Please note that we are not food scientists, doctors or nutritionists. It’s important to do your own independent research and consult your doctor before embarking on any large-scale dietary changes.
It’s no secret that we are advocates for a holistic sustainable lifestyle. We try to make ethical choices in all aspects of our lives, from our fashion choices and composting in our homes to hosting green events. A new area we’ve recently tackled? Our eating habits.
Our founder Christina has been vegan for over a month and raves about the many environmental and personal benefits this change has brought to her life. She reports feeling more energized, lighter and generally happier. And, surprisingly, it hasn’t been as difficult as one might imagine to make the change.
Many of us have grown up in households where meat is a common part of every meal. Social events may have revolved around barbecues, pig roasts or clam bakes. Part of the difficulty in beginning to eat meat-free may come from the memories associated with traditional eating habits. But we’ve found that we can create the same comfort and fun around the dinner table without involving meat.
It may not be an immediate change for you, but there are ways to begin incorporating meat-free meals into your lifestyle. Maybe you want to institute a Meat-free Monday or host a vegan/vegetarian potluck to get some new recipes. You can always try new restaurants and ingredients to see how these changes impact your lifestyle.
Here are some tips for shifting to a plant-based diet, along with our favorite products and resources to help you along the way.
Why go plant-based?
So, what’s the argument for going plant-based in the first place? If you’ve been reading and studying in the sustainability space, you are probably at least familiar with the environmental impact of raising livestock and fish.
It takes an immense amount of water and agricultural resources to raise livestock, not to mention the cost of transporting meat and fish to grocery stores. A study cites that it takes 1,857 gallons to produce a pound of beef and 469 gallons for a pound of chicken.
Many animals are still treated inhumanely, whether they are caged and deprived of acceptable living conditions, or sent to slaughter at a young age. This topic is understandably very sensitive for each individual, and you may have different thoughts on how the meat industry operates. We aren’t here to pressure you. We want to encourage you to be an educated consumer and research for yourself.
Vegans and vegetarians also speak about the many health benefits of going meat-free. Research has linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as lower rates of heart disease. Others claim that a meat-heavy diet leaves an individual at risk for exposure to harmful bacteria such as E. coli, campylobacter and listeria, which usually live in the intestinal tracts of animals.
What steps can I take towards a meat-free diet?
If you’ve made the decision to reduce or eliminate meat from your diet, you’ve already taken a step forward in your sustainability journey. However, as we mentioned, we live in a world where many social rituals and memories revolve around meat consumption. We must find a new way to create traditions, starting first in our own homes.
1. Determine your pace for your plant-based changes.
There’s no set timeline to go meat-free, and you certainly don’t have to go “cold turkey” if it doesn’t feel right. You can start with small changes, such as committing to one meat-free meal a day. Another challenge we like to set is to buy one vegetarian ingredient and experiment with it throughout the week. A carton of tofu can become scrambled “eggs” for breakfasts, “steaks” for lunch salads or a savory Chinese dish.
Perhaps you’re ready to start now — that’s great too! You can begin to clear out your fridge and pantry, and restock on plant-based necessities. (Remember to donate food when possible, either to friends or food banks, if the goods are unopened.)
Remember that this is your path and your intuition will lead you to the best decisions for your own body and spirit. You also don’t have to talk about your eating habits with anyone. Sometimes, quiet changes relieve some of the pressure from the transition.
2. Dive into your farmer’s markets and the produce section of your grocery store.
Instead of viewing your new plant-based lifestyle as deprivation, look at this as your opportunity to explore new options you may not have heard about before. We recently discovered The Impossible Burger, which we think tastes even better than the real thing! Beyond Meat sausages also offer the savory, satisfying quality of sausage without the meat itself.
But don’t just limit yourself to meat substitutes. We’ve discovered some great ways to use hearty produce such as eggplant and sweet potato to keep our meals filling and satisfying. It’s farmer’s market season, so don’t hesitate to ask your local vendors about what’s in season, as well as their favorite vegetable preparations.
Needless to say, there are many readymade options such as vegetarian sushi, hearty grain salads and vegetable-based pastas you can grab on the go, too.
3. Experiment with your cooking.
When consuming a plant-based diet, we find that starting with simple yet flavorful meals make the cooking process a lot less overwhelming. Gazpachos, grain salads and tofu-based sandwiches are perfect options for summer dining. We also love pizza parties (you can even do ready-made crust to make life even easier) topped with plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs.
Some ethnic cuisines also rely heavily on vegetables and grains, as a result of food availability, religion or cultural norms. Pick up some cookbooks from the library to start experimenting. Also, try exploring new spices at your local spice shop. They can add a savory note to any meal!
Here are some of our favorite recipe resources for plant-based cooking:
- Green Kitchen Stories: this site is jam-packed with interesting recipes that will keep your palate satiated and inspired.
- Thug Kitchen: these recipes have a bit of an attitude, in the best way. The message is flavorful, fun and vibrant — like the recipes. (They also have cookbooks and a podcast!)
- Deliciously Ella: after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, founder Ella decided to embark on a lifestyle change to help manage her disease. Her recipes are comforting and familiar, the kind that will make their way into your regular rotation.
- Minimalist Baker: though not all the recipes are plant-based, many of them are — and they subscribe to a 10-ingredient-or-less philosophy, which makes our minimalist hearts sing.
4. Explore local vegan or vegetarian restaurants.
Most cities have plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants to cater to the plant-based eaters among us. Try joining some local Facebook groups or even a dinner meet-up to make your experience more social. If you have a friend who eats a plant-based diet, ask them out to dinner and see what their favorites may be.
Of course, you can usually find a plant-based option in any restaurant, but it can be more fun to go to a dedicated plant-based restaurant where you’ll have a larger selection and be able to try innovative new preparations.
5. Approach conversations about your changing eating habits gently.
You may have a spouse or children who aren’t ready to begin a plant-based diet. Perhaps you attend family gatherings where your food choices come into question. These moments can be fraught with emotion — or, at the very least, numerous questions that may make you feel defensive.
We encourage you to be gentle in these interactions, both with others and yourself. There’s a lot of sensitivity surrounding personal food choices, and it’s important to find ways to share your thoughts without alienating others. It’s also just as crucial to remember your reasons for making your decisions and not succumb to undue pressure. Don’t give up, if this change still feels right to you.
If a conversation ever gets tense, you can simply say, “I’m doing this for my own reasons. Thank you for supporting me.”
You can find support groups online or through plant-based events and seminars where you can connect with others who share your lifestyle and point of view.
We are thrilled and grateful that there are so many options out there these days for plant-based diets, and we can’t wait to start planning our meals for the week. What are your favorite recipes? Share with us on Facebook and Instagram!