Q&A with Aaron: Embracing Plant-Based, From Vegan to Reducetarian (Part 1)
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
Disclaimer: The ideas in this post are not meant to be taken as health advice, as neither Aaron or I are qualified to offer that. These are just some ideas we discussed openly, based on things we've learned through personal experience or research. Always do your own research before making any dietary changes.
Today I'm extremely excited to share some highlights from a low-key backyard interview I did with a good friend of mine, Aaron Prasad, on embracing a plant-based diet.
Aaron and I met over 10 years ago and some of my early memories of hanging out with Aaron include the time he cooked us Steak Oscar (steak topped with a rich creamy crab-meat sauce), or the time we made pizza together with all kinds of gourmet toppings, including bacon. This is hard to believe, compared to how Aaron eats now - he has gone completely vegan and hasn't looked back!
The purpose of this post is not to turn everyone vegan - I eat meat regularly myself - but to explore different approaches to reducing meat intake, whether for environmental, ethical, or health reasons. Eating less meat is important to both Aaron and I but in completely different contexts. As mentioned, Aaron is vegan, whereas I consider myself a flexitarian or reducetarian (more on that term later). I eat a wide range of foods including meat but try to incorporate healthy meatless meals as well. My motivations are mainly environmental and health-related.
Before I dive in, I must tell you about the amazing day that preceded this Q&A session! I went to visit Aaron in Collingwood, Ontario, on a gorgeous day in July (two months ago already!). First, we enjoyed a coconut yogurt parfait and homemade turmeric latte, then we went on a gorgeous hike up Blue Mountain (as seen in the photo above). One thing I love about Aaron is how he likes to amp up the awesomeness of any experience, so naturally, he brought us both weight vests to wear on our hike. It made for a great leg workout and a stability challenge on the way down! After getting all nice and sweaty, we stopped at Side Launch (a local brewery) to sample some sours and pick up a few to bring home to Jamie (my husband and solo kid-watcher for the day), and at Press Market (an organic cafe/market) to get some gourmet vegan desserts. They did not disappoint!
Next, we went for a swim in Georgian Bay to cool off and get a bit more exercise. I'm not sure how far we swam, but we made it all the way to a giant inflatable swan and all the way back. With the waves, it was harder than I thought it would be! Luckily, no weight vests were worn for the swimming portion of our day. (Phew!)
Finally, we settled in for some homemade vegan flatbread pizzas and caesars in Aaron's backyard, and had this lovely conversation that I'm about to share with you.
To kick it off, I shared this quote with Aaron, which is a re-wording of another popular quote by Anne-Marie Bonneau on the zero-waste lifestyle:
“We don’t need a few perfect vegans, we need millions of people actively reducing their consumption of animal products.”
- Carleigh Bodrug of plantyou.com, Plant-Based Food Blogger and Instagram Influencer from Barrie, Ontario
Aaron said this resonated with him and he taught me a term for this concept that I hadn't heard before: reducetarianism.
"Reducetarianism is the practice of eating less meat - red meat, poultry, and seafood - as well as less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the degree or motivation." (www.reducetarian.org)
I love the anti-perfectionist notion of Carleigh's quote AND I think we need both; some strict vegans and many people aiming to reduce their meat/animal product consumption. The way I see it, vegans are the ones who are willing to eat vegan even when it isn't convenient, and they create the market demand that makes it easier for all of us to access quality plant-based options. They're also highly motivated to experiment with food and discover new delicious ways of getting more healthy plant-based foods into our bodies, so I think it's great to have both vegans and reducetarians like me (and everything in between!).
Now, let's dive into the Q&A!
Jessica: What does eating vegan look like for you?
Aaron: It's pretty simple. It's just no animal products and no animal by-products. That's it.
Jessica: Tell me about your transition from eating meat to a completely plant-based diet.
Aaron: Many years ago (around 10), I was eating the fast-food window diet, getting takeout five to six nights a week. I was inactive and gaining weight. At one point, I was over 240 lbs, which was not comfortable for my stature or my body. I was having trouble tying my shoes or walking up the stairs without getting short of breath. Then I decided things needed to change; I wanted to look and feel better.
I started swimming and a friend recommended the John McDougall thing (a diet rich in starchy plant foods) so I gave it a try. I was eating mostly complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, along with veggies. That was my transition. I started to lose weight but wasn't strictly vegan - I would still have chicken wings or a piece of ham now and then - but most of my diet was plants.
I dropped more than 2 suit sizes and around 60-70 lbs. My lowest weight, when I was in Columbia and doing a lot of cycling, was around 170 lbs. Right now I don't know where I'm sitting weight-wise but I feel more comfortable, lighter, and have more energy.
Jessica: I'm curious; when/how/why did the shift happen when you decided to totally eliminate animal products?
Aaron: When I lost Gambit [Aaron's pet dog and bestie, a white boxer/American bulldog] in November 2016, I was way off the vegan trail for a few months. I ate a lot of meat lovers' pizza, and was feeling pretty gross. I also quit a job around that time and moved.
The idea of eliminating animal products came about as I started to learn more about the science of nutrition and coincidentally I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The Rich Roll Podcast, and he had some guests talking about the animal perspective. The way I've begun to start thinking and feeling is,
When I look at a cow I don't see a cow, I see a mom. When I look at a calf, I don't see veal, I see a kid. Same thing goes with puppies, kittens, dogs, cats, goats...The way the world appears to me now is it's all relationships.
We don't have the ability to understand and talk to them necessarily, but they communicate with each other. The moral and ethical implications became clear to me after the diet/lifestyle/fitness thing. I became more aware of the bigger picture.
Jessica: Was there a specific point when you became fully vegan?
Aaron: Not exactly, and I don't consider myself a perfect vegan, though I am definitely a hardcore vegan. For example, when I worked on a cruise ship, I tried to eat vegan but some of the vegetables might have had butter on them...
Jessica (interjecting): Right...Then there's that time a friend (wink, wink) might have accidentally used honey in your pad thai...(Oops!)
Aaron (smiling): Yeah! But luckily, I have infinite forgiveness for those types of people...But this is why I struggle with the word vegan so much.
I can say that it has probably been close to 4 years since I've consciously eaten meat or animal products but it was a progression.
Jessica: Beyond what you've already shared, what benefits have you experienced from going plant-based?
I don't really have to worry about my weight anymore, as long as I'm eating plant-based whole foods. I don't worry about my macro- or micro-ingredients or the vitamins and minerals...I just eat a whole bunch of different colours and shapes all the time.
There's also the clarity of decision-making. When I'm in the grocery store, I mainly shop the produce section. I don't have to question if I'm eating the right thing or the wrong thing. There are some processed vegan foods that aren't as healthy [like the faux cheese pictured on our pizza above] that I may indulge in from time to time, but I primarily stick to healthy options.
I can maintain my energy a lot better too, just by getting enough sleep and eating a lot of friggin' plants! I also like that I can eat as much as I want without worrying about calories, as long as it's plant-based whole food.
To read the second half of this interview, go to Q&A with Aaron: Embracing Plant-Based, From Vegan to Reducetarian (Part 2).