Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

Life Without Bacon? Not Impossible

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

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Bacon on a burger. Can plants taste the same?

   “You don’t eat bacon!?”

   “The look of incredulity on the speaker’s face matched the tone in his voice.

     “No,” I replied. “I don’t.”

     End of conversation. At least the out-loud part.

      “What, are you a commie? Un-American? A vegan!?” I said silently to myself, imagining I could read his mind.

      Then, out loud again, “I don’t eat red meat either.”

       “Yeah, my doctor told me I shouldn’t either,” Mr. Incredulous offered. “Not good for my heart.”

        I nodded knowingly.

        He went back to his slice of Buffalo chicken/bacon/ranch pizza and I dove into my taco salad (with grilled chicken). By looks of the size of the guy and his relatively young age, I surmised his doctor was probably right. But not for me to say, at least under the circumstances (in public, others at the table and none of my business).

        I don’t go around making a big deal about what I eat and try not to comment on what others eat, or should eat. But I notice. I notice that a lot of Americans seem to have  difficulty making the connection between how they eat — what they eat, more than how much — and their general well-being:

       — “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but I love cookies and candy and cake and soda …” 

       — “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger deluxe, but leave off the lettuce and tomato. No pickle, but I’ll take the fries.”

       — “Diet Coke, please.”

       — “I hate salad.”

      And of course, there’s an out-of-shape, orange-skinned septuagenarian in the Oval Office who lives on burgers, fries, fried chicken, steak and ice cream. He has also effectively disbanded the President’s Council on Fitness and ended Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-free school lunch program.

     So what the heck, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for us, a lot of Americans have apparently decided. Man or woman cannot live on kale alone, right?

      Right. But man or woman is likely to live a longer, healthier life if a few greens and assorted vegetables were a more common part of their diet. The chief rap on bacon and red meats, healthwise, is that they’re loaded with saturated fats, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and stroke. That’s why the doctor told Mr. Incredulous to lay off the bacon.

      But a lot of people (myself included) don’t like to be told to do what’s ultimately good for them. In fact, they will often do the opposite. There’s a lot of that going around these days in this age of anti-science and constant accusations of “fake news.” Willful ignorance is now brandished the way a gold star from the teacher used to be.

       So how do you get people to do what’s good for them (and also, by the way, the planet)? How do you convince people to occasionally eat more healthful food when they are hooked on beef, bacon and burgers?

       Well, maybe you figure out a way to blend a bunch of plants together and make them look and taste like a beef burger.

        Welcome to the Impossible Burger, now available at Burger King. Or the PLT Burger from Beyond Meat, about to get a test run from McDonald’s.

       What’s different about these and other new, plant-based burgers that are causing a stir in fast-food lines as well as the stock market apparently is that — unlike the well-meaning veggie burgers that have been around for years — these Whoppers and Not a Burgers actually look and taste like beef burgers. Juice and all. But they’re vegan. No animal byproducts at all.

      I’m thus far unable to provide a personal review of one of these plant-based burgers because I haven’t found a place serving one yet. When I do, I will.

       But it is worth pointing out that the plant-based burgers themselves, even if they turn out to be juicy and yummy are themselves a mixed bag, health-wise. For starters, they have been heavily processed to attain the desired taste and texture and the jury is out on the health effects of a lot of the additives. Also, they can be high on calories and tend to be heavy on salt, which is definitely not a health benefit. They also have less protein than animal-based burgers and, while they contain no cholesterol and have added some vital nutrients, they may have some saturated fats from coconut.

      So why bother? For one thing, eating even a little less red meat is good for one’s health. For another, relying more on plants, less on animals, for food, is good for the planet. Livestock farming is a major contributor to global warming (greenhouse gasses, ammonia) and a major consumer of water and user of land. People who believe in science think global warming is the major issue of our time. (As we know, the Oval Office burger-muncher is not a science believer.) And for some, there is the benefit of knowing that no animals lost their lives so they could enjoy lunch.

        I’m no purist in this area. As I said, my taco salad was topped with chicken. I also eat seafood, including sushi. But I don’t run from salads, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and love non-dairy frozen desserts as well as frozen yogurt. My favorite non-beef burger thus far has been a black bean burger. Delicious, especially with sweet potato fries.

      I guess my point, which I wrote about several years ago when a doctor told me it would behoove me to cut down on the sweets, salt and red meat, is that it is entirely possible to enjoy eating and also enjoy good health. Take fewer meds. I tried to follow the doctor’s suggestion. She said most don’t. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits. Medical costs have soared.

      I still do the best I can. Lost a bunch of weight and I am in pretty good health for an old curmudgeon. No meds. Wear a size 36 belt. I don’t feel deprived because I avoid bacon. Oh, in a weak moment, I might actually grab a piece. I haven’t yet, but that’s all it would be. A piece. It’s all about balance. Given my usual diet, it won’t kill me to have a slice of bacon. Then again, between you and me, it wouldn’t kill Mr. Incredulous to try a nice Greek Salad once in awhile. Or at least an Impossible Burger.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

If It’s ‘Safe,’ Put It on the Label

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

A few weeks ago I wrote a column that proclaimed, “Turns out, you really are what you eat.” For me, in the midst of changing to a more healthful diet, that statement is truer than ever. The problem is, it is getting harder to know exactly what we’re eating and the mega-companies that produce the food we eat are going out of their way to keep it that way. They’re also getting a lot of help from politicians, who bemoan rising health costs and obesity on the one hand, but don’t seem eager to learn if, just maybe, the food we eat has something to do with both. Guess it depends on who’s buttering your toast.

Disclaimer: While I have significantly modified my diet to a more healthful emphasis on non-meat fanoods and organic food, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. I believe all living things, including animals, are entitled to humane treatment and that animals who are pets or companions should not be used as food. Period.

I also believe that we humans are entitled to know as much as possible about the food being offered to us, including any changes made to the original product. Then we can make whatever decision we want, informed or uninformed, as long as we have a fair chance. That’s what this is about.

This week, President Obama, following the lead of a bought-and-paid for Congress, signed into law what has come to be known as the Monsanto Protection Act. Big mistake.

Much of the president’s political support has come from voters who believed his stated commitments to openness in government and a healthier, more informed citizenry. This swoop of his pen calls much of his rhetoric into doubt. In brief, the so-called act is actually one turgid paragraph buried in the homeland security section of a huge budget bill. It allows Monsanto, which did an all-out lobbying effort to get Congress to stick the paragraph in the bill, to plant genetically modified crop seed without any court reviewing whether or not it is safe.

Genetically modified crops are hardier, more resistant to pesticides and produce more product in less space. Through review of the gene-modifying process, the government says, it decides if they are safe for human consumption.

So ask yourself: Why then is it necessary in the first place for a food giant to want protection from having to prove its “safe” food is safe?

Correct answer: Money. It costs a lot to pay lawyers to defend you in court. Even mega-rich companies like Monsanto try to avoid court costs. Also, any doubts raised about the safety of a food product — cereal, bread, beef — is bound to hurt sales. More money.

This has far more to do with Monsanto’s bottom line than homeland security. And the fact that nobody can be 100 percent sure the genetically modified organisms are, in the long run, safe.

Now, a lot of apparently intelligent people say publicly that the GMOs are indeed safe for us to eat. I don’t discount this out of hand. As I said, this is about letting us, not some high-priced lobbyist, decide what food we want to eat and what food we’d just as soon avoid. (Obama has also appointed a former Monsanto executive as his food safety adviser.) If GMOs are so safe (may European nations have banned them), then label them and let the president give a personal testimonial on the label if he wants. “Mmm mmm good, says Barack.” Just let me know what I’m eating.

Or drinking.

The other current labeling issue involves milk, which we are told from birth is good, even necessary, for our good health, and aspartame, which, well, let’s say has had some issues.

The dairy industry has asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow it to remove front-of-package labeling on flavored milk products that proclaim “low calorie” or “artificially sweetened.” These milk products, especially chocolate milk, are big with kids, but they are drinking less of it and industry executives think the front labels may scare them off.

Again, money.

Actually, it’s more likely the labels scare off parents who then look at the ingredients and see aspartame has been added for sweetness. Just to be clear — aspartame is already in these products and listed in the ingredients. That will not change. The milk people just want it to be less obvious and to continue to label the products “milk” without any of that annoying added information.

Now, to start with, using artificial sweeteners as an argument for improving the health of children is specious. The sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar (aspartame is 200 times sweeter) that they increase children’s appetite for other sweet foods. And school officials are not keen on kids being targeted this way and not being absolutely clear as to what they are offering in their cafeterias.

A chemical concoction, aspartame (once sold as NutraSweet) has been a controversial product from the start. Still, while being mentioned in connection with many health concerns (including brain cancer), aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption in the United States and more than 100 other countries. For proof, check your diet soda’s ingredients.

The point is, they still call it diet soda or low-cal whatever, meaning you might want to check the ingredients to see what makes it so tasty. Just like you might want to check your milk product. Or not.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as savvy and independent consumers. We also say we revere science and aspire to good health. Yet we rank near the bottom of the world rankings for science students and near the top for obese ones — and health care costs. Maybe we should connect those dots.

Meantime, just give us all the info on the food we get and let us decide for ourselves if we want to eat it.

bob@zestoforange.com

Turns Out, You Really Are What You Eat

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos

I don’t eat salt and sugar anymore. Well, I try not to, as much as is possible in America. Also no red meat, French fries or soda. I know, downright un-American.

As I write this, I‘m sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts alone, eating my oatmeal with fruit (fair) and veggie egg white (pretty good) breakfast. Medium coffee, no sugar. Ketchup Bob, who usually joins me, had a previous engagement. We’ll have to talk about that ketchup some other time.

The low-salt/sugar diet started about four months ago, the result of a long-delayed physical checkup and a decision that I wasn‘t ready for the slow-but-steady surrender to couch potato oblivion. Not by a long shot, it turns out to my pleasant surprise.

The doctor said I was too heavy and my blood pressure was too high. Vitamin D was too low. A couple of pills, some exercise and a new diet were prescribed. The pills have the blood pressure down to my former well-within-acceptable range and I have lost about 30 pounds (more to come). I am also walking two-to-three miles per week and have started what I call an exercise regimen, but my coach calls a reclamation project. I say it’s just semantics, but we’re working on it.

It turns out, the diet switch wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. There’s a lot of salad in my diet now, more fruit and veggies and a lot of chicken. Also sea food. I have ventured into the previously mysterious world (to me) of vegan cuisine and have eaten sushi for the first time. More to the point, I’m prepared to go back for seconds. I have also relearned the art of using chopsticks (brown rice, please).

I am also happy to report that there are mighty tasty organic cookies (double chocolate) and that chocolate itself, if it’s mostly chocolate, is still good as well as good for you. And there are plenty of healthful salsa and chip varieties to satisfy that other craving. And Greek yogurt with fruit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not nearly settled in to this new diet. Not even sure what it will eventually turn out to be. I may splurge on an occasional steak or ice cream cone. Fanaticism is not one of my shortcomings. The doctor asked me to read “Wheat Belly,” a best-seller that launched the no-gluten craze. I’m not even sure I had a wheat belly, but I’m reading the book and I’ll have to get back to you on that. At the very least, I know that too much bread isn’t good for me.

The exercise regimen, on the other hand, has turned out to be more challenging. Even walking a half mile was exhausting initially.

Weight training (dumbbells, not barbells) was, to be honest, humbling at first. My male ego had to wrestle with seeing the fairer sex easily do repetitions I could not finish. Pushups? Forget it. The only exercise I managed to feel OK doing at first was crunches. (And by the way, they’re paying off.) I’m also doing a lot of stretching and believe me my body needed it and I feel it.

I am happy to report that I am now doing a two-mile walk each week, with a one-mile stroll tossed in most weeks as well. There are also sessions on a stationary bike (soon to be increased, coach) and a general heightened awareness of how I walk (also tossed in for the coach).

So what? you say. Why should you care about what I eat or do with my body? Well, honestly, you don’t have to care. I’m doing this diary entry as a sort of selfish exercise in self-discipline, to remind myself that what I’m doing is working. I feel much healthier, look much healthier and even think in a healthier way than I did before I began this radical change. That’s win-win-win. I’ve had to buy new jeans and they are already too big.

It has always been my belief that it is never too late to do something if you really want to do it. Motivation is key, of course. As well as self-discipline and support and encouragement. Making this change a matter of public record also has the effect of making me stick to it as much as possible because I won’t like being asked whatever happened to your diet, chubby?

And, who knows, maybe it will influence someone else who is slipping into coach potato oblivion to resist and pull him or herself out of the cushions. Life is too short to fritter away. I have a long way to go, but the joy, they say, is in the journey. So I’m going to try to have fun as I go along. (More stretches? Really coach?) I’ll keep you filled in on the details.

Next week, Bob, the ketchup talk.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

Omnivore, Vegetarian or Vegan?

Monday, September 19th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Picture in your mind the food ladder. Starting at the bottom rung, we have the most abundant and free source of energy on the planet; solar, which is consumed by plants (next rung) to make food energy, which is consumed by animals (next rung) to make protein, which is consumed by man. Except in a few rare cases involving bears, sharks, wild dingoes or cannibals, the food ladder ends with us humans.

Each rung on the ladder represents about a 10 percent loss of resources. The plants waste 10 percent of the sun, growing things the animals won’t eat. The animals waste 10 percent of the plant by growing things like feathers, fur and bones that we won’t eat. You get the picture. What does that innocuous 10 percent really look like?

To produce a pound of wheat takes about 25 gallons of water, a lot of sun, and less than an acre of land. Yet it takes 16 pounds of that wheat (plus soy), and 2,500 gallons of water fed to a cow to make one pound of beef. More than half our farm land and half our water consumption is currently devoted to the meat industry. A 10-acre farm could feed 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn but only two producing cattle, according to the British group Vegfam. We eat most of our grain in the form of meat, 90 percent actually, which translates into 2,000 pounds of grain a year. In poorer countries, grain is consumed directly, skipping a rung on the ladder.

“Imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak dinner,” writes author Frances Moore Lappé in Diet for a Small Planet. “Then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in front of them. For the ‘feed cost’ of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains.” We Americans don’t often see the unappetizing effects of eating 260 pounds of meat per person, per year. We waste 90 percent of the carbs, fiber, and plant protein by cycling grain through animals for meat.

Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that reducing meat consumption by just 10 percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people. This year, about 20 million people, mostly children, will starve to death.

We don’t often see the hungry and malnourished in our culture, so it’s difficult to make that connection when standing by the grill waiting for your hamburger. Consider ways to replace meat for two or three main meals a week. Marge Corriere, a Blooming Hill Farm customer, said recently: “Treat meat like a condiment. Use just a small amount for a meal, much like they do in other countries.” By eating lower on the food chain, even just a few meals a week, we reduce our risks for heart disease, obesity, hypertension, colon (and other) cancers, and save valuable resources that could be put to better uses elsewhere.

“It boils down to a simple equation,” says Alan Durning, head of the Northwest Environment Watch. “We currently consume close to our own body weight in natural resources every day. These resources are extracted from farms, forests, fisheries, mines and grasslands, all of which are essential to the health of the planet — and to the health of human beings.”

Adding more vegan meals to your diet, and treating animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) as condiments and using very little, improves your health and the health of the planet.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery. www.WallkillRiverSchool.com