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Green Is The New Black

OPINION: Jumping (And Staying) On The Plant-Based Wagon

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Green Monday intern, Sarah Lee, shares her personal journey of transitioning to a more eco-friendly diet. Here’s a millennial’s guide to sustainably transitioning to a greener, plant-based diet.

Growing up, I never thought about where my food came from, or its impact on my health and environment. Younger me was, as many people probably are, primarily concerned with the taste and monetary cost of what I ate. 

Then at 15, I embarked on two especially formative trips– first kayaking for a week in Malaysia and then backpacking for a fortnight in China. It was during these trips, where we discovered trash washed ashore on obscure, uninhabited islands and witnessed animals being slaughtered for a celebratory feast, that I finally faced the inconvenient truth: our everyday lifestyle choices had a far-reaching impact on both animals and the environment. Thus, I turned plant-based overnight. 

Picking your diet

There seem to be two main approaches to going plant-based: go cold turkey (like I did) or instead gradually add more plant-based foods to your diet and move along the spectrum. For instance, starting with a flexitarian approach and slowly moving towards veganism. 

– Flexitarian: cutting out only heavy-impact meals (e.g. beef), or eating plant-based only one day / one meal a week– i.e. practising ‘Green Monday’

– Pescatarian: diet includes eggs, dairy, seafood, no meat or poultry

– (Lacto-ovo) Vegetarian: diet includes eggs, dairy, no meat, poultry, or seafood

– Vegan: diet excludes all animal products

Each method has its pros and cons. By going cold turkey, you can eliminate temptations entirely, but it requires immense discipline and is less sustainable for many. A gradual switch to a plant-centric diet, albeit slower, will be more effective in the long-run, since individuals can ease into the diet at their own pace. 

Dealing with “It’s just a fad”

Since most of my family and friends are meat-eaters, I initially struggled not to succumb to temptation. What helped me stay on track was my commitment to learning more about the meat industry and its hidden costs on health and the environment, which cemented my belief in a plant-based diet. I did extensive research, followed activists on social media and attended a few sustainability-focused events (e.g. Earthfest) with friends. This year, I also interned with Green Monday in order to delve deeper into the plant-based food industry. 

In going plant-based, you can anticipate questions from well-meaning family and friends, who may think eating plant-based translates to nutritional deficiency, or consider it a short-lived fad that will eventually phase out (which was the case with my parents). So how should we go about holding our own, and allaying their doubts?

I decided to take this as an opportunity to engage in conversation about the impact of our lifestyle choices. Rather than come off defensive, sanctimonious, or even appear as though we were imposing a certain diet on them, it seemed more effective to instead openly share our motivations and research (news articles or documentaries), or even introduce them to plant-based eateries in town. More often than not, they realise that plant-based foods can be nutritious, interesting and delicious.

Nevertheless, it can take time for family and friends to get on board and accept the switch in diet, so the next best alternative would be to find out what works for you. Food is complex in that it brings people together and has social and cultural significance. One might not be able to eat plant-based all the time, particularly around family, friends or colleagues. As such, we should not feel pressured to be the ‘perfect’ plant-based eater either, nor should we feel boxed in by labels such as ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’. If you turned vegan overnight but still on occasion end up drinking dairy, so be it! We should not be so unkind to ourselves. Personally, I have adopted a pescatarian diet since 2017. Many of my friends eat plant-based when they’re out, but still eat meat or dairy at home with the rest of their families. 

Beware: plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean healthy

Not to come off as paradoxical, but although eating plant-based might not translate to nutritional deficiency, it does not necessarily correspond to clean eating either. You could be eating loads of junk or processed food that could still be technically considered plant-based (think microwavable foods, packaged snacks, white rice and white bread), but are definitely unhealthy for you in the long run. 

It’s better to opt for affordable whole foods (fresh produce, wholegrains, beans, and potatoes, for example) that are easy to incorporate in meals and help you achieve optimal nutrition levels. However, despite best efforts, there are a couple of vitamins typically harder to obtain through regular meals. I’ve turned to supplements and fortified foods to get enough vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Since we grew up eating meat, we may sometimes find ourselves craving its taste. Fortunately, there are many plant proteins that so greatly resemble meat they succeed in fooling even meat-eaters! Beyond Meat is one of the leading plant-based alternatives, but there are many other up-and-coming brands that target different consumers (e.g. OmniMeat for the Asian palate, and Heura which is a plant-based chicken), or simply take a divergent approach, for instance, Shiok Meats’ cellular technology, or Karana, which provide whole-plant substitutes. 

Some extra inspiration

It is also easy to search for plant-based eateries near you through various apps (e.g. abillionveg, HappyCow), and there are tons of fuss-free recipes for when you’d rather eat-in, from online food blogs (e.g. A Couple Cooks, Hot For Food, Minimalist Baker, From My Bowl) to Youtube channels (e.g. Pick Up Limes, Madeleine Olivia and Liv B). 

In the end, with great power comes great responsibility. The seemingly insignificant choices we make every day (from what we eat to whether we swap out plastic for a cotton tote), do indeed add up. If we do our part, in whatever way we can (be it flexitarian or vegan, recycling or zero-waste), we can collectively change the world for the better– maybe in ways that would surprise us.”

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Green Monday.

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