So, when do you make the old switcheroo from a meat-reduced diet to a fully plant-based diet? Say you have cut out red meat from your diet, but you still eat chicken, fish, dairy and eggs. What goes off your list next? Interestingly enough, there are a few ways to make the transition without feeling like you’re withdrawing, but one of the best methods is starting with your least favorite foods.
For instance, if you love seafood, start by cutting out beef first. Beef is usually one of the easier ones to give up, because of the “red meat” craze and also since we don’t eat it that often compared to, say, chicken and eggs. As you work your way to cutting out everything but seafood, go down to the actual animals you are ingesting. First cut out shrimp, then tuna, then tilapia, then codfish, then crab, then lobster and then crawfish (that’s if you’ve ever had crawfish, of course). Sometimes, we forget that there are even that many marine animals that people eat, so even if you don’t eat it already, cross it off your list. Soon, you’ll have no animal products left!
Despite what your mother tells you, it’s time to start crying over spilled milk. Rarely can anyone make an immediate transition to a plant-based diet without relapsing out of necessity — namely, getting sick or nutrient-deficient. But the good news is that taking one food group out at a time will drastically improve your chances of staying on a vegetarian diet longer. Dairy, as the idiom suggests, is one of the hardest foods to give up, because it is literally addictive (see my March 7 article, “Concerning cheese”). Usually, this food is the last for some people to give up, and it marks the instrumental transition from a vegetarian to a vegan diet — you gain additional super powers for every year that you stay vegan. Eggs can be difficult to give up also, because nearly every normal or store-brand baked good contains eggs and diary. Even if you don’t eat eggs for breakfast, you might be ingesting part of one in a MorningStar breakfast patty.
Of course there are those weird ones that people forget about if you make the “full” transition. Honey is considered an animal product; however, I’ve met vegans that make an exception for that food. Depending on how the honey was produced — which is normally by centrifuging the honey comb but sometimes by destroying the comb, the bees and their queen with it to extract the honey — it can be a tricky food. Yet, honey is easily replaceable with the delectable agave nectar that tastes just as good if not better. In addition, gelatin is an animal product, because it is made from boiling bones and ligaments from other parts of animals. It is used in candy, marshmallows and even the coating of dietary supplements, however, there are alternative plant-based capsules out there for vegans. Even weird things like oleic acid (found in plants but also animal fat) in soaps, carminic acid and other food dyes in candy, and lactose in non-dairy products are particularly hard to discover until you’ve already bought the product. After a while, though, you start getting experienced in what has animal ingredients and what doesn’t.
The old switcheroo to a plant-based diet seems like a lot of work, because well, it is a lot of work. However, the benefits are infinite. You will feel better when you start getting rid of animal products, simply because fruits and vegetables generally have more nutrients per calorie than animal products do. With a more varied diet of nutrient-dense foods, a diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds that meets your personal caloric need will make you feel better, even if you mess up sometimes and eat the wrong thing. The best part about a plant-based diet is that no one cares if you make a mistake, because despite the popular criticism, there are very few vegan police officers out there to issue you a citation. Be plant strong!
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected].
“Moo Over This” publishes biweekly.