…Or how I cut out animal products
When people hear I eat a primarily plant-based diet they are surprised. I hear things such as
‘I could never do it’ ‘I like meat too much’
‘But cheese! I could never give that up!’ ‘How did you do it?’
I know of other people that went teetotal and that worked really well for them. However I think it is crucial – especially to address the ‘I could never give up …..’ issue – to go through the process of reducing animal products step-by-step.
I usually tell people I started cutting down on my meat intake about two years back and cut out most dairy such as milk and yoghurt. I ate less and less of it over time and introducing more beans and pulses until I also gradually cut out cheese.
But I will tell you now: I originally never had the intention to go entirely plant-based!
As a student meat is one of the more expensive items and in my early undergraduate years money was more importantly spent on my social life. So personally I had reduced my meat intake anyway in comparison to when I lived at home.
However, about two years back I met my boyfriend – he is from a Russian background so meat was pretty much his vegetable!! But joke aside, I was not prepared to adjust to such a high amounts of animal product in my diet. As I did most of the cooking we struck a compromise and only had meat a few times a week. I know I couldn’t force him to change his habits – nor did I want to! So instead, I gradually introduced a more plant-based diet without him noticing much! I can be sneaky that way.
Slowly transitioning can therefore be more effective in keeping a habit than abrupt change.
If you have been considering to change your eating habits, but are concerned that you might fail to follow through with these changes, why not start small by reducing your your meat, dairy and egg intake by half? And if it is cheese that you are dreading to give up why not save it for last? You may find once you get to that point of your journey you might not have an issue with eliminating it too.
Yes there are radical vegans out there, but that doesn’t mean YOU have to be one of them. Plant-based eating is not about perfectionism, it is about changing your habits to positively contribute to your health and the environment.
Being on a plant-based diet does make you feel better in the long run, but years of eating a certain way will be strongly anchored into your mind. Here’s some adjustments I made to make the journey easier:
- Reconsidered what a meal should look like. We are all too used to the image of meat being the star of the plate with carb and vegetable accompaniments. This is what sometimes led to distress during meal planning. But starting to consider one-pot meals as the norm, will quickly help to adjust, as they are also quick and easy to cook!
- Finding substitutes for ‘savoury’ cravings. This is something I did struggle with every so often. The important thing is to realize that it is not a ‘meat craving’ but just a need for a more savoury meal. Yes, this can be more challenging on a plant based diet, but integrating condiments such as tomato paste, dried mushrooms, umami or miso paste go a long way. I love my sauce so I was especially wowed when I tried this vegan gravy – add some sage, rosemary and thyme and it’s delicious!
- Try different non-dairy milks or make your own! If you’re someone that has cereal or porridge everyday, finding the right milk is essential. For me it’s currently soy milk in my breakfast, but I use almond milk for cooking. Who says we can’t have creamy nut free sauces too? I use almond milk, dairy free margarine & flour to make a bechamel sauce and flavour it with nutritional yeast, tomato paste and spices depending on what I’m serving it with. I also used to make my own oat milk (great recipe here) as it is WAY cheaper than store bought and not too much effort either. It’s super tasty!
- Try foods you haven’t eaten before! I would say I had a very varied diet already beforehand, but without the changes I made I would probably have never tried nutritional yeast! Other new foods I’ve been eating are artichokes, black beans (they used to not be common here) and kale.
- Make yourself aware of the impact of a meat heavy diet. Sometimes you may feel like giving in and returning to old habits, but I recommend you watch documentaries such as Cowspiracy instead! Watching this film gave me the final push and motivation to consistently implement my life style changes. Having all that information thrown at you really gives you a different perspective! They have now released a second documentary available on Netflix called What the Health.
- Give yourself grace and allow yourself not be perfect. This is probably the most important point. I am a perfectionist at times and can start obsessing over things. Healthy eating should be enjoyment and not haunting you. Just because you are not 100% plant-based (yet) doesn’t mean you are cheating yourself.