In this blog, vegetarian is an umbrella term that could mean anything from lacto-ovo-vegetarian (a diet including eggs and dairy but not meat) to vegan (a diet and lifestyle excluding all animal products.) I became lacto-ovo-vegetarian several years ago but transitioned to vegan a year ago as I learned more about the true cost of animal products to our environment, communities, bodies and, of course, the animals themselves. This blog isn’t about why you should avoid animal products, but here’s a fact that should pique your interest and give you a head start on step one. The United Nations and the Pew Commission have both concluded that, on a global scale, farmed animals contribute more to climate change than the entire transport sector – every plane, train, boat, bus, car and truck combined. I hope you’ll read on for the sake of sustainability, at least. The following tips will assist you in adopting a vegetarian diet. Get ready to take your sustainable lifestyle to the next level!
- Decide to make an informed decision about adopting a vegetarian diet. Research ethical, health, and environmental issues that relate with the production and consumption of animal products. There are undercover video clips online that expose the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses, but if you really want to connect the dots and see how modern farming impacts us all, then I recommend watching Earthlings and Cowspiracy. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, provides opposing viewpoints, anecdotes, facts and an extensive list of sources for fact-checking. The author completely dissects the meat industry while ignoring dairy, which is arguably the cruelest facet of animal agriculture. As a result, the book has a lotof character and is not threatening to non-vegan readers. If you’re looking for something a little shorter yet broader in scope, check out Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety. There are no opposing viewpoints and few anecdotes here. This little book sheds light on the most critical issues pertaining to animal agriculture, and each concise chapter is written by an authority in the given fields: health, environment, taxpayer cost, workers, animals, children’s health, global hunger, zoonotic diseases, climate change and communities.
- Talk to people about your decision. You probably won’t even have to start the conversations. People will start asking questions as soon as they notice something different about your food. Just answer politely and focus on the reasons why a vegetarian diet is right for you. I’ve heard a lot of silly questions from people desperate to justify their own food choices, but I’ve also received a couple of thought-provoking questions and new information that has forced me to put my thinking cap on. Be sure to tell your friends and family in advance in order to avoid hurt feelings and an empty stomach at the next get-together.
- Eat healthily. Simply choosing a vegetarian diet does not guarantee good health. The American Dietetic Association has concluded that well-planned vegetarian (including vegan) diets are appropriate for all stages of life. The key words are “well-planned” and this goes for followers of the standard American diet (appropriately known as SAD) as well. Some of the most commonly lacked nutrients in all diets are iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. The key is to eat a variety of whole foods as well as fortified products like almond milk – a better source of calcium than cow’s milk – and nutritional yeast, which brims with B12. I take a vegan multi-vitamin as an extra precaution, but I hope to phase it out as I learn more about what my body needs from which plants I can get. Julieanna Hever, M.S., R.D., C.P.T., recently wrote a comprehensive guide to eating a plant-based diet in The Permanente Journal. After reading her guide, I gained more knowledge in nutrition and was reminded of several things that I had been slacking on.
- Learn to love cooking. Keep your kitchenwell-lit, clean, organized and stocked with all the tools and ingredients that you’ll need to make delicious vegetarian dishes from around the world. I prefer using actual cookbooks instead of online resources like Pinterest. Right now, my wife and I are enjoying Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You, by Kathy Hester. Whether you love Southern food, are gluten intolerant or live in a dorm with no kitchen, there’s a veggie cookbook to fit your lifestyle. Going out to a local vegan restaurant like Green Seed Vegan (just a 14-minute METRO ride away from the UH Welcome Center) or any of Houston’s other top vegetarian restaurants might help inspire you in the kitchen too.
- Meal prep. Crossfitters don’t own exclusive rights to this phrase. Meal prepping is for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be intense. Once or twice a week, I like to cook a few extra servings of dishes to box up for the next day before I go to sleep. Lately, I always have vegan nacho cheese sauce, pico de gallo, rice, beans and cooked veggies on hand. Steel cut oats are probably the easiest foods to prepare in advance and can be flavored differently each morning as a quick, healthy breakfast. It is so much easier to eat healthily and save money when you plan ahead. Spoil yourself, and buy plenty of durable containers to put your meals in. I prefer glass Snapware containers because their lids are easily secured; unlike some plastic containers, glass containers will not leach harmful chemicals into the food.
- Bring your own cooler. Declare your independence from the office fridge by bringing your own chest o’ chow! I own several different-sized coolers, but my most frequently used cooler is called the Ice Cube by Igloo. It fits perfectly in a milk crate attached to the back of a bicycle, doubles as a makeshift chair and can hold enough food to last all day if packed carefully. Get a cooler, eat great, save money and be a beast at Tetris.
- Do your best. Take as long as you need to transition into whatever kind of vegetarian diet feels right to you. Remember that every meal makes a difference, and be proud of the difference you’ve made. Don’t beat yourself up for any mistakes you might make. Just learn from them. Also, even if you become vegan, please don’t ever take your food for granted. Always think about where it came from and how it got on your plate.
Although minor in comparison to animal agriculture, there are environmental, ethical and health considerations that come with eating plants too. There is always room for improvement when it comes to improving your diet, and I hope you find these tips useful. I would love to hear about any additional tips, questions or comments that you may have regarding adopting a vegetarian diet and how it relates to sustainability. Connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a reply below.