Plant-Based Pause No 33: Make a Pledge

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.’ – Ruth Harrison

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It’s easy for us to make promises to ourselves and then come up with lots of excuses why we can’t keep them. It’s harder to break those promises if you’ve told someone else that you’re going to do it.

In 2013 I pledged to reduce the packaging waste that I produce. More specifically, I promised to use fewer take-out cups. I invested in re-usable cups and began taking my flask to work. Over the course of the year, I threw only about 5 cups into the bin. Considering I was previously buying a take-put coffee almost everyday at work, this was a huge reduction. As a bonus, it’s also saved me a lot of money. This year, I’ve continued to reduce my waste and I’ve also vowed to be more ethical with my choices when donating to charity. This may sound harsh, but after learning that a lot of charities here in the UK waste money on unnecessary animal testing that provides absolutely no benefit to their cause I realised I’m better donating my money elsewhere. Besides, promoting the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle does more to help people in the long term.

By telling people around me about my pledges, I’m constantly reminded to keep on track. Believe me, people will soon let you know if you make a slip-up.

There are lots of on-line resources to help you make a pledge. Plate to Planet is a great site where you can pledge to go meat free. They’ll even email you to check how you’re getting on. Meat Free Mondays, promoted by the McCartney family, is for those who aren’t ready to go completely plant-based just yet. By pledging to not eat meat for just one day a week, you can make a huge difference to your health and the planet.

Plant-Based Pause No 32: Don’t Go Anywhere Without Your Re-usable Waterbottle

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.’ – Alexander Graham Bell

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Very early on in my plant-based lifestyle, I visited a nutritional therapist. Not particularly to help me with the plant-based part of my diet, but because I knew I had at least one food allergy that I couldn’t pinpoint. One of the many great pieces of advice she gave me was to drink at least 2 litres of water per day. I’d already been told this before, but for some reason when Arwen told me it seemed to stick. She also told me to wait 30 minutes in between drinking and eating to avoid heartburn. As I’d suffered with heartburn most of my life, this bit of information was greatly received.

Since then, I’ve stuck to Arwen’s advice and I now drink plenty of water everyday. However, the environmentalist in me hates wasting plastic unnecessarily. So, disposable water bottles and the horrible little plastic cups stacked up next to our dispenser at work are out of the question. Instead, I found my new best friend.

Nowadays, I carry my re-useable water bottle with me virtually everywhere. It comes to the gym with me, it sits on my desk at work everyday and it usually finds itself caked in mud and bugs in the community garden at the weekend.

In my office, I unfortunately sit right next to the fridge, water dispenser and the coffee machine. Every day I sit there and listen to the clunk-clunk-clunk noise of people repeatedly throwing disposable plastic cups into the bin. I hate that noise, because I know that every time I hear it another piece of plastic has been used for barely more than a few seconds yet it will take years to decompose, if at all. If every colleague in my office uses two of these cups each per day on average, by buying a re-usable bottle we could save over 100 cups each per year. And that’s not including all the disposable plastic bottles that they buy from the vending machine.

I appreciate that a 1 litre water bottle isn’t the most convenient thing to carry with you in a nightclub or down the shops, but my advice is to invest in one and keep it with you whenever you can.

 

Plant-Based Pause No 31: Learn to Compromise

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘150 years ago, they would have thought you were absurd if you advocated for the end of slavery. 100 years ago, they would have laughed at you for suggesting that women should have the right to vote. 50 years ago, they would object to the idea of African Americans receiving equal rights under the law. 25 years ago they would have called you a pervert if you advocated for gay rights. They laugh at us now for suggesting that animal slavery be ended. Some day they won’t be laughing.’ – Gary Smith

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I love this quote. It’s what I’ve been thinking for many years, but I’m not quite as eloquent when I try to put it into words. I truly believe that, one day, living plant-based will be the norm. I do, however, understand why a lot of people around me think I’m crazy for even suggesting that. As Gary Smith said, that would be as crazy as ending the human slave trade, giving women the vote, allowing gay people to marry…oh, wait a minute…

As much as my family and friends think I’m a nutter for following this strange and unnatural lifestyle (their words, not mine), they do their best to support me in their own way. They don’t, however, always get it right. And that means that sometimes I have to compromise.

There have been a few occasions when people have proudly presented me with a gluten free, dairy free cake that they’ve baked ‘just for me’. But what have you used to bind the ingredients? I ask. ‘An egg’. Great.

I’ve also settled for eating cauliflower cheese, gluten free pizza bases made with cows’ milk and grated cheese on my tortillas. That last one was actually my own fault, I was so tired one night in my favourite restaurant in Cardiff that I forgot to ask for the vegan version of the dish.

I do my best to stick to a completely plant-based, whole food diet and I certainly don’t like eating dairy. But, sometimes I feel that I have to compromise just a little. Whether you agree to the plant-based lifestyle or not, we all have to share this Earth and by tolerating and understanding each other that healthy, cruelty-free future that we dream of might just come that much sooner.

Plant-Based Pause No 30: Be Prepared for Arguments

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Be warned. When you tell people you’re a plant-based vegetarian, a lot of the responses you get will be arguments. You can feel like you’re being continuously attacked, and may even start to bow to peer pressure and think it might just be easier to go back to being an omnivore. These pressures can even come from your own family. I first turned vegetarian when I was nine, but thanks to incorrect advice from our GP my parents forced me to eat meat for another four years. When I cut it from my diet for the final time, my mum loved to tell people that I was attention-seeking, had an eating disorder or was ‘going through a phase’. She still does it now, although in my defence the ‘phase’ has been going on for over 20 years. My family members also seem to like bringing up things from the past. ‘You might say you’re a vegetarian, but when you were six your favourite food was ham.’ Yes, when I was six. My favourite TV show back then was Rainbow, but people and things change.

Even after twenty years of getting dragged into arguments that I really don’t want to, it still grinds me down sometimes. I just keep telling myself that argument is simply a natural human defence. When we are faced with something different to what we know that we don’t quite understand, our instincts tell us to stand our guard and defend our truth. I’m sure that when Christopher Columbus first suggested the Earth wasn’t flat he met a similar reaction.

The best way to smoothly slide your way out of these situations is to know more about the subject so that you can counter their argument. For example:
Them: ‘Humans are meant to eat meat because we have canine teeth.’
You: ‘Actually, the canine teeth we have are similar to those of apes and are for use as a threat when a predator gets to close. You’d need lots of sharp teeth very close together, for example like a cat, to eat meat efficiently. Don’t believe me? Try eating a chicken leg using only your canine teeth.’
I have amassed a whole back catalogue of these responses over the years. Thankfully, as the world becomes more aware of the impact we have on the planet, people are more educated about food and the environment nowadays. As a result, their responses to hearing the words ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ aren’t as dramatic. It’s been a few years since anyone has asked me why I’m scared of catching CJD. I’m still confused about this one as I turned veggie well before the CJD scare and, as the disease spread in the 80s, if I was going to get it I would already have it regardless of what I ate now.

I’ll bet there are a few arguments out there that I am still to hear, but one thing is for sure – I’m ready for them.

Plant-Based Pause No 29: Find Your Motivation

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Become the change you want to see in the world.’ – Gandhi

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This week’s plant-based theme sounds like it could get a bit deep and philosophical, but don’t worry that’s not how it is intended. I believe that we should all understand what motivates us.

If I woke up tomorrow morning in a world where everyone had converted to living a plant-based life, I would be the first to celebrate. However, if we don’t understand why we’re making those changes and the results that they will bring then it won’t work. There has been some talk in the press recently about people converting to a vegan diet because it is fashionable to follow in the footsteps of vegan celebrities. Somer also wrote a brilliant post about this subject over at Vedged Out. Making a lifestyle change because you are copying someone else isn’t going to motivate you, and the changes certainly won’t stick. Instead, we need to educate people about the effects that eating meat and using animals for products has on our species and the planet. By approaching it this way, others will naturally make better choices for the right reasons.

Personally, my initial motivation for becoming plant-based was my own health. I wanted to be fit and healthy. That is still one of my top priorities, although other motivations have been added to the list over time. People tell me their various reasons for not eating meat or adopting certain aspects of plant-based living all the time. Some don’t like to see animals suffer, some want to reduce their carbon footprint and some just don’t like the way the meat industry has evolved into one big factory process line where you’re not even sure which animal you’re eating by the end of it.

If you’re going to go plant-based, don’t just do it because someone told you that you should. Find out why you should, educate yourself about all the great improvements you are going to make. Find your motivation.

Plant-Based Pause No 28: Out and About

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.’ – Samuel Johnson

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I’m not going to lie to you, this one is tough. My number one piece of advice to living plant-based is to be prepared. However, with all the will in the world, at some point you are going to find yourself stuck in a service station at 3am that only caters to meat eaters and junk food addicts. Trust me, I’ve been there on a few occasions. This is when you have to employ a skill that many humans in the modern world have forgotten how to use. You have to adapt. Vowing to live completely plant-based, whole food and organic is admirable, but there are times that you have to compromise. Fries are my usual go-to when I’m stuck with nothing suitable to eat and really hungry. They fill you up, and a lot of chain restaurants now also make them gluten-free. I’ve also been known to snack on questionable, lone pieces of remaining fruit in convenience stores and expensive packets of gluten-free pretzels from the pharmacy. In his brilliant book Finding Ultra, Rich Roll talks about resorting to fuelling up on take-out noodles when completing his epic challenges miles from the nearest health food store. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you just have to accept what’s available. And when you return home again, it makes you appreciate fresh veggies even more.

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Plant-Based Pause No 27: Visiting the Family

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Reach for the stars, even if you have to stand on a cactus.’ – Susan Longacre

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Whenever you make a big change in your life, your family and close friends will often find it difficult to deal with. After all, you’re changing the dynamics of your group and challenging what they think of as ‘normal’. For me personally, telling my family that I was vegetarian is one of the hardest things I’ve had to tell them. Seventeen years later, when I decided to convert to a plant-based lifestyle, I had to have another conversation with them. Although, as an independent grown adult, it was a lot easier this time, it wasn’t an overnight acceptance. In fact, I think they still doubt my choices even three years down the line.

When you make the change to living plant-based, it might take your family a while to accept you new lifestyle choice. After all, most of these people have known you since birth. They are the people whose job it is to care for you. They’ll be worried about your health, your motives and maybe even your sanity.

Just like any other person who doesn’t understand the plant-based lifestyle, your family will have lots of questions and you can teach them and show them why you have made the right choice. Although no other member of my family is vegetarian, I know that my vegetarianism has affected them in positive ways. I see them making small changes, such as eating less meat or using non-dairy milk, and I know that would have been unlikely without my input. It’s rare that my mum lets anyone else use her kitchen, but whenever I go to visit her now she always requests that I cook her some vegan food.

My Wish Has Been Granted

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There aren’t many things I miss from the days before I became vegetarian. I certainly don’t crave meat, and most other things that I removed from my diet have vegetarian alternatives nowadays. I try not to eat too much processed food, but on occasion I will treat myself to things like vegan cheese, jelly sweets and chocolate. However, the one food item I have not been able to find an alternative to for the past 20 years are marshmallows. I was never much of a fan of marshmallows as a kid, but when I went to work in the USA at the age of 21 I felt left out because I couldn’t make smores around the bonfire like everyone else. (Vegan marshmallows are available in the USA, but unfortunately they didn’t sell them where I worked, and I’ve never come across them during my other trips to the States). Unlike other items only available in the USA, unfortunately marshmallows don’t travel well, so it’s not even like I can order them online. Instead, I have had to patiently wait in the hope that one day they would be available in the UK.

And – my prayers have been answered. Whilst shopping in Cardiff city centre last week, I popped into one of the health food stores to pick up a few bits and saw these shining out at me from the shelf. I couldn’t believe it! At long last, vegan marshmallows available in the UK. What’s more, they are so yummy! Just as good as I remember marshmallows being when I was little.

I can’t wait until my next camping trip to try toasting them over the bonfire!

Plant-Based Pause No 26: Make A Meal Out Of Sides

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘The obstacle is the path.’ – Zen Aphorism

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Whenever I arrange to eat out with omnivore friends in a ‘regular’ restaurant, panic ensues. Not from me, however, but from my fellow diners. ‘But what will you eat?’ they ask.
Obviously, a restaurant doesn’t have to be classed as ‘vegan’ to serve plant-based food. A lot of mainstream eateries have suitable dishes on the menu. Or, at the very least, a dish that can easily be converted. However, there are some out there that don’t. Have no fear, though, this does not condemn you to an evening sat in the car park with a take-out bag of chips.
My simple trick in these situations is to make a meal out of sides. Even the most meat-heavy restaurants that I’ve eaten in have plenty of vegetarian and vegan sides on offer. They may not look very appetising on their own, but combine a baked potato with a portion and vegetables and a side salad and you’ve got a pretty decent plate.
Be warned when using this tactic, though. It has on many occasions confused the waiting staff. Be prepared for ‘I only have 13 mains, and there are 14 of you’.
I’m not trying to convince you that choosing from side dishes is the most interesting choice, and I wouldn’t like to do it on a regular basis, but it comes in useful when I find myself in certain situations. There are of course many, many amazing restaurants out there that go more than out of their way to cater to us plant eaters, and we’ll discuss those another week.

Plant-Based Pause No 25: Read Labels

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.’ – Will Durant

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This one may seem obvious. I mean, anyone who’s following a diet other than an omnivore eat-whatever-you-want option has to read labels to make sure they can eat whatever they are sizing up. What I’m suggesting, though, is that you should pay more attention to some of the lesser read parts of labels. The nutritional information, allergies and vegan suitability are all important, but there’s quite often a lot of other good stuff on there as well. Most companies include their website address, which can provide a whole lot of information and new recipes. And if you’re eating vegan/plant-based/organic, you’ll quite often find that the products you buy affiliate themselves with other good causes. For example, the brand of coffee I buy runs a scheme where you can collect tokens and send them in to help The Yorkshire Rainforest Project (I think it’s a charity based in Yorkshire that helps rainforests in other parts of the world as opposed to someone trying to create a rainforest in Yorkshire!). Sometimes you’ll find interesting info typed on the packaging itself. I’ve learnt more about the UK hemp industry from the information typed on the side of Good Hemp Milk cartons than anywhere else.

Before you throw that empty carton or package away, take a closer look at what’s written on it. You never, know, you may learn something new.