The stereotypical image we hold of people surviving in cold climates includes consuming high amounts of meat, dairy and eggs. This cultural practice stems from a geographic and ecological necessity. In harsher climates, plant foods are typically difficult to cultivate because they cannot survive the intense temperature lows that humans or animals could.
Many human health problems of our modern world can be attributed to lifestyle factors. Namely, our sedentary way of living in 21st century hyper-industrialized North America is a great leap from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that was practiced by most humans for the majority of our evolutionary timeline. Both omnivores and vegetarians alike have difficulty obtaining the right amount of Vitamin D during the colder months, which is why supplementation is the smartest strategy to avoid unwanted health complications.
At colder temperatures, the human metabolism must expend more energy to keep us warm. Thermogenesis is the process by which certain foods produce a warming effect on the body. These foods are typically ones rich in protein and carbohydrates, which involve more energy expenditure to digest. Thus by burning more calories, our bodies feel warmer, just as if we were exercising!
For some vegetarians, the holidays can be a lonely or isolating season. Many holiday meals in Western culture feature animal centrepieces, and if family or friends eat an omnivorous diet, this could be alienating for their local friendly vegetarian. One great way to bridge this divide is to bring a plant-based dish to dazzle and share with everyone, while ensuring you have something delicious to eat. Alternatively, you could seek out vegetarian friends or dedicated events that cater to your interests specifically. This is the perfect time to build community around shared values.
Make sure to drink ample hot teas, coffee or cider between meals if you are feeling cold but don’t want to be eating all day long. This is a great way to keep hydrated without the chilling effects of downing cold water, and can help improve blood circulation.
Another smart strategy for thriving throughout the winter is to follow seasonal availability of produce. Dietitians actually recommend this helps strengthen the immune system to keep winter colds or other sicknesses away. In British Columbia, look out for farmers’ delightful selection of pears, apples, squash, persimmon, brussels sprouts, broccoli, potatoes, beets, and so much more throughout the winter months. The beauty of eating with the seasons is that your food does not have to travel as far to reach you, meaning you can eat fresher and healthier food and while producing less transport-related emissions. Most importantly, you can support local agriculture, ensuring food security and building community.
Many of the best vegetarian winter recipes feature these seasonal produce options. Try out a curried pumpkin ginger soup, borscht, apple crumble, roasted brussels sprouts, pear compote, or any other ingenious combination you can dream up!
Beyond diet, there are great ways to mindfully embrace the cold. For this practice, we should look to the timeless wisdom of our Northern cousins. Norway may as well be Europe’s Canada, but they dare to enjoy their cold weather. This country embraces winter to the extent that they even have a specific word for the sense of coziness that can be indulged during the colder months – koselig. Norwegians look forward to skiing, fireplaces, hot drinks, and awing over the majestic natural landscapes that are at their peak of brilliance blanketed in snow.
Even if Vancouver is not blessed with the snowy winter wonderlands that grace other Canadian cities, this by no means suggests that we should be left out of enjoying the cold. Let us embrace ice skating, plan the friends’ ski trip to Whistler, go tobogganing in Squamish, or simply plan special hot chocolate dates with our loved ones. If there is something to be cherished, to anticipate, to mindfully enjoy, the winter can fully inhabit its own special place in our hearts.