This roasted root veggie hash is a nutritious, plant-fueled option.

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The first time I went vegan, I gained five pounds. The second time, I won a hundred bucks. Every fad diet I’ve tried has worked, at least for a while, though I always gained it back and then some, but going vegan was different. It was better for my health, better for the animals and it was something my current roommate was doing, so I went for it. Plus, it sounded cool to "go vegan" in the early 2000s.

Depending on who you ask, veganism is better for climate change than eating a combination of animal products and produce, and will save the earth. Raising livestock creates large amounts of greenhouse gases, requires more irrigation water, fertilizers, which are terrible for the soil, and of course, take up valuable cropland itself.

Others claim it is what’s wreaking havoc on our soil and ozone layer due to the implications of transporting produce from one country to another and contributes to soil pollution and water depletion. Both arguments may have merit, but when it comes to choosing to go meatless, what’s the best approach?

Any way of eating can have negative implications for the environment or for our bodies and there’s certainly not one specific way "right" way of eating. There’s such a thing as a junk food vegetarian, which I was after every high school sports game. We would stop at McDonald’s and I would order French fries and a milkshake — a perfect vegetarian meal (although I was hungry an hour and a half later).

Vegan living can elicit the same vulnerabilities in us, as I gravitated to carbs to fill the void left by meat and dairy during my first foray into a vegan lifestyle. The second time was more successful and less trial and error, but I still chose processed dairy replacements rather than whole food substitutes I should have.

Vegan viewers

Every time I watch a documentary that depicts the circumstances in which factory farmed livestock lives, the way in which they’re treated and the deaths they undergo, I eat a little less fish and a whole lot less chicken (I gave up mammals long ago for a multitude of reasons). I seek well raised animals when I eat them not only because they’re better treated, but typically higher in nutrients. Animals are meant to see the sun daily. They are meant to eat their natural fare and dwell in their natural environment. When they don’t, they aren’t as healthy as they could be.

Pasture-raised animals are typically the better cared for and most nutritious (though perhaps tougher) versions of their cultivated species. Their free-range counterparts are often still kept in a large barn with little room to roam, though they’re technically cage-free. "Outdoor access" is a tricky little label, as it denotes nothing but a tiny door at the end of a huge building that the animals are often too frightened to utilize.

One can take solace as a vegetarian that they eat nothing but dairy and eggs, but the horror of the industry includes chopped beaks, as little as one-square foot of cage space per bird, stacked on top of one another at heights that would frighten anyone. Tales are told of hens being locked in the dark room for weeks during which they have food withheld, all in the name of tricking them into thinking it’s winter. Suddenly, their lights are switched on for sixteen hours a day and their food is increased, mimicking feelings of spring. They start laying and lay they do, double time until they are "spent," lay no longer and are unceremoniously disposed of.

Oddly enough (or actually, not at all odd), we are discussing only hens here. Chickens are bred to be either layers or meat chickens and neither the twain shall meet. A male layer is useless and therefore disposed of, often by inhumane practices involving being thrown away alive in bins or thrown into inefficient wood chippers. This all makes me think three times about eating eggs.

Milk musings

Dairy is inhumane in its own way. Though they’re not "passed away," as my daughter would say, cows are impregnated and their calves are taken from them within hours. Their milk is stolen on our behalf while their calves are fed from nurse cows or other formula. As mammals, cattle have similar feelings to ours when it comes to their young. They want to nurse and take care of them, but instead are hooked up to milking machines each day and are not allowed to stop lactating.

Yet. We are at the top of the food chain and … We. Must. Eat. How do we do that as humanly as possible? As a Vermonter, I feel that I’ve become dulled in the big city. My oregano crop is suffering in my roof top garden as the rains continue and my lettuce is long gone. The bugs have made their way to my kale and my green thumb has certainly turned purple (if I ever had one). I admire when people not only grow their own gardens, but process their own meat, having passed it away swiftly and adeptly.

It is hypothesized that small family farms will no longer exist in half a century and that few people will even be able to identify with the term.

If anyone has thought about dipping your toe in the vegan waters, 10-year vegan veteran and author, Hannah McLaughlin, says, “You have to know your why and your reasoning behind that.” Americans focus on getting enough protein in their diets, but the truth is that most of us get more than enough. “A lot of people don’t know this, but even fruit has protein in it,” McLaughlin says.

If you’re not ready to go vegan (which I admit, I am not) try these things to focus on healthier food and more humane practices.

1. Seek out pasture-raised meats and dairy when economical and possible.

2. Choose local produce.

3. Source locally laid eggs and ask, when possible, what happens to their male layers.

4. Buy local milk from small farms that can tell you about their cows.

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5. Steer clear of dairy and meat replacements that emulate the real thing.

6. Yes, protein is important, but recent findings suggest we don’t need to eat complete proteins all at one sitting. Many complementary proteins throughout the day add up to get us all that we may need.

Roasted root veggie hash


½ butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed

2 carrots (orange or rainbow), peeled and diced

2 small or 1 large parsnip, peeled and diced

1 medium sized beet, peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped


Preheat oven to 425°F.

Combine all veggies in a large bowl.

Add olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper and parsley.

Toss until evenly coated.

Lay on a baking sheet (make sure the pieces have space to crisp up).

Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender.

Broil for 2 minutes to crisp.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat


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