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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.

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

  1. That sounds great. But…what about life styles that include using, private jets, te Lamborghinis that get 6 mpg and massive private yachts? Shouldn’t this level personal carbon pollution be the first we are suggesting to be changed?

    1. Greenhouse gas emissions from internal combustion engines are but a fraction of the problem, as compared to those generated from the commercial production of animal-based protein consumables. One should consider all areas of improvement, not just one or the other.

  2. In 1974, I stopped eating flesh due to my concerns about the planet. Over the past 45+ years, as a military dependent and then a pilot myself, I’ve visited or lived in 49 U.S. States, most Provinces of Canada, Europe, Mexico, Central America, and now, I reside in Ecuador, South America. I’ve watched so much of our environment go from pristine natural settings to overpopulated examples of human disrespect for Mother Earth. Generally, over nearly five decades, I have worked very hard at doing as much as possible to encourage people to eat the wide variety of options we have to choose from – especially food in its natural form. Examples are an apple or a peach where the “leftover” seeds nourish our soil. Yet, marketing – like Ronald McDonald – has overtaken our waistlines, our culinary creativity, and littered our streets with “take out containers.” Why do so few people see that outcome?

    1. I’m not exactly “Johnny Appleseed,” but I have visited a few local smaller eating establishments where the food was awful! That or my taste buds are dead! At least McDonalds is clean and you don’t see anyone in the back picking their nose. I have experienced various levels “culinary creativity” in the form of various levels of food poisoning at a few of these other places and a very serious bout from a restaurant in Ricaurte. I just wish we could get a Wendy’s and Carl’s jr. like in Guayaquil.

    2. Bravo to your post, as I suspect you are preaching to the choir. The problem you have so well identified is that people refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.

  3. People make environmental decisions several times daily when they choose what to eat. Articles, like this one, increase global consciousness about the power of such choices. Even, Bill Gates says that “the future of meat is vegan” because the current course is unsustainable. Thanks for writing it!

  4. It is good to reinforce the issues involved with production of animal protein for our diets, not to mention the heath benefits of developing a plant-based diet. Sticking your head into the sand is a time-honored practice that has caused many people to have the chronic lifestyle diseases we spend billions of dollars treating. These are personal choices like smoking that are not easy, but totally up to the individual, and something that CAN be changed, unlike many variables that cannot. It’s time to buck up and take some responsibility on a personal level. So we plan to fully embrace a flexitarian lifestyle once we are in Ecuador (we currently live this lifestyle here in the US in preparation for our lifestyle migration).

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