A ritual of the New Year for many of us is to write a nice long list of resolutions that we believe will make our dreams come true–for once and for all! We are now into the third week of January–how are your resolutions working out for you? The word resolution itself is problematic for me. Resolve, resolute, solution needed– as if I am defective or a problem. Determination, firm, decision–to me, all of these words sound harsh, constricting, and judgmental (and that failure is right around the corner). I'd like to invite my readers to consider substituting the word Intention instead. Language is so powerful. Resolution is to Perfection as Intention is to Excellence. With intention there is more flow and grace, more self-compassion and kindness. There is more room for possibilities and more metrics for what constitutes authentic success. I don't know about you, but I am much more likely to succeed with thoughtful encouragement than with Bossy Bear's rigid rules. Try making a list of the things you intend for yourself and ease towards these intentions day-by-day. My guess is that you will get to where you want to go faster; an intention to honor your highest good is far more joyful and likely to last. I set this energy in motion each morning by writing two journal pages that includes a gratitude check. Taking these moments to examine and declare my commitment to live intentionally works magically.
‘Everyday I tell my body: You be good to me, and I'll be good to you.'
I think baby steps are kinder and more effective, too. Everyday I tell my body: 'You be good to me, and I'll be good to you.' Building momentum by stepping towards a goal is more enjoyable and enriching than chipping away at a big gnarly block of scary–which leads me to diets. Losing weight is the number one item on most people's resolution list. I don't do diets; I’ve never been able to embrace them, and never will. If you find diets to be effective, that is great, but I'm still dubious. I have an alternative long-term suggestion: add more plants to your plate and crowd out the animal products. You will feel better permanently–and next year's list won't include losing weight because you will already be leaner without counting or suffering, all the while doing something amazing for your health and for the planet. I know it may sound overwhelming to make such a radical change, but that's the beauty of it–this is something to ease into, and there are a couple of easy ways to do so.
I like using the name 'plant-based eater' because it is generous about the foods I desire and choose to eat in any given situation, rather than focused on what I am eliminating, or not 'allowed' to eat. Vegan is a more recognizable label, everybody knows that zero animal products are consumed and can be good shorthand, but it can also feel a little more restrictive, too, like I might fall off the wagon and fail. (That said, I use both terms.) I checked in with my middle daughter, a more seasoned vegan, and she clarified it for me with a reference from By Chloe ‘plant-based refers to omitting animal products for health, while vegan usually refers to a lifestyle choice that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’
‘Dreaming of a world where doing the right thing isn't viewed as extreme and eating animals is.’–Kathy Freston
The 25% approach is a simple way to eat without counting calories or grams of protein: each meal plate should have equal amounts of legumes, vegetable, grains, and leafy greens. I like to jazz up my meals with 1-2 teaspoons of a hemp seed-ground flax mixture and some 'dukka' (a simple combination of nuts and pumpkin seeds) to boost fiber and protein and texture. Small portions of fruits and nuts are excellent for snack-time. While vegan baked goods are some of the best sweets I've ever enjoyed, they should be reserved for special treats.
Pragmatic Method: Start each week by choosing to replace one animal-based meal with a plant-based meal. The next week, choose two and so on every week. This is how my husband went from a meat-at-every-meal Paleo eater to mainly plant-based. He eats vegan food every morning and evening, and chooses whatever he wants for lunch, which has naturally become greener over time. It was so seamless he didn't even realize it was happening until he had already begun to reap the benefits of consuming fewer animal products (leaner body, more energy, better gut health.)
‘I encourage you to start with this simple intention: my body is a wonderland, not an amusement park…’
Practical Method: I recommend Kathy Freston's book The Lean Thirty as a guide for a sincere stab at plant-centric eating. This book walks readers through thirty days and thirty easy steps towards embracing a plant-based lifestyle. I loved building each day on what I had learned to incorporate the day before. Simple reminders of things we already know–like eating an apple everyday, electing plants for lunch, or simply drinking more water–thirty things compounded can add up to a lot of momentum and flow. The author also includes menu ideas and recipes to get things moving quickly. Kathy Freston is an author and animal activist on the ethical path; she is fun to follow on Instagram with her humorous posts–one of her mottos is "dreaming of a world where doing the right thing isn't viewed as extreme and eating animals is." I encourage you to start with this simple intention: 'my body is a wonderland, not an amusement park' and maybe just go from there, try it and shed a few pounds in the process. You don't have to go all declarative or radical just to eat plants.
Turbo Trifecta Method: Settle in for a 5-hour binge with a big bowl of blueberries and watch "What the Health"(health) and "Cowspiracy" (environment) on Netflix and "Earthlings" (ethics). To be honest, I only had to watch "What the Health" and I was cold-sober-sold on deleting animal products from my diet.
It's about elevating what's on your plate. With plant-based eating I get to decide what I eat and my goal is simple, yet expansive: to eat the healthiest, most nutrient-dense plant-based food I can at each opportunity. I'm not really into the mock meats or tofu, but I am always on the hunt for new flavor combinations and sauces. I'm eating 90% plant-based but I leave 10% of wiggle-room, a discretion margin for social situations. For example, if I'm starving at a party, I'm definitely going to eat that gorgeous salad even if it has a little bit of feta mixed in, because bread is a poor choice. Or, if I'm feeling a low protein slump while I'm on the go-go, a Chocolate Sea Salt Rx Bar provides me with fast, clean energy.
Sometimes, no matter how awake I think I am, something funny happens to gently rattle my fledgling consciousness. The other night at Prohibition Pig? Even though I happily ordered the tempeh Korean BBQ burger (a stretch for me and a delish choice), my brain completely switched off when the duck fat fries arrived. I devoured them, not once registering the 'duck' part until I was home brushing my teeth. Oh Lord, they were that good! So you see, no matter how devoted or aspirational, humans are always going to deviate from their intentions, and that's okay. That's where the beautiful part of being a plant-eater comes in: in the course of a week, the food consumed is so enriching and delicious and energy-enhancing that the body just naturally starts to crave it more and more. The momentum builds on itself and any indiscretions are quickly absorbed into the grand scheme of things. There is no wagon to fall off here–you can't blow this plant thing. Happy New Intentions!
Baby Steps for a Plant Eating Lifestyle
It's inspiring and satisfying to open the fridge and find wholesome food beautifully prepped and just waiting to fuel a plant-based appetite. Food is a source of comfort and sustenance and looking forward to mealtime is one of life's great joys. Our family meal ritual includes setting the table with lovely napkins and mats, lighting candles, and eating with Jeff's family silver–we use it every day because every meal is special for us.
Consume primarily vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds and eliminate or limit animal-based and refined products. Keep adding organic veggies to your plate and crowd out the animals.
Do some food prep a couple of hours each week: prep veggies, chop shallots to make salad dressing, roast tomatoes for compote. Roast garlic for sauce paste. Crank up the pressure cooker to make a veg soup out of all the leftovers and scraps (add a head of cauliflower), and prep some lentils, and rice. I open a couple of cans of beans and rinse them, then store in a glass container, so I can see them and add them to everything.
I use Eden brand canned beans because they have been prepared with a special pressure-cooker style which virtually eliminates the gas-producing effects of beans. My favorite pasta is the gluten-free Tinkyada Pasta Joy brand. It's brown rice pasta that has wonderful texture and offers a nice variety of shapes; I do not feel that I am compromising my food pleasure in any way using this brand. I love their fettuccini cut for everything, especially veggie peanut noodles. Because the pasta is made from brown rice, it's a low-glycemic food and takes longer for my body to digest, so I enjoy a nice bowl of pasta without the accompanying blood sugar dip that triggers a raid to the chocolate drawer directly afterward.
4. Everyone is a plant-based eater at some point during the week, so start there, and simply make it a goal to add more animal-free meals to your diet each week. Nowadays, I can make a super delish sheet pan dinner in twenty minutes. Tonight, I'm chopping up a variety of veggies (squash, shiitake mushrooms, colorful peppers, and broccoli) tossing them in a little olive oil and roasting them at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. I'll add variety and flavor with unusual seasonings like za'atar, fennel pollen, sumac, smoked cinnamon, or curry and always add a generous pinch of sea salt. I'll warm up the rice, lentils or farro I prepped on the weekend, and make a leafy green salad (with pre-washed greens) that always has walnuts and blueberries in it.
5. If I have a little extra time I might add hand-made croutons to a salad, or whip up a simple sauce to slather over the veggies. I noticed at Trader Joe's that they are doing all the prep now–without too many added preservatives–even white onions come chopped and ready for the pan. Pureed ginger and garlic are sold in little cube trays, lentils and baby beets are ready to eat out right of the package, and five kinds of veg are spiraled and ready to go. Personally I wouldn't go overboard on the packaged items, but I definitely cheer any kind of bump that gets folks jump-started cooking plant-based foods at mealtime.