Year for the Planet Week 43: The Road to a Plant-Based Diet

Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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One thing I realized in the past few weeks was that the more I aspired to have a sustainable, planet-friendly, zero-waste diet, the more I ended up going towards a plant-based one. I didn’t seek to do this, but whoa—I’m slowly turning vegan, and am optimistic that I can stick to it (or at least be mostly so) beyond this project.

I usually say that I’m pescetarian, but nowadays I don’t even need seafood. I try not to join any dietary “tribe” and instead seek to eat for balance, and so through the years fad diets such as Whole 30, Paleo, juice cleanses, and today’s ketogenic trend pass me by without my batting an eyelash.

A plant-based diet just became more convenient. It was easier to store raw nuts instead of, say, slabs of beef. And plants are just more versatile. A bag of cashew nuts can be an ingredient in energy bites, a source of nut milk, or as I learned this week (more later), vegan cheese.

At this point, I also try to leave room for an occasional indulgence (i.e. A warm comforting hug in the form of a bowl of mac and cheese), not because I don’t enjoy what I eat—because I really do—but also because there have been and will be occasions when I have to be flexible. I don’t want to die hungry when trapped in a bodega that only has fish and chips in stock, which is a funny scenario until you realize it’s actually in the realm of possibility. I also see it as developing immunity—if I’m too “clean”, I don’t want to suddenly get sick if I accidentally eat something “bad” when I travel or when I eat out. I think it’s important to have a tolerance for most things.

So this week, I explore what I need to change if I were to go on a completely vegan diet. Here are the last animal-based products I gave up (or at least drastically reduced):

1. Cheese

Cheese gives me life, so my road to a plant-based diet is littered with roadblocks of mozzarella and potholes of raclette. There is a fancy hotel chain that has a special temperature-controlled cheese room that I secretly wish I would be trapped in for a few hours, if only to eat as much cheese as possible. But in Asia, natural cheese (as opposed to “processed cheese food” which I now realize is an alarming term) is often expensive, full of plastic packaging, and finding it can sometimes be stressful because of increasing demand especially around the holidays. And so this week, I tried making my own vegan cheese using cashews as a base. And hurray! Making my own cheap, cruelty-free, cashew-based cheese takes 15 minutes. It doesn’t taste exactly like my regular mozzarella, more like the strange lovechild of cheese, hummus, and gravy.

2. Eggs

I make sure I get eggs that are labeled free range, cage free, or organic, though many an activist website will tell you that labels can be misleading. In any case, I’ve been getting organic eggs that are fortified with selenium or omega-3 because they are available in most of the stores I go to, and hey, it’s great to have all these extra nutrients since I don’t like taking supplements. Because I’m very active, I need this protein for my daily breakfast omelette. However! Substituting eggs with tofu also does the trick, though the downside is that it takes longer to cook since it needs additional ingredients to make it resemble an omelette.

And surprisingly, that’s it! Eating a plant-based diet is also like getting a facial from the inside, and my skin hasn’t broken out in weeks. Everything else I’m eating grew out of a seed and all my meals are something I made, which I’ve realized is how it should be.

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