With Christmas approaching I see more and more billboards advertising food to share with friends over the festivities.
Most of them depict a turkey or a joint of some kind surrounded by festive colours and heart warming scenes. Amongst the many thoughts about the commercialisation of this Christian festival and the modern take on what it means in an age where abundance of food is slowly eroding our health, I find myself reflecting on the amount of meat we consume every day and especially during special times of the year like Christmas and Easter and the number of animals that are involved in these rituals.
Many people think that if you are a yoga teacher and yoga practitioner , you should also embrace vegetarianism and perhaps even veganism and as the yoga industry slowly turns into a massive multi-million dollar business, alternative lifestyle companies are springing up everywhere offering alternative foods to go with your Yogi lifestyle. If you want to be a vegan or vegetarian in today's society you are truly spoilt for choice!
So why is there such belief surrounding yoga and vegetarianism in the first place? And does being vegetarian make you a better yogi?
Yoga's birthplace, India, is about 1/3 vegetarian, and this is mainly due to religious reasons however in many of the countries in the region there are differences in how strict vegetarianism should be( mainly due to geographical and climatic reasons).
Some believe you are allowed meat if you are offered it or if you have medical conditions which require you to eat meat. We also find strong foundations for a vegetarian diet in Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga and in particular in the first of the Yamas or restraints: Ahimsa - non harming.
Choosing to go vegetarian can be driven by a desire to live a kinder life or a shift to live a healthier life and indeed there are several studies out there pointing at the many benefits of a plant based diet.
For me diet is a matter of personal choice and like in so many other areas of our lives we can choose to look at other people's choices ( whatever they may be) not with judgement but curiosity. Here is a very funny video that puts things into perspective .
I have myself experimented with vegetarianism a number of times. What I came away with was that moderation is key and that listening carefully to my body brings me to eat less of what I want and more of what I need ( if it makes sense !) .
This is why I always offer vegetarian, home cooked food at my events , to spark curiosity, spread awareness and perhaps help to start new journeys of discovery.
Here are my 5 top tips should you want to try a day, a week or longer of meat free eating ...
1) EAT UNPROCESSED !
There are a number of "meat alternatives" out there and you can find them in all the main supermarkets and in more than one format ( in the chiller cabinet, in the freezer, in the dried goods area) . Be warned that these products are highly refined and processed , if the ingredients list has more than 2 ingredients than that is processed food and partly defeats the purpose of opting for a healthier choice.
2) GET ORGANISED
In order to be successful you will need to be organised . I often create weekly menus as these help me in so many ways : budgeting, less time wasted deciding what to cook, less waste , no temptations ....
Decide when your trial is going to start and for how long
(maybe start with just one day a week going meat free for 4 weeks in a row, then try a couple of days or a whole week) and stick to your plan as much as you can.
3) GET YOUR MACROS RIGHT
The vegetarian argument likes to point out how good eating plenty of fruit and veg is for you ( vitamins and minerals are indeed abundant in plants) however humans do not live on micro-nutrients , humans thrive on MACROS such as proteins but especially fats ( good fats are responsible for transporting all the goodness to our cells) so get your balance right!
There is no ill effect in reducing your carbs intake as long as you replace them with something your body can turn into energy just as efficiently : healthy fats ( avocado , certain nuts, coconut oil, butter and ghee are all great substitutes). Add pulses to every meal : black beans are especially high in proteins and chickpeas are highly digestible. Dried pulses are a better choice but for convenience I cook a lot of tinned organic pulses.
Don't be tempted to replace meat with lots of starchy foods such as rice ( even brown rice) , gluten free products couscous etc... this is a recipe for weight gain and blood sugar levels imbalances.
4) IF YOU WANT MEAT , EAT MEAT !
You have made a plan , you are sticking to the plan then you get invited to a BBQ and there are no vegetables except for crisps and olives!
Be kind to yourself, if you want meat , eat meat , if meat is all there is then eat meat.
5) SPICE IT UP !
I found my vegetarian days to be a lot more interesting when I play with spices. Here is a picture of my spices basket . Stay away from jarred sauces as they tend to be full of added sugar, opt for dried spices (ground cumin,paprika,jerk mix etc...)and fresh herbs ( fresh ginger, coriander , basil, thyme and dill are all very readily available).
Small seeds like sesame seeds and fennel seeds are also great with stews or stir-fries.
There are plenty of great websites out there with lots of amazing ideas on how to cook veggies but try to stay real, choose readily available ingredients and easy to follow recipes.If you are serious about reducing your meat intake you cannot arrive home from a long day at work and cook for 3 hours ! I like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because of this very reason, no fancy ingredients and you can cook right out of your store cupboard.
What you eat does not make you a better yogi or take you deeper into meditation but being a yogi could ultimately make you a better eater weather you eat meat more mindfully and gratefully or weather you end up eating more quinoa and less chops, it's your journey!
Choose your veggies day or week, plan ahead , you may find that it's quiet a nice change. Good luck and if you enjoyed the journey share your comments below.
Love and light