Editor’s note: The following is a submitted opinion piece, one in a series, as part of ‘October is Plantiful,’ a project of 350 Kingston aimed at educating the public about the environmental benefits of plant-based foods. The City of Kingston officially proclaimed “October is Plantiful” at the Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, meeting of Kingston City Council. The agenda for that meeting, including correspondence received by Council from 350 Kingston, is available on the City of Kingston website, and the meeting itself can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel. Mayor Bryan Paterson signed the official “October is Plantiful” Proclamation on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
“October is PLANTIFUL!”
So proclaimed Kingston City Council in recognizing the contribution of food choices in addressing carbon emissions and climate change. Local environmental organization 350 Kingston has organized a number of events to help people add plants to their diets. Visit 350Kingston.org for details on webinars, recipes, and more! Below are some tips for starting out from Hannah Ascough, PhD candidate at Queen’s University.
Be kind to yourself:
Starting out on a plant-based journey can be tough, particularly for people who have spent their lives eating meat. Remember that becoming a vegan or a vegetarian is a process, and one that is not policed; in other words, no one will judge you for the choices you need to make along the way. Be kind to yourself and be patient – recall that you are relearning a whole relationship to food. That takes a lot of time, energy, and patience, and it’s not always an easy process. Treat yourself with compassion, be flexible, and ultimately allow yourself space to enjoy the new foods you will encounter.
Don’t go cold turkey:
It may be tempting when you’re first starting out to give up all meat and dairy entirely; however, I would encourage anyone making the switch to plant-based eating to go slowly. Perhaps start with dropping meat from your meals one day a week, and move up to three-to-five days. Consider too beginning as a pescatarian first, before embracing vegetarianism, and eventually veganism. Going slow will help naturalize the transition: instead of feeling like you have “given up” meals that you loved, a gradual move towards plant-based eating will give you time to find new recipes to enjoy.
Consider your diet holistically:
As you go about relearning how and what to cook, I urge you to consider your diet holistically. In meat-intensive cooking, meat is typically the ‘centerpiece’ around which a meal is built – but in plant-based eating, it’s not always the case that there is one main dish around which everything else revolves. Start by thinking through your meals and what you need to get from them: nutritionally balanced, varied, and delicious. Perhaps a food item you traditionally considered a “side dish” like lentils or chickpeas are now the stars of your cooking.
Maintain nutritional balance:
As you think about your meals holistically, be sure to stay balanced. Your meals should always be varied and diverse. It’s tempting for new vegetarians to simply eat pasta and pizza and soda – all technically vegetarian – but this can lead to nutritional deficiencies, as well as a general sense of boredom with your food. In that same vein, thinking through your diet means paying attention to your health, and how plant-based cooking is making you feel. For new vegetarians and vegans, it is sometimes worth requesting a blood test from your doctor after six months, just to ensure that you are eating correctly and that your diet continues to be nutritionally balanced.
Be open to new foods:
There are so many creative plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products. While there is a growing market for meat-mimicry (i.e., plant-based products which are eerily similar to the taste, smell, and texture of meat) that most new vegans and vegetarians find helpful, lots of plant-based food moves beyond meat imitation, making for creative food partnerships. Keep an open mind when you go to restaurants or are trying out a new recipe.
Google ‘easy’ or ‘beginner’ vegetarian recipes:
I still do this! As much as I love my many vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, they can on occasion be very labour-intensive, require ingredients I have never heard of, and take up too much of my time. I like to save those recipes for the weekend, and instead look specifically for easy plant-based recipes during the workweek. Keep an eye out for recipes that are specifically catered to new vegans and vegetarians, as well as quick and easy recipes with minimal ingredients and in a similar style of cooking to what you are already used to.
Involve yourself with your plant-based community:
Talk to your friends who are vegan and/or vegetarian. They likely have a wealth of knowledge – and recipes – that they would be more than happy to share with you. They can even bring you to the grocery store, or help restock your cupboards so that you are ready to start transitioning your diet to a plant-based one. It is much easier to eat “plantifully” when you are surrounded by friends who are doing the same. And as you grow more confident in your own vegan/vegetarian cooking abilities, help guide someone else through this new way of eating.
Join your local climate movement:
It is undeniable that a plant-based diet has a significantly reduced environmental impact and, as a long-time vegetarian, I am a hearty supporter of the decision to transition away from meat and into a plant-based lifestyle. It’s healthy, it’s fun, and it’s good for our planet. But as I’ve mentioned above, even a plant-based diet doesn’t negate the impacts of our global industrialized agricultural system, which contributes to global food inequality, as well as deforestation, water eutrophication, and overall climate change. Individualized choices like going vegetarian can and do make a difference in the fight against the climate crisis, but so too do community-led grassroots movements. Climate change is political, and food choices are political choices, so I would urge you to start moving away from meat, and to link up with your local climate group.
Hannah Ascough, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University in the Department of Global Development Studies, is a longtime vegetarian, a Kingston resident, and a member of 350 Kingston.
Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].