Thursday, May 31, 2012


Had lunch yesterday at the Blossoming Lotus, in Portland, on the way home after a visit with my daughter and her husband and boys. This is a vegan place, and it features something called "live food," which isn't some critter scuttling about on your plate, but food that hasn't been cooked in the usual manner. Which is to say, it's either raw or sometimes done with low heat, like a food dryer. Not all the dishes are proscribed thus, but there are some.

Quick definitons: "Vegetarian" is generally used to describe somebody who doesn't eat meat–meat here meaning of animal origin: fish, shellfish, fowl, beef, pork, lamb, snake, alligator, rat, et al, but who can consume dairy products and ova. So, butter, cheese, milk, cream, eggs, like that. 

"Vegan" is applied to one who eschews all animal products. 

One can be a vegetarian but not a vegan. I'm not either, but I have altered my diet in those directions. Let's face it, animal fat tastes great, but it's not good for you. (We won't get into the morality question, that's your business. Nobody likes an obnoxious vegan, and it often seems, that term is redundant ipso facto ...)

Then again, my altered diet notwithstanding, Tuesday, I had lunch with an old friend and we went to an upscale diner in Portland. Along with my fried chicken and mac 'n' cheese, I had a bacon/bourbon/maple syrup vanilla milkshake. You can't believe how good that was. The bacon was actually just a postage-stamp-sized bit stuck into the top as a garnish, and the shake was thick enough so the straw wouldn't deliver it. Yeah, I'm cutting way down on milk products, but now and then, the call of the bad health is powerful ...

Um. Back to the Lotus:

On the face of it, this vegan stuff might sound, at the least, strange, and a skeptic might suppose, even, vile. Roots, twigs, bark, and nettles? Right. Rabbit food. Eat the bunny instead ...

Not necessarily so. I got the whiskey-ginger barbecue sandwich, and it was good enough so I'd get it again. 

(I was going to get the falafel wrap, but I was a little leery of the collard green "bread" itself; I'll risk it next time.)

The thing with vegan or vegetarian fare has, for me, been about consistency. You can make a tasty bean-burger patty, but if it chews like, well, mashed beans? It doesn't satisfy that meat-eater's desire to use the fangs and not just the grinders. For a long time, that's been the alpha and omega of vegetarian burgers, and big deal.

That's changing. We found a faux-chicken sandwich recently that was close enough to make you wonder if they'd sneaked real chicken onto the bun; this experience was like that.

No, they haven't made soy curls that will make you think you are eating pulled-pork; however, they have made them chewy enough–even "meaty"–that they are satisfying that way. And the use of spices has gotten ever so much better with such fare.

The biggest drawback I can see at the current state is the cost. Faux-meat is spendier than the real stuff in most instances. And you can't find it everywhere. 

Nope, it's not quite the same experience as chowing down on a great bloody steak or pork chop, but it's getting closer, and I'm guessing we aren't far removed from the days when a blind taste test will fool more people than not. When Mickey D's starts serving them as a permanent menu item throughout the chain? That's how you'll know the day has come.

Be real interesting to see how many people make the switch when that happens. 


Dojo Rat said...

I have been fascinated by the new fad of the "Primal diet".
I do not practice it, but the idea is that primitive man ate a lot of lean meat, and a lot of nuts, leaves, roots and wild fruit.

These guys say that the real problem is carbs, especially wheat and breads and chips.
This presents a problem for me as I love Beer and will continue to imbibe.

However, I don't eat bread and have switched to rice tortillias.
No large helpings of Potatoes, in fact I hardly eat them any more.

They also say there is a myth about cholesterol, which is necessary for health. The trigger is the carbs, which indirectly cause the body to retain all fat.

Whatdoya think?

Steve Perry said...

I'm leery of anything that touts itself as "natural," or "primitive," just because that's not enough.

Sure, like the other great apes, we were grazers, and probably meat was a small part of our diet until we developed weapons, or could catch the odd rat or some predator's leftovers.

Meat is a concentrated food, and if you don't have to spend all day foraging, that's good, except if you have to spend all day hunting ...

Simple carbs don't give you much, like burning paper in your fireplace instead of oak or madrone.

"Naturally," in the cave and veldt days, we all died young, because there were things that killed us, from itty bitty bugs to great big beasts. When the average lifespan is twenty or thirty, what you eat, unless it is poison, isn't apt to kill you before something more acute gets you.

With lifespans averaging over seventy in civilized countries, what takes us down now, the big three, are heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Kidney stuff is not far behind.

Those cultures who eat more fruit and vegetables and fish-sans-mercury instead of high concentrations of animal products -- meat, dairy, eggs -- have a lower incidence of the big three overall.

I think the diets high in meat and low in fruit and veggies contribute to clogged arteries, which give you any or all of the big three (and four).

You need some cholesterol, but not much. People who say there's no link between too much and illness haven't shown me anything I'm buying.

We aren't born wearing clothes, because we are tropical. It's not natural for us to live anywhere else. We naturally were dirty, flea-infested, hairy, and we moved around a lot.

I'm not giving up soap and hot water, indoor plumbing, my computer, guitar, or any of the other unnatural things I enjoy ...

Travis said...


I realize you are just popping off a quick response to a couple of sentence query but you are reflecting a common misperception about such diets.

The paleo/primal diets are composed predominantly of lean meats AND vegetables with lesser amounts of fruits, seeds and nuts (tubers are widely debated). So all of the 'high meat' diet concerns are really a non-issue. Outside of full on vegetarians most people's grain/sugar/processed food consumption doesn't replace the meat component of diet but rather the fruit and veggie portion so the paleo/primal diet is typically higher in these foods then the SAD.

As far as the lifespan argument goes it makes just as much sense to interpret that as precisely why humans adopted widespread agriculture and reliance on grains. It's a sub-optimal food but it will keep you alive long enough to reproduce so why not? (in fairness to grains they do a pretty good job of storing well and ensuring a population survives the winter).

Steve Perry said...

Trav --

I'm not sure the jury on human diet is ever gonna come in.

Quick: Is coffee good for you or bad for you? Last study I saw said "Good." One before that said "Bad."
And they've alternated for years.

What about red wine? Great, if you are man. Bad if you are a woman with a family history of breast cancer.

How much protein do you need a day? What level of vitamins? Pick a number, nobody else seems to be consistent with theirs ...

By and large, I don't have a problem with the idea of fruits and vegetables and lean meat replacing grains and starchy tubers. It's that "natural" appellation that sets off my alarms. This is the way Og ate back in the cave days, therefore it is the most natural and best way to do it. I am unconvinced. Og ate what he could get his hands on a given day.

We are designed to eat plants and animals, but more toward the plant side, physiologically-speaking. More grinders than cutters, longer intestine than pure meat-eaters. B12 has to come from the animal end, we're talking natural, but other than that, pretty much everything else we need can come from the flora. Harder to get some parts than others, but it's available.

I don't have the figures at hand, but I'm pretty sure that vegetarians/vegans are healthier than people who have meat two or three times a day.

Not much gout nor kidney stones among the veggie crowd.

Humans left "natural" behind a long time ago, and yes, a lot of what we replaced it with turns out to be worse, no question.

A new crop of diet books comes out every year, and people flock to them, looking for the one that lets them eat everything they want in perfect health without having to exercise nor gaining an ounce. Not gonna happen.

Remember the blood-type diet ... ?

Josh K. said...

The book that got me started, "The Paleo Diet"

Diet is not used as we use the word today. It is not about restricting calories. It is about eating the things we are genetically design by 1.2 million years of evolution to eat. It is about eating the same type of diet as our ancestors a cave man's diet. We have only been eating processed food for between 40,000 to 10,000 years. 

Robb Wolfs take on Paleo.

Mark Sisson's take on Paleo.
"Our ancestors evolved over millions of years under certain environmental conditions. These conditions (the foods they ate, the amount of sun they got, the sort of movement that was required of them to survive, etc.) shaped their genome. While the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions. Simply put, if you want a good future you better listen to the past. And that’s where The Primal Blueprint and Mark’s Daily Apple come in. Showing you how to direct gene expression toward fat burning, muscle building, longevity and wellness, and away from fat storing, muscle wasting, disease and illness."

Read more:

Some links Robb Wolf put together on the science and research:

Mark Sisson age 58:

Just some FYI and food for thought,

Jon Briggs said...

Hi Steve,

I've been following your blog for a while now and I enjoy your posts. I'm for the most part vegetarian, I do eat fish about once a week so I am technically pescetarian, and I'm trying to cut back on cheese so I'm working towards more of a vegan diet. Also, I have a buffalo burger about once a year, and the last time I was in Florida I ate frog legs, gator and conch. So I am not sure exactly how I am classified, but I try to mix it up.

I believe at this point the health benefits of avoiding meat are indisputable. Sure our cells need cholesterol, but our bodies can easily synthesize it. And it is absolutely certain that excess levels lead to atherosclerosis. Anyway, there are many well established health risks associated with eating meat.

With that said, I don't see why you are so adamant about avoiding the moral side of this issue. I can understand not wanting to lecture people, and vegans can definitely be annoying, as it is when ex-smokers lecture smokers, born-again christians lecture sinners, whatever.

I try not to force my opinions on others unless they ask for it in some way. However, many times when I tell people I am vegetarian I get the exact opposite reaction. They immediately get defensive, and often start trying to make it seem like they are more "manly" than me because they're not afraid to eat animals. It is as if they believe compassion is a feminine characteristic and equates with weakness.

I guess all I am trying to say is that vegans can be annoying, but so can meat-eaters. I understand not wanting to bring the moral side of it up, but why actively push it away? It is a noble thing to want to protect creatures in need of our protection. Also, this sort of morality is something that should go hand in hand with studying the martial arts.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. I apologize if I took this conversation in a direction you didn't want it to go.


Travis said...

"I'm not sure the jury on human diet is ever gonna come in."

Well, assuming we can avoid catastrophic war, famine, pestilence, long enough I think *someday* people will understand genetics/epigenetics well enough to have a pretty good insight into individual predispositions and be able to a much better job of telling individuals what there best course is. Until then we are playing the odds but have to deal with the fact that a lot of things we *know* come from poor quality research or even straight up deliberate campaigns to influence public perception regardless of the truth ( purveyors of this dark art call it 'marketing').

As far the actual issue at hand, i totally understand your beef with the 'natural' tag. But when you look at the actual sources there is a surprising amount of data in support. (Josh set out the main sources pretty well).

Jon- we are biologically omnivores- this means we eat meat and veggies. What moral issue? And farming, especially modern industrial agriculture has a HUGE impact on both plant and animal life so you aren't actually coming out ahead on not killing things by being a vegetarian.

Dojo Rat said...

Lots of response, I may have to take this up on Dojo Rat.

I guess my point was that except for Beer, I'm doing a pretty good job of cutting out carbs and it seems to be working.

I have not increased my meat consumption above what it was. Still eating lots of veges and fruit.

One thing I've read about is modern wheat. The original wheat was called "Einhorn". It was short, stocky and heavy.
Since the industrial revolution, it has been genetically modified into something completely different.
The carbs and insulin reaction in the body are what makes us hold on to all the fat.

Steve Perry said...

Science and morality, no problem ...

The assumptions about what protohumans ate are based on long-distance observations. We have some knowledge of what was available, and there are artifacts and archeological finds that support the theories, but I suspect that Og and Urg didn't get up every day and have a nice, balanced diet that included all the proper food groups. There was the feast-or-famine thing, and until the hunter-gatherers put down roots -- literally in some cases -- they ate what they could find or catch. That didn't include bread, cheese, white wine, refined sugar or anything imported from halfway around the world. I'm old enough to remember when fresh produce had seasons and you simply couldn't get it at certain times of the year.

Junk food is junk food, and healthwise, the race would be better off without empty carbs, full stop.

As to the meat-is-murder philosophy, one of the reasons people get defensive is exactly that kind of polarization. "I don't eat flesh." or "I don't eat anything with a face." will do that. Announcing that you are a vegetarian and looking down your nose at anybody who kills critters and devours them will not gain you friends among the unenlightened.

Because we are designed to consume meat doesn't mean we have to, because these days, most of us have a choice. We don't all live in the tropics and choose to wear clothes and enjoy central heat and AC, too. Nothing natural about driving your Chevy to the office, either.

That million years of evolution has given way to civilization, such that it is, and few of us live as Og and Urg did. Nobody here does.

The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist and theoretically not a meat-eater, given the choice. But in the mountains where there is nothing else, even he says you eat what you must. If you were born in Greenland or northern Alaska, your diet will include meat.

If I show up at somebody's house for dinner and they've cooked steaks, I'll eat one. Because the animal is already dead, and because letting it go to waste won't help. But given the choice, I don't buy beef or pork for myself, and yes, that's a moral choice. If I say, Well, you know, doctor says my cholesterol is high, people nod. If I say, Weil, I have dogs and I wouldn't eat one and I understand that pigs are as sentient as dogs, maybe moreso, so I can't eat Porky, either? That gets the knee-jerk defensive reaction.

I love the taste of beef and pork. Choosing to not eat such is my business, and it's not my job to convert the heathens. The parable of pearls before swine comes to mind. People draw the line different places for their own reasons, and how they come to such is their business. I'm pretty much not a mammal eater.
Below that, yes. But if the ersatz chicken and shrimp and fish get to the place where they are satisfying? I can see myself making the switch.

Steve Perry said...

Oh, yeah, on the optimized personal diet:

While we can say a lot generally about nutrition, the time and effort needed to individualize it currently is cost-prohibiitve for a lot of folks, given health care prices. Allergies, different body chemistries, like that, need cheaper tests.

Joe eats a bucket of peanuts, no problem. Sam nibbles one and blows up like a puffer fish.

Two guys eat fresh mushrooms and one loves 'em, the other one falls over dead.

Shrimp cocktail, oh, boy for me; guy I know can't even touch shrimp without urticaria, hives, and his throat closing up.

Some people don't get poison ivy, others can drink tea steeped from the leaves and wear hats made out of the stuff.

Glutens, no glutens. Coffee? Red wine? Some of the questions aren't poor research per se, it just weren't inclusive enough and didn't take into account variables that weren't apparent at the time.

We can test for a bunch of that now, but it's spendy. Maybe someday when we all have atomic-powered flying cars ...

Robin said...

Hmmmm... food for thought.