No meat, no problem. Angelenos are embracing plant-based lifestyles

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KCRW listener Rodrigo Mejia says he’s planning to use a plant-based meat alternative to make vegan meatballs like these for albondigas. He hasn’t had the meat version in 15 years. Photo by Shutterstock.

Who’s becoming vegan these days? Why is a plant-based diet right for you? What was your last meal before going meat-free? KCRW asked listeners

Rodrigo Mejia is a vegetarian and experimenting with plant-based meat alternatives to cook family recipes.

“When you decide ‘Hey, I'm gonna try a vegan diet, a veggie diet,’ your family is usually your first test. They ask you, ‘What about the meals that we enjoy? What about all the things that we've always had?’ And albondigas just happened to be [my last meat] meal. … It was something I had to do for the family. 

…They always say ‘Oh, you'll come back. This isn't going to last.

 And it's been 15 years.

… When fake meat was coming out, I thought it was gimmicky at first … and you have to believe your lie a little bit. It tastes a little off. But now? Oh my goodness. I am so eager to explore because I've really fallen in love with the ground meat. They make a ground chuck that you can roll into those albondigas meatballs. Now's a fantastic time to start looking into recreating those dishes, which is awesome, because for me the taste is there as well. It's something that I don't feel too awkward about sharing with family either.”

Daniela Morato and her husband signed up for a subscription vegan meal box to ease the transition when they went meat-less six years ago.

“Before we started subscribing to the plant-based meal box, we never really cooked vegan … we didn't know how to do it. And that really taught us how to prepare vegan meals and use all the different ingredients with the meat substitutes.

… Just the other day, we had some chickpeas. It was a chickpea bake with lemon. … It was super delicious. It included vegan butter and vegan cheese, which we had never tried before. And they're actually pretty good. … Our daughters are young — they don't really love chickpeas — but they have to eat it. I mean, that's our dinner.

… [The meal boxes are] really good because you can experiment and try different [foods]. They have Thai food or Vietnamese food or Korean tacos. And it's helpful to expand and then you feel more confident cooking.”

Marvelous Miles has been vegan for 15 years, which she says is “old school” to some people.

“There are a lot more vegan options than when I started. You have Just Eggs, Beyond Meats, Impossible Meat, all those different processed foods. They're more available now than when I actually first started.

I actually tried to make a vegan omelet with Just Egg. And it did not turn out like I wanted it to. Not like the video that I saw online … just very much not an omelet. The deal with eggs — I have a joke. And I don't know if this is KCRW friendly, but I always say, ‘I have my own eggs, like why am I eating someone else's eggs?’ Just saying. 

One of the reasons why I live in LA is because there's so many vegan options. I work in the film and television industry. So I travel a lot, and I'm always ecstatic to come back home because I know that I can go to a farmers market or I can go to a cool, upscale vegan restaurant, or get some vegan junk food when I need it. And so I'm really happy to live in LA as a vegan because it's hard to eat out there in our streets.”