Living Plant-Based: Two Years On

This month marks the two year anniversary of me converting to a plant-based lifestyle. Who knew that watching one film would completely change my life?

I’d seen Planeat on the listings of our local independent cinema. It looked really interesting, but unfortunately I couldn’t go on the night it was being shown. When I found out I could rent the film online for just a few pounds, I decided to watch it at home instead.

I think I ended up watching Planeat three or four times over that weekend, and every time I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. At long last, here were the answers to questions that I had been asking for years. I’d been a ‘normal’ vegetarian for over 15 years, avoiding any animal products that involved an animal dying. I knew it was right to avoid eating animals, but I just didn’t know why exactly. When people would ask me my reasons for being vegetarian, I would reply ‘I’ve always just known that I am’.

DSC_0445When I watched Planeat, all the pieces of the puzzle finally slotted into place. I realised where I had been going wrong. It wasn’t enough to just stop eating meat, to be a healthy and responsible human I had to avoid animal protein altogether.

Just like when I turned vegetarian, I took a step-by-step approach to becoming plant-based. My first step was to swap cows milk for soya milk. Admittedly, it took a few days to get used to the taste, but now the thought of drinking cows milk makes me feel sick. Then I stopped using all dairy products and eggs at home, before removing most of the processed food from my diet and looking at what other things I ate also contained animal products.

After five weeks of cutting out dairy and eggs, my parents came to visit and we went out for dinner. Although I was pretty much vegan at home, I decided to revert back to a vegetarian diet when I was out and about. I figured that a bit of dairy once in a while wouldn’t hurt. I ordered a pizza topped with mozarella, and as soon as I’d eaten it I started to feel ill, bloated and lethargic. It took me about 2 days to get over the feeling. I vowed that from that point on I would live as plant-based as I possibly could.

The most immediate change I noticed was the weight loss. I’d been slowly losing weight the previous year, but I’d been struggling to shift the last few pounds and get down to a healthy weight. On a plant-based diet I didn’t have to try, those stubborn pounds just disappeared. If anything, it’s a bit of an effort to try and eat enough food. Especially with all the exercise I do now. I’d always wanted to be physically fit, but on a vegetarian diet I struggled to get enough motivation to even move off the couch. Now, I have so much energy I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even drink caffeine anymore (due to allergy reasons), yet I feel I’m running on adrenaline 24/7. And because I’m rarely ill nowadays, there’s nothing to keep me from working out.

My cooking skills have improved a lot, too. I found myself scouring vegan blogs and product websites for new recipes I could try, and I started buying kitchen utensils that I’d never heard of before (yes, there is really such a thing as a tofu press). What’s more, the food tastes great and most of it is easy to prepare. When I cook for family and friends, they are always pleasantly surprised and usually question ‘Is this really vegan?’.

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Educating others about living plant-based is also, surprisingly, a lot of fun and rewarding. I’d never push my beliefs onto anyone else, but whenever I’m eating food that involves interaction with another human, the subject always comes up. People apologise for the amount of questions they ask me, but I genuinely do not mind answering the same ones over and over. It’s been easier since I’ve had a copy of the Forks Over Knives DVD. Now I can just say ‘Here, borrow this then get back to me with any questions you still have’.

The biggest surprise to me, however, is the effect that living plant-based has had on other parts of my life. It has led me to question where I buy my shopping from, how much unnecessary waste I produce and just exactly what I really need in life. The answer to the last one, by the way, is not very much.

This year I pledged to produce less unnecessary waste. I choose groceries with less packaging, and I’ve stopped using take-out cups. Whenever I buy something, I question how much waste it will create and how necessary it really is. Wherever possible, I reuse packing materials. My mantra now is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and I keep these words in mind wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

DSC_0356Day by day, I am becoming a more ethical shopper. I buy fresh produce that is as local as possible, and only from the country I am in at the time. This ethos is slowly spreading to other items that I buy. I’m currently in the process of switching to all plant-based soaps, shampoo and cleaners, and I’m planning to move to vegan cosmetics in the near future.

Since moving back to the UK five years ago, one of the things I have struggled with is the materialism here. Whilst I was travelling abroad, I owned very little because that was all I could carry. A visitor to Rhodes, where I was based at the time, commented that I had so little, but yet I was really happy. When you have to live with less, you soon learn that you don’t really need much anyway. By living plant-based, my life has automatically become much simpler again, and I feel calmer for it.

When I was a vegetarian I always said that I could never be vegan. The prospect of giving up dairy just seemed too difficult. People always ask me ‘Don’t you miss cheese/milk chocolate/cakes and pastries?’ (delete as appropriate) and the honest answer is No! Once I stopped eating those things, the cravings for them disappeared. And if I do fancy a treat, there are plenty of yummy vegan alternatives. I feel better now than I ever have done, and I wouldn’t go back to my old habits for the whole world.

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Looking back at 2012

It’s so easy for people to get emotional and sentimental at this time of year, and I’m genuinely not usually one of them, but 2012 has honestly marked a big change in my life. I try not to put too much pressure on myself at this time of year, as I find that a lot of people expect themselves to completely change their habits and routines on January 1st. My approach to life is more like ‘one step at a time’, and I’ve learnt to not beat myself up if I don’t meet my own expectations. The important thing is that I keep trying, and I keep taking those steps forward. However, I do think it’s important to look back sometimes and evaluate what has gone well and what is best left to experience. So I’d like to share with you my ‘highlights’ of 2012. I used to work for a well-known English/German tour operator that was all about ‘highlights’. As a rep, I encouraged my guests to discover the highlight of their hoiliday, whether that be a great excursion they went on, the perfect sunset over the beach or the barman that served them in the hotel. The example I always used was when I was in the audience for the Ricki Lake Show in New York. I’d been travelling around North East America for a month after working in Brant Lake, NY for the summer, and my travelling partner, Kate, and I were spending a few days in New York City before heading down to Philadelphia and Washington DC before we flew home. We saw a flyer pinned to the noticeboard in our hostel looking for people to join the audience, and we thought it sounded like a laugh. We had the best day, and even ten years on I still love telling people that I was in an episode of Ricki Lake.

I’d like to share with you my highlights of 2012. Here’s what I got up to…

Learning to Lead Climb

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This photo was taken when I was a teenager. My brother, a keen climber himself, decided to teach me to climb. What a disaster! I was scared of heights, didn’t trust my brother and, to be honest, I just wasn’t that interested. Fast forward twenty(ish) years, and I decided to give it another go. I’d always been annoyed with myself for not giving climbing my full effort. So, at 29 years old, I decided to give it another go. Three years on, I’m happy to say the perseverance worked. This year I learnt to lead climb, something I’ve wanted to do since I first got back on the wall three years ago.

Completing Cwrs Mynediad

Since I first moved to Wales 14 years ago (oh my gosh, has it really been that long!), it has been my dream to learn Welsh. The oldest language in Europe and one of the oldest in the world, Welsh is difficult to learn, especially when you’re English with a monotone Lancashire accent that doesn’t allow you to roll your r’s. Two years ago last September, I took the plunge and enrolled on Cwrs Mynediad (entry level Welsh for adults). I completed the two-year course in May 2012, and I am so proud of myself. I still study Welsh at home, and obviously I use it everyday to some extent because I live in Wales. I hope to go back to college in the near future to enrol on Silfaen (foundation) and continue my studies. Learning Welsh has not only opened up my world here in Wales (when I first moved here I had to carry a map with me on the bus because I couldn’t even pronounce the names of local towns and villages), it had also introduced me to a whole new set of friends who are incredibly precious to me.

The birth of my niece

I never thought that I would be an aunty. The Church of England and the Church in Wales won’t allow me to be a godmother because I wasn’t baptised, and my brother was adamant that he was never going to have children. I’m happy to say that that has all changed. Although I’m not officially allowed to be a godmother, one of my best friends asked me to take on the responsibility for her two beautiful children. From the day that my godson was born, I made a commitment to him to love him, support him and guide him throughout his life, no matter what the church says about me. The same applied to his sister when she arrived five years later. My brother, the one who was never going to settle down, surprised me by getting married and having children. The third one, my second niece, was born in September 2012. She’s already trying her best to keep up with her older brother and sister, and they want to keep her with them wherever they go. All our family keep trying to decide who she looks like most, but I just tell her that she’s her own person. Just like with all the other children that I am ‘aunty’ to, I’m sure that we are going to have lots of great adventures together.

Having fun with my friends

It might seem quite boring to a lot of people that one of my highlights is spending time with my friends, but I’m always grateful for this time. For six years I worked seasons overseas. During that time I made many great friends, and had crazy and exciting adventures, but I always missed out on what was happening at home. When I moved back to the UK four years ago, one of my ambitions was to catch up with my friends and do the ‘normal’ things that I’d missed out on. Here’s some of the adventures we got up to this year…

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I had a great weekend with my friend Charlie (mother of my two beautiful godchildren) in Brighton – veggie heaven!

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We celebrated my friend Cath’s 30th birthday camping in Port Eynon, the Gower.

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My friends from my Welsh course, and my godson, came together to celebrate my brithday with a camping weekend in White Sands.

Finishing my book and sending it to agents

Since I was a child, it has been one of my dreams to be a published writer. At the start of this year, I set myself the challenge to complete a writing project and send it off to prospective agents. The novel I chose isn’t exactly revolutionary, but I finsihed it and I’ve sent it. No bites yets, but I will keep trying in 2013. Wish me luck.

My new places for 2012

My blog is all about the new places I visit. This year my biggest adventure was to Pisa. Although alot of the people around me struggle to understand why I travel alone, I had a great time.

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New Activities for 2012

The other thing that my blog is all about is new activities. The one that has caught my enthusiasm most this year is Step Class. In all honesty, I thought this was an aerobics class that had died with the 80s, but I’m happy to say it is still here and still very much current. If you want to feel a positive difference in your body overnight, check out your local step class and give it all you’ve got.

Becoming Plant-based

I started my plant-based journey in November 2011, and I am genuinely shocked at where I am now. Before I watched the Planeat movie, I was happy in my beliefs as a vegetarian. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to give up dairy. After watching the movie, my beliefs completely changed. Although I still couldn’t imagine myself being completely plant-based, I committed myself to making steps in that direction. Twelves months on, I have completely given up animal protein and the decisions I make in my everyday life are a lot more ethical. My choice to live a plant-based lifestyle is still something that I have to debate on almost a daily basis. Ironically, two decades ago I went through the same battle when I told everyone that I was vegetarian, and that is considered ‘normal’ nowadays. Ironically, the people who argue with me about my choice to live plant-based are usually the ones that comment on how good I look now. I’m happy to listen to both sides of the argument, but all I can say is that since I started living plant-based and I had an allergy test I feel better than I have ever done in my life, I’m fitter than I have ever been, my focus and concentration are a lot better, my mood swings have all but disappeared (I’ve suffered from depression in the past and shown signs of being on the autism spectrum although have never been diagnosed), and everyone has commented on how much healthier I seem.

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Making a difference

There was a daily prompt from WordPress a while back that asked us what difference we hoped to make with our blog. I answered that if I could help one person to make just one small step to living a plant-based, more ethical lifestlye, then my blog would be worth it. The proof of my efforts came from a source much closer than I was expecting. I was born in 1980, and I know that I was born with allergies. No matter what my parents did, not matter what my mother did during pregnancy, I was always destined to have a poor immune system. With the knowledge I have now, I know I should have been given an allergy test when I was a baby. Unfortunately, I grew up in the 80s when everyone listened to their western GP with no question. My mum was always adamant that my allergic reactions were ‘psychological’, or I was just pretending to get attention. When my parents saw me this summer, they both admitted that I looked healthier. On Christmas Day, they phoned me to wish me happy Christmas. My mum commented on the fact that I am the only person she knows that hasn’t caught the sickness bug that went round the UK this winter, and that maybe that is due to my healthy eating. She also told me that, due to my influence, she has switched from cows’ milk to soya milk and she feels much better for it. I never thought that one of my first followers would me my mum, but if she has faith in my beliefs then I know I can convince others.

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Improving my blog

One of my biggest changes this year, and probably the most important to everyone reading this, is that I switched my blog to WordPress. It meant that I had to change my on-line identity, but that led to me opening up more about myself which I am glad of. I have come into contact with so many inspirational people since I joined WordPress, and I want to thank every single one of you for opening up my mind and sharing your lives and experiences with me.

It’s been an awesome year, and I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings. I’ve already got some ideas up my sleeve that I can’t wait to share with you. I’m looking forward to hearing about all your adventures. Your blogs are what create my dreams. Happy New Year everyone! Sasie x

The 8 Principles of Planeat

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why I’m a plant-based vegetarian . As I mentioned in the post, my main inspiration was watching the Planeat movie. Following on from that, I thought I’d share with you Ann Esselstyn’s 8 principles of a plant-based diet and the impact they have had on my diet and lifestyle.

 

1. Eat Oats

Eat oats for breakfast every day. Oats help lower cholesterol and also reduce artery inflammation. When I first read Ann’s Principles, I was already eating oatbran for breakfast, so it was good to know that I was doing something right. Since I found out that I’m allergic to gluten, I’ve had to switch to buckwheat flakes, but I still eat them the same way. Personally, I like to heat the flakes up with half-water, half-soya milk and drizzle a bit of local honey or agave syrup over the top. It’s also a handy breakfast to prepare when you’re in a rush to get ready in the morning. I put the buckwheat on a low heat whilst I dash round my apartment finding my work clothes and packing my lunch. I only have to stir it a couple of times and, about ten minutes later, it’s ready to eat.

 

2. Eat Greens

Eat greens, especially leafy greens. That’s where you’re going to get all your nutrients from. Don’t worry if you’re not keen on complicated cooking, kale is super easy to prepare. Pull the leaves off the stalks and put them in a shallow pan (I use a frying pan) with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover with a lid and steam for three minutes. They taste great on wholemeal bread with lemon or as a side to most meals.

 

3. Eat Beans and Lentils

Beans and lentils can be used as a replacement for meat and dairy, and they are really versatile. I keep a tub of red lentils in my kitchen and throw a handful into soups and stews when I’m cooking. Without wanting to sound like a stereotypical vegetarian, I’m going to talk about the merits of hummus. Over the years I’ve tried various types and brands of pre-packed hummus and, whilst it is perfectly edible, I’ve never been a huge fan. Inspired by Ann Esselstyn’s 8 Principles, I decided to give in another shot. You should, however, avoid hummus that contains tahini, and Ann has a great, simple recipe for making your own hummus. Blend together chick peas, lemon and garlic and add cumin, vinegar, red peppers, parsley or cilantro (coriander to us Brits) to taste. On a personal note, I don’t eat garlic, so instead I use chilli, which tastes great. My top tips are to boil the chick peas for a couple of minutes longer than the instructions tell you, or boil them at all if they’re ready cooked, for a smoother texture.

 

4. Eat Whole Grains

Whole grains are easy to identify, just make sure the word ‘whole’ is written before them on the packaging. Health food shops are a great place to find these. Holland and Barrett have stores in most towns and cities here in the UK.

 

5. Eliminate Oil

Ann urges everyone to empty all oil, even virgin olive oil, out of your cupboards. Instead any liquid works. Vegetable broth (no sodium), water, wine, beer, orange juice, carrot juice, vinegar are all viable alternatives. When I first read this I was dubious, but I have since tried using lots of different liquids including orange juice, vinegar and white wine vinegar and found that they do actually work. Most vegetables also contain enough liquid that they don’t need much else to cook them anyway. I never use oil at home anymore, and I try to avoid foods that contain a lot of oil when I eat out.

Coincidentally, whilst conducting my own experiments with alternatives to oil, I saw an episode of The Secret Millionaire on Channel 4 where the same thing was being done but for entirely different reasons. The secret millionaire in this particular episode was trying to fry a hamburger, and asked his neighbours if he could borrow some oil. They told him he didn’t need oil, and he could fry his burger using water. Theirs was a discovery borne out of necessity, as in such a poor neighbourhood oil was a luxury they could not afford. I found it interesting that in these economically challenging times, the cheapest option quite often also turns out to be the most environmentally friendly.

 

6. Drink Water

Water is the best drink you can have. You should drink at least 2 litres a day, more when you exercise, and wait 30 minutes between drinking and eating to avoid heartburn. What’s more, you’ve got to pay for water in your water rates anyway, so you save a fortune in all the other drinks you don’t buy.

 

7. Avoid Sugar and Salt

Avoid sugar and salt as much as possible. Use lemon juice, lime juice and hot sauces instead. If you are used to eating a lot of sugar and salt, you will crave it at first, but that will pass. If you want to treat yourself to something sweet, try agave syrup (plant-based) or honey.

 

8. Read Labels

Read the label on anything you eat that has a label and know what it is you’re eating. This has been a habit of mine since I first turned vegetarian, and I’ve learnt so much from it.

 

The people who brought us Planeat have also made another movie call Forks over Knives. Check out the website here.

 

 

 

 

Why I’m a Plant-based Vegetarian

I keep referring to the fact that I’m a plant-based vegetarian. So, what is a plant-based vegetarian?

Having been a regular vegetarian (I didn’t eat of wear anything that an animal died for) for seventeen(ish) years, I knew a few facts about the impact our diet has on the environment. I’m always keen to broaden my knowledge, though, so in November last year I watched the Planeat film. According to the scientists in Planeat, the less animal-based foods and the more plant-based foods you eat the better, both on a health and environmental level. Their mission is to create awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet, encourage consumers to reduce their meat and dairy consumption and be inspired by plant-based cuisine. Already being a vegetarian, I fully admit that at the start of the film I was quietly confident that my diet was already pretty environmentally friendly. I was soon brought down a peg or two, though. As Gidon Eshel, prof. of Physics and Geosciences at Bard College explains, vegetarian diets aren’t actually that much better than an average omnivore diet, and in fact a poultry-based diet can have less impact on the environment. This is due to veggies tending to over-compensate by eating more dairy products. Which brings me neatly to another important message that I learnt from Planeat. In the Western world we are brought up to believe that we should eat lots of animal-based protein. The research of T Colin Campbell shows that too much protein from an animal-based diet is damaging to our health. As you may have guessed already, I’m no scientist, so please watch the film or visit the Planeat website for a more coherent explanation of this theory.

It’s important for me to differentiate between what I believe to be be a vegan and a plant-based vegetarian. I’m not a vegan. For a start, I eat local, ethical honey and use bees products as it’s an enzyme not a protein. Also, to me a vegan is someone who cannot eat or use any product where an animal is involved in the production. As a plant-based vegetarian, I try my best to eat organic whenever possible. To produce organic food on a mass scale you need to use animal fertiliser, ie cow dung. Fifty percent of cows born are bulls, and bulls cannot be kept together, so a lot of them have to be killed. If you want organic food, then you have to accept that animals will be killed.

Planeat inspired me to make changes in my life. My plan wasn’t to transform completely overnight, but simply to make small alterations towards the Planeat philosophy.

My first step was to convert from cows milk to soya milk. As I was born with eczema, I’ve always been aware that dairy isn’t good for me (I found out recently that I’m actually allergic to it) but, as a vegetarian I’ve always been told that I should have more dairy. I did drink soya milk once before for a few months. I was living in Austria at the time, where due to my vegetarianism I was fed so much cheese that I almost couldn’t breathe. Drinking soya milk in my tea and pouring it over my breakfast cereal was my attempt to compensate for the dairy-overload.

Since making that first step into a world without animal protein, my lifestyle has changed completely. My cooking skills have also greatly improved. I’ve been working hard in my little kitchen to find plant-based alternatives to my favourite meals and treats. Some of the earlier experiments were a disaster, to say the least, but here are some images of my successes:

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What started out as me trying to educate myself a bit more and make ‘a few small changes’ has evolved into a major passion. I never could have imagined where this path would take me. I now lead an almost completely plant-based lifestyle, I buy local and seasonal, and I am much more knowledgeable about where our food comes from and what it does to our bodies and the planet. And there’s still so much for me to learn.