Teagan Goes Vegan

Or, Why a burger-loving lady is going to learn how to grill tempeh  

This will be my vegan bible.

I love food. I love cooking, I love eating, I love entertaining. I grew up around chefs and servers and sometimes made cookies in professional kitchens just for fun. In college, I majored in Religion and created a course just about Judaism and Food. Before I started my MPH, I worked as a catering cook and personal chef. Preparing and eating food has been, and likely will continue to be, an integral part of my happiness.

 

And I’ve always been a voracious meat eater. In elementary school, my mom would make chicken in lemon sauce and I would eat my whole plate before she even sat down. Burgers are my #1 favorite entrée to order in restaurants. Just last week, I declared that the only thing that would fix my bad mood was a Wawa meatball hoagie.

 

But morally, I’m evolving. As my college friends can attest, I had an awakening when I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After a brief corn obsession, I turned my attention to factory farms. I became vegetarian. I loved it—I felt like I was making a good choice not only for myself, but also for animals and the environment. However, I fell back into eating meat after a series of family crises, moving halfway across the country, and starting a new job. I was unstable in just about every way, and being vegetarian seemed like too much work.

 

Now, I feel solid. I’m about to graduate with my MPH and have a job lined up already. I’m getting married in September. I’m managing anxiety and learning healthy boundaries. I am strong, and now that I am strong, I want to be compassionate and responsible for my impact on the world.

 

Raising animals for food has significant public health implications. Infectious diseases like MRSA and influenza thrive in factory farms and are easily transmitted to humans. Antibiotics are used as prevention rather than treatment because the animals easily fall ill, and this indiscriminant use is the major contributor to antibiotic resistance. The massive amounts of waste produced in these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) contaminate water, air, and soil.

 

The animals on factory farms are treated as commodities rather than living beings. A quick Google search will lead to graphic videos and images of slaughterhouses (euphemistically called “processing plants”) that will haunt you. The abuse inflicted upon these animals is outrageous.

vegan_farms

I had believed that ethically sourced meat was the best option for me, since I really like eating meat but have trouble with the ways in which it is produced. But alas, a student budget does not allow for pasture-raised steaks and farmer’s market eggs. I found myself eating way more meat than I wanted to be, and it was all from factory farms.

 

So I’ve decided to do an experiment. From yesterday, May 6, through June 3, I am going to eat a vegan diet. I plan to keep the blog updated about my experiences. Maybe I’ll throw in a recipe or two if I make something really tasty. I am tracking my food intake so I can share what I learn about balancing macronutrients and calorie consumption while eating vegan. I hope to have a series of guests on the podcast who can talk about the public health and ethical issues around this topic. The first episode, with Allyson Kramer, vegan and gluten free cookbook author, will be up tomorrow.

 

I hope you’ll come along on this adventure with me. It should be fun, it will probably be difficult, and it will hopefully be interesting.

New meat names help us eat healthier

When I shop for meat, I look for the leanest cuts. I go armed with a list of options so I’m ready to tackle the daunting selection of cuts, sizes, and shapes. Despite my preparation, I sometimes turn to Google to see if the “London Broil” on sale is the same thing as the “extra lean top round” on my list (it is!). Image from sillypants.net

The confusion is about to come to an end. The National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program is rolling out a new consumer-friendly naming system. Now, instead of “pork loin top loin chop,” labels will read “Porterhouse chop.” Rather than “beef shoulder top blade steak, boneless,” we’ll see “flatiron steak.” Retailers can either stick with the old, confusing system or upgrade to the new one. Because uniform names are anticipated to help with meat sales, this system will likely catch on quickly.

The new labels include the simplified name, species, characteristics, and preparation suggestions. (Image from independentmail.com)

Healthy eating advocates* must seize this opportunity. By simplifying the names, the beef and pork industries help nutrition activists clearly communicate which options are best for health. Unambiguous naming across retailers will allow the very lean pork tenderloin to sport the same label in most stores. The fatty New York Strip steak won’t be masquerading as Boneless Top Loin steak. Once shoppers learn the names of the few best options, they’ll be able to trust their knowledge and feel confident they’re choosing the lean cuts.

As soon as the new list is announced, advocates should publicize the names of the leanest options, lobby grocery stores to include the new names on their meat case signs and update their websites and materials to reflect the changes. If we are able to effectively explain that the new labeling system empowers shoppers to make consistent and confident choices each time they approach the meat case, we’ll go a long way to promote lean meat as a good option. Going one step further and ensuring our messaging lines up with the retail names enriches our materials and dietary recommendations.

Food industries don’t often make healthy eating easier. So let’s use this rare opportunity to facilitate sound nutrition communication and encourage wise choices.

*Though balanced vegetarian diets are the gold standard for healthy eating, consuming a light to moderate amount of meat seems to be a decent compromise for those of us who love a good steak now and then.

Updated 4/15/13: This video of Letterman playing a game called "Know Your Cuts of Meat" will be a whole lot easier now!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB5W61rGQ38