If you’ve been out lately, you may have noticed limits on meat purchases in grocery stores and upcharges on meat-based dishes at some restaurants. COVID-19 cases in meat-processing plants have caused shortages and disruptions along the meat supply chain, with no clear resolution in sight. So if you’ve ever considered adopting a more plant-based diet, there’s no better time to start.
If the thought of going vegetarian (eliminating all meat and sometimes other animal foods) or vegan (swearing off all meat, fish, eggs, dairy and other animal-derived food products) is daunting, consider a flexitarian diet. The term—a combination of flexible and vegetarian—was coined by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who aimed to demonstrate the benefits of a plant-based diet while still eating meat in moderation.
According to Diana Edelman of Vegans, Baby!, making a plant-based meal is easier than ever. Veg-In-Out Market (2301 E. Sunset Road) is an all-vegan grocery store where you can find everything from vegan fried eggs to vegan shrimp, but plenty of grocery stores around the Valley have a strong selection to get you started.
• Go online and search for easy vegan recipes.
• Swap your kitchen staples—eggs, milk, butter, cheese, meat—and find the vegan versions. Examples: JUST Egg; plant-based milk like Milkadamia; Earth Balance or Miyokos instead of butter; Violife for melted cheese and Miyokos for cheese plates; Beyond, Impossible or Gardein for meat.
• Start cooking and experimenting.
Less a diet than a lifestyle, flexitarianism has few rules. The core tenets are sensible enough: Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains; eat more plant protein than animal protein; only eat meat and animal products from time to time; eat foods in their least-processed and most natural states; and limit added sugar.
Blatner has guidelines for adopting a flexitarian lifestyle, but it can be as simple as foregoing meat a couple of times a week to start and reducing the amount you consume the other days. No foods are forbidden; if anything, it’s adding to what’s already on your plate. For example, you can make tofu the centerpiece of a meal in lieu of chicken or beef, or you can add more vegetables and grains on the side.
“Perhaps the biggest misconception about a plant-based diet is that it’s boring and tasteless and just a plate of fruits and veggies,” says Diana Edelman, founder of the local Vegans, Baby! website. “Plant-based dishes are full of flavor, creativity and as filling as any other dish.”
Edelman continues: “Another misconception is that if you go plant-based, it’s hard to maintain. More and more restaurants in Las Vegas are offering plant-based options or increasing their offerings. [And] at home it’s gotten incredibly easy to prepare plant-based food, thanks to companies that are dedicated to eliminating animal agriculture, like Beyond Meat, Impossible and JUST. You can walk into a grocery store and find a variety of plant-based options, from frozen dishes to salad dressings.”
A flexitarian lifestyle provides an opportunity to try things beyond your normal repertoire—couscous and quinoa have become pretty mainstream, but check out freekeh, farro or amaranth. All contain more vitamins, minerals and fiber than more common grains.
Best of all, it’s not difficult to maintain. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked flexitarianism No. 2 among easiest diets to follow, behind only the Mediterranean diet. The same diet study placed it No. 3 in terms of long-term health and disease prevention.
Its potential health benefits include a lower risk of heart disease, likely due to the fact that plant-based diets are typically rich in fiber and antioxidants that can reduce blood pressure and increase good cholesterol. Plant-based diets can also lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. And for those watching their waistlines, a flexitarian diet limits high-calorie processed foods in favor of plant foods that are naturally lower in calories.
The upside of a plant-forward lifestyle also extends beyond our health. It’s good for the planet, too. According to Project Drawdown, which focuses on climate solutions, shifting to a plant-based diet could reduce emissions significantly, since cattle emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to Project Drawdown.
In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2014, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “We need to consume in such a way that keeps our compassion alive. … Reducing the amount of meat we eat and alcohol we consume by 50% is a true act of love for ourselves, for the Earth and for one another. Eating with compassion can already help transform the situation our planet is facing, and restore balance to ourselves and the Earth.”
We can all do our part, no matter how small. It can start with what we choose to put on our plate.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.