Going Plant Based
It’s coming up to that time of year where everyone starts to be more gluttonous. Everyone starts to snack and enjoy all the party food that gets thrown our way. Then when NYE arrives we vow to ourselves that we are going to change. We will diet, we will quit smoking, we will take up regular exercise. Maybe your New Year’s Resolution will be to be a better person all round, which is a pretty decent plan and with Thursday the 1st of November being international vegan day I feel it’s only fair for me to help clue you up on a lifestyle change that may be a good step in your New Year’s resolution.
Don’t worry! I am not ever going to be a preachy vegan. I can’t be as I am not vegan. But I am here to talk to you about plant based eating and why we really shouldn't be as terrified of it as we are. I haven’t eaten meat now in about two years. It’s a decision I made based on my love for the environment and also my pushy (but talented chef) of a brother. Jordan (my brother) has been veggie for almost 20 years now I believe, so pretty much my entire life. 20 years ago there really wasn’t the food options that veggies and vegans have today and so it’s admirable that he managed to sustain his veggie-ness through the struggles of only 2 real manufacturers of vegetarian foods (shout out to Quorn and Linda).
In today’s world there are so many options and alternatives for people that decide they don’t want to eat meat. I ate meat a lot. Easily twice a day, if not three times a day and honestly, I never thought it would be something I could live without. I enjoyed chicken and sausages too much. How could I ever give up meat? But here I am, happily living my life as someone who isn’t far off being vegan. Do I miss it? Not in the slightest. Strangely enough I actually enjoy being plant based as it challenges me to make different dishes and use different ingredients I haven’t used in the past.
I’m gonna hit you with some facts, some numbers to make you think. Ultimately I’m aiming to educate those that may not know the effects that eating meat can have on the environment. Currently loss of wild areas to create agricultural farm land is the leading cause of loss and extinction of wild life. In an article posted on National Geographic's website, published in 2005 (why are the rest of us so far behind?), it says that 7.9 to 8.9 billion acres is being used for rearing livestock. That’s roughly 5,100,000,000 football pitches and that was back in 2005. I can only imagine the damage done now. Farming livestock creates roughly 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses a year. Thats sheep, cows, chickens, goats and pigs contributing about 18% of global emissions including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. A lot of people also say to me ‘well I’ve heard there is more land taken up for growing crops than there is to rear livestock’. I don’t know if that is true but are they taking into consideration the amount of those crops that are used to fed animals? Roughly 75% of global soybean crops are grown to be fed to livestock. We create more than enough food to feed the population of the earth, however 1 in 9 people on the globe will go to bed on an empty stomach. However if we used the grain that is fed to live stock to feed human beings we could feed roughly another 3.5 billion people. 3.5 billion people could have a meal, but instead we are feeding it to animals to fatten them up for people who insist on eating meat.
Eating fish obviously has its health benefits with it being rich in oils and omega 3. However the impact that fishing has on its environments can be devastating. Overfishing is causing huge problems. When we are consuming fish at a faster rate than they can reproduce and reach maturity, it is obviously going lead to depleting levels of fish. Some of the fish we consume is caught via trawling. Trawling involves dragging a bag shaped net along the bottom of the ocean resulting in it swooping up everything in its path. This causes a whole new set of problems. It causes serious damage to the ocean floor, it can break down reefs and ecosystems and nets often snag on rocks and reefs and tare off and get lost at sea. This results in ghost nets floating around which can entangle sea life and cause serious injury and ultimately death. Trawling also results in high levels of by-catch which can include endangered species and other animals that the fishermen aren’t looking to catch and don’t intend to sell. However by the time the catch is dragged up to the boat and unloaded on the deck, a lot of the animals in the net are already dead and will end up being discarded, sometimes back over board. You may think ‘well what about fish farms’. But these aren’t great either. The fish spend their life in different forms of captivity until they are big enough to be eaten. Blue finned tuna especially is caught while still juvenile and dragged in the water to fish farms where they will be kept and feed up until they can be sold, predominantly to the sushi market. However tuna, much like salmon, require a carnivorous diet and survive by catching and eating smaller fish while in the wild. So while they are in these farms they are fed pellets made from smaller wild caught fish such as anchovy, jack mackerel and blue whiting. Stats show that it actually takes more wild fish (kg v kg) as fish food than it does to produce salmon for us to eat. It seems ridiculous and it is very clearly not sustainable that we continue to catch more wild fish to feed to farmed fish than to feed ourselves. It is undoubtably going to have an effect on wild fish stock and their eco systems.
Like I've mentioned before I don’t want this to be preachy. I want you guys to read it and think ‘Damn thats pretty f*****’ and potentially look to make a change in what you eat. For some people flat out stopping eating meat seems to be an effective way and works for them. That’s how I did it and I’ve not looked back once. Some times I wonder how it worked so well. How I managed to just flick a switch in my mind and be a veggie. Maybe it’s the moral side of it. I wish I could do the same with other foods. However, for some people it may not be such an easy transition and that is okay. It’s fine not to wake up one day and change a huge part of your lifestyle. I am a strong believer in getting people to make changes at their own pace. As they say, it doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop.
I find that the biggest struggle I have with plant based eating is the lack of support from companies and from the people in my life. Granted my closest family and friends are not a problem. They understand my choices and support me and will take it in their stride when they invite me for dinner or we go out somewhere. But on the daily I am still faced with issues around food. People make comments when they see what I have for lunch or the only sandwich that Sainsbury’s has that I can eat is hummus and falafel (not knocking hummus and falafel in anyway, it’s a vegan staple). My biggest pet peeve is sharing a veggie meal with someone that eats meat and when everyone is asked how the food was, they say “would've been better with meat in it though." Really? Can you honestly say that it would make THAT much of a difference?
So I find that surrounding myself with likeminded people is a huge part of being and staying plant based. Having a support network that you can turn to, even if it’s strangers on the internet, really allows you to feel at home and confident with your choice. Some of my favourite groups on facebook for ideas and support are The Living Consciously Crew and Sustainable AF: Eat Smart Challenge. Both groups are filled with people at all different stages of changing their life style to a more plant based one. They are both full of recipes and ideas for alternatives that will make your transition a little easier. I find that with both of these groups there are so many people ready to help in any situation. As soon as you post a question or a link to a good article it is followed by loads of likes and comments encouraging you and helping you out.
A common misconception of plant based eating is that it is suuuuuuuuper healthy. Munching on kale and celery all day like a bunny would be, but that is so not the case. Granted, if you aim to eat healthily then on a plant based diet you do usually end up consuming more fruit and veggies along with nuts and beans and seeds and loads of other fab creations than you would if you eat meat. However you can also find pleeeeeenty of vegan comfort food. If you don’t believe me check out the facebook page What F.A.T Vegans eat and instagram page @UglyVegan and you really won’t be disappointed. Potato smilies and beans in a wrap - Vegan. Chips and gravy - Vegan. Eating planet based really isn’t unachievable whether you eat healthily or not. As you can probably tell I love me some junk food as my well rounded body displays. So trust me when I say plant based eating isn’t all avocados and toasted pumpkin seeds. Although those are both very tasty. If you’ve got fussy kids who hate veg, there is something for them too. Although I am in no way advocating unhealthy eating, especially in children, I just want you folks to be happy.
Just reducing your meat consumption is a great start. Start by making one day a week a veggie day. No meat Mondays is a great starting point. Work hard on making sure that day is one that you enjoy, that you challenge yourself to make three decent vegetarian meals for yourself (and your family if they are keen). Before long you’ll feel a sense of achievement because you found a dish you really enjoy and you look forward to eating it, AND IT’S MEAT FREE?! Once you’ve managed to nail one day a week why not look at tackling a couple more? Or aiming to make lunch everyday a meat free lunch? The more you do it the easier it gets. As I mentioned before there are loads of alternatives these days that you honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between. A week or so ago I made fried ‘chicken’ for Tom and I. I made it from Seitan (a no no if you are gluten intolerant) cooked exactly how you would do fried chicken and Tom was honestly blown away. Another option you have are things like jackfruit in replacement for pulled pork. You can jerk it or BBQ it. Either way it is delicious. It has a real meaty texture and taste when done properly. I know a lot of people enjoy cheese and that seems to be the biggest challenge I come up against when advocating a plant based diet. I get it. Cheese is tasty. FEAR NOT. There are alternatives and believe it or not, some of them are pretty damn good. If you don’t believe me join the Facebook groups I have mentioned above and you’ll be flooded with ideas for tasty plant based alternatives.
I am an avid believer that trying to force your opinions on someone is the least likely way to get them to listen to you and take onboard what you are trying to teach. I like to think that my friends and family listen to me when I talk about subjects like this because I do it in a way that makes them want to listen, not because they have to. Vegans and veggies get such bad rep because of a few people that go in fully and get aggressive when trying to get their point across. I have no doubt these people mean well but if someone gets worked up and aggressive with me I will just shut off and stop listening. So here it is, here is my attempt to get anyone that reads this to think about and hopefully act on becoming a little more plant based. Not only is it good for your body but it’s good for the planet. Every time you have an animal free product, you are contributing to the conservation of our planet. On average a UK meat eater will eat 126 animals a year. So if you go even just a week without eating meat then you will save two animals and if you get your family to go meat free then
that number continues to grow.
So all I am asking is that if you make at least one new year’s resolution this year…. make the promise
to reduce your consumption of animal products.
Veganuary is a great place to start.
P.s I LOVE COWS