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food for thought: staying healthy on the road

8 Apr

I’ve been in Chicago this week for my day job. This trip was super fun because I got to meet up with fellow blogger, Liz from DC. Liz and I met last summer at the Healthy Living Summit in Chicago. It was so great to see her again and get caught up in person about our similar passions – healthy living and fitness. She’s a rad runner and she was also in need of oatmeal sans dairy so we were a perfect pair. We met at Cosi where they have steel-cut oats made with water and you get to choose your toppings. I love toppings. I opted for granola and strawberries.

Hello squinty eyes!

Between my work travels and my personal travels, I feel I’ve created some pretty solid strategies for staying healthy while on the road.

I want to share with you what works best for me to stick to a healthy plan. Plan is the key word here. If you do not plan correctly, you are setting yourself up to fail. There is no way around that. You can’t expect that being healthy on the road is just magically going to happen. Most of the tips below are geared toward work travel. I am not nearly as diligent when I’m truly on vacation.

  • If you are traveling to a conference, let them know if you have any specific food needs. I actually did not do this this time (fail!), so no one new I was vegan. Thankfully, I work with awesome people and the hotel I stayed at was extremely accommodating. I find that if you let people know, they really do want to help. However, if you don’t ask and are rude about it, don’t expect them to bend over backwards for you.
  • Pack snacks. I always bring a pile of snacks with me on every trip. Typically this includes larabars, mini bags of almonds and dried fruit, apples (they travel well), baby carrots and other cut up veggies (mainly for the plane ride) and sample packs of protein powder or super food. These come in handy for your actual travel time and if you are attending a conference where the food does not fit your dietary needs.
  • Stay hydrated. I find that if I’m at a conference, it is difficult to get enough water in as the rooms I’m in are usually freezing. When I’m freezing, water does not sound good. However, I try to take advantage of hot water when it’s available and force myself to down water throughout the day. Staying hydrated will help you not attack the lunch buffet and will just make you feel better.
  • Many hotel rooms have fridges that you can store things in (call ahead and ask). Many times I will find a grocery store as soon as I arrive and pick up things like fruit, yogurt, etc. to ensure healthy options.
  • You will not work out unless you bring workout clothes. Pack them. To me it’s worth having to bring all the extra gear and check a bag if I need to.
  • Use the workout gear you have. Just having it in your suitcase doesn’t count.  Almost every hotel has a fitness center. It may not be as nice as what you’re used to in all cases, but hey, you have to take what you can get. I find that staying on my regular workout schedule makes me feel better during my travels.
  • If you are traveling to a nice climate, ask the hotel if there is a safe place to run or walk outdoors. You want to make sure you’re in safe area. Please carry a phone and ID with you.
  • Yoga podcasts are awesome. I’ve downloaded a few Dave Farmar podcasts (they’re free!) and done yoga right in my hotel room.
  • Explore on foot. The best way to get to know a city (most of them anyway) is on foot.  Throw on the sneakers and get some fresh air!
  • Most conferences I go to have big meals plus treats during the breaks. I fill up as much as possible on fruits and veggies when they are available. I do my best to skip the desserts. I mean, I don’t eat dessert for every meal when I’m at home, so why would I at a conference? I’ll cave if it’s something that looks fabulous and that I can’t live without. More often than not, the desserts served in hotels or at conferences are not that great.
  • Limit the alcohol.  For me, this is key. Having more than one drink messes with my sleep and it makes me want to eat more. Plus, it makes it harder to get up and workout in the morning. If  I am feeling the pressure (why is there so much pressure?), I typically sweet talk the bartender to make a club soda and lime look like a fancier drink. Or I make one glass of wine last a looooong time. Sometimes, I may not even finish it.
  • If you have free time to eat out, research great restaurants in the area. Don’t settle for a chain or even worse, fast food, if you don’t have to. This past trip, I totally took advantage of the salad and hot bar at a nearby Whole Foods. That was dinner for me two nights in a row as I was working in my hotel room. I know…I lead a super exciting life.

Traveling during vegan lent was interesting. The hotel I was at had great food and almost always had something I could eat at meals. The one plated meal was the only difficult one. I picked the cheese off my salad so that was easy enough. The main course was either chicken or the vegetarian option which was cheese ravioli. I asked very nicely if they would be able to steam some vegetables for me (seemed like something that wouldn’t be do difficult so maybe they’d be willing) and I was presented with steamed asparagus and carrots – score! That coupled with some bread held me until the next break where I grabbed my packed snack of almonds and dried cherries.

Breakfast was more difficult. I tried the nearby Corner Bakery and they down right refused to make oatmeal with water. Seems to me a funny thing to have such a firm stance on but whatevs. From then on I stuck with my standby, Starbucks. Starbucks make their oatmeal with water and it comes with nuts and fruit and they always have bananas. Thank you Starbucks. Vegans appreciate you.

I was lucky to be in a big city. Traveling to more rural areas as a vegan, or even a vegetarian would be much more difficult. I would to have to pack an extra bag just for snacks.

Do you have any tips on staying healthy while on the road? I’d love to hear them!

vegan for 40

9 Mar

Today is a big day. Today begins the vegan lent challenge.

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you know that I do some type of challenge for lent. Not because I’m a super religious person, but because I think it’s a fun way to try out new things. Last year was sugar-free lent. That was certainly a challenge. It was during last year’s crazy 40 days that Meghan floated the idea of vegan lent for 2011. I loved it. I cannot believe it’s already here!

For the next 40 days, I will not be eating any thing that comes from an animal. No meat, no fish, no eggs, no cheese,no yogurt, no milk, no honey, no fish sauce…you get the idea. I’m applying this challenge to food only. I’m not going to be putting aside my leather boots or looking at every single personal product I own. Food is a big enough challenge.

I recruited some friends to do it with me. Two of them you’ve met, Meghan (it was her idea…duh) and Willa. I also have an east-coast correspondent and male perspective in my buddy Jon.

I’m thrilled that I could persuade all three of them to join me in this challenge. You’ll be hearing from one of us each week on how things are going and what challenges we are facing.

To start, each of us have put together our thoughts, concerns and excitements about this challenge below.

Name: Jen

Current food philosophy:

I believe in good food. Real food. That’s about it. I don’t have a label for myself. I don’t eat a lot of meat and the meat I do eat, I’m picky about. I want to know where it comes from. I am not a fan of processed food and would like to be able to educate people on how easy it is to put together meals that don’t come from boxes. I don’t eat out a lot and when I do, I like to frequent local establishments that are also picky about the quality of their food.

I think what we eat is one of the most important factors in our health and that it is the most powerful tool we have to prevent chronic disease. No joke.

I don’t expect any of the above to change over the next 40 days….well except the part about meat since there obviously won’t be any of that.

Why you are participating in vegan lent?

After going vegetarian for the summer, I was intrigued if I could take it a step further. Meghan’s idea of trying it for lent was brilliant. I can do anything for 40 days.I’m super curious if I will feel a significant change in my energy and weight. I’m also wondering how it will affect my training for the half marathon. I also hope to expand my repertoire of vegan recipes and develop some of my own along the way.

What are you going to miss the most?

Yogurt. I eat it every day and love it so much! I will also miss runny eggs.

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Fat Tuesday has been more like Fat week! I definitely had a case of “oh my god, I must eat this before lent or I’ll surely shrivel up and die”. The actual last meal was on Monday and it was thanks to Willa. It included Mexican pulled pork, black beans, arepas with butter and my addition, the carrot cake. Fat Tuesday I found myself at home with a cold, so none of the food I ate was worth writing about…except the carrot cake for dinner. :)

Is your significant other supportive?

Yes. He calls himself a vegan by association. Translation: he’ll continue to eat whatever I make here at home, but reserves the right to eat a burger when he goes out for lunch.

What are you most nervous about?

I’m more excited than nervous. I found myself wanting vegan lent to hurry up and get here already. I think the biggest challenge is going to be eating out and being in social situations where I’m not in charge of the food. I don’t want to be that gal that always has special food requests, but at the same time, I’m determined to experience this full boar and make it the whole 40 days. So….I might just have to be that gal. Or at least that gal that always has a LaraBar and a bag of almonds in her purse.

Name: Willa

Current food philosophy:

In Michael Pollan’s words, “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” I have a tiered food philosophy that I do my best to adhere to: 1) Eat real food, not “food-like” products; 2) Eat local; and 3) Eat organic.

It may sound cliché but I love good food.  I also love to cook good food.  I was a vegetarian for 10+ years but now I eat meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. I pay attention to what I eat and how it makes me feel. This is so important, especially when training for a big event such as a half marathon.

Why are you participating in vegan lent?

I am always up for a challenge and am thrilled to have been invited to participate.

As a dedicated follower of the No Meat Athlete blog and having recently read the book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Brazier, I am really curious about the impact that being vegan will have on my training.

On the heels of watching Oprah’s vegan challenge episode, I admit that I am also curious about what impact, if any, eating a vegan diet will have on my weight. I will be eating out far less than I have been lately, so that alone should lead to looser clothes and a heavier wallet.

What are you going to miss the most?

I am going to miss cheese, sushi, and eggs.

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Um, what haven’t I eaten during these last two weeks? Arnoldo and I dined at Travail where we ate a wide array of meat and tons of butter. We polished off Spanish chorizo sautéed with garbanzos and spinach, topped with a hearty drizzle of olive oil. I accompanied Jen to the Cheese monger in St. Paul and purchased an out of this world sandwich with delectable meats and goat cheese. I enjoyed my favorite Oaxaca tamale at La Loma. Sushi made an appearance along with a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting at my pal’s birthday party. We relished chicken, pork, yucca, fried plantains, and plenty of wine at Brasa for my birthday. And, last but definitely not least, I made Cochinita Pibil (recipe from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless) and served it with black beans, arepas, avocado, salsa, and cheese. A final homage to two of my favorite cuisines: Mexican and Venezuelan.

Is your significant other supportive?

My husband is always 110% supportive of everything that I do. I am not asking him to be vegan; he can eat anything that his heart desires.

What are you most nervous about?

I am not nervous, per se, but I know that social events and eating out will be challenging in new ways. I don’t plan on eating out very often.  I am wholeheartedly against processed foods and plan on avoiding vegan convenience foods too.

Name: Jon
Current food philosophy:
My yearnings for food typically stem from its necessity as means to survival. If it satisfies hunger and is edible, it is food. The reasons to eat are, therefore, typically void of emotion, determined by logic and prescribed by a basic instinct to consume nutrients through my mouth hole. Food is. As such, labels like “foodie,” “gourmand,” or “impassioned eater” likely will never be placed upon me, but always the inquisitivist, I can explore food as the thing of philosophic discovery and value it as each sense appreciates the object of its purpose. Of food, we know its natural qualities are the product of billions of evolutionary years, the result of natural selection and/or genetic engineering. The physical qualities of food, which systematically or randomly privilege and subvert themselves, guarantee natural or artificial reproduction for human biological and social normalcy. The taste sensations we experience are direct protections against poisonous food and a means to observe, evaluate and give preference to foods more adept in supporting the continuation of our species. Likewise, social convention tends to privilege or subvert foods consistent with social norms; for example, eating dog burgers is rarely customary in Western society but fermented cabbage is perfectly acceptable as a complement to hot dogs. Therefore the context in which food is consumed merits equal value in the assessment of its worthiness in the pool of all that is edible. But, we are bound, as we always are, by language and its limits in order to define our experience with food, which brings its own set of irreconcilable issues. Therefore I’m content to describe food as critics tend to comparatively dissect works of art and creativity — that is in terms of mood, color, contrast and texture. That’s enough philosophy for one paragraph.
Why are you participating in vegan lent?
Aside from Jen’s asking, the occasion affords the opportunity to suffer, a practice I’ve perfected. It also gives me the chance to try some new things, specifically thinking creatively about flavors that cannot be achieved or supported with animal fat. I think mostly about practicing my sauce-making skill since I have none, and it’s something that will be useful long after this exercise in self-denial has concluded. And at present and in general, I’m a bit unexcited by life and expect vegan lent to figuratively and literally spice things up.
What are you going to miss the most?
We do not eat much meat in our household. Because meat production is not particularly good for the environment or balancing the human condition, but because Sunday barbecues are the source of much pleasure, we’ve chosen to confine meat consumption to weekends. It has reduced our meat-production-related impact on the environment by 60 percent. It also means we can more enjoy glistening, fire-charred and smoked animal with narrowed guilt and can be flexible if a sudden craving for bacon overcomes us during the week. For the most part we consider ourselves vegetarian from Monday to Friday but there are some staples for which I now must find substitutes. Items typically OK in a vegetarian diet but pooh-poohed by vegans, my routine favorites are cheese, butter and egg. Until recently, I didn’t realize the extent to which these items pervaded my diet … but it’s only 40 days.
What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?
Since we are traveling and since today I start a diet of dust and crackers, I felt justified in suspending my weekday vegetarianism. On Monday, Henriët’s mom treated us to traditional rustic Dutch fare. Pre-dinner, I slid two greasy kroketten — deep-fried lengths of spiced meat paste — down my throat.
As an entree, I learned a few new Dutch words, which I’ll undoubtedly forget before we get back to H-burg: biefstuk met gebakken ui en champignons (steak with fried onion and messrooms).
Is your significant other supportive?
Henriët is usually supportive of my experimental ventures, provided they don’t cause me harm or impinge upon our relationship. As an indirect participant in this experiment, I suspect she’s averse to some of veganism’s restrictions (the Dutch are an exceptionally lactose tolerant bunch given a dairy-product cultural privilege, and there is usually a firm supply of cheese and yogurt in our refrigerator). As the sometimes recipient of my short-term culinary pursuits, I’m sure she’s equally thrilled to enjoy my successes and roll her eyes at my failures.
What are you most nervous about?
Starving to death is at the top of my list. I’m also suspect of my ability to find vegan cuisine in the Netherlands and on my return flight with AirFrance. But I’ll be back in Harrisburg Sunday and reading ingredients on labels will simplify this endeavor greatly. Lastly, I’m nervous to offend dinner hosts who are inconvenienced by my temporary choice of diet. Let’s hope they understand. I wish I did.

Name: Meghan

I am literally watching “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Bacon” on Food Network while writing this. Ha!

Current food philosophy:

Vegetarian since 1994.

Why you are participating in vegan lent?

Ever since I became a vegetarian I’ve struggled with not just going whole hog – did I just say that? Gross! Ethically speaking veganism aligns very well with the way I try to live my life yet somehow I just never made the leap.

Jen and I started talking about this over a year ago during sugar free lent and I am excited that the time has come. My body also does this weird thing about once a year… something just goes off that says I should avoid dairy. I’ve never listened and instead said things to my friends like, “yeah, my body is telling me to stop eating dairy and I consider it… then I have an ice cream cone.” So now my body is craving a little vegan time and it’s finally gonna get it. Woot!

What are you going to miss the most?

Huevos Rancheros

I eat eggs like it is my job. I love them like Jen loves yogurt. They are so quick, so easy, so yummy. Huevos rancheros are hands down my favorite brunch selection.

I hear you judging. You are thinking mustard? Seriously Meghan? Trader Joes mustard? You can’t be serious. Oh but I am. I eat it on pert near everything. Have you ever tried this stuff? It is incredible. I would tell you to try it, but that wouldn’t be very vegan of me as it has eggs in it.

mmmmmmm…. BRIE!

Many, many, many a night T-Dogg and I make a meal of this and only this. With a lil olive tapenade, aforementioned mustard and vino. As a matter of fact for years I had no idea that most cheeses aren’t actually vegetarian. True story – rennet=cow stomach. Believe it. Luckily, many places now carry cheese made with vegetable or microbial rennet resulting in this girl gettin’ her cheese on.

And of course, my non-vegan life wouldn’t be complete without a big slice of heaven every once in a while…

Tres Leches!

What did you eat as your ‘last meal’?

Broders Italian. Plain. Simple. Delicious and decidedly not vegan. I am an East Coast girl after all.

Is your significant other supportive?

Like whoa. He rules. If you haven’t met T-dogg, you should. He makes the world a better place just by waking up. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth too. It’s okay.

What are you most nervous about?

Honestly, I am excited. Food is a main focus in my life. If I am not cooking I’m usually thinking about what I want to cook, where my food comes from and what it will do to or for my body. I travel to experience food. I like to see friends and family too I suppose, but the first thing I think about after I book my ticket is where I will eat. Most often, food is the way I experience the culture I am in. The funniest thing is I feel as a vegetarian there are so many options so now I am curious as to how it will feel as a vegan.

I gave up cow dairy two months ago. You here all these people praising the gospel about how much more energy they have and blah, blah, blah. Well kids I must say – for my body it is the truth. My energy levels sky rocketed and my head just felt so much clearer. Side note – I’ve consumed copious amounts of dairy in this last week as my splurge and while I’ve enjoyed every single bite I feel awfully sluggish again.

Cheers to an awesome 40+ days kids… are you doing anything special?

So, what do you think? Are we crazy? Anyone else want to join us? Are you giving up something different?

Wusthof vs. J.A. Henckels

23 Feb

Sooooooooooooo… what is the dilly yo? Fancy knives are fancy knives – right? Well, I have no idea so I turn to all of  you and your foodie splendor.

T and I had $140 in Macy’s gift certificates to burn up yesterday, yes a dream come true for this kitchen gadget obsessed girl. We both hate shopping of any other kind, unless it involves bikes, so we headed straight to the home area of Macy’s. I had a whole list of little gadgets we “needed” but would never buy unless we randomly had $140 of free money to burn through. How that came about is a whole other story. Low and behold we stumbled upon the knives and they were all 50% off! All sorts of fancy sets of both brands 50% OFF! This meant we could own a brand new Wusthof knife collection originally valued at $400 for $60 – clearly the only logical choice given a dream come true like this. I couldn’t belive it. For years I have coveted the likes of Wusthof and Henckels. YEARS I tell ya!

This is where the questions start swirling about. How do we know which line of Wusthof is best? Are they really that much better than Henckels – I mean seriously how different  can they be? There is stamped vs. forged, a zillion different handle styles – ay mio! Seems almost absurd to have so many choices for a knife. As we walked around and talked to anyone who would offer advice, my enginerd boyfriend chimes in with the only logical solution – price, price, price. He looked at the original price of all options, then took into account all of our discounts as well as surveyed the knives available in each set to find what (by the numbers) appeared to be the most bang for our buck. We then laughed at ourselves for a bit because we spent nearly an hour talking about knives. Kind of ridiculous – but this is a big purchase people.

Alas, we are now the proud owners of a set of Wusthof Grand Prix II. The set includes – 8″ Cooks Knife, 8″ Bread Knife, 3.5″ Paring Knife, 4.5″ Utility Knife, 4 – 4.5″ Steak Knives, Kitchen Shears, 9″ Sharpening Steel and of course the Knife Block. One contributing factor to this choice is that we have an awesome store in NE Minneapolis called Eversharp where you can buy refurbished Wusthof for a fraction of the cost thus allowing us to add to the collection some day. But still…

Did we make the right choice? What types of knives do you use? Is one brand really better than the other? They are still in the box with the receipt. Just sayin… your opinion could change the fate of our kitchen.. FOREVER:)

food for thought: desserts

20 Feb

I celebrated a birthday earlier this month, and after a fun and tasty meal at Barrio, we pondered where to go for dessert. Pat threw out a few ideas, and ultimately decided we should try the bar at La Belle Vie. Apparently they are known for their fine desserts. La Belle Vie is a beautiful restaurant, and I found the bar ambiance to be classy and romantic. We chose a spot on a couch by the fireplace right near the bar. We were there for dessert only, so Pat ordered coffee and then we selected two desserts. We figured it’s not often we make it to La Belle Vie, so we may as well try two desserts (instead of sharing one) to get more of a sampling of their dessert menu, and also because…well…two desserts are always better than one!

We decided on the warm apple cake with truffle ice cream and thyme, and the something-or-other caramel cake with dark chocolate sorbet. We asked our server what she thought of our choices and she claimed they were her two favorites on the dessert menu. She described the apple cake as “not too sweet, but not savory” and the caramel cake as “think of your Grandma’s caramel layer bars- this is way better.”

The coffee came and I was very impressed by the silver service. Pat drinks his coffee black, and I rarely drink coffee (especially not at 9:00pm), but this coffee came with a lovely cream and some beautiful lumps of sugar, so I talked Pat into adding those delicacies to his cup. And he sure was glad I did, because then we got to SHARE his coffee. La Belle Vie’s coffee with cream and sugar gets two thumbs up from me!

Our desserts arrived and they were artfully and beautifully presented. The apple cake was alternating layers of white cake and baked apple, cut out into perfect circles. There was also a small scoop of truffle ice cream and a plop of thyme foam. The caramel cake was a small rectangular square of cake, with a scoop of rich, dark chocolate sorbet, and then way over on the edge of the plate was this glob of what can only be described as unidentifiable white stuff.

My conclusion: I don’t like fancy desserts. The apple and cake circles? They were fine. The truffle ice cream? Well, let’s just say in my humble opinion mushrooms should never be an ingredient in ice cream. And the thyme foam? Simply weird. The server was correct- the apple dessert was not very sweet and I would actually use the term savory to describe 2/3 of it. The caramel cake was good, but honestly I’d choose a homemade bar from my grandma any day. The dark chocolate sorbet was the only divine part of both desserts, and the mystery glob? I still don’t know what it was, but once in my mouth it provided me with the same sensation as eating a mouthful of pop rocks. Zesty!

In sum, I officially like my desserts hearty, large, simple, and delicious. Give me a chewy chocolate chip cookie or an amazing homemade bar or a generous scoop of ice cream or a warm piece of apple pie any day, and I will be happy. Desserts served at places like Birchwood Cafe, Crema, Izzy’s or A Baker’s Wife come to mind. Heck, desserts from my own kitchen come to mind!

So where’s the deep, deep ‘food for thought’ in all this? Do you like fancy frou-frou desserts? Or do you prefer a delicious, delectable not-very-exciting-but-always-dependable old stand-bys?

food for thought: denying the GS cookies

10 Feb

There’s been some controversy brewing in our household lately. On one side of the debate there is me, declaring a ban on Girl Scout cookies from entering our house this year.

My points, for the anti-Girl Scout Cookie position:

1. They are made with nothing but crap.

2. They are not that good.

3. The cost per box is ridiculous.

4. They are made with nothing but crap.

Last year Pat bought 3 or 4 boxes. Two thin mints, one samoas, and one of some random flavor that was new last year. If I remember correctly, we ate the samoas. We ate one box of thin mints over about a 6 month time-span. The second box is still in the freezer. The random new flavor sat in the cupboard for probably 8 months, until one day I made Pat bring it in to work. [As we all know, People At Work are great at getting food items to disappear.] I think my denial of the Girl Scout cookie purchase this year is valid. We don’t want to ingest the 5000 unhealthy chemicals that are in these things, we don’t even really LIKE them, and why spend $$ on something we don’t like, want, or need?

Girl Scout #1 came to the door about a week ago. I answered. She was very polite and cute and pleasant and asked if I’d like to buy some GS cookies. Her father stood behind her on the sidewalk pulling the sled full of cookies. [This must be a new development- instant GS cookie gratification!] I very politely and pleasantly said “we’re not buying any GS cookies this year. Thanks for stopping by, though!” And the girl very politely and pleasantly said “okay, thank you!” and turned to continue her selling journey down the block.

A few days later, Girl Scout #2 rang the bell. Pat was closest to the door. I urged him to stay strong. [He’s a notorious sucker for people coming door-to-door.] She asked if he wanted to buy any cookies. He responded: “no thanks, we’re not buying any this year.” And then he offered to make a donation to the Girl Scouts, which was declined!?!

Pat’s point in the Girl Scout cookie denial argument:

1. It’s mean to deny the Girl Scouts. “I feel like a curmudgeon.”

So, readers. Whose points are more valid, his or mine?

—————–

(footnotes)
It’s Anne writing this post. Hi! I’m here as a contributor.
My senior year in college I did an internship with the Girl Scouts Council.
I admit it: homemade thin mint blizzards are really good.


food for thought: some perspectives on the Oprah vegan show

3 Feb

Anyone catch Oprah on Tuesday?

I do like Oprah and will always watch her if I happen to be home. Thankfully, I saw a preview for this particular show so I was able to set the DVR.  The show was about the one week vegan challenge that many Harpo staff had just completed. With my upcoming vegan lent, it was perfect timing! My pals, Meghan and Willa, who are also doing vegan lent, were over last night for dinner, so Oprah was our entertainment. It led to a lot of discussion and I just knew I had to blog about it. Anne saw the show as well and she and I were e-mailing about it today. Like us, she had lots to say about it.

So….I have for you ALL of our thoughts from a few different perspectives.You are so lucky!

First, more background on the show. (I’m going to be pretty brief in my overview. For a more detailed account, Angela over at Oh She Glows did a great recap of the entire show.)

378 Harpo staff members volunteered (it was not mandatory) to go vegan for 7 days. That meant no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs—nothing that comes from an animal. The charge was led by author Kathy Freston, who has sworn by a vegan lifestyle for seven years and just happens to have a new book out (shocker!).  The O cafeteria offered vegan fare and Kathy was there to offer suggestions and help educate people on being vegan.  Kathy was on the show talking about how to “lean-in” to being a vegan and about the benefits it can have.

Michael Pollan (swoon) was also on the show talking about how the food system in general needs to be reformed, not just ignored. He advocates more for being picky about your meat and knowing where it comes from. He doesn’t believe in turning our backs on the farmers that are doing it right. He believes that reform needs to happen to change the overall food system and how we think about it.

The other main part of the show was a trip to a Cargill slaughterhouse. Lisa Ling went inside and they didn’t leave much to the imagination.They described the process that each cow goes through from the feed lot to the slaughtering to the processing.  The only thing they didn’t show was the 4 inch bolt that is shot into the cow’s head to make sure he/she is brain dead and can’t feel pain. I must say, I’m glad they showed this process. You should know how the meat gets to your table. Period.

They profiled many of the staff members and how it affected them. There was a lot of talk about withdrawal from fast food, bowel movements (fun topic!), and what kind of foods they were now eating.

The thing that we all noticed immediately was the lack of fruits and vegetables. There was so much talk and hype about fake meat products (tofurkey anyone?) and how to turn meat dishes you like vegan by using substitute products. They took one woman who was doing the challenge with her family of four to Whole Foods to help her learn how to shop as a vegan. The only aisles they showed were processed foods! Willa asked, “when are they going to talk about shopping the perimeter of the store – starting with produce?”. The answer? Never. It was a bit disheartening.

Overall, we all were glad the show was on. People are now talking (the twitter world was quite a buzz) about food like crazy and that’s a great thing. Anything that can start a conversation about food and where it comes from is fantastic in my book. I doubt there has been this much talk about a vegan lifestyle….ever. That Oprah. She’s got a serious reach.

I gathered the thoughts of my fellow Oprah watchers and thought I would share our different perspectives.

Anne (meat eater and mother of two):

-They made such a big deal about going vegan and eating all this different food, but everything they talked about was packaged/processed!! So you’re replacing animal products with…chemicals?! They didn’t shop for one fruit or vegetable on that little shopping trip to Whole Foods. (Also- um, imagine how much that cart of packaged vegan foods COST??)  You could have prepared your own vegan entrees with fresh ingredients for less, and much tastier I’m sure.

-What is Michael Pollan’s mantra? Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants?  I was just sitting there waiting WAITING for him to say this to Oprah and that vegan woman (with the facelift!! Seriously!) but he didn’t say anything!! That sort of shocked me.

-And I can’t not mention Cargill. I was impressed they let the crew in to their meat packing plant, given that most companies have denied access in the past. I thought the whole process was pretty yucky, but not so much that I’d give up beef:) Oh, and the bolt to the cow’s head? I’ll always think of No Country for Old Men.

Note: Anne was eating puppy chow while watching the show. Just thought you should know. :)

Meghan (a long-time vegetarian and future vegan lent participant):

Meet people where they are at. Period. Yes I find it sad and, dare I say, irresponsible that the show had ZERO mention of shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and focusing on incorporating veggies and fruits into your diet. But I get it. Many of the people who were watching that show can’t even begin to comprehend getting any form of fruit or vegetable in their lives aside from lettuce and tomato on a bun. So for the purpose of the general public I like that she highlighted meat alternatives for pretty much everything as well as a cheese alternative. While all of these processed foods freak me out-they certainly have their place in many people’s lives and a non-meat brat is better for your cholesterol than a real one-I suppose. After being vegetarian for nearly 20 years I look at fake meat products as my junk food and grains and veggies as my real food. Can you imagine if even 10% of Americans could say that. It would have a profound impact on the health of our nation.

Michael Pollan is my hero. In some ways at least. He keeps it real. He keeps it simple. We need to talk about reforming our emotions, beliefs, ideals etc. surrounding food not just ditch everything and turn vegan. That show sensationalized it a wee bit much to the point where it will be a fad for many of the viewers and well… we all know-fads fade. We just need to think about where it ALL comes from. ALL OF IT. Who cares if Cargill goes broke? But I care when we see farmers losing their livelihoods because Betty Crocker says just pour, mix and bake. There are safe, healthy, sustainable ways to eat all of the foods you love… so give it a shot.

Those of you reading this blog get it…. But for those who don’t, if we can make any difference in their lives… baby steps… baby steps…. Baby steps…. If we can just get people to think about what they are eating-it would be huge.

I can go on and on as a vegetarian and one who works for the American Heart Association but alas I will sush-good on ya to everyone who gives a healthier lifestyle a shot! At the end of the day I love my cheese, ice cream and eggs. And I make poor food choices knowingly and often. It’s just awesome to know what goes in your body. So the unhealthy things are choices. Yummy, yummy choices!

Willa (recovering vegetarian, current meat eater, future vegan lent participant):

I definitely differ with Meghan on the point of meat vs. processed vegetarian products. From a health standpoint I think you are better off eating a grass fed free range rib eye steak than a tofu pup, in my humble opinion.  But I understand where she is coming from.

The main points that stuck with me after watching the show were:

  • Know where your food comes from. Cows and chickens are not born in seran wrapped packages. If you can, check out your local farmer’s market or visit a farm. These people are the fabric of our society.
  • There was little to no talk about the importance of eating a balanced, plant based diet. The focus was overwhelmingly on processed, convenience foods. So, don’t replace bad with bad.
  • They seemed to avoid the discussion about the cost of food. Good food does cost more, but it is worth it. You pay now or you pay later. And, it is easier to pay more for food when you meet the people who grow it; to make that connection of how hard they work for this.
  • Take baby steps, like Meghan said – meatless Monday is a good idea. Or, maybe do something like Mark Bittman (He’s vegan until dinner). Or be a vegan at home. But, you don’t have to go vegan to make a change in the system,  the environment, or your health. We don’t want to put the good farmers out of business. We just need to revamp our relationship with food.
  • People don’t like to work at anything. If it takes thought/consideration, they generally want nothing to do with it. This really isn’t that hard but there is so much resistance. Like Meghan said, I suppose we have to meet people where they are at.

Jen (part-time vegetarian, future vegan lent participant, married to a hunter):

I agree with many of the points that my pals above noted. While I get Meghan’s point about meeting people where they are at, I struggle with suggesting processed fake meat and other processed products. Once in awhile? Sure. To try something different? Great. But vegan or not, can we talk about the importance of produce?!  On Monday, the USDA published the latest dietary guidelines. One thing I was super excited to see was their push on vegetables. In fact, they suggest making sure half of your plate is made up of vegetables. YES! That’s what I’m talking about. Vegetables are nutrient dense (lots of good stuff for not a lot of calories) and dare I say tasty?  (By the way, my pal Heather in CO did a great post on the guidelines. She’s a Registered Dietician so I trust her. :)) The fact that vegetables or fruit was not talked about AT ALL on Oprah drove me crazy. I think it’s one of the most appealing parts of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.  I was also bummed that Michael Pollan didn’t say anything (or if he did, it didn’t make the cut).  Sorry Michael, I love ya, but I wanted you to speak up more.

Not once did anyone talk about the cost of being a vegan. They way they shopped at Whole Foods (with all their processed fake stuff), the cost would have been enormous. I’m all for spending more on food. Our mindset of cheap food = good bothers me. However, I don’t think you need to break the bank. In fact, eating a vegan diet can be incredibly thrifty. No Meat Athlete recently did a great post on this. Great meals don’t have to be spendy and they can include vegetables and yummy sources of protein. And they include all things you’ve hear d of.

I’ve seen the meat processing plants before (in Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation) and it certainly changed the way I think about meat. I’m very picky about where mine comes from. Most of what we eat at home comes from things that Brette has brought home from hunting expeditions. I know everything there is to know about how it got to my plate. I can live with that. I also have gotten to know a few farmers at the Farmer’s Market and I love being able to support them and what they are doing. Many of those farmer’s have their meat available at the Seward co-op here in town, which is also a major bonus. However, I don’t eat a lot of meat, maybe a couple times a week. Just like Michael. (sorry, I love him, what can I say?)

The day after this show aired, Mark Bittman’s first op-ed piece in the New York Times was published. It offers more food for thought along with some suggestions on how to actually reform our system. It’s definitely worth a read.

So, I’m curious of other’s thoughts. If you saw the episode, what did you think? If you didn’t, what do you think about living vegan for a week? Would that be a challenge? Did you agree or disagree with any of our thoughts?

getting personal: finding a balance

24 Jan

Note and disclaimer: The following post is a little personal, but not in a gross personal way. It’s just not something I talk about a lot on the blog. Also, I am not a Doctor or a Dietician, these are just my own thoughts and experiences.

I recently received an e-mail from a reader (and friend) and I’ve been thinking about it non-stop. Here are some questions and comments from her e-mail.

In her first e-mail, she posed the following question.

One thing that is hard is that I do really like food, but what I like and what’s good for my body are not necessarily the same thing.  So, I look at all the Christmas cookies and think about how fun it would be but then it ultimately isn’t good for you.  I’m curious to know what you think of this and how you stay so thin… in other words, you seem very conscious of what you put in your body (no splenda or artificial sweeteners) but then how do you justify the butter?  Is moderation the answer?!!!  if so, how in the world do you do it?!

This e-mail really made me think. Why? Because I’ve never thought of myself as thin. Ever. In fact, I have always really struggled with my weight and the conversations I have in my head about body image.  I know I am not overweight, but I have been at certain periods of my life. And even though I’m not overweight now, it can sometimes be challenging to keep it that way. I think anyone who has lost weight will likely say that keeping it off is the bigger challenge.

It floored me that someone would even think of me as thin. I even thought, ‘boy, do I have her fooled!’.  Note to self Jen: don’t be so dang hard on yourself. Why are we (I’m talking about women here) always so critical of ourselves? Next time, I’m just going to say thank you and give myself a pat on the back.  (Note: this is not a plug for compliments. My self-esteem is just fine. Ask my sisters.)

Okay, so back to the e-mail and the question about how I do it and how I justify the butter. :)

Well, here are some of my dirty little secrets and some things about me I don’t talk about much. And now I’m sharing them with the world or at least those of you that chose to read this.

I have been on and off of Weight Watchers for 6 years. I first joined because things were a little out of hand. I was heavier than I had been in awhile (I blame my at the time newlywed status) and was dangerously close to being more overweight than not. I did not like that. What I liked about WW is that it taught me some things about portion control and that for me, tracking what I ate was very helpful. I was a lot less likely to eat more than I should knowing that I had to write it down.  However, as I became more educated about food and started to care more about what was going into my body, a new struggle began. I did not like that WW seemed to push more processed foods. The fact that it was less points to eat a 100 calorie snack pack of chemicals than a banana really bothered me. How could that be good? Seriously.

It then became my quest to eat real food (with occasional splurges. I like M&M’s just like the next guy) and to keep my weight in a healthy range. I ditched the splenda, bought some butter, and started cooking more. It was an awesome process and I feel so much better about the food I eat.

However, it isn’t always easy for me to keep the weight down. I love food. I love cooking good food and I love eating it. Sometimes I’d like to throw moderation out the window. Sometimes I do. I think doing that every once in awhile is healthy. Everything in moderation includes moderation. Who’s with me?

I started back on Weight Watchers on a full boar status in November of 2009. I freaked out when I saw a certain number on the scale. I had gone over “that number” and it was a wake up call. It wasn’t that I was eating bad food. Likely it was too much of the good stuff. Since then, I’ve lost about 14 pounds and have been successful of keeping off 10 of those 14. I feel really good about that. Would I like to lose the last 5? Yes, but I’m trying not to sweat it. Life is way to short.

I managed to do the WW plan using real foods and not depriving myself. Recently WW came out with their new Points Plus plan. I think it was a great change. It now is extremely friendly to a real foods approach. In fact, it really steers you away from the fake stuff.  I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Not just for me, but for everyone that is trying to lose weight. I cringe when I see people eat all the ‘diet’ food that is on the market. In my opinion it does more long term damage to your body than a few extra pounds. (I’m not going to jump on my soap box on this topic right now or this will become an encyclopedia post).

Another comment from our e-mail exchange after I owned up to my success with Weight Watchers:

Funny – I imagined you were my ideal: that you didn’t have to pay strict attention and that you did just do it naturally and still stayed thin!

This comment stuck with me too. I wish! I don’t know too many people like this, if any. If you are like this, I don’t know that I want to know. I would be afraid that I might judge you. I think most people (at least women) have to pay attention to what their eating…in general. They may night write things down, calorie count, or follow a certain plan, but I think most healthy people pay attention to what’s going in their body.

I have many friends that do their best to follow Intuitive Eating. The premise of this is to listen to what your body(not your mind) wants, stop eating when you’re full (or almost full) and not to eat when you’re not hungry. I LOVE the idea of this. And I really hope that someday I will get there.  I’m a work in progress. Right now, keeping track is what is working for me. It doesn’t bother me to do it either. I’m a bit on the Type A side so I think keeping track of things is kind of fun.

I do think that some people get a bit out of hand when it comes to what they eat (or don’t eat), including me. When what you are eating starts consuming so many of your thoughts, I have to wonder when it becomes disordered eating. Finding the line and not crossing it can be tricky.  Measuring and tracking is one thing. Not being able to enjoy a glass of wine with friends because you are freaked out about what it might do? I don’t think that’s healthy.

In case you missed it, I wrote about my healthy lifestyle this fall. This is what I strive for every day. More often than not I’m successful. I still find myself fighting with some voices in my head, but they get quieter with each passing year.

Back to the email. One of the reader’s main questions was this:

I’d like to hear yours (and others) thoughts about staying healthy while wanting to try fun recipes from a non ‘light’ cookbooks.  Or wanting to bake things like cookies?  Where is the limit?

This is a great question. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts. Along with wanting to try fun recipes, I think going to fun restaurants also fits into this question. That is a passion of mine and when I go out, I don’t order a salad for dinner. I want the real deal.

Here are my thoughts on the question.

  • Although I’m beginning to hate the phrase, “everything in moderation”, it is part of the equation. I wouldn’t say I only cook light dishes – not at all. However, I do try to practice portion control when I do.
  • Even if a recipe isn’t from a “light” source, it doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Most of my cookbooks are not considered “light”, just healthy good food.
  • If I know I have a special meal that will likely be a bit heavy, I might try to balance that with a big salad chock full of veggies and beans for lunch.
  • Wait before having seconds. I always want to have a second serving immediately after having the first. However, when I do wait a bit, I usually decide that I’m full.
  • If I bake, I try to do it at a time where I can share with others. I’ll take baked goods to work meetings, bring them to friends, etc. I really struggle with portion control on baked goods (I LOVE them), so I don’t bake nearly as often as I’d like. Freezing portioned out baked goods can work too.
  • One thing that I’ve always been good at is staying active. Working out is not a chore to me, but something I enjoy. Although, I do not think it’s the most important piece of the puzzle if you are trying to lose weight (It’s the food, silly), I find I’m apt to eat better foods when I’m working out regularly.

Okay, so this post is long. It also got pretty personal and deep. At least more so than usual. I’m okay with that. I think these are things and questions that a lot of women think about. I’m not the only one, right?

Here are some posts from some of the other blogs I read that I think fit into this topic:

The Daily Garnish: Calorie Counting and Blurry Grey Line

The Great Fitness Experiment: I eat everything.

So, now it’s your turn, smart readers, to weigh-in (no pun intended).

How do you balance cooking fun recipes that aren’t so much on the light side with healthy eating? Any tips?