Maeve O’Meara’s Food Safari Earth is a brilliant show for many reasons, not least of which is the way it highlights the huge variety of vegetable-driven dishes available on our planet. If you’ve been looking for a reason to ditch meat and dairy, but aren’t sure how to get started, here are some tips to get you going.
Ignore the trolls
This probably isn’t the most important step, but it’s worth mentioning up front. When you start avoiding meat or asking if this dip has butter in it, people are going to begin making jokes. The good news is it won’t be long before you’ve heard them all. More seriously, be confident in asking waitstaff for menu alterations – and learn some common, easy substitutions, like sauteed mushrooms in oil instead of butter.
Know the difference between a full vegan lifestyle and a plant-based diet
Here’s another thing to keep in mind before we begin. If you’re sending back a dish because it has cheese on it, probably avoid wearing leather boots or talking about how great your new animal-tested makeup is. It's not a great look.
Start with some signature dishes
You don’t have to go cold turkey on giving up turkey. Start adding vegan recipes into your repertoire and build up a variety of dishes. Mexican is a great place to start – replace meat with beans, leave out the cheese and sour cream, and you’re living la vida vegan! Beyond the basics, there are plenty of great options to explore over at SBS Food, like these delicious desserts.
Spices are your BFF now
You can go for the commercial meat replacements that claim to look, taste and feel like the real thing. But it’s probably more rewarding to explore the many ingenious ways vegan chefs add flavour and texture to their meals in the absence of flesh, especially if you want to avoid processed food. Cast a wide net and you’ll soon see how cultures from all around the world replace meat, fat and salt with a healthier brand of tastiness. Scrambled tofu is amazing with tumeric, cumin and smoked paprika (but even baked beans on toast is great with those spices).
Buy in bulk for best results
There are certain ingredients that spice up many veggie-based meals, so you’re better off buying in bulk to ensure you have the makings of a delish dish in the pantry at all times. Obviously you’ll learn what suits your palate, but as a starting point, consider picking up some rice, tortillas and noodles as bases, and tins of black beans and tomatoes to add flavour. Oh, and Sriracha sauce – hipster vegans go ape over that stuff.
Cauliflower is ridiculously versatile
Sad news for kids (and SBS writers) who can’t stand the stuff, but for everyone else, cauliflower is the vegetable that keeps on giving. These days, they’re turning it into a sneaky replacement for rice, cheese, mash, steaks, nuggets and even nachos. Beyond cauliflower, eat a rainbow. You can make a game of trying to include red, orange, yellow and green veggies in every dish.
Watch your iron and B12 levels
Don’t worry about missing out on protein – that’s a myth. But iron and B12 are definitely two things on which you need to keep an eye. This means lots of dark green leafy vegetables for iron and nutritional yeast for B12 – check the label to make sure you have the right one. (There are other easy sources of both, but this will get you started.) Get your blood tested for both every six months to check you’re on the right track. Another iron tip: minimise caffeine and maximise vitamin C consumption, and you’ll absorb it better.
Plan ahead for best results
Going on a road trip? It might be hard to find vegan food in some places, so make sure you always carry some nuts or fruit with you.
Watch Food Safari Earth on Thursdays at 8:05pm on SBS. Missed the last episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand: