Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 26: What Not to Eat

It may be easy to assume that the majority of vegans eat a healthier diet than most non-vegan Americans, but it's worth nothing that that's not necessarily so. Even though vegans have cut out synthetic trans fats and animal-based saturated fats, they still run the risk of swamping meals with "healthy" fats like walnut oil, olive oil and flaxseed oil, also with high-fat fruits like avocados and coconut products, and then there are all of those nuts for snacks.

There are still carb-laden junk foods, like bagels, Oreos, Fritos, unfrosted Pop-tarts, tortilla chips, Cracker Jacks, pretzels and potato chips. Yes, those are all vegan! Then there are varieties of organic and "healthy" junk food alternatives in the natural foods section of many large chain grocery stores.

So what if they're organic? They're still more or less empty calories! Simply making a one-to-one switch of the animal products to plant-based ones, like eating vegan pizza topped with cashew cheese and fake meats instead of a regular Meat-lover's pizza from Pizza Hut three times a week may bring some benefits, but it's not as healthy as ultimately changing the way we eat.

You could eat nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagels with Tofutti cream cheese, nachos assembled from Guiltless Gourmet blue corn tortilla chips, vegetarian refried beans, guacamole and soy-based casein-free "cheese," and topped off with salsa, vegan sour cream and black olives and say, "Hey, I'm a Vegan!" and still not get a healthy allotment of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

I know. I've done it.

My food credo, if you can call it that, is to eat the majority of my food in as close to its natural state as possible: more natural food and less "industrial food," as Michael Pollan would say. In his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, he described industrial food as "any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain." In the Standard American Diet (SAD), this probably means corn or some derivative thereof, and wow, is it everywhere, from the sweeteners, to the flour, to the wax on a lot of the produce, to the grain that fattened the cattle who ultimately became Quarter Pounders, or fed the chickens who turned into your kids' Purdue Dinosaur Chicken nuggets; it even fed the dairy cows who produced the cream in my old favorite pint of Chubby Hubby ice cream.* Edit: upon some review, it appears that Ben and Jerry's actually makes real efforts to work with dairy farmers who pledge to use grass-based dairying, whose benefits are many; among them being a more sustainable agricultural practice with less need for chemical fertilizers, and a healthier herd, so less call for drugs.

The Egg McMuffin? A lot of corn behind that baby, plus a smidge of overly-refined wheat flour.

So, no more with the military-industrial complex and their frankenfoods. I haven't even touched on the issue of genetically-engineered foods and the evil that is Monsanto.

I resolve to eat most of my fruits and vegetables raw, same goes for my nuts and seeds. Unlike with a 100% raw diet, I'll have baked whole-grain bread, though I may try some dehydrated cracker recipes from raw food sites. I do have some processed soy and vegetable protein items, (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, soy-based meat and cheese replacements) but they will not constitute the bulk of my diet.

In fact, I am still delving into what's "ok" and what isn't. I recently discovered that my favorite soy milk, Silk, no longer uses organic soy beans. From what I've read, genetically modified soy beans have pretty much contaminated the general supply, so unless the package is specifically marked organic, chances are good that you're consuming a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Silk did not substantially change their packaging except to remove the organic stamp and the "organic soy beans" from the ingredients list. They did this with as little fanfare as possible. In fact, I only heard about this through vegan blogs and a twitter-fest over the past week. Now I have to check the labels even more thoroughly on my soy-based items. It's not enough that many of the "non-dairy" soy-based cheeses aren't actually vegan because of traces of casein, something which I discovered to my chagrin after I bought three blocks of Soya Kaas last week. No, now I have to worry about the quality of the soy beans in my supposedly healthy food.

How aggravating.

I have to work twice as hard and spend more money to feed my kids and myself the healthiest foods, as free of pesticides, antibiotics and suspect science as possible. The food industry markets the most unhealthy food the most aggressively. They have the grocers' associations on their sides as well as the food manufacturers because their bottom line is a financial one, although it is patently absurd, since at the end of the day, they all have to eat too. But here is where there is a disconnect: they don't see the animals and plants as anything other than commodities to be processed into other exchangeable items.

I see animals that have been poisoned, inhumanely slaughtered -against our own laws, even- and contaminated food that has been processed and stamped USDA-approved thanks to the ridiculous concept of an industry regulating itself. Let's be realistic, if fraternities can't manage the honor system, we can't expect billion-dollar corporations to do so.

That's just scratching the surface. /rant

So, what to eat, then?

There's been a lot in the news in recent days about the Eco-Atkins, or a veganized version of the Atkins diet, and yesterday I was excited about it because I'd done a low-carb, high-protein diet 3 years ago and lost a good deal of weight, only to have some of it come back when my unresolved eating disorder issues popped to the fore during times of stress.

Now I know that it's naïve of me to assume that switching to a vegan diet/lifestyle would be a panacea for all that ails me. I know I'll probably have to see a therapist about this at some point, truth be told, but I know from my past experience that weight loss with a vegan diet is quite common. Hearing about this vegan version of the Atkins got me revved up until I realized that I've been losing weight already, albeit slowly; what's more, I have been feeling great ever since I made the switch. So, why mess with a good thing? Besides, as of this morning, I'm down another pound, so, as far as I'm concerned, I'm good.

Using a Vegan Food Pyramid as a guide, the base of my diet will be fruits and vegetables instead of grains.

I have to be wary of which grains I eat because of they way they affect my blood sugar levels. Rice, even brown rice, is tricky for me. I can eat a huge serving of a brown rice dish and be craving something shortly thereafter even though I'm not hungry. I have already given up pasta except on rare occasions, going on 3 years now. At first I thought I'd die if I couldn't have pasta 3 times a week, but look, I haven't! When I do make it for the kids, I try to use whole grain varieties, which are expensive, I admit, so there's even more of an incentive to try other things like quinoa, millet and bulgur.

Whole grain breads don't seem to have the same affect on me as pasta and rice do, which is nice since I am a bread-making fiend. I can make a mixed grain pilaf with rice as long as I am heavy on the other grains (bulgur and quinoa are my favorite) and add some beans and nuts as well and round out the meal with plenty of raw vegetables. I can't make that dish very often though.

All in all, I like the emphasis on fruits and vegetables instead of grains. Most of the pyramids use the grain and cereal group at the bottom, and it seems to suggest to people that they can go ahead and eat 2 bowls of cereal or have 3 bagels or snack on pretzels all day and they're set.

That's nuts.




Allison Dickson said...

I too have noticed things like organic "oreo" cookies and cheese puffs, and I even used to eat them way back when until I realized that even if they weren't made with trans fats and HFCS, they were still cookies and cheese puffs. It's an easy trap to fall into.

Oh and I love quinoa. There is a great quinoa stew recipe in one of my Moosewood cookbooks that is fantastic.

Babs said...

Quinoa is this hidden gem. It is so good.

Yep, junk food is junk food, no matter what stripe you put on it. It's a hard tightrope act to do too, because if you say to yourself, "I can never have this again," you can run the risk of obsessing over it until you fall face-first into a bag of chips and then wake up with crumbs in your hair and empty bags everywhere.

Then if you say, "Oh I'll just have a few, you can have a few, and then a few more, until you fall face-first into a bag of chips and then wake up with crumbs in your hair and empty bags everywhere.


Allison Dickson said...

LOL! Exactly! I guess the organic version of junkfood serves the purpose of "well, if I'm GONNA eat this, it might as well be not made of garbage." That reminds me... there is a Nature's Path oreo cookie that is so freakin good that the filling remains soft. *drool* I also like their organic Toaster Pastries. The Cherry Pomegranate used to be my favorite.

Babs said...

I'm trying to vow to myself that if I'm going to eat junk at all, that I will make it myself, in order to keep that to a minimum.

It works and it doesn't, because I do have some control over what goes into it, but I do love to cook and bake, so it's not as if it's terribly onerous. heh

Cassie said...

Babs, would you recommend The Omnivore's Dilemma? I've been vegetarian for over 7 years now, and last year cut out all dairy and white sugar, too. The dairy has crept back in, though, and I'd like to give myself the kick up the butt I need to give it up again. The main culprit is sour cream (don't eat cheese very often at all, no ice cream, we use soy milk for cooking and cereal, etc.) and I know I can give it up, I just need something to remind me why it's better for me to eat as close to nature as possible.

Babs said...

Well, I would not recommend The Omnivore's Dilemma jst as something to read if you're looking to make a switch to a vegan diet. He makes some very typical meat-eater's excuses in one small section of the book when he defended going back to an omnivorous diet from a vegetarian one.

Nevertheless, I have to say that it's an excellent read about the truth about industrialized food. I think that everyone ought to read it. People spend more time thinking about what they wear than what they put in their bodies.

One of the books that helped me kick the dairy habit in particular was, believe it or not, Skinny Bitch. There's an excellent bibliography in there which I used to expand my reading list. Each new book I've read that has dealt with the practices of big Agribusiness has made me feel better about my choice to give up meat and dairy. Diet for a Dead Planet is another excellent book that takes a critical look at the food production system.

Good Luck! I know you can do it. Trust me, if I can give up cheese, it can be done. :)

Related Posts with Thumbnails