Jazz Sandhu - Founder, The Hour
Our diets are like our DNA - unique. With that in mind, I decided to become a vegetarian for the second time in my life. And keeping it a personal journey is why it's working for me.
In November last year I decided to turn to a plant-based diet. This would be the second time I removed animal products from my diet – the first was a 5 year period between the ages of 17-23.
Aged 23, I was living in Milan, and had spent two years in Italy struggling to be given anything other than a side of vegetables as a main when eating out! One Sunday, the smell of bacon just got me more than usual... and I was a meat eater again.
Looking back, it’s interesting how even the terminology has changed in that time. When I first became a vegetarian 20 odd years ago, the phrase ‘plant-based’ hadn’t entered people’s vocabulary. Today, I rarely hear the term vegetarian – it’s either vegan or plant-based.
I’d always known I would one day return to a vegetarian diet. And last November was the moment for me. There was no catalyst – just a conscious choice.
Choosing to change your diet
The reason to eliminate animal-products from a diet is very much personal. For some, it’s ethical and principles of not eating sentient beings (my primary reason). For others, it’s environmental and for some like my parents, faith-based. And the more you ask people; you discover there’s a plethora of other reasons too. Whatever your reason may be to stop eating animal products or animal by-products, it helps to remember you don’t have to justify it to others. 20 years ago, I was constantly challenged to ‘stop being fussy and just eat meat’. Much like when I was a smoker and was constantly told to ‘just stop’.
There’s definitely an element of willpower when it comes to dietary change as there is with giving up smoking – and I’d argue addiction. Having an awareness of these before making any changes helps.
So I set out with a mindset of being ready for days where I’d be ‘transitioning’. A few burgers were had. Oh and a bacon sandwich following a festive-period hangover in December!
Ditch the labels and throw away the rule book
I’m an advocate of not getting hung up on labels. The labels tend to come with other people’s (or a movement’s) interpretations. A person’s diet is hugely personal. And our reasons for altering our diets vary hugely. I consider myself a vegetarian. 20 years ago, for me that meant not eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy. However, I chose to still eat eggs if they were an ingredient in cakes and continued to have dairy. But I would never eat eggs – be they poached, fried or scrambled. And I had very strong feelings on how ‘wrong’ egg consumption was.
Today, I eat similarly. However, I continue to eat eggs – be they poached, scrambled or otherwise. And I plan to transition to eliminating eggs altogether. To me, that is being a vegetarian. Yet, it seems society deems vegetarians as egg eaters. Again, ditch the label and the rules.
I continue to, and will continue to, wear leather, wool, eat honey and have foods containing gelatin. Why? Because I’m not joining a movement. I’ve chosen to make changes that I feel are right for me, my conscience and my ethics. And these differ for all of us.
The rules around various diets really don’t help the wider population. My advice to anyone looking to reduce their consumption of animal products from their diet is to forget any rules and start by transitioning. Remove what you find easiest. For some that will be dairy. For others red meat.
5 tips to eating less animal products
Here are my recommendations to changing your diet to one that contains LESS animal products:
Ditch the labels – don’t make any grand statements about your choice and just start your journey.
Accept it will be a transition – don’t tell yourself you must ‘stick to it’. The mindset of restriction won’t help.
Note your favourite meals and explore meat-free versions – tofu katsu curry has replaced my chicken katsu curry penchant just fine!
Know your macro-nutrient and calorie needs – there’s a plethora of resource online showing calorie and macro-nutrient calculations for meat-free meals and ingredients. It’s vital you avoid energy slumps and vitamin/mineral deficiency by eating poorly balanced meals.
Avoid turning to microwaveable and processed meat-free meals as a go-to. Meals should be healthy whether meat-based or meat-free. The lazy-vegan or lazy-vegetarian is a thing and often convenience is the cause of poor-quality diets in vegan/vegetarian diets.
Meat-free hacks that have helped
These are the shopping and food hacks that have saved me time and provided taste!
Aldi has been a revelation – their ‘Foodie Market’ line includes Black Bean Spaghetti and Edamame and Mung Bean Fettucine. Not only do these taste just like pasta, they have no other ingredients AND have more protein than a chicken pasta dish!
Tofu – The Tofoo Company’s Naked Tofu doesn’t need pressing or draining and each pack comes with recipes for us tofu virgins.
Batch-cook – I find roasting a big batch of veg each week sets me up for the week. All I need to do is add a protein source: see pasta or tofu above.
Burgers – back to Aldi. They have two veggie burgers in their range – a beetroot burger which is lovely and meaty, and a sweet potato burger which has a nice spicy kick.
Recipes – if unlike me, you are eliminating eggs, there is a wealth of recipe resources online. This week I wanted to make a banana cake, but didn’t want to purchase eggs (something I haven’t bought in months). So, I found a lovely banana and carrot-cake vegan recipe which was quick and tasted just delicious. No complicated ingredients either.
Eating out – almost every restaurant (certainly in London) now caters for vegetarians and vegans). If you’re transitioning, eating out is a good time to have meat or poultry. I found starting by not having chicken/meat/eggs at home but allowing myself to when out was perfect.
Choosing to eat less meat or no animals at all, needn’t be a huge change in lifestyle. It’s never been easier. Just start by knowing your why, doing some research and taking it slowly and not placing yourself in a ‘dietary box’.
Founder, The Hour