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Vegan in the making: Author creates cookbook to aid others who want to make the switch

December 30, 2017 GMT

Ann Hodgman has long aspired to be a vegetarian; it just took her some time to get there. It’s what happens when you enjoy such foods as bacon, meat loaf and fried chicken.“I wanted to be a vegetarian since I was 12, when a friend of mine became one,” says the Washington, Conn.-based writer. “I just waffled for all that time.”On a base level, she believed eating meat was ethically wrong and environmentally detrimental, but she had been avoiding making the change. She likens herself to a cigarette smoker, who knows one day she will have to quit. About five years ago, at 56, she pulled the switch.“There are people, like me, who want to go to a plant-based diet, but it is a big, big change. When you make a hard change, it’s hard,” she says, laughing. “People always want it to be easy, but it is not.”It would be even better if she became a vegan, dropping dairy, eggs and basically anything that comes from animals (no cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs, butter, cream, etc.) But this was the same person who had written “Beat This! Cookbook,” “Beat That! Cookbook” and “One Bite Won’t Kill You,” and had advocated doubling the chocolate and adding bacon to improve any recipe. Could a person who had employed a “life is too short” mantra to eating become more disciplined in her approach?Hodgman got to cooking, and the answer to that question is “Vegan Food for the Rest of Us.” Her latest cookbook is for her fellow culinary travelers - vegans in the making. Hodgman was guided by the premise that food that was good for the planet also had to taste good.She admits to some misdirection in the beginning, going deep into experimentation. Sprouts, soybeans, fermented fruits, oils and other products proliferated in her kitchen. For about a year, she tested such things as nondairy sour cream. “If I was starving, it probably would have tasted delicious, but there had been so many times when I would dread taking a bite out of something,” she says.A disastrous evening with homemade seitan, a wheat gluten meat substitute, was the turning point. “My (omnivore) husband said ’I wouldn’t mind never tasting this again,” she says. No more attempts at thinking vegan cooking could replicate omnivore dishes. The vegan dish had to stand on its own.“I wanted to make it easier for myself to become a vegan,” she says.Hodgman’s latest cookbook arrives at a time when a growing number of people are switching to a plant-based diet for ethical, environmental or health reasons. A recent study revealed about 7.3 million adults in the United States follow a vegetarian diet, with about a million of them vegan. Vegans also exclude all products that in some way exploit or are cruel to animals. More Americans are eating less beef, according to the National Resources Defense Council, which has helped to cut climate-warming pollution. Whether it sways public opinion or not, some top celebrities have been following vegan diet for years, including Brad Pitt, Woody Harrelson and Alicia Silverstone.Vegetarianism and vegan lifestyles are not new, but these days, it’s not so much about deprivation. Restaurants are putting more vegan dishes on the menu, grocery stores are stocking more products, vegan bakers are winning competitions against traditional bakers and food companies are popping up with better vegan products. Amateur cooks are coming up with innovations, too, that can approximate the role of, say, butter and eggs in baking.Amid writing the book, for instance, Hodgman discovered aquafaba while online searching. It’s the liquid in a can of chickpeas that can substitute for eggs in vegan cooking. Another invention, flax seed gel (created by soaking the seeds) can serve as eggs in baking recipes. America’s Test Kitchen came out this year with the cookbook, “Vegan for Everybody,” which, similar to Hodgman’s, attempts to create recipes that steer clear of bland flavors and overprocessed ingredients.Hodgman has provided shortcuts for harried vegans and vegans-to-be, as plant-based dishes can take a bit longer than omnivore cooking. She has suggested brands whose products are generations removed from rubbery and bland approximations to meat and dairy counterparts. And, as with her other cookbooks, she provides plenty of amusing anecdotes and notes and tell-it-like-it is moments to make this as much of a fun read as an instructional guide. She is quick to note that all recipes have been “Dave-tested and Dave-approved.”Dave, for instance, gave the stamp of approval to her vegan burgers — which was followed by another omnivore asking her for the recipe. “You would not eat the burger and say, hey, this is exactly like beef, but you would really like it,” she says. “The ice cream tastes pretty close, too. I used ground macadamia nuts for part of the base … it’s fantastic.”She suspects her readers, like her, are not perfect and are making incremental changes to adopt a diet that makes them feel better, brings them more peace and enables them to help improve the health of the planet. Her latest cookbook may not have the bacon, but it still has chocolate, because one still needs to enjoy what they are eating.“If an omnivore eats vegan food once a week, that’s still helping,” she says. “We should not turn our back on anything that helps.”chennessy@hearstmediact.com;Twitter: @xtinahennessy