Plant-Based Diet in a Processed, Time-Squeezed World

Someone needs to go to the store.

For people whose lives are micromanaged down to the last minute, I totally get the convenience factor of fast food and microwave meals. I lived that for 40+ years. Decades of that existence for me were conveniently supported by an industry in tune with my needs. I now am in the minority of consumers in the United States whose trip to the grocery store consists of the produce aisle, the grains aisle and frozen section for only vegetables and fruit. 

You may find canned beans and canned tomatoes in my basket with boxes of whole-grain pasta. But no potato chips or tubs of ice cream, yogurt or cottage cheese. No Stouffer’s meals that I used to buy by the stacks. Yes, STACKS. Eight to 10 at a time so I had one to grab every workday from my freezer. Total, mindless shopping and eating. But it was quick and I didn’t even have to make a shopping list. How cool was that? My shopping plan was just to grab stuff and go.

So when people say they don’t have time to try a plant-based diet, I would’ve agreed whole-heartedly in the past. Yeah, who has time to cut up a salad, really? Or actually COOK. Seriously, time commitments no one has, right?

You might surprise yourself if you try it. I did.

Most meals take 10 minutes if you just want to throw something in a pot from frozen bags of vegetables and cans of no or low-salt beans. You can learn to season food and in turn, learn to cook in new ways that taste great. Stores offer pre-cut vegetable blends in the produce section. You can eat sugar-snap peas or carrots straight from a bag. Go with raisins, nuts or seeds instead of a candy bar. Brown rice comes cooked in the frozen aisle — a microwave treat that won’t load you up with sodium. Take time Saturday and Sunday, or even just one afternoon, to cook ahead meals for the week. Store and freeze extra. Always make more than you need for each meal so that next day’s lunch is taken care of. All of these strategies can be added in baby steps to your diet until you are completely off the meat and processed food merry-go-round. It’s all about starting new habits. One day at a time.

Five years of medical records and billing.

I got into this lifestyle for my health because I felt I was on a path to cancer recurrence and possibly diabetes, as well as facing a life sentence of taking meds for RA, each drug progressively more impactful on my body to control the disease until the meds became worse than the condition, and then the pills AND RA would have killed me, destroying my lungs, heart and liver. That is why I have years of blood test results — blood tests are needed when you are on Methotrexate to monitor whether your liver is still functioning properly.

But that’s strictly my story. You may still need inspiration beyond knowing you need to eat better for health. That fact in itself is not news. What may be news to you is the ecological effect every burger, chicken or fish sandwich has on the planet.

I can reap the benefits of feeling better, but what about my husband? I’m not doing this alone, and my eating habits ultimately affect what Jim eats, too. While wanting to see me get healthy, he also wanted to learn more about the political/ethical elements of moving away from processed food. After reading the same books I did for health, the chapters about ethics in farming and our responsibility to animals versus the needs of agribusiness and the interconnectivity of all of it convinced him to stick with it. 

By 2007, The New York Times’ Mark Bittman also came to these realizations, and he gave a TED talk about it. Here, in 20 minutes, is a synthesis of all the elements that explain why we do this, beyond feeling better, beyond blood work and healthy liver enzymes and low cholesterol and the rest of it. His talk will give you the condensed version of why our current food production is reprehensible. The take away: Stick with the produce aisle. You will live longer in more ways than one. Mindless eating needs to be a thing of the past for all of us.

Mark Bittman: What’s Wrong with What We Eat 

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