How do we create a future in which both people and nature can thrive? This is the biggest question of our times. In the next few decades we need to do something unprecedented – achieve a sustainable existence on earth. But how do we do it?– David Attenborough, Our Planet
George Monbiot, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, David Attenborough, scientists and health professionals have all been saying it: we need to eat less animal foods and more plants. Now, in the face of the sixth extinction event, it’s even more essential to make meaningful changes, and fast. I believe that those meaningful changes could be good news for small, organic farms, too. By not eating the cheap stuff, we can save money and spend it where it counts: with local families who truly care about the countryside and the welfare of their animals.
Choosing what you feed yourself and your family is very personal. Nobody likes to be told what to eat, but the evidence is mounting.– Aoife Behan, The Scotsman
I might as well say it: I love meat. And fish. And eggs. In fact, it might be more accurate just to say that I love food – pretty much everything except Jerusalem artichokes which, let’s face it, only maniacs enjoy.
I was raised in a meat-eating family and I know how to cook with animal foods. I know how to get lots of taste into stews and curries by cooking meat on the bone, and how to lightly flavour fish. I’ve learned that you can fix pretty much any bland creation with butter, and I also find that when I pile my plate high with lean animal protein, I don’t gain weight or lose stamina as easily.
But there’s a problem: I love animals, and I love this beautiful, messed up world. And it’s becoming clear that, when it comes to animal foods and climate change, less is definitely more. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that the meat and dairy industries impact the climate more than fossil fuels.
Flexitarian – is the the way forward?
We need to start talking about values for money – not just value for money. Cutting the amount of meat we buy means we can invest in better quality when we do. Switching to free range, organic, sustainable… produce wherever possible is a win-win for the environment and for our farmers.– Aoife Behan, The Scotsman
It’s getting harder and harder for me to make excuses for an abundance of meat in my shopping basket, and I’ve been steadily cutting down over the last few months. That being said, I also know that I’m not cut out for veganism. So what’s the answer?
For me, it’s going plant-based, or flexitarian.
This is exciting to me because, I love vegetables! Eating more of them is not a hardship. And, after watching Our Planet (which I thoroughly recommend, by the way – yes, you’ll cry a little, but it’ll be worth it), even my husband – the thawed out caveman – is on-board.
In this post, I want to dive into a few things I learned from macrobiotics that enhance plant-based eating. Because, like any way of life that restricts or limits certain foods, a plant-based diet can get a little boring if you don’t do it right (just ask anyone on a diet).
Here’s what I learned from macrobiotics: 9 great principles to keep your plant-based diet interesting
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get some personalised recommendations from a friend and macrobiotic chef.
What I learned was tailored to me, and may not be applicable to macrobiotics in general. But all of these principles come to mind when I’m cooking plant-based dishes and seeking balance – which for me means not relying on the same foods all the time.
Here’s what I learned, and it’s so applicable to a plant-based diet:
1. Texture is more important than you think
Many diets fail us because they’re simply a bit boring. If you’re eating healthy foods and feeling uninspired, you may think you’re bored of tastes. But it’s actually easy to become bored of the same old textures: tender steamed veg, or soups and curries, for example. Mix up your textures. Add crunch with toasted seeds and crisp salads, or make a creamy dressing with a base of cashews or tahini. Then eat them all as part of one dish.
2. Use a range of cooking styles
Variety is the pungent condiment of life (sorry – bad macrobiotic in-joke). There are lots of ways to get bored of an eating style. Save your sanity and vary not only what you eat, but how you eat it, every day. Steaming, sauteing, roasting, mashing, toasting, baking, frying and pickling all have their role to play.
3. Sometimes you just need fried food
We all know fried food isn’t a great basis for your diet. But you’re probably safe to enjoy something crispy once in a while. Try dipping vegetables in homemade tempura batter, then deep-fry in hot coconut oil with a dash of sesame oil for flavour. Blot away excess oil, drizzle with tamari and continue to crisp in the oven while you fry the next batch. You’ll never look back. Don’t eat it all, though; excess oil makes humans grumpy, apparently (it’s a chi thing).
4. Eat three decent meals a day for satiety
Macrobiotics taught me that it’s OK to feel hungry sometimes. Without constant snacking, your body gets a much needed break from digestion. That said, I don’t believe in starving yourself. Three proper meals a day will keep you more satisfied than small meals eaten often. Listen to your body, and grab a healthy plant-based snack if you need it.
5. Avoid extremes to stay off the food roller coaster
You know that feeling of eating something salty, then craving dessert? Do you usually crave salted nuts or crisps with your glass of wine? Macrobiotics teaches that this cravings yo-yo is down to the energies of foods being excessively yin (sweet, watery, spicy) and yang (salty, meaty and rich). Eating more balanced and neutral foods helps reduce food cravings.
6. Eat dessert daily
Remember I said that my knowledge of macrobiotics stems largely from some personalised consultations I had a few years ago? Well, maybe my friend realised at the time that I’m just someone who needs a daily treat. She clearly knew it was a good idea to build healthier homemade desserts into my life – rather than letting me react to cravings on the fly. She created a few low-sugar options for me, including fruit jellies made from agar. Yum!
7. Eat a little raw food with every meal
I’ve heard this many times and you probably have, too: it’s important to incorporate raw veggies into your diet so that you can benefit from the nutrients that would otherwise get lost in cooking. Macrobiotics relies on lots of cooked food (which is more balanced), but there’s an emphasis on green salads and home pickled veggies, too.
8. Incorporate the five flavours
What does ‘flavour’ mean to you? You may be thinking – sweet, sour, and salty. But what about pungent and bitter? Making sure to get lots of different flavours into your meals – preferably all on the same plate – is a good way to add healthy variety to your diet, and keep boredom at bay.
Meals that include the five tastes will prove more satisfying, in terms of limiting cravings, and more fortifying.Marlene Watson-Tara, Centre for Nutrition Studies
9. Enjoy natural sweetness
If (like me) you’re a bit of a sugar-junkie, make the most of the natural sweetness in foods like pumpkin, beetroot, onions and carrots. Think root veggies and less sugary fruits such as apples and berries, rather than high sugar, tropical fruits like banana and mango (which are too extreme).
I’m still figuring out the best things to eat for people and planet, and I’m always keen to hear what you think (let me know below).
My plan is to cut down on meat, dairy and fish so that I’ll be able to afford better quality, local and organic meat and dairy when I do eat it (which is great for me, for animals, for farmers and for the planet).
For a little macrobiotic recipe inspiration, check out these recipes from Clearspring.