In my earlier post, Food Is the Solution, I decided to change my diet in favor of more plant-based foods. In contrast to animal products, plant-based foods are better for my health, better for our planet, and more humane toward animals – especially when considering the inhumane conditions of “factory farms”. Last year (see Less Beef, Less Carbon) I decided to eliminate red meat from my diet. Actually, I eliminated beef from my diet while I cut back significantly on pork. But most of my meals continued to include chicken, turkey, and fish. So, for me, moving toward all plant-based foods is a significant change. For many reasons, I decided to transition to this new diet. Experts suggest incorporating small changes slowly — until they become habits, is the best way to ensure the changes stick. Going “all in”, might result in giving up overly ambitious goals by Valentine’s Day. For example, if you’re considering eliminating animal products (which I am) rather than go “cold turkey” it might be better incorporate one vegetarian dinner per week for 3 weeks – pick an evening you’re not rushed and can relax and prepare a meal – or go out for one and enjoy it – and incorporate into your routine. After 3 weeks, add another change and over a period of time, your “routine” has changed. I think I can do a bit better than this.
So, for the last two weeks in January, I’ve been transition away from animal-based foods while considering and developing my own personal goals. My first step was to review my recipe “files” to see what was vegetarian or vegan and what was not. It wasn’t that complicated – folders with “chicken, pork, seafood, or beef” clearly were not included. In the “salad, pasta and vegetable” folders, there were a number of recipes that we’ve enjoyed over the years that meet vegetarian criteria and many more if we make slight modifications (e.g., eliminate bacon bits). But I quickly realized that if I eliminated all animal products, I needed new recipes to fill the void and complement the plant-based recipes I already had.
The book, Food is the Solution, has some wonderful plant-based recipes. They are organized by breakfasts; soups, stews, salads, and sandwiches; main dishes; sides and extras; and desserts. Reading through these new options, I realized many of these recipes use ingredients I don’t have in the pantry and many I’m not familiar with. So, for many of these, I’ll need to do some research and expand my shopping list. I decided to try at least one of these recipes every week. While exploring the internet, I also found “low-hanging-fruit” at a site www.thekitchn.com including a link to “10 vegan slow cooker recipes”. Of the 10, I liked the sound of 5 of them and have made 3 during the past two weeks. Namely, (1) Slow Cooker Ratatouille (using eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers); (2) Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup; and (3) Slow Cooker Vegan Chili (using sweet potatoes, green lentils, tomatoes, and kale). Each of these recipes was a home run and I’ve still got 2 more to try. I’ve also tried many “substitutes” for plant-based foods that I commonly use. Soy milk is a great substitute for milk and I’m looking forward to trying almond milk. Vegan mayo, vegan cheddar cheese, vegan Monterrey Jack cheese, and lentils are all very satisfying options.
Besides vegan and vegetarian diets, I’ve discovered many other diet options including the “flexitarian-diet”. The Flexitarian Diet has no clear-cut rules or recommended numbers of calories and macro-nutrients. In fact, it’s more a lifestyle than a diet. It’s based on the following principles:
- Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
- Focus on protein from plants instead of animals.
- Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time.
- Eat the least processed, most natural form of foods.
- Limit added sugar and sweets.
After examining these various diets, and my personal objectives, I’ve decided on a plan. It’s not 100% vegetarian or vegan – perhaps closer to a pescatarian diet – or perhaps closer to a vegetarian diet, with a couple of limited exceptions. Regardless of a name, here’s my plan:
- Eliminate all red meat (beef, chicken, pork, lamb)
- Limit seafood (shrimp, fish, etc.) to 2 servings per week
- Eliminate milk – substituting almond or soy milk
- Eliminate butter – substituting vegan margarine
- Limit eggs to 2 per week
- Limit cheese to 2 portions per week
- Significantly increase grains, beans, vegetables
- Try at least one new vegetarian or vegan recipe every week
- Explore vegetarian or vegan restaurants
- Exceptions to the above apply when I’m a guest at someone’s home
- Track my results.
So why this plan instead of a vegetarian or vegan diet? Regarding fish, I really enjoy fish dishes (e.g., seafood paella) and concluded I didn’t want to completely eliminate them. Instead, I’m going to limit them and also, purchase fish only acquired through sustainable sources – i.e., no “gill-to-gill factory farms”. Same thoughts regarding dairy products. And I’m going to explore potentially acceptable substitutes – e.g., vegan based “dairy” products. I’m going to seek out locally sourced items – especially cage free eggs – and limit my consumption. Finally, I’m going to track my progress because it’s important. As I’ve posted earlier (see Measure It, Manage It), the things we measure are the things we can manage.
Although I do not have a lot of specific data covering my past meals, I suspect my current diet, reflecting my elimination of beef, would still show that over 2/3 of the meals I eat include animal-based products. This because I have not limited poultry or fish – in fact, when I eliminated beef, I significantly increased my poultry and fish consumption. I believe the new diet I’m planning will reduce my animal-based foods to 10% or less of my meals.
The Environmental Defense Fund has said: “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains, for example, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. Roads”. My new meal plan: Good for the planet, good for animals, and good for me. And returning to that article about how to make sure you are successful with your new diet, it suggests “announcing your plan to your friends” – well here I am, doing just that. Wish me luck!