As the beginning of a new year approaches, are you inspired to make resolutions to improve your life and health? If so, you have company. According to Inc.com, 60% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m one of them! I love fresh starts, and I am an inveterate “improver.”

What if I told you that there is one New Year’s resolution that packs a bigger wallop than any other you could make — a single, super-efficient resolution that in one fell swoop will help you lose weight, reduce your risk of endemic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, increase your chances for longevity, and dramatically reduce your environmental footprint, thus benefiting the entire planet?

Katie Rohman column: I'm riding the Veganuary train

The resolution is this: Go vegan. Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a 2019 NPR interview: “I think if we really care about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, we do need to shift toward (a vegan diet). And the good news is that it’s not just our planet that will be more healthy, but we will be more healthy as well.” Consider it a gift you can give to yourself and the world.

Veganuary

And what better time to start than the month of January? This is the message of the international nonprofit Veganuary, which encourages people to give plant-based diets a try during the month when they are most motivated to make healthful changes. In 2019, more than a quarter of a million people took the Veganuary pledge.

The Veganuary website, us.veganuary.com, is a treasure trove of free helpful resources where you can learn more about the benefits of plant-based diet. The online Vegan Starter Kit includes meal plans, a shopping guide and nutrition facts. I like the “Myths” page, in which the Veganuary writers address 43 misconceptions about a vegan diet, such as “you have to consume meat to get enough protein” and “one person going vegan won’t make a difference.” There is a page profiling the Veganuary ambassadors, including Minnesota’s own Scott Jurek!

And of course, there are recipes. Hundreds of recipes from cuisines all over the world. The UK origin of the site is noticeable, with British spellings, measurements (200 ml nut milk), and terminology (a tin of black beans), but don’t let that deter you. If you need help, there are plenty of metric-to-standard cooking conversion charts online.

Part of the appeal of joining Veganuary is being part of an international group of hundreds of thousands of people doing the same thing. But of course you don’t have to use the Veganuary website in order to make a plant-based New Year’s resolution. And you can be part of a local Veganuary community by joining the Whole Foods Co-op DuluthDoesVeganuary Facebook page. However you decide to do it, leaning into a vegan diet will be a good move, and any step that you take towards being more plant-based will have health and environmental benefits.

Do it for love

I think the best reason to make a Veganuary pledge is for love. Love your body. Love your family and friends and resolve to live a long and healthy life with them. Love our beautiful planet and all of its inhabitants. There is no better or bigger gift that you can give!

Here’s my version of two recipes from the Veganuary website. They are quick, easy, inexpensive and a nice break from rich holiday food.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Quesadilla

Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time; then these sweet and savory quesadillas come together in a few minutes. This will make one or two quesadillas, depending on how thick you spread the filling.

2 medium sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon parsley or cilantro, chopped

½ cup vegan cheese shreds, optional

2 or 4 tortilla wraps

Heat oven to 425. Scrub the unpeeled sweet potatoes and bake them whole, on parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup, for 45 to 50 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork. (Note: This step can be done ahead of time. Refrigerate the baked sweet potatoes for up to two days.) Heat olive oil in a pan and saute the onion and red pepper flakes. Add garlic, paprika, cumin, and beans and saute for a minute or two. Scoop baked sweet potato flesh out of the skins and add to the pan along with vinegar and parsley and warm through. Gently heat a tortilla wrap in a large pan over low heat, or in the oven. Spread on the sweet potato-bean mixture and top with vegan cheese, then another warm tortilla. Flip the tortilla or return it to the oven — don’t let it scorch! Remove to cutting board and slice into wedges. Serve with avocado and salsa if desired.

Beans on Toast

My mom liked to eat canned baked beans on toast. This recipe is even better, and almost as quick — 15 minutes start to finish. The leftover beans are delicious the next day.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed

One 14½ oz can diced tomatoes

¼ to ½ cup unflavored oat milk

Warm olive oil in a pan and add onion, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for 3 minutes, until onions begin to soften. Reduce heat and add maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, mustard and thyme. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add beans and tomatoes and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in a splash of oat milk and continue to cook on low heat until it reaches your desired texture, adding more oat milk if needed. Serve hot on toasted bread.

Did you know?

“Climate change is the greatest crisis humankind has ever faced, and it is a crisis that will always be simultaneously addressed together and faced alone. We cannot keep the kinds of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known. We must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go. It is that straightforward, that fraught.” Jonathan Safran Foer in “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast,” p 71.

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Sticking with it

Changing habits can be challenging, so be prepared. Here are a few tips to help you rock your Veganuary pledge:

  • Find your why. Write down the reasons why this is important to you; review the list every day.
  • Be realistic. Maybe you’d like to start with Mark Bittman’s “VB6” (Vegan Before 6pm) approach: plant-based meals for breakfast and lunch, then modest amounts of meat or dairy with dinner. But don’t underestimate yourself — full-on vegan may be for you; you can do wonderful things when you’re motivated!
  • Don’t go it alone. Find someone to partner with; join the DuluthDoesVeganuary Facebook community through Whole Foods Co-op.
  • Make a plan. Start with a few plant-based foods or recipes that you know you like and gradually increase your repertoire. After all, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and an apple is a vegan meal.
  • Have a sense of adventure. It’s fun to stretch your boundaries and learn new things, especially when the pay-off is so big.
  • Immerse yourself in veg-positive media. Read books like Dr. Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die” or Jonathan Safran Foer’s “We Are the Weather: Saving the Environment Begins with Breakfast”; look at fun vegan websites like GreatVeganAthletes.com; watch vegan movies like “Game Changers” just out on Netflix; read magazines like “Forks Over Knives” (no ads!); or explore some of the other gazillion vegan websites and blogs.
  • Go public. Talk about it. Tell people what you’re doing and why.
  • Don’t give up when you have an off day. Building new habits doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Author Jonathan Safran Foer advises: “Instead of imagining all the meals ahead of you, focus on the meal in front of you. … It’s hard to change lifelong habits, but it’s not that hard to change a meal. Over time, those meals become your new habits.”

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Local Veganuary action

The Pharm Juice Bar + Kitchen

31 W. Superior St. #303

Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Duluth’s micro-juicery providing 100% raw juice, smoothies and global-inspired plant-based food.

Special offer: $15 vegan entree plus juice when you tell them you’re doing Veganuary.

Pizza Lucé

11 E. Superior St.

Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m., Sat. and Sun. 8 a.m.-2:30 a.m.

Special offer: Each time you purchase a vegan item at Pizza Lucé during Veganuary, you will be entered into a weekly drawing to win a $25 gift card.

Yellow Bike Cafe

5094 Miller Trunk Hwy in the Hermantown Essentia Wellness Center/YMCA

Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Large variety of vegan baked goods, beverages, house-made soups and sandwiches. Vegan pizza cheese coming in January.

Special offer: $1 off a vegan salad or sandwich during the month of January at the YMCA location.

Whole Foods Co-op

610 E. 4th St and 4426 Grand Ave.

7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Join the Co-op’s online community on Facebook, DuluthDoesVeganuary, to connect with others who are interested in trying a plant-based diet. Weekly recipes and tips, group Q&As and recipe swaps, and in-store events, plus weekly $50 Co-op gift card drawing!

Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club, which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. And a shout-out to the DECC Wellness Team, which plans to challenge DECC employees to go vegan one day a week during January. Contact Ambrosi at bonnieambrosi@gmail.com.