I can’t let the start of 2019 slip by without taking the opportunity to talk about “veganuary”.
If you’re unsure what this etymological mash up means, where have you been? It’s a pretty easy concept to work out (or is that just cause I’m an English teacher and love word-play?).
Veganuary, the fashionable craze of eating a plant based diet, or ‘going vegan’ for the entire month of January, is often a response to the culinary excesses of Christmas. For many it’s a reactive attempt to curb the expanding waist line that the festive period generously gifts you.
For me, the jury’s still out when it comes to the idea of joining in a trendy temporary diet. I’m not sure if it’s simply the idea of eliminating certain foods from my diet, (which I don’t know is a particularly healthy strategy, physically or psychologically) but also I question the benefits of a drastic short term change in behaviour. Sure, you may feel pretty pious for a month, but do these changes really translate to improvements in health/environment/cosmic interplay that can be felt longer than the 30 odd days that they’re employed for?
I also feel a degree of empathy for the British farming industry, who incidentally employ some of the highest welfare standards in the world. Farmers are not only under the cosh with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit (a whole other minefield of misery) but their livelihoods are being increasingly pressurised by the growing population of people who are shunning meat and dairy.
That being said, I have to admit I find the idea of reducing my meat, fish and dairy intake somewhat appealing. I’ve been reading a lot recently, in the wake of veganuary, about the benefits of a plant based diet, and although I’m not ready to go the ‘whole hog’ and give up the bacon completely (see what I did there?), I have decided to make a few, non binding, completely retractable adjustments to my diet.
I used the month of January as the time to trial some changes, but as I had to explain multiple times to maaaany people, I was not, I repeat NOT “doing veganuary”.
Meat featured on our family’s menu about once a week (usually at a weekend when we were entertaining) and I would ensure we had fish and dairy at the weekend too. Other than a dash of cow’s milk in my tea and coffee, I ate plant based foods from Monday to Friday.
Well, I have to conclude that I am a convert. It’s now February and I have no plans to back-pedal on my new found “reducetarian” habits (no, I had no idea that was a ‘thing’ either).
So why embark on this flexi plant-based reducetarian experiment? Here are my four top reasons to embrace the plant and reduce your consumption of animal based foods.
1. You’ll save money
This wouldn’t be an economy inspired blog if I didn’t mention the financial benefits first and foremost. At the beginning of the month I assumed that our shopping bill would increase a tad, taking into account the cost of ingredients used as replacements such as plant milks and dairy free cheese, not to mention avocados in abundance. But I was pleasantly surprised; our food bills were no more expensive, in fact they were actually cheaper. I was, admittedly, super savvy and managed to find discount supermarkets offering ‘free from’ ingredients (Fulton Foods being my new favourite).
This meant that the meat I did buy was of greater quality, usually free range or organic, and generally more ethically produced. My experience backs up recent research by financial advice company Cleo who found that, after three months on the diet, meat eaters who go vegan end up spending £21 less per month on eating out and groceries. Quite an impressive saving.
2. Your health will benefit
I try to keep myself pretty fit and active, and don’t overeat, but even I have to admit that alongside the veggies and salad I enjoy daily, a HECK of a lot of ice cream and chocolate is consumed. Not only that, but one of my favourite treats is potentially one of the most damaging foodstuffs to grace your plate: cured meat (classified by the World Health Organisation as a definite cause of cancer; the same category as cigarettes and asbestos).
Decreasing meat and dairy, and increasing the amount of plant based food I consumed definitely made me feel healthier and leaner, as well as inevitably cutting cholesterol and saturated fat. Although it’s not impossible to eat plant based junk food (oreo, anyone?), if you love cooking like me, then making most of your plant based meals from scratch will involve using nutrient dense ingredients with a higher proportion of fibre. In turn you’ll be cutting your odds of getting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. So although I’m not saying cheerio to the chorizo, it’s certainly going to grace my plate less frequently from now on.
3. You’ll be helping the environment
Before reading so much about veganism and its wide reaching implications, I had absolutely zero idea about the environmental impact of meat production.
An article in The Guardian shook the naivety out of me and opened my eyes to the colossal toll animal agriculture takes on the earth, being responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined (those cow burps have a loooooot to answer for).
I suppose I never really appreciated the myriad of environmental factors such as climate change, land and water use that were involved in meat farming. Fish, poultry and dairy farmers don’t get away scot free either, with all animal-based foods generally being more resource-intensive and environmentally impactful to produce than plant-based foods.
Read the BBC’s summary of the benefits of the ‘planetary health diet’ for more details on how simply reducing, not eliminating, animal products can be a ‘healthy comprise’ for all involved. It’s refreshing that you can still have your cake, or in this case, bacon, and eat it.
4. You’ll become a more creative, skillful cook
This is my last, but without a doubt my absolute favourite reason for embracing plant based eating. Before this experiment, I’d never let a drop of soya milk pass my lips, and I’d certainly not tried cooking with aquafaba or tofu. Being largely plant based opened my eyes to these stunning new foods that I’d previously overlooked.
Porridge made with almond milk is beautifully delicate and creamy, and gram flour makes gorgeously crispy pakora. Asian dishes with miso glazes make yummy dinners and nut butters like cashew and pecan are great on toast or smoothies. I wouldn’t have even considered these ingredients before my flexi-experiment, but they’re fast becoming staples in my kitchen.
I discovered a wealth of ‘magical’ ingredients too (what you can’t do with apple cider vinegar I don’t want to know) and I found out how to best work egg substitutes such as chia or flax seeds (handy when you run out of regular eggs too). The aforementioned aquafaba is a slightly disconcerting mystery but the idea of utilising something as inoccuous as bean juice to create meringue or cake rather than wash it down the sink is appealing on multiple levels for a frugal foodie like myself.
So, why not give plant based foods some more room in your family’s meal planning? You don’t have to eliminate anything to enjoy the benefits of more earth-kind, health boosting, wallet friendly foods.
Veganuary may be over and gone, but hey pals, what about flexitarianuary?