When I became lacto-vegetarian 30 years ago there was one vegetarian cafe in Auckland, the fondly remembered Simple Cottage. Now there are over 30 in Auckland and around 60 thoughout all of New Zealand, and they include some exciting vegan cafes and – for the increasingly large number of gluten sensitive people – most offer gluten free options.
Becoming vegetarian brings health benefits, as well as other less tangible ones. You know that no life has been taken and no soul has been hurt in the purity and joy of the delicious food you are enjoying. How wonderful is that!
But it won’t happen automatically. If you want to improve your health and maintain it, you need to pay attention to what you eat, especially if you haven’t grown up in a vegetarian family or culture. You need to learn what suits your body and discover your own personal connection between food and good health: one size does not fit all.
In a very real sense, food is our medicine. So it is for everyone – and losing sight of that is perilous. I find it quite funny that in supermarkets the ‘Health Food’ section is often stacked on separate shelves (and is generally quite small). What does that say about all the other food that’s being sold there?
Along the way, in order to understand more about the link between food and health, I studied a year of naturopathy. That was followed by learning about the two great healing modalities of macrobiotics and Ayurveda. Both of them offer profound and well researched alternative systems for achieving and maintaining sound health, and for healing illness, and can be used alongside modern medicine if necessary. Both systems, at different times, have helped me recover from serious illnesses. Both of them also teach the importance of approaching your food as the building blocks of your health.
Both of them also insist that your food should taste delicious. Unlike some ‘gourmet’ food which can appeal to your taste but put stress on your digestion, when we eat healthy food the wonderful taste is actually a guide that it’s good for you. In fact, the more you like it, the more healthy it’s likely to be!
Macrobiotics was developed from traditional Japanese eating and has a focus on organic whole foods, led by whole grains that are mostly gluten-free, especially brown rice (also buckwheat, rye, barley, maize and others). Plus there are legumes, vegetables and a range of additional foods specifically used to enhance your health including miso, seaweeds and pickles. All this is dairy free, and mainly vegan. A macrobiotic meal has a fresh, wholesome simplicity and subtle range of tastes that reflects the quality of the ingredients. The whole foods movement fits well within macrobiotics and utilises many of its principles and cooking styles.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of healing from India, the country that has the most extensive and sophisticated vegetarian cuisine in the world. It is based around basmati rice, legumes, vegetables, soft dairy such as yoghurt and ghee, and spices that have specific health benefits as well as tasting oh so good. It is mainly gluten free, with chapatti and roti being the principle exceptions. Modern Indian cooking often uses processed flour and refined sugar, and sweets are often made with milk powder. It only takes a short step from there to recapture the finer essence of Ayurvedic cooking.
A balanced meal and a balanced diet need a range of foods – grains, legumes, vegetables including sea vegetables, pickles, sauces, and more. It does not need processed grains such as white flour and refined white rice and sugar, except as treats on special occasions, and of course there are times when this is important!
My Guide to Vegetarian Cafes rates each of the cafes I have visited. The rating includes my personal assessment of whether the meal is really satisfying – is it ‘good for you’ in all the ways that matter? I’m keen to hear your experiences with these and other cafes that I’m unable to visit.
As awareness of the value of vegetarian eating continues to grow, I’m looking forward to enjoying an increasing range of wonderful vegetarian cafes that include more exciting organic menus. And I really look forward to passing their details on to you and hearing what you think.