An Accessible Approach to the Plant-Based Diet: Vegan, Freegan, Reducetarian...What?
Vegan, Freegan, Reducetarian...huh?
What’s the deal with Plant-Based eating? What are all of these labels?
If you’ve taken a dive into living mindfully, or have looked into ways you can reduce your environmental impact, it’s likely that you’ve read a little bit about the ethics and environmental conundrum surrounding our use of animal products. If you’re interested in learning about why vegan lifestyles and plant-based diets have become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades, I highly suggest watching some of the documentaries listed in this article:
Veganism is much more than plant-based eating; it’s a lifestyle, and I personally became vegan to align my every-day actions with my morals. It involves reducing the exploitation of animals as far as is possible and practicable; this can be applied to all of the products we purchase and the way we impact those around us through our daily behaviors. However, today I’d like to talk specifically about food, and some different ways you can choose to approach reducing your animal consumption through your diet.
A quick look at plant-based eating through the lens of environmental sustainability:
The animal agriculture industry is a catastrophically significant contributor to global deforestation, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Our planet is struggling to support the breeding, raising, and slaughtering of approximately 72-billion extra land-animals per year; each one of these animals needs to be fed and given water, which means we need more cropland, which means more deforestation and destruction of our world’s vital ecosystems; our planet just can’t sustainably handle the “production” of these animals on such a mass scale. These beings, “livestock animals” don’t populate at this rate naturally, and we aren’t naturally preying on them; we breed them into existence through manipulation for our own purposes. We’re not wolves keeping the deer population in check; we’ve created this problem. The less economic demand there is for animal products - the less we purchase them - the industry has to respond; supply and demand, if we’re buying fewer animals, they’ll “produce” fewer animals.
The average American consumes animal products every time they eat: milk and or eggs at breakfast, deli meat and cheese at lunch, yogurt for a snack, a steak or filet at dinner, and some sort of treat containing butter for dessert. Every one of us, every meal we eat, makes a difference. The more people who choose to reduce their meat, dairy, egg, and fish consumption, the less demand there is to continue this massive, destructive chain of production.
What if I’m unable to go vegan?
We’re accustomed to eating a certain way, and rethinking the way we approach food can seem daunting. Maybe you need time to transition, just because you know that will be the easiest way for you. Perhaps you can't entirely switch over due to medical, accessibility, or financial reasons. Not ready to or not capable of taking on a fully vegan diet? There are a couple of plant-based diet options that you can consider if you are trying to reduce your contribution to the animal agriculture industry. Everyone can make a difference and live mindfully in a balanced way that works for them.
A breakdown of Three Ways to do Plant-Based Eating, in a way that's accessible for you
Reducetarian: Just a fancy word for being a person who reduces the amount of animal products in their diet. Maybe you have one meal a week that contains some animal products, or one meal a day. Maybe your diet is entirely vegan except for ice cream, or you eat a pizza from your favorite mom-and-pop shop once a month. It’s okay, everything you do counts! Every little bit that you reduce adds up; it matters. For whatever reason, if you aren’t ready to or aren’t able to (or just don’t want to) cut out all of these familiar foods from your diet, don’t sweat it, you can still make a difference just by replacing some of your typical meals with a plant-based approach.
Freegan: The “freegan” dieter eats a plant-based diet and rejects the idea of buying animal foods and supporting the industry. However, let’s say, this person is out eating lunch with their friends, they ate a vegan meal, but their friend ordered salmon and didn’t finish it, and wasn’t planning on taking it home to finish later. Rather than letting the restaurant just throw away the rest of their friend’s meal, the freegan offers to take the salmon home and eat it for dinner. The “freegan” is in no way contributing monetarily to the harvesting of salmon, and is actively choosing to reduce waste by consuming food that would have otherwise gone in the bin. No harm done. If you really want to stop purchasing meat and dairy products, but aren’t quite at a point where you never want to eat those things again, consider taking this note from freeganism: while animal foods are still being produced and sold, don’t purchase them, but when the circumstance arises, maybe it’s better for the environment to consume those products that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. While I don’t personally think labelling lifestyles is important, I certainly think that a freegan plant-based diet can be considered to be part of a vegan lifestyle.
Vegan: the vegan diet is fully plant-based. Some vegans will still eat sessile bivalves (oysters and mussels), some will still eat honey - but, the bullet-points of a fully-vegan plant-based diet are:
No meat (fish is meat)
If it has a nervous system, or was made by something with a nervous system, it isn’t food. Everyone who subscribes to a plant-based diet should supplement B12 (B12 does not come from meat or animal products, it comes from bacteria. Typically, at least in the USA, animal products are fortified with B12 as the industry standard for ensuring the population gets their daily dose, but many vegan alternative foods are also fortified with B12), as well as make sure you’re getting Omega 3’s (algae supplements are perfect). I take a multivitamin to cover all my bases and guarantee that my body is absorbing all of the nutrients it needs.
When getting started with a plant-based diet or reducing your animal product consumption, you might be worried about what it's going to cost; though these tips may not apply to or be accessible for all areas and communities, read my Healthy Eating on a Budget article for a glimpse into how plant-based eating can be done without having to increase your grocery costs.
"So, what do I eat?"
You've decided on trying a plant-based diet; amazing. But what do you eat? A lot of new vegans end up eating oats, salads and Oreos and then quit after a few weeks. Plant-based diets, with proper education, can be nutritionally rich and endlessly fun. I'm going to list a bunch of vegan and plant-based creators below; I have tried recipes from all of these individuals, and have never been disappointed. Many of their recipes are extremely cost-friendly and full of familiar ingredients, while some are a little more complicated if you're looking for a culinary challenge. Overall, these are some fantastic ideas, and I think you'll find that making your meals, snacks and desserts plant-based is way more doable than you thought it would be.
Rabbit and Wolves - The comfort food. Pastas, pot-pies...*trails off into a daydream about creamy pasta*
Cheap, Lazy Vegan - Seriously, if you want super affordable and nutritious plant-based recipes, check her out. Her YouTube content is also a great place to look for advice on veganism in general.
Avant-Garde Vegan - Gaz Oakley taught me that literally any food can be made vegan. Everything he does is delicious, some requires a bit of work, but it's worth it.
Eat, Drink, Shrink - Bagels. Pancakes. Cinnamon Rolls. Cookies. Do I need to say any more.
Bianca Zapatka - So many things I thought I would never get to have again: quiche, stuffed shells, almond horns, I could go on forever.
Elavegan - A fair share of easy, healthy, nutritious recipes that definitely don't compromise on taste.
It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken - Cheeses. Vegan cheese wheels. Melty mozzarella cheese on pizza. cheese...
Mary's Test Kitchen - vegan CROISSANTS. Did I get your attention? Wanna bake some bread? Ask Mary.
I religiously stalk all of these creator's social media pages to get new recipe ideas.
AS FAR AS IS POSSIBLE AND PRACTICABLE
Veganism is specifically defined as seeking to reduce animal exploitation as far as is POSSIBLE and PRACTICABLE. Let me say it as loudly as I can. Veganism is not supposed to be exclusive, you're not "doing it wrong" if you're trying to do your best, whatever that looks like right now. If you want to start making changes to your lifestyle with the intention of reducing your impact, that's a pretty vegan thing to do. And, if you want to call yourself a vegan but you're not doing absolutely everything "perfectly," that's okay. Yes, I believe we should all be seeking to reduce animal suffering as well as the destruction of our Earth's ecosystems; I am learning how to live a more mindful lifestyle every day, and want to do my part. I am pretty sure that the majority of people would want to do the same.
Be kind to each other, and let's be kind to ourselves as we learn, grow, and make changes at whatever pace we need. If you want to start incorporating these principles into your daily life by eating plant-based, don't feel pressured to drop everything overnight (if you want to, great, but it's okay if that's not sustainable for you). Determine your personal dietary as well as mental-health needs, consulting a professional if needed. If you're not in a place where you can eat fully-vegan right now, there are still ways to approach eating plant-based, including Freeganism and Reducetarianism, as described above.
Have you tried incorporating a plant-based diet into your lifestyle? Do you consider yourself a vegan? Are you interested in learning more about the environmental impact and ethics of veganism? Let's chat in the comments!