Sustainable Sunday: How To Start A Plant-Based Diet
In recent years, scientists have confirmed that following a vegan or plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce environmental impact, on account of the widespread deforestation that is happening to meet global demands of meat and dairy.
For Joyce Shih, this was yet another reason for her to continue her plant-based journey, which started with a shift into vegetarianism at only 13 years old after learning about the cruelty of the meat industry. And as a Pilates instructor, she was later drawn to the health benefits of following a plant-based diet, which she explains is not quite the same as the term 'vegan', despite many using these terms interchangeably:
"Vegans avoids all animal by-products including meat, eggs, dairy and honey for ethical reasons, but this choice also extends beyond diet into lifestyle decisions. With the plant-based diet, there is a bigger health element that comes into play. It focuses more on consuming plants and whole foods, rather than processed foods."
In Malaysia, there are many F&B establishments such as Sala, Licky Chan, Hungry Tapir and Kind Kones, which are now catering to vegetarians and vegans, but eating out every day may be difficult for the average person. The all-round fitness and health guru shares her tips on how to incorporate plant-based meals into your daily life.
Explore local ingredients
The best part about exploring local ingredients is that it doesn't have to break the bank. "Tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans... Buying ingredients that are available locally means that they are more often than not fresher, cheaper and better for the environment. Imported produce are picked weeks in advance and sprayed with ripening agents, accumulating a lot of air miles on the way here. And of course, it's good to support local farmers," Shih notes.
But that is not to say that she is totally against buying imported goods. "I love that supermarkets like Qra are bringing in products that people might not be able to find in Malaysia. It's great to experiment with new vegan or plant-based recipes," she says, "But there are definitely a lot of local alternatives out there and I really encourage people to explore that first."
Regardless of where vegan shoppers want to buy their groceries, start with a simple shopping list. "It can make the whole experience less intimidating," she says. Instead of aimlessly staring at shelves of unfamiliar ingredients and brands, people can feel more confident in knowing the nutritional value of each ingredient and how they will use it in their recipes.
Embrace the mental change
"People need a strong reason why they want to become vegan or plant-based. If not, there might be a lot of subconscious resistance and they will come to resent it."
Indeed, when James Wilks' 2019 Netflix documentary Game Changers, backed by the biggest names in Hollywood including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan, became a cultural phenomenon, many in the world went cold turkey on meat and dairy only to find themselves coming back to it after some time.
"There's no need to go from zero to 100 instantly," she stresses. "It's a process. We've all been taught growing up that meat is a main component of every meal, the main source of protein. Being told suddenly that you can't have meat? Of course, it's going to be hard."
Don't try to be perfect from the get-go. If it's not working, take a step back to figure out why.
For Shih, who started as a vegetarian, she found studying and working as a head chef abroad in the UK to be educational and pivotal in preparing her to embrace a plant-based lifestyle—which is why she has dedicated her time to sharing her experience and providing resources and recipes through SSAYANG.
So start small
"Start with Meatless Mondays or change from dairy to plant-milks in your coffee; it's completely fine to start off slowly. Don't make things complicated," she says.
As a kickstarter for those who are looking to try a plant-based diet this month, she also shares her easy, go-to meals: scrambled tofu, stir-fry vegetables and miso noodle soup.
"This recipe is great for breakfast or brunch. You only need a block of firm tofu. Crumble into a pan and fry with turmeric and nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, which is really high in B vitamins and adds a nice, cheesy flavour to the dish."
"It doesn't matter what vegetables you have, throw them into a wok with a sauce and it'll always be a delicious stir-fry dish. You can always use the classic soy sauce and sesame or peanut sauce but I love playing around with different combinations. Right now, I'm loving turmeric sauce with tempeh and beans."
Photo: Ponyo Sakana/Pexels
Photo: Daria Shevtsova/Pexels
Miso Noodle Soup
"I usually cook this at night, because it's nice and warm. It can be as simple as a pot of miso soup with cooked noodles tossed in. But I like to add some vegetables like mushrooms, beans or peas to make the soup 'sweeter' and a little more nourishing."