This world & generation is taking an interesting turn with plant-based vegans becoming an increasingly important and growing “minority”- so to speak. Never have we lived in a time with so many Netflix & Youtube documentaries and Instagram photos praising the plant-based life! Who would had thought? Yet with all the noise around plant-based veganism, the two most common statements I heard all throughout 2017 from friends & strangers alike- aspiring to integrate more wholesome vegan dishes- were:
- It’s too expensive…
- Where do I start?
There’s definitely a false stereotype that living the plant-based lifestyle is reserved for the elite and is some form of rocket science. When in fact, it’s not. It’s simply about eating from the earth. So to start off the new year, let’s break it down for y’all. Here’s where to start!*
*Of note: given that I live in Jamaica, this guide may be slightly more tweaked to this part of the world (and specifically to Kingston), but the principles still apply globally 🙂
The first thing you must ask yourself before WHERE DO I START is WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS? There are many (great) reasons to eat more plants: be it for your health, for the environment, for compassion, for animals that you find too cute to eat, and yes you can be vain and do it for wrinkle-free sparkling skin and great hair.
For me, it was health and a great suspicion I developed in the quality of meats & cheeses the day I moved to the U.S. I started to cut out. But I didn’t go full vegan until I came to Jamaica many years ago, ate plant-based for an entire week and did the hike to the peak of the Blue Mountain at 1AM and NEVER FELT SO FREAKIN GOOD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. That was it for me (your story will be different from mine- and that’s perfectly normal). With the years, my motivation around veganism has increasingly become around the idea of compassion, the ability to live without unnecessary cruelty and for the sustainability of this planet. Health of course continues to be a prime reason as well.
Now- if you’ve answered this first question, let’s move to the next step.
Now that you know WHY you want to eat more plants, let’s talk about WHERE DO YOU START?
So for this one, Imma put myself in the shoes of your average person (in Kingston, Jamaica- where I live right now) who may not always have the time to go down to our glorious Coronation market or grow their own food. The average person is going to go to the supermarket to shop.
At the supermarket, you have to spend a lot of time in the OUTER AISLES. Meaning: go visit the fresh produce section. That’s where you’ll be doing a lot of your shopping.
Then, you might want to check out the spice racks, dried legumes and some of the healthy oils. Bet you didn’t think you’d end up being THAT kind of person at the supermarket, right? Well: now you’re WRONG. lol. This is the future of a sustainable planet Earth- it starts right from your wallet (vote with your dollar).
So the rules are:
- Go to the outer aisles FIRST: get your fresh veggies & fruits in FIRST. DO NOT GET DISTRACTED BY THE HYPER PROCESSED FOODS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.
- Then spice up your life! Spices are cheap, go a long way and give a TON OF FLAVOUR to your food.
- Pick up a few dried legumes: these are absolutely necessary so that you don’t have to worry about the famous “but… where will I get my protein from?” question. PROBLEM SOLVED! Lentils, chickpeas, black beans… ya.
- Get the good fats: healthy fats are NECESSARY. YOUR BRAIN IS MADE OF 60% FAT. You need fat to survive – and to enjoy this new plant-based lifestyle.
- And the good carbs: and no, none of these involve quinoa or words you can’t pronounce (I promise to share recommendations in my list below that won’t cost an arm & a leg).
Got it? Now that we know WHY and WHERE- the next question becomes WHAT? As in: WHAT DO I GET?
I’ve compiled a list especially for you- it comes from the heart so I genuinely hope it helps! If you don’t know what to do with what you got, remember: I’m piling up easy, flavourful plant-based recipes right here on the blog! ENJOY AND SEE YOU ON THE GRAM OR RIGHT HERE- ON THE NANA’S KITCHEN BLOG!
Oh also- I’ve come to notice Thursdays & Fridays are the best days for produce at supermarkets. You get all the newly delivered goods on those days 🙂
Remember- rule #1 is to go to fresh produce aisles FIRST.
- Leafy greens: a MUST! Callaloo, pakchoy, kale, spinach- whatever you find cheap and in season. Callaloo & pakchoy are almost always cheap and in season. GREENS ARE NECESSARY- EAT THEM.
- Cabbage: cabbage is in a category of its own. Cabbage is super versatile and crucial to good health. And it’s cheap. No excuses fam.
- Fruits- that we treat like vegetables: tomatoes. Tomatoes are great- they add colour, texture and flavour. I use them a lot! Okra: fairly abundant (and affordable) here in Jamaica, okra is one of the best things you can do to your health. If you hating on the slime, here’s how to get rid of it. Cucumber: cucumbers are packed with nutrients and have a high water content. They add a refreshing crisp to any dish and are also fairly accessible all year round. Bell peppers: whichever one you find and whichever is best priced- get it. Bell peppers also add a lot of colour and in stir-fries, they add a lot of FLAVOUR. Ackee: ackee is an excellent source of healthy fat + protein + potassium. And you don’t need to cook it with saltfish. You can browse my Instagram to see how it’s done vegan style 🙂 Avocado (aka Pear): I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one 🙂
- Orange stuff: as a rule of thumb, anything orange is good for you. So in this case, we’re going to stick to pumpkin & carrots. Carrots can be a little whack in Jamaica (prices fluctuate like crazy throughout the year), but you have NOTHING to lose with pumpkin. They add body to dishes, great in soup and are extra good for you. Get the deeper orange, thin skin kind if you can.
- Purple stuff: if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, grab some eggplants. Eggplants are beautiful in vegan dishes (I have a great recipe here). And beets. Boil them, roast them, juice them, grate them raw…. just don’t wear anything white and expensive when you’re preparing them. 🙂
- Complex carbs/Starches: sweet potato, irish potato, yam, green banana, breadfruit*. If you think they’re gonna make you fat- they won’t. *Breadfruit: if you’re ever in the Red Hills area, there’s an amazing Rastaman in front of the Pricesmart who sells roasted breadfruit. He is the best and my only breadfruit man 🙂 This is for you people who can’t roast breadfruit at home.
- Flavour bombs: meaning, onions & garlic. Pretty much 99% of my recipes call for both of these ingredients. If you cant bother with peeling and chopping- get the powders, that’s fine. You don’t need to start perfect- you just need to START.
- Fresh herbs: think of fresh herbs as flavour bombs but also little brooms that clean up your system (especially true for cilantro & parsley). Get into the habit of picking at least ONE and cook with it for the week. We also are blessed with great thyme in Jamaica- make the most of it!
- Scotch Bonnet: if you like your food spicy. Yellow ones are best- IMO.
- Fruits: papaya, pine & watermelon are in my top 3. Mostly local produce and full of essential nutrients & enzymes. And then anything in season- mango, star apple, naseberry, otaheite apples, passion fruit, guava … etc.
NOW WE MOVE TO SPICES. The list is truly endless, but here are my top 5:
- Ginger (fresh is better)
- Cumin: absolutely necessary, in my opinion. It also helps with digestion.
- Garam Masala: one of my favourite spice mixes, it adds magic to every dish. You find this under the Island Spice brand
- Curry powder: the ones at the very bottom of the shelves are usually the best! Look for the Home Choice Special Madras Indian Curry pack- it’s THE BOMB.
- Coriander: it has a subtle flavour, but makes a huge difference in curries.
PROTEIN, IRON & FIBER (aka BEANS)
You really have two choices here: either you get them dry and cook them yourself (needs a little patience but no deal breaker) OR you buy them canned. If you opt for the latter- don’t get beans in sauces. And please be sure to rinse the beans very well before consuming them.
If you choose to cook them yourself, my advice would be: definitely let them soak for at least 4 hours in a large bowl with water. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP- it will make your life so much more easier. Cook a large batch early in the week and then store in fridge- which you can then use in various ways throughout the week. Think of it like a huge can of beans- that you’ve made at home.
- Lentils (one of the easiest & fastest to cook)
- Kidney beans
- Black beans (protein powerhouse)
- Butter beans
- Lima beans
- ANY BEAN YOU WANT, REALLY.
- Brown rice: cook it like pasta- boil a pot of water then add the brown rice and cook for 28 minutes in the boiling water- done.
- Bulgur: this is a delicious nutty grain with a great “bite” to it. It’s cheap, it’s wholesome and you can find it pretty much ANYWHERE. Look for the LOCAL BRAND PLEASE- save yourself an arm & a leg from that brand with the nice packaging and lots of zeros at the end- y’all know what I’m talking about here.
- Pasta: in moderation and in healthier sauces. Check out my vegan mac & cheese & callaloo pasta.
- Oats: great for porridge and also to bulk up certain recipes.
- Other grains that are typical of your region and affordable: couscous, quinoa, freekeh, barley, millet… all of this depends on where you live and how available these products are- and at what price. I will splurge on these exotic grains every now and then, but not regularly.
- Oils: honestly- I’m not going to make this one complicated and get into the debate of whether coconut or olive or grapeseed or sesame or BLA BLA BLA OIL is better for you. Just get an OIL as long as it’s not soybean or palm oil. Especially not palm oil. And nothing from the Crisco brand- please. I use coconut for cooking and olive oil for raw- with some exceptions.
OTHER STUFF (optional):
- Coconut milk: if you do not have time to make your own coconut milk, THAT’S OK. The point is to just START.
- Nut milks: I’m a little iffy on this one as I really prefer to avoid this completely or make my own nut milks. Unfortunately, there is just too much gunk in the mainstream brands nowadays.
- Tahini: if you wanna become a hummus king or queen and save tons of $ by making it yourself vs store bought.
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, whatever you want and at your budget.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: guys- this is another “intimidating” ingredient because some brand out there is priced like liquid gold. There are far, far more affordable ACVs on the shelves- those are the ones I get. Again: the point is to start, not to be obsessively perfect- especially in the beginning of a plant-based journey.
STUFF TO ABSOLUTELY AVOID:
- SOY MILK: please avoid this shxt it’s crazy horrible. If you don’t trust me, just go read the ingredients of mainstream soy milk and tell me what you think. No explanation needed- just read the packaging.
ANYTHING YOU DON’T KNOW:
- GOOGLE IT: I do this a lot, if I have data on my phone. If I’m seeing some new exotic vegetable or herb at the Chinese supermarkets, I will google it- simple 🙂 And if I can’t I’ll still google it when I get back home (for the next time).