Making The Switch To A Vegan Lifestyle
Edwina Viel is not only a mama of 4 but also one of our very favourite mummy bloggers (check out her site www.seashellsonthepalm.com for plenty of parenting and lifestyle info). We chat to Edwina about her most recent decision to cut back on meat and animal products (something the Sassy team is really embracing too) – plus how and why you should consider a plant-based diet.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family, your kids – their ages etc.
I am Edwina Viel, born in Singapore but raised in the UK where I was educated and then later worked as a banker in the City of London for 10 years. We moved to Dubai almost 9 years ago now when my husband’s clinic opened a branch in Dubai with our then 5-week old baby. We now have 4 children, 3 boys and a girl in Dubai (2,5,6 and 8 years), and three years ago I launched my blog.
You’ve recently decided to become vegan – is this something you’ll be embracing as a family?
Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as fully vegan but 80% of our meals are now vegan for my husband and me – we are still taking baby steps ourselves. We decided to cut down meat and animal products as a family and although the children are not vegan, we do have meat free days at home. I just don’t think as humans we were meant to eat meat and other animal products three times a day, seven days a week. Most of our parents or grandparents didn’t eat meat at the levels that we do today. It is only a recent phenomenon. Looking at most of the world’s developing economies, they have meat and fish once or twice a week, having mainly a vegetarian diet the rest of the time.
What inspired you to cut meat/animal products from your diet?
There are several reasons that we have reduced our consumption of meat and animal products from our family’s diet. It started out 8 years ago, after the birth of my first son, when I started researching more into food. Prior to that, I hadn’t given it much thought. I wanted to know more for myself about the importance of the quality of food that my children were consuming. I want to know if organic was worth the investment, what superfoods could do for our bodies and whether the quality of meats was beneficial for us and how animal hormones through meats and dairy affect our bodies.
Like everyone else, I was confused by all the information about nutrition and diet. I am not a nutritionist but I have tried to research and read a wide amount of literature to gain a little more understanding. I do think individual bodies react differently, but I do see increasingly large amounts of studies and literature proving the benefits of cutting down on animal products, especially processed meats and other foods (paleo fans would disagree). However, I do believe that we should also listen to our bodies to redraw that balance. My husband and I have taken the decision after much thought to be 80% vegan, and we both do feel better for it.
One of the other major benefits of choosing to increase our vegan meals has been the monthly reduction in our food expenditure. Choosing to feeding our children only organic and grass fed meat has been very expensive, but I personally believe it to be a worthwhile investment. Meat in the past was seen as a luxury item and a treat and I believe that we should return to that philosophy – better quality meats, less often.
Many households one generation ago couldn’t afford meat everyday in the US and UK. People thought twice about purchasing it regularly but in today’s food culture I feel that many developed nations have now got their meat/animal produce out of balance. Meat has become cheap to buy in the Western World that most middle to lower household incomes can afford meat that it has become a symbolism of wealth and a change in lifestyle. Big industry also encourages us to eat more meat.
Three years back, I had wanted to incorporate a vegan week a month in our household but it wasn’t easy to convince my husband at that time. He is Italian and giving up meat and cheese was not for him. However, after watching ‘What the Health’ and ‘Forks over Knives’ on Netflix, it has convinced him to reduce his meat and dairy intake all together. He is even stricter and even more convinced than me these days!
Finally, I didn’t realise rearing cows and pigs produced more toxic emissions in the environment than all the cars in the world! That was a shock for me. My husband and I love scuba diving, and it was sad to see the effects of global warming on most of the world’s coral reefs in Australia and places like the Maldives. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is like the Amazon Rain Forest and they are both equally important to sustaining the world’s environment, and they are both suffering largely in part of the demand for meat so it was important to us to make an effort to cut down on meat consumption as a family.
What do you think the biggest myths about being vegetarian/vegan are (e.g. it’s boring, you can’t eat well etc…)
I like many others thought that being vegan was boring. I imagined it was just plates of salads that would leave you feeling hungry all day. I am a total foodie so the idea of not having any animal products in my cooking and diet was totally unappealing. However, the world of social media has opened up vegan networks of inspiring individuals who have created unique receipes replicating the usual ingredients that today there is very little that I miss. For example, the most common known one is the chocolate mousse using advocado, honey, banana and cacoa powder. At home, we have freshly homemade organic pesto using nutritional yeast to replace the parmesan cheese. We also make a lentil bolognaise sauce, and blend left over sauce to create a lagsana. My great friend Lucy Bruce also shared her vegetable lasagna receipe which my children love. I often make a vegan cheese pasta using blended cashew, nutritional yeast and arrow root. The vegan receipes from blogs and cookbooks are so vast these days that there are so many new ways of cooking to try.
Are you finding it hard? What do you miss most?
Initially, I thought I would find it hard, but it has been relatively easy. Also, with so many vegan cookbooks and blogs, it has been so much fun trying a new way of cooking. I think it also helps that my husband is on board so I don’t have to cook three different meals at home. I don’t actually miss much and occasionally, once a month, I listen to my body and have some good quality meat. I do miss my morning omelettes and a rare steak but don’t crave it as much I thought I would. The only time vegans might struggle is when they travel as not all countries are on board with the concept quite yet.
Talk us through an average daily meal plan – what do you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and snacks!)
We make our own almond milk at home and use it with my morning tea though the children still have Koita organic milk with their cereal. Then breakfast could be a bowl of porridge, avocado and toast, mushroom and garlic on toast or a vegetable smoothie, lunch would be a salad of kale, red cabbage, red peppers, or a vegetable curry with brown rice, and dinner consists of a repertoire of Mexican bean chilli with cauliflower rice, vegan pesto pasta, lentil curry with quinoa, lentil Bolognese, and once a week we might have fish.
What advice would you have for other mamas considering a shift away from so much meat and animal products?
I think it is important to do a lot of research before embarking on this journey as removing meat and animals products means that the body could have a shift, and in some cases be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals if the meals are not planned carefully. You need to ensure that your body gets a whole plant based diet or speak to a nutritionist if you are not sure. Many vegans also take a Vitamin B12 supplements which can only be derived from animal products.
How do you feel physically? Are you more tired (this is another myth maybe?!).
Physically I feel a lot ‘lighter’ and my stomach is flatter. I managed to lose 2 – 3 kgs, not that that was the goal but I am not complaining. I actually feel more awake and feel less clogged up. Everyone reacts differently. For me, my body had a good cleanse, and I noticed that my skin is also better. I definitely have more energy and able to cope for longer hours without feeling exhausted.
If someone were to take baby steps towards decreasing the amount of meat and dairy from their diet, what could they consider as replacements?
You can have meat free days like three times a week and increase it more and more. You can switch to plant based milks like almond milk or rice milk if you are allergic to nuts. Spiralizing courgettes is a great one too with dairy free pesto. Instead of a burger there are hundreds of recipes of vegan burgers which taste surprisingly good, and cauliflower steaks are delicious too.
What are your fave places to eat out in Dubai which serve/sell vegan or veggie dishes?
There are only a few restaurants that will cater to vegans but we usually can find something on the menu to eat, but my favourite places include Bystro, Wild & Moon and Zest at One & Only The Palm. For dinner, we might head to Il Boro for some vegetarian risotto or pasta or we will try some Indian restaurants that make delicious vegetable curries.
All Images are taken from the Instagram handle of Sea Shells on the Palm.