Fitness/Health, Lifestyle

How I Turned Vegan In Singapore With $1.80 Meals Included

As a former PR girl of a Michelin-starred restaurant group, I was paid to eat for four years. Now, God forbid I’m vegan (just kidding, I always aspired to be one).

Naturally, I relate to questions I often receive on veganism.

How did you turn vegan? Why did you do it? *Insert scientific debate about nutrition intake* Do you do it for religion or health reasons? How do you survive without meat? Do you miss meat?

In Singapore, food is king. However, we don’t get the freshest vegetable produce or the most affordable, plant-based protein options. Nutritious food always seems more expensive.

Placing aside nutritional debates, I’m mainly vegan because I love vegetables, the discipline of preparing my own meals and being in sync with my conscience. My dog might need meat, but I know I don’t. Also, going vegan helps the environment.

I remember stroking a farm cow in France and watching a calf skip around the barn with joy, thinking how sorry I felt. Perhaps, that’s why we bring a child to a fruit farm but not the slaughterhouse.

But, transitioning is a long process. Veganism isn’t only about food—you could take simple steps by choosing vegan cosmetic products, non-animal leather and supporting cruelty-free beauty brands. 

Prior to working in PR, I was pescatarian for six years after I watched the documentary ‘Food, Inc.’ and cut off 80% meat when I shut my laptop. Then, I reverted to eating all meats except beef before adopting a vegan diet in 2019.

Surprisingly, my journey hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. It might be trickier if you follow a strict nutritional plan—if you need food with high protein and low fats, check out Seitan (wheat gluten).

Steps I took to turn vegan

Being vegan doesn’t mean eating eat bland food or posing in a sports bra with an Açaí bowl. As a Peranakan-mixed girl, I need my spices and curries. No doubt, I do enjoy wholesome ‘rabbit food’, but a bunch of blueberries to sprinkle over my fruit bowl would cost me S$6 here.

Some could start with a vegetarian diet. In Singapore, many local Indian restaurants offer affordable vegetarian options. What matters is your progress and to not beat yourself up if you consume an egg; don’t feel bad to take one step back and two steps forward.

To transition better, you could focus on your favourite foods. What are some vegetable dishes you already love? Do you prefer spicy or non-spicy food? For example, I could imagine eating vegetables cooked with Mala every day, but not vegetables tossed with salad dressing.

There’s less pressure when you focus on the things you love than on the things you hate.

My timeline

In chronological order, this is how I slowly moved towards veganism while learning how to cook with bare minimum skills:

  • Started picking only non-meat items from regular dishes at home.
  • Told everyone around me not to ‘spike’ my food with meat or send me KFC.
  • Realised it’s easier to substitute ingredients while keeping the flavour of gravies and spices so I consulted my grandmother on ready-made sauces.
  • Read up on meat substitutes.
  • Compiled easy vegan recipes I could use with little to no cooking skills required (you could create a Pinterest board).
  • Shortlisted three yummy, affordable recipes using ready-made sauces: one pasta recipe, one curry recipe and one ‘no-cook’ meal with oats.
  • Experimented with those recipes and tweaked them slightly for taste.
  • Visited a mall to buy nail polish and opted for vegan options. Moreover, Catrice is cruelty-free and one of my favourite drugstore brands, as mentioned in my list here!
  • Did an inventory check of my cosmetic & skincare products and highlighted the cruelty-free products I have/would buy.
  • Compared prices for staple items like oats, lentils, couscous, chickpeas, soy protein, beans, peas, etc. Realised Mustafa is a great 24/7 supermart to get everything at one location for last-minute shopping.
  • Read up on potential nutritional deficiencies and bought vitamin supplements on iHerb.
  • Started speaking to more vegan friends and learning more about the community.

Affordable vegan options

Since I became vegan, I realised you can buy tasty, microwavable $1.80 meals near the organic section at Mustafa Centre and stock them up a ’emergency meals’ for days you’re hungry and too lazy to cook.

They offer tomato rice, spinach sides to mix with rice, lentils, chickpea soups and more. If you do the math, there’s little chance of starving as a vegan in the ‘world’s most expensive city’.

Surprisingly, I think my meals taste better now because going vegan forced me to scour for more affordable options and read ingredient labels.

As someone who loves pasta, I also learnt that Prego’s canned tomato sauce is a life saviour and tastes better than their jar version. All you need is to fire up some olive oil, onions, garlic, vegetables, mushrooms and pour two cans into the pot, to get a pasta sauce you could refrigerate for future meals.

If you prefer curries, you could simply replace the tomato sauce with two large tablespoons of vegetable curry paste.

Right now, I’m still discovering new websites, ingredients and recipes, which I’d gladly share along the way.

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