Numerous studies confirm that the food we eat fuels global warming. We also know that meat and dairy are large carbon emitters. However, mandating everyone to give up meat is hardly a solution. In many parts of the world, people have no choice but to eat what is available.
As 2021 comes to a close, perhaps you are considering making changes to your diet in the new year? After all, in addition to the environmental benefits, plant-based diets also offer health benefits, as long as you do it correctly. Some people want to try it for moral and ethical reasons. If you are exploring this topic, then keep the following points in mind because going cold turkey (excuse the pun) is the worst way to do it.
Work At Your Own Pace
No one can survive on fruits, vegetables and grains alone – not even vegans and vegetarians. The most important transition you first need to make is substituting the animal protein on your plate with plant-based alternatives. Lentils and pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu etc., are all viable protein sources that you should become familiar with. Canada’s Food Guide offers recipes and information on how to incorporate them in your breakfast, meals and snacks.
Once you are comfortable using a variety of plant-based protein ingredients, you can transition your diet at a pace that works for you. Most people can comfortably become Flexitarians, where they still eat meat, poultry, and fish a couple of times during the week. Pescetarians remove meat and poultry from their diet but sometimes indulge in fish and eggs. Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians avoid all meat, poultry and fish but still allow eggs and milk in their diet. Vegans are purists. They do not eat any products derived from animals, including dairy, eggs and yes, even honey. Some will also avoid leather in their fashion purchases.
However, you control the rules for your own life, here. So set goals that you can realistically meet. You may enjoy the journey to veganism or decide that being a flexitarian works fine for you. It’s not a contest but should be a positive lifestyle change. If you make it too cumbersome, then you will give up.
Meatless Monday and Veganuary are popular and fun-filled global movements that encourage people to reduce meat in their diet by going vegan. You can subscribe to their newsletters for inspiration, recipes, dietary information, sustainability facts and more.
If you are transitioning to a vegetarian diet for health or environmental reasons, then you must carefully read nutritional labels and become very discerning about food marketing claims. Grocery stores have aisles filled with “vegan” junk foods that will do nothing for you nutritionally. They often contain too much sugar or have excessive salt as a preservative.
Furthermore, many commercial “faux meat,” like veggie burgers, are indeed made with plant-based ingredients. But they are very heavily processed to give them a meaty taste and texture. The energy inputs that go into manufacturing such products are anything but environmentally friendly.
Dairy is an important source of Calcium; fish is a great source of Omega Fatty Acids; Vitamin B12 almost exclusively comes from animals. If you are eliminating these products from your diet then you need to replace them with plant-based items. You will also need to add foods that contain more Iron and Zinc or take supplements. To that end, you may find a consultation with your family physician or a dietician helpful to ensure you do not compromise yourself nutritionally.
Many people find the journey into vegetarianism or veganism as one of continuous learning. You will stumble into interesting facts like, “Fish get their Omega Fatty Acids from seaweed“, and “Substitute eggs in baking with flax seeds“. Join online social media groups focused on vegan or vegetarian lifestyles to ask questions, gain inspiration and find different ways to enjoy your plant-based ingredients.
Planning & Cooking
You’re halfway there if you enjoy cooking. While you will find many ready-to-eat plant-based products on grocery shelves, like our convenient heat & eat curry stews to help you along, the best way to transition to a plant-based diet is to cook your own meals from raw and minimally processed ingredients. Initially, this will require planning and setting aside time for shopping and cooking. Once you get a handle on the recipes, you will develop your favourites and the whole process will become easier.