Plant Based Eating: the What’s, Why’s, & How’s
An exploration of its health benefits and community resources that can help you get started
Note: What is considered a “healthy” diet varies based on individual needs. Please follow the recommendations of your health care providers and reach out to them if you have concerns. As a full-time student at Mac, you can make an appointment with a campus physician who will be able to assess your needs and provide appropriate referrals to a dietician or naturopathic services on campus.
Veganism: a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose
Vegetarianism: the practice of not consuming meat or fish
Flexitarianism: the practice of primarily keeping a vegetarian diet with some consumption of meat or fish
Plant-based diet: a diet consisting largely or solely of vegetables, grains, pulses, or other foods derived from plants, rather than animal products
One fateful Tuesday night in 2017, I stumbled across a YouTube video of a bald guy in a hemp t-shirt lecturing on “The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear”. Of course, willing to do anything I can to procrastinate writing my Grade 10 analysis of Macbeth, I clicked it. One hour and a shift in perspective later, I began my path to veganism.
My journey has not been exactly linear. I was strictly vegan for a few years, then a flexitarian while I travelled, and as of lately I have been vegetarian. I hope my journey illustrates that creating a lifestyle that aligns with your values can take some time.
Creating a Food Community
Some of my family members are still against veganism for cultural reasons, and only in the past couple of years have I found a community of vegan friends through Mac Veggie Club. Despite these barriers, I recognize that I am privileged to have total control over the kinds of foods that I consume and I continue to strive for a more equitable lifestyle. The Food for Thought cooking program can also be a great introduction to a food community on campus.
Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Beyond promoting animal liberation and sustainability, a plant-based diet was of interest to me because of its numerous health benefits:
- Plants are a great source of protein with fibre, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. Soy protein in particular contains all 9 essential amino acids found in animal products, without the cholesterol.
- A plant-based diet is associated with an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables and an overall higher quality of life.
- It is associated with a lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers.
- It encourages mindful eating and the purchase of whole foods rather than processed foods which contain preservatives and stabilizers that can irritate our system,
Starting a Plant-Based Diet
If these benefits seem fitting for you, you may want to consider integrating more plant-based foods into your diet and decreasing the consumption of others like meat or processed foods. Some strategies I’ve implemented throughout my journey include planning meatless Mondays, leaning into the foods that I already love like tofu, and adding legumes such as chickpeas to my meals to feel more satiated. I also took the time to explore new recipes – one of my favourites being a vegan Soondubu Jjigae, which is a hearty Korean stew full of spices, veggies, and silken tofu.
I want to stress that it’s okay to adjust and reset your food goals. Avoid looking at how you eat as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ – for example, if you eat meat while trying out a plant based diet, you didn’t ‘mess up’ you are just on a food journey that ebbs and flows. For many of us, eating is a ritual that is tied to our culture and our identity. When learning more about eating plant-based and making these changes, some strong emotions may surface and that’s okay. Personally, guilt and shame are feelings that I experience as I educated myself more on the realities of factory farming. Try to stay grounded in the reasons why you chose to make this change in lifestyle, give yourself some kindness, and reach out for help. Remember that the Student Wellness Centre is here to provide medical care, mental health support, and education regarding your dietary health!
As a university student, I can understand the struggle of not following your grocery list because you feel confined to grab the deals that the store offers rather than what you truly want. Food insecurity is a serious issue that affects many of us. However, it is important to note that it is a common misconception that a plant-based diet is more expensive. In fact, a recent Oxford study found that vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets are the most affordable diets in high-income western countries like Canada. Some reasons include the decreased purchase of meat and increased purchase of grains and legumes. These cheaper staples are nutritious and are often the most readily available foods at community fridges and banks.
Below are some resources in the community that you can access to help you explore a plant-based lifestyle on a budget.
Resources on Campus:
- Mac Community Fridge is a recent addition on campus that is open 24/7 and variably stocked with many plant-based staples such as legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Check out their Instagram at @mcmastercommunityfridge where they post a daily update on the stock of the fridge!
- The Food Collective Centre is McMaster’s on-campus food bank and food security resource. They offer affordable food box orders and run a food bank on campus pending the pandemic guidelines. For more up to date information, check out their Instagram page @msu_fcc
- Mac Veggie Club is an MSU club that educates students and members of the community about plant-based lifestyles and builds community through speaker events, movie screenings, restaurant outings, meatless challenges, and food guides. Visit their Instagram @macveggieclub for free resources and a veggie community.
- Food for Thought is a free and vegan-friendly cooking program on campus that provides the opportunity to explore and practice topics related to cooking skills, meal planning, nutrition, and food safety. For more information and registration, visit this link
Resources Off-Campus :
- Tuesday student discount of 10% with a proof of student ID at Fortinos and Food Basics
- Thursday 20% student discount with a proof of student ID at Shoppers
- Hamilton Food Share is an emergency food hub that provides nutritious food to hunger relief programs across the city. Follow this link for information on various food banks and programs that anyone can access in Hamilton
Food & Nutrition, Physical Activity, Physical Health