A guide to vegan lifestyle

assiette-veganIn Montréal, it is easy to be green !

In 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change, a group mandated by the UN to provide governments with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies, issued a report stating that we cannot continue to ignore the effect that human activity is having on the planet. Doing so would mean certain death for our species and for much of life as we know it. The report examined how a continued warming of the Earth to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels would affect life on Earth in precise scientific terms, and issued this prescription to the world community: Act now! Or else! (I am paraphrasing here.)

The IPCC Report had the effect of a meteor crashing to Earth—we could not ignore it, but we weren’t quite sure what to do with it. We have known for a long time that we have to stop burning fossil fuels, although this realization has yet to percolate up to our elected representatives.

However, even as the Canadian and Québec governments continue to shill for the oil and gas industry, scientists, Indigenous communities, and citizens’ groups have been researching solutions and taking actions, like the fossil-fuel divestment movement. And the IPCC report served to draw attention to Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown which boldly proclaims itself “The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” To write this book, Hawken gathered a qualified and diverse group of researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.

Notice that a “plant-rich diet” is number four on that list. Consider also, that as an individual, this is a solution that you can act on immediately and with direct impact on the world.

Drawdown top ten solutions

drawdown-top-ten
In a new-year tradition-meets-global-awakening effect, suddenly everywhere articles abound on the importance of a plant-based diet. As I write this, the Canada Food Guide has announced that in its new version of the Guide, Dairy will no longer be considered a food group in its own right–it has been demoted to be henceforth a mere member of the Protein food group, along with lentils, legumes and nuts–which is momentous: The long-held myth that one “needs” animal-based protein has been implicitly debunked. (It is a little bit as though proportional representation has come to food—can a PR government be far behind?)

Perhaps you have been toying with the idea of adopting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, but you don’t know where to start. This article provides answers to a few of the questions that people typically have about a plant-rich diet, with insider resources for those living in Montréal.

I love meat and I eat it daily! How can I make such a drastic change?

The idea of transitioning to a plant-rich diet can be overwhelming… as long as it is just an idea. Once you try it, you might find it quite easy.

First of all, be clear about your motivation… are you most concerned about improving your personal health? The health of the planet? Love of animals? Love of humanity? “All of the above”?. Be clear in your mind about why you are doing this.

Second, set out the ground rules for yourself, in order to make this a sustainable lifestyle change, and not just a transitory diet. Decide whether to start with a vegetarian diet (consume no animals or fish, but still eat animal-derived products) or a vegan one (no animals or animal-derived products). Then again, if you are currently eating meat daily, you might want to start with meatless meals every-other day, and take it from there. Personally, when I first committed to a plant-rich diet, I had many reservations, so I was initially vegetarian, and later, having realized how easy this was, I become vegan. However, only you know yourself.

One key question is, do you like to cook? If the answer is yes, then, Congratulations! You will enjoy trying new recipes and exploring new tastes and foods like vegan cheeses, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nutritional yeast, and more.

If you would rather walk over hot coals than open a cookbook, no worries! There are more and more convenient vegan versions of comfort foods. Look in the frozen section of your grocery for meatless nuggets and “filets”–Gardein brand has a delicious selection—or try a vegan pizza. For easy recipes that focus on convenience, you can also order a “Vegetarian Starter Kit

What could I use to replace milk, cream and cheese?

This is an easy one! There are so many options! Why not pick up a carton of soy milk the next time that you are at the grocery? Take a moment to do a side-by-side comparison with a carton of cow’s milk. You will see that there is really little difference in terms of the vitamin and minerals. If you want to explore all the plant-based options, consider oat, almond, and rice milk; all are delicious. Personally I use soy milk most of the time, but one of these days I would like to try making oat milk, which would be cheaper than buying soy milk, and also has the advantage of eliminating the carton.
 
milk-comparaison
As for cream, once you start exploring with vegan recipes, you will see that coconut cream is a perfect substitute for cream from a cow. If you have tasted vegan pastries, you know already that there is no detectable difference! When it comes to coffee, you can use commercial non-dairy creamers like Silk.
As for vegan butter, most vegans I know use Earth Balance brand vegan butter, which is quite delicious. However, it does contain palm oil, which in my mind makes it non-vegan, since palm oil plantations destroy habitat of orangutans and other species. I personally make my own butter, using coconut oil (the refined kind, with no coconut taste) and olive oil. The recipe is here.

Cheese-lovers may find that the sheer ubiquitousness and variety of animal-derived cheeses is a stumbling block—how to give that up? Never fear! Where one door closes, another door opens! Welcome to the amazing world of vegan cheeses—which includes parmesan, cream cheese, mac-n’ cheese, feta, blue and more! You can buy many vegan cheeses ready-made at Montreal stores like Coop La Maison Verte, LOCO, Rachel Berry; Fleur Sauvage and so on, or you can make your own. A vegan version of Parmesan takes only minutes to make, and requires only a handful of cashews, nutritional yeast, and salt. You can find this and many other cheese recipes at the Urban homesteader web site. The site founder, Sheena Swirlz, also gives vegan cheese-making workshops here in Montréal.

Where will I get my protein?

More to the point, where won’t you get protein? Ha ha! There is plenty of protein in tofu, tempeh, seitan, plant-based milks, whole wheat, brocolli, cabbage, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Also, nuts and seeds often have a greater density of protein by weight than meat. For example, did you know that 3/4 cup of pumpkin seeds contains as much protein as 3 ounces of turkey, and has more glutamate, zinc, and phytosterols, not to mention copper, manganese, phosphorous, vitamin K, E, and B that are missing in the turkey? And the turkey gets to live! Yay!

The important thing is to get a wide variety of nutritious foods. Here is a poster that you might want to pin up somewhere in your kitchen :
 
vegan-protein-chart
If you want a more prescribed regimen until you feel comfortable with all these new foods, try Lise Desaulniers’ book, Le défi vegane 21 jours.

Won’t I lack vitamins on a plant-based diet?

Hmm… let me see if I understood correctly… you are about to ditch your one-food-fits-all, meat-centric Carnist diet, and embark on a nutritional odyssey of plant-rich foods, and you are worried about vitamins? Chances are, your new diet will contain a far greater scope of vitamins than your meat-and-potatoes grandparents ever dreamed of!

Seriously, though, it is commendable to be concerned about vitamins and minerals. Here is a 1-2-3 formula for ensuring that you don’t miss out.

  1. Sign up for a farmer’s basket. This will ensure that you are getting a steady, varied and ample supply of organic, local produce.
  2. Grab a pencil and make a grocery list, with these vitamin superstars on it:
    • Nutritional yeast is a good source of vitamin B12. Start with vegan parmesan, or pick up a cook book like Jean Philippe’s cookbook. You can also subscribe to his blog.
    • Flax seed is a good source of protein, calcium and Omega 3 fatty acids (which non-vegans get from eggs). Interestingly, flax seed can be used in just about any baking recipe as an egg replacer.
    • Chia seeds contain Omega 3, fibre, and myriad other vitamins and minerals. Throw them in a smoothie for instant benefits.
    • Tofu and tempeh (calcium, manganese, copper, selenium, protein and phosphorus; plus, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1.) Pick up some coconut milk while you’re at it, and try a tofu butter chicken recipe. My favorite is from chef Jean Philippe Cyr, but there are plenty of English versions on line.

3. Pick up a good cookbook, or subscribe to a vegan blog (or both!). My favorites so far are Oh She Glows and La Cuisine de Jean-Philippe.

What about eating out?

In Montréal or in any large city, you can find vegan options on the menu of most restaurants. But don’t let that stop you from exploring the really world class, vegan restaurants that abound in this metropolis. Download the HappyCow app, and whereever you are, you will be able to locate nearby veg restaurants.
Some of my favorites here in Montréal: Chu Cha, LOV, Lola Rosa, Panthere Verte, Sushi Momo, Vego, Vegano.

Just about everyone I know eats meat… where will I get moral support?

Some suggestions:

Good luck on your vegan adventure!

Cym Gomery

A guide to vegan lifestyle
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