little girl,” Wright said. My body craves the protein in the beans and the quinoa.”

She is creative with her cooking, and the family enjoys every bite.

This time of year the aromas of soups and stews fill Wright’s kitchen.

SOLE WRIGHT chops vegetables to throw into the creamy vegan sauce for her Red Pepper Mac and Cheese. SOLE WRIGHT chops vegetables to throw into the creamy vegan sauce for her Red Pepper Mac and Cheese. “This week alone, I made a pesto soup with gnocchi, beans and greens,” she said. “The broth is made from cauliflower. There’s heartiness in that. The other night I made a mock clam chowder with cashews soaked in water, two sheets of nori for a seafood flavor, and shiitake mushrooms for the ‘clams.’”

Although her family does eat meat from time to time, the majority of their meals are meatless, and she says her children are thriving on a plant-based diet. Even her husband admits he has more energy since changing the food on his plate a little more than a year ago.

In fact, Wright is a marathon runner and her son, Jonathan, played on the varsity football team for Glen Lake as a sophomore last fall.

“We enjoy the health benefits. I’m just the mom, but my children are hearty. They aren’t lacking anything,” Wright said. “I always have a recovery quinoa salad in the fridge. It’s high in protein with kidney beans, kale and feta cheese. I try to keep that stocked. That’s Jonathan’s go-to protein.”

Another Glen Lake football family also enjoys meat-free meals.

Loraine Zeman-Dallas and her family have loved living on a variety of vegetarian and vegan fare for many years. Her son, River, participates in football, basketball and track at Glen Lake.

“He’s a linebacker as a sophomore on the varsity football team. He was brought up to varsity because of his strength and physique,” Zeman-Dallas said. “Protein is over-rated. In America, people believe we need way more than we do. They would be surprised to find out how much protein is in broccoli.”

In fact, protein comes in many forms that range from nuts and seeds to whole grains, nuts, dairy, and tofu or seitan.

And Zeman-Dallas has a strategy that helps her create nutritious meals, even on busy nights.

“I like everything in its place,” she said. “I don’t like to be in the kitchen for hours. It’s how fast I can make something delicious. On busy nights, we put together a quiche or something like a quick scalloped potato dish. We will also make lots of soups and stews this time of year. Two of our favorites are Tuscan farro, spinach and garbanzo soup. The spinach garbanzo is creamy deliciousness with heavy whipping cream, spinach and potatoes. It’s a to-die-for soup.”

Greilickville resident Becky Saxton is newer to a plants-only plate, but she is very pleased with her choice to make the change.

“I’ve had a vegan/plant-based diet for a year now,” Saxton said. “I was a flexitarian (mostly vegetarian, yet flexible) for a few years before eliminating animals and animal by-products from my diet completely.

“My body wanted to give up meat as much as my brain. I’m 40 pounds lighter and the energy plants provide is irreplaceable. I love reading about the health benefits of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts and grains and incorporating them into my diet as needed.”

Her go-to meals include what she called “veggie gruel.”

“It’s a mish-mash of any and all vegetables,” she said. “This time of year, I roast hearty vegetables: squashes, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and lots of garlic.

“Quinoa is my favorite side to add to the veggie mash-up, and I sometimes like to wrap it all up in a tortilla and shake a little hot sauce, salsa, tahini dressing or liquid aminos for seasoning, depending on my mood and mix of vegetables.”

For most people seeking to source nutrition from more plant-based sources, creativity is the key — looking at an empty plate and thinking about how to fill it with healthy items rather than thinking about what can’t go on it.

Zeman-Dallas agrees.

“It’s the intimidation factor for people,” she said. “But really, it’s easy.

“It’s doable.”

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