[Off Topic] Flexitarianism, Bivalves, and Cooking Skills – Sharing my Sustainable Diet Journey

Posted: June 5, 2019

PSA: I don’t want to come across like one of those judgemental vegans/vegetarians that everybody hates, so there’s no blame in this blog post. I’m not even going to go deep into the reasons why I believe dietary change is necessary for a sustainable future – it’s up to you to research and decide for yourself.

Today is World Environment Day – an event created by the United Nations in 1974 to encourage awareness and action to protect our environment.

For a long time I never really thought about my impact on the environment.

What changed me was watching Earthlings about four years ago. It was a wake-up call, to say the least, that introduced me to the impacts of animal agriculture in a way I just hadn’t thought about before. After a lot more research and soul-searching, I resolved to start changing my eating habits.

But, damn, change is hard – especially if you’ve got zero cooking skills, and you’ve always relied on the same recipes and supermarket meals for a long time.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out a diet that works well for me – where I can balance my ecological impact, my time and budget, and my nutritional needs in a way that’s easy for me.

In this post, on World Environment Day, I just wanted to share what kind of everyday diet I follow, with the simple hope that others might take some ideas or inspiration from this.

Flexitarianism

I don’t like labels. But if you wanted me to label what kind of diet I promote, it would be a brand of flexitarianism.

I decided to start eating differently because I was concerned for the environment, and for animals. But I also know that there will be occasions that life gets in the way of following a 100% vegan or vegetarian diet, and that seriously limiting yourself will sometimes become overly restrictive, or even unhealthy.

I believe there is no reason why people can’t view their daily dietary choices as a sliding scale between carnivorism and veganism, not a series of checkboxes that must be rigidly complied with.

What does this look like for me? Well, I make decisions each day on what to eat based on a whole number of factors. How busy I am, how my body feels, what food there is available to me, and more.

That means if I’m eating out, the vegetarian options on the menu don’t excite me but my body is screaming out for protein, I might opt for a fillet of local, wild Coho salmon.

Other days, I might have a load of awesome food in the fridge and cook a completely vegan meal.

I don’t think flexitarianism is a bad thing as long as you’re being conscious about your choices. That means weighing up where your food comes from, what its impact is, what your body needs and what your circumstances allow to make practical daily choices that fit you and your lifestyle.

Bivalves

Early in my diet change journey, I made the choice to cut out the vast majority of meat but to allow sustainably-sourced bivalves to stay a part of my diet.

I use the Ocean Wise website to check before I buy. There are a wide range of choices that I am happy eating which are easily accessible and ecologically friendly.

I tend to feel a fair bit of guilt when I eat animals as I hate the thought of taking something’s life unless it’s really, truly needed. But I feel somewhat differently about bivales – they don’t have central nervous systems like other animals, and while they’re alive, I don’t consider them sentient in the same way as a cow or a chicken.

Many have debated whether eating bivalves is acceptable in the context of a vegan diet on account of this, and the jury is still out on this.

But I’m okay with it. I’m okay with it because when I first became vegetarian, I had no idea how to cook and eat plant-based protein, and I just couldn’t be healthy on that kind of diet. Eating bivalves was an easier way I could start to healthily adjust my eating habits, and it’s a choice I still make when I feel like I need a protein hit.

It does make it a little difficult to quickly explain my diet choices to people. I usually tell them I’m kind of vegetarian. Or flexitarian. Or, I just don’t eat things with faces. 🙂

Protein

When I started my diet change journey, I didn’t really know how to get complete protein if it didn’t come from from animals.

For a few months I was a terrible vegetarian. I subsisted mostly on carbs and vegetables as I didn’t know how to cook with plant-based protein. It took me a while to figure out that the reason why I felt weak and depressed was down to not getting enough protein, and as soon as I started paying attention to my protein levels, I started feeling a lot better.

Luckily there are still lots of sources of protein available to you if you choose to cut out meat. But if you’re a meat-centric cook, in order to start cooking with and enjoying eating plant-based protein, there’s one thing you’ll need to improve…

Cooking Skills

I’m British. You know what British food is? Pies, potatoes, meat, stodgy carby stuff with a side of veg. We’re not known for our culinary prowess.

For years, the only vaguely impressive recipe I knew how to make was a heavily Anglicised version of spaghetti bolognese.

Moving to Vancouver and experiencing new cuisine, it became clear to me that I’d existed in a food bubble for a long time. There’s a whole world of amazing food out there, and other cultures are a hell of a lot better at using plant-based proteins than Brits and Americans are.

So I started to learn how to cook, and how to cook outside of my native culture. I picked recipes that contained the plant-based protein sources I wanted to eat more of, and I tried to make them.

I had a lot of disasters. But slowly, I started to get better.

Now I’m a reasonably good cook, and I really enjoy cooking. What’s more, I feel like I’ve learned a great new life skill that will give me fulfillment until the day I die.

Here are some of the things I’ve cooked recently:

Ramen with baked acorn squash and 2 different types of tofu
Vietnamese summer rolls with soy “prawns”
Korean Bibimbap in sizzling hot stone bowls, complete with crispy rice (nurungi!)

Challenge your tastebuds

When I first started out with my partner, he asked me if there were any foods I would never, ever eat.

“Pickles” I replied. “I have so many childhood memories of my Grandad eating terrible smelly pickles, there is no way I will ever let them anywhere near my plate.”

Pickles were my cryptonite. I hated them. I’d even had bad dreams about being forced to eat them.

But I decided to challenge myself. Over time, I started introducing more vinegary tastes into my diet. I ate more cucumbers. Until the day came that I tried to eat a pickle.

I still didn’t like it. But I persevered, and worked out combinations of things that went really well with pickles and made them more tolerable to me. (Realising that pickles and tomatoes offset each other’s sharpness and sweetness helped me adopt them as a snack food.)

Don’t let your dietary choices be constrained by childhood hangups. You can change, and your life can be better for realising that you have more control over your preferences than you previously thought.

I adopted this same philosophy when trying foods that I’d never eaten before. I had an aversion to gelatinous textures, to soft tofu, anything fermented, and more. I can now say that I love eating all of these things, and it has improved my diet tenfold since I’m not nearly so restricted to a narrow range of foods.

Eating sustainably isn’t a destination, it’s a journey

I believe that eating well is about conscious choices, but that’s not to say I’m completely happy with my diet. I still drink some milk, and I eat eggs, although much less than I used to.

I’ve found that cutting these things out is prohibitively difficult for me and my lifestyle right now. I end up deprived of nutrients, or at a cooking dead-end, or having to expend too much time and effort to use alternatives.

For some, that’s not acceptable. But for me, I’m conscious of my decision and its ramifications, and it’s something I choose for now.

I dream of eventually having backyard chickens, and a goat who can give me milk. That will be the day that I’m completely happy with my consumption of these products.

It’s been a journey for me, and one that still continues.

Conclusion

Regardless of your feelings about climate change, if we want to sustain our resources for future generations, we should all be aiming to educate ourselves better about the impacts of our food choices.

It’s responsible to learn where food comes from, the water and feed that it took to produce it, the miles that it travelled to the supermarket. Look at the labels on the food you eat and think about the process it went through to get to you.

Science tells us that Western diets do need to change. They’re bad for the environment, and they’re making us ill.

But changing your diet to something healthier and more sustainable shouldn’t be an uphill struggle.

You can make small changes, and feel good about them. Changing everything overnight is just not feasible in the context of our busy modern lives.

And you shouldn’t feel pressured to label your diet choices. Even tiny changes will make an impact.

Regardless of what your journey looks like, I can tell you for sure that by starting to make small changes to more sustainable food options, you’ll feel healthier, cut down on diet-related guilt, and enjoy feeling educated and in control of what you eat.

I hope this post has been useful in sharing a little about my approach to eating better. You can comment below if you have any questions about this that you’d like me to answer.

Thanks for reading! 😊

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