Shifting to a more plant-based diet is easier with the right motivation and preparation
Most of us had grown up with the Food Pyramid drilled into our early education, forming the core of what our ideal meal should be: balanced and omnivorous. And from an anthropological perspective, when food was far scarcer in the past, eating meat made a lot of sense for us humans. The fats and nutrient density from animal meat were sought after, and replacing those with alternatives weren’t too feasible, or not without significant trade-offs in terms of energy. 
But the past century has given us an idea that food is not only about individual survival anymore, and recent food technology has given us more knowledge and choices on how we can fill our nutritional needs. A plant-based diet became a viable option, as opposed to being a necessity for some groups. Thus began the rise of vegetarianism as a movement.
There’s more to vegetarianism than being counterculture Hippies, who are its first fervent adherents were and the stereotype for the longest time. Taking up a plant-based diet, or one of its many forms, is becoming increasingly common for several very important reasons, from health to ecological concerns. It doesn’t matter if you’re the type who is able to live on greens all week long, or someone who will never dream of refusing a juicy slice of steak, there’s something one can discover from knowing more about a greener diet.
More ways than one
You might have had an experience with a fully vegan friend or acquaintance and has started preaching about the values and benefits behind the move, while looking down on your poor choice of a meat-based meal. The good news is that a plant-based diet is not an all-or-nothing move, and it is reflected in the different tiers of practice.
At its strictest form, there is veganism, which is proposed as a philosophy in life that rejects all forms of cruelty and exploitation of animals. Because of this compassionate stance, its practitioners will refuse products that are harvested from animals. Vegans do not buy or consume meat and animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey, and leather, or patronise any activities that include the use of animals in food, science, clothing, or entertainment. 
In contrast, the term vegetarian is not so much on the philosophy, but is defined by the meatless diet, avoiding all forms of meat, fish and crustaceans, as well as stock and gelatine extracted from the animal. It is notable that vegetarianism can share the sentiment of being against products of slaughtered animals, but can be less rigid in several variations, such as:
- Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian – Diet does not include all meat, fish, and crustaceans, but can have dairy and eggs.
- Lacto-Vegetarian – Excludes meat, fish, and crustaceans, as well as eggs, but can have dairy.
- Ovo-Vegetarian – Excludes meat, fish, and crustaceans, as well as dairy, but can have eggs.
- Fruitarian – Excludes all meat and animal products, and the diet revolves around the consumption of fruits and a few nuts and/or seeds.
- Pescetarian – Excludes meat from diet, but practitioners can have fish.
In recent years, vegetarians gave the term “flexitarian” to diets that are mostly plant-based but occasionally include some meat.
Benefits of going meatless
As there are myriad forms of vegetarianism, so are there different reasons for turning away the omnivore’s path. While human evolution has moulded our bodies to function best with several nutrients found in meat, there are considerations beyond sheer dietary necessity behind the change.
Ethics is among the biggest reasons, especially from veganism. It focuses on how animals are slaughtered and used for human consumption. The practice itself of animal husbandry is argued to be exploitative of animals as it deprives them of their natural habitat and alters their behaviour and/or lifespans, no matter how they are raised or cared for. This cause is compounded by how large-scale operations in the meat industry treat their livestock—sometimes in very poor conditions—for the sake of cheap meat, giving rise to calls from vegans and vegetarians to shun it altogether.
Health is a big draw to plant-based diet. Research from the past decades has drawn associations between eating meat and raised risks for conditions like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. It has been suggested that the presence of trans-fats, carcinogens in charring, or chemicals used for preservation (e.g. increased salt, nitrites) contribute to these problems, which can easily be avoided by just not eating meat. Predisposed individuals—like those with a personal or family history of said health problems—are particularly recommended to take up a plant-based diet.
There are advocates of vegetarianism for the sake of losing weight. And while it may have been proven effective for some, a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t quite assure this as some meals may have as many calories as non-vegan options. Vegan-friendly cookies (say, Oreos) for example, can still have as much sugar and fats as regular cookies. Weight-watchers would still have to look out for their daily caloric intake and expenditure to reach their desired goals.
Environmentalism through plant-based diets has gained traction in the past decade. Ecologists have aired their concern how the meat and fish industries are a major contributor to deforestation, carbon emissions, overfishing, and inefficient use of water, to name a few complaints. Arguably, the collective movement is hoped to spark more sustainable practices globally, but you can also personally contribute by cutting down on one’s carbon footprint.
Thoroughly internalising your motivations for making changes in your lifestyle, especially if it involves cutting down on things that you like, can strengthen the desire to stick to them. Do the research and take comfort in the fact that though you might have challenges in adjusting to this new diet, you are working on improving yourself and the world around you.
Small steps, big difference
Going plant-based won’t be as hard as you think (and being not too hard on yourself also helps). You might need supplements for a few vitamins like B-12, D, essential fatty acids, iron, and calcium, but the rest of your caloric and nutrient needs are available from non-meat sources. And with a little culinary knowledge, vegetarian recipes can be as deliciously filling and comforting as anything in your old diet!
So here are some tips to help you keep your newfound food passion:
- Think beyond salads
People tend to think poorly of vegan/vegetarian food because it’s (1) often inaccessible, and (2) lacking in variety. Dear friends, you’re not rabbits who will subsist on salads. There are plenty of ingredients with a diversity of flavours and textures that can make you happy, vegetables are not just leafy things: there are gourds, squashes, root crops, tuber starches, a host of legumes, nuts and pulses, fruit-vegetables, stems, and musky mushrooms and fungi.
Sauté, mash, fry, do it wet or dry, boil, broil, bake, mould, wield like that fancy knife like you’re a fancy chef (or don’t) or use cutters to make fancy shapes, blend, puree, steam, stew, smoke, and grill. Think of all the things you can do because you’re not just flipping steaks anymore. But if that’s intimidating, start honing your kitchen skills with a scrumptious fried rice recipe that makes use of peas, mushrooms, carrots, and fried tofu. Use a good quality, high smoke point oil like Borges Grapeseed Oil and fire up your stove to bring out the beautiful smokiness in the dish. That’s a solid meal for any time of the day!
- Embrace eating seasonally and locally
Unlike a visceral trip to a butcher, picking up vegetables and fruits is a sensory delight. Make the most of it and spend time exploring your local markets to see what’s available.
Eating seasonally means that you are consuming produce where conditions have not been forced on the plants and the land. Small farmers, with their limited equipment, tend to be involved in growing seasonal vegetables. In combining seasonal and local eating, not only are you eating fresher, it is more sustainable in many aspects.
If you’re new to a produce, ask the seller if they can recommend ways to cook it. Chances are they will only be too happy you asked.
Peel, de-seed, and dice 1 mango and 1 small papaya. In a blender or food processor, add the chopped fruit, 1/3 cup of Borges Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/4 cup Borges Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 Tbsp. of honey, ½ tsp of ground white pepper, ½ tsp of salt, and whizz until very smooth. Pour into a container to drizzle over a green salad. Keep refrigerated for a week.
- Make a meal plan and stock your kitchen accordingly
Laying out a meal plan for the whole week and having most, if not all, of the ingredients on hand makes it easier to not chicken out on your goals and call for a delivery. Keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables will not be at their peak after a few days, while others like root crops can be kept for weeks. Stock up on grains, legumes, and dried pasta that can serve as a hearty base for many vegan recipes.
Our secret: prep on the weekend, cook a big batch recipe, and store serving in the freezer. This applies for things like soups and stews, so you always have a backup in your freezer and don’t have to panic if you suddenly can’t go out to buy fresh vegetables. Even homemade tomato sauce can be so comforting and convenient to have on hand, just reheat and ladle over al dente Borges Quality Durum Wheat Pasta for a scrumptious vegan dinner served in a flash.
- Meat will never be replaced, and that’s okay
If you grew up with a special hole in your heart for chicken rice, and suddenly you can’t have it anymore, you can try to fill that hole with faux meat substitutes and be horribly, horribly disappointed.
While the quality of faux meat has been getting better, disappointment from them can only amplify your longing for real deal. There will never be a 100% replacement for meat, but that’s okay. Flexitarians can make the best of their limited meat-based meals by eating good quality, ethically-farmed meat or fish. But if you’re on the hardcore path, remember that you’re rediscovering another realm of food. Recognise the unique traits of your ingredients that are distinct from meat and prize these as such. For example, mushrooms are not meat, but they can be earthy umami bombs with a lush juiciness that is unmatched by meat, especially when they are marinated with soy sauce, Borges Balsamico de Modena, and a few cloves of garlic. You’ll soon have your vegan meal favourites that you’ll crave again and again.
- Explore the world of seasonings and spices
And by “the world of seasonings and spices,” by all means see all the unique varieties of flavourings from around the globe. You may be sticking to the mantra of eating locally and seasonally, but that’s no excuse for food to be boring and repetitive because seasonings and spices make all the difference and are readily available in most groceries.
Take a trip around the world through readymade spice packs and pastes, and bottled sauces that can elevate any old vegetable through the roof. Even with the whitest, plainest cauliflower and potatoes! Make it Mediterranean by pickling the cauliflower in fennel seed, white wine vinegar, and olive oil, then toss it with boiled potatoes and sliced Borges Olives for an elegant vegetable salad. Or have it with a Japanese flair by steaming both and dressing them in a sauce made with velvety Japanese mayonnaise, a touch of mirin, crumbled nori seaweed, and roasted sesame seeds. Or make a dinner version by dousing the potatoes and cauliflower in butter and garam masala (hot spice mix) to make aloo gobi, a comforting Indian dish that’s perfect with some flat breads. Think about how many cuisines you can tackle with just pantry spices and you might surprise yourself.
It warrants repeating that going plant-based is never a zero-sum activity. It is better to start slow and adapt with changes that you can actually keep in the long-term. If you’ve never been a salad person, then there’s no reason why you should stick to salad lunches! And given all of the reasons above, a little development already counts as something, like cutting down on meat to having it twice a week rather than eliminating meat completely. And finally, enjoy the journey because you’re actually doing yourself and the world a big favour.