Happy Herbivore Blog

Being plant-based while studying & living abroad (Guest post by Berta!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Guest

I'm excited to introduce today's guest, Berta. Berta is an intern here at Happy Herbivore Inc, and a med student. That's right! Berta is a future plant-based doc!

Anyway, back in September we had a college series on the blog (you can read part 1, part 2 and part 3) where plant-based coed's shared their tips for navigating campus life (and being broke) on a plant-based diet.

Today Berta shares her own perspective *and* what it's like living the plant-based lifestyle outside of America.

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Quickly about me:

I`m Berta, I live in Austria. I'm a medical student at the Medical University of Vienna. I`m also a health nut and for me, health starts with food. I've followed a whole-food, plant-based diet for 2 years now and I love it! This very colorful, plant-based world still has surprises for me.

I became Happy Herbivore addict after reading several books from Dr. Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Neal Barnard all suggesting Lindsay`s perfectly plant-based recipes.

I thought it would be interesting to share how I stay on the wagon while living abroad and having a busy and unpredictable schedule.

I've got to admit that following a plant-based diet is significantly more difficult in Europe than in the US. I think it would be the easiest in the UK; however I live in Austria, where people tend to have a strongly meat-based diet full of cheese, cream, sour cream and dairy. I make it work though!

1. Shopping, finding ingredients, substitutions

We don't have Whole Foods here, only local chain supermarkets and some farmer's market. Finding some of the key ingredients gave me a hard time in the beginning, but it's gotten better with time. I had to create my own routines though.

I like to grocery shop in supermarkets. I just don't have the time to go to the crowded central farmer's market and look for stuff there. Shopping this way saves me a lot of time. I suppose I'd find more special ingredients at the market, but I create substitutions instead of spending more time on shopping.

I shop once per week and only go to pick up some stuff during the week when I accidentally run out of something. (Like bananas for instance that I run out of quite often. We're just like little monkeys at home. :) I use bananas a lot for breakfast and for a healthy dessert like HH Banana Ice Cream and Banana Frosty from EHH.

What I generally don`t have access to are wraps, tortillas, liquid smoke, chocolate chips, some spices, canned pumpkin, pure almond milk, kale, canned black beans, frozen brown rice, fire-roasted canned tomatoes, canned green chilies, vanilla extract, vegetable broth, brown rice pasta, unsweetened ketchup, vegan cream cheese etc.

My life would be probably way easier if I had these items around, but still, NO BIG DEAL! I substitute!

For example it`s very difficult if not impossible to find oil-free, whole-some wheat wraps or even corn tortillas here. I could make my own, but it would be more time-consuming. I like no-fuss recipes, so I tend to substitute wraps and tortillas with cooked grains and make a bowl instead of a burrito dinner.

Or once in a while on Sundays I make a lot of unsweetened whole-wheat pancakes (HHC Page 28), unsweetened chickpea crepes (HHA Page 158) or corncakes (HHC Page 249) and freeze them, so I use these instead of the ‘real stuff’.

Instead of liquid smoke I simply use smoked paprika. If I want to have chocolate chips I have to cut boxed chocolate into little squares. I order my spices online from the US twice or three times per year. I cook up and then puree pumpkin in order to have pureed pumpkin. Again it's not as convenient as buying canned pumpkin, but I'm in love with it, so I find time for it. I also make my own almond milk by blending ground almonds (this way I don't need to soak my almonds overnight) with water and then filtering it. It's done in 10 minutes.

I tend to use baby spinach, cabbage and other greens instead of kale. They also do the job! I'm able to substitute black beans with kidney beans generally in any recipe, however I have to buy dried black beans and soak them in advance if I specifically want to have black beans. I cook up a lot of brown rice at once and freeze them in Ziplock bags, so I always have it on hand. Instead of fire roasted tomatoes I get regular ones and spice them with a little smoked paprika. I just simply replace green chilies with salsa or jalapenos. Why not?! There is only artificial, chemicals-filled vanilla flavor available here, so I get like 10 vanilla beans in once, cut them along, soak them in pure rum and have my own vanilla extract. It's cheaper this way and I always can refill the bottle with fresh rum.

Making my own veggie broth from scraps or not-so-fresh vegetables isn't a big deal either. I do it once per week and I'm set. You can prepare ketchup any time by mixing up tomato paste with spices, maple syrup and a little water. It's healthier and cheaper this way. I'm sure that vegan cream cheese is a kicker on cupcakes, but it`s not available here at all, so I make frosting with the firm layer of coconut milk or with flavored cashew cream (soaked cashews and water blended to a creamy and thick consistency).

So generally these are the substitutions I have to get along with. It's a habit already and I don't even have to think about it anymore.

2. Planning, cooking ahead

I'm sure everyone with a busy schedule knows how important planning is to be able to eat healthy. I always have the next few days meals in my head and never let myself go to bed without preparing breakfast and lunch (even just a very easy one) for the next day. If you don't, you might get into trouble during the day when things get really busy. Having something prepared in the fridge doesn't let me fall off the wagon or go crazy hungry and eat up everything at night time. Whatever tired I am or whatever late it is I prepare something very easy and quick like an oatmeal or quinoa pudding from the meal plans for breakfast and beans and rice or a quick chili bowl for lunch and dinner. I always thank myself the next day! :)



3. Eating Out

We don`t have vegan restaurants here. It's just not part of the culture. The Austrian restaurants offer the typical "meat and side dish type of meals", so the only options are ethnic restaurants like Indian, Mexican, Italian, Thai or other Asian ones. We still have to be creative and mindful while ordering by asking the chef to make the meal fat-free or at least low-fat, to leave the cream or cheese out etc. There is no one place where they don't make special adjustments for you or even create something totally new not presented on the menu. I just need to ask!

4. Traveling

There is no option to eat plant-based on the road in this country. So before I leave somewhere I always prepare some snacks like muffins, biscuits, crackers, hummus, bean dip etc. and pack some fresh fruits and veggies along. I'd also pack up my non-dairy milk, oats, canned beans, cooked grains, some gravy and I'm good to go.


5. At school, at work

There is NO cafeteria that offers vegan options really. So while I'm at school and my boyfriend is at work I make sure I pack breakfast and lunch boxes with some snacks for the day for the both of us. For breakfast I usually prepare oatmeal, Quinoa Pudding (from the meal plans) or Müesli (HHA Page 134). For lunch I always make a one-pot dish (which can be easily stored in a Tupperware and then reheated in microwave) like Lentil Stew, Bean Chili, Risotto, Chickpea and Quinoa Bowl, Texas White Chili (HHA Page 281), quinoa or couscous salad or polenta and salsa.

Thank God I don't get negative or mean comments when I eat my not so appealing oatmeal from a box at school while others eat junk like McDonalds burgers or greasy, sugary croissants and smoke whenever there is a break between lectures. I try to lead by example and I often get compliments for the planning and effort I make to eat healthy. My boyfriend even introduced at work what agave nectar or brown rice syrup was and explained where you can get non-dairy milk for those who were interested.


6. Quick fix, emergency options

My schedule is unpredictable! My study plan looks different each week and group study sections might occur any time. So I attempt to always prepare some ‘SOS, emergency options’, when I have nothing in my fridge. I keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer with canned beans, corn, peas, potatoes, tofu and frozen cooked grains. This way I`m always able to prepare Quick Bean Burger (EHH Page 81) with potatoes or Caribbean Peas and Rice or Veggie Biscuit Potpie (EHH Page 159).

7. Following the meal plans

I like to follow the meal plans and for those who live in the US this is just the best and easiest way of eating healthy! I'm so jealous! :P For me it gets a little trickier because of the limited access to some ingredients, but I still cope with it! I use my substitutions and get creative. This way I'm not able to completely shop according to the shopping list in the meal plans, but I still follow it by excluding stuffs I can't find and adding my substitutes.

Finally I have to say being a minimalist helps in every way! I personally think it's not that easy to maintain a whole-food, plant-based diet where I live right now, but I'm still grateful to find good options and try to be satisfied with what I have here. Other vegan cookbooks tend to suggest weird, hard to find ingredients, while Lindsay's books use easy, clean items. I definitely think her recipes are the easiest to prepare whatever crazy busy schedule you have and wherever in the world you live!

Thanks Lindsay! Being a grad student, following a plant-based diet and having a busy schedule all together is pretty easy to maintain with your no-fuss recipes and meal plans!

Thanks Berta! You are an inspiration!

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