Explore veggie meetup groups

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Some people from Winnipeg call our fair city “Vegcouver.” One good reason is that when we search the helpful, plant-based eating guide, www.happycow.net, for Vancouver BC, we find no less than 244 listings. These include vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants, as well as other food outlets. If we narrow our filter just to vegan restaurants, we still end up with 25 listings. A significant number of these have lineups every night of the week and they are opening second and third locations, suggesting that the demand for vegan food in Vancouver has not yet been met and is growing.

British Columbia appears to be leading a dietary revolution, particularly with those aged 35 and under, nearly 40 percent of whom say they follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, according to one national survey. When we look at all age groups, more than eight percent are vegetarian and almost half of these are vegan, in that they include no dairy, eggs or other animal products.

The transition toward a more plant-based diet is easiest with the support of others following the same diet. A great way to start building connections is to visit www.meetup.com Enter your city, then the word “vegetarian” or “vegan” or just “veg.” You will discover a variety of meetups, including veg dine-outs at vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants, potlucks and other events. Some groups are fairly exclusive, inviting vegetarians and vegans, while others welcome omnivores who just want to explore and are not yet certain where they will end up. Make sure to read each group’s “About” page.

It will be no surprise to Winnipeggers that the largest and most active veggie meetup group in Canada is Metro Vancouver’s Meatless Meetup, which features a remarkable diversity of events. In addition to regular restaurant gatherings, meetings include visits to local temples, nutrition tours, potlucks and film nights. Their approximately monthly “potluck-light” gathering at Vancouver Co-Housing (on East 33rd near Commercial) typically features a guest speaker or a film presentation and is a great way to mingle and make new friends.

On Saturday, May 26, the new film Unity will be shown. On Saturday, June 16, the evening will include a potluck dinner and a discussion among attendees of what led to their current dietary choices. As a bonus, each evening you are welcome to take a tour of the Vancouver Cohousing’s beautiful common facilities.

You will meet people who care about climate change and recycling, individuals who love animals and especially people who care about people. When I travel the world and connect with vegetarian groups from Reykjavik to Grananda and Kauai to Dresden, I discover a world that is far more positive than the perspective you might get by watching CNN. People who attend these events are inspired and know that through our life choices, we can make a difference.

With the support of resources like www.happycow.net and the veggie groups on www.meetup.com, there has never been a better time to explore a dietary change. The friends you may make along the way are simply a welcome side benefit!

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver-based dietitian and the author of the award winning books, Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition, the Express Edition (with Brenda Davis) and Stargold the Food Fairy: The Plant-based Edition (with Claudia Lemay). vesanto.melina@gmail.com, nutrispeak.com, becomingvegan.ca

Dairy-free and well nourished!

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

There are many good reasons to embrace a diary-free diet:

Human health: Most of the world’s population has some degree of lactase insufficiency or lactose intolerance after the age of weaning and milk protein is one of the top allergens. The environment: Pleasant, pastoral scenes don’t show the environmental damage from cattle to riverbanks, air, water and wildlife. Legislation is taking shape, with strong opposition, requiring large California dairies to apply for air permits. Manure: “A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people.” – Environmental Protection Agency. Manure overflows and passes into groundwater and pathogens make people sick. Concern for cows: Cows are managed in order to get peak milk production and then slaughtered when they can’t perform as “Supercows.” This generally occurs at less than one quarter of their natural life span. At that point, they typically become burgers. And rest assured; the phrase “humane slaughter” makes no sense at all. Workers: Those who slaughter, butcher and process cows have intensified exposure to infectious animal materials, including Staph aureus.

Yet cow’s milk has been a significant source of calcium and vitamin D, an additive in fluid milk. So how else can we get these nutrients? Calcium: In Paleothic times, calcium intakes were far greater than that of today. Yet the sources were not dairy products and meat is not a calcium source. It was mostly attibuted to their very high intake of plant foods. Green vegetables: Calcium is extremely well absorbed from certain leafy greens (kale, napa cabbage, bok choy, Chinese greens, broccoli, okra, turnip and mustard greens). Spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard are not in this category, as their calcium is bound by oxalate and mainly unavailable. Fruits: Oranges, figs and calcium-enriched orange juice are the superstars in this food group. Seeds and nuts: Almonds, sesame seeds and butters from these, such as sesame tahini, provide this mineral. Black beans, white beans and calcium-set tofu: These are rich in calcium. When buying tofu, look for calcium on the ingredient list. Non-dairy beverages are fortified with calcium. To get the intended amount, you must shake the package! Some breakfast cereals and tortillas.

Here’s an example of how to get a day’s supply of over 1,000 mg calcium:
Breakfast: Oat cereal, 1 c: 27mg / Blueberries, 1 c: 9mg / Fortified non-dairy milk, 1 c: 300mg / Walnuts, 3 tbsp: 21mg.
Lunch: Pita, 1 with hummus, ½ c: 70mg / Kale salad, 2 c: 274mg / Fresh orange, 1: 71mg.
Dinner: Tofu, 4 oz in a stir-fry with Chinese greens, peppers, snow peas, broccoli, 3 c: 250mg or much more. / Brown rice, 1 c: 20mg / Non-dairy yogurt, 1/2 c: 98mg.

Total calcium: 1,140mg

Vitamin D: We need vitamin D for calcium absorption and retention. North of the 49th parallel, however, we get negligible sunlight to stimulate our body’s own vitamin D production. Solution? Take 1000 IU (25 mcg) of vitamin D. For seniors, double this.

Food solutions: How do we get delicious foods and beverages without a drop of dairy? Vegan Supply (www.vegansupply.ca) and Daiya (www.daiyafoods.com) offer some outstanding alternatives.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com


March 10 Meatless Meetup: 7:15pm. To attend, register at www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/247568687/

Taking care of your heart

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

The news regarding heart health used to be all about cholesterol. This made sense since the plaque that sticks to the inner lining of arteries leading to the heart is primarily cholesterol. These fatty deposits accumulate, causing blood vessels to narrow; eventually, these oxygen-delivering arteries can become entirely blocked. Without oxygen, the heart cannot carry on. The same process in the brain results in strokes.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death. Large studies, such as the EPIC Oxford Study, in which 44,561 adults were followed for a dozen years, showed that vegetarians were 32% less likely to develop heart disease. The Adventist Health Study, involving over 73,000 participants across North America, showed that, compared with meat eaters, vegan men had 55% less ischemic heart disease. IHD includes stable angina, unstable angina, myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death. Vegetarian men who included eggs and dairy had 24% less IHD than non-vegetarians. Differences were less marked among women choosing different dietary patterns, though those who included fish showed lower risk. A 2016 Systematic Review and Meta-analysis including 96 studies showed that vegetarians and vegans had a 25% risk reduction for developing IHD.

We can’t alter some factors (age and family history) that influence our heart disease risk. But our lifestyle choices (smoking, exercise and stress) and lifestyle-related conditions (see below) can have a huge impact.

Hypertension: The Adventist Health Study found that, compared to similar, health-conscious non-vegetarians, risk of hypertension was 55% lower among lacto-ovo vegetarians (LOVs) who included some eggs and/or dairy products and 75% lower among vegans. The EPIC-Oxford study found similar benefits with increasingly plant-based diets.

Type 2 diabetes: People with diabetes have a two to four times greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those without this condition. The Adventist Health Study found diabetes risk to be 32% lower among LOVs and 62% lower among vegans.

Here’s how dietary choices have proven to be effective:

Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can make arterial plaque vulnerable to rupture and thrombosis. LOVs appear to have significantly less inflammation, vegans even less.

Less heme iron: Decades ago, nutrition texts stated that the heme iron in blood (thus in meats) was “better absorbed” than the non-heme iron in plant foods. Perspectives have changed. We now know that non-heme iron has the advantage of being absorbed to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon whether or not we need it. In contrast, high intakes of dietary heme iron from meat and fish are associated with increased oxidative stress.

Antioxidants: Plant foods provide a wealth of protective antioxidants.

Carotid IMT (Intima Media Thickness) refers to the thickness and plaque lining arterial walls; it is strongly associated with heart disease risk. Plant based diets can reduce carotid IMT.

High TMAO levels accelerate atherosclerosis and greatly increase risk of death among heart failure patients. TMAO-producing bacteria are found in the intestines of meat eaters, but not in vegans.

For optimal heart health on a plant-based diet, be sure to include sources of omega-3 fatty acids and a vitamin B12 supplement (about 10-25 mcg/day). For tips on fine-tuning your diet, see the video on ABCs of Vegan Nutrition at www.becomingvegan.ca and www.nutrispeak.com/videos/

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com


Our munching munchkins

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina and Claudia Lemay

Like a super-powered magnet, children are often drawn to sugary and non-nutritious foods. However, regular consumption of junk food can lead to health problems, such as chronic illness and poor performance at school and in sports. It can also lead to kids becoming overweight, fostering low self-esteem. Even when they are protected from junk foods as infants, watch a young tot’s eyes light up with the first lick of something sweet.Registered dietitian Claudia Lemay explored this phenomenon with her lively young daughter, Amelie. Every time they went grocery shopping, Claudia would discover candy bars, chips and lollipops in her cart that little Amelie had added with Houdini-like deftness. The result became a children’s book, Stargold the Food Fairy: The Plant-Based Edition. This beautifully illustrated story takes readers on a journey towards healthy eating. It features young Lucie, who is swept into an adventure by Stargold, the food fairy. Together, they reach Growland where Lucie is amazed to find elves building magical houses that represent our human bodies. Each food group, and the nutrients it provides, furnish an essential building material. Only when the proper types of foods are eaten does the house, and thus the human body, grow healthy and strong. With the help of Stargold, Lucie learns to associate choosing nutritious foods with an energetic and healthy body.

Some people may be hesitant about an entirely plant-based diet for children, but based on a solid and vast foundation of scientific evidence, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives the following reassurance. “Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer and obesity.”

The metaphor that compares house construction to the building of a person’s body helps kids visualize how food choices either positively or negatively impact growth and well-being. This book is a wonderful resource for parents, dietitians and educators. It is backed by science, yet fun and easy to understand. This book and Claudia’s earlier edition, Stargold the Food Fairy (non-vegan) are available at amazon.ca and stargoldthefoodfairy.com Claudia’s writing has earned a Mom’s Choice Award®. Part of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the Malala Fund, which helps promote the access of education to children worldwide. “Good foods build the brain; good books expand it.” (malala.org)


DECEMBER 10: Meet author Claudia Lemay (5-7PM) at Vegan Supply, 250 E. Pender in Vancouver. Vesanto Melina will also be present to chat and answer questions. Lemay and Melina’s books will be available for purchase.

Claudia Lemay is a Surrey-based dietitian, author and consultant. www.truehealthnutrition.ca

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian author and consultant. www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca

Healthy snacking

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Do you ever eat mindlessly? It would be very surprising if even one reader replied, “No, never.” So if we are occasionally going to eat mindlessly, we may as well eat food that offers a big boost to our health. Chopping veggies on a regular basis, storing them in ziplock bags and gathering tasty dips is a winning approach.

Serve a platter of colourful, cut up vegetables:

  • to family members when they return from school or work.
  • as an attractive way to serve vegetables at meals and for festive occasions.
  • as a low-calorie, healthy snack for TV watching.
  • as a great way to get vitamins, antioxidants, protective phytochemicals and fibre.

To extend your crudité horizons, here’s some to serve on their own or with a dip.


Asparagus tips
Broccoli florets
Carrot sticks
Cauliflower florets
Celery sticks
Cherry tomatoes
Cucumber discs
Green onions
Green or snow pea pods
Jicama sticks
Mushrooms, sliced or whole
Parsnip sticks
Red, orange, yellow and green pepper strips
Turnip strips
Yam strips
Zucchini strips or discs

For dips, choose from the various hummus variations on display at supermarkets. “Spread Em” is a fun, cashew-based line of dips available at Famous Foods and other stores and at www.vegansupply.ca Also see the tapenades and guacamole.

Avocados are surprisingly nutritious with monounsaturated fatty acids and phytochemicals. They contain more folate and potassium per ounce than any other fruit, with 60 percent more potassium than bananas. They are great sources of vitamin C and E. When I do nutritional analyses with clients, we often discover that a low intake of vitamin E and plant foods are far better sources than pills. The average avocado provides 13 grams of fibre, equal to three medium-sized apples. Avocados are also rich in carotenoids; of commonly eaten fruits, they are highest in lutein, known to reduce risk of prostate cancer and maintain eye health.

Again, foods are superior to supplements; their plant sterols, such as beta-sitosterol, inhibit cholesterol absorption and possibly inhibit tumour growth. Avocados are among the richest sources of the powerful antioxidant glutathione and may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Limey avocado dip

Makes about 3/4 of a cup

To retain its colour, make this dressing right before use. To keep it for several hours or a day, store it in an air-tight container or tighly cover it. Freshly squeezed lime juice gives a special flavour and nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins. Adjust all seasonings to suit your tastes.

  • 1 ripe avocado • 2 tbs. lime juice • 1 tsp. tamari or ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. each of chili powder, garlic powder and/or onion powder
  • Pinch of pepper • 1 tsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Place avocado flesh into a bowl and blend or mash with a fork until smooth. Stir in lime juice, tamari, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper and (optional) nutritional yeast. Scoop avocado flesh into bowl and mash until smooth. Blend in lime juice, tamari, yeast, chili powder, garlic powder and pepper. Stir in onions and cilantro. Adjust seasoning.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author. The list of crudités is from the Raw Food Revolution Diet by C. Soria, B. Davis and V. Melina (Book Publishing Co). Information on avocados is from her award-winning ​Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and ​Becoming Vegan: Express Edition, ​both with B. Davis (Book Publishing Co). ​Limey Avocado Dip is from Cooking Vegetarian by V. Melina and J. Forest (Harper Collins). www.nutrispeak.com

Fish farming

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Last month, we explored the cruelty and environmental damage inherent in commercial fishing. This month, we look at aquaculture. Today, approximately half the fish consumed are reared in crowded enclosures whether on land or in water. Globally, between 40-120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food each year.

The goal in fish farming is the same as in agri-business: to generate the most meat for the least money. Fish farms maintain a density of animals never seen in the wild. Growth accelerators are used to speed weight gain and antibiotics are used to contain the spread of disease. The consequences of these intensive operations are widespread and severe.

Fish welfare: Poor conditions in aquaculture operations include crowding, polluted water and disease outbreaks, causing stress, fear and pain in these animals.

Pressure on wild fish stocks: One argument used to justify fish farming is the protection of wild fish. Yet many of the farmed fish, such as salmon, are carnivorous. Seventy percent of salmon on the market is farmed. It can take 2.5-5 pounds of wild fish to yield one pound of farmed carnivorous fish. Farmed fish that manage to escape can transfer serious diseases, sea lice and other parasites to wild fish stocks; they can devastate native fish populations.

Environmental damage: Ecologically sensitive areas, such as mangroves, coastal estuaries and salmon migration routes, may be seriously threatened by fish-farm outputs, including nitrogenous waste (mainly from fish feces), food pellets and drug residues. This untreated waste released into the ocean affects water quality and other sea life and also fuels a proliferation of toxin-producing algae that can cause massive die-offs of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and animals that consume them.

Proponents argue that eating farmed fish is better than eating beef in terms of greenhouse emissions while admitting that, on average, the environmental footprint is somewhat higher than for chicken and pork.

Risk to human health: Frequent use of antibiotics in aquaculture allows disease microbes to become resistant to antibiotic treatments, making it more difficult to treat human disease.

Fish life: Scientists now confirm fish demonstrate myriad complex behaviours and skills; they form relationships, recognize other individuals, pass on knowledge and skills, have long-term memories, solve problems, collaborate in food finding, experience fear and distress and avoid risky situations. They have neurotransmitters and feel pain.

Death as a farmed fish: Until the 90s, there was little scientific agreement that fish could feel. Since then, studies have made us rethink these beliefs. Scientific thinking can be strange; even as a child, the one time I went fishing, it was obvious the fish was not comfortable having a hook through its cheek.

While farmed fish do not get the hook, out of water, their gills collapse leading to a slow, stressful death by asphyxiation. Other commercial methods of killing include being clubbed to death, gill cutting and being allowed to bleed to death, carbon dioxide stunning, spiking the brain and live chilling.

Alternatives? If you like the flavour of seafood, try vegan alternatives such as Sophie’s or Gardein’s fishless filets. Check out www.vegan supply.ca, Whole Foods and Choices.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com See www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/239422374/

Something fishy

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Fish has long been viewed as an ideal protein source and the significant source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. Health authorities have sometimes advised people to consume at least two servings of fish per week.

Globally, an estimated one trillion fish are caught each year, excluding illegal catches and bycatch. About half of the commercial fishing industry targets wild fish and other aquatic animals and half relies on “farms.” Concerns about both sectors grow each year. This article features wild sea life. Next month’s topic is fish farming.

Overfishing is rapidly devastating marine ecosystems. Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by 2048 there will be a global collapse of all stocks currently fished. Sea lice and other infections from farmed salmon have an impact on numbers and global warming is changing habitat; for example, aquatic temperatures in the Strait of Georgia and Fraser River are one and a half degrees warmer than 50 years ago.

Bottom-trawling – dragging huge nets with metal plates and metal wheels – along the ocean floor is the underwater equivalent of clear-cutting. It is like bulldozing entire communities and it is wasteful. For example, shrimp trawlers kill up to 20 pounds of non-target marine life for every pound of shrimp plucked from the trawling net. The creatures trapped inside the nets are dragged upward, along with rocks, coral and other fragments of ocean habitat. They experience rapid decompression, causing vital organs to rupture. This bycatch, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and numerous other species, is commonly tossed overboard.

Long-lining uses one or more main lines from which dangle short branch lines with hooks at the ends. Lines can be as long as 75 miles and hold hundreds or thousands of baited hooks, set at varying depths depending on target species. In addition, other animals are hooked. This industry is notorious for the deaths of millions of birds, dolphins, sharks and turtles, all of which (along with the fish) can be dragged behind a boat for hours or days.

Gill-netting uses huge floating nets with mesh, sized to snare the target species. Targeted fish become trapped by their gills and nets are often left unmonitored for long periods so trapped fish can slowly suffocate.

Purse-seining also employs a large net like a purse with a giant drawstring rope that is hauled to the surface. Dolphins are commonly trapped and can drown. Fish are often still alive and conscious when they’re pulled on deck to be gutted.

Fortunately, those who like the flavour of seafood can still enjoy it without supporting environmental damage and cruelty. Products similar to breaded filets and crab cakes are now made from pea or soy protein and the textures and flavours are good. Examples include Sophie’s Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets, Toona and crab cakes and Gardein’s Golden Fishless Filet, available at www.vegan supply.ca (250 East Pender St. in Vancouver). Whole Foods and Choices carry Gardein’s Fishless Filets. And you can get DHA (in supplement form) from the same source that fish use to get their DHA: microalgae. Just Google “Vegan DHA.”


September 29, 7:15: A presentation by Nic Waller about aquatic animals and what options we have. A shared evening of snacks and great company. Check out www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/242482062/

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com


Going plant happy

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina
Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye

Are you interested in pursuing a plant-based lifestyle but don’t know where to start? Read on for easy ways to swap out animal products for plant-based alternatives that still provide all the nutrients you need.

“How can I get enough protein?” is one of the first questions people ask when cutting out meat. Science has confirmed we can easily satisfy our protein needs with a plant-based diet. And there’s no need to eat “complementary proteins” in the same meal; simply eat a variety of plant foods throughout the day.

There are endless options for meat alternatives, including convincing vegan renditions of hot dogs, burgers and even bacon. You can also make your own plant-based meals by trying one of these easy swaps: 1) Marinate firm tofu in your favourite sauce and use it to replace meat in stir-fries. 2) Try hummus or tempeh in your sandwiches instead of deli meat. 3) Add beans or lentils to chili instead of ground meat.

Saying farewell to dairy is the next challenge. You’ve probably grown up hearing you need milk to build strong bones. The good news is there are enough calcium-rich plant foods to keep your bones happy. Try calcium-set tofu, almonds, tahini, fortified soy beverage and dark leafy greens such as napa cabbage, bok choy and kale.

Thanks to the growing demand for dairy alternatives, there are myriad plant-based milks, cheeses, ice creams and yogurts in your grocery store. Or try one of these homemade swaps: 1) Sprinkle nutritional yeast on your salads or pasta. The nutty, savoury taste makes a great replacement for parmesan cheese. 2) Use whipped coconut milk in place of whipped cream. 3) Impress your friends by making your own nut milk. Just soak your favourite nuts, blend with a high-speed blender and strain.

So you’ve cut out meat and dairy and you’re about to cut out eggs. At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How can I replace eggs in my favourite recipes?” Try one of these plant-based swaps: 1) Mix 1 tbsp. of ground flax seeds with 2.5 tbsp. of warm water to replace one egg in muffins and pancakes. 2) Replace 1 egg with 1 tsp. of baking soda and 1 tbsp. of vinegar for light and fluffy cakes. 3) Use crumbled, firm tofu sautéed with your favourite mix of vegetables and seasoning for a satisfying, quick alternative to scrambled eggs.

Now that you’re going fully plant-based, the next nutrient of interest is vitamin B12. On a plant-based diet, look for B12 fortified foods including some plant milks, soy products and Red Star Nutritional Yeast or take a B12 supplement (a daily multivitamin or 1000 mcg B12 twice a week).

If you’re not ready to be vegan, introduce alternatives slowly into your diet. Perhaps eat a plant-based meal 2-3 times a week and go from there. Explore vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, blogs and online recipes. Get creative and have fun.

For more information, ideas and recipes:

  • Download the Vegetarian Starter Kit from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org).
  • See Dietitians of Canada Eating Guidelines for Vegans (www.dietitians.ca).
  • Visit Vegetarian Nutrition branch of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.vegetariannutrition.net).

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca). Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye are dietetics students at the University of British Columbia.

Summer fare

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

When we get a spontaneous invite to a picnic, one easy choice is to stop by a supermarket or natural foods store and pick up one or more varieties of hummus or guacamole along with an assortment of raw veggies or crackers. If we have a little more preparation time before a barbecue or other event, here are two recipes that are sure to be enjoyed.

Portobello mushrooms are a favourite plant-based burger. They are easy to prepare and take on the flavour of whichever marinade you choose. For a cookout, serve these on whole-grain buns. For an easy meal at home, serve them on a bed of grains with a salad or beside the quinoa salad that follows. This burger recipe is adapted from www.forksoverknives.com

Portobello mushroom burgers

3 tbs. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
3 tbs. maple syrup or other sweetener
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbs. grated ginger
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large portobella mushrooms, stemmed

For marinade, combine tamari, maple syrup, garlic, ginger and pepper in a small bowl; mix well. Place mushrooms, stem side up, on a dish. Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and let marinate for 1 hour. Prepare the grill. Pour excess marinade off the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Place mushrooms on the grill. Grill each side for 4 minutes, brushing with marinade every few minutes. Variation: during the last few minutes of grilling, brush mushrooms with barbecue sauce.

Fiesta quinoa salad with lime dressing (makes 4 1/2 cups)

This recipe is from the popular Cooking Vegetarian by Melina and Forest (HarperCollins). Quinoa is an ancient grain, native to the high Andes regions of South America, introduced to North America in the 1980s. It is often called a “supergrain” because of its excellent protein content and nutritional profile.

Cooking quinoa

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. salt

Bring water to boil over high heat, stir in quinoa and salt, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.

Lime dressing

3 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Pinch pepper

Combine lime juice, olive oil, sesame oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over cooled quinoa mixture and toss gently with fork. Adjust seasoning.

Assemble salad

1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup diced sweet red pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped green onion (optional)
4 tsp. finely chopped parsley or cilantro

Add the cucumber, corn, red pepper, green onion (if using) and parsley to the dressed quinoa. Stir well to incorporate all ingredients. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. Once a month, she co-hosts a “Snackluck” event at Vancouver Cohousing with Meatless Meetup. Everyone brings a delicious vegan snack to share. Sometimes, there is a small fee to cover the film rental. www.nutrispeak.com


Friday June 30, 7:15pm: “Snackluck”: includes a Q&A and discussion based on audience interest. Bring any questions related to plant-based nutrition.



Realism and compassion

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

For many, doing what comes naturally is an appealing concept. (For a good laugh, look up “Doin’ what comes natur’lly” on Youtube, from Annie Get Your Gun.) Often, the appeal comes from a realistic concern regarding food mass produced in systems never envisioned a century ago, using toxic pesticides and genetically modified organisms.

The result can be a rather confused mix of practices. People will eat a cow that was permitted to live in a fenced field for much of its life, ate fodder trucked from thousands of miles away and was later sent down the same slaughterhouse line as factory-farmed animals. They will consume a chicken that was sufficiently free range to live in the equivalent of a giant indoor litter box, with a small door to the outdoors that it never reached while alive. Such birds can have increased risk of infection from E coli and other bacteria and of violent pecking and cannibalization from their caged neighbours, compared with chickens protected by confinement in tiny cages with wire walls and bottoms.

“There’s a downside to taking birds out of their cages in that they’re free, but they’re also free to get hurt and free to get in trouble,” says Tina Widowski, Egg Farmers of Canada research chair in poultry welfare at the University of Guelph.

Groups such as Mercy for Animals record undercover images depicting horrendous living conditions and abuse. For some, these stories and images stimulate a quest for natural fare that is also linked with compassion for animals. Yet someone might spend $1,000 at the vet for their pet and then eat part of an equally intelligent animal for dinner. So what can guide our evolving dietary practices?

Jack hirose 3 day mindfulness intensive in Banff

“Natural,” when it comes to human practices, turns out not to be a helpful word. Our actions over many centuries include war, rape and cruel treatment of other humans and animals. Perhaps a more valuable word to guide our behaviour is compassion.

We now have options unavailable to us a century ago, even a generation ago. We can enjoy fresh produce year-round, including legumes, soy foods, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits that are organic and GMO free. Scientific evidence provides indisputable evidence that an optimal diet for humans need not include any animal products. Vitamin B-12 comes not from animals or plants, but from bacteria. In animal products, B-12’s origins are bacterial contamination. In a clean, plant-based diet, we can choose fortified foods or a supplement. As it turns out, our paleo ancestors consumed fibre, a valuable and protective dietary component found only in plant foods, at levels of about 100g a day. This is higher than most people on entirely plant-based diets today, apart from elite athletes who are sufficiently active to consume a lot of calories.


MAY 26: 7:15 – 9pm, co-author Brenda Davis speaks on the Paleo diet at Vancouver Cohousing, www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/236732131/

MAY 28: Brenda speaks at VegExpo in Vancouver, vegexpo.ca


1. Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly ­– Betty Hutton www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1R1-oRO6RY

2. “The cage-free egg trend: Is it just a shell game?” Globe and Mail, March 20, 2017, Ann Hui www.theglobeandmail.com

3. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets”


and www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(16)31192-3/pdf

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com