Six months on whole-food, plant-based diet doesn't need to be boring

Valerie O’Connor has spent the last six months on a whole-food, plant-based diet but finds that eating in restaurants now has become really boring — though tasty options are straightforward with a bit of imagination.    

AS A teenage vegetarian who just did it to annoy my parents, I ate my way through a lot of bean burgers made from a packet.

You mixed the powdered stuff up with an egg and water and made them into burger shapes. They were delicious and saved me, even though I was eating lots of salmon and tuna because, as we all know, fish is a vegetable.

It’s now six months since I decided to become a social pariah and take the plant-based path. 

I did not choose this path, it was strongly recommended to me by a naturopath I had gone to see to try and reduce my very high dose of thyroid medication — which was being upped every time I went to see the doctor.

Thyroid problems are rife in this country and the cause is unknown; some say lack of iodine, some say it’s the fluoride and all say you have go on medication for the rest of your life. 

I was advised to go vegan, mainly because of what’s in the industrial meat chain — watch the documentary What the Health on Netflix for the gorey details.

I won’t go into that here, as it would even turn you off your chia-seed pudding.

Meat is easy, throw it on the pan and cook it, turn it over and cook it some more and then eat it. Throw on a bit of broccoli and you’re paleo. 

I was almost paleo before this and the contrast couldn’t be more great, I believed I was doing the best for myself and my family by eating meat at every meal and often more than once a day.

Just over six months on a whole-food, plant-based diet, I feel better than before. Chronic sinusitis that had me at the doctor regularly begging for prescriptions and horsing into antihistamines is not a thing that I miss.

Also, not having pain in my face anymore is a freedom I can’t describe. My skin is better (people tell me so), and I get no muscle pains when I work hard at the gym.

The trainer believes this is nothing to do with being meat-free — but tell that to the many athletes who perform better without animals in their veins. I am now fully off my medication but please take note — this was done under the supervision of a skilled naturopath who works through food, herbs and homeopathy, it’s not just the diet.

Also, I asked for the approval and consent of my GP every time I made an incremental reduction and got a full set of blood tests done. Giving up medication willy-nilly is never a good idea — so seek professional advice and guidance.

Meanwhile, I love to go out and celebrate landmark happy occasions but, as I am now vegan and chefs welcome vegans with the enthusiasm of hearing you have a sexually transmitted disease, eating in restaurants is just really boring now.

On a recent trip to eat out to mark a big birthday for my son, we two vegans (my eldest son is also on the plants) were offered a salad, a risotto and a vegan meringue. So that’s a lot of expensive, unimaginative baby-food with no texture and lot of sugar.

Chefs are meant to be creative people, they go on about seasonal and local ingredients, but it’s all hot air. 

What can be more seasonal and local than the abundance of great vegetables we have at this time of year, the amazing mushrooms that don’t need to be ruined in a risotto? 

To the average fish and chips and chowder cook, cooking without animals, is like sex without orgasm; why would you bother?

Last week I was told that the vegan breakfast options were porridge (without milk?...) or the French toast (made with eggs!). Sigh. My best vegan meal in a non-vegetarian restaurant this year was in the Old Bakehouse in Milltown Malbay, Co Clare.

It’s long been one of my favourites and chef Eddie Keane is a generous cook who just loves to feed people well.

My meal at the time was two nut burgers served with a tower of steamed basmati rice, some delicious ratatouille and leeks on the side. 

It was by far the nicest plates of food I’ve had — loaded with flavour and textures and a wonderful throwback to good old-fashioned 90’s cooking. Turns out Eddie’s daughter is vegan so he gets it, people want to eat good food.

Many people now are realising the connection between diet and health and might choose to eat no meat for these reasons to support them through cancer therapy or to help with arthritis, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. This is a choice made for health and not to just to be “annoying” or “caring about animals”.

There are many sacrifices a person has to make when they choose a restrictive diet and it would be really great if menus treated non-meat eaters like other paying diners by giving them choice and respect. 

Should someone have to show a card with a disability or illness on it?

Meanwhile (rant over!) here is Eddie’s recipe for a basic nut burger. It’s annoyingly simple, almost as simple as vegans are conceived to be, and it makes a great stash of food.

The recipe will give you about 16-18 burger patties and you can freeze them in layers separated by baking parchment, so you can just whip them out and fry them up as you want them. The key to saving your sanity in vegan country is food prep and batch cooking. More on that later.

Eddie Keane’s Nut Burgers

I buy the bags of nuts in Lidl which are great value. They are not organic but good luck trying to find organic nuts in any quantities.

Nuts should always be soaked for at least an hour in non-tap water (chlorine is a disinfectant) and then rinsed, drained and spread out on a baking tray and roasted in the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes.

Do this with any nuts or seeds you plan on snacking on, it makes them more digestible and they taste much better.

This is a base recipe, you can add spices and other flavourings if you wish. Makes 16-18 patties


500-600g nuts mixed, (I use a bag of cashews, one of walnuts and one of pecans) 2-3 large cooked potatoes, steamed is best


* Once you have roasted your nuts you want to smash them up, but not pulverize. Do this by putting them all into a strong plastic bag, or as my son did, into a folded tea towel and smash them randomly with a heavy rolling pin or the bottom of a large cooking pot.

* Mash the spuds, seasoning with a little sea salt and pepper.

* Mix the mash in with the nuts until it’s all well combined and then shape the mixture into patties.

Serve these any way you like, with sweet potato or regular fries, roasted veggies and salad.

I had my burger between two slices of sourdough with pickled cucumbers, greens and ketchup just like any other person.

Vegans have teeth too!


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