A Vegan Meal for the Books

You probably already know that I’m a proponent of reducing the amount of animal products in our diets, for a variety of reasons, including eating more plant based foods, reducing chronic disease, wasting less energy and natural resources, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing animal cruelty, increasing food safety, and increasing worker justice. I’ve gotten used to the idea of a tasty, filling meal that doesn’t include meat, but I know that there are plenty of people that can’t imagine a satisfying meal without meat or dairy. Well last night I went to a vegan restaurant that would wow even a hard-core carnivore. Just take a gander:

Portabello carpaccio

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Rutabaga fondue (I know it sounds weird but I could NOT get enough)

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savory roasted carrots with various delicious accoutrements

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hearts of palm and a vindaloo filled buckwheat crepe

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grilled tofu that was incredibly fluffy with a delicious sauce and pistachio puree thingy

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Maitake mushrooms

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Grilled Romanesco (a funkier looking cauliflower type vegetable)

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grilled seitan which looked and tasted remarkably like chicken

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And that wasn’t even everything! We got a few more delicious plates, including dessert. I didn’t get a picture of the dessert because my family and I attacked it too quickly. The rest of the food was mouth-watering, but dessert is typically the highlight for me. And as someone who has said that she could never completely give up dairy solely because of dessert, I was wowed. The “ice cream” was indistinguishable from real ice cream. The layered chocolate peanut butter thing was everything I could have wanted.

I fail to see how anyone could miss meat or dairy or eggs after a meal like that.

The Woes of Corporate Influence on Health Professionals

You may or may not have heard the latest scandal on the nutrition scene, which has garnered mass attention from the media, including Jon Stewart (click here): the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the professional organization for registered dietitians of which I am a student member, has allowed Kraft Singles to bear the logo for its “Kids Eat Right” campaign for better child nutrition.

If you’ve read my blog before, particularly this post, you know that I take serious issue with the corporate sponsorship policies of AND and the huge amount of influence that corporate money has on public health in general. Wonderfully though, the advent of this Kraft fiasco has brought so much attention to the issue that more dietitians are aware and complaining than ever before that AND’s choices in this regard are misrepresenting them; it’s started a social media campaign with the hashtag #repealtheseal. The next meeting of AND’s House of Delegates will apparently include a discussion of corporate sponsorship policy. In fact, I received an email from the student representative of the House of Delegates asking for students’ opinions on the matter. The following is my reply:

Thank you for asking for students to voice their opinions in anticipation of the HOD meeting. I have been against AND’s current sponsorship model for a while now, and I am glad that the seal on Kraft Singles has brought so much attention to this issue. In my view, it is impossible for the Academy to promote the best evidence-based nutrition and dietetics practice with health as its goal while being primarily financially supported by corporations whose goal is to increase return on investments. The Academy claims that sponsors don’t have undue influence on its activities, but it seems highly unlikely to me that any sponsor would continue giving financial support if the Academy ever took a position that clearly conflicted with the sponsor’s bottom line. Furthermore, it totally discredits the Academy and its members to be partnered with the companies that produce many of the products that are the most closely linked with the obesity epidemic. Whether or not the Academy is technically endorsing particular products, these sponsorships give the public the impression that this organization of dietitians could potentially prioritize corporate interests over public health. Take this whole Kraft scandal, for instance–AND claims that the seal is meant to be an advertisement for Kids Eat Right, yet Kraft paid to be able to use it. There are seemingly no criteria to meet to be allowed to bear the Kids Eat Right seal, which further discredits AND’s commitment to evidence-based nutrition. In terms of public relations, these sponsorships only seem to be benefiting the sponsors who can claim they are partnering with health professionals to promote better nutrition, and more and more this practice is coming to light as a corrupt marketing tactic. I personally would not mind paying higher dues if it meant that the Academy’s activities did not depend on corporate dollars, and there are organizations of health professionals who have completely eliminated corporate sponsorships and still have reasonable dues, like the American Public Health Association.

I fervently hope that this is another sign of the tide beginning to turn towards food and health policy that is oriented towards health of people, animals, and the planet, as opposed to the interests of “Big Food.”

Food and Race

In my year and a half or so of being in college, I have been exposed to more activism that I had been in my entire life leading up to college combined. Everyone here seems to have a cause, which I think is phenomenal. I love that so much about my school, that everyone I meet wants to use their voice and their passion to change some aspect of society. I love the way my best friend’s mom puts it; she says something to the tune of “The world has so many problems, and it’s great because you get to choose which one you want to solve.” That sentiment is, I think, more evident on college campuses than anywhere else. Being immersed in this environment has made me a much less ignorant and hopefully much more sensitive and diplomatic person, especially I think when it comes to racial equality, feminism, LGBTQ equality, and Israeli affairs, sustainability, poverty, and, most of all, food issues.

I’m writing this now because this past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend part of a conference on my campus focusing on agency and solidarity; basically the purpose was to help activists of different causes share strategies and work together to coordinate their efforts. I came with a team who hosted a workshop on university food sustainability and sourcing real food (more on that in a future post). The workshop was really cool because we got to hear each of the attendees speak to their diverse stakes in food (not least of which that everyone eats).

A dear friend of mine who I admire for her outspoken advocacy for racial equality attended our workshop and mentioned that she usually focuses her activism energies on issues of race. Some of the group then briefly touched on the societal connections between issues of race and food. I think this topic is not widely understood, so I thought I’d write about it this evening. As far as my “expertise” goes, I’m aware of a few major ties between the dysfunctional food system and racial inequality within the U.S.

I’ll start with those with which I’m less familiar. The business of industrial agriculture most certainly puts minorities at a disadvantage, particularly immigrant workers who are often undocumented. As I understand it, for the most part, people of color are the ones spending unimaginable hours picking our fruits and vegetables and slaughtering and packing our meats, getting paid unjustly, and working in unsafe conditions, with next to no power to change their situation.

The restaurant industry too is heavily flawed with regard to labor issues, including exhibiting broad racial discrimination in employment and promotion, which I wrote about previously. Here is a quote from that post: “There is, with several notable exceptions, almost universal racial discrimination in hiring and promoting. The “front of house” jobs (servers, hosts, managers) go disproportionately to white employees, while the “back of house” jobs (bussers, prep cooks, dishwashers) go disproportionately to people of color. Experienced Black and Latino dishwashers and bussers are frequently passed over for promotions to server and manager positions in favor of less experienced white workers. “

The intersection between food and race with which I’m most familiar is food access and health disparities. Essentially, the problem here is that people of color have consistently less access to what I would call “real food” and consequently have much higher incidences of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases, as well as hunger, malnutrition, and low birth weight babies who may or may not have congenital health problems due to prenatal malnutrition and higher risk for health problems later, which continues the vicious cycle. There are undoubtedly many contributors to this problem, namely poverty and lack of education. As my pal (and idol) Mark Bittman has said, you can’t sustainably feed the world until you eliminate poverty, and there is obviously a hugely complex relationship between race and poverty that needs to be better understood and tackled from the ground up in order to really get rid of these health disparities. Even at the same level of education, on average, people of color have jobs that pay significantly less than white people. How does this affect nutrition? Well, people of color have to work longer hours, they have less time and money to dedicate to seeking out real food and cooking for themselves and their families, they have less time and expertise with which to teach their children healthy habits such as preparing meals and getting enough exercise, and then another generation is without the tools to prevent a lifetime of chronic disease, not to mention pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the complexities of socioeconomic status and race, but that is my general understanding of the current state of things in much of the U.S., particularly in urban areas.

I’d love to hear comments on anything I’ve said and other ways that issues of food and race are connected. Thanks for reading!

Portion Distortion: How to Avoid Overeating

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last written–it’s midterm season! Luckily they’re almost over, I just have my Anatomy and Physiology lab practical tomorrow and then no more tests for a while. Anyway, I’ve written before about the food psychology research seminar I’m in–the lab that runs it has done some incredible work, especially on the environmental factors determine how much people eat. What’s that you say? Isn’t how much you eat just determined by how hungry you are, or when you feel full? Not according to research. It’s been very well established that how much you eat is strongly influenced by many factors outside of your physical hunger/satisfaction. Here are some things to watch out for.

People tend to:

  • serve themselves more food when they have larger plates vs. when they have smaller plates
  • serve themselves more food when they have larger serving utensils vs. when they have smaller serving utensils
  • eat more food when they are served (or serve themselves) more vs. when they are served (or serve themselves) less; the same goes for package size–so people tend eat more from larger packages than from small ones

  • eat more food the more people they dine with
  • pour more of a drink into a short, wide glass than a tall, narrow one
  • eat more in total when meal components are separate than when they are in a mixed dish (e.g. meat, rice, and vegetable separated on the plate vs. mixed together in a stir-fry)
  • eat more when there is more variety of foods available (e.g. at a buffet)
  • eat more when the food is within reach than when it is not (e.g. if your serving plates are on the kitchen table vs. on the counter)
  • eat more when a food is within view than when it is not (e.g. cookies left out on the counter vs. kept in a cabinet)
  • eat more when less effort is involved (e.g. shelled vs. unshelled peanuts)
  • eat more of a serving when the size of the unit of food is larger than when it is smaller (e.g. one 4-oz chocolate bar vs. four 1-oz chocolate bars)– this one’s actually what I’m exploring in the class now!

If you have a tendency to overeat (I know I do), these phenomena translate to tips that are so easy to incorporate into your life so that you won’t even notice that you’re eating less. For instance–keep snacks behind a closed door in a cabinet and you won’t be as tempted to reach for them. Serve your meal on smaller plates and you’ll serve yourself less, and then you’ll eat less. I make a habit of only keeping individually portioned snacks around in my dorm- yogurt, instant oatmeal packets, single-serve microwave popcorn, bananas, apples, etc.

Anyway, in the obesogenic environment in which we reside, those are some of the ways you can resist the tide. But, as you know, my hope is that some day the tide will turn–and I may be about to be a part of that change at my university. Stay tuned!