My Problem with Paula Deen

January 20, 2012 § 7 Comments

I never paid that much attention to Paula Deen. It’s clear that we’re on different sides of the culture spectrum, so I never had any reason to read her recipes or watch her show. All of my Paula Deen knowledge could be boiled down to just one of her creations: a doughnut, beef, bacon and egg sandwich known as the Lady’s Brunch Burger. Reading that recipe was enough for me to know that Ms. Deen and I have nary a thing in common.

Her announcement that she has Type 2 Diabetes was hardly a surprise to me, although I did feel a twinge of sympathy. Having been a smoker myself for several years, it’s pretty difficult for me to muster up the sanctimony required to call someone out when their own bad choices lead to a disease. Every time I get a cough I secretly wonder if my foolish choices have resulted in a disastrous consequence.

The problem I’m having is that she has known about her illness – an illness widely believed in the medical community to be directly linked to a high fat, high sugar, high grossness diet* – for three years. And for those three years she has continued to amass a fortune peddling her food to her viewers and readers. AND she only disclosed her diagnosis after inking a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical company that makes diabetes medication. To me, this is the height of cynical, money-grubbing consumerism. Ms. Deen has now officially made a career of getting you coming and going. What’s next, Paula Deen brand extra-wide coffins?

Ms. Deen’s handling of her illness is a prime example of just how sick our consumer culture has made us. She knows that her product is dangerous. She has probably become afflicted by her own product. Yet rather than destroy her precious brand, she hides the truth until she finds a way to profit from it. It’s like a cigarette company announcing their new chemotherapy division.

How incredible would it have been if Ms. Deen had instead used her unfortunate diagnosis as an opportunity to encourage us to change our eating habits? She once famously said, “I’m your cook, not your doctor.” What a revelation it would have been for her to step away from the money trough for long enough to realize that our food is our medicine. What we put into our bodies not only affects our health, but it ripples out into our communities, our politics, our spirituality – everything. Instead, she continues to make herself sick, she’s making her fans sick and her magic bullet solution is for them to send dollars to big Pharma. Pop these pills or inject yourself with this and you’ll erase years of unhealthy eating. Let’s hope you don’t go blind or lose a limb. Here, have a cookie.

What Paula Deen’s hypocritical brand of entertainment eating combined with chemical solutions overlooks is that we eat to nourish our bodies and prevent disease. We eat to build energy to accomplish great things throughout the day. We eat together to grow relationships. The food choices we make directly contribute (or show that we choose not to contribute) to the suffering of others. Our food can heal us. Or our food can make us very, very sick.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Feeding yourself is the most important thing you do all day. The food choices you make can lead to health and prosperity or listlessness and disease. I find it unbearably tragic (and so blatantly consumerist) that someone who makes their living feeding others is fine with making her clientele fat, unhealthy and sick while she herself is riddled with a diet-related disease. It seems almost too greedy to be true. But there it is. And here we are.

I wish Paula Deen the best with her illness, and I know that she has the money and the resources to secure the ultimate in medical care. I just hope that those who, from her example, find it to be giddy fun to stuff themselves with fat, sugar, lard, cellulose, and other poisons have the same access to the life saving medications they’re going to eventually need. In the meantime, I’m going to eat more kale.

 

*Disclaimer: I have read some articles that claim there is no causal link between a diet of disgustingness and Type 2 Diabetes, and I am willing to concede that I am not a doctor and therefore do not know for sure. However, there is no dissension in the medical community that continuing to eat this way after your diagnosis will probably kill you.

Something to Gnaw On

November 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

As if there weren’t enough alarming reasons to stop eating processed foods, the latest revelation is that food companies are using wood products as fillers in some of your favorite treats.

On labels  it’s called “cellulose”. Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been heavily processed, and it’s used in everything from mustard to syrup, muffins, sundaes, wraps, cocoa mixes and a variety of other “foods”. It’s also a component in asphalt, paint, roof coatings and pet litter. Yum!

It’s often found (hilariously, in my opinion) in foods that are sold as “high fiber”.

I’ll let that one sink in for a moment.

It’s also used in low fat products to achieve the same consistency as their higher-fat counterparts while still maintaining the flavor.

The problem is that the human body cannot digest cellulose. We lack the enzymes for it. We are genetically incapable of receiving any benefit from eating it.

For a thorough article on cellulose in processed foods, visit http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/15-food-companies-that-serve-you-wood/. It’s a real eye-opener!

I love the part where the guy who works for the company that processes cellulose says that cellulose-laden foods are good for people who don’t have enough fiber in their diets.

That makes sense. Let’s chop down a tree, mash it up, send it to a plant, process it, then send it to another plant where it is mixed into a vat with hundreds of other chemicals. Then it comes out as an Eggo Waffle, wrapped in plastic, frozen, put in a box, shipped hundreds of miles, purchased, driven home, unwrapped (all of the packaging goes to a landfill), heated up, slathered with syrup (more cellulose!) and eaten by someone who thinks they’re getting fiber.

You could do that. Or how about we all just eat an apple?

I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding what is in your food and where it comes from. There is nothing, I mean nothing, we do all day that is more important than feeding ourselves.

Our diets can continue to vex us with fatty, processed meals that increase our waistlines, damage our organs and affect our moods. We can stuff ourselves full of nutrient deficient snacks that satisfy our cravings but leave our bodies yearning for more. We can shop for low-fat alternatives to the junk we love in an effort to trick ourselves into believing that we’re doing something good for ourselves.

Or we can have a come-to-Jesus moment and stop avoiding the truth we all know: The best way to nourish our bodies is with healthy, fresh food that comes out of the ground. And, for meat eaters, that includes buying only ethically farmed, hormone free meats, and then preparing them simply.

Having a healthy diet is as easy as you let it be.

I can personally testify to the difference in my wellness (mental and physical), my energy level and my weight since I started reading labels and refusing to buy items that did not support my body’s health and wellness. Plus — and this is big for me — eliminating processed foods saves TONS of money. Veggies are cheap. Even the organic ones.

Here are my Type A Food Rules:

Nothing from China. It’s impossible to regulate what comes from China, and they have a deplorable track record of putting hazardous chemicals in food.

Nothing with corn syrup.

Buy organic whenever possible. I am aware that “organic” can be controversial on labels because US regulations are vague, but this mostly applies to processed and packaged foods. I buy very few of these items, and even though I can’t be totally sure I’m not being lied to I feel that it’s best to vote for more organic foods with my dollar in the hopes that more companies provide organic alternatives in the future.

No more dairy.  Although I do enjoy a little goat cheese, sprinkled like a spice, on homemade pizza

No meat.

Nothing that needs to be microwaved.

Produce from as close to my house as possible. That means no fruit from New Zealand or avocadoes from Chile. My one splurge: bananas a couple of times a month for vegan banana-pecan pancakes.

Only real maple syrup.

Buy in bulk whenever possible. No packaged beans, rice, grains or spices.

Eat greens and cruciferous vegetables every single day.

Buy only fair trade chocolate, cocoa, tea and coffee.

And finally…

Nothing with cellulose.

I hate being tricked. That’s why when I discovered that the FDA and USDA don’t have my back when creating their food rules I took matters into my own hands.

What are you waiting for? Take control of your own diet, and don’t let someone else convince you that sawdust is a healthy choice.

OMG So I’m Totally Back Off Milk Now: Forks Over Knives

September 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

The Great Vegan Experiment of 2011 continues… If you’ve kept up, you know I have been experimenting with a vegan diet. It has been a very positive experience overall, but when I was faced with the decision to keep using processed vegan foods that had to travel long distances and using local organic dairy products, I thought it might be best to consider the overall carbon footprint and stay local.

But then I watched Forks Over Knives last night on Netflix. As a result of what we learned in that 90 minutes, George and I are now both equally committed to kicking the dairy habit. This was a turning point to say the least. George liked his milk.

It turns out that there is vast, overwhelming, conclusive and irrefutable evidence that meat- and dairy-based diets contribute almost exclusively to a whole host of nasty cancers and heart problems. What these two doctors are saying is that — far more than chemical exposure, pollution or any other environmental factors — a meat-filled, cheese-laden, processed food-loving diet makes us sick. Period. I won’t spoil the ending for you. Watch it yourself and see if you ever again find yourself at the receiving end of a carton full of skim (or a spoonful of rocky road or a skewer stacked with beef).

When I hit the Whole Foods today I bought two cartons of Rice Milk and two small Straus half-n-halfs for George’s coffee (I don’t want him to go into shock). And I tossed in a bag of Daiya shredded vegan cheddar for burrito night. The rest of my cart was filled with fresh veggies, whole grains and beans from the bulk section. Ingredients for our week’s dinners cost $95. Our health remains priceless.

You Are Where You Eat

August 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

For reasons of health and economy I cook a lot of meals. Every week I create a maniacally detailed meal plan that incorporates ingredients I already have in the house with seasonal vegetables, and I make every effort  to use each part of whatever it is that ends up in my basket. Omnivores call this “nose to tail” dining. For veggies, I’ve coined the term “top to root”.
 
When my diet recently (cow) tipped dangerously into a state we’ll call “dairy-ed out” I started dabbling in vegan cooking to discover whether or not this way of eating made sense for my family.
 
The experiment, so far, has been a resounding success. Not only have I seen my grocery bill drop from an average of $250 per week to an average of $175 per week, but I feel better, have more energy and have discovered a whole cadre of recipes that I can quickly and easily incorporate into our regular eating. The kids have enjoyed learning about new foods; George has enjoyed losing a few pounds. God bless pistachio paste.
 
The problem I’ve been having, however, is that many of the ingredients required for well-rounded vegan cooking are processed, made in factories far away from where I live, and are in plastic, cardboard and even – gasp – Styrofoam packaging. (This last one is NOT allowed in my house.) For example, the Earth Balance butter used in many of the recipes comes in a plastic tub and is shipped from Colorado – as opposed to the big hunk of butter wrapped in compostable paper I buy from the gal at the farmer’s market who milks a herd of ecstatic* cows. The Rice Dream that has replaced my Straus milk comes in aseptic packaging that I’m not sure is recyclable. It  is shipped from Melville, NY. My Straus milk comes in a glass bottle  that I return to the store each week, and is farmed 25 miles from my house. I can practically hear the mooing from my patio.
 
*I hyperbolized here – I cannot say for certain that these cows are ecstatic. 
 
I haven’t eaten meat in a queen’s age, but this experiment left me wondering: Is it really better for the earth to eat seitan, (which comes in a vacuum-packed bag AND a cardboard box and is shipped from I-don’t-know-where), or is it better for me to buy happily-farmed lamb from the nice lady down the street who names them, loves them and relies on her farming income to survive?
 
While I obviously have a deep love of animals and a respect for their right to exist without threat of their bodies or products being shoved down my gullet, I am now at a crossroads wondering:  What decision is really better for the whole? Even though I’ve seen a slight decrease in my food budget, I’ve also seen a significant increase in my garbage haul. And I don’t even know how to begin calculating the carbon footprint for all the extra traveling my food has had to do.
 
My always-grumbling gut is telling me that, no matter what my food choices are, it’s best to keep my focus on the local. That way, I can meet the people who grow and farm my food. I can work from recipes that honor seasonality without relying on ingredients that can only be grown in another hemisphere. And I can return or compost my packaging. Plus, the food I’m eating has been plucked from the earth quite recently and has probably only had to travel a few short miles to get to my plate.
 
I’m glad I broke the dairy spell, and I’m very happy to have discovered things like vegan avocado smoothies, and a drool-worthy vegan Caesar dressing. But rather than focusing my Type A diet on what I consume, I think my heart lies in committing to focusing on where I consume. By staying local, insisting on fresh and seasonal ingredients and refusing unnecessary packaging, I feel I’ll best be able to contribute to the health of my community and the planet. (Here I come, Cowgirl Creamery! Oh, but the local meat animals are probably still safe from me…)
 
What food choices make your heart happy?

Viva la Vegan

July 28, 2011 § Leave a Comment

When I stopped eating meat, I started eating cheese. LOTS of cheese. And milk. And I put super high doses of half-n-half in my coffee. And let’s not forget the ice cream. I became a full-blown dairy addict.

It’s hyperbolic to put it that way, but it’s really not so far from the truth. Dairy products are full of a protein called “casein.” It’s the same protein found in human breast milk (the one that makes babies feel all woozy and bonded), and it reacts with opiate receptors in the brain in the same way morphine and heroin do. (I know, right? Shocking.)

Plus, this recent study by the Environmental Working Group put cheese at #3 on the top five worst climate destroyers. I live in Sonoma County, California, which is well within 50 miles of some of the country’s best and most responsible dairies, from which I purchase milk and cheese almost exclusively. I have long been an advocate of buying local whenever possible, but I admit that sometimes that last-minute lasagna results in a trip to the store to buy mass-produced cheese from god-knows-what poor cow that traveled here on who-knows-what truck.

You wouldn’t see me staggering down the street begging for spare change so I could lose my mind on Gruyere, but when six of the eight things I was eating in a day contained dairy or were centered around dairy, I realized it was time to face the creamy-centered truth: I needed to get better-versed in all things vegan.

Given the enormity of my dairy dependence, I knew I had to create some classic Type-A plans. When I transitioned from meat to veg-only I was constantly hungry (Enter: Cheese!). I wanted to avoid that as much as possible this time around. I checked out some vegan cookbooks from the library, including a brilliant one by Alicia Silverstone, “The Kind Diet.” I also like the recipes found at Post Punk Kitchen.

Recipes in hand, I created a serious meal plan that included breakfast, snacks, lunches and dinners. During the summer, we’ve been eating our main meal in the middle of the day because I need my energy when I’m in the thick of things, not when I’m winding down, and that’s reflected in the plan.

Here’s an example of what my vegan meal plan looked like for a couple of days:

Day 1

Breakfast:

Jasmine green tea

Raw avocado

Bowl of fiber cereal with rice milk

Lunch:

Pecan-crusted seitan* and marinade over whole wheat spaghetti (from “The Kind Diet)

*I had never worked with seitan before and was happily surprised. The flavor and texture pretty chicken-y, and this recipe was really delicious. Special occasion delicious.

Vegan Caesar salad (from “The Kind Diet”)

Fresh beets (I just boil, slice and serve!)

Sourdough bread

Snack:

Kale Chips (A household favorite. Just slice the leaves off the stem then chop. Toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 375 degrees until crispy. My kids love this.)

Dinner:

Cheese-free polenta topped with sautéed crimini mushrooms

Small green salad with tomatoes, pine nuts, cucumber

Whole wheat crackers with homemade hummus (my recipe below)

 

Day 2

Breakfast:

Cure-All Tea (from “The Kind Diet”)

Oatmeal with maple syrup

Lunch:

Cheese-free risotto made with vegetable broth

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Grape, Almond and Blueberry salad tossed with soy vanilla yogurt

Bread

Snack:

Roasted almonds (my recipe below)

Dinner:

Avocado, spinach and tomato paninis on whole wheat ciabatta rolls

Carrot soup (my recipe below)

…And this has been going on for a couple of weeks now. It’s a ridiculous amount of work, but I’m hoping the reason for that is because it’s so new to me. With a little time, effort and practice, I believe that whipping up a balanced vegan meal will become as easy as it is for me to do it veggie-style.

My journey here has been a long one. Five years ago I was an unabashed carnivore, devouring any carne asada, lamb chop or pork product that dared cross my path. At some point, I became interested in the local foods movement and began buying my meats, cheeses and veggies from the farmers market and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs). Then, meatless Mondays hit the radar, and I saw the benefit to my health, to the planet and to my wallet. I learned more vegetarian recipes and they were so much fun our family just sort of naturally transitioned out all the meat and fish. (The kids occasionally have sushi or order meat dishes when we’re out.) And now here I am, learning about vegan cooking and ingredients.

I can’t promise I’ll always be vegan, but I am certainly open to the idea that I don’t need SO MUCH cheese and dairy. I’ve learned that I don’t really need so much of anything, after all…

Recipes:

Roasted Almonds:

I buy these for cheap in the bulk section and keep them on hand for quick snacks.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the bulk almonds in a bowl. Blanch them by covering them with boiling water and let them sit for about 15 minutes (they may get mushy if they’re in there longer.) Peel the skins off by squeezing the almonds between your thumb and forefinger. If they’re hard to remove, put them back in some boiling water. They should slip off so easily that you’re in danger of shooting them across the room.

Dry them off a bit. Spread them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Pop them in the oven until they’re golden, and let them cool down a bit before eating. Store in a sealed container. Should last several weeks, but they probably won’t because you’ll eat them. I put them in salads.

Homemade Hummus:

Pick your favorite beans from the bulk section. I like navy beans or cannellini beans for hummus, but garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans or even black-eyed peas will work (but your hummus with be grey with the BEP). I just recently bought adzuki beans and they are soaking as I write this…

Cover the beans with water in a saucepan and soak for about 8 hours. Then, bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and simmer covered until they’re mushy. Could be anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on the bean.

In the meantime, gather your fixin’s. (I do all of this to taste, so feel free to do the same.)

I add in chopped fresh basil, cilantro, salt, sesame or olive oil, tahini, cumin, garlic (sometimes I roast it beforehand), green onions, cayenne pepper or anything else that suits my fancy. But tahini and cumin are must-haves.

Place the beans in a food processor and pulse to blend with your chosen ingredients. If the beans get a little sticky, just add a few tablespoons of hot water and blend again.

It’s the easiest thing in the world and impossible to screw up if you add in the things you love…

Serve on whole wheat crackers or bread, celery sticks, carrot sticks, your finger…

Carrot Soup:

1 lb carrots

One small potato, peeled

1 small red onion

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cups vegetable broth (I make mine from Better Than Boullion)

Salt to taste

 

Chop vegetables. It doesn’t really matter how big or small as long as the pieces are uniform so they cook evenly. Heat the oil over medium heat in a sauté pan with tall sides. When the oil is shimmering, put the onions in and cook until they soften just a bit. Toss in the garlic and cook a few minutes, until the fragrance is released. Be careful not to burn it.

 

Add the carrots, potato and ginger and sauté for about ten minutes or until softened. Add about 3 cups of the broth, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until all of the vegetables are soft enough to be blended. Taste for saltiness – if you need to add salt, add it now.

 

Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down a bit until it can be blended.

 

Blend in your blender or food processor until the mixture is totally creamy and smooth – no lumps. Add more broth to smooth it out if you need to.

Serve hot or chilled.

I’ve also made a variation with zucchini, and I’m guessing broccoli, cauliflower or squash would work just as well as the main ingredient… I might leave out the ginger and replace with tarragon, basil or thyme.

 

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