Image from: Holiday Nut and Lentil Roast w. Squash and Herbs.
Following on from my posts about how I became vegan and why I choose a vegan lifestyle I wanted to talk a little bit about how I approach eating food. I often get questions about what I eat as a vegan and whether I get enough nutrients and in addition to that I see many people around me struggling with their relationship to food and in response to this I decided that it would be worth sharing my views and thoughts regarding food and how to eat it. I’m no nutritionist and I am not a doctor or scientist but I’m hoping that my personal reflections on this topic, shared on a friendly level, and simply offering my point of view can resonate with or bring you something useful.
Within the vegan community there are many labels and ways to eat, just as there are many diets and lifestyle choices for omnivores. Personally I simply call myself vegan, meaning that I don’t eat any animals or animal derived products, and this to me is not a diet but a way I see myself approaching not just food but life in general for the rest of my life. With that said I do think there are some things to discuss when it comes to eating food and its relation to wellbeing that goes beyond just being vegan but before moving on I should share with you that I have a gluten intolerance that inhibit me from eating foods that contain it like most baked goods, bread, pasta and certain grains like spelt, barley and rye which the previously mentioned foods are usually made up of.
I don’t find being gluten free a challenge as such and since I’m not allergic I eat a little bit of gluten now and again when I encounter something I really want to eat. This is how I approach most things in life; if there’s something my heart desires I let myself have a little bit of that whether it’s a sugary cupcake or a carrot. As for gluten I don’t think I’d be completely gluten free if I didn’t have unpleasant symptoms from eating it. After having been free from gluten mostly since two years back I wouldn’t say that I’d go back to products made from white refined wheat flour though because I think this product has been somewhat abused in the Western diet and I think that too much of any one thing might end up being destructive in the long run. And there are so many other grains available like rye and spelt that still contain some gluten but to a lesser extent but seem to have forgotten by the bigger brands producing food for the mass of people in the West.
Personally I base my diet mainly on whole foods. This means I eat a lot of unrefined grains, pulses and legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Note hat I said ‘base my diet on’, this does not mean that I never eat anything that doesn’t fit into the food groups I’ve just mentioned, it simply means that I eat mostly those things. I often eat pastas made up from whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, I will eat foods made from flours both made from whole grains and refined grains now and again and I don’t stress about any of it. That is actually the most important message I want to give with this post and that is not to worry and stress about every food decision you make. Health is such a slippery term but I know in myself that stressing about food might lead me down an equally unhealthy path as having a few too many greasy donuts.
Instead of analysing macros, thinking about how many grams of protein I get and counting calories I focus on what nourishment I can get from food on a more intuitive level. I don’t just consider what the food can give my physical body but also what it can give me on every level of my being. Maybe that piece of cake isn’t great for sustained energy levels but if you let it, it might bring you something completely different that you need and to me that counts for something too.
With that said I don’t eat cake all day every day just because a part of me ‘needs’ it and I don’t have dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner just because it’s made up of whole foods like fruit. Something that’s really helped me look at food in a, to me, clear way is macrobiotics. I will call macrobiotics a lifestyle movement focusing on eating whole foods in line with the seasons as well as their energetic properties. In macrobiotics energy is considered in terms of various oppositions like light/heavy, strong/mild, open/closed, upwards/downwards, crunchy/soft and the list goes on. According to macrobiotic principles these oppositions can be found in everything around us and getting a variety of them within our diet can bring us balance. This is very simplified and I’m not sure that someone immersed in a macrobiotic lifestyle would thank me for it but hey I do my best to share some knowledge with this concise explanation.
Whilst I don’t follow macrobiotic guidelines but simply gather inspiration from the teachings I do try to get a variety of foods into my diet on a daily basis. In addition I try to cook my food in a variety of ways; raw, sauteed, flash fried, slow cooked, baked, soaked, pickled, fermented, blended, chopped fine, chunky, whole, and again the list can go on into infinity. To me variety is the spice of life, and even though some people think that a vegan diet cannot offer this I would say that since becoming vegan I have had a more varied diet than ever before.
Macrobiotics taught me that just because some vegans eat fifteen bananas for breakfast every day does not mean that it is what my body needs, especially not in the middle of winter in Northern Europe. This brings me to the subject of seasonality and locality which I think often goes forgotten in the vegan online community. And before you think I’m a hypocrite I would like to mention that I am not a perfect person who only eats seasonal and local foods all the time but I’m always eager to do so as much as possible on a daily basis. It might be fantastic for a person living a very active lifestyle in a tropical climate to eat mainly fruit and high sugar foods whilst, as an example, for me hibernating in a snowy Sweden all winter or dealing with a cold and wet London this might simply drain me of energy as doing exactly that does not correspond with my environment at all. Possibly what my being really needs at that stage is something warm and comforting to power me through that challenging weather.
This is why I don’t want to add labels and restrictions on my vegan lifestyle but simply go with the flow of what I feel I need from day to day. I think we can be our own best compass. Closing our minds from all the buzz of the world and tuning into our own core and intuition can be a very powerful way of getting to know what we really need and want. Making that a habit over just doing what everyone else is doing at the moment is more important to me. Again that does however not mean that I never try anything trendy it simply means that I won’t do the trendy thing all day every day, within my vegan ways I do think that flexibility is important.
At the heart of it all there is something about being in tune with your environment and time of year that brings comfort and I also think it helps me stay energised. I think you can feel it as much as I do; in winter you often want warm soup and slow cooked root vegetable stews and in summer you want crisp colourful salads and fresh fruit. I truly believe that our bodies need different things at different times throughout the year as well as throughout our lives, that’s not to say that I think I’ll eat animal products because to me that’s a different story, but it does mean that I think that various cooking styles and ingredients go hand in hand with the weather and how we feel within it. I also think there are foods that give us specific feelings and comforts that might be needed at certain times to support us in tough times and other foods that are beneficial when we are ill or hurt.
Blueberries used in: Purple Kale and Berry Smoothie.
Seeing my relationship to food as a reflection of what is going on within and around me helps me stay grounded and connected. Macrobiotics sparked my investigation into my cravings and I now try to listen to them and consider why they exist not just on a physical plane but also mentally. Food can become a crutch for other things going on in our lives and might provide an outlet for emotions we don’t want to deal with. This can however lead to unfortunate habits in various ways and therefore I place importance on staying connected with my food and the way I choose to eat. If I am aware of why I want or do not want something I can choose to deal with the root issue instead of abusing food in one way or another. Like I said that cake might be needed at times, not just for pleasure but for comfort, but that doesn’t mean I always want it be the resort or alleviation from life.
Finally I believe that there are no universal right and wrongs when it comes to how we eat (with the exception of factory farming and animal abuse) and I believe in listening to what feels right for you in a specific moment. I feel my best when I’m in tune with myself and how I feel and equally so when I feel connected to the world and environment around me. Food should be appreciated and celebrated and every time I have a meal I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to feed and nourish myself at all. Even more so I try to remind myself to be grateful for the opportunity to be able to eat good food that will make me feel good inside and out, and that at large does not harm anyone or anything else that occupies this world along side me.
If you’ve reached this paragraph I’d like to say a big thank you for reading this far and for giving me the chance to air my opinions and feelings on food and eating it. I hope it has brought you something or other. I wish you a happy day with various food encounters that make you feel nourished and ultimately happy.
If you would like to find out what I have been eating during my travels for the past couple of months you can check out my youtube channel where I’ve shared full days of what I eat in various locations around the world. Those days have a little bit more flare usually as I’ve been out exploring in many of them but you can get an idea of how I eat personally and also maybe get some recipe ideas too. I include the latest one here below. But remember that you are the queen/king in your castle and you know best what works for you! x