It was August of 2019 and the Amazon was ablaze, breaking hearts across the globe. A dear friend of mine inspired my plant-based journey when around this time she made it her mission to eat less meat. She explained to me how it was connected to the fires and why it was desperately needed in order to save our home. I took her mission on as my own and shifted to a plant-based diet in the meat-loving country of Chile. Here is what I have learned in the past six months.
Find an affordable “Fería” to be your go-to for plant-based buys.
When I first started out with the plant-based diet I was more intimidated than necessary. At the end of the day, plant-based really just meals plants. Plants come from the ground, don’t they? Where do you go to find local, fairly priced plants? If you’re in Santiago de Chile, you go to La Vega. La Vega is a lively 100+-year-old market where they sell everything from seasonal fruits & veggies, meats, seafood to dairy products. Although it’s a bit far from my Providencia apartment, there is no better price and quality than La Vega. It’s important to have small bills, and “monedas”/small coins, as they don’t accept debit or credit. To get the most out of the trip, I meal plan before so I strategically just buy enough for my meals and can avoid food waste. If you work up an appetite stop by one of the Venezuelan stands for a mouth-watering arepa. Make it plant-based by ordering the black bean & cheese variety, or vegan and skip the cheese. You can't miss the salsas, my personal favorite is the green cilantro variety. How can you get there? Take the metro and get off at Patronato and walk right over, or get off at Cal y Canto and follow the masses.
TIP: Plan for at least one “Freezer Friendly” meal to freeze right away for quick dinners or lunches. Try to get to La Vega before 10.00 am on Saturday and Sunday mornings as it fills up in the afternoons.
Make the internet, and local plant-based food scene your muse.
I was intimidated by plant-based cooking because I had based my meals around animal products for so long I had forgotten how to make meals full of veggies and legumes. If you’re feeling the same way I suggest doing a quick google search for Vegetarian or Vegan food blogs. A favorite of mine is Cookie and Kate. If that’s not to your liking, there are tons to choose from so you’re bound to find one you like. As I had a plant-based diet in front of mind, I was noticing more and more plant-based restaurants and grocers. Each time I noticed one, I went in just to check out what they had on the menu, what type of products they were selling, overall prices, etc. One week of meal planning was inspired after encountering Mammaterra, a plant-based fast food joint in Providencia. I was no stranger to veggie burgers but their sauces opened up a whole new world to me! I went home and found a bunch of sauce recipes to freeze so I can take out small bits at a time to add robust flavor to classic beans and rice, or a zesty burrito with leftover veggies, black beans, guac, and rice.
TIP: Use these plant-based restaurants as not only a quick bite but for inspiration when you’re not sure what to cook or how to combine flavors. They’ve most likely thought well and hard about which flavors go well together so it’s a foolproof way to create a delicious meal.
Find a quality spice store and make it your BFF.
There seems to be a widely common misbelief that all vegetarians or vegans eat are raw carrots and celery. Many times they get sad, sympathetic looks as if plant-based eaters take a vow to forever eat food without flavor. Wrong!! The plant-based world is full of a variety of textures, flavors, colors & shapes that are a delight to your taste buds as well as eyes. They don’t get there on their own though, which is why I recommend investing in quality spices. You can find spices for a fair price at La Vega and I really love Harry’s Market in Manuel Montt for its authentic Indian spices. They import spices from India so they are the real deal and make a world of difference when making traditional Indian food. I like to stock up on things like garlic powder & merkén at La Vega and curry & garam masala at Harry’s Market.
TIP: Not sure where to start? When I got into cooking four years ago I started out with the basics: cumin, paprika, garlic powder, sea & kosher salt, pepper, and merkén while I was getting the hang of things.
Be prepared for three major challenges; Chilean asados, limited vegetarian options & the confusing world of plant-based substitutes.
Chile is full of challenging situations for the plant-based eater as meat still reigns king in the notoriously long country. One of the biggest challenges was the famous Chilean Asado. For those who are unfamiliar, in Chile, social events commonly center around the "Asado"/barbeque. Personally, my plant-based eating approach was grounded in the simple philosophy of Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” To me this meant that plants were to become the base of the food pyramid and meats & animal products were to be at the top of the pyramid, eaten in moderation. There are situations in Chile where meat is really the only option, so I just keep my meat-eating to those occasions. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll be a full-fledged vegetarian but for now, the flexitarian approach really works for me. Another challenge was finding nutritious and appealing plant-based lunch options. I work in the El Golf neighborhood and affordable, plant-based lunch options are basically nonexistent there so meal planning and cooking my own meals was essential. This means taking the time to meal plan, purchase ingredients and cook each week to stay on track. The third challenge was navigating the plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products. There is a lot of contradictory information out there on soy products, which plant-based milk is best, and the overall ins & outs of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. As I'm still learning, I took an approach to hold off on consuming the controversial product (ex: soy & almond milk) while I weeded through the amount of information out there in order to make informed decisions. When in doubt, sticking to legumes such as garbanzos, black beans and lentils for protein is usually a safe bet.
TIP: For Asados if you’d like to take a full-on vegetarian or vegan approach, be prepared to bring your own food. Make sure you meal prep to avoid depending on limited vegetarian options full of empty calories. Do a bit of research before committing to plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.
Final thoughts: Everyone might not be able to be vegetarian or vegan, but we can all eat fewer animal products.
Nowadays, even in meat-focused Chile, there are so many viable plant-based diet options that don't involve taking the full plunge. We can be weekday vegetarians & vegans or embrace the flexitarian approach. Sure there's an initial learning curve, it involves more work in the kitchen but the benefits are endless with the most impactful being drastically cutting emissions. These benefits far outweigh the challenges, and at the end of the day, whether we like it or not our meat consumption is taking a huge toll on our planet that we might not be able to bounce back from. Let's tackle this urgent issue by filling our plates up with more legumes, veggies, and fruits and reduce our consumption of meat and dairy products.