Are you contemplating life without lokshen soup or an egg-less Pesach? Veganism is growing in popularity, so you’re in good company.
Veganuary — the charity that promotes a plant-based lifestyle at the start of each year— is in full flight with every supermarket touting a vegan range.
Last year, information packs were dispatched by Veganuary to more than 500,000 aspiring vegans in 209 countries and this year sign ups since its inception hit two million.
So if you’re ready to broach a brisket ban —or even to reduce your animal produce consumption, what do you need to know? For kosher home cooks, going vegan has it benefits. No issues around milk and meat — indeed, no milk nor meat. It’s also a way to reduce your food bills and streamline your kitchen.
Vegan chef and cookery teacher (and founder of Wild Chef) Ines Romanelli agrees: “Even if you just cut dairy from your diet, which is pretty easy these days, that would mean you’d need only one set of plates, pans and cutlery. That can be hugely space-saving for a large family.”
It also opens up a whole new menu: “You can make a vegan Greek salad and follow it with [vegan] cholent for example, although some people still may feel strange about eating a ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ meal even if it’s all vegan.”
Where should the aspiring vegan start? A full (pre-Pesach style) clear out of animal products can be overwhelming, so Romanelli recommends starting small and veganising your favourite recipe. “Just substitute plant-based ingredients for eggs and meat or dairy ingredients. With little steps, it’s less daunting.” She recommends a trip to your local kosher supermarket for a browse. “My local one stocks vegan bechamel that I use in lasagne and they also stock a lot of vegan cheeses and I love seaweed for a great fishy taste, sprinkled on a salad.”
Specialist products she also recommends include coconut cream and milk; vegan fish sauce (great to marinate tofu); liquid smoke (“gives a nice smoky taste when cooking soy meat”); vegan yoghurt (“good for starters and desserts”) and vegan gelatine.
Lara Balsam, Director of the Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS) has followed a vegan diet for more than eight years. Her advice to newbie vegans is to sign up with Veganuary: “They have a specific package — which they will send you at any time of year, not just January — which will help you veganise your kitchen and get started. The JVS will be able to help with the Jewish specifics like how to veganise your Seder plate or what to eat for festivals like Rosh Hashanah or Shavuot.” Their website — jvs.org.uk — offers plenty of recipes.
Before you get started, Balsam recommends establishing how much protein you need in your diet: “Find an online protein calculator for your specific age, height and weight. That’s a good starting point.”
She also recommends visiting websites for inspiration and to reassure yourself you’re getting sufficient protein and other nutrients. “Green Kitchen Stories is a blog with vegetarian recipes by a husband-and-wife team who involve their children. It’s vegetarian and vegan but always has a vegan option for recipes — they also have published cookbooks. Simple Happy Kitchen offers downloadable posters showing quantities of nutrients in various foods. The posters are useful when you’re cooking as you can check how much protein, iron or calcium you’re getting from each of the ingredients. “
Eating out is not quite so simple in terms of kashrut. You may think that if your diet is vegan and you’re eating only at vegan or vegetarian restaurants, you don’t need to worry about a hechsher. Think again.
“Just because something is vegan, it doesn’t make it kosher” says Sharon Feldman-Vazan of the KLBD and herself vegan.
“Although all fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains in their natural form are kosher, some can easily be infested with insects which we are not allowed to eat.” She goes on to explain that kosher inspection provides the reassurance your food has been checked to ensure there are no bugs present.
“Insects have been found even in pre-washed salads from reputable supermarkets. In a kosher restaurant all produce is totally checked for bugs and all ingredients kosher approved or have a reputable hechsher.”
She also explains that kosher supervision will also cover shared equipment to ensure the pans used for your vegan meal have not been used for animal products;, and if you are eating at a supervised restaurant the requirement of Bishul Yisrael — for all meals to be cooked by a Jew — is fulfilled.
KLBD certification investigations have, in the past, uncovered other issues. Feldman-Vazan’s colleagues discovered a problem in relation to a vegan cheese, which was made using a culture certified as kosher dairy. And they have also found vegan products made with processing aids unsuitable for a kosher or vegan diet. Vegan jelly sweets, for example: “To make jelly sweets, you use starch to create the moulds. The best starch has been reused and has been recycled more than once. The starch could have been used for non-vegan jelly sweets.”
Wine and beer also may not all be both kosher and vegan. Some beers have been produced using derivatives from fish or egg to take away clouding. Cider and spirits can also be an issue.
“By eating products with a kosher hechsher that are also vegan, you can be sure that there is no possibility of these issues. Eating in kosher restaurants as a vegan isn’t always easy but there is no choice if you want to keep strict kosher” she says.
The Sephardi Kashrut Authority (“SKA”) is increasingly vegan-friendly. Director of Operations, Aaron Isaac, says that they are moving to highlighting all vegan products on their list of approved products. “Our Pesach list already shows this and we’re working on it for our full list.” Isaac says he also encourages restaurants to make sure vegan food in SKA licensed restaurants is properly prepared — with no contamination, which may happen from frying schnitzel, for example, in the same oil as vegan falafel. “Where restaurants do this we do highlight this. It’s a great time to take on being vegan and we’re here to help” he says.
In addition to recipes, the JVS website also offers advice and information on kosher caterers, restaurants and bakeries providing vegan options. “We do an informal audit of each year to establish vegan options. Some suppliers have gone from not even knowing what a vegan is to offering a vegan menu. There has been a consistent rise in awareness in bakeries, restaurants and caterers” says Balsam, who says that she sees a rise in vegan-related enquiries ahead of festivals, with home cooks needing advice on feeding vegan visitors.