It’s an understatement to say that we have gone through a lot of changes over the past year, and I’ve seen those around me react in many different ways. Some people have cut their bangs or dyed their hair (both of which I have helped my housemates do), some have started small businesses or campaigns through social media, and many, including myself, have become extremely avid walkers. I, for one, have taken this extra time to learn more about sustainable eating and putting it into practice through cooking – that is, plant-based cooking. And I could not recommend it more.
I have been a plant-based eater for almost two years now; this change honestly came somewhat as a surprise, even to myself. I used to love steak, eggs benny at weekend brunch, and could eat a full block of gruyere cheese like it was nobody’s business. I only began to seriously evaluate my eating habits when I started to listen to the wealth of vegan information around me with an open mind, rather than tune it out, get offended by it, or dismiss it as ‘radical’ and unrealistic. After watching various documentaries, having countless conversations with my fellow environmentally-conscious friends, and doing research into the details of how exactly to eat a vegan diet, I quickly eliminated animal products from my diet. This process started with removing red meat, then poultry, then dairy, then eggs. As I am still working towards entirely removing animal products from my lifestyle – including clothing and beauty products – I feel unqualified to call myself a vegan, but rather I eat a vegan or plant-based diet. Technicalities aside, I can wholeheartedly say that I have never felt better, both physically and mentally.
Now, I’m not here to guilt-trip anyone or impose ideologies that you don’t believe in. I am just here to ask you to reconsider your habits and maybe find small ways you can make a difference for the environment, animal welfare, or your personal health. The transition is really not as intimidating as it seems. Veganism has become increasingly normalized through social media and alignments with environmental movements, and plant-based options continue to appear in restaurants and grocery stores (I’m looking at you, Copper Branch!). Through these larger societal shifts, namely the environmental consciousness and free time that have grown over the past year, I consider right now to be the perfect opportunity to go vegan.
Despite the increasing environmental awareness that the pandemic has brought to the forefront, a lot of the progress made in sustainable everyday habits has been backtracked. With the inability to take our own mugs to get coffee, the banning of reusable bags at grocery stores for a period of time, and the constant throwing away of disposable masks, single-use materials are back on the rise, and our day-to-day waste is much more difficult to manage. Instead, we can minimize our waste in an area that is completely under our control: eating. According to the University of Oxford, cutting out meat and dairy products from your diet can reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent, and save an additional hundreds of gallons of water and around thirty square feet of forested land per day. Although the influx of plastics and single-use products we are now forced to throw away is less than ideal, eating a vegan diet or making plant-based substitutes can help to offset these unavoidable disposals during this pandemic and reduce your long-term carbon footprint.
Cooking and baking have become a major hobby for me over the past year, especially with the extra time at home that allows for experimentation with new recipes and ingredients. As we aren’t going out as often for meals at restaurants or other people’s houses, maintaining a vegan diet is a lot more convenient and under your control, and definitely a lot less awkward when not having to explain it to others. Despite assumptions that plant-based eating is expensive, it can actually be much more budget-friendly than an average university-student diet. By sticking to whole foods, rather than packaged goods that hike up prices just by adding a ‘vegan’ label, you can save a ton of money and have your food taste a whole lot better. Cooking can be a great way to take a break and de-stress from schoolwork, feel a sense of accomplishment, or bond with your housemates and family. If you’re looking to experiment with some new recipes to start your plant-based journey, check out some vegan cooking accounts! My friend Sarah’s Instagram page, @abelltobewell, shares tons of amazing, simple, university-budget-friendly recipes, and @erinireland, a Vancouver-based influencer, posts step-by-step videos of her ‘veganized’ meals that you can hardly tell are plant-based! The transition to veganism starts in the kitchen, and having recipes that recreate your favourite meals will definitely not leave you missing animal products.
Plant-based eating doesn’t mean you have to go all-or-nothing. Any change can help. You can start with eating vegan one day a week, making small substitutions of meat for tofu or cow’s milk for oat milk, or entirely eliminating one type of animal product from your house. With so much changing around us right now, eating a plant-based diet has helped me feel in control of my impact on the environment and personal wellbeing. If you’ve also been looking to try something new or make a change in your life for the better, this is your sign to choose plants. If a cheese-loving girl like me can do it, so can you!
If you want to learn more about why and how to transition to a plant-based diet, check out some of these documentaries:
Forks Over Knives
What the Health
The Game Changers
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