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 22: Network

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.

‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.’ – Abraham Maslow

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I have a dislike of this word, it reminds me of working in a suit in the UK. Back in the days when I worked in retail, I was constantly being told to NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Most of the time it made me feel self-conscious and I got the impression that I was just annoying people. Then, later on, I came across people who were obviously trying to network with me and I realised that yes, I had been incredibly annoying. Suits and power meetings aside, though, networking is a good tool. And now that we have the internet and are able to gather information and communicate with people from all over the globe at the touch of a button, we have no excuse. Blogging is the perfect example. If I’d have watched a film such as Forks Over Knives before the internet and blogging existed, I would have been lost. In fact, when I first turned vegetarian in the mid 90s I was lost. The only reference point for information was my local library, and needless to say they didn’t stock a huge range of inspiring books on the subject. The only other vegetarian I knew was my English teacher, who I would bug with questions at every opportunity. I suppose that was my first experience of networking, although I’m sure he would have preferred me to show more interest in William Shakespeare.

These days, we have so many more tools available to us. Vegetarians are no longer the lonely, social outcasts that we once were. I am now known as more than ‘the only vegetarian in the village’. All you have to do is go online and find that there are thousands of us, in all walks of life, living plant-based and making new discoveries every day that can be shared amongst our international community.

Exploring other blogs and teaming up with other bloggers is a great way to learn more, get advice and support and spread the word about plant-based living and why it’s important to us and the planet.

Alicia Silverstone, yes the famous actress, has a great website called The Kind Life. The idea behind the site was to create an online meeting point for vegans workdwide to share ideas.

So, remember people – NETWORK, NETWOR… Ok, I’m not going to do that to you. But get out there, whether it’s online or in your local community, and find some fellow plant-based vegetarians.

 

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.

Plant-Based Pause No 15: One Small Step at a Time

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.

‘Dyfal Donc I dyr y Garreg.’

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Understandably, when people first become aware of the dangers of a modern Western diet, and the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, they panic. Once they’ve got over the shock that is. I understand because I felt exactly the same way. Cutting out all animal protein from my diet sounded like it was going to be really difficult, even with my vegetarian head start. And it would have been really difficult, if I’d tried to do it all at once. The above quote, which my Welsh tutor taught me, inspired me to make the change an easier way. It translates into English as ‘It’s a steady tapping that breaks the stone’, and is a great philosophy to live by. Just like the ant who couldn’t carry the whole leaf on his back, it’s easier to break things down and take them one step at a time. For me personally, my first step was to cut out cows’ milk. Then I got rid of cheese, found alternatives for eggs and so on until I was eating plant-based. For me, the conversion didn’t end there. In fact, I don’t think it will ever end. My most recent steps have included replacing my make-up and cosmetics with more ethical, plant-based alternatives and changing to biodegradable baby wipes (which by the way are so much better than normal baby wipes). Taking baby steps towards living healthier and more ethically has definitely worked for me. Not only is it easier to make the changes, I’m also less likely to revert to bad habits. I’m heading in the right direct, one tap of that stone at a time.

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.