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Strategies for Adopting a Plant-Based Diet

It wasn’t that long ago that eating a vegetarian diet often meant boring, bland meals and little diversity (oatmeal, tofu, brown rice, repeat). If you were interested in being vegan, your dietary prospects only got worse. Granted, the culinarily adventurous explored international cuisines and blazed the trail leading to today’s seemingly endless options, but the 70’s vegetarian dinner table could be a bland, beige place. Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better. 

In his 2008 book, “In Defense of Food,” author Michael Pollan advises readers to, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And that’s good advice, especially if you lean into the “plants” part, and realize that doesn’t just mean plants themselves, but the staggering array of products that may not look or taste or feel like plants, but are wonderfully and authentically plant-based. 

If you take away the moral and health concerns associated with eating meat (and the myriad tangents that accompany them), we can focus on either the environmental or practical aspects. First, the practical—not only does raising animals for food take up a lot of space and natural resources like water, but even more resources are taken up by growing the food to feed those animals, food that’s inedible to humans. If all of that space was used to grow crops that humans could eat, the yield would be exponentially higher and you could presumably feed a lot more people.  Heads up--if you feel like going down that rabbit hole, you’ll be there for a long, long while. 

Now, the environmental argument for not eating animals is a lot less subjective. Considering that the methane gas “generated” by the 1 billion cows in the world contributes 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions, that’s a hefty price to pay for a cheeseburger (a price you may not have to pay, but future generations surely will). And it ain’t just cows—raising chickens, pigs, sheep or whatever needs to eat, drink and poop is a nasty business with nightmarishly dangerous pollution an unavoidable byproduct of the process. 

The bottom line is this—no matter how you slice it (or from what socio-political angle you come at it), eating less meat is probably a good idea for just about everybody. But you don’t need to quit cold turkey...so to speak. Check out the painless strategies below to begin transitioning to a plant-based diet (or more plant-based) that will have you stop asking, “Where’s the beef?” 

Baby Steps – Maybe try meatless Mondays, or only eating meat when you dine out? Remember, less meat is better than more, so give yourself some time to acclimate and avoid an abrupt change that’s hard to maintain. 

Explore the Middle Ground – Forget the tongue-twisting labels (Lacto-Ovo, Pescatarian, etc.) and simply try opting for chicken instead of beef...or fish instead of beef or chicken...or give dairy a rest by taking a break from milk and cheese? Mix and match to see what you miss and what makes you feel your best. You make the rules. 

Think Globally, Eat Locally – Due to cultural and religious reasons (or simply a lack of supply), much of the world eats little to no meat at all, yet has some of the most inventive and delicious dishes you’ve ever tasted. Take a staycation in your own kitchen by exploring international recipes that go light on meat but heavy of flavor. 

Science is Tasty – We have robots on Mars, you can make a Marvel movie using only your cell phone, and they have burgers and chicken nuggets that aren’t made from beef or chicken that taste as-good-if-not-better than beef or chicken. Feel lucky to be alive in the time of Beyond and Impossible, and try a few meat “alternatives” where great taste is the headline, and meatless the fine print. 

Perfection Isn’t the Goal – If you’ve been a vegan for 5 years and one day you eat a slice of bacon, are you no longer a vegan? Of course not, you’re simply yet one more human seduced by perhaps the most tempting and delicious of all foods. Forgive yourself and remember that adjusting your diet to make better, less meaty decisions is a life-long endeavor...a marathon, not a sprint.  

According to the American Heart Association, eating a plant-based diet--or just reducing your meat intake--helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and many forms of cancer. In the bigger picture, it’s good for the health of the environment, and even better for the health of the animals who don’t become Quarter Pounders, McRibs, or casualties in the chicken sandwich wars.  

Believe the hype--it’s worth the effort, and you can do it! 

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