Why going plant-based?
This week, something remarkable happened in the Netherlands. Urgenda (the Dutch organization for sustainability and innovation) won the lawsuit for better climate policies they filed against the Dutch government. In an interview after the victory, director Marjan Minnesma expressed the urgency for a better climate in plain language. She said that it’s just a matter of time that climate change due to CO2 emissions will result in drought and food shortages in various parts of the world, which will lead to a massive influx of people into wealthier parts of the world, which will unleash wars.
Well it’s that simple. If we don’t take better care of our planet, it will get out of balance and people will starve. We in the West will experience war up close and our children will grow up in it. Therefore, the court found that the Dutch State has to take its responsibility. Great news, but responsibility is also our task, the inhabitants of the Earth.
What has diet got to do with it?
The production of meat and other animal products has a heavy impact on the environment. One of the most effective things an individual can do to lower their carbon footprint is to avoid all animal products. Given the growing world population and food insecurity, raising livestock is also inefficient. It’s a waste of resources we desperately need to conserve, because livestock consume much more protein, water and calories than they produce.
But veganism is also part of compassionate living. The days of hunting and gathering are over which means animals don’t have a fair chance against humans anymore. We’re exploiting them, hurting them, testing our cosmetics on them and leading some of them to extinction. Yet we love our pets and would do anything for them. We have to understand that, in terms of the ability to feel pain and suffering, there is no difference between a cow and a dog. Veganism is taking a stand against animal cruelty and animal exploitation everywhere.
Last but not least, studies show that many of the Western diseases can be prevented and sometimes even reversed by a plant-based diet. This means that the solution for exploding health care costs and expensive, painful and unnecessary surgeries is quite simple… And on a more popular note, a plant-based diet can help you lose weight and gain energy.
“Every kilogram of beef requires 100,000 liters of water to produce. By comparison, a kilogram of wheat requires just 900 liters, and a kilogram of potatoes just 500 liters.”
Changing your lifestyle is a tough game and when it comes to long-term success, going cold turkey isn’t always the smartest choice. Chances are that you will find your new lifestyle too extreme, too overwhelming or difficult to maintain. Before you know it you’re back to where you’ve started, feeling either guilty or defeated, promising yourself that you will start over next Monday, next month or well, after Holiday Season…
I believe that giving your body and mind the time to adjust to new things and to a certain way of eating has a much higher chance of long-term success. Adding better foods to your current diet and slowly but surely eliminating the bad ones is the easy way to work towards a healthy, diverse plant based diet. Remember that going plant based is not a quick fix or a fad diet. It is a natural way of (re)gaining balance and a long term investment in your health, in animal wellbeing and the future of our planet.
Whether you are a heavy meat eater trying to shed off some pounds and reach better health, or whether you are a vegan-curious vegetarian. Whatever your current phase or goal is, you can use the steps below as a guideline to achieve your personal goals and in the end maybe become vegan, saving your health, the animals and the one and only planet we call home.
Phase 1: From Meat-Eater to Flexitarian
If you are a meat eater I suggest you start with a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet, eating meat a couple of days a week at most, incorporating at least 2 or 3 fully meatless days. Apply simple rules that work well for you. For example challenge yourself to only eat meat when you’re eating out, on specific days of the week, or on certain occasions. Make an effort to increase the amount of vegetables and reduce the amount of meat on your plate. Also you can start with incorporating 1 raw meal to your day, for example a (green) smoothie for breakfast. Maintain this phase for about 3 months. If you’re feeling comfortable and confident at the end of the 3 months, move on to the next phase. If this phase is already difficult for you and it still takes a lot of effort, just take more time. Remember that the aim is to go slow and steady not quick and sloppy.
“Stride forward with a firm, steady step knowing with a deep, certain inner knowing that you will reach every goal you set yourselves, that you will achieve every aim.” ~ Eileen Caddy
Phase 2: From Flexitarian to Pescetarian
Congratulations, you did it! You significantly reduced your meat consumption. Probably you already feel lighter, more energetic and you might have even noticed better digestion. You’re ready for the pescetarian phase. In this phase fish and shellfish is the only animal meat you’re eating. Although you can have seafood, don’t exaggerate, don’t go eating fish 7 days a week. Look at it as something special, maybe something you order when eating out or when you really crave it. And when you do, make sure you choose high quality, sustainable seafood. We all heard of mercury contamination and of the effects of overfishing. The more you focus on fruits, vegetables and starches, the better. From my own experience, this is a diet that can be easily maintained. In fact I was pescetarian for years, it is a way of eating that offers you lots of options and you’ll never feel an outcast during social situations. Maintain this phase for another 3 months. Again, when you feel confident, move to the next stage. If you’re struggling, hang in here for a little longer.
“Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll overfish the hell out of ‘em.” ~ Groucho Marx
Phase 3: From Pescetarian to Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian
The third step is to not eat any dead animals anymore (nope, not even shrimps, tuna or chicken broth), the good old vegetarian diet! However you still are allowed to eat animal products if you want, like dairy, eggs and honey. Nowadays every restaurant has a wide variety of vegetarian options and nobody will give you a weird look when you say you are vegetarian. In this phase you might wanna inform your friends and family about the new meat-free lifestyle you’ve adopted, so they can take this into account during social situations. It is a good idea to pay attention to which animal products make up a large part of your diet, so you can start looking for plant based alternatives. Are you a big milk consumer, then there are many plant based alternatives on the market, try them and see which one you like best. If you are a cheese lover (let’s be honest, who isn’t?), then you might want to start experimenting with making your own cashew ‘cheese’ and see if this is an alternative you like. You get the point, start experimenting, because my friend, in about 3 months, you will not only be meat free but also dairy and egg free!
“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.” ~ Kristin Armstrong
Phase 4: Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian to Semi-Vegan
I call this phase the semi-vegan phase or the non-strict vegan phase. In this phase you eliminate eating all animal products like dairy, eggs and honey on their own. That means no more cheese on your sandwich, no more yoghurt as a workout-snack and no more scrambled eggs for breakfast. However at this point you don’t have to worry about reading all the labels too much to figure out if a certain food contains (small amounts of) animal products like eggs, powdered milk or butter. If you really want to have a bite of a carrot cake or fresh Italian pasta (which most probably contain egg) go ahead and have some. On the other hand you might wanna be aware of which foods are vegan and which are not, so you can make conscious decisions and transition more easily to the final stage. For example in this phase you might want to start choosing sorbet over ice cream, dark/raw chocolate over milk chocolate, rice noodles over egg noodles and bagels over croissants. (Not that I encourage you to eat any processed foods, but just to give you an idea of vegan alternatives for popular non-vegan foods).
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” ~ Winston Churchill
Phase 5: Fully Vegan
Finally eliminate products that contain any animal products. This of course is the hardest part and it can, despite the transition period, be very overwhelming. Reading all the labels, not only of food but also of non-food products, doing research, finding new places to eat out, replacing your beauty products and finding ways to fit in during social gatherings can be hard, time consuming and overwhelming, so I would recommend to take all the time you need in the previous semi-vegan phase to slowly educate yourself. Actually it is far better to stay in phase 4 forever then to fall back into old eating habits because you feel this is all too strict and complicated. Be realistic and remember that every step in the right direction is better then taking no step at all. Being a flexitarian is better than being a heavy meat-eater and being semi-vegan is better than being vegetarian: certainly for the animals and for the planet and in my opinion also for our health!
“Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be. I now consider veganism to be the ideal diet. A vegan diet – particularly one that is low in fat – will substantially reduce disease risks. Plus, we’ve seen no disadvantages from veganism.” ~ Dr. Colin Campbell
With Love From the Happy Earth Kitchen