Plant-Based Eating: Top Tips
Moving to a plant-based diet is one of the easiest lifestyle changes we can make to significantly reduce our carbon footprints. To quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “A shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein in regions with excess consumption of calories and animal-source food can lead to substantial reductions in emissions, while also providing health benefits… Plant-based diets can reduce emissions by up to 50% compared to the average emission intensive western diet.”
Having been vegetarian for over 30 years and vegan for nearly a decade, I’m delighted by the massive increase in popularity of veganism in recent years. It’s now easier and more “normal” than it’s ever been to eat plant-based food. Whether you’re doing Veganuary or simply want to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, here are my personal plant-based eating tips.
To minimise your emissions even more than just avoiding meat, dairy and eggs, try to eat with the seasons. By eating seasonal fruit and veg that’s grown locally, or at least in the UK, you are cutting the distance your food has to travel. It’s also likely to be fresher and more nutritious if it hasn’t had a long journey to reach your plate. Eating out of season asparagus flown from South America is not the most sustainable option! Eating by the seasons is also more interesting as you get a varied diet throughout the year. Here’s a month-by-month guide to what’s in season.
It’s really easy to replace eggs in baking by mixing 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of cold water (equivalent of 1 egg). Try to use British-grown flaxseed (a.k.a. linseed) if you can. I use flaxseed as an egg replacement in recipes for cakes, burgers and anything that needs a binder. I’ve seen recipes that use tofu as a substitute for eggy dishes such as scrambled eggs or omelettes, but haven’t tried cooking these myself (I’m not a fan of the taste of tofu). If you are going to eat eggs, organic free-range ones are the most sustainable option, as the chickens won’t have been fed GM feed or feed from deforestation.
Non-dairy milk is now widely available in supermarkets, with a huge variety of different types to choose from, such as soya, almond, rice, coconut and oat milk. As a rule, all plant-based milk is better for the environment than real dairy milk and a lot depends on your personal preference. Oat milk is probably the most sustainable option, and some milk delivery services supply it in reusable glass bottles. There are issues with pesticide use in the production of almond milk, with detrimental effects on bees, so organic almond milk is the better choice here. If you like coconut milk, try to pick a Fairtrade or organic brand. Packaging is another consideration and at the very least go for a product with recyclable packaging. There are easy recipes for making your own nut or oat milk, which reduces packaging waste and avoids any additives. Personally, I make my own almond or oat milk in my Nutribullet! There’s more info on plant-based milk here.
I can’t say much about vegan cheese, as I personally don’t like it – the ones I’ve tried are really processed and part of me thinks if you want to eat something that tastes like cheese, eat the real thing! However, there is obviously a huge market for non-dairy cheese, which is a good thing if it helps reduce dairy consumption.
In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the amount of vegan meat substitutes that are widely available in supermarkets, from burgers to nuggets to sausage rolls. I’m not really into food that’s meant to be like meat, but there is clearly a demand for plant-based “meat”. It’s a growing market, presumably mainly among people who have given up meat for environmental reasons but still want to eat food that resembles meat. I’ll have a vegan burger or sausage every now and again, usually at a BBQ, and some of them are really tasty – others not so much! It’s worth trying out different brands to find your favourites. For ideas, check out Jane’s vegan sausage review.
British Grown Food
As a vegan, I sometimes get comments from meat-eaters like “that hummus you’re eating can’t be that eco-friendly as the chickpeas were grown in India – it’s much better for the environment to eat British beef”! Well, actually, the carbon footprint of chickpeas from India is still much less than a British steak. However, the point here is you can reduce the environmental impact of your plant-based food choices even further by opting for British-grown products where they exist. For example, you can buy British-grown chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, beans and pumpkin seeds online from Hodmedod’s, and their products are stocked in a number of refill stores.
Where to Shop
Supermarkets sell a variety of plant-based foods at affordable prices and are convenient places to shop. However, one downside to supermarket shopping is the amount of excess plastic packaging – organic bananas in a plastic wrap and tiny packets of nuts, for example! If there’s a zero waste refill shop near you, you can take your own containers for dried goods such as beans, lentils, seeds, rice, nuts and pasta, and massively reduce your waste – see our beginner’s guide to zero waste shops. Another option if you have enough storage space is to bulk buy from an online store such as Ethical Superstore or Real Plastic Free, where you can usually get a discount for buying in bulk and most of the packaging is plastic-free. For organic fruit and veg, we highly recommend Riverford for seasonality, quality, plastic-free packaging and ethics.
I use a lot of lentils and beans in my meals! For example, in curries, soups, cottage pies, salads, lasagnes and pasta sauces. I’ve got lots of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, but I’d say the ones I use most are:
River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (I like this as Hugh F-W uses simple ingredients that you can easily substitute if you don’t have something)
The Green Kitchen and Green Kitchen Travels by David Frenkiel & Luise Vindahl (a lot of the recipes are on their blog if you want to check that out first, they do use a few obscure ingredients in some of the recipes though)
I’ve got lots of easy seasonal recipes from our Riverford veg box, and their cookbook is good, but again, lots of the recipes are on their website
Eat Smart by Niomi Smart (all vegan recipes, this was a random second hand find, but I use it quite a bit)
The Blender Girl by Tess Masters (some good ideas here if you’ve got a Nutribullet, she also has a website)
I really enjoy exploring new vegan recipes and creating delicious plant-based meals. Plant-based eating is a fun eco-action and an easy win for the climate, nature, your health and your tastebuds! Changing to a more plant-based diet is a small individual step you can take, but collectively, as more of us make the switch, it is a giant leap towards fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity.