Saturday, February 9, 2013

Our Challenges of Going Plant-Based

People often ask me what our biggest challenges have been transitioning from the Standard American Diet to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. While overall the challenges have been small, there have been a few, especially early on.

Restocking the kitchen
When we started out, it seemed like nothing in our kitchen supported our new lifestyle. We had the wrong everything, from peanut butter, condiments, bread and cereal, to milk, broth, soups, butter, flour, etc.

I had never really paid close attention to reading ingredients on food items I purchased, but once I started, it wasn’t just eye opening, it was eye popping and jaw dropping! I couldn’t believe that foods labeled as healthful were filled with chemicals, added sugar, preservatives, etc. These foods weren’t strengthening our bodies and optimizing our health as those sexy little marketing labels promised, they were poisoning us -- little by little.

Most everything went curbside, which left our kitchen pretty bare. We restocked with the essentials: unsweetened almond milk, Ezekiel products, beans, legumes, brown rice, natural almond butter, condiments without added sugar, vegetable broth, 100% whole wheat flour, etc. We added new items that had been virtually foreign to us -- Bragg’s Liquid Aminos; quinoa; tempeh; nutritional yeast; chia, hemp and flax seeds; tamari; different flours like spelt and garbanzo; to name a few.

People usually point out that it must have cost money. It did. But it wasn’t any more expensive than when we moved into our home and had to stock our kitchen for the first time. At least now we were filling our pantry and refrigerator with food that would really optimize our health. You can’t put a price tag on that.


New ingredients
This was a brand new lifestyle for us and one, from a culinary standpoint, that I knew little about. To that end, I had to learn how to adapt -- how to cook! I looked up recipes online, gave a LIKE to as many vegetarian and vegan pages I could find on Facebook, created an online health and wellness support group, subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine and bought cookbook after cookbook. All of this helped me build a new collection of whole-food, plant-based recipes. I also discovered the joy of cooking, which is something I had never experienced before (prior to this shift, cooking always seemed so mindless and boring to me … obligatory even).

I struggled with missing ingredients, which seemed to happen more often than not the first couple of months. There were even times when I didn’t know what a certain ingredient was or where I could find it. This could be frustrating at times, especially when I had my heart set on preparing a particular recipe that day. But I didn’t get discouraged. I knew it was temporary and that in time I’d have what I needed at my fingertips (or at least know where I could get it). I also learned the art of substitutions, achieved by trial and error or with a quick Google search.

I’ll admit there are times even today when I’ll come across a recipe that calls for an ingredient with which I am unfamiliar or can’t find locally. When that happens, the Internet is my best friend. I’ve also been known to order ingredients I need online. In fact, just today I ordered Cacao Nibs and Vanilla Powder online.

Dining out
As I write this, I’m sitting in a restaurant in a Pennsylvania ski lodge. It has the most carnivorous menu I have ever come across. Steamed vegetables and a baked potato aren’t even options. I choose a greens salad with cranberries, oranges and almonds (omit the cheese, please). It was so good that I asked for a second helping.

For the most part, this is the exception not the rule. Restaurants are becoming more and more veg-head friendly. There’s almost always at least one “vegetarian” option that can be modified with a simple request to the server. And in the event we find ourselves in a situation like today -- you can’t go wrong with a salad.

In the beginning, we would look up menus online before deciding where to eat. Now we have a pretty good handle on it. Ethnic restaurants, like Mexican, Indian, Thai, Chinese, etc. tend to have more options from which to choose, but we’ve made it work in American restaurants as well. Restaurants are also very accommodating with a call in advance. I had a birthday party for Matt at a restaurant that I knew his guests would enjoy (very meat-heavy). I simply let the host know when making the reservation that we were vegan. When we arrived that night, there were options available to us.

Most of our friends and family are extremely gracious as well, so when they invite us to their homes or out to dinner, they go out of their way to accommodate us with the food they serve or the restaurants they choose. If we’re going to someone’s home, we always contribute dishes that can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.

People fear what they do not understand and many people we know fell right into that. Suddenly everyone was obsessed with our protein intake, often suggesting we weren’t getting enough. (Mind you we were running almost every day, not to mention 10, 12, 15+ mile runs on weekends -- not exactly an indicator of two people dwindling away from protein deficiency).

One person said she just knew I had to be short on some mineral or vitamin -- she couldn’t name which one, mind you -- she said it was a feeling. (I was actually tested in September and all my minerals and vitamins were "poifect," as I knew they would be.) Over time, people learn to accept your way of life, or at least they pretend to do so to your face. : )

Shutting up
Matt and I had to learn to do that, and it has been our greatest challenge. As I described in earlier posts, learning as much as we have about the power of a whole-food, plant-based diet and then living it and seeing first-hand the results, we became evangelists -- annoying little evangelists -- wanting to convert everyone, especially those who we knew struggled with being overweight or suffered from autoimmune or heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.

We try now to be mindful of the fact that people have their "AHA" moments in their own time. Case in point: I knew smoking was bad for my health years before I quit. We make changes when we’re ready (and some of us, sadly, never make them).

Don’t get me wrong, this lifestyle is our favorite subject and we’ll talk for hours on end if you get us started -- but only if you engage us. We don’t want anyone to feel as though they have to defend their dietary choices to us.

This blog has been a huge help in this regard. It’s enabled us to build a health and wellness community (ranging in dietary preferences) with whom we can talk freely about the importance of nutrition and fitness without offending anyone or being offended. It’s also helped us to continue increasing our knowledge and adding more plant-passionate dishes to our repertoire.

Despite these very minor challenges, our transition to a whole-food, plant-based diet has been nothing short of remarkably rewarding so far and we expect that trend will continue.

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