There are various reasons why people go vegan, vegetarian, or start eating less meat. It can be seen as the single-most powerful act of goodness for your health, the planet, the animals, the environment and the community. If you intend to make changes in your diet in favour of the plant-based lifestyle, but not sure how to start, here are some tips to kickstart your wellness journey.
It will be of huge benefit for you to do research on the different perspectives of veganism; from compassion, to reducing our carbon footprint, to taking control of our health. Online resources are plentiful in the form of articles, documentaries, and even TEDx talks. Out of all of the reasons, pick one or two that resonates with you the most. This will keep you focused on why you are trying out this way of eating in the first place, and will help get you back on your feet when you feel defeated.
When it comes making a lifestyle change, I personally am not an advocate of going ‘cold turkey’. It may work for some, given that they are ready to face possible withdrawal symptoms. To play safe, I’d recommend that you take your time. Perhaps choose a day of the week, or a time of day, to eat plant-based, then increase the frequency when you are comfortable and ready. A steady transition will increase the chances of you having a successful and enjoyable plant-based experience.
It’s fascinating to see how modern technology is affecting the way we perceive plant-based food. There are mock meats so close in taste and mouthfeel to actual meat, that people have been unable to detect the difference. These are exceptions. Most of the time, vegan food cannot be compared to meat-based food at all. And I’m not saying that as a bad thing! There’s an incredible diversity of tastes and textures to be savoured in the plant-based diet. And if you keep your heart and mind open to explore the plant-based palate, it may leave you pleasantly surprised.
If you’re worried about vegan food being expensive, there’s always the local route! Have fun browsing through the array of fresh fruits and vegetables from your local wet market, weekly street market or your small neighborhood grocery store. I’ve now developed a curiosity to try out produce I would have never touched before, like watercress, loofa and lotus root. Cooking at home keeps your food spending minimal and puts you in charge of what goes on your plate. If you don’t have time to cook, you can even try going vegan at the ‘mamak’ or ‘chap fan’ cafes, which I quite often do. Just ask the waiter about the dishes that have meat (do mention fish too, as a lot of people still believe that seafood is vegetarian!), egg, dairy, belacan or oyster sauce, and the rest is yours for the taking.
Have (less processed) snacks on standby
One of the first things you’ll find with going plant-based is that it won’t keep you full. This is because the body takes up to two days to digest meat. To digest fruits and vegetables, it takes half the time. Eventually, the body adapts to the diet and the hunger pangs will subside. This could take months or even up to a year, which isn’t too long of an adjustment time given that you’ve been eating meat your whole life! It helps to have snacks on hand to hold you over in between meals. If possible, try to choose foods that are less refined or processed. Nutrient-dense foods, like banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a handful of almonds and an apple, will keep you much more satiated than a candy bar or bag of potato chips.
Make plant-based pals
It’s time to make more friends! The Malaysian vegan community is an easygoing bunch and are more than happy to offer moral support and tips on being more plant-based. We know all the best places to eat too! The community is easily accessible through social media, like in Facebook groups and on Instagram. In fact, there’s a celebration of World Vegan Day at Publika in November. It’s a great event full of good people and good vibes, and I’ll be there presenting a talk too!
Small changes are better than nothing!
Noone’s expecting anyone to go full vegan, and that’s totally okay. Going plant-based at any level will do wonders for you, the planet and the sentient beings around you. Don’t beat yourself up for going just ‘half vegan’. Any effort, no matter how small, requires mindfulness and that alone is an honourable practice. Remember that every step of your journey is worth celebrating! Now go get yourself some vegan ice cream.