Whether you’re vegan, vegan-ish, trying to eat more plant foods like vegetables and legumes, or simply interested in eating well with minimal fuss—welcome! This book is for you.
I’ve been vegetarian for most of my life, for reasons that have evolved as I have. As a child, I had a strong connection to animals, from hamsters to horses. I loved them, but more than that, I related to them as emotional beings. I could see that, just like us humans, animals experience contentment, loneliness, excitement, boredom, fear, and relational connection. When I learned that vegetarians existed, I decided to become one; I didn’t want to eat these miraculous creatures who were my friends.
As a teenager, I had a limited cooking repertoire. Fortunately, I still managed to absorb an appreciation of both cooking and eating from my parents, who are skilled cooks. Although my parents weren’t vegetarian, they wholeheartedly supported me in expressing my values in this way. My dad would experiment with dishes like eggplant moussaka with béchamel sauce, and mushroom risotto with truffle oil. My mum often had a pot of legumebased soup simmering on the stove: French-inspired lentil, or black bean and spinach. I learned that cooking at home can be fun and creative, and even an expression of love.
When I moved out on my own, I started to cook more seriously for myself. As a vegetarian, I turned to Indian cuisine, with its endless inspiration for flavouring vegetables, grains, and legumes. I fried mustard seeds and turmeric with cauliflower, transformed spinach into fragrant sauce, braised cabbage with cumin seeds until it nearly melted, and cooked countless pots of lentils, starting with that all-important flavour foundation of sautéed onion, garlic, and spices. I was in awe that such bold, satisfying flavours could be created so simply, with so few ingredients. A sense of curiosity and experimentation in the kitchen took hold and has never left me.
I worked in restaurants to help put myself through school—first an undergraduate degree in psychology, then a juris doctorate in law. Although at the time, the restaurant jobs felt incidental to my “real” life, in retrospect I can see how being immersed in food culture further shaped how I cook and eat, and planted the seeds for what would become a career. I tasted delectable food prepared by veteran chefs, saw how ingredients could be transformed into beautiful plates of food, and learned how to analyze and talk about what makes a meal delicious.
As a law student, I learned more about farming and food systems. I was devastated to learn how destructive modern agriculture could be for workers, the environment, our health, and animals. I discovered that dairy and egg farming, even under best-case scenarios, involved practices that didn’t sit well with my animal-loving self: animals are selectively bred, separated from their families, and killed in industrial slaughterhouses when their production declines. Males, of no use for dairy and eggs, are killed even sooner than are the females. I decided to boycott these industries, too, and became vegan. If there’s one thing I love more than food, it’s animals, and so the transition felt easy for me.
I was upset that I had unwittingly been contributing to this system, and I felt that the truth had been obscured from me—by cultural songs, books, and imagery that depict farming idealistically and falsely; by a sophisticated industrial agriculture industry with big marketing and lobbying budgets; and by a government that I had wrongly assumed was regulating sensitive industries. I felt driven to help educate people about modern food systems and to provide solutions. I started a (now-defunct) cooking blog, helped run an animal-law club, wrote most of my upper-year law school papers on animal rights topics, joined the board of a vegetarian organization, and held vegancooking classes and potlucks in the tiny home I shared with my husband, Arden. When it came time to start my legal career, there was never really any question that I would work in the area of farmed-animal protection.
Working as a farmed-animal lawyer strengthened my commitment to plantbased eating as a way to have a positive impact in our world. Time and again I saw how complicated and entrenched the problems of animal farming were, and how elegantly simple one solution could be: Get more people eating more plants. Through my work, I connected with many people who wanted to eat fewer animal foods but were genuinely stumped as to what to eat or even where to start. Most of us understand that eating more plants is a good thing, for our health, for the environment, for workers, and for animals. We don’t need the why—we need the how.
In our information culture, we’re inundated with websites and cookbooks with millions of plant-based recipes, but in spite of all this information—or perhaps because of it—it’s difficult to figure out how to apply it to our own lives. I once had a shelf full of cookbooks and a browser full of bookmarked recipes, yet despite being a competent home cook, too many days I blanked at dinnertime. I’d make ravioli from scratch one day and order Thai food the next, burnt-out from my marathon cooking project. Every evening, after a long day at school or work, the same overwhelming question: What should we have for dinner?
Then, as a new mother on a tight budget and with my husband, Arden, working long hours out of the house, I was happily forced to take control in the kitchen. By challenging myself to cook all our meals every day, I honed some serious kitchen management skills. And it was an epiphany for me to realize that they are skills. Cooking dinner is easy, all things considered. What’s difficult is deciding what to cook (arguably the hardest part right there), ensuring the ingredients are on-hand and fresh when you need them, and finding ways to use or repurpose ingredients and leftovers to avoid waste.
I no longer blank at dinnertime. I’ve found an approach to cooking that works for our family, and have a repertoire of simple, pantry-friendly meals. I love tasty food, I enjoy being in the kitchen, and I crave a varied diet. At the same time, I gravitate toward efficiency. Spending hours making a fiddly, gourmet feast is not my idea of a good time. I naturally seek out ways to minimize the time and effort put into cooking while not sacrificing flavour and satiety.
In 2016, I started Easy Animal-Free as an Instagram account to share this approach to cooking that was working so well for me. I thought it would be useful to provide an example of how one family of four managed the daily and weekly rhythms of animal-free eating. I wanted to show how we ate well with minimal effort—meals that are nutritionally balanced, family-friendly, tasty, satisfying, and practical for everyday people with full lives. I also hoped to inspire people to cook regularly, and to do so with confidence and resourcefulness—with or without recipes. I committed to sharing only food that my family really eats: real-world tested and family-approved.
Eating animal-free isn’t a deprivation. On the contrary, putting vegetables, legumes, grains, spices, and herbs first opens us up to a world of fresh and exciting flavours. As award-winning authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg put it in The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, one good reason for cooking plant-based is “maximizing flavor—which is too often masked by meat-based stocks or butter and cream.”
The Easy Animal-Free project has grown into this very book. After years of sharing kitchen tips, hacks, and recipes in a piecemeal way, and after receiving dozens of polite messages from people sick of screen-shotting my content and asking me to please put it into a book already, the time felt right to organize it all into something more digestible. This book is a collection of my family’s favourite foods and an articulation of how I approach making them. I hope it helps make it easier for you to eat more delicious plants. More than that, I hope it helps you find your own sense of joy and ease in the kitchen. Let me show you what I’ve learned.
Copyright © 2021 by Anna Pippus. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.