The Value of Veganism

by | Feb 2022

vegan mac-n-cheese

Vegan Mac and “Cheese” Photos: Chris Emeott

Lifestyle blogger Kelly Zugay chats vegansim, plus vegan recipes and dishes from around town.

The vegan diet, also known as veganism, has been growing in popularity—and it’s no wonder considering an increasing number of people are cutting out animal products and byproducts for environmental and ethical reasons, among others. But oftentimes, questions about veganism arise, and finding the answers isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

I sat down with Kelly Zugay, a Twin Cities-based lifestyle blogger, who is vegan and shares her favorite recipes on her blog (

What is the vegan diet? Being vegan means not consuming any animal-based products or anything that is produced from an animal. Meat, dairy, honey—depending on the vegan you are talking to. It can also carry over from not just the foods you eat but also into your lifestyle. Not having leather products or things of that nature. Every person varies on an individual level, but the whole goal is to avoid animal products and enjoy a whole food, plant-based, vegan diet.

What is the difference between being vegan vs. vegetarian? Vegetarians avoid just meat, but they’ll still have dairy products like milk, cheese or yogurt. A vegan wouldn’t choose anything made with an animal ingredient.

What are the health benefits from being vegan? There are a lot of reasons that people feel motivated to go vegan, and the coolest part is knowing that the benefits are so multifaceted. I initially went into pursuing a plant-based, vegan diet to improve my health and to make sure I was consuming the right foods that are best for my body. But the benefits and side benefits of going vegan were having more energy, better endurance, being a stronger runner/athlete. There’s a lot of secondary benefits with one goal in mind, and the benefits are limitless.

What are the environmental benefits from the vegan diet? I learned through watching several documentaries that, with regards to factory farming and the scale at which animal products are produced, it has environmental impacts. Resources to feed the animals that become food or the land/space [for the animals] can have environmental impacts.

In addition to that, the normal implications of hunting and fishing and disrupting the ecosystem where animals live and thrive. For me, it was a matter of learning about the climate and earth and wanting to do my part to not disrupt that and eat foods that are readily available.

Is it more costly to eat vegan? With regards to cooking at home, I would say that it’s a common misconception that vegan food is more expensive. A lot of food I eat is based on a can of beans or produce that is available in the grocery store. You can be very cost effective … I eat a lot of tofu, which is the longest to prepare since you have to press it to have it take on flavor. But it makes it fun and easy. With just a few plant-based ingredients, you can make a lot of recipes.

How do you go about eating out at restaurants? There are a lot of vegan options in the Twin Cities that aren’t only plant-based, but options that are more readily available to eat at everyday restaurants. For vegan restaurants, my favorite is The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, which has really good lunch sandwiches that just hit the spot and tastes like something a meat-eating person would love and enjoy.

At restaurants that aren’t vegan, I usually get a salad without cheese, which is going to be vegan, but it is so cool to see beyond burgers and impossible burgers in the restaurants. I’ll also gravitate toward sushi, which can be avocado rolls or cucumber rolls. You can always use plant-based ingredients to find new menu items.

Vegan Options Around Town

Kelly Zugay says, although not all restaurants have specific vegan or plant-based items, many items can be made to fit the lifestyle. Stillwater’s The Tilted Tiki features an entire plant-based menu, featuring items such as a Tropical Pineapple Beyond Burger, Jackfruit Tacos or “Cheeze” Cake. More restaurants around the Valley are featuring vegan bites, too.

Chipotle Tempeh Tacos: House slaw, mojo verde, cilantro; roasted corn salsa, cilantro; spice pickled slaw, green onion.
The Lumberjack, 123 Second St. N. #102, Stillwater

Garden Burger: Vegetarian patty topped with lettuce, tomato and red onion (also serves an impossible burger)
Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop, 131 Main St. S., Stillwater

Grilled Vegetable Sandwich: Vegetables on top of fries on homemade bread, topped with vegan cheese
Key’s Café, 840 Carmichael Road, Hudson, Wisconsin

Scallion Ceviche: Orange, lime, chipotle, japeno, onion, tomato and cilantro
The Lumberjack, 123 Second St. N. #102, Stillwater

Sweet Thai Chili Stir Fry Tofu Wrap: Lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, green onion, red pepper, carrot, snap peas and seasoned baked tofu in a spinach tortilla and topped with Thai chili sauce
Urban Olive and Vine, 520 Second St., Hudson, Wisconsin

Taco Salad: Vegan black bean patty with lettuce and tomatoes, onions, black olives, vegan cheese and salsa, served with tortilla chips
Key’s Café, 840 Carmichael Road, Hudson, Wisconsin

Vegan Burger: Impossible burger with lettuce, tomato and Vidalia onion, served with a vegan bun. Brick and Bourbon, 215 Main St. S., Stillwater

Family Favorites

I’m no stranger to veganism. My sister Ashley has been vegan for over three years and vegetarian for 10. For family dinners and holiday celebrations, this means vegan food is served next to “regular” food—turkey, ham, cheese-filled potatoes, cookies and more.

Although many are under the assumption that vegan food isn’t as delicious as typical meals, family recipes have proved time and time again that the vegan diet can be just as tasty (and sometimes healthier!) than a normal diet.

My family recipes for Vegan Mac and “Cheese” and Jackfruit Pulled “Pork” Sandwich, contributed by Patrick Miehle, are below.

Vegan Mac and “Cheese”

Serves 8

  • 4 cups macaroni noodles
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups unsweetened, plain almond milk
  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp. vegan butter (I prefer Miyoko’s cultured butter.)
  • 5 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional, adds flavor)
  • ½ tsp. turmeric (optional, adds color)
  • Salt to taste

Optional topping:

  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs (Ensure breadcrumbs are vegan, as some brands add milk.)
  • 2 Tbsp. vegan butter
  • Salt to taste

In a large pot, add water, make sure to salt, and bring to a bowl. Add macaroni. Cook to al dente, drain and set aside. Pour vegetable broth into a microwave-safe measuring cup, and heat to bowl. Add raw cashews and let sit for five to six minutes before pouring into a blender. Blend until smooth. As the sauce thickens, slowly add in almond milk until everything is smooth. Add dry seasonings, salt to taste, and set aside. Combine everything. Create a slurry with cornstarch by adding enough cold vegetable broth (or water). Return your pot to medium-low heat, and add vegan butter. Once melted, mix in the sauce and slurry mix and heat until thick, stirring constantly. Add the pasta and combine. Garnish with breadcrumbs (see below).

Optional topping: Melt vegan butter in a skillet and add breadcrumbs over medium-high heat. Incorporate everything and stir/toss in the pan until breadcrumbs are lightly toasted. Set aside.

Chef’s note: If the sauce appears too thin, add more cornstarch. If the sauce appears too thick, thin it out with more broth.

Jackfruit Pulled “Pork” Sandwich

Jackfruit Pulled “Pork” Sandwich

Serves 4

  • 2 cans green jackfruit, drained with large seeds removed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. garlic
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ tsp liquid smoke
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup vegan barbecue sauce (I prefer Sweet Baby Ray’s Original)
  • olive oil
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F; heat a large sauté pan on medium heat. Drain the jackfruit, removing large seeds, and cut into smaller pieces. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan, and combine all ingredients into the pan. Stir to combine, and simmer for four to five minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Spread the jackfruit evenly onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes or until caramelized with a slight char on the tips. In a bowl, combine the jackfruit with ½ cup of barbecue sauce. Add to your favorite bun, topped with vegan butter and toppings, such as pickles or coleslaw, or leave as is.


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