The power of plant-based food

As my husband and I enter our third week of eating only whole-foods and plant-based meals, I thought I’d capture how we are feeling and some of the realisations we have made. I wanted to share what we have learnt about ourselves, our health and the environment by avoiding animal products in our diet. And share our journey, in discovering the unlimited generosity of plants.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called No meat this week. It was about my family agreeing to eat vegetarian dinners for a week, because nobody could be bothered making the effort of doing the one-hour-plus round trip to the market to do our normal weekly shop. But very quickly, within 24 hours of writing the blog post, things changed. Our children stuck to the meat-free dinners, eating whatever they wanted for other meals and snacks, but my husband and I extended our vegetarian meal plan to a whole-food, plant-based one, removing all animal products from our diet, and applied it to everything we were eating all week, not just our dinners. We did this, after watching the documentary Fork over Knives. It was almost impossible not to. Neither of us felt like eating any animal produce after watching the documentary and learning about the negative health impact of eating dairy products and meat, and the negative environmental impact which accompanies our belief that we have to eat these things.

In doing this, we discovered a couple of things which made an easy decision to continue eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet for a second week, and now a third.

Firstly, I was surprised that I didn’t miss meat and cheese. Dairy and I have never agreed, not since I was a very little girl. We have argued all our life, outside of cheese and butter, two things I loved dearly. Two things I thought I could never live without. But I didn’t miss them. Not at all. And I still don’t. To begin with, I didn’t looked for replacements. I knew there were vegan cheeses and butters out there, but the idea of eating something ‘mock’ just didn’t sit right, it was like I wasn’t really doing without if I was simply replacing them with something that tasted the same, had the same texture and pretended to be cheese or butter. Although, my curiosity has got the better of me, and I did this week buy some vegan butter to try. I will let you know what I think after I use it.

I didn’t miss meat either. And with meat being such a main component of our diet previously, this really surprised me. I thought, when our kids went back to eating meat, and I smelt it cooking, saw them eating it, I would want some. That I would be enticed and overcome by the smell. But nope. No cravings. No desires. If they want it, that is their choice, but for me. No thanks.

I have also really enjoyed discovering new recipes and cooking differently. This has probably been one of my favourite things so far. It will be interesting to see how I feel when this novelty wears off. But for now, it feels awesome. I made my home-made gluten-free pasta yesterday without eggs and it worked perfectly. I used aquafaba, the brine from chickpeas. I used it from canned chickpeas being a novice, but would prefer to use the water from fresh ones. Although, I have read some concerns around aquafaba and so will be doing a little more research into this one, using some alternatives, and seeing how the pasta goes without it in my next batch. Probably one of my favourite meals has been the four-ways sushi recipe I discovered, the sweet potato tempura is the best, and the combination of black rice and mango, my goodness, it was heavenly! A taste sensation. I am now officially in love with black rice! The forbidden kind. How could you not love a rice called Forbidden Rice. It is made for loving.

Appreciating, and enjoying, the colours of our food has been a noticeable difference for me. I think because of two reasons. One is, that previously, more often than not, I simply ate my food without thinking. An automatic habit. I wasn’t really taking notice of what I was eating, I had lost that level of awareness. But now, I am really ‘seeing’ my food. I see it. Notice it. Appreciate it. Think about it. Secondly, the colours of vegetables and fruits, legumes and rice are just beautiful, and they all sit in harmony together, complementing each other. As we purchase our vegetables I notice the purples singing out to me, the bright greens, yellows and oranges. As I cook and present the food on the plate, the rainbow of colours are so pleasing to the eye. The food is enjoyable before I have even smelt it or put a forkful into my mouth. It just looks so good, all those colours.

We have also realised, the money we are saving by not buying meat, allows us the opportunity to afford organic produce. We have found a couple of organic food stores nearby, and are fast becoming regular customers. Buying seasonal vegetables and fruit, working our meals around what is available now for us to eat, what is meant to be eaten at this time of year. As we were returning from our weekly shop yesterday, my husband and I spoke about how different we feel from two weeks of eating like this. We reflected on how well I recovered, better than normal, from two big days in the garden. I was not as exhausted as I have been in the past. I did not wake up the next day with sore and aching muscles. I also feel a general sense of calm. I don’t feel as stressed about things, or as anxious. In fact, I don’t feel stressed or anxious at all. And my ability to focus has improved. There is a level of clarity in both what I can see, and in my thinking. It is noticeably different to me. I also have more energy. A lot more. I am not waking up tired.

We watched Game Changers last night. A documentary I equally recommend alongside Fork over Knives. I would encourage you to watch them both. Game Changers explained and affirmed some of the differences I am feeling. Less stress and anxiety is due to the fact that you have lower levels of cortisol in your body when you eat whole-foods and plant-based meals. According to the documentary and an article on their website: ‘replacing animal foods with plant foods high in carbohydrates can result in a 27% reduction in cortisol levels’.

I have to say, after watching this film, I walked away feeling I had been lied to all my life. That we will one day look back at the meat and dairy marketing and see it for what it is, the same as cigarette marketing. What it was before advertising laws changed, which then made space for the marketing for meat and dairy to take its place. To convince us that eating meat and dairy is healthy and something we must do. Just like smoking was said to be healthy once, too. This was a huge awakening for me from the film.

I was also incredibly shocked to learn of the ridiculous amount of water it takes to make a single beef burger patty. One burger takes 2400 litres of water. That is just crazy. Other environmental factors raised in the documentary which make you sit up in your chair, or certainly made me do so, include the fact that agriculture, the farming of meat, eggs, dairy and fish, is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions, equal or greater than all transportation combined. It also has a significant negative impact on the environment, on land use, and being the leading cause of deforestation, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity. If that isn’t food for thought, I don’t know what is!

For us, taking meat and dairy out of our diet, has also helped us in our crusade to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic we use. Fruit and vegetables are easy to buy without plastic. As are legumes, nuts and rice. For meat and dairy purchases, it is impossible to avoid plastics. Multiple layers of plastic.

We were never meant to eat meat. The way we see colours, the way our teeth are shaped, the length of our digestive tract, all point to the fact that we are made to eat plants. We are to accept their gifts, take up their generous offerings, which they replenish again and again through the symbiotic relationship they have with us. A relationship where if we tend to their needs, care for them, water them and love them, they fruit and grow, giving us the food we need. Telling us when they are ready with their changes of colours that we can see, which carnivores cannot, because they don’t need to.

My daughter loves to run. After watching Game Changers last night, she has decided to dramatically reduce her animal produce intake, and to perhaps remove it all together from her diet. It is totally her choice and we will support her in whatever she decides. She was inspired by the many athletes featured in the documentary, sharing their story. Athletes such as Morgan Mitchell in particular. She was inspired through learning about how our body reacts and performs after we eat meat. The role meat plays in creating inflammation. The role plants play in decreasing inflammation, in enabling blood flow for better performance.

So this is where we are at, as we start week three. We are still committed and enjoying a whole-food, plant-based diet. We are not planning on eating animal products any time soon. We are excited and inspired by what we have learnt. Our eyes are open. We are feeling the change. I am surprised. I wasn’t expecting to be feeling this way. What a delight!

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