Flexing our way in to the future

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New Zealand is becoming a plant-powered nation. Pizza giant Domino’s has finally given us vegan cheese. We have our very own chicken-free chicken made from pea protein. Z – a petrol station, of all things! – now have two vegan pies, and even a sorbet. We are spoilt for choice as new vegan eateries pop up all over the place, and supermarkets now have an abundance of plant-based foods for us.

hermes-rivera-flex-food

You might suspect it’s vegans driving the demand. The products are, after all, vegan. But instead, the groundswell of support seems to come from a different corner. A new breed of predominantly plant-based eaters. Meet: The Flexitarian.

Flexitarians hold primarily vegan diets but occasionally eat meat. They are feared by animal agribusiness, as they are conscious consumers who influence others to eat more plants and fewer animals.

Flexitarians are often critiqued by vegans for not taking a hard-enough line with their ethics. But in fact, flexiarianism is playing a massive role in changing perceptions around plant-based foods. Combined, flexitarians are making a huge difference for animals, as discussed at New Zealand’s first ProteinTech conference in July. Dr Jocelyn Eason from Plant & Food Research concluded that flexitarians are paving the way for a plant-rich future.

Consuming animal products is a habit for most; we start young and consume them many times a day. It is hard to change behaviours when we’ve done them for so long. It becomes our truth. This can make it difficult to accept change into our lives, even if it is positive.

For example, let’s look at my obsession with tea. I drink A LOT of black tea. I regularly think about how my teeth are starting to go an off-white colour and how I can feel my heart rate going faster. I even tell myself I’ll give tea up for these reasons. However, I continue to convince myself it’s okay because I brush my teeth twice a day and if they get too dark I can whiten them. Plus, I’m young, so it’s normal for my heart to be active. What I’m really doing is weighing up the pros and cons of my habit and concluding that I’m comfortable balancing tea into my life.

plant-burger

When I researched the impact that animal products had on animals, the planet, and my body, I knew I had to change my habits as fast as possible. I have always been an animal lover and realising that I had been contributing to their suffering was a hard fact to swallow.

The next steps were fun and finding new meal ideas, ingredients and flavours came naturally to me. My palette adapted unbelievably fast and I developed an undeniable taste for foods like roasted chickpeas, crispy tofu and lentil shepherd’s pie. My friends were excited to taste some of these exciting plant-rich foods and I made a lot of new friends along the way who had common interests in animal rights and the environment.

I’ll skip the details, but there were slip-ups and I found myself occasionally reverting to old habits. After about six months of finding my feet, life felt natural again over five years down the track, plant-based food options are better than ever and the thought of consuming any animal products actually makes me feel a little ill! I take comfort in knowing that my kind food choices are a direct reflection of my ethics and my hard work to overcome a negative habit.

Every time we eat, we have a chance to align our morals with our behaviours. Doing well most of the time is better than doing nothing at all. The more vegan foods we eat, the more positive change we can make. So let’s celebrate World Vegetarian Month with plenty of delicious and flavourful animal-free foods.

Visit eatkind.org.nz to order your free 100% Vegetarian Starter Guide and take the six-week challenge!

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