Grocery shopping is not what it used to be. As a master’s student writing my thesis at home, going grocery shopping is when I am most exposed to the coronavirus, and as a result, it frightens me a little. I take the necessary precautions, but I only go once a week. I used to dash over frequently just to buy something I was missing. Having a small, European refrigerator also lent itself to frequent shopping stints; I can’t store much food in it. Now I run out of a lot of essential items, like milk and eggs, before I go to the store. On one of those empty-fridge days last week and with three sad, brown bananas lying lonely at the bottom of our produce bowl, I decided to bake chocolate banana bread. Without butter or eggs, I had no choice but to make a vegan version. I took two recipes that I like (a vegan one and a non-vegan one) and made my own recipe.
Vegan baking is tricky. It’s so much easier to use the conventional ingredients we know will work and taste great. I’ve tried a lot of the vegan baking substitutes recommended. Some work really well, you’d never know they were vegan! Other times, the results can be frustrating. One of the most challenging items to substitute is eggs. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and aquafaba are usually recommended, but they’re all a bit of a gamble. In this recipe, I find that ground chia seeds provide a really firm hold.
I followed a vegan diet for six months when I first moved to Berlin. It was a difficult decision for me to eat animal products again. There is so much guilt tied up with diets and the food we eat, not least because we (men and women) are so dissatisfied with our body image. Health fanaticism, for its part, has us thinking about macronutrients and micronutrients that we didn’t even know existed a few years ago. We are also learning that low-quality, meat-heavy diets exacerbate climate change, lead to environmental degradation and cause adverse health effects. Of course, you should try to maximize the number of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes you consume. Does that mean we all have to be vegans? A frightening thought for many. I would rather ask, why is it so much cheaper and convenient to buy meat-centric fast food than a healthy, sustainably produced meal? You and I are not the ones who should feel guilty when we have to make difficult food choices. The politicians, agribusinesses, and large food corporations that benefit most from the way our food system is designed are the ones who should feel guilty. They hold disproportionate power and could put us on a path towards sustainability and health but choose not to.
We are all just doing our best given the constraints we live with, and that’s hard enough as it is. Plant-based diets have a lighter impact on the planet, but healthy, meat-reduced ones do too. The graph below really brought this home to me. It was published in an interactive New York Times article titled “Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered.” It shows the potential drop in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of following different diets, and a meat-reduced diet is tied with a vegetarian diet in this regard. Note that this graph does not show the reduction in land use, health risks from the overuse of antibiotics, water and air contamination from manure lagoons, and other benefits that accompany a reduction in meat production and consumption. I’ll pick that up on another day.
At the end of the day, I personally want to eat a sustainable, healthy diet, but I want to be happy too. For me, that might mean eating vegan chocolate banana bread with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on top!
Reluctantly Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread
- 1 1/3 cup (170g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (50g) cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 very ripe bananas
- 1/2 cup (100 ml) non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoon ground chia seeds plus 3 tablespoons water (can use ground flax seeds instead)
- 1/3 cup (80ml) melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
- 3/4 cup (145g) brown sugar (or white sugar)
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate OR ½ cup chocolate and ½ cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F (175˚C). Grease a loaf pan and pat cocoa power around the greased surface. Chop your chocolate and/or nuts and set them aside.
- Place the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a big bowl and whisk together.
- Place the ground chia seeds in another big bowl, add the water, and stir. It will quickly turn thick and sticky. Mash the bananas with a fork into the chia seed mixture. Add the non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Stir well to combine.
- Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture, stir carefully. Lastly, add the walnuts and/or chopped chocolate. Stir until just combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean (there will be streaks of melted chocolate!).
- Let cool completely in the pan before slicing (I know, that will take a great deal of willpower!), this will help prevent the banana bread pieces from falling apart.
- I grind the chia seeds or flax seeds in a coffee grinder. I find that chia seeds make the bread hold up better than flax seeds. If you don’t have chia or flax, just use one egg.