The Debate That’s Beyond Impossible

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Before Popeye’s and Chik Fil-A, Message food editor Donna Green-Goodman’s parent’s made the best vegan “sammich” in town. Donna dishes on what it means to eat a healthy, plant-based diet.

Message Editor Carmela Monk Crawford and I are following the buzz surrounding all the “new” vegan meat alternatives hitting the market. While relative newcomers to the plant-based, burger-making industry, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat—now found in restaurants, grocery stores and fast food chains nationwide–are taking a bite out of crime, the meat industry is biting back! The Washington Post reported this week that officials in 30 states have moved or are moving to protect the interests of America’s 800,000 cattle ranchers by going to court to enjoin the use of the words “meat”, “hot dogs”, “sausage” and “burger” as they apply to plant-based products.

Donna Green Goodman and Carmela Monk Crawford sampling plant-based foods at brunch. Dupont Park SDA Church, Washington, D.C.

Having grown up on “veggiemeat” we’ve got a unique perspective on it. Carmela and I are Adventists. We have lived around people from around the world who chose at some level to omit meat/animal products from their diets. Both of us are practicing vegans now and graduated from the only historically black college/university (HBCU) in the country that is a vegetarian campus and offers vegan choices, Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.

We know this space. There is absolutely nothing like the food our mommas and aunties and church mothers used to make from scratch. That’s right, homemade gluten (also known as seitan), pecan patties, Special K Loaf, veggie burgers, and “meat loaves” from beans, filled our tables at church and family gatherings.

And, until recently as we have seen the genetic modification of many food ingredients, we didn’t experience health problems with these foods. After all, they were merely seasoned fruit, nuts, grains and vegetables. The Adventist Health Study bears that out. And, if you’ve seen or read about Blue Zone Living, you already know.

Forty years later, I still run into people who want a sandwich like my parents sold at their restaurant when I was in college. And, I’m telling you, my momma Shirley Green, and Aunties Bertha Major, Savanah Robinson and Lois McGruder would have you slapping somebody with the plant food dishes they made. Oh. My. Goodness!

The Rub (not that you need a rub for your veggie-burgers)

The rub, in all this fuss is, whether we are eating healthier. Do veggie “meats” qualify as “real” food? Are they more or less healthy than flesh/animal products? Whole Foods CEO Jack Mackie said he would not endorse the plant-based burgers, because he believes they are not healthy. Is the motive for making and marketing them really about health or is it for financial gain? Why would people even want to eat them if they’ve stopped eating flesh foods? And, if veggie meats have soy or wheat gluten in them, should they even be consumed?

Eden was vegan, according to scripture. The original diet was based upon the abundant fruit of the garden.

Way before all the fuss started and you were identified as a health vegan, or an ethical vegan, or plant-based or whole foods plant-based (sigh), Seventh-day Adventists (SDA’s or Adventists) understood that their bodies were the temple of God. Because of that they wanted to fill it with the best fuel for long life and health and to honor the Creator. Animals benefit from this choice too. Based on scripture, Eden was vegan, or mostly so (true vegans believe one shouldn’t consume honey, but I digress).

The Genesis story is clear on humanity consuming fruits, nuts and grains initially and then vegetables, without restriction (that means soy). And, up until the flood, those folk lived for close to 1,000 years. If you didn’t eat meat and their by-products you were simply a vegetarian. Ultimately, eating with God in heaven eternally is the goal, where there will be a tree that yields seven manner of fruit and the animals won’t have the fear of dying.

Visions And Vegetables

Ellen G. White at the Loma Linda Sanitarium dedication Loma Linda, California, April 15, 1906, courtesy Ellen G. White estate.

According to soyinfocenter.com no other organization or group of people has played a more important role than Adventists in introducing soy-foods, vegetarianism, meat alternatives, wheat gluten, dietary fiber or peanut butter to the Western world. As early as the 1840’s, Ellen White, one of the founders of the church, received divine inspiration about how to eat better and live better for better health. In the 1860’s her counsel to the Adventist church covered a plethora of topics about good diet and good health. And, we like to say, the rest is history.

Cereal Magnate John Harvey Kellogg

Whether it was a Kellogg family member intentionally crafting delicious foods from plant sources for patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium; medical missionaries extracting milk from beans; experts creating “meat analogs” from gluten, nuts, soybeans and other grains at Loma Linda or Worthington factories the United States, or in Australia (Sanitarium Foods), or at the first soy foods company in Uganda started by D. W. Harrison, M.D. a Black Adventist medical missionary, Adventists have gifted this to the world. Now we are seriously wondering what’s all the fuss?

Here’s what I know:

  • A whole food diet of plant foods, prepared simply and seasoned well is the most health-promoting diet available to humankind.

Dietitians and physicians interested in the relationship between diet and disease are confirming that. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine, started by some Loma Linda University alum is training a cadre of medical professionals in lifestyle medicine.  Kaiser Cardiologist Columbus Batiste, MD and British Physician Chidi Ngwaba, MD are two black physicians who are Lifestyle Medicine Practitioners. The Adventist Health Study explores the link between lifestyle and diet and disease among a cohort of their members.  As a Public Health Educator and graduate of Loma Linda University School of Public Health, my job and joy is to introduce people to choices and support them in those choices on their Journey to Better Health. Recognizing that everyone is at their own place on the journey.

  • You never need to eat meat or meat products to have a healthy life. Never.

  • When creating what people call “fake meats” or meat analogs, clearly the best ingredients to use are organic, non-GMO sources that are processed as little as possible and resemble the whole foods they were made from.

  • Anytime you create these meat analogs for mass distribution or sale, you will probably have to add some more ingredients for product consistency and appearance and shelf stability.

That’s one of the costs of mass production. A lot of these newer foods look or taste nothing like the foods SDA’s made. I can still taste those yummy FrySticks and Choplets and gravy. (My friend Don Otis at Heritage Health Foods is doing his best to restore that). And, yes the more of those things that are added, especially the sodium, the less healthy they can become. But, none of them have blood or animal fat or hormones or risk of disease associated with consumption of animals and their products such as allergies, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

  • Eating these foods as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes other whole foods, plenty of water, exercise, the outdoors and sunshine, stress management, rest and worship can only improve one’s health.

On the other hand, it’s when we take the current standard American diet, one in which meat is the center and replace it with “veggiemeat” as the center of our diets, that we can definitely have some problems. It should not form the center of your diet. We’re about improving diets, not just replacing meat.

  • By the same token, we’ve seen “dietary standards” forced on people who are obviously allergic/sensitive to animal/animal product consumption. That is also wrong. Most people of color struggle with consuming animal products, especially milk and dairy products.

Milton Mills, MD of the documentary “What the Health?” has some interesting perspectives on diet and racism.  And, when I worked in the Office of Nutrition for the state of Georgia, and oversaw the WIC Program, I struggled with “requiring” mothers and children to eat foods that were allergens or against their beliefs. I was happy to finally see our dietitians integrating some of these alternatives for our allergy, vegetarian and Muslim patients. So, for some people, these animal product alternatives are clearly better than the foods to which they are allergic.

  • I don’t frequent the fast food places that are taking the veggie meat products to a new level, but Carmela and I are both concerned about folk who live in food deserts and carry a disparate burden of disease and do frequent these places.

Former Philadelphia “Health Czar” and Message Food Editor, Gwendolyn Foster.

I actually used a plant diet to recover from breast cancer after seeing the benefit of phytochemicals on health in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Study by Herb Pierson. If the owners of these places can add these veggie meats to the menu, certainly they can partner with organizations to bring more whole food choices to those food deserts.Makes complete sense to me. That’s another reason that SDA’s created the products they did. They formed a part of what they shared with communities who were learning about how to make their lives better. They were alternatives as folk made healthier food choices. Gwen Foster, MPH , former Health Czar for the city of Philadelphia, (and Message health and food editor) spent her career doing just that! But, that can only work if the motivation is really about health over profit.

  • For those who are allergic to nuts, wheat, gluten, some of the newer products on the market are made with coconut or peas as a base, so you have options.

And, when making them yourself, you can always use other foods like beans and rice and other veggies. Just make sure you add some seasonings! Please!

So, do your research. Make the best choice for you. And keep making them. Every round goes higher and higher on your journey to better health.

If you’re looking for some plant-based options you can make yourself, be sure to subscribe to Message.  And, visit me at lifestyletherapeutix.com to order my books or watch my Cookin’ Up Good Health Cooking Show.

I’m ’bout to head in this kitchen and create another vegan-wholefood-plantbased dish for those I love!

#plantpowered #dietandracism #veganmeats #impossibleburger #cookinupgoodhealth #messagemagazine

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