Are You a “Meat and Potatoes” Type of Vegan?

I seem to be a “Meat and Potatoes” type of vegan!

I want to talk about a concept that is emerging in my own universe lately. The concept is “concentrated foods.” By that I mean, foods that are extremely nutrient dense and  packed with a large amount of macronutrients in a relatively small portion.  (Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats)

I bring this up because despite eating very healthfully for nearly forty years—mostly vegan but a few of those years not so much—I have always struggled with my weight. It was because of this that as a young girl I began seeking to understand how the body works and what foods were best for it. I have written many times about those journeys so I won’t do that again here.

Suffice it to say that I learned a lot, became much more healthy as years went by, strengthened my immune system, found out how to use foods as medicine and overall became much more in control of things.

But darn it! It is still so very easy for me to put on too much weight!  I know many people who do not eat a Standard American Diet and who try their best to choose healthier more nutritious foods and even some who are vegetarians, vegans or macrobiotic who, like me, still struggle with this problem.

So I started looking at the broad sketch of how I have approached food and spotted something very interesting. No matter what I was eating, what  program I was following, or dietary lifestyle I was living including all the years I was macrobiotic I have always gone for the dense, concentrated foods and eaten too much of them. That worked fine when I was a young, busy nursing mother with two other toddlers to chase after but that’s the only time that worked for me.

There are gradients of how concentrated foods can be. It’s just common sense.  For example:

  • Peanut butter – concentrated fat and some protein. Easy to slather a heap of this stuff onto each cracker, rice cake or slice of bread.
  • “Healthy” breads. Not knocking them, No Sireee. But have you weighed some of these lately? They can be concentrated, condensed slices, can’t they? A vegan Triple-Decker Club sandwich made with this bread could sink a ship!
  • Brown rice mochi – very concentrated whole grains (sticky, sweet brown rice mashed down into a concentrated form and then often fried.) But how many of those do you need at one time? Especially in an Udon Noodle Soup with Tofu Broth?
  • Almonds. Innocent, wonderful Almonds. A great snack! But you’re not running a marathon or working the farm each day, exactly how many of those do you need for your mid-afternoon pick-me-up?
  • Rice and beans – probably about in the middle of the scale. But the whole-grains-and-beans thing can indeed be overdone if it isn’t balanced with veggies and other necessary dietary components.
  • Vegetables – mostly light. But watch this—do you head for the winter squashes, potatoes and the heavier vegetables more than the leafy greens?
  • Oils – yup, they’re concentrated aren’t they? How many olives does it take to make a tablespoon of olive oil, I wonder? (Estimates are 20-40 olives depending on their type and size.) How many sesame seeds to make that teaspoon of toasted sesame oil that I love to cook my mochi in?
  • Fruits – mostly pretty light but what’s the difference between say a banana and an apple or between grapes and dried fruit? Dried fruit is concentrated and pack a lot in a small portion. That’s why it is so easy to overeat them.
  • Some of those avocado-based mousses I’ve been making—Do I eat the same size slice of that as I would an apple pie? Hmmmm, I think not!

Please, please, please! I am not saying any of these foods are bad or shouldn’t be eaten.

My point is simply this:  Even if virtually all the food you eat is organic, plant-based very nutritious and good for you, you can still eat too much of the concentrated foods and too little of the lighter ones. That’s all I’m saying. That is what I’m looking at.

Why do you think the bloggers posting all the casseroles, rich desserts and thick hearty soups and stews are so popular? Because that’s what we like and that’s what we probably all overindulge in if we’re honest with ourselves. Okay, I’ll cut you a break. I’ll say, “If I’m honest with myself!” I love these recipes and try out many of them at home. But if they use dense or nutrient-concentrated foods, it is so easy for me to over do it.

When I’m not paying attention, I go for the concentrated food and skimp on the lighter ones. I can so easily fall into being the “meat and potatoes” type in the world of vegan food.

It all has to do with the question of balance. I learned how to eat a balanced diet but it seems that over the years with changes in my body and my age and other things, I’ve lost my balance and now I know I need to find it again.

I don’t know why this is exactly—this indulgence in concentrated foods. I have heard and read many explanations that I don’t find all that helpful or workable. Do we really have to be semi-experts in hormones? I don’t think so. I could just as well say it’s “The American Way” as an explanation.  I just know that I’ve spotted for myself a major underlying concept about how I have chosen to eat all my life no matter what the cuisine was.

This is a concept I can work with. This is a good beginning.

So for now, my own decision has been to eat at least 50-60% vegetables daily. That is a guideline I have set up for myself and I’m not saying that is what you need or what you should do.

And, I’m going to follow up with many more posts showing recipes and how-to’s for vegetables. Let’s see what I come up with!!!

In the meantime I would really love to know what your experiences are with this. I’d like to know:

1) What do you see as being an ideal way for you—as an individual—to eat and is it easy for you to be that? (i.e. be vegetarian, be vegan, be omnivorous, etc.)

2) Do you follow some kind of diet or weight-loss plan or do you “wing it?”

3) Are you successful with what you do?

4) What exactly are your successful actions?

5) If you have a “downfall,” what is it?

6) Do you encounter a similar problem of overindulging in the more dense, concentrated foods and skimping on the lighter ones?

7) What would you like to know or learn most about including a bigger percentage of actual vegetables in your daily diet?

8) What vegetables would you like to have more recipes or preparation ideas for?

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Beautifully restored 1950's kitchen in the L. Ron Hubbard house in Phoenix, Arizona
Beautifully restored 1950’s kitchen in the L. Ron Hubbard house in Phoenix, Arizona

Most of the time, I am looking forward. I’m looking at what future I will create and how I will create it. I’m looking at what I will do to improve conditions in my own life and in the lives of others. I am looking at what is needed in order to make things better on this planet. I am helped and inspired by the man whose home I had the opportunity to visit in Phoenix, Arizona—L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology religion. Mr. Hubbard lived in Phoenix in the 50’s and his home is meticulously restored down to every last detail.

I didn’t visit there just to see the kitchen, but when I did see it, I wanted to take a picture of it! My husband teased, “I see a blog post coming!” Does he know me or what?  How often would I see perfectly restored fifties kitchen stove, refrigerator and kitchen cabinetry? Imagine a 64 year-old stove with not one scratch, stain or stubborn burned spot on it! (The entire house was fantastic and I recommend you see it.)

Looking at this picture I began thinking about the food/cooking/health scene in that period of time. It was post WWII, so farmers were already being sold on the idea that chemicals left over from making bombs could be put into the soil to produce bumper crops. We won’t go down this road in detail right now. Let’s just say this led to weakened soil, the necessity for more chemicals, problems with livestock which then required antibiotics and hormones, more weakened soil attacked by more pests, more chemicals . . . .and look where we’re at now. Genetically modified foods created so they won’t die when huge amounts of pesticides–more toxic than ever before–are applied to them.

In decades past, you could not buy foods from across the globe so readily because shipping was slower and much less efficient. It was easier to maintain a diet that followed the seasons of the year and it encouraged us to eat the foods that were indigenous to our own climate—at least somewhat. Why would we want to do that? It promotes natural balance and harmony with our environment.

For some time now, we’ve been able to get just about any food from anywhere. Many of the so-called “miracle foods” come from environments far outside of my own, such as coconut products that are so popular now.

What were some of the new health and diet developments in the fifties?

  • The four food groups including dairy food were promoted in the early fifties (an idea forwarded by, you guessed it, the dairy industry!)
  • TV dinners and a myriad of other frozen foods were touted as convenient
  • White Castle and A&W fast food had already existed for decades, but in the fifties “Insta-Burger King” later to be renamed as Burger King showed up.
  • Nutritionist and author Adelle Davis was becoming popular. She was known as much for her anti-processing stand on foods and her criticizm of the food industry as much as she was for her ideas on vitamins and diet.
  • Jack LaLanne became America’s first fitness and exercise guru.
  • Microwave ovens—one of the worst, health-destroying inventions in my opinion—came out.

I grew up in the fifties and I well remember many of these things. I watched Jack La Lanne on television doing his isometrics. We ate TV dinners and just about any other new thing that came out. My mother was facinated by all the new food products. I learned the four food groups in school and I remember the first Burger King that opened in our town.

My own history regarding food is likely only interesting to just me so we can skip the details and list out: heavy meat and dairy as a child, learning about the problems being confronted by the United Farm Workers Union and joining the organization as a kid, getting totally hooked on “working out” at the gym coupled with a LOT of protein supplementation, taking a complete 180 and going all vegetarian. Staying vegetarian for thirty plus years and then temporarily going back to animal foods while still eating all the grains and veggies. Gaining a LOT of weight. Losing the weight with a very individualized diet. Realizing I paid a price health-wise while “dieting,” and now, coming to my own conclusions about what I need to eat and what I don’t want to consume any more which pretty much brought me back full circle to a whole foods, plant-based diet.

And cooking, cooking, cooking all the while!

I’ve learned so very much over the years!

  • You don’t need to eat meat, eggs and dairy food in order to have protein.
  • Children can thrive wonderfully well on a vegetarian diet as long as it is balanced.
  • You cannot leave out an entire category of foods, such as “carbohydrates,” for very long and stay healthy.
  • You gain weight by indulging in too many refined foods, whether they are vegetarian or not, and eating more food than you can easily use.
  • The body requires daily exercise.
  • You do not need to focus on individual vitamins or nutrients if you are eating organic, mineral-rich food.
  • By the same token, even the best organic-quality food today is weakened and you can assist yourself without “losing balance” with something like wild-harvested whole  micoalgae such as Super Blue Green Algae.

And here’s the most important point, which is difficult to totally define but vital for each of us to strive to understand:

  • The way I have learned what “balanced diet” means, is by studying the effects of various foods, observing these effects, and getting into and maintaining a dietary balance for a long period of time. I used the eastern viewpoint of balance (yin and yang) to understand this. Now, no matter how far and wide I’ve gone food-wise, I definitely know when I’ve lost my balance and I know how to regain it quickly. Further, we can be very much at cause over our environment food-wise by how we choose to eat. Cooking is a beautiful example of that because there is a myriad of food preparations and techniques with which we can change our foods into what we want and need. 

Where does this all lead? It leads to my own phraseology, “Free Eating.” It means that when one has a basic understanding of foods and their effects, of how to prepare foods in order to change them and create the effects you want, you have less rules, not more. Less intense focus on diet and food, not more. Less living to eat and much much more eating to live!

My own approach is that I want to eat real food, not fake, chemicalized food. Naturally occuring food is what I want. Whole food is what I want. And I want my food to be colorful, beautiful and the most delicious in the world.

Where have you been and what have you learned? Where are you headed and what do you want?