Switching to a Plant Based Diet - Can you be a part time Vegetarian / Vegan?
As a Nutritionist in Thailand, the subject of meat consumption seems to come up frequently. So many of us ex-patriots living here in Phuket, have arrived here from Western countries where the volume of meat consumed is alarming to say the least! I certainly know from my 14 years in Australia that what is considered the ‘norm’ over there, would be fairly abhorrent to a Thai person. BBQ is a cultural mainstay of the land Down Under but a piece of steak to feed one grown man just ONE meal over there would feed a family of five in Thailand - for a week! It has been fascinating to observe the way in which the local people prioritize food groups on the plate, with animal protein being widely available but in significantly lower quantities (the vegetables mostly take centerstage). Whilst the Thai diet is by no means perfect, it is also interesting to note that the incidence of diet related diseases is significantly lower than in its Western counterparts where meat and animal products are consumed in abundance.
These observations, coupled with an increasing understanding of the widespread damage Industrial Agriculture is doing to our planet, have peaked my interest in Vegetarian and Vegan cuisine and so I found myself embarking on a course for Vegan & Vegetarian Nutrition. The reasons for deciding to become vegetarian or vegan are of course many & varied as well as extremely personal for some people.
Switching to a plant-based diet is not something that usually happens over night and from a biological perspective, it is safer this way. Just as the mental and emotional transition is usually gradual, the physical switch is also better done over a period of time so the body can adjust and nutritional deficiencies are less likely. As a Child Nutritionist, this is particularly applicable for growing children – any parent considering switching their children to a plant-based diet needs a good understanding of nutrition, essential nutrients and clear plan to follow with consistent monitoring.
So, you might be wondering, what am I? I am what is apparently termed a ‘flexitarian’. I state this in the full knowledge that I am quite possibly putting myself in the firing line of many long standing vegans for whom veganism is more than a lifestyle choice and rather a way of life built on core beliefs which having nothing to do with current fads or mainstream marketing tactics. For me, from a dietary perspective: I don’t eat red meat at all, I consume virtually no dairy but I do still enjoy chicken once a week (at home) and seafood a handful of times. I source my chicken and fish from organic, free range or sustainable sources and as a qualified Environmental Nutritionist, I am extremely mindful of the ‘source’ when it comes to all food choices for myself and my family. Do I feel physically better for it? HELL YES! My recent cholesterol results were nigh on perfect and I certainly have more energy. One day, not so far from now, I fully expect to be a Vegetarian and I look forward to when that time comes.
The health & environmental benefits of transitioning to a more plant-based diet are so far reaching it would require a separate blog just to gloss over them! However EVEN if we are not yet fully vegetarian or vegan, starting the process of making more conscious choices and being mindful of the environmental impact our choices have, can and will benefit both us as individuals and the planet we live on. If we can focus on the ‘can-dos’ rather than the ‘have-nots’ we stand a much better chance of collectively helping the earth to heal and in the process, healing ourselves.
“If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do. It's staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.” - Sir Paul McCartney