By Wajeeha Malik (about Plant-based)
In March 2015, I traveled to Indonesia. It was my sophomore year at university, which meant that I was a student living on a student budget, and eating the kind of food most students eat (fast food, a lot of fast food). In Indonesia, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a variety of delicious traditional dishes; like rice cakes, grilled fish, tofu-based dishes, and a wide range of fried rice. Although there were a lot of chicken and meat dishes, I was more intrigued by the vegetarian and pescatarian options.
Having lived in Pakistan and Qatar, I had not often been exposed to vegetarian food as the main entrée. Sure, vegetables and fish were a part of my diet, but they were by no means the major staple. In my experience, both Pakistani and Qatari cuisines are predominantly meat based; unless someone actively chooses to incorporate a wider variety of food in their diet. During the week I was in Indonesia; I decided to follow in the footsteps of some of my fellow travelers and embrace the vegetarian lifestyle. Well, mostly vegetarian. I didn’t want to cut meat out from my diet all of a sudden; so I decided to continue eating seafood; while avoiding chicken, beef, mutton and other kinds of meats.
Those eight days in Indonesia were easy, because I always had options that were just as cheap and easily-available as any meat dish. But once I got back to Qatar and went back to university; I realized how much of a challenge this new lifestyle was going to be. With both chicken and beef off my menu, I lost 90% of the options that were available to me in cafeterias and restaurants. Choosing a place to eat with my friends became even more difficult. Ordering in was also a struggle, because the seafood and vegetarian dishes are always so much more expensive than other options. I wanted to do more home-cooking, but found I barely had time after university and studying. For a few weeks, I struggled with my new lifestyle and was always hungry.
However, after those first few weeks, it became much easier. I began to prepare meals at home and tried to merge what I already knew about cooking (very little) with what I could learn from the internet. Thankfully, almost every dish can be made vegetarian with a little improvisation, especially rice and pasta. I replaced meat with lentils, beans, tofu, and seafood. After some experimenting, I began to enjoy the process of cooking and eating these dishes, and started noticing that I felt more energized and less tired, whether it was because I was cutting out foods like fried chicken or paying more attention to what I put in my body. I follow a pescatarian diet, but I’m currently thinking of removing seafood and dairy from my menu.
Many people have asked me why I made this decision. It has a lot to do with my interest in how food gets to our table. It’s not necessarily because I feel like we should not eat animals at all, or that all meat is bad for you; it’s just that I am skeptical of the methods used to obtain meat products. Issues such as diseases associated with eating meat, factory farming, use of antibiotics and steroids on chickens and cows, unethical farming practices, abuse of farm labor, and environmental factors, have all played a role in my decision.
There are more efficient and humane ways to get meat to our tables, but the demand for meat and a rapidly growing population make intensive farming the current method of choice. By choosing to go vegetarian we can lighten the burden intensive farming places on the planet.
My decision is about being a little more conscious of the impact I have on the environment and on myself.
Top Five Tips for Going Vegetarian
If you want to lessen your impact on the environment, increase your energy levels and improve your health; here are five tips to help you get started on your plant-based journey.
Make your dishes meatless: meat replacements like tofu and tempeh are great foods to help you transition because they can easily replace the meat in certain traditionally meat-based dishes. You can also use vegetables like mushrooms or roasted cauliflower to add a meatiness to dishes that will delight your tastebuds and satisfy your hunger.
- Make sure your meals satisfy you by adding a good source of plant protein such as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds—think bean burgers, lentil stews, quinoa salads sprinkled with sunflower seeds…
- Motivation is key: keep in mind why you’ve decided to transition. Whether it’s for health reasons or to lighten your carbon footprint; keeping your motivation at the forefront of your mind will help you resist temptation and organize things; and make your new habit a life-long lifestyle.
Take it slow: start with two or three meatless days a week; and increase this as you get more confident with vegetarian recipes. Don’t be hard on yourself: any major change will come with a set of challenges. Take it one day at the time and remember to pat yourself on the back for making such a positive decision.
- Go dairy-free: there plenty of good quality, great tasting plant-based dairy alternatives to choose from. Swap your milk for almond or rice milk; sprinkle some vegan cheese on your pasta or try adding soy yogurt to your granola.