Voyage into Veganism


One family’s adventure with a new diet brings challenges and rewards

Last year, Michelle and Brian Lamka set out to revamp their diet. They were motivated by a desire to jump start a healthy lifestyle. After viewing a documentary on the benefits of a vegan
diet, they decided to challenge themselves to adopt it. In doing so, they hoped to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure.

While ethical aspects of eating animal products are often a basis for veganism, this was not the impetus for the Lamkas.

“We love animals but the motivation was to change our diet,” says Michelle.

Like many, the Lamkas were told growing up that meat is essential for protein in one’s diet, but the longer they maintained the vegan diet the less crucial this advice seemed and the more important the treatment of animals became.

One of the first big tasks was shopping. The challenge was not just finding vegan products but also those without preservatives. This made label reading essential.

Shopping became easier once they discovered where to find the basics: the People’s Food Co-op and the health food sections at Hy-Vee and Trader Joe’s. They even joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share.

“It is amazing what you can find,” comments Michelle. “You honestly can find everything without animal products in them.”

Their new diet became a hobby, a family venture. Brian and Michelle’s two teenage children were given the option to eat the vegan meals or make something for themselves, but even they joined in at times.

“We never forced them to eat what we were eating, but they were willing to try everything,” says Michelle.

The whole family became more adventuresome, trying new things and making conscious, more mindful choices about what their food was made of before putting it in their mouths.

Eating out—something the Lamkas really enjoy—was perhaps the biggest hurdle. Finding vegan items in restaurants was tricky but achievable. They found the Nile Restaurant and People’s Co-op were good places to start. Social gatherings were difficult as well, but their increased energy and health have made it worth all the inconveniences.

Their advice in trying a new diet: be fully committed. The first weeks are more challenging but then things become a habit. Recipes, such as those that follow, can bring new flavors to the table and help you stick with it long enough to access the benefits of a revamped diet.


hoisin-stir-fried-veg-tofu-rice-noodlesHoisin Stir-Fried Vegetables and Tofu over Rice Noodles

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp. sesame oil, divided
1/4 cup soy sauce, divided
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. each minced garlic and fresh ginger
2 tsp. cornstarch
8 oz. thin rice vermicelli
8 oz. firm tofu, chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 green onions, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups broccoli, chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together hoisin sauce, 1 Tbsp. sesame oil, 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugars, vegetable broth, garlic, ginger and cornstarch. Set aside. Pour boiling water over noodles to cover; soak for 10 minutes until soft. Drain well.

In a large wok or skillet, stir- fry tofu in 2 Tbsp. sesame oil and 2 Tbsp. soy sauce until lightly browned, about three minutes. Add green onions, peppers and broccoli. Stir fry another 2–3 minutes. Stir sauce mixture into the skillet. Allow to simmer until mixture thickens, about 4–5 minutes and broccoli is done cooking. Serve over cooked rice noodles. Serves 5–6. Wine recommendation: Fetzer Riesling. Beer recommendation: Stella Artois.

quinoa-pilafQuinoa Pilaf
Compliments of People’s Food Co-op

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup quinoa (rinsed)
2 1/4 cups water
1 Tbsp. Herbamare seasoning (an herbal salt)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, sweetened
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Sauté onions until tender. Add quinoa then sauté a minute longer; add Herbamare and water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Gently stir in pecans and cranberries and simmer for five minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature. Wine recommendation: Poppy Zinfandel. Beer recommendation: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

voyage-into-veganismSpice-Laden Chickpea Stew

1/4 tsp. each ground allspice, ground cardamom and ground cloves
1/2 tsp. each ground coriander, ground ginger, paprika, salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh peeled ginger
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 cups vegetable broth
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained

Stir spices together in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and chopped ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very sof t and golden brown, about eight minutes. Stir in reser ved spice mixture. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, about two minutes. Slowly, add broth to tomato paste. Add to pot then stir in potatoes, carrots and celery. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover pot. Add chickpeas. Continue simmering until stew is thickened and potatoes and carrots are very tender, about 15 minutes more. Serves six. Wine recommendation: Montebuena Rioja. Beer recommendation: New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Variation: cubed, cooked ham or sliced, cooked sausage can be added to this for meat lovers.