Eco-friendly Winter Holiday TipsLifestyle
I have been dabbling with the idea of becoming a vegetarian for a few years now.
I’ve done meatless Monday and tried only eating meat on the weekends. There are many reasons why I thought, and still think, that limiting my meat intake was important. First, it’s healthier. I know there is a lot of contradicting evidence about whether or not eating red meat can be detrimental for your health, but the hormones, preservatives, and dyes found in our meat definitely can be. Plus, our bodies aren’t built to break down meat eaten every meal of every day.
Secondly, its better for the environment not to eat so much meat. I’m sure many of you have heard about the Amazon rainforest fires. Though fires in the Amazon aren’t a new or irregular threat, the number of fires in the region has increased dramatically this year. Under the leadership of their current president, loggers and ranchers have been emboldened to increase the clearing of the rainforest in order to make room for cattle grazing. That is hugely problematic, considering the amount of biodiversity dwelling in those forests. Not to mention, the amount of oxygen it releases that we all rely on to breathe. In addition to the vast amount of carbon-dioxide it absorbs from the atmosphere. So for me, eating less meat was an impactful way to decrease my own carbon footprint and help a vulnerable ecosystem. All in all, I have viewed limiting my beef consumption as a win-win situation, only good things can come from it.
The news about the Amazon came right around the time I saw an organization that I follow on social media advertising a September campaign. It called for people to lower carbon emissions by giving up plastic, going meat and dairy free, or giving up cars for 21 days. The idea behind it was, it takes 21 days to make something a habit. Resulting in a lifestyle change that would continue on after the challenge. I thought to myself, this is the perfect opportunity for me to go all in, while raising money for a climate organization.
The guidelines for the challenge were to choose from one of the 3 options from Sept. 9- 30. During this time, I would raise funds to donate to the organization. It was fate, perfect timing. So, I jumped in, head first and gave up some of my most favorite foods for a month. After completing the challenge and some reflection, here is what I learned about myself and my eating habits during this experience.
- Non-dairy ice cream is bomb. I don’t care what type of milk alternative the ice cream is made of: almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, it tastes just like regular ice cream. There are so many flavors to choose from too! My kids and I made it a fun bonding activity to try out as many non-dairy ice creams we could and picked our favorites.
- The power is in the sauce. A good sauce can change the way you feel about any food item. Guacamole salsa tends to be my go-to most of the time. It’s my Frank’s hot sauce, I put that shit on everything. Hot sauce is a close second, except for Tobasco, that’s not sauce that’s just liquid peppers. But seriously, look up some easy sauces on Tasty or Pinterest, it will change your life and making giving up or limiting meat so much easier.
- I’m not a fan of meat alternatives. I’ve tried, on multiple occasions, to get into plant-based meats. Ground meat, burger patties, and even links (which was the most decent of them all). But, no matter how they were cooked or served, I didn’t really like them. It just doesn’t taste like meat. It doesn’t resemble meat nearly enough to pass. There is a very distinct aftertaste, consistent with all brands. So I decided to focus more on actual plants than trying to fill the meat void with a lab created alternative. But, to each their own. I have heard people rave about meat alternatives as well. It just wasn’t for me.
- I paid way more attention to what I was putting in my body, rather than just making and eating what was easy, convenient, and/or cheap. I found myself reading the ingredients more often. I noticed how long it had been since I last ate vegetables. I made an effort to eat them every day. My body began to behave differently after meals. I had less gas, I was less sluggish, I wasn’t feeling stuffed after meals. All good things that helped me feel more energized during my very busy days.
- I discovered some really good food I wouldn’t have normally tried. If you’re anything like me, you order the same thing when you eat at your favorite spots. Or you have the same few dishes in rotation when cooking dinner. I found that putting dietary restrictions on myself, forced me to expand my horizons. I tried many dishes that I otherwise would have completely looked over on a menu or in a grocery store. Avocado tacos, buffalo cauliflower, quinoa burgers, veggie bowls just to name a few things. Now, when I go out to restaurants I try that dish with the vegan symbol next to it, and check out the salad or veggies sections more thoroughly. I have those meatless options for quick lunches or dinners at home.
- I missed dairy…ALOT. Cheese has always been one of my favorite foods. So many dishes can be elevated with a simple sprinkle of some cheese. Every. singe. bit of my will power was tested while giving up dairy. However, as a result, I learned that not everything needs cheese to taste good. I could be satisfied by a meal without it being involved. I noticed almost immediately my digestive system reacting differently to my meals than before. That alone is worthy of celebration. It made me realize, did I really need cheese with every meal of every day? The answer is definitely no.
- I no longer felt the need or desire to eat meat every day. I’ve always been taught that meat is a small part of a healthy diet. With that said, giving up meat to focus on eating more fruits and vegetables vastly improved my eating habits. I was eating more real food, like avocado, beans, lentils, and veggies so I could feel more full. I never felt drained or like I was depriving my body from key nutrients it needed. I felt lighter, less groggy, and definitely leaner.
This last realization was by far, my most surprising revelation. Because I had tried, and failed, to give up meat so many times before, I wasn’t confident that going meatless was ever in the cards for me. But, with a little bit of discipline, minus a slip up or two, I realized that I could actually do it. If I focused more on fruits and veggies, let go of the idea of feeling stuffed, I could consciously and dramatically lower mine and my family’s meat intake. Thus improving our health while lowering our carbon footprint. See, win-win.
No doubt, giving up meat and dairy was hard. But not as hard as I thought. Going forward, this challenge changed the way I look at food. So, my biggest takeaway from this whole thing is, anyone can do this. If you’re already considering giving up meat and/or dairy, please go for it. Take the leap. If you’re NOT considering it, maybe you can start. You don’t have to stop cold turkey. You don’t have to assign yourself a time period. Just take it a day at a time. You may discover some meatless and dairy-less dishes that you love and put into your regular meal rotation. Be mindful and consider moderation. Anyone can do something to help positively impact the planet. According to 1 Million Women, the organization I raised money for, the participants of the challenge were able to save 227,000 kg of Carbon Dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Collectively changing our habits is one of those things that really can make a difference if enough of us are willing to come together and make a change. I promise you, your body, your wallet, and the rainforests will thank you.