Branching Out: A New Raw, Vegan Chocolate Pudding Recipe. Plus, Dedication vs. Obsession: Your Thoughts?

by Gena on July 15, 2012

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For over four years now, I’ve been making the same recipe for chocomole again, and again, and again. It’s one of my favorite desserts, favorite snacks, and favorite raw food recipes, period, and it never gets old.

That said, being a foodie is all about trying new things. This week, my new thing was bold: I would try a new version of raw chocolate pudding, I decided. And I would not, for once, use avocados and cocoa powder as the base. Craziness!

I admit, part of this impulse came from sheer necessity: I had nearly a cup of leftover Irish moss gel sitting in my fridge, leftover from my totally delightful 4th of July pudding parfaits:

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Irish moss is one of those pricier raw foods ingredients that certainly doesn’t fit into the idea of affordable, everyday vegan cuisine that we all spoke of in our discussion of veganism as a luxury. For this reason, I don’t like to push it on my readers or use it all the time, because I realize that it’s much easier for most of you to purchase avocadoes (which aren’t cheap either, but are often on sale at this time of year) than it is for you to purchase Irish Moss.

That said, I think Irish Moss is a somewhat magical ingredient. It involves some soaking and blending, but once you do that, you can store it for quite a while (at least a week) at home, and it will enable all sorts of puddings, pies, and creams. It’s a great way to thicken raw desserts without becoming overly reliant on excess fat, and it’s also a good thickener for people who don’t digest gums (xanthan gum or guar gum, for instance) efficiently. Irish moss is a rich natural source of carrageenan, a kind of polysaccharide that helps to thicken food. Carrageenan has been used in Asia for about 2600 years and in Ireland for about 1500 years. It is now widely extracted and used in industrial food production; when you use red seaweed at home, you go directly to the source.

Carrageenan production is somewhat more closely regulated these days in response to a few studies which suggest that it can trigger an inflammatory response in epithelial cells, including those in the intestines. It may also interfere with macrophage activity in the human immune system. That said, carrageenan has also been positively associated with preventative treatment of herpes, HIV, HPV, and the common cold, so it would seem to me (having just read some articles this morning) that the jury is out on its overall healthfulness. My guess is that moderate amounts—especially when you use the red seaweed directly, rather than ingesting carrageenan frequently in the form of processed foods—is safe. And for vegans, Irish moss is a wonderful alternative to gelatin.

Here are my basic instructions for making Irish moss gel:

  1. Remove approximately 1 cup (or about 2 oz) of Irish moss from packaging. Rinse and wash in cold water thoroughly.
  2. Place Irish moss in fresh, cold water, and soak overnight (you can do this in your fridge).
  3. In the morning, rinse the Irish Moss and place it in your Vitamix or blender with 1 1/2 cups fresh water. Blend well. At first, the moss will seem to simply get broken up in the water, but as you continue blending, it will start to gelatinize in the water and become thick. It’ll even be hard to blend, but you can use your plunger attachment to help you. Once you have a thick, uniform “gel,” stop and place the gel into an airtight container. It will keep for a week in the fridge, or you can use it right away.

If you want, you can use it in the following pudding, which is so delicious and wonderful that I hardly know how to talk about it!

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Raw Cacao Pudding (raw, vegan, gluten free, soy free)

Serves 4

3/4 cup Irish moss gel
1/4 cup cashews
5 pitted medjool dates
3 tbsp raw cacao powder (substitute 4 tbsp regular cocoa powder–it’s less strong)
1 1/2 cups almond milk, plus extra as needed

Blend all ingredients together in a high speed blender. Start with 1 1/2 cups almond milk and take it from there: this is a kitchen intuition recipe, which means that I can’t tell you for sure how much liquid you’ll need. As soon as you have the texture you want, stop adding!

Serve!

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So deliciously sweet and chocolatey. I like this the most as a simple dessert, but it would also be a nice dip for summer strawberries and a good icing for other raw desserts, too! Hope you enjoy it.

So do you remember how I mentioned on Thursday that I’d soon be speaking at Blogher’s Health Minder Day?

It’s right around the corner!

The topic of my panel is Dedication vs. Obsession. Here’s a quick description of the agenda:

When does paying attention to our fitness and nutrition, and using online tracking as accountability method, go overboard? When does “The Quantified Self” become the obsessive self? Join Stephanie Quilao in a discussion with Gena Hamshaw, Angelica Perez-Litwin, and Renee Ross, who talk about how you address these questions with yourself, or when you fear you are seeing signs of this in your community.

Whenever I speak at conferences, I like to pretend that my CR family is there with me. I always wish I had you all at my side to share your typically brilliant insights! Anyway, this event will be no exception. I know that our topic is broad, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the theme of “dedication vs. obsession.” What do those works signify to you, individually and in contrast? How do we manage to prioritize healthy living and self-care without veering into the waters of obsessiveness, rigidity, and orthorexia? What kind of balance have you found in your own life?

It’s a lot of food for thought, so take your time commenting, friends. (And yes, Abby, of course I’d love a quote. Email me Smile)

Happy Sunday!

xo

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Averie @ Averie Cooks July 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Your pudding looks amazing and I’d love to see how it tastes made that way vs. made with cocoa powder, agave, and avocado. I’ve only tried it the later, not the former (or worked with Irish Moss) but one day need to do a taste comparison.

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Sana July 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I am convinced that all vegan food is delicious even if it includes things like Irish Moss.

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Ali Seiter July 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

For me, the difference between a dedication toward and an obsession with healthy eating depends on how you feel after a meal. One dedicated toward healthy eating would feel content, energetic, and proud that they just effectively and deeply nourished themselves with wholesome food. On the other hand, one obsessed with healthy eating might chide themselves for eating “too much,” vow to eat less at dinner, or fret over/count how many calories they just consumed. In the latter case, the cornucopia of health in one’s meal would fall by the wayside, overshadowed by the unnecessary stress one would induce upon themselves from eating. I also find that an obsession with healthy eating prohibits one from truly listening to their body–they might refuse to eat until certain times throughout the day, forgoing snacks even if their tummies are grumbling, and will beat themselves up to no end if they “indulge” in as much as a carrot stick between meals.

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Gena July 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Excellent comment, Ali!

I agree, and you struck a chord, because fear of snacking between meals, overeating, and eating foods that were too calorie dense were all a part of my obsessive (disordered) mentality. It’s very freeing to no longer experience that kind of guilt/regret.

xo

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gina (fitnessista) July 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm

loved this post <3 i have a bag of irish moss that i haven't felt motivated to use lately, and this recipe changed that :)
will there be video or a live stream of your panel?
linked to this post this morning, it's something that i've thought a lot about recently.
miss you and hope to see you sometime soon!
xoxo

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Gena July 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm

A million thanks, Gina! I really loved your thoughts, too. As a fitness advocate in particular, I think you demonstrate a remarkably healthy lack of dependence on working out; that is all too often not the case (sadly) in fitness minded circles.

Miss you. When are we eating salad beasts together?!?

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Mara@ What's For Dinner? July 15, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I’d like in on that salad beast date, just sayin’ :)

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity July 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

The difference between the two is your state of mind.
Dedication shouldn’t be negative and causing yourself harm in the process of achieving your goals.
Obsession is thinking and stressing over your goals 24/7. Thoughts become unrealistic and it starts to affect not only your life but also your relationships and career.
I wish I was there to hear you speak! Can’t wait to hear about it xx

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Laura July 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

For me, I tend to be in a state of denial when I’m in an obsessive mode. Or think “I’m over my healthiest weight, so this doesn’t count as obsession; it’s necessary.” The best I’ve been able to do is ask myself, “would I be willing/proud to admit these thoughts to my mom/partner/friends”? If not, and I’m counting and keeping lots of my thoughts private, it’s probably a sign that I’m obsessing.

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Colleen July 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Interesting that you should pose the question of obsession vs. dedication–it’s something that I’ve been contemplating pretty heavily lately. For me, veganism actually came from a relatively balanced place in my mind, as I read a lot of literature and moved slowly toward eliminating animal products from my diet for a period of a few years before landing where I am now. That said, I’ve also struggled with disordered eating and still have a lot of trouble with it, and sometimes find that reading blog after blog (fitness and/or food-related), and “health” sections of newspapers can have a negative affect. I do, however, agree with a few who have commented before me that it is a state of mind. I actually find that when I’m at my best mentally, I’m teaching others–having healthy conversations about what I’ve found works for me, other research I’ve read, and some general “food for thought.” Coincidentally, I’m a classically trained musician, which is a problematic field for the obsessive individual and I find myself at my best when I’m teaching my instrument to others, as well. I think that’s partially because I would never want to inflict my negative thoughts toward my playing or toward my body on anyone else (most especially a young person who doesn’t need to ever have the notion that who they are is anything but beautiful and full of potential). That said, being obsessive in terms of myself is far easier, and almost a source of comfort. I’m not letting myself GET AWAY with anything… holding myself to a higher standard.

Frankly, I’m still learning how to get out of the fog. By and large, if I am busy or again in the position of sharing knowledge, then I am far better. Though I don’t know the answer, I suspect that it does go back to treating yourself with the same kind of care and respect that you would treat a child you’re teaching (or anyone else for that matter); if I think in this way, I find that eating some sugar here and there or not as many greens as I would have liked per meal, or running out of hemp seed to put in everything doesn’t make me feel so out of control. I’ve learned that all my eliminating animal products from my diet for a wide variety of reasons and working out regularly and trying not to purge is nothing without that positivity toward yourself and the ability to forgive yourself or to just let it slide (because sometimes it’s not that deep) when you’re less rigid.

Though I mentioned that reading blogs can get the best of me at times (or rather, I’ve let them do so), I think they’ve become such an important medium of expression; especially for women (not that men don’t struggle), as we haven’t always had the ability to speak to these things frankly and with such a large community as the internet allows for us. So, thank you for Gena, for prompting these conversations.

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sonja July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm

just wanted to say I absolutely love this comment! Thanks for your opinion Colleen.

Gena, thanks for this very interesting question!

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Gena July 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I agree with Sonja, Colleen: excellent comment. Thank you for participating in these conversations!!

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The Delicate Place July 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm

it’s such a fine line! the mind is the component that drives both of them but yet one is likely to make you crazy! i think you’ve reached the critical mass when you associate guilt with how much/little you eat and/or exercise. people in this community run absolute rings around me in the exercise department and that’s totally ok with me!

i work full time and juggle being a good wife, friend & daughter and if a workout fits into there a few times a week then i feel like i took some time for ‘me’ to relieve some stress and better myself. no more no less…i don’t have a particular training agenda and having variety and flexibility in my meals is what keeps me energized and sane! this sounds like a great panel discussion topic!

i hate naming names but i’ve been seeing this girl (http://amanda-russell.com/videos/workouts/quickie-beach-butt-and-body-yoga-energizer-workout/) pop up on several blogs and i cannot help but cringe when i look at her. i’m horrified that someone believes this is a picture of health! the woman looks like Gollum and is probably suffering from orthorexia.

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Jade July 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I am so glad you brought up the topic of dedication versus obsession–It’s ALWAYS been my experience that the extra stress caused by striving for a “label” of 100% raw vegan does NOT outweigh the benefits of that extra 3% raw, or whatever it is for you personally. I’ll skip the stress, and keep my health and social life, thank you!

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Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut July 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Wow I’ve never even heard of Irish moss gel! And would have no idea where to find it…although the picture is beautiful!

I’m here from the Fitnessista’s link on her page to see what you had to say about obsession vs dedication, and I guess I would have to go to BlogHer to find out haha!

My two cents is that it moves towards obsession when it is consuming your thoughts and it interfers with every day life. In fact, that may be the definition of obsessive behavior if I remember from my psych class. I think our goals should be on the forefront of our minds, but when they take over and start to stress us out and change our lives for the worse, it’s not a bad thing. But stress levels are different for everyone.

Good luck speaking at BlogHer! I hope to attend one of the conferences some day! :-)

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Caralyn @ glutenfreehappytummy July 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm

oh my gosh that pudding looks incredible! i’d love to try it!

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Kelly @ My Love Affair with Running July 16, 2012 at 2:30 am

What a great debate, and important for all health and fitness fanatics to consider. I believe obsession differs from dedication in what the intention of the the action is. If the intention is linked clearly to your goal, I would consider it dedication. However if the intention has veered away from your goal, and something else is controlling your actions that is beyond your control, that is when obsession steps in.

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Marisa July 16, 2012 at 6:12 am

I have to get to class so this comment will be a little rushed, but I had to comment on this because being at Hippocrates Health Institute right now, I am seeing this first hand in myself and in so many others who do not have major health challenges. I thought I was going to come here to learn how to eat an optimal diet, but instead I’m learning that health has so much more to do with everything else BUT diet. And it’s such a fine line between eating healthy and making it be your obsession. After being here for a month now, I know for 100% certainty that obsessing over diet and fitness isn’t healthy and that it’s actually more detrimental to one’s health. I love you Gena because since I’ve been following your blog, I’ve known you to be such a rational voice when it comes to this topic. I really wish that I could there to hear you speak!

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Carol July 16, 2012 at 8:31 am

This pudding recipe sounds great and I plan to try it very soon. I have some Irish Moss gel in my fridge that needs to be used. I prepare mine by rinsing really, really well, and then soaking in the fridge for 36 to 48 hours, with a few rinses in between. I usually prepare just 1/2 C dry moss at a time. That seems to be plenty for needs since it pretty much triples in volume once soaked. I then blend the soaked moss with 3/4 C. filtered water and the yield is approx. 2 C of gel.

As far as Irish Moss, avocado and prices…. Really, I think the Irish Moss is an exceptional value. Sure, that bag may seem to have a high price tag, but how far does that bag of moss go?! How many avocados would one have to use to equal the same volume produced by the gel? What about the nutritional benefits of seaweed? Another really great advantage of the moss is its shelf life. Can’t beat that! I have never been to an Asian Market, but as I understand it, the moss can be found there. I have only purchased the stuff online so far. I purchased a bag of Irish Moss in May of this year, and still have at least half of it left. I love the stuff, and I hope to find more ways to use it in recipes.

Ok.. that’s my two cents for the day ;-) Take care, and thanks so much for your recipe, Gena!

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Amanda July 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

Did you ever go to High Vibe in the East Village? I had the most unbelievable raw chocolate pudding this weekend from there that was made with irish moss and sweetened with lucuma. So good!

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Gena July 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Love High Vibe!

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Clare July 16, 2012 at 9:38 am

Thanks Gena, I love how you always combine passion for food and smarts about the culture around it. :)

I believe the only distinction that can be made between obsession and dedication is the state of your mind. Obsession is restrictive, dedication is a choice that gets to be made at every moment. When you’re obsessed with “healthy” eating, you have a rigid plan laid out far in advance, with negative implications if you stray from it. Dedication is a moment-to-moment decision to treat your body in a way that makes you feel good, strong and able. And if that includes eating a food that isn’t so chemically “healthy” in a healthy MINDSET- well that’s about the smartest thing you can do. Knowing your own sense of flexible balance is dedication- not to raw kale and cacao, but to yourself and your well being.

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Mary July 16, 2012 at 11:56 am

Wow that chocolatey dessert looks delicious!!

Thanks so much for doing a post on this- I think (particularly in the blogging world) it is very hard to keep up with everyone’s standards of healthy living. For me, I try to eat healthy whenever possible, exercise and in turn my body loves me right back! It’s amazing to see the difference between treating your body with care and not caring at all!

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Abby July 16, 2012 at 11:57 am

I’m going to be in NYC in August, but not until the end of the month. Why couldn’t my job schedule a trip around BlogHer? Come on, now…;) I’m emailing you a quote today.

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elizabeth July 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

On the dedication vs. obsession question, I think I’ve over the years I’ve found a balance in my pursuit of health. I do my best to make food choices in alignment with my values, but competing ethical commitments and a limited budget entail some compromises, and I’m generally OK with that. I don’t compromise where it’s not necessary – to make others around me more comfortable, for example – and, well, to people who aren’t as health conscious, or as politically conscious, or who don’t share my tastes, it might look a bit like “obsession.” I am, admittedly, VERY picky about the food I’ll eat, but oddly, my fussiness is not rooted in or attached to any of the commitments I delineated above – it’s a purely aesthetic thing, and it predates my eating disorder – I’ve always had peculiar tastes … As for my eating disorder, I was always more obsessed with my weight than with health per se, so, despite an interest in health, my diet during my 20s hardly qualifies as a healthy one. What’s interesting, looking back, is to see how my “obsession” with my weight eclipsed my other concerns – for my health, for the health of the planet and the beings with whom I share it, even, come to think about it, my aesthetic sensibilities (I would not today eat mustard off a spoon and call it a meal). There was no room for such concerns. I think the very fact that I can balance so many competing commitments, and proclivities, day in day out is proof that I’m not “obsessed.”
On the other hand, “ritual” is important to me, and I do maintain certain rituals around food, at least when I’m home, that don’t feel “obsessive” to me – I find them grounding and centering (and yeah, I know, that’s how obsessions work …). When I’m travelling, I go with the flow.
Because meals are some of my favorite rituals, I don’t snack. I prefer to wait and have “lunch” or “dinner” than to eat on the run. Not that I haven’t grabbed pieces of fruit after yoga, etc., if I’ve skipped lunch. But it’s not the way I like to eat – it feels “messy” to me. I think I have a mild case of OCD that predates my eating disorder and it’s just who I am. I could be less rigid, sure, but an inability to snack is hardly disabling, or limiting, unlike, say, my obsession with my weight was all those years.

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Gena July 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I absolutely share your valuing of rituals and proper meals, as well as your difficulty with “messy” eating. For me personally, becoming more comfortable with snacking and food on the go has been an important and valuable part of my recovery, but I do absolutely understand these tendencies, and I don’t think that valuing the ritual of mealtime is a bad thing. Indeed, for me, turning mealtime into a cherished ritual was an important part of my journey toward celebrating food.

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Mary Legare Whaley July 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I like this question. There is definitely a fine line between dedication and obsession. I define myself as a pseudo vegan. I love the vegan lifestyle, but my reasoning for being mostly vegan is mainly a result of my skepticism of food regulations. I do love animals, yet I don’t find that products produced from animals (cheese, yogurt, cotton, honey) are off limits if produced ethically. Totally my personal view. I am dedicated to my cause, but I don’t obsess. I go to parties and events where there isn’t always a vegan food option. In most cases, I can avoid eating, and it’s not an issue. But if it’s a full meal, it can be difficult. I won’t eat meat—-no matter what. And I make that point. I never ask for unreasonable special treatment because I fear what goes on in the kitchen (behind the scenes)….but I can usually find something to satisfy my needs. There’s definitely a fine line. My thoughts are this: Analyzing your food or scrutinizing nutritional labels to ensure everything meets your standards is fine. But if you feel yourself getting anxious or uncomfortable when eating out or choosing what to eat, you may need to step back. I wish I could attend the conference!

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Lyza July 18, 2012 at 8:14 am

I don’t really know where it ended, although wherever it came from, it was never an extremely dedicated preference–more a ho hum, moderate liking of–rich food. And that liking pretty much ended with the nut-intolerance I got for almost 2 years after going off my last arthritis medication (I have lately found that I can eat nuts and beans without my face turning round as a tomato now). There was a time when I first went vegan and was trying to gain weight where I was eating jars of nutbutter every week and was totally addicted, and as a consequence I felt extremely sluggish, energyless, and my face looked swollen even though my body was still tiny. Then I stopped eating them for a year and a half to prevent this…and gradually increased (but still not very much) over the last six months. I now barely crave nuts and if I do eat them my response is very blah. It’s odd!!! In fact I’ve totally lost my taste for rich food. When I look at this pudding I just feel a sense of dread, like oh that is going to make me feel so heavy. I think all the illness I was feeling as a result of my food may have made me lose my sense of appreciation for richer foods, even ones that don’t include nuts. I just realized this reading this so I thought I’d post it. I even hate, lo and behold, to think of a really thick double layer chocolate cake, something I would have adored to enjoy a few years ago. It just sounds like horribly too much, although vanilla sounds fine. Feels so odd!!! Honestly, I come here because the writing is eloquent, the people who comment are interesting and the ethical topics are very absorbing for me, mainly (although sometimes I’ll copy a few recipes). It’s strange to read about the passion for food here, I kind of just treat it like a basic necessity now even though sometimes I do enjoy what I’m eating. The whole table could be in love with the meal and I’d be sitting there, enjoying a little but feeling rather blah about it, even if it weren’t vegan (and I HIGHLY PREFER vegan food!!! I definitely don’t miss meat and dairy and I’ve tried a few bites of dairy just to check and found there was nothing special about it. Meat I never really cared for and I made the switch the day I decided to be a vegan (I dropped dairy first)).

I highly prefer light foods, maybe because I digest them better and they usually leave me feeling fresher. I don’t know where I made the convert from food as pleasure to food as necessity. But my reaction to this entry made me realize!!!

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Lexi @ You, Me, & A World to See July 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Wow, such an interesting take on dedication vs. obsession! As merely an observant listener, I definitely pick up on when people are dedicated to a certain life style (including food) or obsessed. Obviously, it catches my attention a bit more with respect to the “what is healthy” debate, but really, it’s an interesting node of life either way.

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sonja July 19, 2012 at 2:00 am

Hi Gena, this question really resonated with me, so I had to mold it over quite a bit. Hence my late response. I’ve been loving the responses you have been getting and a lot has already been said. Being short about it, I think it all comes down to self love. If we love ourselves and our bodies enough, a dedicated eating pattern (whether to health, or to ethics) will reflect that love, and we will find kindness in ourselves to be able to forgive ourselves if life gets in the way, always trying though to do the best we can. If we don’t love ourselves, an eating pattern can become something we use to measure our self worth with. If we slip up, it only seems to confirm that we’re just not good enough and so we become obsessive to the rules we make ourselves obey. If that makes sense?

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Jennifer July 19, 2012 at 10:14 am

My post definitely isn’t adding as much value as everyone else’s… I want to comment on the pudding, though!

I’ve been experimenting with making chocolate pudding-esque desserts! I do love the avocado and cocoa (not cacao, I try to stay away from that and had cocoa powder in the pantry from Christmas baking). I tried it with carob, but failed to read that you need half the amount of carob powder compared to cocoa/cacao so it came out quite strong and not a favorite. I tried using frozen papaya (slightly thawed) that I had since my avocado were not ripe and it turned out AMAZING. Also, a heck-of-a lot less fat and calories. I liked this option…plus it was instantly cold. :)

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Jen @ keepitsimplefoods July 21, 2012 at 8:34 am

Wow, interesting recipe! I’d never heard of Irish Moss.

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Joanna Albrecht December 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for this. I am allergic to avocados, so this makes me super happy :)

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