To awaken our sensitivity to eating connected with ourselves and the world we live in, a respectful rapprochement with the natural environment is necessary. Since most of us now live in an urban environment, it is important to dedicate more time to walks in green areas, to go to the park, to the woods, to be closer to the animals and the rural communities. When we feel part of something, we assume a collaborative posture.
Unfortunately, our accelerated routine of work and tasks prevent us from taking advantage of the riches of our land. Supermarkets offer us comfortable options that end up encouraging behaviours far from the natural environment. We clog up same commodities while artisanal products, produced locally or by independent communities worldwide, have little return on the market or in our plates.
We need more than eating what’s near to us, but what has been produced ethically. When rescuing artisan food, we also rescue the artisans. We must not forget that eating is also a political, social and ethical act. That said, it is impossible not to take into account the environmental collapse from livestock farming. The scenario is alarming. Currently, 1/3 of all arable land on the planet is used to grow grains that will feed slaughter animals, mainly cattle, poultry and pigs. Today there are more animals in captivity to be killed for feeding humans than there are wild animals free in their natural biomes.
This reality will only change if we change first, through our conscious action. Aligning what we want for the world with our attitudes is transformative. We need to focus on what is pressing our biomes and causing the loss of biodiversity. This means overcoming the monoculture model and starting to grow forests, consuming food from local and global forests to encourage this type of production.
There is nothing simpler and more accessible than eating plants. Diverse. Colourful. Nutritious. Health restorative. Eating well so you don’t get sick, that’s the motto of a plant-based diet. Instead of wearing ourselves out thinking about carbohydrates, fats and proteins, the easiest and most powerful route to a transformative diet is to include all the colours on the plate every day. Food colours are phytochemical compounds that provide benefits that go far beyond basic nutrition. Studies with two groups of phytotherapeutic compounds, phenolic and carotenoid, have confirmed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities associated with the reduction of the risk of chronic diseases (PDF download of Baena, 2015). The synergy between the elements that compose whole foods and not the action of an isolated compound would be responsible for the benefits. To obtain the greatest possible benefit, we must consume a great diversity of antioxidant compounds from vegetable sources of various colours and shades.
Besides health and environmental, social and ethical benefits, thinking about food through its colours is one of the most creative ways of cooking. The chef Alain Passard, who revolutionized his kitchen by privileging vegetables, teaches us that he imagines flavours through colours. He says: “This is a remarkable exercise. When we taste something, the taste effectively makes us think of a colour (…) the colour is an axe of extraordinary creation, especially vegetables. There are real families, then try to compose a dish with products of the same colour. Make a purple dish, a green, white, yellow, red dish. For the taste and olfactory chords this always works”. Here is the full video of Passard’s inspiring reflection about food and creativity.
Five steps to a plant-based diet
If you are wondering how to reduce the consumption of animals in your daily life or considering making the transition from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based diet, you should be encouraged to know that it is a relatively easy process that doesn’t imply any radical measure and can be done in steps, always respecting one’s needs and timing. A plant-based diet is made of plant origin foods in their more honest and whole form, free of animal origin products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and discourage the consumption of refined and processed foods.
It may seem like it is something complex to do considering we have learned all of our lives to cook and eat with animal products and to use the convenience of industrial food technology. It may also sound far from the reality of most people, but actually, it’s something simple, which requires getting closer to what nature has to offer in its richness and diversity. Think of that colourful dish with varied shapes and textures that we have just talked about. It is a plate with room for grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, preferably consumed as close to their natural state as possible.
STEP 1: Stock up a plant-based pantry
What to put in a plant-based pantry? How would you stock your kitchen? Many people don’t know but there are many plant-based products in the market already, but a visit to your local natural food store (and a lot of label reading) is enough to discover that the list of plant-based foods is much longer than that of animal-based foods. It’s interesting to open up to new ingredients, try things you’ve never tasted, and discover others you don’t even suspect of its existence.
The basics are to stock up with a diversity of cereals beyond wheat, white rice and oats. You’d be amazed with the diversity and how nutritious cereals are, and mostly their versatility for cooking. Try ancient grains like Millet instead of polenta, spelt and rye instead of wheat, all the types of rice available, quinoa and amaranth, which are actually seeds but we mostly eat them cooked like a cereal. You should have whole grains and in the form of flours, which you can buy or grind at home.
The same applies to pulses: they are foremost the best food on earth, but them alone deserves a whole blog post that I’ll be soon sharing. For now, what is to know is that if they are soaked and cooked properly, and eaten in a balanced way, you won’t suffer with gases. It is good trying to include them progressively until you are confortable eating at least a portion everyday. Get down to your bulk shop and stock up with some black beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas, then try other varieties later, but these are the ones I must have at all times.
Nuts and seeds are for me the bonbons of the vegetable kingdom. A true concentrate of fiber, vitamins and minerals, can be eaten as a snack or incorporated into numerous recipes. Try to buy fairtrade nuts or identify the ones that are native to where you live. As for seeds, due to their versatility and nutrition, I always have flax and chia seeds. I’ve been using a lot of hemp which is super creamy, adding it in smoothies or sauces for one of the best sources of protein and omegas that exists.
Spices and condiments are so very important for a plant-based kitchen because you want to incorporate lots of flavours to your dishes, and have even more health benefits that vegetables themselves, so don’t be shy and try to discover this world if you’re just used to seasoning with salt, pepper and olive oil. Beyond this holy trinity, my pantry always has these spices: turmeric, onion and garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, curry, cinnamon, and others more elaborated or less accessible as zaa’tar and nigella seeds. As for condiments, always stock up apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, soya sauce, sesame oil, vegetable stock powder and nutritional yeast with added vitamin B12 if possible.
Besides these dried staples, sign up for a veggie and fruit box and include tofu, non-dairy milk and yoghurt in your grocery shopping list and you are done with the basics of stocking up your kitchen to follow a plant-based diet. Doesn’t it sound a lot cheaper and convenient?
STEP 2: Replace meat and animal products
Inserting protein in your diet is easier than you think: all foods of plant origin have protein and all the essential amino acids in their composition, without exception. Some food groups have a higher concentration of proteins, such as legumes, whole grains and seeds, and should be prioritised and consumed every day. The daily amount of protein is also easily achieved within a varied and balanced diet when the daily need for calories consumed is adequate.
The search for protein consumption has led us to excessive meat consumption. In addition to consuming too much protein, excessive consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that are present in animal foods also came into this package. No food is limited to a single nutrient and we should not think of food in isolation. Any vegetable food in its natural form (as nature provides us) has countless nutrients and those essential to the proper functioning of the body (except for vitamin B12), in more appropriate proportions to human needs than food of animal origin or processed. In summary, the simpler and more diverse, less processed and macro-nutrient-focused, less dependent of food of animal origin, more nutritious will be your food.
STEP 3: Eat more!
When food of animal origin is removed from the plate, there is a considerable reduction in the total amount of fat consumed during the day and therefore in calories. By replacing these calories with plant foods, the volume of food consumed should increase and will give greater satiety because of the volume and fiber content, leaving a slight impression that we are eating more than necessary. What is true is that you will be increasing the nutritional density of your meals, the consumption of fiber and the supply of essential nutrients, which is positive for health and body weight maintenance.
STEP 4: Reduce refined processed foods
One of the most important pillars of the plant-based diet is the consumption of natural and wholesome food, that is, real food! Whenever possible, leave out refined and ultra-processed foods and consume simple food in its complete versions. Of course, with the rush of daily life, it can be difficult to follow this to the letter, but the good news is that there are already many industrialized products in the market that follow this philosophy. Keep an eye on labels avoiding products rich in sugar, refined flour, dyes, flavourings and artificial ingredients. The motto is: the fewer ingredients and the simpler, the better!
A standard better choice is, whenever possible, to prefer organic foods, those grown without the use of agrochemicals or genetic modifications and respecting their particularities, such as crop, soil and climate conducive to grow. The substances contained in pesticides are toxic to us and to the environment. Agro-toxics can cause allergies to neurological dysfunctions and cancer to consumers. They deplete soils, pollute the air and water streams. These cumulative pollutants have irreversible consequences to our bodies and to the environment.
In this context, it is also important to extend this mind-set to other fields of life. We should be more careful when choosing the products we buy, including the form of production, tests made with the product, working conditions, packaging and disposal solutions. Mostly, avoiding excess plastic is mandatory.
STEP 5: As vegan as possible
Summing up, the goal is not to have perfect behaviour—that doesn’t exist; the goal is to care more, to choose better. Everyone can start doing a little bit at a time, whatever is possible for each one at that moment. Better to do a little than to do nothing…and that’s caring for your health, for the planet and for the animals. Whenever buying something, making a plate or choosing a meal at a restaurant, reconsider your choices and apply what is possible for you until it becomes more part of your routine. You will see, instead of feeling like it is an effort, your body and mind will feel satisfaction!
Think about each of these steps. How do they influence your life? Slowly try to adopt them and feel the difference. If you have any question please send us a message. I can’t wait to start sharing more practical tips and recipes along the way, stay tuned and bon appétit!