Plantastic: The Dark Web
Updated: Feb 3
By Anne Trominski:
If you’ve jumped into the plant-based world, you’ve probably started to scour the interwebs for recipes to try. After all, when trying something new and challenging, why reinvent the wheel? When it comes to cooking, it’s perfectly acceptable to copy off your neighbor. Just remember the golden rule of junior high cheating: don’t look at the dumb kid’s stuff.
If you’ve ever looked for any type of recipe on the webosphere, you know there’s a lot of crud floating around out there. (Well, if you’ve ever looked for ANYTHING on the webosphere . . .) Not all recipes are made the same, and most people are posting “adaptations” of other people’s blog recipes or professional chef’s cookbook recipes. I’m not knocking these people—they are how I save money on new cookbooks—but very few bloggers are actually posting their own original creations. You can generally tell who is by how professional their site looks. But be wary, a glossy photo shoot can cover a lot of ills. Since you got into this plant-based situation because of your quest for good health, make sure what you are pinning to your “Healthy Plant Meals” board is actually, in fact, a healthy plant meal.
Seriously. One of the most startling things that I’ve discovered is how often blogsters hashtag a post as vegan when it’s clearly not vegan. When the very first picture presented is covered in cheese, I start to go “hmmmm.” One blog post I clicked into had a particularly alluring photo spread of melted cheese AND an egg over easy. Um, do you know what vegan means? I continued to read to see how Lucy was going to explain this one and discovered a very tasty in-no-way-vegan recipe. There was, however, a small asterisk after the title “Ingredients” and a note in miniscule font at the end of the page: *Leave out cheese and eggs to make vegan.
Thanks. Thanks so much. So helpful.
Another variation on this tune includes a cheesy dish that in no way adapts its traditional method of preparation except to put the word “vegan” in front of the type of cheese that is usually included in said dish. I swear if I see one more vegetable lasagna recipe that blithely suggests I use vegan ricotta, vegan mozzarella, and vegan parmesan, I’m going to vegan lose it. What’s next? A pot roast recipe that calls for a vegan chuck roast? That’s not a vegan recipe! That’s a lazy blogger looking for clicks, and I’m the goober that clicked in!
The thing is, eating plant-based is super cool right now (really, like everyone wants to eat veggies with you at the cool kid’s table at lunch) and putting vegan in handwriting font over an appetizing food picture can draw a lot of people in (raises hand). Bloggers realize this and are trying to get you to come to their site. That’s why so many recipes are also soy-free, gluten-free, one-pot meals, and comfort food as well as being vegan.
If it’s too good to be true, it’s been posted on the Internet.
In the quest for healthy AND yummy food, it’s easy to be sucked in by the lure of a lasagna that looks exactly like what you ate in the heady days of meat and cheese yore. Don’t feel bad if you fell for click-bait that didn’t come in the form of “These 15 things can kill your in pain! You’re probably eating number 3 right now!” We all get lost from time to time in the quest for health. Clicking on “Vegan One-Pot Comfort Food” is an understandable pitfall.
So, what should you be looking for when searching for recipes that will actually help you along your plant-based way? First of all, look for whole foods. The fewer artificial components included, the more likely this person is actually trying to be healthy in his or her eating too, and not just trying to appear healthy. Secondly, look for some of the vegan flavoring staples in the ingredient list, like nutritional yeast or miso. Third, get away from the subs. You don’t have to always eat the vegan version of something. There are vegan recipes that don’t necessarily look like something that once had meat. Instead of a sub for a hamburger (of which there are 10 kajillion) branch out to something that you’ve never made before. Vegetable korma is yummy stuff.
Other things to consider when recipe hunting: the star of a plant-based dish should ideally be a plant. Yes, there are a lot of plant-based dishes that involve pasta, but there are even more that don’t. Also, a worthwhile recipe usually includes a protein component of some sort. Look for the beans and lentils and quinoa. If someone is just throwing out variations on tofu, you’re going to get bored, and that’s coming from someone who likes tofu. A human with a sustainable plant-based habit is most likely changing proteins up frequently, so avoid a website where everything looks the same.
If the blogger is recommending throwing in a vegan cheese, see if they are recommending a specific brand. That’s an easy way to tell if someone is actually using it when cooking and not just thinking you should use it when cooking. Also, a lot of vegan bloggers have recipes or workarounds for cheese in “comfort food” dishes. Are they talking about soaking cashews? That’s a great cheese or cream substitute, and not as work-intensive as it might initially sound. Yes, it requires a couple more steps than opening the pouch of shredded “Pizza” cheese, but it’s tasty and will keep you on the path of plant-based righteousness.
Also, get to know your bloggers. Yeah, it’s fine to bounce around looking for new sites and meals à la Pinterest, but have some standard go-to’s that you can trust. Does that blogger flash any credentials, or share enough of their personal life that you trust that he or she knows what they are talking about? It’s easy to tag “vegan” onto something to get a click, but a valid story is a little harder to fake. Go back to the writer who can explain why they’re in the plant-based recipe business in the first place. One site I like to return to is thefullhelping.com. If you check it out, you’ll see it’s a pretty glam professional site with links to her cookbooks. But, along with pretty pictures, I’ve found some substance to go along with Gena Hamshaw’s recipes.
Obviously, because plant-based eating is so very cool (like, seriously, we’re totally awesome) and healthy, you will find bloggers out there who aren’t necessarily vegan but post some great veggie-centric meals. One of my favorite plant-based dinners (15-minute garlic lime cashew zoodles) came from saltandlavendar.com, a blog run by Natasha. The site is dedicated to easy healthy meals from all the food groups, but she follows some of my key recipe blogger guidelines: whole foods, an authentic story, and nary an asterisk to tell you to leave out non-vegan ingredients to make something vegan.
If you are a plant-based noob, please don’t be discouraged by the bait and switch of the cheese-erific bloggers out there. There is a light side to the interwebs where people are actually trying to help you get healthy as well as generate ad revenue.
Just remember to copy off the smart kids. The cool kids. The plant-based kids.