Now that you are ready to take action after learning just how much an animal-rich diet is impacting climate change like reading my article, “10 Staggering Facts: How Massive The Industrial Animal Agriculture Problem Actually Is,” you want to start reducing your meat, dairy, and egg consumption to shrink your carbon footprint and environmental footprint but don’t know where to start.
Look no further! The Flexi 21 challenge is a delicious way to help stop climate change.
welcome to The Flexi 21 challenge
The Flexi 21 is a delicious 21-day dietary challenge designed to help you transition to a plant-forward, low carbon diet to help stop climate change and boost your healthiness in easy, doable, delicious ways. I want the process to not only be stress-free but FUN!
And yes, I include dessert. Say hello to the vegan hot fudge sundae in my collage here.
This challenge is based on the Flexitarian diet which is a plant-forward approach of “more plants, less meat” which puts plants at the center of the plate but does not exclude animals, but does prioritize low carbon Clean Proteins.
I created a Flexitarian Food Pyramid inspired by the Belgium Food Pyramid to help you visualize your food choices. You will notice that desserts like ice cream, cookies, and pie are not included in the pyramid because those foods are treats to be eaten periodically as they are not a part of essential nutrition your body needs to be healthy.
During the Flexi 21 challenge, you will eat an abundance of plant-based, whole foods which are beneficial for your health and the planet.
Animal-based protein is the macronutrient that has the biggest impact on climate change and the environment. Eating Flexitarian prioritizes Clean Proteins – proteins that are produced with low carbon and low eco footprints like vegetables, legumes, soy, nuts, plant-based meat and egg alternatives, and a new segment called Clean Meat which is creating meat or seafood using animal DNA replacing the factory farm system.
I created this Clean Proteins chart to help you visualize various protein sources in a range from LOW to HIGH carbon footprint. During the Flexi 21 challenge, you will prioritize proteins from the LOW category.
Eating a low carbon diet is not about deprivation, it’s about abundance. We focus on what you can eat versus what you cannot eat which is PLENTY.
A great example of a low carbon meal is this Gallo Pinto with heirloom red beans, organic brown Jasmine rice and Quinoa with chopped Poblano peppers, organic summer corn, sweet onion and cilantro salad, with pan roasted organic Jimmy Nardello peppers from Northern California farmers markets.
Red beans and rice is a common combination in many global diets because it contains protein, fiber, and a whole grain. Best, this simple meal contains no cholesterol or saturated fat, and you shrink your carbon footprint along with your waistline.
I get that going vegan or vegetarian is asking for too much change for plenty of people myself included. I went Flexitarian in 2010, starting with an 80/20 goal which was only 4 out of my 21 meals for the week had meat in it. 7 years later, I am now at the point where I no longer eat meat, dairy and eggs and the only animal-based food I eat is patis, Filipino fish sauce, because I’m not ready to give up my mom’s home cooking yet.
It is much easier and les stressful to transition to becoming a more plant-based eater by cutting down versus cutting out the meat, dairy, and eggs. The intent of the Flexi 21 challenge is to spark long term dietary changes that benefit you and the planet.
Now, let’s get to The Flexi 21 basics and levels. Yes, there are levels like playing a video game. Fun!
the levels of The Flexi 21 challenge
There are 5 levels for starting points. Select the option where you feel comfortable starting yet will feel challenged.
After you do one round of the challenge, you can select another option and do another 21-days, and so on, and so on doing as many rounds as you like. Recently, I did a 100-day meat-free challenge that ended up lasting 365 days, a whole year. Sometimes it’s mentally and emotionally easier to do long term challenges when they are broken up into smaller, doable chunks.
the Flexi 21 options:
- Do Meatless Monday, Tofu Tuesday or Faceless Friday. A phrase vegans use sometimes is that they don’t eat anything that had a face. Just pick one day during the week where you eat vegan or vegetarian the whole day.
- Eliminate high carbon red meat: Beef and Lamb
- Weekday veg: Eat vegan or vegetarian Monday-Friday. On the weekend, anything goes.
- 2 out of 3: Make 2 out of 3 of your daily meals vegan or vegetarian so by the end of the challenge only 21 out of 63 meals you ate over 3 weeks had meat, dairy, and/or eggs in it.
- Go all in! Eat 100% plant-based.
These options are starting points. Feel free to get creative and make up your own option as well.
For example, if doing 2 out of 3 meals a day plant-based is a bit too much, make 1 out of 3 of your daily meals plant-based. To make the 100% plant-based level more challenging make it all whole foods and do not include any vegan substitutes for meat and cheese. I still haven’t been able to do that one because on occasion I enjoy Gardein’s Szechuan Beefless Strips and 7-Grain Crispy Tenders, and gimme an Impossible Burger any time. SO TASTY!
the Flexi 21 challenge basics
Okay, now that we’ve covered the levels of the challenge, let’s get to the basics.
This 3-week plant-forward challenge has so many delicious, tasty foods you can choose from which includes dessert and eating out. Ohhh yass! The basics of The Flexi 21 challenge are simple, doable. You will focus on:
- Whole foods – the more processed a food is the more resources are needed to produce the food. Also, more processing causes more pollution and waste.
- Clean proteins – Prioritize proteins with a low carbon footprint ranging from plants to plant-based meat, dairy and egg alternatives.
- Organic foods – Organic food production does not require toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or monocultures. Natural fertilizers used on organic farms store carbon in the soil while synthetic fertilizers release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere which has 280 times the global warming power of carbon.
- Locally sourced – Buying local like at farmers markets reduces your meal’s “food miles” – the transport distance to get to your plate from the source. Besides mileage, the farther the food has to travel and be stored the more refrigeration it needs. Refrigerant HFCs have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
- Eat the Rainbow – The foods with natural, vibrant, bright colors are the ones that have the highest nutritional benefit best for creating healthiness.
- Seasonal foods – When foods are not in season they have to be transported in which adds to transportation GHG emissions.
- Minimizing food waste – According to the UN FAO, 6.7% of all global greenhouse gases come from food waste which is significant.
Do as much as you can and don’t feel pressure to do it all. If you can do it all, that is awesome but it’s not required. This challenge is about progress not perfection so I always emphasize to start with what you can do that challenges you but doesn’t feel impossible.
Plus, you can keep doing more rounds of the challenge and just add more of the basics as you progress.
Here are some other examples of Flexi 21 type challenges:
- Mark Bittman, the famous NY Times food writer does Vegan Before 6 aka VB6 where he eats vegan until 6pm and then anything goes.
- Veganuary. This challenge started out as a January new year, new you type of challenge where you eat vegan for the whole month. But now, the challenge has evolved and can be done any month. The Veganuary website has some great resources and tips not just for food but for clothing, personal hygiene, and cleaning products.
- One Green Planet is doing a #EatforthePlanet challenge which includes climate change and environmentalism. The framework of their challenge is Moderate. Replace. Embrace. Besides resources for eating more plant-based and low carbon, they have a great podcast show featuring One Green Planet Founder Nil Zacharias having insightful conversations with food industry leaders, health and sustainability experts, and entrepreneurs who are redefining the future of food.
- Popular Science is doing a #NoRedOctober challenge where you eliminate red meat: beef, lamb, bison, or venison for the month of October. Follow the hashtag #NoRedOctober on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as they will be sharing articles about agriculture’s impact on climate change and the environment as well as stories from their staff on what they are eating and how they are doing during the challenge.
- The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has a 21-day Vegan Kickstart that includes meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists.
- The Mediterranean diet and Ornish diet from Dr. Dean Ornish are plant-based diets. These two diets are more well known, and have been ranked by U.S. News and World Report in their yearly “Best Diets” list as two of the best plant-based diets along with the Flexitarian diet.
the best place to shop for low carbon food
IMHO, the BEST places to shop for a low carbon diet is your local farmers markets. I LOVE farmers markets! In one place, you can buy food that is direct from the source, organic or GMO-free, local, seasonal, and whole.
As of 2014, there are 8,268 farmers markets in the U.S.
If you are on SNAP, check to see if your local markets have a “bonus dollars” program where you get extra value for your SNAP dollars. One popular national program is called Market Match where your SNAP dollars are doubled at the market. So much WIN!
Shopping at farmers markets is one of the best and most fun ways to eat local and seasonal with the bonus that you are supporting your local farmers and economy. You can also find plenty of deals on organic food and cosmetically challenged food that is not grocery store pretty but still delicious.
When you shop at farmers markets you are eating more whole foods and foods that are nutrient packed. One easy strategy to get fiber and nutrients is to “eat the rainbow.” The more colorful the food the higher it’s loaded with nutritional goodness.
The Flexi 21 resources
To help inspire and motivate you during your Flexi 21 challenge we have some resources to help you.
The Flexi 21 blog will feature posts about:
- Tips and inspiration to transition to a lower carbon diet
- Recipes and meal ideas
- Shopping inspiration at farmers markets
- Reviews and news about plant-based and Clean Protein products, brands, and innovation
our starter guides
Coming December 2017, there will be two Starter Guides. available.
- If you join our email newsletter, you can get our Bite-size Starter Guide for FREE. The Bite-size guide is a sample week to get you started.
- Our Full-plate Starter Guide features a full 3-weeks of recipes and meal ideas with a full shopping guide, ideas for eating out, and tips on making the transition to eating more low carbon easier. We’ll announce the price for this guide on 11/11.
The Flexi 21 app
We have a progressive web app viewable on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops coming in December 2017. I’ll announce the price for the app on launch day. The Flexi 21 app will contain the Full plate Starter Guide with:
- a picture gallery of vegetables and fruits to help inspire you
- recipes and meal ideas which include cooking at home and eating out
- a seasonal food guide
- a farmers market locator
- exclusive content only available on the app
our Facebook and Twitter social accounts
THANK YOU for your interest in The Flexi 21 challenge and taking climate action! Mother Earth and humanity thanks you too for your contribution to the higher good of people, animal, and planet.
If you do the The Flexi 21 challenge, please share pictures and post about your progress on your social media accounts or blog, and use the hashtag #theFlexi21 so we can find you. We love to hear about your journey and share your story to help others. Together we can do this!
NOTE: Feel free to share and use any of the graphs and charts as long as you acknowledge credit and a link to TheFlexi21.com or use @theflexi21 on Twitter and Facebook. I appreciate you supporting my art. Thank you!