Would I Ever Eat Chocolate Peanut Maple Bars with Sugary Frosting? Thoughts on Balance and Indulgence.

by Gena on October 7, 2012

This week, my friend Wendy wrote a post about VegNews magazine, and some of the foods they choose to promote or publish. It was a really interesting discussion, and I encourage you to check it out. If I were to summarize, I’d say that Wendy is approaching this from the perspective of a nutritarian eater who finds it troubling that VegNews doesn’t put as much effort into promoting healthy food as it does into promoting animal rights. Some of the folks who responded—including me—pointed out that VegNews does have something of a health focus, especially lately, but that it is at heart a vegan lifestyle publication, which means that it covers all aspects of vegan living (travel, apparel, and food, as well as health) and makes no claims to be a magazine that only promotes 100% healthy recipes.

I don’t disagree with Wendy that some of the recipes in VegNews don’t qualify as health foods. Take, for example, the chocolate peanut maple bars she used as an example: a cup of vegan margarine, tons of powdered sugar (I hope it’s powdered sugar without bone char, and trust it is), vegan chocolate chips, and vanilla pudding mix. Not exactly health-promoting food by any standard! But the question is whether it’s fine for VegNews to publish the recipe anyway, because they’re not only trying to share healthy foods; indeed, sometimes they’re trying to say to new or aspiring vegans “hey, you can still indulge in some of your favorite ooey, gooey childhood treats on a vegan diet!”

Photo courtesy of VegNews magazine and VegNews.com

I’m personally grateful that VegNews presents a range of vegan recipes. My column is 100% raw; an upcoming column by a good friend will feature allergy-friendly foods; Allison Rivers Samson’s column features indulgent, yet health-conscious vegan spins on omni classics, and Robin Robertson’s column features global food. Between us, there’s a big range of content. I think readers should be made aware of the possible health advantages of veganism, but I also think they should be made to feel that veganism will not mean never eating an indulgent dessert again.

Because whether or not you intend to eat a chocolate peanut maple bar every day, most new vegans find the concept of “can’t” and “never again” to be seriously intimidating; simply knowing that “junk foods” (a term I don’t love) are out there is comforting and encouraging—and that’s perfectly OK. Lately, there’s a ton of talk in vegan circles likening sugary or fatty foods to drugs (and in fact, this was a recent VegNews article topic!). I get it, I really do, but to be honest, I don’t love the demonizing of sugar/fat/salt, regardless of the health crisis that has led to this kind of reasoning. People—women especially—have enough guilt, misery, and self-loathing surrounding food as it is. The last thing we all need is to be told that every bit of sugar we eat is the same thing as heroin. As a vegan publication, I think it’s in VegNews best interest to share the potential, life-changing, and exciting health benefits of veganism. But I also think it should remind people who want very much to make the transition that a sugary snack once isn’t off limits. And that, even if you are a health-minded vegan, it’s not a mortal sin to crave such a thing once in a while.

But this conversation about whether or not VegNews has a duty to shun unhealthy recipes became a lot more interesting and subtle than a simple debate about the politics of writing a vegan lifestyle publication. What it really became was a dialog about what constitutes “healthy living” at all. In response to my initial comment, Wendy asked me,

Anyway, my wish is that this incredible magazine put more emphasis on promoting human health issues. Aren’t humans animals that we care deeply about? Aren’t many of us suffering enough? Isn’t our healthcare system in a monetary crisis? I think you totally get where I am coming from, and since I am partial to both issues (the healthy side and the animal rights side) I just thought I would put this posting out into the universe and see if anyone else felt the same way and maybe be a force for change.

You are incredibly healthy (as far as I can tell) and also (as far as I can tell) would never eat one of those brownies. Am I wrong? I follow your blog pretty actively and you seem to be as uber healthy of a Vegan as it gets. I’d love to see a blog posting from you on this subject.

If your goal was to get more people to eat less animals or treat animals better, would you resort to food porn? You haven’t done that so far on your blog, so I’m thinking that’s a “no.”

To begin with, of course I get where Wendy’s coming from; I wouldn’t be dedicating my life to health care if I didn’t. And I agree that we’re in the middle of a dire national health crisis. But more on health in a moment; that question—would I ever eat a chocolate peanut maple bar—is a really important one, and I am so grateful to Wendy, who you may remember as the powerful, passionate author of one of our best green recovery posts, brought it up. When you write a food blog, you really do forget how others come to perceive you and your habits by reading it. Because I post a lot of the food I make, but not everything I eat, I trust that you guys have a general sense of my lifestyle. But I know that it’s easy to draw assumptions based on what you see, so if you’ve all been assuming that I literally always eat big salads and beans and juice pulp crackers and smoothies, allow me to disabuse you of that idea!

Would I ever eat a chocolate peanut maple bar? That chocolate maple bar, in particular? Well, it would be disingenuous of me to say that vanilla pudding mix or powdered sugar are my norm; the vegan indulgences I like are more along the lines of the chocolate pot de crème at Vedge or the mint chocolate chip sundae at Pure Food and Wine. But would I try one? Just to see what it’s like? Sure I would! There are very few “nevers” in my diet. If it’s vegan and it sounds enticing, I’m happy to try it. I used to say I drew the line at fried foods, mostly because I don’t care for them—that was my “never,” if I had one—but guess what? The vegan calamari at Millennium proved me dead wrong.

When I cook at home, for me and for you guys, I do try to make desserts and baked goods with ingredients like coconut oil, whole grain flours, and agave, rather than vegan shortening or powdered sugar. But when I’m out and about, especially at events or vegan bakeries, I find it really fun to taste some of the goodies, and see how far vegan baking and confection-making has come. I was blown away the first time I tried Sweet and Sarah marshmallows. The Sweet and Salty cookie at Sticky Fingers—which I am positive contains a good dose of margarine and white flour—is probably my favorite vegan cookie. (And their vegan grilled cheese, also not exactly health fare, is mighty fine, too.) Again, these may not be foods you see me eating on a daily basis, but I enjoy tasting vegan specialties, and I take a lot of delight in knowing that they’re out there, reassuring new vegans that it’s not all quinoa and kale.

Do I think that this open-mindedness interferes with my otherwise healthy diet? No. Because I don’t think that healthy living and occasional indulgence are mutually exclusive. As passionate as I am about healthy food, I also believe (and most evidence, anecdotal and clinical, bears it out) that one can afford to eat a rich dessert or French fry now and then, so long as your overarching tendencies are toward whole, unprocessed, and vegetable-rich meals. As someone who went through a strong phase of orthorexic thinking, I’ve been reassured and pleased to realize—through my own experience and through my health education—that the human body isn’t quite so fragile as I used to think it was. We can’t abuse it with a SAD diet or habitual consumption of processed food, but we can afford to eat things once in a while that aren’t health-giving. Unless we happen to be suffering from a health condition that merits special vigilance—and of course if you are, I hope my blog shows you that truly healthful eating round-the-clock isn’t too hard, either!—we have a little leeway.

For me personally, I find that the freedom to enjoy something that has no health benefit whatsoever is actually a part of my overall health: I was much less healthy when I spent endless mental energy thinking on thinking about how nutritious each and every thing I ate was than I am now, enjoying the healthy foods I love on a day-to-day basis, but not subjugating myself to rules about what I can and can’t do. And I think the reason I can eat treats moderately is because I don’t restrict or deny myself things I want to try.

So to answer the big question here, which is “would you ever eat [name your vegan indulgence]?” The answer is yes. I think these foods have an important role in advocacy, I enjoy the freedom to experience them, and I know that my everyday habits give me the freedom I want to be indulgent now and then. So long as the food sounds truly appealing, and so long as I’m as sure as I can be that an animal didn’t suffer or die for it, it’s not “never.”

For the record, Wendy writes a blog for people who have found nutritarianism in a search for health answers, as well as for vegans of all stripes. If you do have a health condition that warrants no processed food at all, or if you believe that such a way of eating is the only way to be healthy, well then, I respect your position totally. I especially respect Wendy herself, who is a shining example of a truly impassioned health advocate (and who made my quinoa and eggplant dish look so much better than I did recently!) And I hope we can come together and support each other as we show readers that fresh fruits and dates and nuts can be just as delightful as Earth Balance* and flour, even if we take personally different stances on the occasional place of the latter in a healthy diet.

As always, CR community, I’m eager for your thoughts!

xo

*It occurs to me as I post this that the recent controversy over Earth Balance and orangutans adds an ethical complication to the example, and I haven’t actually gotten EB for a while for this reason. But I assume a new vegan margarine will take its place soon, if EB doesn’t create one on its own, so the basic point of this post will still be the same!

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

JL October 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Love this post, Gena, and your balance. I would eat the bars, too. Just because I would eat one doesn’t make me a bad vegan, nor does it mean I eat unhealthy. Extremes are why people, in my opinion, drop on and off “diets.” Vegan isn’t a diet. It’s a lifestyle, it’s an opinion, and it encompasses many different kinds of people who eat a variety of ways – without eating animals.

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Jess October 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Totally agree, JL! I feel the same way you do – and I love this post, Gena. I wish I had something more insightful to contribute to the conversation, but alas, it’s been a very long Monday, and I’m afraid my brain is on the verge of melting. ;) But thank you for the post, Gena. I agree with everything you said and I am happy to know that someone as health-conscious as you finds room for fatty and sugary indulgences now and then. :)

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Naomi October 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I know that I would definitely eat a slice of Peacefood’s insanely delicious raw key lime pie, but in doing so, I would celebrate the general tastiness of an indulgent treat, just as I would celebrate the tastiness of something healthier, like a brightly colored salad or some roasted sweet potatoes rubbed with fresh herbs. I was raised Jewish and before and after meals, I was taught to say a prayer of thanks before and after meals. While I’m not sure how Judaism fits into my life now, I still love that sentiment. We need to be appreciative of all dimensions of food- it’s nutritional properties, the role that it plays in our health, it’s distinct flavors, and my favorite: the fact that it has contributed to the richness of different cultures, traditions and lifestyles around the world. On occasion, we need to appreciate the pure joy that an indulgent treat can bring us. I see most food-related publications as a celebration of food, a part of which includes the general deliciousness that a sweet or savory treat can bring.

PS for some reason I’ve never commented before but I absolutely love ChoosingRaw! I love the questions that you ask of your readers and your deep and meaningful discussions, and it’s definitely encouraged me to develop a more ethical and mindful lifestyle.

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Gena October 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Aww, thanks for commenting Naomi! And I envy your Peacefood proximity. Sigh. I can’t wait till the spring, when I will be in NYC quite often indeed.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery October 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I have to say that reading the title of this post made me a little nervous for a few reasons, but by the end of your post, Gena, I was glad to see that you and I share similar thoughts about the subject. I personally think the bars sound tasty and on days when I’m feeling really good in my recovery, I would definitely try one of those bars! I think that health is defined differently by everyone and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. For myself, as a recovering anorexic, it’s crucial that I do not label foods as “good” and “bad” and that I do allow myself to have treats such as this one. Of course, if this type of food were to comprise the bulk of my diet, then I do not believe I would be eating nutritiously and I would need to re-evaluate my dietary intake. I’ve read this magazine before and if it were to talk more about human health issues like your friend Wendy suggests, I’m not sure I would read it as often. This isn’t because I don’t care about my health, but there are plenty of other publications devoted to this particular topic and I don’t want to be hounded with health advice everywhere I turn, especially since I’ve been through several rounds of treatment for my eating disorder in all levels of care ranging from inpatient/residential to outpatient.

One of the reasons I really appreciate your blog and continue to follow it is that I admire how far you have come in your own recovery and how balanced your views on health are (at least in my opinion). I think it is important to find balance in one’s own journey to health and indulgence is a part of that. Now how that indulgence is defined remains up to the individual, but I believe that to apply an overarching label on a food like this one and assume that anyone interested in health wouldn’t dare touch a “chocolate peanut maple bar with sugary frosting” is a bit (I’m struggling to find the right word so forgive me) insensitive? Presumptuous?

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Hannah October 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I think I need to write another limerick centred on how much I am whooping and hollering in my heart for this post and your stance, my dear Gena. Yes to this I say yes I will yes and some extra fricking* yes yes.

(And not only because I just mixed Annie’s pretzel bunnies into Nadamoo Maple Pecan Coconut Ice Cream. Without making myself sick ;) )

* Keeping it clean for the kiddies.

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bitt October 7, 2012 at 8:48 pm

So glad you are eating those things at Sticky Fingers and enjoying them! I replied to some of Wendy’s issues on her site but I’ll say this in reply to your quote of hers here, to never eat the bars seems to say that there is some sort of reason why they are still forbidden. Is the food addiction really over if you can’t indulge once in awhile?

I appreciate that you see the draw for VegNews writing the way it does. Indeed Vegetarian Resource Group has a magazine with more health oriented vegan recipes but they haven’t done the marketing and had the success that VegNews has and don’t sit on the shelf at Whole Foods to be picked up by millions. I appreciate that VegNews has some “food porn” if it gets people to read about animal issues and consider veganism in a new light.

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Gena October 7, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Thanks for the comment! And as for Sticky Fingers, it’s so good: sadly, I haven’t been in person since the first time M took me! But I have been gifted with the sweet and salty cookies since then. A fellow post-bacc was even sweet enough to procure some for me on my bday this year :) So thoughtful!

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Nutriwife October 7, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Gena, loved your post! As a practicing nutritarian, I agree with you. Yes day in day out, I eat 100% fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. But on vacations and holidays, I make exceptions and will splurge on some vegan goodies. VegNews lasagna is one of my favorite holiday recipes!

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Angela October 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Lovely post Gena. This is definitely a very personal topic and I’m so glad both you and Wendy shared your views to promote this discussion.

With an eating disordered past myself, I try to allow room for “junk food” (I also don’t care for the term) ingulgences when I see fit, even if they provide my body zero nutritional value. I try to eat nutritious foods most of the time, but there are certainly times when I overindulge in sweets or when I’m just too lazy to prepare vegetables. I also see many of these sugary foods as special occasion foods – ones that I don’t tend to indulge in very often anyway. With that being said, when I make my own dessert recipes I do try and use whole grains, natural sweeteners, etc as much as I can. It’s a fun challenge and I sometimes find myself tweaking less healthy recipes to suit my own desires & pantry.

I’ve always found the lunch and dinner recipes in VegNews quite wholesome and nutritious. I especially loved the recipes in the July August issue recently – spicy jerked veggies, tropical fruit salsa, and the beet burgers to name a few that caught my eye. It would be really interesting if VegNews polled their readers to find out just what type of recipes we do want to see in the magazine. I’m sure they are providing a broad range to appeal to all kinds of preferences though.

By the way – there is a new vegan spread on the market called Harvest Award – they have several different kinds actually. I saw it in a recent issue of VegNews magazine (July August 2012 – in an ad). Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it in my area of Ontario yet. Apparently it is palm oil free, no trans fats, gluten-free, etc. I’m looking forward to trying it out and I’m curious how it will fare with baking. On the ad, it says they are available at Costco. Let me know if you happen to try it!

Thanks for writing!

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Gretchen October 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Great, thought provoking post. I completely agree that VegNews can & should share both healthy and indulgent vegan food in their articles.

For a few year I was a vegan who ate NO sugar, at all. I was facing some health challenges and this was a suggestion from my ND. During that time my then toddler ate absolutely no sugar, or indulgent treats. Unfortunately not eating sugar didn’t change my health issues, or how I felt in general, but I also didn’t feel a need to add it back to my diet.

That changed when I realized I was creating the perception for my child that veganism = no fun treats. I want him to understand we are vegans because we don’t believe animals are food and that being vegan keeps us healthy and strong. Occasional cookies and desserts don’t change those facts.

Now when he sees friends eating a non-vegan treat he doesn’t look at them longingly. Instead he asks if we can make a vegan version at home. I am more than happy to indulge him in those requests! I want him to be a happy, healthy vegan not a child who feels like he is missing out on something.

The more fun, interesting, and open VegNews can make veganism the better in my book!

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) October 7, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Gena-You are awesome! Thank you for such a thoughtful reply to my questions.

I feel like I have a lot to say to “explain” myself . . . so here goes!

First, my blog posting was not about whether or not “indulging” is or is not okay. Of course it is okay. We are human, we want to enjoy our time on this earth, etc. I indulge far too often, on vegan and non vegan “treats.”

That is NOT what my blog posting was about, although in the comments you and I got into a discussion about that. And thank you, again, for this post, because in all honesty, from the years that I have been reading Choosing Raw the picture that I had in my mind was just different from the real picture that you have revealed in this posting. I’m sure that I will not be the only one of your readers who sighs a breath of relief after reading this post.

My blog posting was really just beginning to touch on the issues of “food pornography,” addictive food items, unhealthy food (by anyone’s standards, not just us striving-to-be-Nutritarians) and the responsibilities of a magazine dedicated to animal rights. I recently subscribed to VegNews and also their online newsletter, and to be honest, there really just is a TON of unhealthy/addictive (for those of us who suffer from these addictions) food being promoted on a daily basis in the online newsletter. It wasn’t just this brownie. It goes way beyond that.

So for someone who is so sensitive to refined sugar/flours (and I believe I am not in a small minority) who also is concerned about animals and the environment, it just struck me one day (after seeing yet again another sugar shocking recipe) how ironic it all was. Caring so deeply about the non-human animals (a beautiful thing) while seemingly pushing poison (don’t freak out by my words, I know it sounds extreme) on the human animals. Again, it’s not a once in a blue moon kinda thing, it’s almost daily.

Like you described and we all here agree on, there is no problem with occasional indulgences. It’s just that VegNews would lead someone to think it could/should be a daily practice.

Again, thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest response. I really hope that this does not turn into some kind of s@#$ fest where readers misunderstand the point I was making.

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) October 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Okay, that should read “breathes a sigh of relief.”

Should have proofread before hitting the submit button! :)

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Gena October 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Wendy,

I totally get that your post was not about the virtues of indulgence, or the drawbacks! I hope I made it clear enough that my post was really inspired by the question you posed to me, about whether I would or wouldn’t eat certain things, than a direct response to the comment of your post. Because I know you were really addressing VegNews and its responsibility as a vegan publication. And I don’t think any CR readers will misunderstand, especially not when they click over. This post was more about me giving my readers a sense of how I approach indulgent foods, because your comment reminded me that my readers should be reminded that I *do* indulge!

Speaking of which, I’m glad you breathed a sigh of relief. My blog is a very accurate depiction of my food–very accurate. I always say to people that what you see on CR is what you get in my home. But especially when I travel or visit new dining spots, indulgence means a lot to me. And I love getting samples of new and exciting vegan goodies at expos and conferences :) I always assumed that my old links to posts on Sticky Fingers, etc., would give that impression, but saying it explicitly never hurts.

Thank you for caring so profoundly about health, and about protecting people from foods that are likely to make their health decline. You’re a wellness warrior, my dear!

xo

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) October 8, 2012 at 9:39 am

Gena-
A lot of my passion and caring about this issue (the evils of sugar consumption in particular) comes from real life experience when it comes to health care costs. Both my husband and I own small business employing 20-35 people at any given time. The health insurance cost issue is an epic problem. The costs rise dramatically every single year. It is beyond unsustainable. It’s a MESS. I am concerned for the future of our country from an economic and health standpoint.

It’s not about being skinny and/or beautiful that drives my passion. It goes way deeper and way into the future.

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hippierunner October 7, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Gena, this is a great post. You are so thoughtful in how you make certain to be inclusive. I really appreciate that you shared that you do eat things that don’t appear on the blog. And by expressing your thoughts on this, how sometimes indulgent treats are appropriate, it really helps us readers. It makes a veg diet seem much more accessible!

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ashley October 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm

really interesting discussion happening both here and on Wendy’s original post. I got into a fairly heated debate with another blogger a couple years ago about vegan food + being healthy, which I feel was very much along the same lines as this.

As a new vegan or person changing their diet in some way, it is really easy to go for all the vegan/modified versions of the food you used to eat (faux meats, faux cheeses, etc) The same happens in the gluten free world (the gfree aisle is just filled with cookies and cakes and snacks, all labeled gluten free) I believe that a vegan diet can absolutely be a healthier way of living, but one could also exist on pasta, bread and snack bars, and while still vegan, not uber healthy.

I read VegNews quite regularly and I do think they have some great content with recipes that are healthy and delicious – but there’s also some indulgent stuff too and a whole lotta advertising. As with anything, you get to make the choice as to what you are going to read and also what you are going to make / bring into your kitchen. It really is about balance and doing what is right for the individual.

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Fiona Young October 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I love your stance and totally agree! Isn’t it weird how much easier it is to say no to unhealthy foods when you give yourself permission to have them? Suddenly it’s about whether you really want it or not and when you realize that too much makes you feel like crap you don’t want too much because you don’t want to feel like crap. It’s so ironic!

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Chef AJ October 8, 2012 at 12:18 am

You are right that sugar may not be as bad as heroin but it is MORE addictive thAn cocaine. The recent research out of Scripps proved this. When they tried to addict rats to either cocaine or sugar, 97% of the rats chose sugar and only 3% chose cocaine. When they tried to reverse the addiction by withdrawing both of these toxic white powders and feeding the rats healthy rat chow, all of the cocaine addicted rats ate the rat chow and got well. All of the sugar addicted rats chose to starve themselves and die when they could not have sugar. Sugar, like alcohol, is toxic to every cell in our body. I just spoke at a conference in Ohio with Dr. Michael Roizen who shared research that all sugars and syrups are so harmful that they denature the proteins in our heart muscle and cause severe damage to our endothelial cells, much in the same way all oils do . The endothelial cells are the life jacket of our circulatory system. Dr. Roizen says that sugar is so poisonous that after consuming just a litte bit of it, the damage to our bodies continues for 180 days. I have been vegan for 36 years and I cannot tell you how many of my ethical vegan friends I have buried already from cancer and diabetes who ate the type of food you are talking about. People try and preach moderation when it comes to sugar because they are so addicted to sugary treats that even the mere thought of abstinence creates discomfort. But as Dr. Esselstyn says, moderation kills. The best amount of sugar to consume is none,

Love & Kale,
Chef AJ

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Tom October 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Completely agree AJ. In fact I cancelled my subscription to VEGNEWS a few weeks ago out of sheer frustration at the unhealthy recipes in recent issues and emails from them. (up to 2 cups of nuts in one recipe, 1 cup of OIL, 4 CUPS of sugar). ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Veganism is a way of life that works to reduce suffering in the world. The word “AHIMSA” means to do no violence on to ANY sentient being”. This is NOT ONLY ANIMALS, but we the HUMAN ANIMAL as well. I am a HUGE animal advocate and defender of justice in the fight to end cruelty and suffering with animals. WE ALSO ARE HUMAN ANIMALS and need to take care of ourselves as well. We have been brainwashed into thinking a “treat” is a dessert loaded with sugar and oil. When people become aware and follow the science, I hope they get the message of health and wellness. VEGAN is about compassion for ALL living beings and reducing suffering. Have you ever seen someone with late stage cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The suffering is unimaginable. May we all find love for all life, including our own. May we all find joy in taking care of ourselves through optimal nutrition. Peace and blessings Dear AJ

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kathy patalsky October 8, 2012 at 1:21 am

Genius post. Your thoughts are crystal clear Gena and I love hearing your POV. As a blogger myself, I have thought about this A LOT lately. And in fact this holiday season I am going to be posting more “healthy makeover” recipes not because that is all I eat over the holidays, but because I think it more clearly represents my personal vegan diet, and quite frankly, it is more the vegan lifestyle I want to promote. But on the flip side of that perspective, YES I too would try the chocolate sugar pudding thingy :) .. And that kind of makes me feel free. And that sense of freedom as a vegan is so comforting to me. So I agree Gena, VegNews showing all sides and possibilities of a vegan diet is a good thing. Let’s face it, I ogle more decadent desserts on blogs than I will ever actually make and eat – but it is still fun to look. And maybe that is because I was a kid with sugar cravings at some point in my youth! I wonder if the next generation of vegans (the ones who never ate poptarts for breakfast) would say about this?

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 6:50 am

Thanks Kathy. I think you and I have always had a similar approach to the spectrum of healthy/gooey food porn on our blogs. And I think that freedom you mention is so vital; even if one doesn’t act upon it all the time (of course we all see more food porn than we could ever reasonably make and eat) simply knowing the possibility is out there and not a shameful thing is very important. I’m so grateful for your input!

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) October 8, 2012 at 9:06 am

I think my feeling on this is that on many sites, things seem to be extreme in one direction of the other. Like I mentioned, prior to this post, I would have categorized Choosing Raw as extreme in the “healthy” direction, never a treat to be mentioned (at least that I ever saw) while other blogs seem to feature ooey, gooey gorgeous vegan treat after treat after treat. I am left wondering if the blogger actually eats this way? Or maybe that’s what gets the blog a lot of hits (and thus income for the blogger)? I think it would be a good idea if bloggers were more open about the realities of what they are promoting, whether it be health or treats.

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 11:52 am

Wendy,

I think you must have missed the post where I celebrated having quit smoking (speaking of unhealthy!) with three desserts from Pure Food and Wine :) But I get it totally: some travel and restaurant posts can get lost in the larger content, which can give a wrong impression. I agree that transparency is great.

xo

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Maya October 8, 2012 at 1:46 am

The link to the green recovery post goes to Freya’s post and not Wendy’s.

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

Fixed! Thanks Maya. <3

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Heidi kokborg October 8, 2012 at 2:54 am

First I just want to tell you have much I have come to love you blog! I only discovered it about a month ago but I have already read every single one of your post, and so many of them really touch me and they make me think about how cutting out meat helped me recovering from an ED. I struggled for 7 years, and it is first within the last 8 months that I finally decided to get help and beat my ED once and for all. I have been cutting all meat of my diet (In time I maybe will go vegan, but I don’t want to rush into anything, so for know I still eat diary, but I like to think that I am still making a diffence for the animals and the planet). By cutting out all meat I have learned to enjoy food and have fun with it, and reading your blog has helped so much too – just knowing that there are other people out there like me helps so much!

The post today was really great, and I love your approached to health and healthy eating. I would eat the treat too (if I had a good day). I think “junk food” (don’t like that term either) is okay in moderation and as long it doesn’t become a part of your daily diet :)

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 6:46 am

Oh, thanks Heidi! Sounds like you have a green recovery story in you :)

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Ali Seiter October 8, 2012 at 5:22 am

“For me personally, I find that the freedom to enjoy something that has no health benefit whatsoever is actually a part of my overall health: I was much less healthy when I spent endless mental energy thinking on thinking about how nutritious each and every thing I ate was than I am now, enjoying the healthy foods I love on a day-to-day basis, but not subjugating myself to rules about what I can and can’t do.”

I could not agree more. Indulging in the occasional treat contributes more to my mental health than my physical health. It reminds me that my body won’t keel over and die from one delicious peach-blueberry crisp at a certain restaurant in Woodstock (wink wink), even if said crisp contains a bit of sugar.

Incorporating these desserts in moderation also prevents against binges, to which I used to fall victim, especially in the form of dried fruit. By demonizing certain foods, they become off-limits, but therefore more desirable. If you approach all foods with an open mind, you won’t open the flood gates of indulgence and eat every chocolate marshmallow bar on the dessert table after “allowing” yourself just one.

Thanks as always, Gena, for your thoughfulness and inspiration!
-Ali.

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 6:44 am

Thanks for mentioning that about binges; back when I used to do counseling, I had many clients who were likely to binge when they created “good/evil” dichotomies. It was distressing to see from the perspective of someone who was concerned with their emotional health, but it was also distressing to see so much anxiety springing up around a way of thinking that wasn’t necessary from a scientific perspective. One candy bar does not equal doom for the body. A lifetime of them, to the exclusion of vegetables? Sure.

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Abby October 8, 2012 at 6:29 am

I haven’t read the comments here, but I did read Wendy’s initial post and yours here (of course.) I subscribe to VegNews and it never really occurred to me to view it as anything other than simply an additional resource for a few good columns, new products and entertaining stories. I’ve never made a recipe they’ve featured, but I do get different ideas and inspiration from the people and the food.

My take is that we can’t depend on a magazine, blogger, etc. to be an ethical standard or everything to everyone. It’s personal responsibility and preference, and while I’m most certainly not a fan of “fake” foods or those that are considered “junky,” it’s only because I don’t really enjoy them–not because I think there’s anything wrong with occasionally indulging in them from time to time. Life is about balance, whether you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, and I think VegNews is trying to appeal to as many people as they–and their advertisers–can.

I suppose I see the point in that many people think vegans either only eat kale and tofu or at the other extreme, fake meats and pasta, but I don’t think VegNews perpetuates this stereotype. Could they have healthier recipes? Most certainly. But they also present realistic representations of some of the more “indulgent” sides of veganism. If it gets a few more people shunning animal products, all the better.

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Lauren October 8, 2012 at 8:47 am

I’m curious about getting back to your bolded text in the middle of the post: “what constitutes ‘healthy living’ at all”. This has been something that I’ve been really thinking about lately. If I’m so interested in being “healthy”, what does that look like and how do we measure it (especially if I am to break the culture I grew up in that says that the scale is important).

I’m with you on the vegan indulgences, except that I wonder how often I should allow them in my life… Sometimes it seems easier just to say no to them because I don’t know where the line for them being a “sometimes” is, if that makes sense.

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Rachel @ My Naturally Frugal Family October 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

I love this post. As a new vegan (I was vegetarian for a year prior) I enjoy healthy foods (salad, beans, fresh fruit, etc) but I do like a sweet treat. However I feel awkward sometimes eating them or even contemplating eating them (kind of like I have ventured to enemy territory).
I feel more relieved reading your point of view and knowing that you too have a treat every now and then (moderation is key to anything).
Thank you for not taking a hard and fast stance and for making those of us who are new to the game not feel like we aren’t part of the group because we don’t eat salads at every meal.

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Allyson October 8, 2012 at 9:17 am

What a great post, Gena! So excited you addressed this topic.

I think it’s interesting that as vegans, we often get singled out for our dietary choices and picked on–whether it be from omnivores or other vegans. For over 15 years I’ve gotten unwanted advice from omnivores about my dietary choices: my general practitioner drilling me about getting enough calcium/protein/iron, my mother in law thinking my child needs fish for protein, my girlfriends thinking that ED has taken over again when we go out to eat… and then, as a blogger/cookbook author, I also get drilled from other vegans on a daily basis in comments or emails telling me that my food choices are terrible, and that I shouldn’t promote x, y, z ingredients in my recipes and that I am/my blog is a disgrace to the vegan community because I promote unhealthy eating (unfortunately, I hear that one a lot).

And, while I understand the *ideal* publication includes not only animal friendly recipes, but also human friendly–I don’t understand why we are attacking individual vegan bloggers/magazines/books–when there are literally thousands of omnivore magazines/cookbooks/bloggers out there who promote extremely processed foods that encourage many to eat the SAD–which is a far cry from a plant based, nutrient dense, low to no processed-food diet that many of us have come to see as normal. Not to mention, those publications aren’t very animal friendly.

Now, I’m not saying we should all go and attack them instead…

But, I think it interesting that instead of focusing on mainstream omni magazines and trying to get them to incorporate less processed plant based meals into their pages (and I think there is a lot of room for growth in these publications), we single out the one mainstream vegan publication that exists today. It happens with bloggers as well. I haven’t noticed many people who will go over to Bakerella’s blog and start firing off claims that her food is poison (perhaps the evidence is just deleted, but I am doubtful), but I see it quite often within the vegan community by just simply scrolling through comments on others blogs as well as my own.

I think a lot of people who are accustomed to very healthy eating, have lost sight that many people living/eating in the USA are just learning that food impacts their health — period– and even more don’t make any food/health connection whatsoever. That’s a HUGE shift in thinking in and of itself. Telling people who don’t understand why a Lean Cuisine is not health food that they also need to cut out oil, sugar, soy, fake meats, etc. on top of their animal products, may be well intentioned–but, in my opinion–just confuses people who may otherwise have taken their first steps toward veganism. It may cause them to write off all these new “rules” as too complicated/too restrictive to even consider implementing themselves–so they go back to just eating “whatever”.

I find the judgements, regardless of who they are directed at and by whom, fascinating–but not always the most convincing. :) I’m curious to see where this topic will head in the next few years–and if we’ll see more “healthy” mainstream plant based magazines pop up, just as there are “healthy” mainstream omnivore magazines available.

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Kathleen October 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm

In love with this comment.

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I’m in love with Allyson. Which is similar.

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Sarah E. October 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

This is a fantastic piece. As someone who worked for over two years at an all-raw low-glycemic vegan retreat center, I was very disappointed when I noticed how many folks got excited about all-raw no sugar, but then couldn’t keep up that end of things and ended up jettisoning veganism, too. Rigid thinking isn’t good for the vegan movement, and I think a healthful balance is the right way to go. Brava, Gena, for spreading this message so eloquently! :D

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JL October 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm

“I noticed how many folks got excited about all-raw no sugar, but then couldn’t keep up that end of things and ended up jettisoning veganism”

Yes. This.

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elizabeth October 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

I’ve made it abundantly clear where I come down in the abstinence vs. moderation debate, and I too might sample the chocolate bars at a party or at a restaurant. It’s not a recipe I’d ever make at home, if only because I doubt I’d ever eat 12 of them! Nor would I make them to serve to others, just because I prefer to showcase healthier fare by way of demonstrating that mindful eating is not about deprivation!

I am a big fan of the “occasional indulgence.” I love Peacefood Cafe and rarely visit NYC without bringing home a half dozen macaroons.

Interestingly, I never had an orthorexic phase – even in my anorexic years, I managed to include a weekly trip to Cornelia Street Cafe or Waverly Coffee Shop (neither known for healthy fare!). Somehow I intuited that indulging my cravings was the best way to keep them at bay.

To be honest, my tastes run uber-healthy (you couldn’t pay me to eat a coffee shop bran muffin today …) and more often than not sugary treats have zero appeal. I eat nothing processed or packaged. So, on the occasions I crave a house-baked treat, I’m inclined to indulge.

The question arises of whether my taste profile (the fact that 99% of the time, I’ll choose a green juice over anything else on offer, not because it’s good for me, but because it’s what I’m craving) is an outgrowth of years of restriction. It may be healthy food is an acquired taste, so that one must conscientiously restrict sugar and make an effort to eat more greens until the taste profile adjusts …

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) October 8, 2012 at 9:42 am

Consider yourself one of the lucky ones and don’t over think it! :) I have been trying with limited success to curb my raging sweet tooth, even though at the same time I love, love, love all vegetables, fruits and whole grains. White sugar for me is my crack. How many crack addicts do you know that have recovered?

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elizabeth October 8, 2012 at 9:58 am

Hey Wendy. I do believe there are foods where an appropriate satiety response is not triggered (or it’s not triggered until after one has over-indulged). It so happens that sugar is not a big problem for me. Not that I never overeat (cherries, for example), but that I am (generally) quickly satisfied by a sweet treat and will get a headache (a kind of pressure build up in the third-eye region) if I over do it. Grains (both whole and processed) are another story and as a result I have taken to mostly avoiding them. No reason to play with fire when we have so many (healthy + delicious) choices.

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Janae @ Bring-Joy October 8, 2012 at 11:01 am

Seems I’ve hit this discussion late in the game, but I want to add my 2 cents.

I also had a bout with severe orthorexia & did not touch sugar or any “unclean” food, for that matter. This approach was unnecessary & did not feel harmnious with the kind of life I wanted to live.

I think that demonizing food is on the path to unhealthy behavior, perhaps along the lines of eating disordered thinking. Instead of thinking: “those bars are just sinful,” or “ohmygosh, I would NEVER eat that,” I think it’s far more productive to see food for what it is. I try to look at food from a more intuitive perspective. Am I really hungry right now? If so, what does my body need? What would I like to eat? Also, if I’m at a party or celebration, in light of all that I’ve eaten that day, is a treat something that would be appropriate &/or something that would “fit”? Eating choices & behavior are much more complex than good food, bad food. Being married to my husband (an omnivore who has never dieted & never had weight issues) for the past 8 years has taught me I don’t have to only eat salads & quinoa to be healthy & happy.

Thanks for bringing to light the discussion–I think it’s important to show the world that veganism is much more than a fad diet, it’s a lifestyle.

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Marissa October 8, 2012 at 11:14 am

Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Gena! I am completely with you on indulging sometimes when you’re out! I will always get a chocolate peanut butter shake at the Chicago Diner if I am there. At home, yes, I eat way healthier than I might at a restaurant, but I think that’s true of omnis and vegans alike. Overall, I think we all need to assess what makes us feel our best and healthy and tailor our diets to that. Everyone is different, and while I doubt that eating those bars all day every day is healthy for anyone, that isn’t what VegNews is advocating. And sometimes, showing your omni friends that being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t eat peanut butter chocolate maple bars when you want to is the best way to show that veganism isn’t exclusive or boring, and that you still have just as many delicious options as anyone else. Kale salads can be phase 2.

As another note, I love that all of the comments on this post, and generally on Choosing Raw as a whole, are so thoughtful and considerate. It would be so easy for this to devolve into arguing and name calling, and I really appreciate that it isn’t!

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Shelley @ Mile High Healthy October 8, 2012 at 11:24 am

I agree with your view on this issue. While it is noble and certainly beneficial for your body to eat with optimum nutrition in mind, I find it helps my mind and spirit to indulge in tasty treats as well. Truly enjoying a sugary dessert every once in a while (vs eating sugar every day just to eat it) makes me happy! I consider it to be a balanced part of my life as a whole…sure it does my body no favors but it does do wonders for for my mood. And yes, I would try that recipe from VegNews (it looks so amazing)…probably not as an every day treat but maybe for a party or holiday to show my family that veg foods can be just as fun and delicious as foods made with animal products.

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heather October 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I read a great line on another ED blog once; she ate treats from time to time as a medicine for her own neuroses. I thought that was fantastic and I implement it in my own life :)

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Kathleen October 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Slightly off topic but I was wondering what you thought about the words “processed” and “whole”? Do you think these words could reinforce orthorexic tendencies?

“As passionate as I am about healthy food, I also believe (and most evidence, anecdotal and clinical, bears it out) that one can afford to eat a rich dessert or French fry now and then, so long as your overarching tendencies are toward whole, unprocessed, and vegetable-rich meals.” I do agree with this statement in regards to my own health (though when I indulge in french fries it is certainly more than one…). However technically foods like bread and breakfast cereals, staples for many vegans, are processed and not whole. Would you include these as healthy in a daily diet that also contains fruits and vegetables? I often wonder if by using words like “processed” and “whole foods” we might scare people into thinking daily vegan convenience foods are not acceptable in a healthy diet. While many of us who read CR love being in the kitchen to prepare our whole grains and beans for the week, I’m sure there are countless vegans wanting to eat a healthy diet but who also have no interest in cooking. I don’t really have a conclusion on this, but was curious how you felt.

Great article with some really insightful comments!

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

That’s a toughie, Kathleen. Technically, it’s impossible to know what’s processed and not: isn’t cooking processing of a kind? Do we mean packaging? Freezing? Where to draw the line? One of the things that amuses me about the argument that oil is a “processed food” is that (putting aside the fact that there are some legitimately shady practices in the olive oil industry) a bottle of hemp or sacha inchi oil from a reputable company is no more processed than is a block of tofu, which is a food that is often embraced on oil free diets. Ditto for beer, wine, nooch, bread…

So I don’t know. When I use the term “processed food,” I tend to mean it the way it’s meant in popular culture: lunchmeats full of sulfates, microwave dinners with 1093027 ingredients, twinkies. I don’t mean a vegan bran cereal or an Amy’s burrito or a gallon of Blue Diamond Almond Milk. There’s no agreed upon definition here, but I tend to assume the meaning is clear.

What’s really hard for me, as someone who both believes that food can have an enormous impact on health and wellbeing, and someone who’s sensitive to ED mentalities, is knowing how to discourage foods that I think are really harmful when consumed too often while also not reinforcing good/bad dichotomies in peoples’ minds. I don’t have any answers, but I try to take it on a case by case basis.

Incidentally, I think some vegan packaged foods are essential, not just for people who don’t love to cook, but also for stressed out students and parents and professionals! I think it’s a shame not to connect with cooking food from scratch, but I don’t think that prepared food sometimes or in certain phases of life is a big deal; indeed, it can be a helpful means of reducing stress, which can be very harmful to health, and of staying vegan when it’s not easy to cook.

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jenny October 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’ll be totally honest. I want to eat that but I won’t because I think it is unhealthy which for me translates to it will make me fat. One little taste would set me up for a binge. I know deprivation doesn’t work and I really want to be able to say yes, I can have a little treat because I am vegan and awesome and I don’t care about weight, but I’m not there yet. I’ll eat fatty, nutty, grainy and fruity food all day long but I’m just not there yet with sugar…so in my mind I just say it’s unhealthy and move on. Baby steps.

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Gena October 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Baby steps, Jenny. Protect your recovery. You’ll get there. And hugs!

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Nichole October 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm

While I understand 100% where Wendy is coming from, I agree with the view that VegNews is what the name insinuates: vegetarian news. The fact that it is a high-quality vegan magazine is enough for me, when so much of what’s vegetarian today is heavily focused on dairy, butter and sometimes even fish, eggs and chicken.

I see this as an amazing opportunity for someone with the skills & resources to blast onto the vegan scene with a vegan magazine geared towards healthy cooking. It’s a niche within a niche, and one that is wide open for someone to step in and dominate. I would be the first in line to subscribe (and contribute)!

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Abby October 9, 2012 at 6:36 am

I have six years of magazine editing experience, so I’m on board to contribute as well! :)

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) October 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Abby–you go girl! and with you involved, it’d be the funniest magazine on newstands.

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Lisa Horvath October 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Long time reader and first time commenter. Thank you so much for this post Gena. As a new blogger I was thinking about this issue just yesterday. I don’t want to misrepresent my diet on my blog. I eat a lot of quinoa and kale, so much so that I named my blog that. But, I don’t shy away from a delicious sweet treat either. I want to give a realistic view into my vegetarian lifestyle which includes a good dose of moderation. As always, thanks for opening up this discussion.

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Kim October 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm

This is a great post! I’m usually one of those “uber” health conscious vegans who doesn’t really eat any processed foods or sugar etc. But I just had a major life change so I have been eating the vegan junk a little too much – not ideal, but sometimes you fall off the healthy wagon. I was trying not to beat myself up over it and this post made me feel better =)
Well said.

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Ashlee @ Plant Infusions October 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I totally agree! If being healthy meant I never touched desserts, even vegan ones, I would probably get pretty frustrated. Telling myself no all day is not fun. Giving myself options, healthier, vegan ones, is very liberating and means I can stay vegan the rest of my life. Without feeling deprived.

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Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset October 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm

A rigid life full of structure and deprivation is not worth living. Delicious food is good for the soul. Sometimes that delicious food happens to be uber-healthy from a purely physiological perspective, whereas sometimes it’s simply ‘mental health nectar’ or a means of fighting ED that little bit more (for those struggling). Food that is not necessarily super healthy can often make me feel even stronger than healthy food does as it challenges my ED mindset. I’ve lived the life of deprivation…and there’s nothing healthy about it. Health is about SO much more than just diet and exercise. Laughter, creative expression, social ties, high-quality sleep, adventure, love, passion- all of these things are JUST as important. Thanks for another fantastic post. <3

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marissa October 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Gena,
Thank you so much for writing this. I identify as in recovery/recovering from my eating disorder, and the struggle between balance and indulgence is one I completely understand. However, I don’t thing that following a vegan lifestyle should mean that you deprive yourself (and yes, I view abstaining from anything that contains chocolate, maple syrup, sugar, oil, etc. as deprivation, unless you’re eating that for breakfast, lunch and dinner) of an occasional vegan treat-or of reading about them via VegNews. I believe a whole-foods based vegan diet is best for us and for the animals, but rigidity in any diet is unhealthy.

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Cat October 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Gena, the quality of your posts and your well-written and well-reasoned discussions are just outstanding. Again, this is spot-on and thought provoking.

I get the VegNews emails, and the featured recipes usually do leave me feeling a bit like Wendy did – disappointed about the focus on vegan ‘junk food’. But I also can appreciate that it is an effective way of showing new or non-vegans that avoiding animal cruelty does not mean eating rabbit food and missing out on favourite treats. I’m still surprised at the second most common question that I’m asked when I tell someone that I’m vegan – after the ‘how do you get your protein’ question, it’s ‘so that means you can’t have chocolate!!?’ (accompanied by a look of absolute horror).

In response to that question when asked by a colleague I once baked a batch of double choc-chip cookies and brought them in for my team to share. That settled the issue!

However, on a day-to-day basis I like to make the distinction between ‘junk’ food and ‘indulgent’ food. Junk to me means nutritionally bankrupt. Indulgent means delicious and usually calorie-dense. My partner sometimes asks me ‘would you consider [insert food such as date/almond/cocoa bar, coconut meat cheesecake, etc] to be junk food?’. This has started interesting discussions on the difference between junk and indulgence.

I’ve got a recipe for chocolate ganache on my blog – it’s seriously chocolatey, super rich, and very calorie dense. But each of the ingredients – cocoa powder, cacao butter, coconut oil, cashews, dates, agave – provide valuable nutrients. It’s not junk food, but my god, it’s indulgent. And if you were to eat it in excess, it would be fattening and unhealthy! Compare that to a packet of Oreos (the vegan ones), which have little-to-no nutrient value, and that’s the difference between indulgence and junk.

But I like your approach anyway, that if it’s vegan and delicious, it’s never blacklisted. There’s a gelato shop near where I live in Newtown called Gelato Blue. Very occasionally we go there to get a vegan chocolate, banana split or coconut sorbet in a vegan waffle cone. It’s divine. And it’s junk food. And that’s ok :)

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LIz October 9, 2012 at 7:43 am

Love the distinction between junk and indulgent! Brilliant!

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laura October 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Well said! I’ve been more and less restrictive at different periods in my life and the idea of “never” really makes me so upset. “Not right now” makes me feel empowered. And, if I really want something, it mostly seems better to have it and let it go than resist and obsess over it. I think what might be good for some of the blogs and magazines, though, is to make the distinction clear. By acknowledging when something is an indulgent treat and bringing some awareness to the issue, maybe they’d help more people find a middle path.

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raechel @the rebel grrrl kitchen October 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm

As usual, I am grateful for your brave and honest words. I know I still have a lot of orthorexic tendencies, and it is truly liberating when I am able to enjoy a sugary vegan dessert with friends and NOT freak out about it. People overlook the health impact of emotional and mental stability….Occasionally eating too many calories from “bad” foods is probably a lot better for us than berating ourselves with guilt and anxiety and self-loathing.

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Brian October 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I’ve heard on several occasions that we would still be healthier eating a vegan “junkfood” diet than a conventional “junkfood” diet. So, for people striving to maintain a vegan lifestyle, it’s a start. Besides vegans are not necessarily “healthy”, it’s an assumption that they are. Vegans are just like anyone else fo r they can crave sweets, fried foods, & sugary drinks, I know I do. I’m not a strict vegan in the truest sense. I still have leather products, in a pinch, I’ve been known to eat eggs or take a bite or two from a veggie pizza with cheese (that real nasty stuff from cows, not the good stuff like Daiya). So, what I’m saying is we just need to have a balance, be flexible when you can & simply enjoy life. I agree VN could stand to print more healthy recipes but in the meantime I’ll get those healthy recipes elsewhere, like here at CR, & I’ll continue reading VN for their thoroughly entertaining & educational articles on a veganism, animal rights, & simply living as cruel-free as humanly possible, quite possibly while eating a vegan maple bar.
-To your health-

here is just n need

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Kristen October 9, 2012 at 12:47 am

Thanks for another thoughtful post! I completely believe indulgence can be a part of a healthy diet. It’s all about balance, and if people get obsessive about restriction that’s just as unhealthy as eating some processed or sugary foods every now and then.

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Monique October 9, 2012 at 7:48 am

Gena – long time reader de-lurking to say that I’m not a Vegan or even a Vegetarian but I’ve gotten a lot of good recipes from your blog. Yours is the only Vegan blog in my reader – I think it is because I like your sweet spirit and your way of supporting (not attacking) other people and their ideas/thoughts – even if it is not in line with the way you believe. I’ve never gotten the idea that you don’t ever indulge as I’ve seen desserts, chocolate and other sweet recipes here on your blog. The thing that popped out the most for me here is the use of the word ‘food porn’ – sounds like (insert name of food item here) is dirty, nasty and should be hidden behind closed bedroom doors. I think anything you wish to consume can be (and should be) consumed. If you listen to your body you will know when enough is enough. Thanks for always presenting both sides of the argument and for having such a sweet spirit.

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Liz October 9, 2012 at 9:53 am

I’m in love with this post and the way you manage to share your convictions without alienating anyone.

I am a big fan of indulgence in moderation. I am a huge dessert person and I don’t think a weekly indulgent treat (and a small dose of dark chocolate the rest of the days of the week) is going to counteract the effects of my daily, very healthy diet and lifestyle. I just don’t.

I haven’t really checked out VegNews, but I am a Vegetarian Times subscriber and I have to say that they’ve actually been sharing many many more vegan recipes as of late, with far fewer processed ingredients. When I first became vegetarian, VT was my go-to resource. My own personal eating and cooking style evolved from there, but I credit it with making the transition easy, fun, and enlightening. I ate a lot of cheese back then, so I was nervous VT wouldn’t be as applicable now that I don’t eat very much dairy, but thankfully they have grown a long with me.

Lastly, I want to say that while I fully see the potential negative impact of sugar, I think, like most other things, it really depends on the person. Some people can stop at one glass of wine. Some people can’t. Some people can have one cup of coffee. Some people need 3 or 4 to get through the morning. If sugar is an addictive trigger for you, then by all means, avoid it. As a person from a family of addicts of various substances including alcohol, smoking, and food, I fully understand the need to abstain 100%. But those things aren’t triggers for everyone, and I do believe that indulgent treats can definitely be a part of a “healthy” diet, vegan or not.

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Carly October 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Thank you for such your balanced, sane approach to this. I feel like ideas about health can so easily become extreme, which in turn can lead to so much damage. “Never” is a dangerous word. I always appreciate your intelligent, thoughtful writings about food. Thank you :)

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Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) October 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Such an interesting discussion and a topic I’ve thought often about as a nutritarian and a future health professional. Ultimately, I fall into the camp of putting my food priorities into 1. Is it vegan and 2. Is it health-promoting? I became vegan for animal rights before I became a Fuhrmanite and that’s still the order of my values. However, that being said and now that I’m fighting this new battle against cancer, I am that much more careful about what I put into my body, but I don’t mind publications like Veg News putting out info on less than healthy vegan options. After all, the world is all about options, it’s up to us as individuals to make our own choices. Yay for veganism!

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Liz @ The Sixth Letter October 9, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I want to underscore Carrie’s point as well – it’s about having the option – and it’s up to use to take personal responsibility for our choices. Love that!

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Gena October 10, 2012 at 6:22 am

Great comment, Carrie.

I think one thing that can be hard for us health enthusiasts to accept is that not everyone wants to pursue health full time through food choices. And that’s OK. Sure, I believe that, with health care costs as they are, we all do have some responsibility to remain moderately healthy (though I do remember how angrily I used to grimace over campaigns to marginalize smoking; it struck me as invasive and puritanical). But the truth is that not everyone is going to want to eat kale and drink juice and have giant salads every day, even if they know it’s healthy. And as health advocates, we need to respect that, recognize it as other peoples’ prerogative, and live and let live. We can share our enthusiastic message, but that’s about all we can do; I don’t think that ridding the universe of every sugary dessert is necessarily fair. It’s a complex issue (this immediately makes me ask myself if my reflexive support of soda bans contradicts what I’m saying), but do you see my point? I’m not sure we can or should impose our health standards onto others.

To go to your original point, of course it’s fair to modify diet for dealing with a particular diagnosis! I have done so and recommended others do so for various health challenges, and I understand why you feel careful right now. That may not always feel imperative to you, but great that you’re doing what your body needs, and what feels right.

xo

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) October 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

” I don’t think that ridding the universe of every sugary dessert is necessarily fair.” Is that really what us “nutritarians” are griping about . . . or is the the seemingly unending deluge of images of sugary, processed non-foods that seem like they are being pushed by drug dealers, I mean bloggers, cookbook authors, food manufacturers, restaurants, etc. onto society? We’re not talking about a few treats out there in the world. We’re talking about being surrounded by them and images of them on a daily basis.

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Gena October 10, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Wendy,

I agree that the deluge is a big, big problem, too! And I have no problem with anyone advocating against the deluge. But one of the things I love about your site in particular is that, while you are a devoted health warrior and nutritarian, you also are compassionate and realistic, and can yourself acknowledge that some of us need a treat now and then (especially if such a treat is a bridge to ultimately choosing a plant-based diet). However, there are some health advocates who are far more rigid, and a sentiment like “the best amount of sugar to consume is none” is exactly what concerns me when I talk about people who want to “rid the universe of every sugary dessert.” They really are expressing an abolitionist stance, rather than what you’re saying, which is that we need to fight the way sugar is forced on us all through messaging, but that once in a while is to be expected and embraced.

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Anonymous October 10, 2012 at 5:54 am

dear Genna, once again your comments are intelligent, thoughful, sensible and balanced. That’s what make your blog outstanding. Thanks!

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GetSkinnyGoVegan October 10, 2012 at 11:07 am

I don’t think there is one “Right” answer. While I personally eat one style of vegan (at 40) now, I totally embrace ALL styles of veganism. And I have probably done them all. It is NEVER my intention that people think they have to drink kale juice or give up sugar to be vegan. I always try to tell peeps that you can eat any style vegan you want-it just depends on your intent. There are gazillions of vegan desserts/cupcakes/sugars/faux meats, etc…out there to satisfy any sweet tooth or meat & potatoes needs. But then I am thrilled so many new vegans or almost vegans have blossomed from all these nutrition documentaries. There have been countless vegans working for more than decades, trying to spread the word. And I am thankful to each and every single one of them. Although my heart is kind of with the John Robbins and the old school group, I am shocked at how many people read SkinnyBitch & wanted to ditch the crap. Not even for weight, but for the utter grossness factor. And for the animals. And Kathy Freston, who was pretty criticized amongst vegans for the 21 day cleanse on Oprah, has also reached countless people. Militant Vegans (I am personally pretty much one of these ::) tend to not appreciate what it takes for messages/ideas to hit mainstream. I think it takes the entire village. It takes Kathy Freston to be mainstream enough & even get ON Oprah in the first place. Karyn of Karyn’s raw got on years ago not for being so super healthy, but being sexy or fab after 50. It’s the States, and certain stuff gets media. I love that we have all these nutrarians who don’t get why we would hurt our own bodies. There are so many that eat plants for health reasons, or at least came to it that way. Vegan cupcakes are great. Low glycemic is great. It’s all great. And just because we came to veganism one way, doesn’t mean that we don’t make transformations along the way. If you are truly vegan, then you will get to know how to read a label. So eventually, you might start eating better by default :) My hubby went vegan for health. The animals were not part of it. But now I almost shed a tear because he thinks it is utterly stupid that the world stops to save a dog on tv, and it’s a major news story & then everyone goes out to eat a burger. While I know/understand, and respect that “weight loss” and vegan are not popular words with a lot off peeps-I also am infuriated that 99% of people “selling” weight loss have people enslaved to systems that don’t promote health or unprocessed foods. So IF health or IF weight loss is a goal, then I think that Veganism (the right type) can be truly healing & truly liberating. Processed foods have been manufactured to be addictive, and eating unprocessed plant foods can really help break some of that chemical addiction………..and fill ya with fiber. So I don’t think it’s asinine to want to spread the eat more, weight less-stop paying someone to count points- viewpoint either. At the same time, if you love pizzas, cupcakes, and even twinkies, I want people to know you can HAVE that & it will be animal cruelty free. I truly feel like Veganism is a Gateway Drug to more compassionate living & we shouldn’t be dissing ANY entry to it for any reason. While some may think ethical is the “only” entry, or that weight loss shouldn’t be ever be part of it-or the Furhman Followers-I think that there is room for all of it. The Furhman/McDougall/Esselstyn peeps could say, hey, people are going to be vegan & just eat vegan junkfood and have health issues & gain weight & THEN quit being vegan. Just as easily as someone can say that someone will go vegan to lose weight, not lose weight and THEN quit being vegan. It just depends on intent. IF you want to lose weight being vegan, there are styles that seem to do that without a ton of effort. IF you just want to quit animals & aren’t uber concerned with the other stuff, that is a cinch. And on eating a sugary dessert-there is no right answer. If someone has struggled with addictive eating, that may never go away-so maybe it’s not a hot idea for them if it sets them in a cycle. For others, it’s an awesome way to start the morning with some hot coffee! I love that VegNews includes all styles. It would be great if there were a totally health based/disease healing type of magazine as well-one that could be in place of those stupid diabetes magazines at doctors offices. With all unprocessed, plant foods-stories of people healing-weight loss-heart disease, etc…..It would be great to have ANOTHER magazine now too!!!!! I remember when VegNews wasn’t even a “real” magazine!!!! Now we have come SOOOOOO Far & I am so tickled. I NEVER thought I would even live to see the day that people would even flirt with veganism………….for ANY reason. Just so delighted and I hope we go much further in the future. I truly believe we can save ourselves, our families, our planet, and our consciousness by reducing the suffering in the world. There is nothing better.

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GetSkinnyGoVegan October 10, 2012 at 11:17 am

Oh, I also want to add, depressing or not-basically ALL the new vegans I have met lately, have done it for health. Have done it for themselves. No mention of animals. I went veg in maybe third grade, ONLY for the animals-so it is weird to me. BUT, that is what I am seeing in the unlikely vegan group around me. I don’t push any silk or wool or ethics on peeps when they are flirting with being vegan. It takes awhile JUST to figure out food labels. And can be really overwhelming. I am so delighted they are just trying to give up milk & eggs & meat that I just try to answer any questions (if they ask) that they have. But I never push the AR part-it seems like a major feat for peeps JUST to give up the food part at first. It takes awhile-buying food is already new and then for them to have to think about every product they buy-because that’s what it comes down to…………I don’t want them to be overwhelmed OR think it’s OCD to be vegan. I don’t think it is OCD to be vegan-BUT since violence and suffering has penetrated nearly every product we consume-it can require a LOT of effort to avoid all animal products. It just takes time. I always think of teenagers-if they are on the right path you don’t really want to jinx it by congratulating them too much or being too proud or getting in the way-if they are on the right path, it is likely they will find the right answers along the way. And often they need to find them themselves. We need to have all the information out there-but we don’t want to push them away either.

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) October 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I have this secret theory that all of the people who go Vegan “for their health” are really people who have, or wanted to, at some other time in their life, gone vegetarian/vegan for animal welfare reasons. I myself was a longtime vegetarian with not a care at all for my own health. And, again, it’s just a theory, but I think when people hear that Veganism can be good for their health and they subconsciously know that factory farming is WRONG and wanted to stop eating animals on some level, it’s like a tipping point for them. But it was their own health that tipped it.

Gena-this one’s in your hands now.

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Gena October 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I agree to some degree, Wendy, at least insofar as two of the best animal advocates I know are also currently practicing nutritarians, and they originally went vegan for the animals. It would be interesting to see how often that is true!

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t wish to draw stark dichotomies between AR veganism and health veganism. I do put animals first and that is what keeps me vegan, but healthcare is what I want to do with my life, so they’re both dear to me. There need not be stark divisions between these two communities at all; in the end, we’re all concerned with many of the same things. And as you say, animal wellfare may often preceed a concern with living healthfully!

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GetSkinnyGoVegan October 10, 2012 at 11:18 am

Oh, I wouldn’t push the AR part in person, I meant!!!! THAT is why I started to do FB/and the blog. So I COULD present ALL parts ::::)))))))) That way I don’t feel like I have to do it to my friends!!!!!!!

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Carla October 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I think the processed vegan foods are really important for motivating people to transition to a vegan diet. I became vegan for ethical reasons. Becoming vegan meant I had to actually consider every last ingredient in my food. That, along with educating myself further, led me to become a much more health-conscious eater. I think far less people would become vegan if the unhealthy vegan alternatives to unhealthy non-vegan foods didn’t exist. I, too, still like to try new processed (and yummy raw!) vegan products and restaurant offerings, partially just because they look good and partially because I want to be able to make a suggestion when someone says, “I couldn’t be vegan because I could never give up ______.”

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sylvia October 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm

There is a whole lotta unhealthy attitude toward healthy eating amongst the healthy eating crew… be it vegan, vegetarian, raw, paleo, whole food etc. It drove me insane because I was just a healthy minded woman looking for some nutritionally sound food. Everywhere I looked for recipes or information I was met with people with former eating disorders, lingering eating disorders and total spaz cases who cried cancer if I boiled my broccoli too long.

What really bit my biscuit was when I was pregnant with my second baby and I joined a healthy eating group where we were all due the same month. Every single one of these women save for two had a horrible relationship with food and the whole thing became one big competition to see who could eat the less, who gained the least amount of weight etc. There was no health, there was only sad women doing what they thought was healthy because they wanted to meet some strange standard in their own minds. I just wanted to talk about eating healthy food and get some new recipes!! I flipped my shiznaz on them and had to leave the group. So sad.

My point with all of this is that I love your blog. You are a nest of reason, intelligence and levelheadedness. You even write posts about the unhealthy attitudes toward health which is something I thought only I noticed… or something I thought maybe I was being too sensitive about and totally making up in my own grumpy mind.

The world needs posts like this one and blogs like yours. Keep it coming!!

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale October 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

This is a really wonderful, thought-provoking post (as usual) Gena! I love it. And would totally enjoy a maple-PB bar! I’ve found that my personal balance as a vegan has gravitated towards the 80/20 lifestyle concept. I want my huge salads and veggies galore every day – and I want my ice cream one or twice a week and – damnit – I’m going to have it! ;-)

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Mark October 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I tend to agree with Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, John McDougall, and Neal Barnard: “Moderation kills.” It’s what’s gotten a LOT of people in our society sick from eating in a way deleterious to their health and ridding themselves of their taste addictions. The attitude “a little won’t hurt” is fine when one is younger and more resilient, but the damage adds up over time biologically, particularly when it comes to added oil/fat.

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how to shop for retro glasses and fashion glasses October 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Chocolate Peanut Maple Bars is delicious! Thanks for sharing.

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Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I didn’t read through all these comments, but I wanted to say that I think this was such an excellent blog post and that it’s really difficult for me, personally, to come down on any side of this discussion.

There is a part of me that thinks that it’s really very problematic that a vegan publication has such unhealthy recipes, because eating unhealthy does strike me as being addictive. But, at the same time, before I embraced healthful eating, and was just a regular vegan cooking junk, I would have been all about these recipes.

And yet, despite that, I eventually came around to eating healthy. Now that I’ve made this decision for myself and feel such a committment to it, unhealthy recipes simply do not interest or tempt me as they once did. I know that if I want sweetness, I can make myself a raw dessert sweetened with figs or whatever, and that even that cannot be called a “health food,” but I can greatly reduce the amount of harm I do onto myself. These more-healthy-but-still-unhealthy indulgences are what tempt me now.

So, I guess that my point is that VegNews recipes can only do so much to convince people to eat more healthfully. A change of heart must take place, for whatever reasons. It’s impossible to make people change their minds about something they’re not yet ready to embrace. But that doesn’t mean they will not eventually embrace it.

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