Plant Based at Google

With all of the media attention around Google these past couple days, I wanted to highlight something positive (and completely unrelated to the hubbub) about my company- the food! In particular- I'd like to highlight how grateful I am for all the plant-based options.

Poke Bowl

Poke Bowl

Every day, l search through the dining menus, excited to see what the Google (Bon Appetite) chefs will cook up next. I can always depend on a ridiculously delicious salad (and I've never been a salad person), but I am also blessed with plant-based tacos, pastel de papas, chocolate truffles, mac and cheeze, poke bowls- the list goes on. 

Falafel with some type of amazing sauce.

Falafel with some type of amazing sauce.

Fast Company recently wrote an article on the motivations behind Google's plant-based push, with a heavy emphasis on sustainability. They're now working on a "power dish" that I'm really hoping to taste test.

Avocado Tartine (toast)

Avocado Tartine (toast)

I'm not sure how greedy this'll sound, but when the work days are long or I'm missing home- I'm really thankful to work somewhere that always gives me a delicious breakfast/lunch/ and dinner to look forward to.

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Viva La Vegan

Next to Big Daddy’s Discount Meats south of Atlanta, lies a low-key restaurant- with high-key delicious food. 

Mock Salmon Burger (jackfruit-based, non soy)

Mock Salmon Burger (jackfruit-based, non soy)

But really if you pull up and think you're at the wrong place- you've arrived!

Reachfolk.com
Melanie M. (Yelp)

Viva la Vegan offers a diverse menu of plant-based comfort food- from Philly cheesesteaks and shrimp po boys, to mock salmon burgers and cauliflower hot wings. 

Michael Wild G+

I’ve tried all four dishes mentioned, but this Friday was my first time going to the restaurant and eating the food fresh! We were on a Food Adventure/Mission Foodpossible for Rahkeen’s Birthday. The objective- get Rahkeen some good food in his belly from Atlanta and be back in time to teach hapkido in Gwinnett.

We ordered ahead of time, and by the time we arrived, the food was ready to go. As we waited in line, Rahkeen the Regular, chopped it up with Viva La Vegan’s owner, Chris. Rahkeen has seen Chris putting in work in the kitchen every visit he’s made there. 

 

For the price, taste, and fullness factor- this spot is 100% reasonable and worth it. The mock salmon burger had a great burger-to-bread ratio, and the cauliflower hot wings had a kick that almost made you wish you weren’t sitting in a car with synthetic leather seats, with your mom who doesn’t like A/C, on a hot day in Georgia.

Almost!

10/10- would recommend!

Plant-Based Transition FAQ #2: Was it hard?

After a long hiatus, you are reading part 2 of the series I started on my transition to a plant-based diet! Brief refresher: the first part of the series covered why I transitioned, and now I’m going to answer another common question I get- was it hard?

In terms of being expensive or accessible- most people have this misconception that all of a sudden, I could only shop at Whole Foods and eat at exclusively vegan restaurants-- not the case. After deciding to go plant-based, my mom continued to joke that I was “made in Kroger,” because of my frequent trips to scope out “10 for $10 deals” on Larabars and Silk yogurt. Plus, despite that people are soooo sleep on Atlanta’s vegan restaurant scene, I could definitely still find things to eat at my favorite “omni” restaurants like Desta’s or Thai Restaurant of Norcross.

It also helped that one of my greatest friends, Rahkeen, had been vegan for years. He went out of his way to bring me different treats and cooking essentials like coconut oil, vegan kimchi, and goji berries. 

I actually began cooking and baking more than ever- and found a love for it. My pseudo-sister Nhi watched Cowspiracy with me, so we began the plant-based transition together- using some of Rahkeen’s gifts to whip up vegan deliciousness. Whether on my own, with Nhi, Rahkeen, or my actual sister Nancy- we chef’d up meat & dairy-free versions mushroom Alfredo, cheesecakes, key lime pies, cornbread, stir-fries, Mac n cheese, lasagna, cinnamon rolls, lotsa stews and chilis, and my pretty popular banana bread.

I will admit though, being plant-based was and still is a test of patience and conviction for me.

These are some of the things I hear most often and the responses I have (in my head…when I’m feeling sassy). 

Plant Based Pet Peeves

  • "There’s no way you can survive like that!”
    • So... I guess we’re going to ignore the lives of people and entire cultures that never have/will choose to eat meat. 
  • "You can’t eat anything!”
    • Given that I have no allergies, I can eat about anything anyone else can- I just don’t want to eat meat.
  • "I can’t eat that; it’s vegetarian."
    • Plant-based diets are just about as inclusive as it gets.
  • "Man I couldn’t do it." 
    • Most people just don't want to do it. Very few people who've said this to me have actually tried or got a doctor's note saying they're protein deficient.

The hardest part was probably family outings, or even at home. It wasn’t hard to turn down the food itself. However, the frequent guilt-trips with people insisting that I eat meat to be part of the family- despite knowing that I’ve made a decision that makes me happy, was unpleasant.

This definitely gets better with time, as my momma eventually started whipping up animal-free goodness like this veggie stir-fry.

All in all, I’ve found that a plant-based diet is typically cheaper than an omnivorous one and I can still enjoy several options eating out. On top of that, I have and incredible support system, and try to stay aware of my nutritional needs. At this rate, I’m happy and don’t see myself reverting back from being plant-based. 

Plant-Based at Baseball Games

Thought vegans couldn't take part in some of the greatest "joys" of baseball games? That is, biting into a warm and salty protein sandwiched between white bread and wrapped in foil on a hot summer day?

Well you thought wrong! Did y'all know the new SunTrust Stadium in Atlanta offers vegan hot dogs, sausages, and burgers?

I didn't!

That's why when my brother and I came to watch the Atlanta Braves play the New York Mets at the new SunTrust Stadium, I was extra by some standards, and brought this incredible "Mandingo Style" Yoshi Wrap from Tassili's Raw Reality.

If I had given the stadium more credit and checked out the Stadium menu beforehand, I would've seen that there are a solid number of vegetarian options that will make plant-based fans feel just as "All-American" as the next- with hot dogs, sausages, and burgers that VeggieHappy.com has confirmed as vegan!

PETA put together a handy list of Plant-based Friendly Ballparks. Don't worry if your city isn't included. Atlanta's SunTrust Park may have been too new to be on the radar at the time, so my hometown wasn't included either. While I don't regret the fresh deliciousness that was my veggie burrito- my fellow fans weren't fond of the seaweed wrap. At the end of the day, I will do me and you should do you. If you're not a fan of processed foods anyway- many ballparks let you bring in your own food! Otherwise- check your local stadium's menu to see if they also have plant-based versions of the classics.

My brother and I being derpy on the bus-ride to the park.

My brother and I being derpy on the bus-ride to the park.

The Impossible Burger

While I love exploring mountains, canyons, forests, and vistas- food adventures have a special place in my heart. A co-worker told me about the Impossible Burger, and I immediately added it to my "Must-Try's in SF" list. First things first, what makes the Impossible Burger, well, impossible?

impossible.jpg

If you've seen any of my plant-based posts- then you've probably already guessed that I didn't go out seeking any ol' Quarter Pounder. The Impossible Burger is vegan, but is distinct from other veggie burgers in that it “bleeds”, and has a weirdly realistic meaty texture.

Here are my thoughts, and some FAQ's:

Was it tasty?

💯💯💯! The burger texture was true to reviews- and I would not have been able to distinguish it from a meat burger. Take this with a grain of salt as I haven't had a beef patty in at least 2 years. In any case, it was both juicy, and just chewy enough. The flavors were also on point. Perfectly savory without being overly salty- complemented well, but simply by aioli, avocado, caramelized onions, tomato, and lettuce, on a potato bun. The burger apparently gets the meat-like taste mainly from heme, a molecule found in hemoglobin (a component of blood), as well as in certain plants. "Potatoes are used for the crunchy exterior, and coconut oil for its fat."

Admittedly, I may have set myself up to enjoy the burger. One of my oldest friends was visiting from out of town, and she dressed me up and slapped some lipstick on me before we ventured to a fancy French restaurant named Jardinière that was way out of my price range. So, this burger had to be worth it.

My co-worker mentioned having to share a burger with his girlfriend when he came to try the burger, because it was requested so much that the restaurant ran out. Kailyn and I went on a Wednesday, so the wait at Jardinière was not long. Being the bougie place that it is, the service was both helpful and friendly, and the decor gave you dim, fancy vibes.

Is it worth $19?

If you’re a self-proclaimed food adventurer like me, I’d say yes. Once. The scarcity and innovative nature of the patty made it feel like a treasure to be sought out. I’ve always thought about cooking as a very magical, scientific process- and wanted to experience the result of this one. To taste how close we’ve been able to get to fulfilling people’s desire for meat with significantly less environmentally and health impact- made the sandwich all the more enjoying. 

According to the Impossible Foods site:

"Because we use 0% cows, the Impossible Burger... uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s 100% free of hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients.

I say “once", purely because of the price range. I’d settle for other veggie burgers to save my coins.

Is it healthier?

In addition to the lack of hormones, antibiotics and artificial ingredients, we can also take a look at cholesterol. The impossible patty has 0 mg of cholesterol in comparison to 100mg in a lean beef patty. It also has less overall fat and is slightly less calorie heavy. The protein and iron content are comparable, but the Impossible Burger does have significantly more sodium. Red meat has been associated with heart disease for a while now given the cholesterol, but use the nutrition information and consider your body’s needs when deciding if veggie patties would be better for you!

Here are some more FAQ’s from the Impossible Foods website, but check out their site for more!

  

WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOODS?

Founded by Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., Impossible Foods is a Silicon Valley startup on a mission to make the global food system more sustainable. The fast-growing team includes scientists, engineers, chefs, farmers and foodies. The first product is the Impossible Burger. It tastes great -- and you can feel great about it because the Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants.

WHAT EXACTLY IS IT MADE OF?

The Impossible Burger is made from simple ingredients found in nature, including wheat, coconut oil and potatoes. We add one more special ingredient, called “heme.” Heme contributes to the characteristic color and taste of meat, and it catalyzes all the other flavors when meat is cooked. Heme is exceptionally abundant in animal muscle -- and it’s a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants. We discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it using fermentation -- similar to the method that’s been used to make Belgian beer for nearly a thousand years. Adding heme to the Impossible Burger makes it a carnivore’s delight.

Full Ingredient List: 
Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

Contains: 
Soy, Wheat

    CAN I BUY THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER?

    The Impossible Burger is only available in select restaurants in the United States. We are currently focusing on wider availability in the US and will be available internationally in the coming years.

      

    Plant-Based Transition FAQ #1: Why I Became Plant-based.

    While I try not to be obnoxious about my plant-based diet by unnecessarily proclaiming it every time I sit down at a dining table, people eventually notice that I always choose the vegan option, and 3 common questions ensue:

    1. Why?
    2. Was it hard?
    3. Do you feel better?

    In this post I'll cover:

    1. Why?

    Short Answer:

    Too many documentaries

    Long Answer:

    In high school, a friend sent me a short viral video called the Hidden Face of Food (WARNING: the video is graphic and gruesome). I told my mom that my little teenage heart could not take the guilt after learning about animal cruelty, and that I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. 

    Her reply: You will eat what I cook.

    Fair response at the time for a single mom raising 2 kids working 70+ hour weeks and trying to maintain her sanity. And hey, mom’s cooking is 🔥, so I got over it.

    In college dining halls, I had a new flexibility to choose what I ate. Emory University had great options for vegans and vegetarians in my opinion, with a whole section of the cafe dedicated to plant-based meals. 

    That’s not where I gravitated initially though. My Freshman year, I ate everything in sight.

    Gradually, red meat started losing its appeal, and I got pretty tired of grilled chicken. So, I owned the “pescatarian” title for a while. It was a sweet spot for me, because while my meals were plant-based, I felt like I had options when eating out, and still enjoyed a lot of my mom’s cooking.

    After college, the documentary that did it for me was Cowspiracy. After making delicious and muy cheesy zucchini noodles, my friend Nhi and I took the next proper step in a sleepover, which was choosing a movie on Netflix. 

    Cowspriracy came up as one of the top Netflix films, so we watched. 

    Throughout the process of becoming more “woke” in college, I learned a fair share about institutionalized structures of oppression, and the ways in which I as an individual could inform others about/fight those structures while advocating for marginalized communities. 

    This movie reminded me that very similar structures surround food! I hadn’t realized growing up that Got Milk advertisements, public school food options- even the supposedly one-size-fits-all food pyramid didn’t necessarily have my health as a primary concern. 

    I identify as a fairly gullible person, and I am working on it; but It tripped me out how much of my life, and the lives of so many people have been shaped by motives that are not as simple as I thought they should be when making large public health decisions. I thought the motive was always as straight forward as: optimizing people's wellbeing to live healthier and happier.

    Cowspiracy explores how the interplay of government, nonprofits, and the private sector can, and have resulted in deviations from that motive. I also watched Forks Over Knives, Fed Up, and Soul Food Junkies- all of which I recommend, and which confirmed for me that I wanted to set upon a fully plant-based diet aka vegan, although I do have honey occasionally.

    In my next posts, I’ll cover two more common FAQ’s:

    • Do you feel better?
    • Was it hard?

    Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!

    #FruitFriday: The Treasure that is the Chirimoya - Taste & Health Benefits

    When my friend John passed me a piece a chunk of this super juicy, cream colored fruit- it was hot and I was thirsty; so I ate first and asked questions later. 

    Pictures are from my second time eating chirimoya at the San Jose Farmer's Market.

    Pictures are from my second time eating chirimoya at the San Jose Farmer's Market.

    My first question was:

    “What the heck is this?!” 

    The uniquely sweet taste was paired with an almost yogurt-like texture that had me scraping as much flesh as I could off the skin with my teeth while waiting for an answer. He said, “YO isn’t this the best it’s like my favorite fruit!” Shout out to John and his “Yo’s”-I miss the guy.

     

    It took me until I'm writing this now to figure out how to pronounce it (visual learner), but John told me it was called “chirimoya”, in Peru’s indigenous language of Quechua. (Commonly referred to in the U.S. as cherimoya).

     

    But I definitely agreed that it was my new favorite fruit given the creamy texture, flavor that isn’t done justice by comparing it to a combination of a sweet orange, strawberry, and banana hybrid, and juiciness that was both refreshing and filling.

     

    As with most fruits, I imagined that it was packed with antioxidants and vitamins. I’ve since confirmed that in addition to antioxidants found in most fruits, chirimoya does you give you a blast of vitamin C, B6, potassium, fiber, and 5 grams of protein! 

     

    I miss the days of being able to pick the fruit from a Peruvian street cart and being eager to fork over a dollar or less for a hefty portion of the fruit. In the U.S. farmer’s markets where I’ve seen Cherimoya- it runs for 5-8 bucks a pound. 

     

    If you haven’t tried it- I’d say it’s worth the investment. You could also always ask the kind people at the fruit stands for a sample :)

    AskHuyen #4: "Beer Bellies"

    A topic/question you want covered by AskHuyen: 

    "Beer Bellies"

    Details/Specific Questions: 

    "What do you like to drink is a common question that comes up amongst my friends and I. I always tell people I like wine and hard alcohol! Sometimes guys have beer bellies and they tell me they love beer. But I wouldn't risk my flat stomach to drink beer. Can you discuss the physique effects of drinking beer and alcohol in general?

    I love my figure personally but is it common to gain weight from any type of consistent alcohol consumption? I eat pretty healthy and drink lots of water. I also enjoy working out to the max."

     

    Whether you’re still on Frat Row, feel obligated to attend Team Happy Hours or just have a glass of wine welcoming you home each night, an overwhelming amount of Americans consume alcohol at some point in their lives (87.6% to be specific) The term “beer belly” suggests a perception that certain alcohols put people at a lower risk for weight gain than others. We’ll quickly clarify the concept of general weight gain- noting if the type of alcohol matters, before going into how alcohol may or may not contribute to the dreaded “beer belly". 

    What makes you gain weight? Intaking more calories that your body uses. If you have a great work out every day of the week, but binge drink heavily on the weekends; it is still possible to gain weight over time. Even after eating all your fruits and veggies according to your preferred dietary guidelines, you could still literally tip the scale because of those glasses of wine. It boils down to what your net calories look like. To keep this simple, say your calories burned for the day equal 2300, and calories eaten for the same day equal 2300. Now, you come home ready to unwind, sit down in from of the TV, and throw back a few beers. Those excess calories can contribute to weight gain.

    Seeing as it’s the calories that determine weight gain, and all alcohol has calories, it doesn’t really matter what type of alcohol you drink. A small shot of some liquors can have the same amount of calories as a bottle of beer. The same goes for certain types of wines. 

     

    Some research suggests beer in particular may be associated with weight gain, because of a socialized link between beer and food, i.e. being the quintessential complement to pizza and hot wings at the upcoming Super Bowl party. This also holds true for many wines, but wine is associated with being more sophisticated and not as connected to deep fried party snacks. The same study looks into the effects of alcohol on activating your appetite, but doesn’t find a clear correlation. 

    Overall, light to moderate drinking has not been directly linked to weight gain in your mid-section. Since general nutrition and exercise vary from person to person, what you do outside of the bar will largely determine whether or not you gain weight with alcohol as part of your lifestyle. Frequent heavy drinking on the other hand, not only could give your body more calories than it needs, but does other damage to vital bodily functions such as those of your liver.

    So, if you want to maintain both your physique and overall health, keep in mind what your nutrition and physical activity looks like to counter the calories, and potentially long-term detrimental effects of heavy drinking.

    Mushroom and Herb Pasta with Cream Sauce

    Alright- so let me tell y’all about this mushroom alfredo-like dish my sister and I cooked this weekend.

     

    I say alfredo-like because instead of cheese, the base for the sauce was cashews- making the recipe 100% vegan. Stay with me here. The cream sauce was not only creamy indeed, but it was also savory, scrape-the-pot-and-lick-the-spoon delicious. Not to mention the dish was ridiculously easy and quick to make. Shout out to Nadia Lim for the incredible recipe.

    Looking back on it now I can still honestly say- it was not lackin’ nothin’! Without the double negative, that translates to the dish being everything I could've asked for on a cool, cozy December night. 

    In the picture, I poured the sauce over some spaghetti squash noodles for a crunchier, lower carb/calorie variation. The sauce is still plenty tasty, if not more so, on traditional pasta. My mom tasted the sauce with whole wheat pasta. As she devoured her noodles as they were, she kept jokingly asking if there was/could be chicken in the sauce. I didn't accommodate her request this time, but momma's taste buds are usually on point. Feel free to add chicken to the dish if that's part of your diet, and let me know what you think!

    The sauce is very high in fat and calories overall for anyone who’s trying to keep those numbers in mind. But the cashew base also makes the sauce high in protein and "good" fats in particular.

    I LITERALLY scraped the pot clean. Enjoy!

    Current Food Obsession: Pure Bliss Organics

    Y'all. I really think I'm about to find if it's really possible to have too much of a good thing. 

     

    "Once you pop, you can't stop" is the tagline for Pringles, but it so accurately describes my relationship with these much healthier and addictive energy bites by Pure Bliss Organics- made right in my home state of Georgia. "Naughty but Nice" is my flavor of choice. They're made of simple, organic ingredients like oats, chocolate chips, peanut butter,  and sunflower seeds,  sweetened with agave nectar- aka some of my favorite things in a pop-pable little cube. I always interpret a mocha flavor when I'm munching on them even though Naughty but Nice features no coffee beans. However, there is a Mocha Cacao variety, along with others like Lemon Cranberry (my second favorite flavor), and Peanut Butter Hemp.

    The combination complex carbs and protein make them a great pick-me-up snack during the day or post-workout treat before I make my drive home from the gym... Or when I'm studying... Or right before I go to sleep... Or first thing when I wake up.... They're really delicious. 

    Despite roots in Georgia, they've expanded their distribution all over the US. So you can probably find them near you.  But don't say I didn't warn you: Given that they're delicious, organic, minimally processed, and a good balance of nutrients- you may find yourself in an addictive cycle of justifying eating "just one more."

     

    Southern Vegan Necessities

    Ya' girl loves her a good biscuit. They didn't come out looking like the pictures on Minimalist Baker, but this easy recipe was fluffy, southern satisfaction. 

    The recipe calls for more than enough "buttermilk" mixture, so don't feel obligated to force it into the batter if you have a lot left over because you will not need anywhere near all of it.

    Follow the directions and enjoy for a cute Sunday Brunch with your family. 

    Vegreen Vegetarian Restaurant

    The new restaurant's soft opening seems successful, with every spotless and well-lit table filled on a rainy Sunday evening. 

    The hosts were super hospitable- looking after the kids I was babysitting while I parked the car. While my table service wasn't great, I'll attribute that to my broke-teenager-like appearance (augmented by my toddler dates). Speaking of dates- this would not be the restaurant to use to catfish someone. After taking in the bright white walls, delicate light ornaments, minimal floral fixtures, and feel good scripts- the ambiance lets your food and your company shine center stage. 

    The "Korean Mixed Green Soup Noodle" tasted fresh and savory with a pleasant gingery bite, with imitation shrimp, scallop, and squid that convinced even my very carnivorous kid brother. One of the ladies running tables gave us the check early didn't ask if we needed anything or wanted dessert- but the kids loved the Vegetable Dumplings so much that we ordered another plate of them anyway. The experience ended on a high note as the hosting staff very happily kept an eye on my little ones until I pulled the car around. My picky little brother made sure to ask: "Can we come back to eat here?", and I very smugly responded "We will ask Daddy," before blowing his mind about the lack of animal in his soup that night.

    A good friend of mine also recommended the Noodles in Soy Bean Sauce.

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    Update: I returned and had a delicious "Crab" Sushi Roll. Once again the hosts were genuinely friendly and kind- chatting it up with my mom and helping her with the door while I pulled the car around.