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.

Plant-Based Pause No 24: Research, Research, Research

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.

‘I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.’ – Pablo Picasso

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This isn’t as boring as it sounds, I promise. Converting to a plant-based lifestyle has possibly been the biggest learning experience of my life. Planeat and Forks Over Knives provided the foundation for my education, and from that point on I couldn’t get enough. I’m addicted to finding and absorbing as much information as I possibly can about vegan food, home cooking and eco-living. I’ve read countless books, watched documentaries and movies and signed up to the mailing lists of numerous websites. And I don’t think it’s a learning curve that will ever see an end. I’m constantly faced with questions about how I can be more plant-based. Where can I buy vegan make-up? What can I cook for Christmas dinner? Who sells quality vegan-friendly shoes? The list goes on.

Once again, the internet is my first port of call for answers. It’s hard to imagine how we used to cope without the world wide web at our fingertips 24 hours a day. However, I still go old school sometimes. Local libraries stock a surprising array of books about plant-based food and lifestyle, and the more we borrow them the more it will encourage them to buy more books for us. So, if you’re not quite committed enough to plant-based living at the moment to invest in your own books, check out what your library has to offer. If you ask nicely, they will even borrow books from other areas for you and possibly buy a copy of a specific book at your request.

Before you know it, you’ll soon want to spend you spare time scouring plant-based websites and the vegan cooking section on Amazon.

Here are a few of my favourite books that you might want to check out to get you started:

The China Study T.Colin Campbell – It’s like the bible for all plant-based vegetarians. It’s nowhere near as scientific as it sounds, a really easy read.
Whole T. Colin Campbell – Once you’ve read The China Study, you just have to read the follow-up. Whole lifts the lid on how and why the people who should be looking after us try to convince us that living unhealthily is the right way forward.
Mad Cowboy Howard Lyman – Proof that even the most die-hard meat-eater can be converted. You will not believe Lyman’s life story.
Silent Spring Rachel Carson – A scary eye-opener of a book that shows us the evidence of what we are doing to the planet has been right in front of our eyes for many years.
Eat and Run Scott Jurek – Not everyone converts to a plant-based lifestyle because of health or ethical reasons. Jurek made the switch simply because it helps him run better, and oh boy can he run!
Finding Ultra Rich Roll – This is one of the most amazing life transformations that I have ever heard of. Once an overweight alcoholic who narrowly missed going to prison due to a technicality, Roll is now one of the biggest promoters of plant power on the planet. Oh, and did I mention that he competes in ironman triathlons in his spare time? His autobiography is truly incredible, and provides inspiration for all plant-based converts at any stage.
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows Melanie Joy, PhD – This book will answer questions that you’ve never even thought to ask. It’s a strange world that we have created where we put some animals on a lead and others on our dinner plate.

If you have read, or get around to reading any of these books, drop me a comment and let me know what you thought. I’m also open to suggestions to add to my own reading list.

 

Plant-Based Pause No 23: Know Your Routine

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.

‘A professional is a man who can do his best at a time when he doesn’t particularly feel like it.’ – Alistair Cooke

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Generally speaking, I don’t like routines. I prefer to live spontaneously. Having said that, since converting to living plant-based I’ve grown to appreciate my new routine. It means that I’ve nearly always got something suitable to eat when I need it, and it’s helped me to cut down on my waste and use of disposable products such as take-out cups.

I’ll admit, it’s not been easy getting used to a new routine. Just last week, I realised very late one night that I hadn’t bought any snacks for the following day at work. Luckily, I’ve also learnt to use my initiative in such situations. I now know which coffee bar in our office building sells healthy vegan snacks without having to desperately search the whole site.

My typical day starts with a good breakfast, which is usually a bowl of buckwheat topped with agave, fruit, flaxseed and chia seeds. Unless it’s really hot outside (which accounts for about three days a year here in the UK) or I’m running late, then a bowl of gluten-free cereal will do. I prepare my lunch the evening before, so that gets thrown in my bag along with my water bottle and some snacks. I never go anywhere without my water bottle these days, and on some days I’ll also fill a flask with some coffee. I cook most of my meals fresh at home, and to save time during the week I make big batches of dishes such as pasta sauce and risotto on the weekend. Having this basic routine has really helped me to live plant-based.

I’m not completely tied to my routine, though. After all, I love to travel and that would be impossible with such a rigid existence. When I’m away from my ‘comfort zone’ I quite often have to adapt. It means that I sometimes eat some strange and questionable meals, and I might have to use the occasional disposable cup or grocery bag, but I try my best.

 

Plant-Based Pause No 21: You’ll Run Out of Cupboard Space in Your Kitchen

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.

‘You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.’ – Henry Ford

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The subject I am going to talk about today is something that I was unaware of until it was brought to my attention by a fellow plant-based blogger. A while back, Somer over at Vedged Out wrote a post about the downsides of living vegan. The article literally had me laughing out loud, a rare occurrence for me (honestly, ask my friends). One of Somer’s observations about us plant-based vegetarians is that we buy so many kitchen utensils, many of which you’ve never heard of before, and yet we always need more. In the past two years I have bought two blenders (one handheld and a big one), a juicer and I even had a tofu press imported from America. There’s also an imposing mountain of tuppaware containers in my kitchen that threaten to avalanche every time I open the cupboard door. All these gadgets and utensils are lovingly used on a regular basis (living plant-based means that you cook a lot more), but yet I can’t help thinking that I could also do with a food processor (before I completely burn out the blender). My incredibly small kitchen is stopping me from purchasing any more utensils at the moment, and moving to a bigger house for this reason alone seems a little extreme. I’m sure, though, that in the future I will own lots more gadgets that I am currently unaware of the existence of.

Plant-Based Pause No 17: Don’t Beat Yourself Up

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.

‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. ‘ – Robert F. Kennedy

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As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And while we’re talking in clichés, here’s another one – nobody’s perfect. With the best will in the world, no matter how committed you are to living a plant-based lifestyle and doing the right thing, even the best of us slip up at times. At the age of fourteen, when I turned vegetarian for good, I accidentally ate a scotch egg because it didn’t occur to me that it contained sausage meat.

Making a radical change in your life such as converting to a plant-based diet isn’t easy, especially when it goes against everything you’ve ever been taught about the world and what most other people believe. Like I did, you might slip up and eat something you vowed never to again. Or, you might just one day find yourself somewhere with no plant-based options available and no pre-prepared snacks to hand, and think ‘screw it, I’ll just eat the cheese omelette’. If, or when, it happens, my advice it to deal with it, learn from the experience and move on. Kicking yourself afterwards only makes you weaker for the next challenge. I don’t live a completely plant-based, carbon-neutral life, but I do the best that I can in the modern world that I live.

Plant-Based Pause No 16: Eating Plant-Based Does Not Equal Boring

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.

‘It is easy to sit up and take notice. What is difficult is getting up and taking action.’ – Al Batt

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A common misconception about vegan food is that it has to be bland and boring. After over two years of eating almost completely vegan food, I now find non-vegan food to be the boring option. Since switching my diet to plant-based alternatives, I’ve sought out much more varied choices and tried foods that I never would have bothered with before. And with all the fruits and vegetables, my plate is certainly a lot more colourful nowadays. If you don’t believe me, and you don’t normally eat vegan food, find your nearest vegetarian restaurant and give it a try. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in my hometown, Cardiff, then I’d definitely recommend Milgi, my favourite local restaurant. The internationally inspired, locally produced food they serve there is so popular that when they started offering meat dishes on the menu, the customers voted for it to remain a completely vegetarian restaurant.

Now seems the right time to raise the bacon/boiled ham argument. Omnivores often tell me that they couldn’t be vegetarian because they couldn’t give up bacon. I always ask them if they could give up boiled ham, because it’s the same meat from the same animal. The only difference is that bacon is smoked, and it’s that smokey flavour that they crave. You can smoke lots of things, including vegan options such as tofu, and still get the same ‘fix’. Tofu, or bean curd, is the richest and cheapest source of protein in the world. It’s made from soya beans and has been used in Oriental cooking for thousands of years. Although there are some health concerns related to eating soya, mainly because it increases levels of oestrogen in the body, it’s still better than eating animal protein. Tofu contains vitamins, including lots of calcium and folate, and is low in cholesterol and fat.

Eating plant-based also doesn’t mean that you have to give up treats. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and I’m a self-confessed chocaholic. I used to love milk chocolate, but nowadays the thought of eating it makes me feel queasy. There are lots of yummy milk chocolate alternatives on the market such as Free From and Plamil. My personal favourite is the mint flavour Plamil. Plain or dark chocolate is often dairy-free, just check that it doesn’t contain butter fat. Green & Black’s 70%, Lindt 70%, Kinnerton and Divine Plain are popular options, although Divine isn’t suitable if you can’t eat gluten. After Eights, or the cheaper Tesco After Dinner Mints are also dairy-free.

DSC_0426If cake is your drug of choice, vegan baking is becoming more and more popular. Check out your local ‘raw food’ options (that means it’s vegan, and usually gluten-free as well). When I don’t have time to bake at home, I treat myself to raw cheesecake from our local farmers’ market. It’s to die for! When I do have my bake on, I make plant-based, gluten-free versions of all my (and my family and friends’) favourite goodies including brownies, date and walnut slices, cookies and shortbread. And if you’re thinking that all my friends and family must be plant-based and used to vegan food like me, you’re wrong. Most of the people around me are omnivore, and they are always begging me to bake for them. If you’ve no idea where to start when it comes to vegan and/or gluten-free baking, head over to Forks and Beans for some expert guidance from Cara, a fellow chocaholic with a gift for creating amazing recipes.