Speckle Park cows in a field

You don’t have to tell everyone you’re a vegan to prove you’re health conscious, but taking a leaf out of their recipe book will definitely help you. In I’m not a vegan, but…you can still be a pies supporter and not be embarrassed.

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I am a bloke in my mid-50s, overweight and with underlying health issues (as we’ve come to say) and don’t exercise much; I am on my way to see my cardiologist as I write this. Although the heart of my life choices shouldn’t concern you as much as they might do me, there are other factors in this story that should.

Now, you might be of the same vintage as me, you might not. You might believe in climate change, or you might not, and you may or may not be an animal lover, but all these factors have a bearing on the main topic here, which is diet.

Let me say from the outset, I’m not a vegan (I already did, up top) and it’s highly unlikely I will ever become one, nor even a vegetarian, however, I have recently become exposed to their dietary choices and it’s been a revelation on many levels.

A huge display of plant-based foods in a supermarket
A huge display of plant-based foods in a supermarket

There will be some of you about to stop reading, in fact, you may not have got past the headline – making this bit possibly redundant, but I will push on, dear reader(s). If you believe that a vegan diet consists of grass, salad or lentils and pale, tasteless imitations of our favourite meat-based options, let me share my recent schooling. Things have changed in soy town.

Vegan options in our supermarkets are now prolific, even in rural centres. I was staggered at the amount on offer. The plant-based diet is growing at a rapid rate among humans who have chosen not to eat meat for one or many reasons.

Firstly, the most obvious. A vegan’s humane beliefs in that we shouldn’t eat any other creature, and the recognition that all are sentient – thinking and feeling like us, if in differing capacities. In addition, many of our farming and food production practices are cruel and deemed inhumane – meaning we wouldn’t want them to happen to us, the humans, the sentient beings. So if you accept that any living creature is sentient, then it makes their destruction abhorrent.

If that’s too ‘political, greenie, or extremist’ for you to palate, let’s look at something closer to home. Our home, and the one we know is under threat from climate change. Here in Australia, we talk endlessly about coal vs solar, wind farms vs parrots and diesel vs electric tow vehicles. Whatever you believe, they are coming, it’s just a matter of how quickly we adopt the infrastructure policy required to make a transition easier. Still, what’s that got to do with a veggie burger?

Most of us don’t look our prospective dinner in the eye beforehand

It’s been proven that along with fossil fuels, methane from livestock contributes greatly to climate change. We have millions of animals farting their way to the dairy or the abattoir on our behalf, however, did you realise that our mass farming practices mean that the bulk of our grain and crop production goes to feed the animals we eat, meaning land clearing and dramatically in Australia habitat destruction and species extinction – the highest in the world. It’s a crazy cycle that depending on your beliefs, means humans could be added to that extinction list. Overly dramatic? Possibly.

So, let’s look at you, or me. As I said earlier, you might not share the world views I’ve touched upon but surely your longevity is close to your heart? While I’m hoping Caravan and Camping Australia has a wide reader demographic, fit in lifestyle and conscious of what they eat and drink, I can in all seriousness assume that I fit the profile that in silhouette has a bit of a bulge in the middle!

Croissants can be butter or dairy free
Croissants can be butter or dairy free

We’re going to look at exercise in another story on this website, but diet is key to your wellbeing and let’s face it, you’re likely not going to kayak a kilometre sprint each day but you will eat. By reducing your dairy and animal product intake for a few days a week will dramatically boost your health by reducing your fat content. And reducing your processed food will lower your sugar and salt intake too.

I’ve been amazed by how quick it can be to eat wholefood meals that sound complicated but aren’t. If you’re interested in learning more I’m going to create a little corner of the Caravan and Camping Australia website to share food ideas that are totally practical for life on the road with ingredients sold in all supermarkets.

green lentils are not all there is to a vegan diet
Green lentils are not all there is to a vegan diet

Chick peas, lentils, beans. Yep I can hear the bacon lovers groaning in disbelief. Did you know bacon and ham are carcinogenic? I didn’t, but while I have sadly cut the large amount of ham I ate from my diet completely, I will have bacon now and again – I said, this isn’t a preach to convert you to being a vegan!

So chick peas and lentils. If you like curries, stir frys, chilli and sauces then it’s a texture wrapped in flavour not a bowl of cold chick peas to endure. Not only are they incredibly good for you in terms of protein, they energise – you can eat a wholefood meal and feel energised not lethargic and in a food coma. And the inner child in me has enjoyed the after effects of farting my way round the house like I’m riding a small moped, so these meals are ideal for enjoying outside the caravan or camper, before going for a stroll. Lockdown Has been a blast.

My favourite plant-based vegan options so far
My favourite plant-based vegan options so far

While there have been wins like plant-based cheese slices, Fry’s meat-free sausage rolls (life changing) and some amazing sandwich spreads, losses include mock bacon. No. Not ever. And tempeh. Ugh. While I have taken to tofu in firm and silken form (curried scrambled eggs), tempeh is like being fed your own soft-boiled fingers.

Pasta sauce from cashew nuts? Yep. If this sounds overly complicated, it’s not. Remember, I am a 50-something bloke, who grimaced in coffee shops at long coffee orders with soy and oat milk concoctions who now loves barista oat milk instead of full-fat dairy. I’m still not a vegan.

If you want your cake – and be able to eat it, not stare through the glass in the bakery window, you can. My weight problem is due to replacing my alcohol intake (no lectures) with sweets, especially chocolate and ice cream. If you don’t believe me there’s a viable and bloody delicious vegan variant in Coles and Woolworths, go and look. It’s nuts! While some vegan chocolate is a bit weird, the Plantitude range (Woolies own brand) has awesome chocolate brownies. Their yogurt is now my go-to with fresh fruit such as blueberries chucked in. There are even ready-to-cook options if you feel challenged; in short there’s something for everyone.

When you’re choosing your options in the supermarket, it can be hit and miss. Not all vegan or plant-based options are so close to the original that you can hardly tell. Don’t shrug it off as a failure – even tie-dyed-in-the-wool vegans will rate some offerings as not fit for human consumption. View it as an alternative.

pre-packed plant-based options in Coles supermarkets
Pre-packed, plant-based options in Coles supermarket

As I said, this isn’t a story designed to convince you to be a vegan, it’s an option if you’ve been told to or feel like you need to improve your health. If you also choose to improve the life of animals by reducing your consumption and therefore reducing demand and the associated strain on the planet’s resources, then that’s not going to hurt either.

Quite simply, reducing your intake of animal and processed foods even for a few days a week and adding some exercise to your lifestyle will help boost your health and lifespan, allow you to travel though the beauty of our country for longer and help the animals that live among that environment too. How that doesn’t make a wonderful menu I don’t know.

By Marty Ledwich

Marty Ledwich is a writer and photographer who is on the road full-time with his wife, Kylie, towing their off-road Roadstar caravan with a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series. Marty was a volunteer in the Victoria Sate Emergency Service for 30 years and has travelled extensively around Australia.

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