Vietnamese student Mia Nguyen explores how you can practise plant-based eating, shopping and cooking on a typical student budget

With the growing concern for climate change and the degradation of our ecosystem, green living, with its aim of reducing the environmental impact in daily life, is a must-try for anyone seeking practical ways to start changing the world.

The way we eat
The first step towards green living is, in my opinion, through how we eat. This can be done by stopping or cutting down on animal product consumption, as this industry accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. You will find many other reasons just one search away on the internet.
You can also opt to minimise waste (‘Plastic not fantastic!’) and choosing products from ethical sources (an apple travelling from Spain to Ireland produces more carbon emissions than an apple bought in the local Irish market).
As an international student in Ireland who is interested and passionate about green living, I hope to share with you my ways of living in a more eco-friendly way through how I eat. And on a budget. Why? Well, as green as I can be, I am a broke college student.

Packaged food
There is bad news and good news. The bad news is that, based on my own experience, a lot of Irish people and supermarkets use unnecessary plastic packaging and processed food. Carrots, tomatoes and green leaves are often bought in plastic trays wrapped with soft plastic bags, while products as simple as rice are cooked industrially and preserved and then made into ‘ready-to-eat’ rice.

The farmers’ market in Galway

On the bright side, the good news is that there are other options. There are fresh, loose veggies displayed besides the pre-packed ones, and both vegetarian and vegan food which can be opted for in any restaurant or supermarket. You will also find regular Irish farmers’ markets every weekend. Also, more and more zero waste and organic stores are opening as a result of the growth in this green lifestyle.
So, for those of you who are enthusiastic about this lifestyle like me, remember that the options are there, and you are the one who makes the choice.

Golden Rule: veg – breakfast – fruit – starch – protein (left-right, up-down) with rainbow rule

Grocery shopping
As a college student on a limited budget, I tend to cook at home a lot since it saves me tonnes of money compared to eating out. Shopping for food is undeniably a highly important part of this. With the goal of more sustainable activity while not exceeding my budget – and with deliciously cookable meals in mind – here are some of my tips/experiences learned from after more than a year of living in Ireland:

1. Always bring (at least) one reusable shopping bag.
2. Look for fresh, loose ingredients instead of pre-packed ones.
3. ‘Buy-a-rainbow’ rule: diverse coloured foods have diverse groups of nutrients.
4. Golden rule: Always buy ingredients in these five essential groups: Breakfast, Protein, Starch, Veg and Fruit. These groups will help you cover all the daily meals, as well as providing enough nutrients in the time between each shop.

Cooking up a storm
In terms of cooking it really depends on personal preferences and styles. Living abroad for the first time can help you figure these out and explore further. In this blog post I will only focus on cooking as an attempt to explore different cuisines.
Also, I tend to cook dishes which are either fast and easy or not-so-fast but can last for a few days, using the ingredients that I buy while also using the tips mentioned in earlier. I hope my experiences will be useful for your journey of ‘exploration’:

1. Prebake hard ingredients such as sweet potatoes, squash, etc.
2. Soak and boil dry pulses in half-a-week batches.
3. An easy way to pair meals: one starchy element paired with other vegs. It will keep you full and satisfied!

In warmer months:

Noodles with tofu and pickled vegetables

Noodles with caramelized aubergines

In cooler months:

Jacket sweet potatoes with stewed veg

Wholewheat pasta

Fun fancier meals

Wholewheat crepes

Homemade pizza with crazy toppings

In conclusion
If you are still reading, I can tell that you definitely have some interest in this lifestyle. Remember: living green is all about being healthy and happy, whether it’s for yourself or for the world.
So embrace yourself and it will be an interesting journey ahead!
PS My next blog will be about a more general guide to a green lifestyle in general. Watch this space!