When I started my first year of college, I decided to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. I was surrounded by new people, broke, and a thousand miles away from my mom’s cooking, so I figured it was the perfect time to make the switch. 

A year later, I’m very proud of myself for making this switch and couldn’t imagine my diet any differently. The past year has been a difficult process of learning what fits in my budget, what is good for my body, and above all, what satisfies me. 

Most people in my situation would have never considered changing to a plant based diet. I had recently moved to Washington D.C. to attend American University and was extremely dependent on my college’s dining plan. Still, for the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who shared my passion for the environment and quickly learned the importance of plant-based living. 

For me, not eating meat was more so about how it made me feel and the effects it has on our planet. I noticed that every time I ate a serving of meat I was sluggish, bloated, and unsatisfied. I also began researching the effects the meat industry has on the environment.


Plant-based grocery shopping 

I’m the first to fall victim to creative plant-based marketing, and new vegetarian products, often costing me way more than I planned on. I’ve learned that before buying a new plant-based product to do my research beforehand. There’s a whole community of vegetarians that give reviews on products, so take advantage of them! 

While I love veggie nuggets, I would recommend to anyone becoming a vegetarian on a budget  to not rely solely on meat alternatives. These products are a great source of protein, but they are very expensive and don’t offer a full range of nutrients. Buying unprocessed, natural foods like potatoes, beans, and vegetables you are able to make a wide variety of recipes, but also nourish your body. Frozen fruits and vegetables have truly been my life saver as they cost less and do not go bad as quickly.


Meal prepping and recipes 

Meal prepping is also an important habit to adopt. Every week I try to plan at least three different meals and always double my recipe so I have leftovers. This is the perfect balance for me because I do not overspend at the grocery store, but I also have enough flexibility to fill in with other meals, so I do not get sick of the same thing everyday. 

My go-to has become a greens and grains bowl, brown rice and spinach as my base, tofu or beans as my protein, with shredded cheese, and other vegetables. This meal always fills me up and I’m able to switch up my bases and proteins to make sure I’m not getting too sick of eating the same thing. 

When building a meal it is important to try and feature as many food groups as possible. Every meal should include protein, healthy fats, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D, iron, and complex carbohydrates. This may seem like a long list of nutrients, but most of these things are in the foods we already eat. My favorite way to get health fats is by adding avocado or hummus to my meal, this not only gives it a boost in flavor but also keeps your body nourished. 


Why you should make the switch

The production of meat products is extremely water intensive, beef has a water footprint of 15,415 liters per-kg. Our planet is already extremely water depleted and trends such as this will continue to drain our resources. In addition to this, livestock is one of the biggest contributors to land depletion and deforestation. Grazing and cropland dedicated to animal feed account for around 80% of all agricultural land. One of the most shocking effects of meat production on our environment is its ties to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s extremely difficult to track the precise amount of greenhouse gases that can be linked to the meat industry, but three of the top meat companies–JBS, Cargill, and Tyson–had more greenhouse gases emissions than the entire country of France in 2016

A vegetarian diet also has numerous benefits for your health. Since vegetarians consume less animal fats, they are at a much lower chance of developing cancer and coronary heart disease. Also plant-based living is also an effective way to fight obesity. A vegetarian diet is high in nutrients and complex carbohydrates and low in saturated fats and processed foods. A study conducted by Dean Ornish found that a vegetarian diet can, on average, lead to a loss of 24 pounds in a year, and help keep that weight off five years later


Where to start

One of the most important things I’ve learned on this journey is to not be too hard on myself. When I first started being a vegetarian I was very not getting enough protein or iron, and my body felt this. Instead of giving up completely I pushed myself to find a way to maintain my health. 

If I could offer one piece of advice to any one considering a vegetarian diet it would be to go for it. Whether it’s just participating in Meatless Mondays, or a complete lifestyle change–just try it. Being vegetarian has truly changed my life, I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m eating better, and I’m doing my part to find a solution for the climate crisis. 

Cutting out meat may seem impossible at first, but when you start taking it seriously you will be surprised by the number of resources available to you. There are thousands of Facebook groups dedicated to sharing vegetarian and vegan recipes, there are communities of people that want to help you on this journey. Do not be afraid to take that first step in being a part of the solution.