processed foods

the unhealthy vegan? / smoky cream of fennel soup

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DSC_0239There are a lot of unhealthy vegans out there. Wait, what? you ask in bewilderment. I thought vegans were plant eating hippie health nuts who eat bark and berries? Well, yeah, in the good ol’ days, but as veganism has become more mainstream, so has the food industry’s development of meat and dairy replacements. According to a recent study, there are over 7 million vegetarians in the US, and of that group, about 1 million are vegan. This means that there are over 7 million people spending their money on plant-based foods, and that number is steadily on the rise. As a result, there’s been a major influx of meat and dairy replacement “convenience” foods, and shopping for vegan and vegetarian food has never been more accessible. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes, and if you’re considering a plant based diet, the transition couldn’t be easier. But the problem is, we plant eaters have become brainwashed by the same marketing propaganda that our meat eating comrades often experience. Grocery stores now market highly processed vegetarian foods, glittering with magical phrases like “all natural meat alternative” (translation: processed soy isolate crap with cane sugar, “natural” i.e. we-don’t-want-to-tell-you flavorings, cornstarch, and maybe some good old MSG (no, not Madison Square Garden…Monosodium Glutamate, otherwise known as the devil’s (sugar’s) right hand man.)

But are these foods really better than the animal products they’re replacing? From an ethical standpoint, yes, but from a nutritional standpoint…I don’t think so. A vegan or vegetarian that consumes a diet high in processed soy meat alternatives and other convenience foods made from refined flours and sugars is in danger of becoming just as unhealthy as someone who follows a standard American diet. The bottom line is, processed foods, whether vegetarian or not, are high in sodium and sugars and low in nutrient density. Over time, eating nutrient poor foods can lead to deficiencies and chronic degenerative diseases. Solution? Eat a mostly WHOLE foods plant-based diet, rich in sprouted whole grains, legumes, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Don’t just go veg for ethical reasons, go veg for your health!

Now that I’ve ruined your sugar-laden soy latte and fake sausage breakfast, why not try something more WHOLEsome? Sweet tasting fennel, creamy cashews, smoked sea salt and the refreshing zip of licorice come together in this easy, dreamy, creamy fennel soup.

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DSC_0243Smoky Cream of Fennel Soup

1 T cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 bulb of fennel, green fronds and bulb root removed, then chopped

3 large carrots or 5-6 small carrots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped

3 cups stock

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least an hour or up to overnight + 1/2 cup fresh water

1 T unfiltered apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp fennel seeds, ground with a mortar & pestle

1/2 tsp smoked sea salt (I recommend alder smoked sea salt)

Fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste

IN a soup pot, heat oil over a medium flame and add onion. Sweat for a few minutes until onion begins to soften, then pour in fennel, carrots, and garlic. Stir to combine. Allow to cook for several minutes, then add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce flame to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a high speed blender, add soaked (and rinsed) cashews and water. Blend on high until mixture resembles a thick cream. Pour cashew cream into simmering soup and stir. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender. Turn off flame and add vinegar. Pour soup into blender and puree until smooth. Transfer pureed soup back to pot and season with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with crushed fennel seed and smoked sea salt. Makes enough soup for 4-6 recovering junk food addict vegan unicorns.

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to wheat or not to wheat? / chickpea crepes with savory tofu scramble

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Chickpea Crepes. Vegan. Gluten free. Yum!
Chickpea Crepes. Vegan. Gluten free. Yum!

Lately I’ve noticed when I tell people I’m vegan, they ask me if I can eat wheat (they also tend to ask me other, equally amusing questions…translation: I know you’re vegan but do you eat fish, are you from Brooklyn, is your dog vegan, are you buddhist, do you just eat salads all the time, do you eat bread, are you one of those people that forages for their own mushrooms, do you ride a bicycle, do you eat raw, do all vegans have unicorn friends.) <– last question’s reply is a resounding no, I am unique in that regard.

Brief side note for the confused: fish is any member of a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. Fish are abundant in most bodies of water. They can be found in nearly all aquatic environments, from high mountain streams (e.g., char and gudgeon) to the abyssal and evenhadal depths of the deepest oceans (e.g., gulpers and anglerfish). 

Sorry, but fish are sentient beings too. And no, I do not eat them. Now back to wheat…

In the last year, I haven’t been able to get through a conversation without the word “gluten-free” sneaking its way in. Everyone from vegans to electricians to soccer moms have read or heard about Celiac Disease, and the resulting demonization of those innocent looking waves of grain. So what’s the deal? Is all wheat bad?

In a kernel (pun intended), it’s more complicated than “good” versus “bad”. Wheat is a grain made up of three parts: the starchy insides (endosperm), the nutrient-rich embryo (germ), and the hard fiber-rich outer shell (bran). Together they make up the wheat kernel. When you consume foods made with white flour, you’re eating the endosperm, which is a highly processed starch that spikes your blood sugar, causes weight gain, inflammation, and tempers your hunger for a hot minute. Processed wheat should be avoided entirely, period. This is not a new concept, and most people already know that whole grains are nutritionally superior to processed flours. But are whole grains much better for you? It depends. If you are part of the 1% of Americans who have an autoimmune response to the protein found in wheat called gluten, then avoidance of all wheat containing foods is essential. But for the rest of us, some studies are suggesting that wheat consumption is damaging to everyone’s health. Wheat is inflammatory, causes weight gain, spikes blood sugar levels, and may become addictive due to the opiate effects of the protein Gliadin on brain receptors. Some medical professionals, like Dr. William Davis, author of the bestseller Wheat Belly, believes that wheat is the culprit behind a myriad of illnesses including autoimmune diseases, diabetes, migraine headaches, and more, and should be universally avoided.

Solution? Eliminate wheat from your diet for 3 weeks and see how you feel. There is also a blood test for Celiac Disease, but even if that comes back negative, you may still have a sensitivity to wheat. Now before you go buy every packaged good that says “gluten-free” on it, remember that gluten free products are usually made with highly processed starches like potato, tapioca and cornstarch. Yeah, they don’t have gluten in them, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you! It’s the same thing as going vegetarian and gorging on veggie dogs! Instead, stick to a diet that’s rich in vegetables, beans, quinoa, millet, and other plant-based proteins. While you’re at it, make your diet completely anti-inflammatory and cut out that sweet devilish pair: dairy and sugar. See my post on why sugar is evil here.

So to answer the original question, yes, I do eat wheat, but I’m very picky. I only eat sprouted whole grain breads because the sprouting process breaks down the phytic acid (which blocks absorption of certain nutrients), and increases the digestibility of the grain. If you have a slight sensitivity to wheat you may find, as I have, that sprouted whole grains are much easier to digest and don’t leave you feeling like a giant fog monster blew over your face.

Now that you’ve decided to cut out wheat, why not treat yourself to an indulgent spring brunch of crepes? Yup, that’s right, you can still eat crepes without ingesting a single kernel of wheat, dairy or sugar. Hooray for the happy coupling of health and deliciousness! 

DSC_0001Chickpea Crepes with Savory Tofu Scramble

For the crepes:

1 1/2 cups water

1/3 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sea salt + fresh black pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups chickpea (garbanzo) flour

1 T dried italian seasoning or 2 T chopped fresh herbs

For the filling:

1 block extra firm, preferably locally made, tofu, crumbled by hand

1/2 yellow onion, diced

2 cups diced button or cremini mushrooms

1/2 bunch of collard greens, kale or leafy green of choice, stems removed and shredded into small pieces

1/2 red pepper, diced

Small handful of cilantro, chopped

Dash of the following: garlic powder, turmeric, paprika & cumin

1-2 T apple cider vinegar

1 T tamari

Small handful of nutritional yeast

Fresh pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, combine crepe ingredients and whisk until emulsified. The mixture should be slightly thinner in consistency than pancake batter. Set aside. In a large cast iron pan or saute pan, heat oil over a medium flame. Add onions and tofu and allow to cook, untouched, for 4 minutes. Flip and add collards, peppers, and mushrooms. Add a few shakes of turmeric, paprika, cumin and garlic powder. Deglaze with apple cider vinegar and tamari. Stir and incorporate scramble, then top with cilantro and nutritional yeast. In a crepe pan, heat a little refined coconut oil over a medium flame. Ladle about 1/2 cup of batter into the center of the pan and tilt to spread into a thin circle. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes or so, then flip and brown on the other side. Set aside on a plate and cover while you finish with the rest of the batter, adding coconut oil as needed. To serve, cover half of each crepe with filling and fold it closed. Top with hot sauce if desired. Makes enough for 4 unicorns with wheat bellies.

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