Congratulations on deciding to adopt a plant-based diet. You’re likely excited to get started but you’ve immediately realized that you have a problem. Namely, what to do with all your old food when you go vegan or plant-based.
Houston, we have a meat problem
If you look in your fridge, you might find some fresh meat, deli meat, milk, cheese, butter, etc.
In your freezer, you might have some frozen meat as well as a few pizzas which use real cheese (and maybe pepperoni).
In your pantry, you might have some jerky, canned tuna, and protein bars that use whey (i.e., derived from cow milk). Even a lot of candy contains gelatine which is typically made from boiling odd bits of cows or pigs.
If you look at the list of ingredients closely, you’ll quickly realize that animal products are in most foods you have (milk and eggs are particularly ubiquitous).
What to do with all your old food
You can safely toss animal products that expired a long time ago because you forgot about them as they sat in your cupboard.
Perfectly good food, however, should never go to waste. So we need a better game plan than just tossing food in the garbage.
The four strategies we outline below can be roughly divided into two categories: eat your old food and donate your old food.
You might prefer some over others, depending on whether you have gone plant-based or vegan. (Read our article on vegan vs plant-based if you’d like to learn more about the difference.)
Option 1: Transition gradually and eat your old food
The first strategy is to transition to a plant-based diet over the course of a few weeks. Instead of quitting cold Tofurky, you could simply stop buying new animal products and consume those you already have.
Depending on the amount of existing food, this process can take a few days or even weeks (if your freezer and pantry are full of animal products).
One advantage of this approach is that you give your gut more time to adjust to the increased amount of fruits and vegetables (in fact, increasing your fiber intake by 5 grams a week is a good idea).
This option doesn’t work for everyone, however. In particular, it’s not a good idea for:
- People who want to get started right away and feel this might derail them;
- People who have an all or nothing attitude. They might find this approach triggering and hard to moderate;
- People who went vegan and don’t feel like eating animal products ever again starting right now;
- People who have health conditions that can worsen if they continue to eat animal products.
Option 2: Invite family/friends over for dinner
The second option is to have one or more large dinners in which you invite family and/or friends over.
This is also a great opportunity for you to discuss with them what you’re doing and perhaps inspire others to join you as well.
Obviously, this is a much quicker way to get rid of the old foods you bought prior to going plant-based.
One downside is having to cook large meals. We also fully appreciate that those who went vegans might not want to cook animal products even if they won’t partake in them at the dinner table.
Option 3: Donate your old food
The third, and perhaps most obvious, option to get rid of your old food is to donate it.
Here are a few ideas on what to donate and where:
- Donate non-perishable food to your local food bank. Most grocery stores have bins for this purpose but you can also contact the local food bank directly.
- Donate your food to a family in need, if you know one.
- Donate your perishable food to friends and family. The food bank will not typically take your frozen sausages and steaks, but friends and family might be more than happy to take them off your hands.
- If you don’t have friends and family nearby (perhaps because you moved recently), consider donating your perishable food by posting an ad online (or posting in freecycle groups that allow food donations).
- Contact a local animal sanctuary and see if they could use your frozen meat to feed their wolves or other carnivore animals.
When we (the founders of this site) went vegan, we donated a few hundred dollars worth of non-perishable foods to the local food bank, and the perishable ones to family and friends. It made everyone happy, including us.
Option 4: Feed what’s safe to your pets
Not all animal products are safe for your pets, but you might have some which are perfectly okay in moderation. For example, your dog might enjoy the steaks you have in the freezer.
Just make sure you do it over time, as such foods are highly caloric and can cause stomach upset in your dog. Make it a once a week reward for being such a good girl or good boy, rather than a daily occurrence.
There are likely other options as well, but these are the most common, and we’d argue sensible, choices of what to do with your old food when you go vegan or plant-based.
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