Plant-forward is the perspective of putting plants in the center of the plate. It’s a “more plants, less meat” approach which puts plants at the center of the plate and does not exclude meat, dairy, and eggs, but does prioritize low carbon proteins.
When entrees include meat, the plants – vegetables and fruits (produce), legumes, whole grains, starches, tofu, herbs, and nuts and seeds – are the stars like this example of Corned Beef and Cabbage where I made the star roasted carrots and the Corned Beef comes in sausage form and cooked as crumbles mixed in with the cabbage.
A plant-forward diet also means eating primarily whole foods and plant-based, vegetable-centric.
I promote the plant-forward flexitarian approach of eating mostly plants with meat on occasion because it is a more doable thing for more people. The ability to have flexibility is far more appealing than going cold turkey (pun intended) on the meat, dairy and eggs. Going flexitarian is a great way to transition to becoming a vegan or vegetarian.
Along with Flexitarian, plant-forward styles of eating include the Mediterranean diet, VB6 – vegan til 6, eating vegan or vegetarian Monday through Friday, or going Pescatarian – a vegetarian who eats seafood.
In the U.S, our custom with food is to make meat, dairy, and eggs the stars prioritizing them over the plant-based foods. For example, typically on menus the meat is stated first like braised pork with potato hash, sizzling beef with snow peas, or BBQ chicken with baked beans. When was the last time you saw something on a menu like Quinoa salad and black beans with carnitas, or a regular restaurant where the vegan and vegetarian dishes dominated the menu?
The Plant-Forward perspective swaps the American habit of putting animal-based foods first and puts plant-based foods first instead. The driving motivation for eating a plant-forward diet is for health and sustainability reasons with more people wanting to actively do their part to help stop climate change and further environmental destruction.
Plant-based proteins like beans, tempeh, and lentils have fiber, no cholesterol or saturated fats, and contain no antibiotics or growth hormones. These foods also have a small carbon footprint helping to stop climate change and create less environmental damage and environmental injustice.
Eating more plant-based also helps to boost your fiber and nutrient intake. A common nutrition issue with Americans is eating too much protein and not enough fiber in the form of fruits and vegetables. There is no such thing as protein deficiency in the U.S.
In this table from the USDA that charts out what the average American citizen actually eats versus the U.S. Dietary Recommendations, vegetable and fruit consumption are about half the recommendations, and meat, eggs, and nuts is nearly 40% over with grains being a little over by 10%.
One thing I find interesting about this USDA chart is that it does not include beans or legumes at all which is a primary source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Since rice was eliminated from the Grains data, that leaves wheat, corn, barley and oats.
Like many, the idea of going vegan or vegetarian seemed like too much change for me, and knowing how my Inner Resistance Monster works if I tried to go cold turkey with the meat, the monster would rebel because he doesn’t like big changes leaping out of my comfort zone. I really liked the idea of going flexitarian because reducing my meat intake is more doable for me, and I like the “flexible” part. My Inner Resistance Monster is also cool with gradual change versus radical change.
My initial goal was to work up to an 80/20 split of plants/animals.
So, 7 years ago I started the process of gradually reducing my meat consumption when I stopped eating chicken after seeing the documentary Food Inc. I then spent a few years taking on Mark Bittman’s approach of eating vegan before 6, or just eating meat in only one meal of the day, and then I added on doing Meatless Monday. Soon I was eating meat only 4 days a week, then 2 days, and then only when I felt a craving.
Last year, I decided to do a #100daysmeatfree challenge which I ended up doing for a full 365 days completing my first year meat-free. I gave myself 5 free days to eat meat if I wanted to but the challenge proved to be much easier than I was expecting. The only animal-based food I eat now is patis which is Filipino fish sauce, and that is only when I am eating my mom’s food like her Pinakbet in the photo collage above or when I am at a family event. The Filipino in me isn’t ready to give up the patis yet and there is no good vegan alternative (yet.)
Because I made my transition gradual, the process was less painful. I never felt deprived. I was able to socially adapt along with the people around me. I inspired my mom, an avid meat-eater to cut out the pork and shrimp in some of our favorite Filipino dishes which was HUGE. I didn’t even ask her. She just noticed I was eating less meat and more veggies.
Now, I’ve arrived at the point where I don’t even miss meat and love the abundance of vegetables, legumes, and grains more. I also feel good that I am no longer contributing to the destruction of the planet and humans ability to live on the planet as well as saving the lives of countless animals.
I hope that I can help inspire you to have a similar experience because it really does feel good physically, emotionally, and mentally to eat more plant-based. Let’s move forward together!