2019 has been dubbed the year of the vegan. Can a plant-based food box convert Rebecca Blithe?
There's a new meal kit in town. I know what you're thinking: another one? But what's different about Kai Box is it consists of completely vegan meals. From tofu tacos to cashew cream baked potatoes, it's meat, egg and dairy free.
I've been hesitant about adopting a vegan diet, partly because I've seen friends attempt the conversion and they've wound up subsisting on avocado on toast and cardboard sausages, becoming exhausted and unwell. Or they've turned to highly processed, carb-heavy options, ultimately eating less natural food.
While my current approach to diet may well be seen as a little "on the fence" (shh, I'm a flexitarian) because I eat meat on occasion but try to base meals around vegetables - could this food kit convert me to veganism?
The concept of veganism can be traced back to ancient Indian and Eastern Mediterranean societies. It's first discussed by Pythagoras, of the mathematical theorem, around 500BC.
While the Greek philosopher was outspoken about equal rights for all creatures, a similar ethos has long been promoted among followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
The term vegan was coined by Donald Watson, founder of England's Vegan Society, in 1944. It was initially used to describe non-dairy vegetarians and was long considered a fringe movement, particularly in the Western world.
But in the last few years, veganism has become increasingly popular, even among traditionally meat-centric nations such as Italy, Germany and South Africa.
What's more, according to a review on Google Trends, New Zealand had the third-highest search rate for vegan recipes and content in 2018.
Most recently, 2019 has been dubbed the year of the vegan by Forbes and The Economist. This is due to a range of reasons: studies eschewing the health benefits and environmental impact, the subsequent growth in people taking on the diet and food producers hitting the market with a range of vegan options.
Indeed, things have come a long way from those fake sausages filled with cardboard filament: The Economist highlights Beyond Meat's patties that "ooze" with beetroot juice "blood" and a vegan steak made by a Dutch firm, Vivera, that sold 40,000 slabs in a week.
From an extended life span to weight loss, studies have found various health benefits from adopting a vegan diet.
A 2016 Oxford study argued that the mass-adoption of a vegan diet - for more than a week - could cut 8.1 million deaths a year. Numerous studies have also credited the diet with reducing the risks of some major diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
A study conducted by the University of South Carolina in 2015 found subjects who followed a vegan diet lost comparatively more weight than those who followed omnivorous and vegetarian diets.
My week of The Kai Box consisted of four dinners for two at a cost of $85 - plus $10 delivery: lentil spaghetti bolognese, tofu sofritas (tortillas), kūmara and red quinoa salad and creamy mushrooms and potatoes.
My partner wasn't thrilled by the lineup. He often tells me when I make a vegetarian pasta from scratch that, yes, it's delicious but some "nuggets of meat" would really make it sing.
Despite their popularity, none of the recipes featured Beyond Meat-style alternatives. But I was impressed by the lack of plastic packaging and the recipes were straightforward and reasonably fast.
As we worked our way through the week, however, I was surprised to find I was missing something - and it wasn't meat or dairy. I found myself wanting to add or substitute components for more fresh vegetables and salads.
As much as there are some really good ideas here, I think I ordinarily eat more balanced meals that are lighter on carbs and heavier on fresh fruit and vegetables.
For example, the baked potato with cashew cream and mushrooms was pretty easy and tasty but it would have been great to have halved the portions with some more interesting greens or colourful vegetables rather than a bit of a bag of tossed spinach.
A quick search on the Kai Box website reveals there is a low-carb meal kit option, although it's roughly twice the price.
Some components did seem like a lot of effort for little reward: soaking and blitzing cashews then mixing in activated yeast to get a cream? Not worth it.
It also would have been good to see nutritional information included with each dish.
But all in all, if you've been looking for some vegan meal options that aren't highly processed, Kai Box is definitely a good place to start, offering some clever ideas for building substantial plant-based meals.