“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution of the vegetarian diet” – Einstein
Welcome all of my awesome readers,
Have you been contemplating back and forth about eating less meat, but are currently a bit anxious about taking the plunge because you think this is too extreme and don’t want to be classified as one of those ‘hippy vegetarian/vegans’?
Firstly, there was a reason why you clicked on this blog and I congratulate you on this because you have actively made the decision to take the time out of your busy day to sit down and read this article (or potentially just skim it, don’t worry no offence taken as I do this as well), because you have been mulling over eating less meat or even going Meat Free this March!
The first step of adopting any new diet involves creating some awareness surrounding your current daily food intake and eating habits. I ask you now to do a quick recall of the food that you have consumed over the past 48 hours including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between. Even extend this to the beverages that you have consumed during this time. Be honest with yourself when you take stock of how many animal products were consumed and roughly the quantity if possible, not just over the entire day, but in each individual meal. When I say animal products this includes everything from dairy products, eggs, honey, any other animal derived substances, and of course meat and seafood (while seafood is not considered ‘meat’ in the traditional terms those sea life creatures that are ending up on your plate or bowl are still are considered as animal products. I mean can you just imagine eating Nemo or Dory?).
OK great now that you have done a quick tally of these items can you also quickly reflect upon what may have been the driving decision behind choosing these food and beverage items that contained animal products as opposed to opting for those that did not contain animal products? Was it any of the reasons and beliefs down below that affected your choices?
- Was it because you like the taste of meat and therefore it is a done deal?
- Is it because you grew up eating meat and consuming other animal products, which is accepted in your culture/society, and therefore you do not question it?
- Is it because you believe that our teeth are made to eat meat, that all other animals that eat meat have teeth like ours, and therefore we should also eat meat?
- Was it because you needed the protein and you believe this can only be found in meat?
- Was it because you know we need calcium, which you have been informed can only be found in dairy milk?
- Is it because you believe that the process of evolution has placed humans, in a position where we are able to use the weaker (non-human animals)for consumption and for other pleasures. That other animals also consume meat and are they also considered as committing an immoral act? That it is our natural instinct to consume meat and thus we need to give into this.
- Humans are more intelligent and rational than animals and by default this gives use the right and opportunity to use animals for food.
- You do not consider the meat that is on your plate/bowl as an animal but rather purely as a source of food
As you can see from the above list that there are many different arguments, thought patterns, beliefs, and attitudes that drive many individuals to consuming meat and other animal products. I am sure that if you are a meat eater then you would have related to at least one of the above and possibly come up with many more of your own. That potentially you think that you do not have a choice but to eat meat because there are potentially limited vegetarian or vegan food choices where you are or that you consider these to be more expensive then those food/beverage items that contain animal products.
But wait for it…the good news is that you 100% DO HAVE A CHOICE in your food and beverage choices after all it is your own body and wouldn’t you rather consume wholesome plant based foods that nourish your mind, body and soul?! The aim of the exercise above was not to just waste a few minutes of your day, but rather to help you in expanding your consciousness and understanding surrounding the factors that influence your current behaviors and thought patterns. Once this has occurred you are able to act on this awareness to reclaim your rationality and freedom of choice to actively participate in creating a more humane world (don;t you feel more empowered already?!) Your first action does not have to be an extravagant movement with all the bells and whistles, although if you would like to express yourself in this way then by all means go for it and power to you. However, your first action in this Meat Free March Challenge can be simply to start with altering your food choices and cutting out the consumption of meat and seafood, and potentially all other animal derived substances one day.
Below I have delved into how and why I signed up for the Meat Free March Challenge to adopt a vegan lifestyle. However, if you are in a bit of a rush then skip past this section to where I will provide you with various steps and tips to help you out with the Meat Free March Challenge and continuing with this newly embraced lifestyle.
My Venture into Veganism
I am going to be upfront with you and admit that I personally did use a few of the above arguments and justifications myself before signing up for the Meat Free March Challenge and turning Vegan 2 years ago today.
When I initially decided to take the Meat Free March Challenge in 2015 I was not even Vegetarian, but rather still a meat eater. However, since the year 2012 I had started to limit my consumption of meat, seafood and other animal products when I came to the realization that I needed a complete overhaul of my own diet, health habits, and lifestyle. As a result this led me to purchasing “The Beauty Detox Solution” by Kimberley Snyder. Upon reading this book it was like an AH HA moment (don’t you just love those), whereby I truly felt a connection to the possibilities and benefits that could come from adopting a plant based diet. My own health journey, as one would call it, was not an over night transformation and I did not eliminate meat altogether from my diet for the 3 years since first reading “The Beauty Detox Solution”, but rather started to cut down my meat consumption whilst integrating more plant based foods into my diet. Since my AH HA, light bulb moment my knowledge started to expand exponentially due to this profound desire and thirst to learn more about the benefits of a plant based diet. During this 3 year transition time, as mentioned before, I did still consume animal products on occasion since I had not fully let go of my previous patterns, thoughts and justifications such as that I too liked the taste of meat and that I grew up eating meat so this was OK as it is widely accepted and promoted within society as my excuses not to turn vegetarian or vegan during this time.
However, in saying this during the the period of 2012-2015 the excuses that I used to remain consuming animal products did start to transform and my perception started to shift as I became more enlightened in regards to the advantages that a plant based diet could bring to me. Instead of just continuing to accept the fact that I grew up with consuming animal products and that I did not have a say in the matter, alternatively I intentionally began to analyse the root of my real motivations, influences, expectations, and goals for consuming these products.
Gradually from 2012-2015 my consumption of meat and seafood reduced down to once every couple of weeks just because, well first I always hated the feeling of cutting meat, talk about ick factor. But more importantly because I was educating myself further on the multitude of plant based foods and recipes that were out there. My passion for cooking ignited here, which is a big step for a girl that use to loathe the idea of cooking and lived on Lite N Easy for 2 years just purely for the convenience. The adoption of a plant based diet drove me to try so many new ingredients such as nutritional yeast, spirulina, almond meal, chia seeds, etc and also to use more popular ingredients such as broccoli, cauliflower, tofu, etc in new and exciting ways. My curiosity upon the actual health benefits of all of these ingredients really started to take off whereby in my spare time I was reading more articles, blogs, and watching videos on nutrition. On an internal level my energy levels increased, my skin was much more clear and smooth, I had more clarity in my mind, I felt more calm and balanced, and not to mention there was also an underlying satisfaction in knowing that my actions were not only increasing my quality of life, but as a by-product I was reducing my contribution to the global problems associated with consuming animal products such as deforestation, water pollution from the waste of the live stock, increased fuel consumption needed to transport feed to the livestock as well as transporting the slaughtered animals to the stores, increased greenhouse gas emissions, just to name a few.
Like many of you I was toying with the idea of going that step further for approximately 3-4 months prior to March 2015, wanting to test out a vegan diet/lifestyle as I was eating nearly a vegetarian diet at that point and had also become friends with a few vegan people who continued to inspire me. Then low and behold one day as I was scrolling through Facebook the Meat Free March Challenge appeared on my newsfeed from No Meat March. As one that enjoys a good challenge, I took this as a sign to take the plunge myself into testing out how I would be in eliminating all animal products from my diet. To be honest I actually thought that I would return to eating meat occasionally once the month was finished, however, through the month of turning vegan I realized that there was no cravings to eat meat nor any other animal products except perhaps ice cream because I do have a sweet tooth, but since then have learnt how to make and find alternative sources.
Steps to taking on this Meat Free Challenge
1. Commit to either adopting a vegetarian diet or vegan diet during this month.
I will be straightforward with you and let you know that this month might be tough and will require you to be dedicated and committed. This month will require you to evaluate what your motivation is behind taking this challenge and visualize your clear goal to keep you on track. It is also important to identify potential barriers or areas where you may lapse and how to prevent these lapses through devising strategies to overcome these.
During this month there are times that this new diet will seem inconvenient such as when there are parties on, travelling, dinner with friends, etc and you may be tempted to give up. There have been plenty of times when I have been traveling, working, at parties, etc where most of the food has been meat centric with little vegan options, but the key here is to remember the motivation behind this goal and the value you have placed on this to keep you from slipping up.
When you make a commitment it is a good idea to not only hold yourself accountable but also have others hold you accountable for your actions. You can do this by announcing it public through social media, blog about it, tell your family and friends, or even employ a health coach to keep you on track.
2. Take this challenge and link it to another complimenting goal that will get you excited
When I adopted a purely Vegan diet I was already eating a pretty clean nearly vegetarian diet. Nonetheless I was still consuming meat on occasion, dairy products such as cheese, chocolate and ice cream, honey, and occasionally eggs. When I signed up for this Meat Free March Challenge my initial motivation was more so for health reasons then for animal rights and saving the environment, even though I am aware of these benefits in general terms.
I found that even though I was not consuming as many animal products as I did previously in my life, that those that I still did, especially during times when I ate more of it than usual (three words for you…Christmas Cheese Boards) made me feel heavy, more lethargic and did not benefit my skin since it took more of my body’s energy to break down these food items.
In addition, I had made it as a personal fitness goal to complete more half marathons in 2015 and overall to increase my fitness levels. Through my own personal research I found that I could do so with adopting a vegan lifestyle. Therefore I tied becoming vegan to assisting me improving my diet to provide me with the correct sustenance to train harder and compete in the half marathons.
Put simply, recognize what it is in your life that you value and how the advantages of being vegetarian or vegan will help you in achieving this.
Many of us go into something new all gung-ho and excited because it is a new challenge or a new adventure. Unfortunately this zealous spirit can start to wear thin as time goes on with the potential to slip back into old behaviors.
This challenge may test your comfort zone, give you a shock and potentially make you a bit stressed, but this is not the objective of the Meat Free March Challenge. Rather this has been designed to raise your awareness and discover a new way of thinking and eating that will lead to long term health and well being.
Even though this challenge is designed to eliminate meat completely from your diet for a month or go the extra mile and eliminate all animal products this can be quite difficult for some and I want you to know now that we are all human and there will be times especially at the start when you will have small lapses. When I was doing this challenge myself I still had a little bit of chocolate and a little bit of ice cream, but instead of thinking of myself as a failure I stopped to evaluate why I lapsed and then devised strategies to stop myself if I felt that I would lapse again. Never did I give up completely because I knew the reasons why I had decided to take this challenge, the value I placed on this, and the accountability I had to myself and others.
4. Start off small and reward yourself
“There is nothing more rewarding than taking care of yourself” – Denise Austin
Whenever you are working towards a larger goal it is always a good practice to utilize your SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time Bound goals), and within this have smaller goals that will help you achieve your long term goal.
In this case if you are struggling with just the idea of giving up meat or animal products start by just committing to 10 days at the very start without letting this commitment to falter. I promise you 10 days will go in the blink of an eye.
Once you have completed the initial 10 days, given yourself a pat on the back, noticed the increase in your energy levels, your weight loss, and clearer focus you will be able to assess if you can keep on going for another 20 days since you are already in a rhythm and have overcome the first hurdle. From my own personal experience once I had come that far I was not even tempted to revert back.
Also along the way when you have reached each milestone take this time to provide yourself with a small reward for achieving this as it will help you gain momentum and keep you from becoming discouraged of overwhelmed. It is a good idea to tie your reward to your goal/commitment, find a gift that is easy to gift yourself with, and that you personally enjoy. For example when I became vegan my reward was purchasing a new vegan cookbook or ingredient because I love learning more and also experimenting in the kitchen. But more importantly, look at your own milestone and achievement as a reward in itself.
5. Educate yourself upon the different nutritional needs required for your new diet
Whether you have decided to adopt a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet, once again hats off to you as you are significantly helping yourself in achieving your best and healthier version of yourself, as well as aiding in the protection of the environment, reducing pollution, and minimizing global climate changes on a general level.
However, while that is all good and well adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet this can initially cause quite a bit of confusion within most people because this is quite different to what they are normally familiar with, raising the questions of ‘What can I eat?’, ‘Am I just going to eat rabbit food?’, ‘Where do I get my protein from?’ ‘Where do I get my iron from?’, ‘Where do I get my calcium from?’, etc.
These are all very important and essential questions that need to be addressed properly so that you can become a healthy vegetarian/vegan eating a balanced and diverse diet as opposed to a unhealthy vegetarian/vegan consuming only chips, cookies, and cakes because they are technically vegetarian or vegan.
This is about honoring your body. You have taken the opportunity to embrace a new way of eating and living that will, if done correctly, increase your longevity, reduce your susceptibility to illnesses and diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, increase weight loss (if this is your goal), reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass, increase energy levels, and many more.
When I first became Vegan 2 years ago I was not much ahead of you in terms of my knowledge. Yes I was already eating pretty clean diet, however, I still had so much more to learn about the correct foods, how to consume them in the right quantities, how they are metabolized in my body, and how to eat a balanced and diverse diet for my current goal.
I use to and still do refer back to many resources that give me a clear idea of the various protein, iron, calcium, B12, etc plant based food items out there that are easily accessible and wholesome. A great source is from No Meat March from whom I undertook this challenge. Two of the most helpful sources I found when I was making this transition was to refer to the Vegetarian Starter Kit and the infographics that can be found here providing information on the plant based sources of protein, calcium, iron, B12, and much more amazing information.
6. Plan meals
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Anonymous
This might sound slightly harsh, but this is reality, and on this occasion I am not going to try to beat around the bush or sugar coat it for you. The beauty of this message is that it very simple, clear, concise, and you can apply this concept not just to adopting a new diet/lifestyle but in everyday occurrences such as studying, exercise regime, work, travelling, etc.
Now, hopefully you understand the deep need to educate yourself upon what nutrients are required for your body to function optimally on a daily basis and to achieve your other gaols that you have attached to this current one of completing the Meat Free March Challenge.
Firstly, it is crucial to overcome the mindset, if you have not already, that you will be eating like a rabbit as one would say, or that you will not be constantly hungry, and that you will not be able to consume all your necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals leading to deficiencies. I was once concerned about this and admittedly there was a time when I felt that I was always hungry and a bottomless pit because nothing would fill me up. In conjunction with having deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals that were shown in my blood test at the start of my venture into veganism. However, since then I have actively sought out the information I needed to train and prepare myself to avoid this occurring again because I knew that it is vital for me to have a healthy body to function on a daily basis and to achieve my other goals, plus no one likes to be around someone that is hangry.
Secondly, have fun finding different recipes that are designed specifically for a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are countless resources out there from books, to magazines, websites, youtube videos, and even apps these days. After a while you will become familiar with those that more fit your style and don’t be afraid to experiment with different tastes out there because that is all part of the experience. I personally really love the recipes from One Green Planet, Kimberley Snyder, Minimalist Baker, and Detoxinista not only for all of the incredibly tantalizing recipes, but also because there is a vast range of other information on these sites related to health and living a plant based diet. Also, I have created, and still in the process of producing many more nutritious recipes which can be found here.
Also, a tip to make your life easier is to choose some staple dishes that are quick, easy and do not require as many ingredients to fall back on when you have not had time to look up a new recipe, short on cooking time, or are currently at the grocery store but have not completely planned ahead.
Thirdly, you need to look at your schedule for the week to determine what type of commitments you have such as work, travelling, studying, dining out, etc. Within this week identify those meals and days which you will need to be eating away from home and are able to prepare food for yourself. Although it is always fun and convenient to eat out this can also become quite costly, plus you do not have control over what type of ingredients the food outlets place in your meals, and through preparing your own meals you will also gain a certain level of satisfaction and pride by creating a delicious vegetarian/vegan meal. Once you have identified those meals and days determine where you will be during these times so you can prepare the appropriate meals for the facilities that you have access to. And also think rationally about the time that you have each week to set aside to prepare and cook for your meals. For example when I look at my schedule for the week this generally consists of 4 full days of University, 2-3 days of work, 6-7 days of morning exercise training, and also time spent with my partner, friends and family. So as you can see my schedule is quite full on and I do not normally have time to make my meals fresh at home, except perhaps once or twice on the weekends. To avoid eating out all the time and purchasing takeaway I have developed an appreciation for tupperware and normally make my meal prep day on a Sunday (this can differ depending on my weekly schedule). Yes you will need to find various recipes in advance, yes you will need to go grocery shopping in advance, yes you will be spending quite a few hours in the kitchen at one time, and yes you will have a more dishes to wash at one time, but who says this needs to be a chore?! Make this an enjoyable experience while blasting the radio or listening to a podcast, knowing that you are creating wholesome meals to feed your body.
7. Dining out as a Vegetarian or Vegan
This is commonly one of the main areas of concern for most people and potentially for yourself as you may already know you have the rest down pat. Still to this day there are certain times when I have dined out and feel the compulsion to go into the kitchen of a cafe or restaurant to teach the chef on how to create a tasty vegan meal when they have limited or no options However, the exciting news is that a higher number of restaurants and cafes are becoming more aware for allergies and dietary restrictions offering alternative options on the menu for those that require this. Even better yet, some restaurants are turning Vegan such as Gigi Pizzeria in Sydney. This clearly shows that there is a greater social, economical and environmental movement that is now being more openly embraced which is creating more demand. Through increased demand this leads to increased supply, and now you are part of this tremendous plant based movement.
Here are just a few tricks that I have used while dining out and also whilst traveling to ensure that I am not missing out and still have access to plant based options. I have many more but for the sake of this article I am not listing all of them so please feel free to contact me if you need a bit more guidance.
- Website and social media – One of the most well-known websites that lists veg-friendly dining options here in Sydney and also around the world is Happy Cow, which I have used countless times. This is a great website which acts upon location, is super handy while traveling, and if you are anything like me quite geographically challenged. Also if you want to combine your dining out experience with meeting other vegetarians or vegans the world is at your fingertips through the various Vegan Meetup Groups as well as exploring the multitude of Facebook groups out there that are specific to vegetarians and vegans such as Vegan Travel Club, which will provide you with Vegan food tips from around the world and other various travel tips.
- Plan ahead – As you can see that planning ahead is quite a common theme in adopting a new diet, but also in life itself. In this case if you have the opportunity to research the restaurant or cafe ahead of time to scope out the vegan or vegetarian dishes that have already been created then this is a great start. If they have some items on the menu then woohoo you are sorted, however, many times vegan options in particular are non-existent or slightly lacking in creativity, and therefore the next best thing is to find a vegetarian option that can be veganised if this is what you are after or even a meat dish that can be made vegetarian or vegan, such as a beef curry that would use tofu instead.
- Don’t be shy and embrace your new diet – The main message here is to really embrace your new diet and lifestyle. To be unapologetic about this and be proud of the initiative that you have taken. I find that many people are quite timid when it comes to asking if they can alter anything on the menu or are even nervous when it comes to inquiring what the ingredients are in a particular dish. I say don’t be ashamed, scared or nervous to do so because as a consumer you have the right to inquire about this to ensure that it fits your needs. However, if you are concerned that the wait staff or the chef will spit in your food (which they won’t), and you do not wish to be a pain while asking on the spot then you always have the options of contacting the restaurant or cafe in advance to ask if they can cater for your requirements. In my experience I have found that everyone has been happy to look into this for me and it also helps when you are specific about what you would like.
- Sides could be your savior – OK so you have tried the options above and perhaps need to attend a meat centric restaurant or are attending a party at a private place where you do not have access to main meals that can easily be changed to a vegetarian or vegan option. It is imperative not to give up all that you have achieved as there will always be side dishes at a restaurant and even snacks at a party that are vegan/vegetarian. In the restaurant you will still need to specify your requirements to them, however, you will find it easier to order sides such as vegetables, beans, brown rice, and fruit that can be quite satisfying. Also another handy trick here that I use is that if I have sussed out the menu in advance or suspect that there are not that many plant based options for me I will have a light meal in advance so that I am not starving or feel that I am missing out too much. This way I can still enjoy the experience without the stress of food options on my mind or on my stomach.
8. Find your Plant Based Tribe
“Surround yourself with those on the same mission as you” – Anonymous
Whenever we are trying out something new this can be both exciting and scary because you may feel that you are slightly out of your depth and overwhelmed, but eager to test yourself because you deem this has value and will better your life.
One way to help you through this process is to find your tribe. This will be your support network, the people that you can go to for advice and assistance, that can hold you accountable for your actions, that you can connect with on a new more profound level, that will be able to support you when you need it most, and also that can help celebrate with you on your success.
We find these tribes in all walks of life whether this be when we are starting school, a new job, traveling, a new business venture, and so on. The people that you meet along the way can become your lifelong friends because together you will both encourage each other to better yourselves. And in this case of adopting a new diet/lifestyle of vegetarianism or veganism this can seem daunting but through surrounding yourself with others that are starting out with you or more experienced people that can provide you with guidance then this will become a breeze because these people will become your biggest influence and this will lead naturally to your success.
I am not saying to cut out all of your friends, family or even partner if they are are not vegetarians or vegans because they too have their own positive qualities which makes you want to keep them within your life. Also it is paramount to understand that they are their own path and that this should not influence what your values are or your venture to take this Meat Free March Challenge.
When I first decided to take on this challenge myself and then even after this challenge was finished and I had decided to stay vegan I luckily already had some vegetarian and vegan friends and family members. This did make the initial transition easier in terms of resources, support and also general understanding and acceptance. However, within the 2 years since I became vegan I have not only met others that are following the same path as I am, but have also made the initiative to become part of social media groups on Facebook that provide research and inspiration to sustaining this lifestyle in conjunction to attending different Meetup Events that are specifically held for vegans.
Good luck on pursuing such an amazing challenge that I hope will provide you with new insights and perspectives that may happen to become part of your daily lifestyle.
Please feel free to comment or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.