Let me set the record straight. Sam and I never set out to become vegetarian.
Our shared love of food brought us together and our most vivid memories involve growing, searching for, preparing or eating food. During the early days of our relationship we ate fully-loaded roast beef sandwiches on a sliver of lawn outside St Paul’s Cathedral, gravy oozing through our fingers; curiosity saw us lean in to inspect the tiny, rubbery claw reaching out of a spicy Laotian curry (it tasted as rubbery as it looked); we eschewed the traditional wedding reception in favour of a twelve-course degustation for two.
Adopting a plant-based diet was never even on the cards. But it happened.
It started with a challenge from my yoga teacher.
Although modern yoga is understood as a primarily physical practice, asana is just one of yoga’s eight limbs. The first limb outlines five yamas or principles to guide the way practitioners relate to themselves and the world around them:
- Love and compassion for all beings (ahimsa)
- Truthfulness and integrity (satya)
- Generosity and honesty (asteya)
- Moderation (brahmacharya)
- Non-attachment (aparigraha)
One afternoon, three weeks out from the end of yoga teacher training, my yoga teacher asked us: “What is the one thing you could do today that would have the greatest impact on yourself, others and the entire planet?”
Although vegetarianism is often associated with yoga, I’m a stubborn person and had always maintained that it was possible to be a dedicated yogini who consumed animal products. I didn’t eat a lot of meat, I reasoned. I was a personal choice, not something I’d allow myself to be bullied into.
My teacher didn’t bully. He simply presented the evidence and, after watching an excerpt from Cowspiracy, it was clear that the social, ethical, environmental and health implications of eating meat and seafood are compelling.
Returning to his initial question, he asked: “What is the one thing you could do today that would have the greatest impact on yourself, others and the entire planet? Would you consider eating a plant-based diet until you graduate as a yoga teacher?”
Over dinner I asked Sam if he’d be interested in watching the Cowspiracy documentary and, fortunately, he’s open-minded. As the credits rolled there was no question about it.
Eating plant-based for 21 days was challenging at times but I never felt I was missing out. To the contrary, making vegetables the star of the show revitalised my taste buds and inspired me to be creative in the kitchen. It also became increasingly clear that eating a plant-based diet is more than a personal choice, it is an obligation; an obligation to help restore the health of our planet for future generations, and an obligation to acknowledge and respect the rights of ALL living creatures, not just those who can speak.
This sense of obligation took me by surprise. But yoga is like that. Rather than demand all-or-nothing allegiance, yoga gets under your skin, gradually infiltrating your life until the light of awareness shines on everything.
Just over a year later, the only animal products we consume are eggs, cheese and, occasionally, condiments such as fish or oyster sauce. Our diet has become more varied and interesting; we buy more and better quality vegetables and still save money; our digestion has improved; and YES, we get enough protein!
The greatest misconception about vegetarian and vegan diets
Your body needs the amino acids found in protein to build and maintain the tissues in your body. Comprising all essential amino acids, animal proteins (including eggs) are known as ‘complete proteins’ so people often assume it’s impossible to eat sufficient protein following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
However, quinoa, buckwheat and products made from Soy such as tempeh, tofu and natto are also complete proteins.
Many other plant-based foods contain protein, including nuts and seeds, green vegetables, beans and lentils. It is even possible to create a complete protein by combining grains and beans (eg. rice and black beans) or grains and seeds (eg. ezekiel bread, hummus and pita bread).
With a goal to build muscle, Sam initially thought it would be challenging to meet his higher daily protein requirements without meat or fish. He has since discovered that a varied whole foods diet, supplemented by up to two protein shakes a day, is sufficient to meet his macro and micro nutrient needs.
More challenging than finding sources of protein is finding restaurants with enticing vegetarian or vegan options. Brisbane restaurateurs are becoming more accommodating of dietary needs and preferences but there are still restaurants which mark fish dishes as ‘vegetarian’ or offer ubiquitous mushroom risotto as the only choice.
If you’ve read this far, rest assured I’m not about to tighten the thumbscrews and force you to renounce bacon!
There are a number of things you can do to help the environment, improve your health and save money without giving up meat:
1. Eat less meat
Launched by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney in 2009, Meat Free Monday is a not-for-profit campaign which encourages people to help slow climate change, preserve natural resources and improve their health by having at least one meat-free day each week.
If you can’t imagine a whole day without meat, start by reducing portion size and adding more vegetables.
2. Eat better quality meat, seafood and eggs
Be a mindful and curious consumer, choosing sustainable, ethically farmed, organic produce where possible. Ask questions about where the produce comes from, how it is reared and how it is killed. Supermarket labels can be misleading and it tends to be easier to ask questions when buying from local farmers markets, independent butchers and seafood suppliers, food co-operatives or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes.
3. Commit to a plant-based diet for 21 days
You’ve got nothing to lose so if you’re even the slightest bit curious, think of this as an opportunity to try-before-you-buy!