Sorry to be a buzz kill, but I care so much about what you feed your one and only body that I just have to get this word out!
I came to this plant-based diet via T. Colin Campbell and the Esselstyn’s Engine 2 program, having converted in 2012 to nourishing my body with only whole, real, unprocessed food and without added salt, oil, or sugar. Sounds boring and daunting, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not, it isn’t and that’s not the point of this article.
Since going plant-based in 2012, I’ve taken off twelve pounds, and my husband has lost more than twenty pounds! I’ve maintained my weight within a couple of pounds for the entire time. My energy is better than it was when I was in my twenties and my skin, hair, and nails are more vibrant, healthier and stronger. I also haven’t had any type of cold or sickness in over 3 years…seriously. Roger and I maintain a regular exercise routine and also keep active with our newfound love for hiking.
My passion for creating recipes and cooking was renewed when I adopted my plant-based diet. I was turned on to a whole new way of looking at food and I (still) can’t wait to get up every morning to create a new soup, sauce, cheese, pizza crust, casserole, or dessert. Does that sound boring now? All the delicious recipes use only foods like real vegetables, whole grains, legumes/beans, nuts and fruit; no dairy, oil, extra salt or refined sugars!
Roger and I became involved in a very popular and powerfully active vegan group in our newly adopted town of Asheville. So much so, that the majority of our social outings since moving here in February 2015 have been with the good people of this group. The potlucks and restaurant gatherings are fun and lively and, of course, full of vegan food.
Herein lies my dilemma. Over the last couple of months, I’ve put on some pounds. My small frame feels this weight gain in an unfortunate way. Accompanying my extra weight gain is a sluggish feeling, and some bloating, which hasn’t haunted me for a long time. So, why is this happening now?
It’s because the vegan food I’ve been eating is the wrong kind of food. Yes, there is bad vegan food, and Roger and I have been eating out quite a bit. While Asheville is extremely progressive and accommodating to our plant-based lifestyle; the salads, vegetables, pasta, or grains and beans that come from the restaurant kitchens are usually too salty and full of oil or vegan butter, even when I ask them to limit both.
But this doesn’t scare me. I have control over what I eat, and am slowly getting back on track. What really scares me is a certain type of vegan food movement that I see happening all around the country.
Shortly after I began my plant-based diet, I accompanied Roger on one of his business trips to the West Coast. I did an online search for “vegan” restaurants in the area where we were staying. It was in Palm Springs that I had my first introduction to Native Foods. I drove about ½ hour to their flagship location for lunch. I was hungry when I arrived which is always a dangerous trap; everything on their menu looked amazing. I saw the Reuben sandwich and knew I had to get it, just so I could take half back to Roger!
Roger never saw any of that sandwich. I was so hungry that I devoured every bit of the thinly sliced seitan, sauerkraut, juicy thousand island sauce, and their homemade horseradish cashew cheese, all on crispy warm rye bread that I’m pretty sure was spread with vegan butter before toasting. Sounds good, right? Yes, it was delicious. My taste buds were dancing with joy, and my brain was on fire with excitement. The sandwich also contained lots of salt and oil. I’d only been on the SOS (salt-oil-sugar) free program for a short time, so my brain went nuts when it was hit with these powerfully addicting ingredients.
As I drove back to our hotel, my stomach began to hurt and my body felt awful. I seriously had to lie down when I reached the room. This was the same feeling I used to experience when eating a cheese-laden beef burger.
Native Foods now has 26 locations, at last count. They have really slick marketing, great food photos, and their dishes are beautifully presented. However, when I attempted to find complete nutritional information on their food items, I came up empty-handed. Neither their stores nor website contain any nutritional information about the menu.
At this writing, there are a couple of new vegan food establishments in the Asheville area. The first newcomer hails from Charlotte, and Asheville is their second location. They are all about southern comfort foods, vegan style. Neither of their locations nor website contain any nutritional information about the menu.
We went there with our vegan group to support the restaurant’s opening. As I sat there eating my side orders of collards and coleslaw, I looked around to see others chowing down on greasy, meatless burgers, tempeh chili, and loads of French fries, either sweet potato or regular. I also spotted two coolers at the front of the restaurant emblazoned with big name soft drink logos loaded with sugary products. I give the business kudos for bringing a “no animal products” restaurant to this area, but the disconnect between vegan and our true health leaves me worried. Needless to say, their partnership with a large corporate soft drink/food company was also a big conflict for me. Sadly, we probably won’t be eating there again.
What I’ve encountered from this wonderfully growing vegan culture is food that includes fake meats, packaged chips, vegan cheese, frozen pizza, French fries, oil-soaked veggies, and too much sugar and salt. I’m afraid this vegan food movement is starting to mirror the SAD (standard American diet) in many ways, just without the animal products (which is a good thing). However, some of my new vegan friends seem to be ok with eating like that. I’m not.
There is hope!! The second newcomer to Asheville is all about handcrafted food items using locally-sourced ingredients. Our lunch at Elements Café was a beautiful array of fresh greens and vegetables in a rice paper wrap with homemade peanut sauce. It was delicious, filling, and I didn’t care about the nutritional information because I knew everything I was eating was nutrient-rich instead of calorie-dense and loaded with oil and salt.
I’m not going to preach about the obesity epidemic in our nation. But, I do know the plant-based movement that is penetrating many corners of our world will help cure this and many other chronic diseases; if done right, and if we let it.
I truly believe the commercial food industry preys on the common-sense facts surrounding plant-based diets like a shark to bait. There are mammoth numbers of unhealthy, vegan food products being introduced to the mainstream market, and served in many restaurants. I’m talking about fake meats of all kinds, non-dairy cheese shreds, mayonnaise and sour cream, all labeled “vegan”. While they contain no animal products, many of them are still loaded with sodium, oil, sugar and additives that you can’t pronounce. Big food conglomerates have jumped on the vegan wagon with their own products, infusing chemical ingredients to make their ‘vegan’ products taste better and prolong shelf life. Uninformed consumers buy these products, and restaurants are using them.
I’m afraid the critical education necessary about eating whole, real, unprocessed food for true, life-sustaining health can’t keep up with the pervasive marketing and pretty packaging. That’s why the majority of our population remains confused about what to eat for weight loss and optimal health.
I know it’s not easy to change habits or try something new, but if you really knew how your food choices affect your one and only body and life, you may find a way to add more whole foods, fruits and vegetables to your plate.
Please educate yourself about your food and cook more meals at home! Your life depends on it.