Going Green

A little over a month ago I decided to make some big changes in order to craft a happier and healthier life for myself. Some of those changes were specific to my job and the work that I do, but the majority of them were personal lifestyle changes that I’ve ultimately always wanted to make but have had a hard time keeping up with. One of those changes, perhaps the most difficult of them all, has to do with my eating habits: I am now slowly “going green”– or shall I say, learning how to eat and enjoy a plant-based diet.

When I was young, this was something that interested me out of my love for animals and my lack of enthusiasm for the taste of most meat and seafood. But a plant-based diet was tough to keep up with when I was not the one buying groceries or preparing meals.

I’ve been out of my parents house for many years now, buying my own groceries and preparing my own meals. But in that time, I fell victim to this strange “all-or-nothing” mindset that I feel is too often reinforced by the plant-based community– a mindset that makes it seem near impossible for the layman to entertain a plant-based lifestyle.

So what is this “all-or-nothing” mindset I’m talking about? Well, here come the trigger words that I typically like to avoid… While not everyone does, a lot of people who talk about their ‘Vegan’ or ‘Vegetarian’ diets have a bad tendency of shaming ‘Meat-Eaters’ for their dietary habits. To these types, you are either a veg-head or a murderer and there is no in-between. While I understand where the passion (and even the frustration) comes from, in my eyes, the approach is both inappropriate and ineffective.

Instead of shaming and trying to force people out of the eating habits they currently depend on to survive, I propose an approach that involves the encouragement of variety. By teaching and encouraging people to add even more healthy, plant-based foods to their current diet, one can provide them with options that guide them, and ultimately the world, towards a healthier and more humane lifestyle.

To be clear, I have no political agenda. I love animals and I hate to seem them treated poorly or birthed for slaughter, but my reasons for making this change are mine own. I have found that I personally feel better when I incorporate more plants into my diet. I feel healthier, lighter, more energized and more alert. My depression isn’t as bad, my skin clears up, and it has been having a positive effect on my other PCOS symptoms** as well.

And because I am not forcing myself to go all out, making these changes has been both easy and affordable for me. I began the process by doing two things: raising my awareness, and altering a couple of my go-to food choices.

Raising your own awareness of the things you put into your body is something I’d recommend that everyone do. You don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to, just be aware and informed. We live in a society where a lot of our foods are basically prepared for us. By raising your awareness, you can alter your diet to better suit your personal needs, you can learn new cooking “tricks” and tips, you can learn how to save money on your favorite recipes, etc.. For example, I recently learned that I can make double the amount of pasta sauce that you get in a jar for nearly half the price, by making it myself.

And when I make it myself, I have complete control over the ingredients and thus every aspect of the final product.

I also believe that raising our awareness is important, because doing so makes it possible for us to be grateful for the animal products that we do consume. It is not uncommon for people to thank God or the Breadwinner for the food on their plate, but it is much less common that people show any sort of respect for the animal that gave up their life for that same meal. Now, when I eat animal products, I take a moment to remind myself where they came from. Personally, I like to imagine the animal grazing in a huge, open field, having a wonderful life. I’m not sure why this exact image comes to me, but it’s one that makes me feel grateful. I do this for all animal products including milk, cheese, and eggs. For sea creatures, I imagine the sea. Doing this not only helps me to feel and express gratitude when I do consume animal products, but it also makes me feel even better when I chose not to consume animal products, as I can imagine those same animals still living happily in their fields.

So I also mentioned that I’ve started altering a few of my go-to food choices, and I’d like to share them with you guys so you have an idea of how easy it can be. Again, I’m not asking you to cut animal products out of your diet, I’m just sharing some easy recipes and ideas that I really enjoy. This is about variety and having options. In the future, I may even post full recipes to my blog (because I absolutely love cooking), but for now I’ll just give you the gist of them:

Pasta with red sauce – oh how novel! I have pasta at least once a week and often more than that, so it seemed like an easy recipe to alter.

Instead of buying a pack of ground beef and a jar of sauce, I now buy a huge can of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste (for less than the price of a jar of sauce). I like to use half of each can, some spices, and I mix in a ton of veggies!

Pasta with peanut sauce – this is a super easy recipe that I’ve actually been enjoying for many years now. Cook the pasta as usual. In a separate bowl combine 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I like to add extra), 1/2 cup hot water, 2 tbsps soy sauce, 1 tsp minced garlic. Change the flavor of the sauce by adding one of the following to taste: sesame oil, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes, etc… They’re all delicious and a great way to mix up your pasta options.

Bean burritos – this is another recipe that I’ve been enjoying for years. Tortilla, brown rice (white rice is also fine), refried beans, tomatoes, onions, and salsa or taco sauce.

Vegetable soup – vegetable broth and a ton of veggies! Add pasta to make it a noodle soup. To be honest, I’ve been having a hard time finding vegetable broth sold near me, so I’ve been limited to chicken broth, but I’ve stopped adding meat to my soups. I’ve also started saving my extra veggie clippings to make some vegetable broth myself! Leftover clippings and water– it really doesn’t get much cheaper than that. If you’re not interested in cutting meat out of your diet, consider doing something like this. The soup still tastes like chicken, but it’s full of healthy veggies instead of additional animal products.

Fruit and veggie smoothies – these are perfect for any time of day, but I particularly like to pound them in the morning. If you have a blender, then all you need are the ingredients! If you’re not comfortable putting veggies in your smoothies yet, that’s okay, you can still get a full serving of fruits! My go-to green smoothie is an adaptation of The Best Green Smoothie by ilovevegan. I use 1 cup of homemade almond milk (any milk works fine), 1-2 handfuls of spinach, 2 frozen bananas, 2 soft pitted dates, 1/2 tbsp peanut butter, 2 frozen cubes of almond meal for extra protein (optional) and 1 tbsp of flax and chia seeds (optional). Blend all the ingredients together and enjoy. It tastes like bananas and peanut butter, but it’s even better for you than that!

Salad wraps – tortilla, veggies, salad dressing. Why didn’t I think of making these at home sooner?

Almond milk – seriously guys, try some plant based milks. They’re delicious and they go down so easily. There are like 10 different kinds so if you’re allergic or just don’t like one of them, you may like one or more of the others. There’s nothing wrong with having both plant milk and cow’s milk in your fridge.

So anyway, I hope this post has given you something to think about and possibly even some inspiration to add more plants to your diet. Even if you continue to consume animal products at your current frequency, remember to eat your vegetables 😉

xoxo, Ayla

P.S. If you know other easy, affordable plant based recipes or substitution ideas, I’d love to hear them! Drop a comment below, tweet them at me on Twitter, or let me know via Private Email.

** PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder most commonly found in women of reproductive age. My depression and anxiety are probably directly related to this while my irregular periods, presumed infertility, increased testosterone levels, decreased estrogen levels, acne, and very mild hirsutism are definitely related to this.

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