Top 5 Most Misunderstood Vegan Foods

Sometimes the menus at Vegan restaurants seem like they are written in another language, below is a simple guide to decoding some of the most commonly used ingredients in a vegan/vegetarian’s diet…

Alright, so you’re in a hip vegan/vegitarian restaurant with your super cool bohemian girlfriend/boyfriend and you want to impress them by ordering something truly earth friendly. Looking at the menu however, it looks like it is written in another language (hippy-ese): “Freshly grilled seitan over a bed of local rainbow chard and quinoa” or perhaps you’d like to try the “terikayi tempeh with brown rice”

The girl/guy you’re with has ordered and is staring at you waiting for your decision, the sweat beads down your forehead and nervously you order something that you can’t even pronounce…

Luckily guys, I am about to create a comprehensive list to identify and explain some common vegan and vegetarian food items so you never find yourself caught in this embarassing situation. (you can thank me later) Here we go.

1) Tofu:

Sichuan Style Spicy Tofu
Sichuan Style Spicy Tofu

Tofu is a product made of soy protein rendered from soy milk. It is made in the same type of way as cheese in that the soy milk is cultured and the curds are pressed to ultimately form tofu. By itself, tofu does not really have any specific taste, but it is a delicious addition to meals with other prominent ingredients and powerful sauces as it takes on the flavor of whatever it is being prepared with. Tofu is a staple protein source for vegans and vegetarians. It is also dairy/gluten free.

2) Tempeh:

Marinated and Grilled Tempeh over a bed of veggies
Marinated and Grilled Tempeh over a bed of veggies

Tempeh is nothing but a bunch of soybeans fused together in a natural fermentation process. Yeah I know, this sounds kind of funky, but it actually yields are really delicious nutty flavor and texture. Unlike tofu (which is also made from soybeans), tempeh is made up of a whole bean, rather than going under further refining processes. Usually, tempeh is served grilled and marinated (see above photo) and tastes particularly good with teriyaki sauce (in my humble opinion).

3) Quinoa:

Uncooked Quinoa Grain
Uncooked Quinoa Grain

Originating in the Andean region of South America, quinoa is a delicious protein-rich(12-18%) grain that adds heartiness to any vegetarian or vegan meal. Quinoa has a somewhat nutty flavor and retains the flavor of any sauce that it is prepared with, thought it also tastes good all by itself. It holds much historical value for native communities in South America but it requires a relatively long growing season in very particular climates. While the quinoa you find in the grocery store might not be grown locally, it is still a better option than pre-packaged, pre-cooked white rice (like Uncle Ben’s *cringe*)

4) Seitan: (a.k.a. Wheat Meat)

Seitan Steak
Seitan Steak

While that might look like a delicious steak dinner you would order at Houston’s, in reality that is actually not meat at all. I introduce to you, Seitan, a protein rich ‘meat-like’ food made from wheat gluten. Seitan is one of my favorite vegan meat subsitutes. It legitmately does taste like meat, minus the substandard slaughterhouse and high blood pressure. If you’re afraid of breaking too far away from your carnivorous lifestyle, Seitan is probably the closest thing you can have to the real deal. No weird textures here.

5) Vegenaise

Follow Your Heart's Vegenaise
Follow Your Heart's Vegenaise

Vegenaise is a common Mayo-type product that is found in almost every vegan restaurant, it can also be purchased commercially. Basically, this stuff tastes like mayonnaise, looks like mayonnaise, and has the same textures as mayonnaise. The only difference is that this product is made without the use of eggs or dairy. Because it is not made with animal products, it has ZERO cholesterol (real mayo has at least 5mg per tablespoon)!

Alright, though this list is not complete, it does offer a quick review of some of the most commonly used ingredients in vegan and vegetarian cuisines. So don’t be afraid folks, go out and indulge! hey, it’s good for you!

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A Spoonful of Mercury helps the medicine go down

After testing a handful of 55 brand-name products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup, it was found that nearly a third of these products were contaminated with Mercury. Grrreaatttttt.

What we origninally thought about the health concerns for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption (such as Diabetes and Obesity to name a few) have now become astronomically larger with the finding that a significant amount of these products containing HFCS have tested positive for mercury.

To give you a few statistics: Americans consume about 12 tbsp of HFCS daily, severely increasing the likelihood that you will consume one of these mercury ridden products, if you haven’t been eating the tasty stuff already.

According to the USA Today article that I just read:

In the first study, published in current issue of Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

And in the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.”Original Article

While there have also been studies testing that there are products containing HFCS that is made in a way that is mercury-free, you can never be so sure about what you are consuming these days. Just think, how many liters of soda containing HFCS have you been drinking lately? Can you hear your brain cells popping?

OK, ok… So you want to give up the sweet stuff but you can’t break your sugar addiction? Try, Agave Nectar

Agave Nectar: Naturally Sweet
Agave Nectar: Naturally Sweet

What is Agave Nectar?

  • Agave nectar is a produced from the core of the Mexican Agave plant (the same one that makes Tequila! Aye!) It is a natural sweetener that is sweeter than honey but not quite as thick.

Where can I buy it?

  • Basically any health food store, though I have seen it at some big name grocery stores too.

Can I cook with it?

  • Yes, you can cook with agave nectar, but you might need to make some adjustments on your sugar proportions for a regular sugar recipe.

Other Health Benefits?

  • All Natural
  • Low-Glycemic (good news for Diabetics)
  • No Mercury
  • Good for Raw foodists because it is produced at a tempurature under 118 Degrees.
  • Know what you’re eating, this stuff comes straight from the plant, no hidden poison.

So there you have it folks, try to ease yourself off the high fructose corn syrup or you could wind up with a brain as metallic as the tin man’s.  Either that or in an agressive mercury induced rage, cursing to yourself on the side of the freeway onramp.

 

 

Top 5 Most Irresponsible Foods of All time

The Top 5 Most Irresponsible Meals of All Time: what a topic. Here I’ll define irresponisible as both incredibly detrimental to your personal health as well as the health of the environment. Double whammie!

To put it frankly, the following gastronomical abomonations are amongst the ultimate ‘FAILS’ of  national and international appetites. While some of these may not be on the typical menu for many eaters, I thought it would be good to highlight the following to illustrate (in the most exaggerated form) meals that will send you on the express route to a quadruple bypass.

Organized in no particular order I present to you:

1) The Krispy Kreme Cheese-Burger (aka, The Death Wish)

Cheese burger with Krispy Kreme Bun....Your heart will love you for eating this
Cheese burger with Krispy Kreme Bun….Your heart will love you for eating this

So this choice might be self explanatory as to why it does not promote health in any way, shape or form. Looking at the photo, there is also the addition of bacon to this monstrosity. If you are going to eat this, you are asking for some serious health repercussions. A cheeseburger is bad enough, but then you add the trans-fats of 2 Krispy Kremes and you put this iconically American dish completely over the edge.

2) The Bacon Sausage Roll (aka ‘The High-Carbon De-lite’)

The Bacon Explosion
2lbs Bacon, 2lbs Sausage, Cheese, more bacon, rolled, deep-fried, and doust in BBQ sauce (a must)

Here we have another culinary crime folks, The Bacon Explosion. I nickname this meal “The High-Carbon De-lite’ because livestock (beef/cheese) creates 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is recommended that you limit your intake of red meat and cheese to promote your general health, but if you plan on eating the bacon roll of death, I would recommend you never ingest meat or cheese again. This would be a life-time dose, an overdose perhaps..

3) Chilean Sea Bass (aka “If-You-Like-The-Taste-Of-Mercury”…)

Chilean Sea Bass, one of the most over-fished aquatic creatures of all time
Chilean Sea Bass, one of the most over-fished aquatic creatures of all time

Also known as “Toothfish” the Chilean Sea Bass has become almost endangered due to overfishing. This creates a ridiculously high demand for the product, bumping up prices, and motivating fisherman to use unethical ways to obtain this deliciously mercury-filled fish. The Environmental Defense Fund states that:

“The longlines commonly used to catch Chilean sea bass often snag endangered albatrosses and other seabirds as they grab bait, and the birds end up drowning. “

The EDF recommends limiting consumption to no more than 2 meals per month, and only 1 meal per month for children.

Therefore, unless you want to end up like Jeremy Piven, having a neurological breakdown from too much Mercury consumption, it’s best to steer clear of the Toothfish. Don’t buy into the lingo of restaurant menus, eating this fish is essentially eating metal. Bite into an old glass thermometer, that might be just as satisfying. 🙂

4) The Twinkie (aka ‘The Indestructable’)

The only American food staple that could survive a nuclear holocaust. Take that Iran!
Twinkies: The only American food staple that could survive a nuclear holocaust. Take that Iran!

I chose the Twinkie as a poster-child for an abundance of packaged foods that are shipped throughout the country and abroad. Not only does the Twinkie lack any kind of nutritional value, but packaging and shipping products like this consume an obscene amount of energy, not to mention nonbiodegradable waste. Just say no. I have faith in you.

5) Commodity Corn (aka ‘The Culprit in American Obesity’)

The subsidized staple of the American diet
Commodity Corn: The subsidized staple of the American diet

If reading Michael Pollan’s fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma taught me anything, it taught me that our government secretly loves to make us fat by adding corn into EVERYTHING. To be fair though, most of you eat this unintentionally, so I cannot place consumers at blame…

Unlike the corn you might have at a family BBQ, this commodity corn is not even edible in its natural state. To get into our stomachs, it must either be processed and placed under the guise of “High Fructose Corn Syrup” or, fed to our livestock to make them fatter and ready for slaughter in record time!

Commodity corn is a huge subject that I will elaborate upon in further entries, but basically, about 80% of packaged products you eat in the supermarket are basically made up of this corn-in-hiding. And hell, even though we produce so much corn we don’t know what to do with it, its production is subsidized by the government, a vicious cycle indeed. Its addition into our food is unnecessary and does not affect the taste of our packaged foods. We’re technically being used as a garbage disposal

In sum, eating this stuff adds unnecessary calories, and wastes even more energy than it creates in our humble digestive systems.

The goal of this exercise was not to make you stop eating, although some of those pictures might have done the trick… But rather, to get you to evaluate some of the choices you make when choosing your meals.

So what can you do to keep healthy and eat well to benefit both yourself and the environment?

  • Eat Local: Eating fruits and veggies that are grown in your local area will help you maintain a low-carbon diet as these products do not require the massive amount of energy it would take to ship them across the country. This includes fish as well. “Fresh Alaskan Salmon” means it has been flown in, making it 10x more emission intensive than transporting products by ship.
  • Eat Seasonal: When something is in season, it is probably grown in your local area. Eating watermelon in the dead of winter means that watermelon has most likely been shipped from another area, and to be honest it probably does not taste nearly as good.
  • Cut back on the Beef and Cheese: As stated before, livestock is responsible for about 18% of carbon emissions. Cattle that are fed corn produce a lot of greenhouse gases.

For more information on the best and worst meal choices for you and the environment, check out the following websites:

The moral of the story? Eat well and eat WISELY! 😉

Beets: The canned veg of doom?

Every time I find myself at a salad bar, there is always that tub of red, gelatinous circles that are supposed to represent beets. To me they look much more like sliced cranberry sauce.  In fact, I think it would be safe to say that the majority of Americans associate beets with this image: (cue generic slasher film soundtrack)

Generic Canned Beets. (ear piercing scream)
Generic Canned Beets. (ear piercing scream)
And it’s really hard to know what to do with beets, as far as recipes are concerned. In fact the only recipe I can think of off hand is my grandmother’s Borscht…which, well we won’t get into it… but it’s not a very good advertisement for this vegetable.
Fortunately, though beets get a pretty bad rep, if eaten fresh and prepared correctly, this sweet and color-rich vegetable can make for an incredibly healthy and delicious ingredient.
The freshest beets can be found between June and October. As a root vegetable, the meat of the beet grows underground while its leafy stems protrude from the soil. Before cooking, beets are hard and crunchy, however with preparation they transform into buttery bites of sweet delight.
Beets are notoriously recognized for their uncompromising ability to stain just about any article of clothing, but the good news is that beets do not only come in the commonly found dark red variety, but also can be found in white, yellow, and even rainbow! See here:
Heirloom Beet Varieties
Heirloom Beet Varieties

They are also incredibly beneficial for maintaining a healthy diet, high in complex sugars, rich in anti-oxidents, and low in calories! whooaa-ho! oh, AND they contain powerful nutrients that have been proven to help protect against birth defects, heart disease, and colon cancer.

Ok, sorry maybe I am a little too enthusiastic about these beets, but I’m telling you the first time I saw those bullseye ones I thought I was having some kind of drug-induced flashback. Crazy what kind of edible-art nature can produce huh?

And just because I am nice, I’ll add in a delish recipe that I found that will appeal to even the pickiest eater. CAKE!…..beet cake. It may not be the most low-cal recipe but it’s a nice way to transition beets into your diet. Yes?

Recipe Found on Cookinglight.com (click for original site)

If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love this unusual dessert. The batter is bright red but bakes to a golden brown. You may want to wear an apron while grating the beets because they tend to splatter.

Yield

18 servings (serving size: 1 piece)

Ingredients

  • Cake:
  • 1  pound  beets (about 2 medium)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2/3  cup  granulated sugar
  • 2/3  cup  packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2  cup  vegetable oil
  • 2  large eggs
  • 2 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 2  teaspoons  baking powder
  • 1  teaspoon  ground ginger
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  cup  1% low-fat milk
  • Frosting:
  • 2  teaspoons  grated orange rind
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1  (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, chilled
  • 3  cups  sifted powdered sugar
  • 2  tablespoons  finely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, peel beets using a vegetable peeler. Grate beets, using the large holes of a grater, to measure 2 cups.

Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray.

Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add beets; beat well. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans. Carefully peel off wax paper, and cool cake completely on wire racks.

To prepare frosting, beat orange rind, vanilla, and cream cheese with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting; top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle nuts over top of cake. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

The Free Range Fallacy

HA! think again...
HA! think again...
Strolling through the poultry section of the supermarket, my eyes go right to the “free range” chicken as my product of choice. But then my analytical side pops in.  “What the hell is free-range anyway?” “Did this chicken really live out its life frollicking through the fields?”Well, looking into it further, unfortunately, probably not. The words Free Range means as much to food policy as the word ethical means to Monsanto.

Why? Because free range has no standardized legal definition in the United States. While we would like to think that our free range chickens  roamed free 24 hours a day, the more likely probability is that our winged friends were allowed out of their cages for a short period of time, given a glimpse of sunlight before shoved back into their metallic prisons. With the passing of prop 2 in California, at least we know that these cages need to meet some kind of government regulation as far as size and capacity is concerned… but it still doesn’t imply the free range we had in mind.

Why would farmers not comply with the consumer-centric idea of free range? Because this is too expensive! And it isn’t even necessarily the farmer’s fault. With the scrounge to make profits, especially now, it requires way more money that it is worth to raise chickens in a completely free range environment. The government subsidies only go so far.

In one study testing for the microbiological prevelance of Salmonella in free-range chickens, it was found that of the 135 chicken carcasses tested for the bacteria, 31% were tested positive for Salmonella. In fact, in one of the tested lots, 100% of the chickens tested positive! (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16300088?dopt=Abstract) These statistics completely ruin the consumer assumption of these free range chickens being 100% clean. They do present a cleaner option; however, by no means are these free range chickens completely exempt from possible disease and bacterial invasion.

What’s my point? If there were governmentally regulated terminology to standardize the definition of free-range (as has been done with certified organic) there would be much less variability in the quality of meat, dairy, and egg products consumers purchase. Do not have blind faith in that which you buy commercially, go do some research before you buy. You’ll thank yourself as your ignorant buddies heave over the toilet for having blindly accepted those supermarket fallacy terms as indicators of a quality product.

Be careful out there folks. That, or move to Europe. 😉

 

 

Would you like some Corn with your Corn?

So just a quick bit, I am currently reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma because naturally as a foodie thats into the environment, this book is right up my alley.

Anyway, though I have only just begun I have already been introduced to so many horrifying statistics and factoids that I am considering becoming an AIRitarian….that’s right, I’ll just eat air from now on….

For example: Apparently there is corn or some sort of corn by product in about 80% of all the processed foods we can find in the supermarket. To list a few: Mayonnaise, nondairy creamer, frozen yogurt, cheez whiz, soups, snacks, cake mix, frosting, frozen waffels, syrups, hot sauces, hot dogs, bologna, salad dressing, VITAMINS. my GOD!

Why is it so bad be having this much corn? Who cares if you’re eating corn in basically every foodstuff that enters your mouth? Well, amongst the ridiculously long list of reasons, corn has become a commodity, not only a food product. In fact, many farms across the midwestern “corn row” (an area of America completely filled by acres and acres of corn fields, about twice the size of New York state) are growing corn that is not even directly edible by consumers. This genetically modified, easy to maintain, governmentally subsidized product, is grown in obscenely large amounts (larger than any American consumer can eat) to feed livestock, fatten them up more quickly, to make us some Grade A meat, and FAST!

…And what’s worse, is that these livestock (and EVEN SALMON) are not accustomed to having a corn-based diet, making these animals sick or extremely vulnerable to disease. But thank god for antibiotics right? I love me some antibacterialized beef.

What’s absolutely disgusting is that the corn in all of our food increases the caloric value astronomically, but for no reason at all. Maybe THIS is the reason for such high rates of type 2 Diabetes, and obesity in America?

I will make more updates about this book as I read it, seriously I am just turning each page, more and more horrified.

There is much more to say about corn, but to be honest, I don’t have the mind or the stomach to list all of them right now. I am being haunted by the corn in my pantry, I think I just heard my box of Special K taunting me… wow I need a nap.

Has anyone else out here read this book? Any reactions to the corn section?

Pesticides! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “What’s the deal with always having to compulsively wash your produce? What harm is a little dirt going to do?”

Well my friends, if you buy non-organic produce, and are unafraid of the harmless “dirt” that might be lingering, you might want to think again…

While the long term effects of pesticide consumption are unknown, studies that are being conducted have confirmed some pretty alarming findings, especially with regard to children.

Here is some of the current data:

Despite consistent support from empirical studies that suggest even low level consumption of pesticides creates a hazardous health concern, the EPA ultimately has the power to determine what level of pesticide consumption is considered safe, and A-O.K. for us to put into our bodies. The “safety” level of these various pesticides is determined by the amount used on an entire crop, how much of the pesticide is retained on the fruit after washing, and the effects on lab animals after exposure to a single pesticide. What hasn’t been considered however, are the effects of multiple pesticides on the body when consumed, and how these pesticides will affect HUMANSSSSSSSS. oy.

Well, to give a little insight, the average life span of a migrant farm worker is 47 years…why might that be?

Why, then, are pesticides continually used by commercial growers if they are statistically proven to be harmful for human consumption? All commercially cultivated produce uses pesticides as a way to keep away insects from the yield, making the produce more steadily successful… In more plain terms $$$!

The following graph might add some perspective to the severity of this situation. Everyone is being effected.

Pesticide percentages of vegetables in the common supermarket.
Pesticide percentages of vegetables in the common supermarket.

What can You do??!

Although maintaining an all-organic diet is the best way to steer clear of these dangerous chemicals, sometimes it is difficult for everyone to consistently maintain this kind of lifestyle. After all, the produce section of the supermarket is fast, cheap, and convenient.

If you are going to continue to buy the commercially available stuff, at least be informed of the level of crap-ola you’re allowing yourself to consume. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit research organization devoted to promoting public health, has comprised a list of the produce that contains the highest and lowest levels of pesticides.

Lets start with the Winners cup! (Scoring lowest on the pesticide scale)

Congrats Avocado and Onion, you make a mamma proud.

However,

Peaches, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Imported Grapes, Celery, Lettuce, Pears, Cherries, Nectarines, Strawberries, Spinach, Potatoes, etc. all had alarmingly high levels of pesticides, even when washed.

For more information, please visit www.ewg.org

How nice, we’re now living in a world where we must even fear our fruit!