The Quinoa Chronicles: Nutritional Yeast, French Fries, Avocados and Sea Birds

By Michael Chin
Staff Writer

Nutritional yeast. Yeah, it sounds weird. I’ll admit that I was skeptical too; when I first heard of it, I scoffed in my head. (“Yeast? Like for bread?”) The name made it sound so … clinical. And the nickname doesn’t really help. “Nooch,” as some call it, sounds like the street name for a drug. But it’s not. Nutritional yeast was a joke for my friends and I before I actually tried the stuff, but a few days ago I actually broke down and tried some.

It was delicious! It’s savory like protein, aromatic when bloomed in warm water or oil, but without any of the cholesterol inherent in animal products. It’s an excellent source of vitamin B12, which is one of the big nutritional losses when you stop eating meat. It’s also a complete protein, which is another dietary deficit in a vegan lifestyle.

Nooch can be used pretty universally: it’s sold in boxed vegan mac and cheese at Whole Foods, where it’s also sold in bulk. Vegan parmesan (a blend of nutritional yeast, crushed walnuts and salt) can be sprinkled on pasta or popcorn. Or chips, or pretty much anything. It’s versatile.

It’s strange to think that I am now part of the nutritional yeast cult that I once opposed so vehemently. Last week I mentioned how some vegan terms seem so out of place in culinary circles (“soy protein”) when really they’re not bad. But nutritional yeast was an exception. I still think it sounds gross, but I wholeheartedly endorse it. It’s nutritious, yes, but I actually truly enjoy the taste of it. It’s something I would eat even after I finish out my month.

Going out has hit a stride, so to speak. Instead of getting a Double Double at those late-night runs to In-N-Out, I now opt for french fries with grilled onions. They more than satisfy those cravings, and while not really healthy, they still get the job done. Beer is mostly vegan, though going out has resulted in a lot of rushed Googling. Some beers are filtered through isinglass, which is made from a fish’s swim bladder. Isinglass is used to clarify some wines and beers. Belgian and German beers are vegan because those countries have purity laws that prohibit use of isinglass and gelatin in their beers. Guinness and New Castle aren’t vegan, though. They’re clarified with a fish swim bladder derivative. Almost sounds as bad as nutritional yeast, doesn’t it?

As far as dedicated vegan outings go, the Seabirds Truck is just about as good as it gets. Some may remember them from Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race.” They’re dedicated to being 100 percent vegan, and proudly display in one of their windows that they are the only vegan food truck in Orange County. Vegan street food sounds like the most hipster thing on the entire planet, but it’s pretty good. Their “Jack Asada” tacos get credit for being meat-like as jack fruit is often used as a meat substitute. The real stars for me at Seabirds, though, are the beer-battered avocado tacos. I’ve always loved avocados, but these take my wonderful green friends to a whole other level. The creamy, crispy and buttery goodness of the avocado is balanced out by cilantro-jalapeño sauce and fresh cabbage slaw. They’re a force to be reckoned with.

The Seabirds truck is almost always in manageable distance from UCI; my operative time (besides last week’s Homecoming street festival) is every Wednesday, when they’re at the Teller Lot in Irvine at the corner of Teller and Michelson from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

I’m settling into vegan life pretty well, all considered. The Seabirds truck fits perfectly into my Wednesday lunch time between classes and my internship. My friends walk on eggshells when we’re planning meals though, which is regrettable. I appreciate it, but I’m just afraid of becoming a burden. There are vegan options almost anywhere.

I feel great, though. It could be that I’ve started to bike to and from campus, more a result of the reduced Camino shuttle schedule than a real change in lifestyle. But I feel amazing; my body feels efficient. We always joke about vegan superpowers, and even though I won’t be turning into Todd Ingram from “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” anytime soon, it still feels nice.
I miss sushi, though. Vegetarian sushi can only do so much. I’m only beginning to break my dependence on meat.