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Exciting. Tasty. Healthy. There’s a lot to be said for being flexible in a new lifestyle

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a four-part series about the impact of human meat consumption on global climate crisis and strategies to deal with it. To read parts one and two, click here, here and here.

By John Keeble

You know that meat-eating is wrecking the planet and that fish-eating is plundering the seas. You want to do something to help, something that will benefit the future generations. But what, and how?

Scientist say that reducing your meat consumption is the biggest single thing an individual can do to help combat global warming – so maybe you can adapt your diet to be less meat and fish intensive.

A new diet, heavy on tasty and exciting plant-based meals, can be fun with ideas and culinary adventures you have never considered. In addition, it will be healthier, surprisingly cheaper, and easier and quicker than you can imagine.

Now for the surprise. I am not going to tell you to become a fashionably instant vegan. In fact, I am going to tell you not to instantly go vegan unless you already have some of the new skills needed.

Baked pineapple with beet sorbet, Le Petit Jardin in Cuenca.

Changing your diet needs some thought and learning. You need to consider your health – it is no good saving yourself from a meat-related cancer and then running out of steam through not getting your nutrition right.

The answer is to start off as a flexitarian – someone who eats quite a lot of plant-based food but some meat and fish – and gradually cut down on the number of meat and fish meals as you find and cook more healthy plant-based dishes. This could be a year-long project, maybe longer, but eventually you will have made the change with knowledge and enjoyment.

You can start with one or two days a week eating plant-based meals. Do that for a couple of months before increasing to more days meat-free.

Take an interest in the thousands of good meals you can prepare and serve, and begin building some knowledge about the nutritional values of vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains. Explore the great, nutritious foods available locally – my favourites include Nectar tienda (for various foods) and Good Affinity weekday lunch restaurant (for tofu and soy sauce to take home, but try the lunch options while you are there).

Dietician Susan Burke March wrote a very interesting nutrition article in Cuenca High Life. It compares various diet options and points out the benefits to your health and the condition of the planet.

The internet is full of information. Blogs and websites are useful and free. You can find what suits you, but an example is Scott Burgett’s how to start a flexitarian diet and what to eat. Websites include LiveNaturally, which gives some good advice.

There are countless books too, though some seem to be a little on the pricey side. On the other hand, $15 for a book that helps you change your life could be worth it to you.

It would be difficult to list all the sources of free quality recipes, advice on such options as egg replacements, and briefings on nutritional values. Just google vegan or vegetarian recipes. Websites, blogs, YouTube… you will not know what to try first.

OneGreenPlanet.org is good. It comes up with timely ideas as well as everyday recipes. At the moment it is running recipes for The Ultimate Vegan Thanksgiving Menu: From Meatless Main Courses to Dairy-Free Pies. They look delicious!

If you live in Cuenca, you will already have a community of people to answer questions – including where to buy ingredients and which restaurants are worth visiting. The Facebook group Cuenca Vegans & Vegetarians has more than 300 members. It is not just for veg*ns. Everyone moving towards a plant-based diet, including flexitarians, is welcome.

As for restaurants, most will be able to offer you vegetarian or vegan options. However, some try harder than others. Among my favourites are Le Petit Jardin (French cuisine, TripAdvisor’s No 1 of 603 Cuenca restaurants), Paradise and Rasoi Indian restaurants, and Tiesto’s (Ecuadorian cuisine, 1,800+ reviews).

Dena Jo Kanner, a member of Cuenca Vegans & Vegetarians, is working on a list of vegan, vegetarian and veg*n-friendly restaurants in the Cuenca area. It will be available soon to give you a very wide choice.

As a lifelong veg*n, it amazes and delights me how easy it is to be veg*n (or flexitarian) now – and how many people are embracing it with careful enthusiasm.

I guess these are diet ideas of their time as the health risks of meat-eating, the cruelties inflicted on animals, the damage to the planet’s climate and the plundering of the seas come together in people’s minds.

Where do you stand on these issues?
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John Keeble is an international photo-journalist living in Cuenca. He “retired” after 25 years with The Guardian in London and has spent the past 14 years giving media services to NGOs as well as writing about and illustrating social issues.