Are you, as I am, inundated by the growing change in the dietary landscape? Have you been lured into the millennial and Generation Z dietary habits?
Are you, as I am, engaging in these changing diets, which are slowly evolving into social mores?
This shift is evident each time I visit my local marketplace. A growing allocation of floor space is dedicated to organic products. Dedicated sections of shelf space, even aisles, have been converted to organic products, from fresh fruits and vegetables to prepared foods to household goods.
This shift is also evident as I peruse the menus at an increasing number of restaurants and fast food establishments. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are spread across menu offerings.
This inexorable shift in dietary preferences in the New York metropolitan area engenders a proliferation of menu explanations and legends. At the macro levels are farm-to-table, sustainability, natural and organic labels. At the micro levels are a cornucopia of symbols beyond V and VG, including GF, DF, SF and NF. (Did you decode them all?)
With these headwinds of dietary choices and restrictions swirling in culinary circles, the American diet is moving from its ages-old carnivore centricity to a more focused and healthy perspective, rooted in our physiological heritage.
At the risk of sounding like a baby boomer fading into the malaise of an omnivore’s languidness, I offer below a brief backdrop to the imbedded popularity, across all generations and socioeconomic demographics, of vegetarian and vegan diets and lifestyles. (Plant-based protein diets, as I prefer to refer to them.)
The human body has evolved very little over the last 40,000 years. It was “designed” for a specific diet, one that was readily available at the time. Think about the diet of early Homo sapiens: berries, root vegetables, nuts – and fermented juices. This diet prevailed for millennia but as the population grew, along came cities and the need to feed the masses. And our diets changed with the times.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The nearly eight million vegetarians in the United States have sworn off meat, fowl and fish, but not eggs or dairy products. The approximately one million vegans have taken vegetarianism several steps further. Theirs is not only a dietary difference but also a lifestyle choice. They have sworn off all animal products as well as animal byproducts. For them, slaughtering animals is interrupting our symbiotic relationship and peaceful coexistence with nature. You will not see a vegan consuming eggs or wearing leather, drinking milk or eating honey.
A balanced vegan diet consists of four food groups: legumes, nuts and seeds; grains; vegetables; and fruits. Sound familiar? Check the Food and Drug Administration’s dietary guidelines, which are focused increasingly on these foods. Simply because it is based on plant-based products, a vegan diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
How do vegans feel about a glass of wine? The same as any environmentally conscientious omnivore might feel about organic wine. An organic wine is a sustainable product, one produced in a manner to perpetuate the environment, not deplete or corrupt it. Organic vineyards exist in harmony with nature – no chemical additives in the soil, vines or wines – and no scientific meddling with genetics.
However, vegans must be diligent in their quest for vegan wines. A number of organic vineyards fertilize with animal products (bone meal and dried blood) and organic wines may be processed with animal byproducts (egg whites and dried blood) to filter or “fine” any sediment that may be suspended in a wine barrel during the aging process. Check the internet for clarification on specific wines.
Vegans are vegetarians, but not necessarily vice versa. Vegan wines are organic wines but not vice versa. Confused? Just leave your decisions in the hands of committed chefs and sommeliers.
My diet continues to evolve. Plant-based is better for me. I raise my glass of organic (vegan?) wine to my longevity.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.