EHL’s vegan and vegetarian chef, Ehrhard Busch, describes his take on the plant-based agenda and shares his latest Veganuary recipe.
Consumer behaviors are changing
Welcome to Veganuary! This typically marketing-oriented term was first coined by a UK charity in 2014 as an initiative to encourage people to go meat-free after the fleshy excesses of Christmas. The concept has proven to be an impressive success, championed by supporters ranging from actor Joachim Phoenix, musician Paul McCartney to Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian.
“Veganuary has clearly affected consumer behaviour. More than twice as many people purchased a product labelled “plant-based” from a supermarket in January 2020 than in December 2019” - The Independent.
Basing one’s eating habits on plant-sourced, animal-free alternatives, the vegan attitude aims to improve health by:
avoiding saturated animal fats
preventing animal suffering
protecting the environment
What is often overlooked is the ecological impact of meat production. Poor engineering and agricultural practices mean that 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, whereas to produce 1kg of wheat needs between 500 and 4,000 litres of water, (UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers). The 3rd factor alone is enough to entice anyone with eco-conscious sensibilities to try out being vegan, or vegetarian, or at the very least, a ‘reducetarian’ for a few weeks!
Here’s what our EHL expert has to say on the matter.
Busch comes from a German family of restauranteurs. After his chef apprenticeship and university studies in Munich, his qualifications took him to Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and London. He is now at Switzerland’s EHL, where four years ago he launched the school’s “The Green Corner” promoting a vegetarian/vegan menu to students and staff. Ehrhard describes himself as “a vegetarian with vegan tendencies.”
What led you stop eating meat?
It wasn’t an immediate switch, more of a gradual realization, a more mindful attitude to what I was eating. I became increasingly aware of the disconnection between what was on my plate and where it actually came from. By that, I refer to the ugliness and cruelty of the slaughterhouse. We see nicely packaged chicken fillets in the supermarket, but I suspect that most of the world would be vegetarian if exposed to the processes that lead up to those attractive cuts of meat on the shelves.
How much importance do you place on environmental factors?
A huge importance. The energy and water involved in meat production is another fact that is often beyond the average person’s awareness, along with the deforestation involved to make place for enormous cattle ranches and the space to grow animal feed. Beef production, for example, is also responsible for a large amount of CO2 gas emissions. The average middle European consumes on average 60 kilos of meat per year. If this could be reduced by 50%, the ecological impact would already be enormously beneficial to the planet.
How would you advocate a more plant-based diet to the average meat-eater?
I would ask them to look at how their grandparents lived and ate. More often than not, a joint of meat was eaten once, possibly twice, a week. Meat was not produced on such an industrial scale so it was more expensive to buy and scarcer to find, often it was considered a special treat. Previous generations certainly ate less and were more in line with the seasons. What’s more, they had no choice but to use local produce. These are good habits that we should return to more and more: less/seasonal/local.
What do you think of the latest vegan options that have recently come on the market?
There are definitely more non-meat products available in the supermarkets than ever before; this is undeniably a good thing when it comes to giving the consumer greater variety to choose from. However, I personally advise being wary of any foodstuff that has been heavily processed - whether it’s vegetarian, vegan or not. Is a laboratory-processed plant-based mince any better/healthier than industrially processed ham or sausage? In general, I advise eating food that has gone through the least possible processes from its original source to your plate.
For me, there are 2 types of vegetarians/vegans: those who are happy to eat naturally-sourced plant-based food and those who seek to replace their meat eating habits with transformed options that resemble the original. Personally, I adhere to the former category, preferring to play around with what nature gives us and come up with new and exciting variations on that theme. Admittedly, there are some brands of soya-based mince that are easy to produce and look very appealing. If these options form the necessary bridge that make the crossing to a non-meat lifestyle easier, then so be it.
It's a personal choice
In truth, I do not wish to ‘ram’ the concept of plant-based eating down anyone’s throat. What and how we eat are such personal issues, very much based on family, religious and cultural habits. I am happy to advocate a simple reduction in animal protein consumption that would already have such a great impact on general health and the environment. Being a ‘reducetarian’ is also a valuable and worthwhile option! Choosing a high quality cut of meat once a week would prove more expensive on one front, but overall it would come out cheaper if meat were consumed more sparingly.
A great seasonal vegan recipe from Ehrhard Busch
Creamy bulgur with dried fruit, nuts and a herb foam
Bulgur 250 gram bulgur 700 ml vegetable broth A few pinches of Ras-el-hanout spices 70 gram silken tofu 50 gram white onion, peeled and chopped 2 gram thyme 2 gram garlic 300 gram carrots 150 gram chick peas, cooked
Harissa sauce 500 ml soya milk 15 gram Harissa 5 gram salt
Herb foam 200 ml soya milk 30 gram parsley, blanched 10 gram chervil, blanched 2 gram salt
Decoration 50 gram pomegranate 80 gram kale, deep fried
For the bulgur: Sweat the onion, garlic, carrots and thyme in olive oil in a big pan, then add the bulgur grains. Deglaze with the broth and continue to cook like a risotto. Season with salt, pepper and Ras el hanout. When the bulgur is cooked, remove the thyme and garlic, and add the cooked chick peas with all the fruits and nuts. Blend the silken tofu and mix it with the bulgur.
For the Harissa sauce: Blend everything. Add one ladle per portion to the bulgur.
For the foam: Blend everything together using a hand mixer to obtain a nice foam.