Author: Dave Horowitz

Matt Galloway Interview

Gremolata’s Malcolm Jolley caught up with CBC Radio host Matt Galloway to chat about Ting, Fiesta Farms, Butter Chicken and Octopus, among other things.

Gremolata: A couple of years ago, you wrote an article on a dire shortage of the Jamaican grapefruit soda, Ting. Have supplies kept up?

Matt Galloway: Thankfully, yes. I have some chilling in the fridge right now. I’ve received many free things in the mail over the years as a writer. Very few of them come close to the free case of Ting, complete with Ting shirt, that the Ting folks kindly sent me. They felt they’d let a loyal customer down.

What’s really wild is that of all the stories I wrote over the years at NOW, none generated the response that did. Three or four years later, I was still receiving emails from people around the world who had traveled to Jamaica, had a Ting and then wondered where they could find it in, say, Newcastle England or Philadelphia PA. Internet, eh?

Gremolata: Is Ting a singular compulsion, or are their other specialty items you’re particularly loyal to?

Matt Galloway: Current obsessions include Serrano ham (the meat that, in a Spanish restaurant called The Museum Of Ham, converted me from a vegetarian of 15 years into a carnivore), chorizo from the Casa Corizo in Kensington Market, Ortolina (a kind of Italian vegetable paste I’m using in soups instead of tomato paste), dried ancho peppers from the Latin American Grocery Store and the Extra Butter Dark Roast from Dark City Coffee.

Gremolata: So you’re a Kensington Market devotee? Have you had that famous organic ice cream?

Matt Galloway: I’m actually not a real Kensington devotee – there are just a couple specific places I go. To be truthful, I’m spoiled for grocery store choices in my neighborhood – the mighty Fiesta Farms, the 24 hour IGA on Dupont and if you’re looking to do dry cleaning while you buy your groceries, the Loblaw’s on Dupont at Christie. There’s also Vince Gasparro Meats on Bloor. What the west end is lacking though is a good fishmonger.

Gremolata: Gasparo’s has wonderful meats and Fiesta Farms has some of the best produce in the city. We’ve found exotics like Jerusalem Artichokes and Cardoons at Fiesta Farms – a true Toronto secret.

You’re well known as a music journalist. What do you listen to when you cook? Do you select different genres or artists for different dishes?

Matt Galloway: There’s always music on at our place. When I’m cooking, whatever’s on the box needs to be loud. Last night it was Pavarotti and Benny More (the Cuban Frank Sinatra). I’ve been playing the hell out of a new CD of Ghanaian funk from the 70s called Ghana Soundz Vol 2. But you’re right – different sounds for different dishes can get you in the right frame of mind: Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown for jerk chicken, Asha Bosle for butter chicken and Claudio Villa’s soaring Stornello Amorisi (from Big Night) for risotto.

Gremolata: Yum…what about wine? What would you match with butter chicken?

Matt Galloway: Beer – preferably Kingfisher, although the two bottles of Wellington Country Ale we had left in the fridge worked well last week.

We also keep a lot of Spanish reds on hand, cellar dwellers we brought back from the Rioja as well as locally bought gems like Sierra Cantabria and Muga Reserva. I’ve also been checking out more Portuguese wines – my Portuguese neighbors keep badgering me. I bought a couple bottles of a Tres Bagos Reserva based on the design of the label and ended up going back the next day to pick up a whole case.

Gremolata: What was best the meal you had in Spain?

Matt Galloway: A few years ago in San Sebastien, we were at a tapas bar and had this amazing skewer thing of shrimp and squid with this garlic dipping sauce. The sauce was really intense and indescribable. I can still taste it
now, and have yet to really replicate it.

Also excellent is the Pulperia in Barcelona, a restaurant dedicated entirely to octopus. Their deep-fried pulpo with pimenton, chased by a bottle of Torres Reserva, is a classic.

Gremolata: Spain is probably the hottest gastronomic destination right now. When you went, did you plan your trip around food?

Matt Galloway: Partially. We’ve been several times, but our trip through the Basque country was really structured around food, and wine. We didn’t plan early enough to go to places like El Bulli, but Adria’s influence and style really reaches throughout that whole northern area of the country. More interesting though were the regional specialties – Spain is a country of regions, and Basque food is completely different from the fusion food you find in Barca, which is different than the straight-up tavern-style tapas we ate nightly at this little hole in the wall joint in Madrid, with three tables, 12 chairs and a TV blaring soap operas en Espanol.

We also lucked into arriving in Madrid the day that a weekend-long wine festival was being thrown in the city’s Plaza Mayor. Jet lag is much more tolerable when you’re wandering around sampling wine at 2 in the afternoon in 34 degree sunshine.

Gremolata: Good Lord that sounds good! Moving back to festive Toronto in December, do you have any culinary plans for the holidays?

Matt Galloway: Typical family-related indulgence – goose, wine, port, sleep. We just built a big new kitchen, so I’m looking forward to moving things in and spending time breaking in the stove and doing things like rolling pasta on my new countertop.

Gremolata: Eat, Drink & Be Healthy!

Is Beer Better Than Wine?

Two people toasting with beer and wine.

What is the best way to ring in the New Year for your health? Despite being blamed for many pot bellies, beer is more nutritious than wine, and most other alcoholic beverages.

It’s referred to as “liquid bread” for good reason. Beer has more selenium and B vitamins than wine, as well as a higher level of folate, niacin, and phosphorous than wine.

Beer is also rich in protein and fiber. It is also one of the few significant sources of silicon in the diet, as studies show can help to prevent osteoporosis.

Initial research also suggests that beer might contain prebiotics, which are nutrients for our good bacteria in the digestive tract. Both wine and beer contain antioxidants.

Additionally, resveratrol (a molecule found in red wine and chocolate) may not offer much in the small amounts we normally get from food and drinks. The way the wine industry promoted red wine as being healthy, and making it seem like drinking beer only leads to a beer belly, was pretty clever.

Also, the antioxidants in wine might not be as easily absorbed as those in beer, for example, compounds such as ferulic acid. Beer is able to deliver more antioxidants to the body, but the levels found in beers can vary.

Contrary to common belief, the color of beer also has no effect on its nutritional content. A pint of Guinness will have about the same nutrients as a Budweiser Lager.

Craft beer is also not healthier than mass-produced Lagers. They too are made with natural sugars from grains and very few artificial additives.

And what about that notorious beer belly? Remember, alcohol has about 7 calories per gram, which is nearly the same as fat (which has 9 calories per gram). After a few bottles, those calories can quickly add up, with approximately 150 calories per 12-ounce glass of beer containing 5% alcohol.

Beer itself shouldn’t be blamed for big stomachs. Beer drinkers who are obese or overweight are likely to have eaten too much bar food and spent too many hours on the couch.

Craft beers make it more difficult to calculate calories, however. Many IPAs, Imperial Stouts, Belgian styles, and bocks contain 8-9% alcohol. These types of beers, especially bitter, hoppy beers, tend to be sweeter with more calories from carbohydrates (adding an additional 4 calories per gram).

Although beer has fewer carbs than bread, it still has more carbs compared to wine. A 5 0z. glass of wine contains only 1-2 grams of carbs, but a 12 oz. glass of a 5% alcohol beer contains between 10-20 grams of carbs, or 40-80 additional calories.

Your calories will balloon when you increase the ABV. A 12-ounce Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine has a 9.6 % ABV and contains approximately 300 calories – and 200 of those calories are from alcohol.

Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA is the most calorie-dense beer. It contains 20% alcohol, twice as much as Bigfoot. A single bottle can contain over 500 calories. This is around the same amount of energy you would get from four glasses of wine.

For some, a higher alcohol content enhances flavor, which makes the additional calories worthwhile. Bottom line, beer has more nutrients and calories, as well as B vitamins, compared to wine. It’s closer to being a food than wine or spirits.

And drinking is good for your heart health. A man should drink two to three drinks per day, while a woman should have one to two. One drink is either a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of 5 percent alcohol beer.

Drinking too much, though, can cause liver damage and even fatal alcohol poisoning. – Eat, Drink & Be Healthy!

Foods That Increase Sperm Count & Male Fertility

Fried eggs and noodles resembling sperm on black background

On average, 50 million sperm are introduced into the vagina by ejaculation. Only a handful of those millions make it to the fallopian tubes. One sperm is able to swim up the tube and fertilize one egg by releasing an enzyme. The fertilized egg is then inserted into the uterus and grows into your child.

Sperm Health and Fertility

A semen test will be ordered by your doctor if you experience infertility. This will allow you to determine the amount of sperm you have, their viability, and how they move. To have a healthy pregnancy, you need to have plenty of sperm.

Start Eating These Foods Now

How can you help increase your sperm count? Numerous studies have shown that nutrition is a key factor in healthy sperm.

But of course it is! A healthy diet can have a significant impact on your health and is essential for managing chronic conditions. It can lower inflammation, lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and even help you lose weight. These are just a few of the many benefits diet can have on your health.

So it stands to reason that your nutrition and diet play an important role in the quality and quantity of your sperm.

What foods can boost sperm strength? How much is enough?

There are many foods that can increase sperm count. Here are the top ten foods that will increase your chances of boosting sperm production.


This delicious vegetable is rich in vitamins A and B9, and selenium to increase semen production. It takes only 3-4 spears to make it taste good. You can steamed, roast, or grill it.


A trendy and delicious vegetable, the smooth, creamy avocado is rich in essential fatty acids that are necessary for semen making. Guacamole is rich in vitamins K, B6, C, E, B9, B9, C and E. It’s also high in potassium and magnesium.


Berries are nature’s candy. There are many varieties. All berries are high in antioxidants and vitamins C, K folate, magnesium, potassium, no matter what variety you choose. Berries are sweet treats low in sugar that can be used to treat inflammation. This sweet treat should be consumed once per day.

Dark Chocolate

This chocolate is rich in antioxidants and should be consumed to increase sperm count. 70% cacao is the best choice to reap the antioxidant benefits of flavanols and polyphenols.

Olive oil

Who would have thought that olives could be crushed into a superfood like olive oil? Olive oil is one of the most nutritious and healthiest oils.

EVOO, also known as Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, is unrefined olive oil that is made from the first pressing. EVOO is a great oil to add to your daily intake of fats due its high levels of omega 9 fatty acids oleic and vitamin E. Two Tablespoons is the recommended amount for salad dressing.


Tomatoes are a great source of vitamins C and K. However, sperms love tomatoes because they contain lycopene. Recent research in the U.K. showed that sperm counts increased by as much as 70% when test subjects were given 2mg of Lycopene twice daily. This is the amount in one medium tomato. You can add salsa to your eggs or marinara to your pasta. Or, you can enjoy a classic tomato sandwich with olive oil mayo.


Prawns and shrimp are a great source of protein. They are rich in vitamins B3, B6, and B12 and E, as well as D. This delicious seafood is also high in selenium which is great for the health of sperm.


While oysters may not be an aphrodisiac, this superfood is good for sperm. Oysters contain high levels of zinc and selenium. Oysters provide your partner with a healthy dose vitamin B12.


Although most nuts have fats that are good for semen production and can be used to make it, walnuts contain the highest amount of healthy fatty acid. A handful of these nuts can provide vitamin B6, folate and copper magnesium as well as zinc. Walnuts also contain protein and soluble fibre.

Avoid These Foods

The above foods and drinks have been shown to increase sperm quality and sperm count. However, the following are harmful to male fertility.

These foods should be avoided by those who are trying to get pregnant:

  • Although fried foods are hard to resist, they have been shown to decrease sperm production.
  • Full-fat dairy can contain estrogen, which can cause a disruption in healthy sperm counts. Limiting your intake is a good idea, but it does not mean you should stop eating it.
  • Sperm cells do not fare well when consuming processed meats. These include cured and salted meats, jerky, bacon, sausages and canned meats. Try to eat a healthy diet that does not include any processed foods.
  • It has been shown that alcohol can lower testosterone levels and affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Try giving the cocktails a break and drink a glass of tomato juice or a strawberry smoothie instead.


Mexico’s Yucatan – Tequila y Chocolate

Tequila shots

The Yucatán is not the land of tequila. I know, because I’ve been to the land of tequila – Jalisco. And it was everything I had dreamed of – and more. But, in our travels through Mexico, we’ve discovered that there’s more to the drinks than simply the highly touted and most famous product. Even in Jalisco, for example, we sampled the local Raicilla (in addition to the tequila, of course). In Oaxaca we drank Mezcal. In Colima we drank a wide range of flavored mezcal creams, which sound hideous but were actually pretty good. In the Yucatán, though, we knew what we were after: licor de henequen.

Henequen, often referred to as Sisal in this area because of the northern port city from which it was shipped, was the main crop in the Yucatán until relatively recently. The area’s wealth in colonial times was built on henequen and, it’s worth pointing out, on the backs of the Mayan and, later, Korean slaves who picked it for the wealthy colonial plantation owners. It was an important crop because its stiff fibers were used for rope and twine. Sisal is the hemp of the Yucatán.

Recently, though, the locals have figured out a new use for the henequen – turning it into a liquor. This is the kind of creative spirit we most admire: from fiber to fire-water. Licor de henequen closely resembles both Mezcal and tequila, naturally, since the plants from which all these spirits are made are nearly identical. The main difference between tequila and the others is that it comes from the blue agave plant, distinct from the garden-variety plain old green ones. The processing for all of these Mexican liquors is also pretty similar. The pina (core) of the plant must be harvested, roasted, fermented and, later, distilled. The distinction between one product and the next is largely a terroir debate. Certain areas have distinct appellations – just like wine regions.

For an upstart, Sisal, the biggest brand we could find of licor de henequen was quite lovely. The Blanco compares favorably to a good silver tequila – although it’s not as refined, obviously, as the first-rate blue agave products. It has a slightly more viscous mouthfeel than I am expecting but is light and tangy.

It would do quite well in a margarita, of which there were, it so happened, quite a few good ones in the Yucatán. It’s a drink you associate a little more with the west coast but, since just about every restaurant in all of Mexico uses absolutely fresh citrus, even in places where the margarita isn’t a house specialty, it’s still miles above your average one in Toronto.

A mixologist could have a lot of fun in the Yucatán, with their freshness and variety. At lunch, some members of our party sipped Horchata, a lovely, light “agua fresca” made from rice, sugar and almonds. The other two main flavors for non-alcoholic pops in Mexico are hibiscus flower pop (Jamaica) and Tamarindo – a tamarind flavored pop, which they already add to Margaritas quite frequently.

What I’d like to have seen would have been a margarita made with Sisal, fresh lime, agave syrup and two drops of Xtabentun, a local liqueur made with anise and the honey of bees that have allegedly dined on the nectar of the region’s Xtabentun flowers. (Good honey is abundant in the area and, bit of trivia, we heard that they use a species of bees which doesn’t have the power to sting people.)

But back to Xtabentun, which is ever so slightly sweet for my tastes, which is why I would choose to use it as an aromatic enhancer to a cocktail or soup, in the same way that Pernod or Absinthe is often used, rather than taken straight. The only time I actually saw Xtabentun used was when I had a Mayan coffee at Pancho’s in Mérida, where the waiters served up our after dinner boozy coffee in what I would call “Blue Blazer” style, pouring flaming liqueurs back and forth from one vessel to the next as the father of mixology, Jerry Thomas did in the mid-nineteenth century.

My photos don’t do it justice, so here is a link to a You Tube video of somebody who captured the preparation in its full glory.

It was a great coffee. But the best hot chocolate I have ever had was in Mérida, so I can’t resist ordering it. The Mayans, after all, are credited with inventing hot chocolate by processing cacoa and turning it into the era’s energy drink of choice by mixing it with chile, achiote and vanilla. It was such a hot commodity that the beans were often used as currency in ancient Mayan days. Although the oldest evidence of cacoa use was in Honduras, it’s clear that Mayans in nearby Guatemala were drinking chocolate at least as far back as 2,500 years ago.

As you might expect, their chocolate is not the same as ours. It’s got a unique taste and is typically a little more dry and certainly less sweet than, say, a Hershey Milk. I spent a little bit of time in Mérida’s museum-themed chocolate shop, Ki’Xocolatl, sampling chocolate-covered espresso beans and dark chocolate bars with hot chile, instead of crisped rice. The taste isn’t entirely like the stuff we’ve had in Chiapas and Oaxaca, although this may be a result of the Belgian expertise involved in Ki’Xocolatl. I actually wind up spending more money in this store than I do in the liquor store. Not like me – but the spicy, bitter flavor of the region’s offerings is definitely my cup of tea, er, cocoa.

Anyhow, these are not the usual pleasures in which people partake on their visit to the Yucatan. Cuervo shots and Cadillac Margaritas are obviously as far as many get. I think that’s a mistake and urge people to take a shot at heading a little further past Chichen Itza on their next trip to the Mayan Riviera.

Your taste buds will thank you. Oh, and I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff to do there to – like ruins practically wherever you turn, brilliant live music and breathtaking colonial buildings – but that’s all a bit of a blur. The Yucatán is not the land of tequila. I know, because I’ve been to the land of tequila – Jalisco. And it was everything I had dreamed of – and more. But, in our travels through Mexico, we’ve discovered that there’s more to the drinks than simply the highly touted and most famous product. Even in Jalisco, for example, we sampled the local Raicilla (in addition to the tequila, of course). In Oaxaca we drank Mezcal. In Colima we drank a wide range of flavored mezcal creams, which sound hideous but were actually pretty good. In the Yucatán, though, we knew what we were after: licor de henequen.

Henequen, often referred to as Sisal in this area because of the northern port city from which it was shipped, was the main crop in the Yucatán until relatively recently. The area’s wealth in colonial times was built on henequen and, it’s worth pointing out, on the backs of the Mayan and, later, Korean slaves who picked it for the wealthy colonial plantation owners. It was an important crop because its stiff fibres were used for rope and twine. Sisal is the hemp of the Yucatán.

Recently, though, the locals have figured out a new use for the henequen – turning it into a liquor. This is the kind of creative spirit we most admire: from fiber to fire-water. Licor de henequen closely resembles both Mezcal and tequila, naturally, since the plants from which all these spirits are made are nearly identical. The main difference between tequila and the others is that it comes from the blue agave plant, distinct from the garden-variety plain old green ones. The processing for all of these Mexican liquors is also pretty similar. The pina (core) of the plant must be harvested, roasted, fermented and, later, distilled. The distinction between one product and the next is largely a terroir debate. Certain areas have distinct appellations – just like wine regions.

For an upstart, Sisal, the biggest brand we could find of licor de henequen was quite lovely. The Blanco compares favorably to a good silver tequila – although it’s not as refined, obviously, as the first-rate blue agave products. It has a slightly more viscous mouthfeel than I am expecting but is light and tangy.

It would do quite well in a margarita, of which there were, it so happened, quite a few good ones in the Yucatán. It’s a drink you associate a little more with the west coast but, since just about every restaurant in all of Mexico uses absolutely fresh citrus, even in places where the margarita isn’t a house specialty, it’s still miles above your average one in Toronto.

A mixologist could have a lot of fun in the Yucatán, with their freshness and variety. At lunch, some members of our party sipped Horchata, a lovely, light “agua fresca” made from rice, sugar and almonds. The other two main flavors for non-alcoholic pops in Mexico are hibiscus flower pop (Jamaica) and Tamarindo – a tamarind flavored pop, which they already add to Margaritas quite frequently.

What I’d like to have seen would have been a margarita made with Sisal, fresh lime, agave syrup and two drops of Xtabentun, a local liqueur made with anise and the honey of bees that have allegedly dined on the nectar of the region’s Xtabentun flowers. (Good honey is abundant in the area and, bit of trivia, we heard that they use a species of bees which doesn’t have the power to sting people.)

But back to Xtabentun, which is ever so slightly sweet for my tastes, which is why I would choose to use it as an aromatic enhancer to a cocktail or soup, in the same way that Pernod or Absinthe is often used, rather than taken straight. The only time I actually saw Xtabentun used was when I had a Mayan coffee at Pancho’s in Mérida, where the waiters served up our after dinner boozy coffee in what I would call “Blue Blazer” style, pouring flaming liqueurs back and forth from one vessel to the next as the father of mixology, Jerry Thomas did in the mid-nineteenth century.

My photos don’t do it justice, so here is a link to a You Tube video of somebody who captured the preparation in its full glory.

It was a great coffee. But the best hot chocolate I have ever had was in Mérida, so I can’t resist ordering it. The Mayans, after all, are credited with inventing hot chocolate by processing cacoa and turning it into the era’s energy drink of choice by mixing it with chile, achiote and vanilla. It was such a hot commodity that the beans were often used as currency in ancient Mayan days. Although the oldest evidence of cacoa use was in Honduras, it’s clear that Mayans in nearby Guatemala were drinking chocolate at least as far back as 2,500 years ago.

As you might expect, their chocolate is not the same as ours. It’s got a unique taste and is typically a little more dry and certainly less sweet than, say, a Hershey Milk. I spent a little bit of time in Mérida’s museum-themed chocolate shop, Ki’Xocolatl, sampling chocolate-covered espresso beans and dark chocolate bars with hot chile, instead of crisped rice. The taste isn’t entirely like the stuff we’ve had in Chiapas and Oaxaca, although this may be a result of the Belgian expertise involved in Ki’Xocolatl. I actually wind up spending more money in this store than I do in the liquor store. Not like me – but the spicy, bitter flavour of the region’s offerings is definitely my cup of tea, er, cocoa.

Anyhow, these are not the usual pleasures in which people partake on their visit to the Yucatan. Cuervo shots and Cadillac Margaritas are obviously as far as many get. I think that’s a mistake and urge people to take a shot at heading a little further past Chichen Itza on their next trip to the Mayan Riviera.

Your taste buds will thank you. Oh, and I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff to do there to – like ruins practically wherever you turn, brilliant live music and breathtaking colonial buildings – but that’s all a bit of a blur. Home Page

I’m A Natural Born Killer

Lions eating gazelle

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these water heads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.”

– Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Surly star chef Anthony Bourdain sure doesn’t mince words, but don’t we all secretly lament the absence of ‘real food’ at vegetarian parties?

And some of us who were made ill on a well-intended vegetable diet admit we’re fed up with taking flack for our heritage diet.

“Vegetarianism was a tool to curb lust, promoted by a couple of nutcases,” says Sally Fallon, co-founder of the non-profit traditional foods movement, the Weston Price Foundation.

Those who assume the North American vegetarian movement was born out of health concerns will be surprised to find out that Sally’s right. It all began with temperance advocates Sylvester Graham, of graham crackers, and John Kellogg- yep, the Corn Flake man. The vegetarian diet was all about controlling our insatiable… solo habits. Dr. Kellogg’s massive book from the late 1880s, Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History of Hygiene of Organic Life, is resplendent with dietary admonishments. “Flesh, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee…all stimulants have a powerful influence directly upon the reproductive organs… the passions are aroused,” he writes. Worse, “the helpless infant imbibes the essence of libidinous desires with its mother’s milk.”

So, we’ve got a corn flake and a Graham cracker, both obsessed with lewd thoughts and constipation. In addition to a strict, caffeine-free vegetarian diet, Kellogg advocated mutilating women with carbolic acid to protect them from self-indulgence. Impacted fecal matter, he claimed, was responsible for stimulating sexual desire by causing pressure on the demon organs. (I’m not making this stuff up. I’m fortunate enough to have an 1889 edition of the Plain Facts book, loaded with dietary advice on avoiding the ‘most foul’ conditions of femininity and the debasement of nocturnal emissions.)

And that’s how North American vegetarianism was born.

Maybe you still feel a twinge of guilt every time you choose fish or beef when you dine out. Even if you don’t give a damn about the cow, you care about heart attacks, cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes. You feel like a hypocrite after yoga. You have a friend who keeps inviting you back to the vegetarian side, an idyllic land where the grass grows greener, the lambs leap playfully through the meadow, and no one gets sick. She’s told you how you can get everything you need and none of the stuff you don’t from her rabbit food, and that we evolved as vegetarians anyhow.

It all sounds karma conscious, and very, very healthful. So why then do many one time vegetarians- like myself- come back from that peaceful meadow, ravenous for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken?

There are a million reasons why people are vegetarians- but what if health isn’t really one of them?

Of course, even the most devoted carnivore knows that a vegetarian diet is the healthy way. We only love meat because we are bloodthirsty, greedy gluttons. Meat causes cancer. Fat causes diabetes. Saturated fat causes heart disease. Vegetarians live longer. Eat tiny portions of meat, and tons of grains and vegetables. Fibre cures cancer. Drink skim milk. Eat ‘clean.’ Eggs are loaded with cholesterol- fat bombs. Most of the world is vegan. Vegetarian countries don’t have disease. Low carbers are lunatics and Atkins died from his own carnivorous greed. Vegetarians don’t get sick, right?


But isn’t vegetarianism the healthiest diet in the world? Isn’t most of the world’s diets plant based?

Isn’t it proven that our greedy meat based diet causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and more, and that vegetarians are healthier?

And aren’t we really supposed to be plant eaters, like the chimpanzee?

And can’t you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from plants, while avoiding the worst offenders like fat and cholesterol?

And isn’t the veggie diet more environmentally conscious, and more humane?

No, no, no, no, and yes. Well, one out of five ain’t bad.

I became a vegetarian when I moved across the street  from a chicken slaughterhouse. It seemed like an obvious time to make that move toward health. I learned to choke back the soy like a champion and load up on all those healthy grains. The more mysterious ailments I acquired, the more I cut back on the tiny bits of cheese or eggs I was still consuming. I bought ten copies of the great guru John Robbin’s Diet for a New America and passed them out like biblical tracts. I couldn’t imagine such a compassionate man telling anything but the gospel truth. That protein is killing us, and we should subsist on grain, legumes, and veggies. I love vegetables. No one makes 24 Vegetable Soup, but I did. My super salads were sought out far and wide. I used veggies no one else had even heard of. I still do. But still, all I could think of was meat. Underneath my mandatory revulsion- “Gawd, I hope the chicken didn’t touch my plate,”- I secretly dreamed of a giant slab of steak, blue and bloody inside and perfectly charred on the grill. One day I broke down and ran toward that great big bucket in the sky, sat outside with a family pack and scarfed down an entire lifetime’s worth of KFC. My vegetarian days had come to a screeching halt.

I thought I was a greedy, fat slob. It was years before I began to understand that I was starving for meat. And that I’m not the only vegetarian who went out like that.

“For me, it was KFC original recipe drumsticks with mashed potatoes and gravy. I went KFC, got some, and, in your words, tore into it like a starving animal,” says ex-veg Robert Docker, a music education grad student at Penn State University. He was vegetarian for 16 years, a journey that began with a desire for increased health when his dad developed heart problems. He still believes today that he’d be healthier as a vegetarian, but there are few veggie options in his new town.

Star C. Spider, an alternate reality event planner, is an extremely reluctant ex-vegetarian. “I feel sad that we have to eat creatures to have the best possible diet.” She eats as little fish and fowl as possible, but “to be honest I kept craving chicken. When I would smell it I would immediately want it. When I would think about what I wanted to eat I, more often then not, thought about chicken. I kind of took it that my body was trying to tell me something so I had some chicken.” Star was pretty healthy overall but” was anemic off and on throughout my vegetarian life… I believe at one point I was Vitamin B deficient as well, but I never had any major problems. Of course I have no idea what (if any) the long-term effects could be.” A positive thinker, Star hopes technology will create real solutions. “Thanks to genetic modification and various technologies, I am sure it will not be long now until we can get all of our nutrients from guilt free sources.”

Teacher and musician Megan Benjafield went on and off the vegetarian diet for years. “The first time I stopped being a vegetarian, it was because my mother forced me. … After that, it was almost always because of bacon.” While Megan was fairly sure at one time that veg was healthiest, now she’d like to see different kinds of studies. “I believe that the evidence about a vegetarian diet being healthiest is probably as valid as you can get in a study that has as many variables as human diet and health. I believe that before this newest movement towards organic, local, non-factory farmed foods; vegetarians were a demographic that consciously cared more about what they ate. I believe that if you were to currently do a study of vegetarians and ‘100-mile dieters’ you would probably find absolutely no measurable differences.”

While there are plenty of stories on how healthy vegetarians are, there are plenty of stories that show frightening deficiencies.

“Vegans get sick. All vegans. It is a question of how long it takes,” says Dr. Ron Schmid, a Connecticut naturopath who knows ‘natural’ food means animal derived foods.

And Tom Billing, part of Beyond Veg: Transcending Outdated Dogmas, is still a vegetarian, though he has renounced his early experiments in fruitarianism. He uses some raw milk products now and is far healthier for it. Beyond Veg gives forum to those who suffered the extremities of puritanical vegetarian thinking. The site posts all kinds of evidence of our carnivorous past, and gives voice to vegans and vegetarians who have been made sick by propaganda or their own good intentions. The site speaks against the “moral ostracism that makes it difficult for former vegetarians to be heard or believed.”

“No reason to kill animals if you can be healthy without eating them,” Billings tells me. But part of the mission is to set the record straight on the fallacies of radical animal-free diets. “Raw fooders are under a delusion – they are never ‘sick’, it is simply a ‘detox phase’. They are lying to themselves. They see no need for a doctor, instead they think the symptoms will simply pass after they fast or do some other dietary penance/ritual, after which they will surely achieve the exalted state of dietary purity and health that they seek.”

Dean Esmay shares his experience on Beyond Veg. “I suffered from constantly fluctuating energy levels, moodiness, heart palpitations, racing pulse, very low HDL cholesterol, and moderately elevated triglycerides,” he writes, despite a very low fat diet high in plants.

Chris Masterjohn runs a website about “the most demonized nutrient,” cholesterol. He promotes all the essential nutrients in animal foods after he started losing his teeth and having disabling panic attacks on a strict vegan diet. “I thought this dietary change would lead me to a paradise of abundant health, but I was sadly mistaken,” he writes. “I began having several full-blown panic attacks per week … I was overall lethargic and apathetic. And then, I went to the dentist and was struck with the final blow. Fifteen cavities, and two dead teeth needing root canals! How could this be? I had been sure that, since eating animal protein was what caused the body to acidify and leach calcium from bones and teeth, I would be immune to tooth decay. And the phytoestrogens in soy that supposedly help assimilate calcium should have been an extra defense, sealing shut for good the possibility of a cavity.”

And then, like many of us who were starving for nutrients in meat, “I gorged. I ate lots of red meat, and ate it every day. Within two weeks, my panic attacks completely stopped. For good.”

Greg Westbrook, a former proponent of the famous Hallelujah Diet (strictly vegan as per the Garden of Eden) now advocates Plan B- from the rest of the Bible, including animal products. He found endless nutritional deficiencies and illnesses in those on the diet, such as muscle wasting, slumping, scattered thinking, thyroid problems, fatigue, depression, and extreme weight loss. He suffered himself and reconsidered his original vegan hopes. Today he is evangelical about showing vegans the way back to health. “In spite of all the rhetoric from vegan diet teachers, there has never been a civilization in the entire world that has been able to survive on the vegan diet. Every culture depends on some type of animal products to a degree, be it eggs, milk, cheese, or meat (even insects in third world countries). This includes the Hunza people who are often falsely represented as vegan even though they eat dairy and some meat,” he writes. (Learn more about his 360 after his ideals made his whole family and his followers sick, at

There’s a pretty persistent and persuasive faction of health consciousness today refuting much “common knowledge.” While promoting high fat, meat-heavy diets seems tantamount to insanity, the more layers of propaganda you peel away, the more obvious the facts become. Real Food advocate Nina Planck, raw meat promoter Dr. Ron Schmid, fat fanatics Gary Taubes and Jennifer McLagan, and dentist-turned-anthropologist Dr Weston Price and the Weston Price Foundation are not breaking any news. This stuff is old, as old as the human race. In the beginning, we ate meat, fish, fruits, veggies, and raw dairy. We ate far more than we eat now. We were strong and healthy the world over, without cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, or teeth defects. Today, cultures that rely on fish and meat and bones and yummy weird stuff like brains are incredibly healthy. The briefly trendy idea pushed by Baskin-Robbins heir John Robbins that like our DNA match, the chimpanzee, we are natural born vegetarians is now hopelessly outdated. Indeed, we know the chimp is not a vegetarian after all! Chimps eat…mmm, termites and insects, and each other!

Sally Fallon, whose Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet through education, research and activism,” gets pretty blunt about the alleged studies we think we’re seeing. “What studies? There are no studies. What you find is a lot of junk science.”

For example, we all know those veggie soy centenarians, the Okinawans. To live long, go vegetarian! Except that they aren’t. They eat no artificial foods, lots of raw fish, and loads of lard. Yes, lard.

Toronto author Jennifer McLagan loves lard. Right now she’s in Paris, eating lots of it. Her new book, Fat, celebrates the reviled substance. Most of us hate fat even as we crave it. We think of it as greed and death, but it is the most dense source of nutrients, in the most available form for our body to use. (McLagan’s first book, Bones, is about the forgotten fountain of minerals- animal bones.) Jennifer took some time out of her heart-healthy fat fest (you bet I said it out loud) to talk to me about blubber.

“Fat is just as indispensable to our health as it is to our cooking. Every cell in our body needs fat. Our brain and hormones rely on fat to function, and fat supports our immune system, fights disease, and protects our liver. Fat is the body’s preferred fuel, providing us with more than twice the amount of energy as the same quantity of carbohydrates and protein. It helps the body to absorb nutrients, calcium, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat and protein are found together in nature because it’s the fat that helps us digest the protein. …Animal fats have lots of good fatty acids that fight disease, lower cholesterol, and have a good ratio of essential fatty acids. You can survive quite well eating only well-marbled meat…By replacing animal fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, many of us now consume up to twenty times more omega-6 than omega-3. An excess of omega-6 has been linked to cancer, heart disease, liver damage, learning disorders, weight gain, and malfunction of the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems…When this ratio is out of balance it results in illness and depression. After more than 30 years of reducing our intake of animal fats, we are not healthier, but only heavier.”

Jennifer’s not nuts and these very old-fashioned ideas are just beginning to come back into popularity. Your grandmother knew it. Our ancestors ate way more meat than we eat now. They ate bones, brains, and organs, and prized the fat above all else. Some tribes then and now eat meat and fish nearly exclusively.

Dr. Ron likes fat, too, but the author of Traditional Food Is Your Best Medicine also advocates eating animal glands and bones, and sells supplements of these foods. He also advocates a mixture of raw and cooked meats and vegetables. I asked his advice for those recovering from vegetarian deficiencies. “Lots of animal foods and fats, which contain the critical nutrients missing in modern diets. Avoidance of simple carbohydrates – sweets, including ‘natural’ sweets, refined foods of all kinds, and even most fruit for most people. Eat meat, as undercooked as is enjoyable, seafoods, eggs and butter. Complement that with lots of raw vegetables – salads of mixed greens, etc. Anyone can easily eat like that. Use judiciously chosen supplements like high-vitamin cod liver oil to supply nutrients that are found only in the fat of pasture fed animals and seafood.”

This may seem outlandish to those who have been away from the hunt or the farm for too long. But his work, like that of Sally Fallon, is based on the extraordinary studies of the pioneering Dr. Weston Price. During the 1930s, Dr. Price, an Ontario dentist, searched the world over looking for vegetarian societies, where he expected the most radiant health. To his surprise, he found that without exception, the more meat and fish a culture ate, the healthier they were. Primitive societies of his day, and through history, were free of cancer and heart disease and had strong bones and teeth. Wherever grain foods or artificial foods increased, so did tooth decay, bad bones, and disease. Societies that lived almost entirely on meat were not suffering – they were completely free of chronic disease, dental problems and mental illnesses.

Dr. Ron is one of thousands who now follow the work of Dr. Weston Price, continuing his research. Indeed, the Weston Price Foundation is a growing body of researchers, scientists, advocates, doctors, and concerned citizens who are helping to dismantle the futile and damaging propaganda that has somehow saturated modern society. The foundation questions our skewed belief that animal foods cause disease. We are eating less of them than ever before, and we are all sick. Instead of blaming old-fashioned foods for our health problems, these bright thinkers understand that new foods cause disease. If animal fat caused heart disease and cancer, why was there so little until this past century?

And no, the Foundation is not sold out to the beef or dairy industry. They are independently funded by private donors and consumer advocates. In fact, they do not support the meat or dairy industry at all, but urge the public to support small farms, raw milk purveyors, and pasture-fed animals. Animals must eat their own natural diet in a natural setting to produce the kind of meat we need most. Grass-fed animal products are far more nourishing.

The Foundation produces compelling evidence that disease is caused by sugar, vegetable oils, artificial fats, chemical foods, and unfermented soy products. They also cover thoroughly the deficiencies of an animal-free diet. Did you think B12 was the only thing you couldn’t get from plants?

The old fashioned idea of ‘complete protein’ is still totally relevant to human health. Meat delivers protein in perfectly balanced proportions, with all the amino acids at the right levels. No plant foods are complete proteins…not even soy, which includes all of them but is extremely low in methionine. Sally Fallon explains what goodies are lacking. “Vitamin A, Vitamin D, cholesterol-which is an important nutrient, B12, and special fatty acids like DHA and EPA.”. In addition, she says, “Many nutrients are extremely difficult to absorb from plant foods. These include calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and B6.” There’s also carnitine, the very name derived from carne, or meat, its only real source. (There are trace elements of carnitine in some veggies- 0.2 mg in a serving of asparagus, versus 95 mg in a serving of steak.)

What many vegetarians do not know is that the trace elements of these nutrients that appear in plants are not nearly enough for the body. Furthermore, we have been misled to think the body can easily make Vitamin A or DHA or Vitamin D out of other nutrient combinations. But without robust nutrients and animal fat, our bodies have a hard time doing so.

These fat and protein deficiencies and the excessive carbs and vegetable oils lead to “ALL the illnesses,” Sally explains. The diseases we think come from meat are from new foods and from meat deficiency. “Tooth decay, psychological problems like depression and anxiety, fatigue, bone and joint problems…so it begins.”

How to get back on track? “The most important thing is to get back to eating lots of fats from pasture fed animals, drink raw full-fat milk, and take cod liver oil.”

There’s seldom much debate over B12- known as ‘the only nutrient’ you can’t get in plants, though very radical and dangerous vegan advocates will tell you that algae and tempeh have plenty of it. (Plant sources are rare and are not usable by the human body.) We don’t need much B12, and our body stores it up, so deficiency may take some time to reveal itself. But it’s one of the most important nutrients, involved in the metabolism of every cell of the body, in fatty acid synthesis, and energy production. It is structurally the most complicated vitamin, and absorption can be quite difficult. It is also fragile, and easily destroyed by heat. Hence, even diehard carnivores might not be storing it, and that is why raw meat, raw milk, and insects are traditional foods eaten all over the world. Vegan guru John Robbins famously stated that we don’t need to worry about it, as there would be enough of the vitamin on the dirt on our carrots! (This is a fallacy. Vegetable bacteria sources are analogs.) His faulty rhetoric dangerously misled us from questioning how a vegan diet can be nature’s intention, if it’s missing this integral component.

Recent science has shown that in addition to metabolism and DNA protection, B12 is a detoxifier of heavy metals, protecting us from our toxic environment. Plus, it helps the arteries produce heart protective enzymes, and raise methionine levels, also a heart watcher. (Recall that methionine is low in veggie sources.)

Sally Pacholok has a mission to educate people about B12. Her book, Could it be B12? explains the extreme importance of this nutrient in every single function of the brain, from depression to dementia. She argues that malabsorption of this vitamin is exceedingly common.

As for vegan groups who underplay the importance of this nutritional cornerstone, Sally tells me, “Vegetarian societies are really doing a major disservice. It’s a mathematical equation…Eventually you are going to become deficient. There’s a major risk of neurological problems.” Sally says low B12 levels may account for a vast array of today’s health problems, especially psychiatric ones. “I firmly believe every person with a psychiatric issue should be screened.” These can include postpartum depression and old-age dementia. The problem with supplementing is that those who need it are the ones who can’t absorb it through the digestive tract, and so Sally recommends B12 shots. “There’s no money to be made,” she says, “Therapy is cheap. About $12 for a vial. You may have someone who is depressed, and you allow the neurological damage to continue by overlooking the obvious.”

Another fallacy is that we can get adequate DHA from plants. Our brains are made up of DHA- the stuff of fish. Nina Planck explained to me why fish derived DHA is superior to plant sources. “We don’t know yet. We only know that your body has to take the fats in flax seed or walnuts and convert it to DHA. This conversion is slow and uncertain. Some people cannot do it. Trans fats block it. Babies aren’t good at it. And the result is that as little as 1% of the plant-based omega-3 fats (such as ALA) is actually converted to EPA and then DHA. So plants are a poor source. ”

Raw fish? More eggs? Bones and brains? To a culture so far removed from the hunt and the farm, our version of natural comes out of a machine. Our health foods come in boxes with ingredients we can’t pronounce. Our food guide asks us to use nature’s oldest foods most sparingly, and add 8-16 servings of bread or pasta- foods that in history are almost as new as refined sugar! We separate the yolk from the white, or worse, buy artificial chemical eggbeaters, and we think that rancid, artificial soy oil is ‘heart healthy.’ Our healthy, hearty ancestors wouldn’t put this kind of crap into their mouths.

Still, it can be terrifying to make the logical leap back in time, when seemingly every ‘study’ warns us of saturated fat. And teachers like Keith Ackers put forth propaganda that sounds logical. “A diet that can lead to heart attacks, cancer, and numerous other diseases cannot be a natural diet,” he wrote in A Vegetarian Sourcebook. But when you take it all apart, the oldest diet in the world cannot cause the new plagues, no matter how much statistical evidence we hunt for.

If the sources I’ve already mentioned are not ‘hard science’ enough to satisfy your fear of cancer, then pick up science journalist Gary Taubes latest controversy.

In 2002, Taubes asked in New York Times, ‘What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?’ He defended the possibility that we are starving ourselves into disease by denying plenty of animal foods. There was an immediate flood of controversy and stone throwing. But the three-time winner of Science in Society journalism awards and former Discover Magazine editor proclaims in his new book Good Calories, Bad Calories that everything we think about health today is wrong. It’s a fascinating trek through bumbling bureaucracies. He makes the point that upon analysis, the studies that are cited as proof that fat causes disease actually show the opposite. It’s a long, long story that basically ends with the experts finding it impossible to admit they’ve been wrong, costing countless lives.

The book is stuffed with hard facts and dissections of information, with over one hundred pages of footnotes, making it almost boring to read, despite the radical subject matter. “An impressive combination of rigorous logic and no-nonsense empiricism to thwart medical dogmas,” wrote Nassim Taleb.

Though his book makes no mention of Weston Price, Taubes did say in an online interview that he thinks ‘Weston Price is an unimpeachable source.’ He didn’t believe some of Price’s outrageous anthropology stories, so he began to research them. Across the board, the good dentist wasn’t making anything up, and Taubes found his conclusions thorough and accurate.

What it all comes down to is Real Food, and former vegan Nina Planck brings us back to reality with her beautifully written book. Like me, she was led back to health by Sally Fallon’s chock-full cookbook Nourishing Traditions. Like me, she was thrilled with the ancient wisdom in Sally’s book but intimidated by the unapologetic advocacy of animal foods. There was no talk about moderation, but lots of talk about boiling bones and using liberal amounts of butter. Wanting to know for herself, Nina went straight to the “unimpeachable source,” and read Price’s tome, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. So began her journey back to real food.

Nina told me about her vegetarian and vegan years. “I thought it was the healthiest way to eat. I thought that if less meat and less cholesterol and less saturated fat were good, then none at all would be even better. When I (slowly) resumed my omnivorous diet I felt better in every way. Eventually the change was enormous, but it was actually gradual. This was the picture before: 20 pounds overweight, while constantly fighting more weight by running six miles daily, poor digestion, colds and flu each year, dry skin, brittle fingernails, PMS, and depression. Of course no doctor ever suggested that my perfect diet could be responsible for these symptoms. But I want to emphasize that I don’t overeat, I don’t eat much white flour, and I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables every day.”

Nina’s highly readable book explains important stuff in ways we can absorb it. I didn’t know that you require fat to absorb any vitamins, for example, or that milk has its own enzymes that help us digest lactose. Hence, many are ‘lactose intolerant’ only because lactase has been removed from real milk by pasteurization. For those of us who aren’t biochemistry majors, Nina’s work is truly helpful. From simple vs. complex carbs to the evolution of our brain with the help of fish, Nina holds our hand and leads us to the most important legacy that is every human’s right: real food.

But don’t expect any vegetarian bashing. “I admire and respect vegans and vegetarians for their effort and their ethics,” she told me. “We can agree on one thing: industrial food is a rotten business, for animals and people. But I’m compelled to report the facts as I see them.”

It’s interesting that this new faction of natural advocacy – meat – is also at that the forefront of compassionate farming advocacy. Humanely raised animals are far more nutritious, and have a definite ecological advantage over factories. (There’s lots of info online about sustainable farming methods.) Recall the stories of the grateful native hunters who used every part of the caribou and gave thanks. This is definitely my ideal: I don’t want animals to be tortured for our food.

Neither does Marie Crawford, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, and a longtime vegan who won’t ever go back. “I am fit, healthy, work out six times per week, have tons of energy and feel good both inside and outside for it all. Why on earth would I change?”

Marie became vegan while working for the Alliance. She was asked to investigate the reason factory animals were falling down. She found, “Gangrene, jaundice, prolapsed uterus, tumors in eyes, tumors throughout body, septicemia …broken bones… Then, the last shocker – the report would document which parts of the animal was to be “saved” for human consumption. A sickly, gangrened or jaundiced carcass would still have pieces hacked off to be sold in grocery stores – sometimes just the ‘right hock’ – the rest condemned. This exercise, coinciding with lots of information I had about the benefits of a plant-centered diet, was the main reason I went veg.”

She perceives our national appetite as the result of the “meat industry, creating the market and feeding people way too much of what we don’t need.” She believes that “plants and grains are certainly a more effective and direct way to feed people, and there would be more food to go around if we stopped farming animals. Of course, if the population continues to grow unchecked as it has for so long, perhaps no food source can sustain us.” She is not concerned about any lack of nutrients, careful to “combine my amino acids properly when I make meals (always have a vegetable, a grain and a pulse (kidney beans or the like) with every meal). ” Marie believes that even food like eggs are dangerous because they are “extraordinarily high in saturated fat, and the so-called calcium ‘bonus’ of milk is cancelled out by the extraordinarily high protein content.” Marie says, “When one eats meat they may not have to worry about getting enough iron, protein or B12, but they DO (or should) worry about too much saturated fat, too much protein and an overworked digestive system, not to mention the incredible impact on the environment from the energy sucking drain farming has on the environment.”

History and future science might refute her concerns about saturated fat and excess protein. But Marie knows firsthand what kind of horrifying diseased animals make it to our plate, and the awful suffering they must endure. I don’t believe we should feel guilty for the diet nature gave us, but it is our duty to support humane farming methods. Let’s shift consumer demand from cheap, sick, tortured animals and begin voting for compassion and poison-free food. It is not our duty to abandon the most important part of our diet but to be incredibly grateful and recognize the gift of life. Be willing to pay for that when you can. Support farms that sell free roaming and pasture fed animal foods. Get involved with consumer advocacy for humane treatment of farmed animals. If an animal food means you suffer less pain and disease, try to return the favor. We are accountable to those who suffer for us. (Please see the sources listed below for organic or free roaming source suggestions.)

Venerable Jamyang Khedrup, an ordained Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, generously shed some wisdom on the issue. Recognizing that all vegetarian cultures have been religious, not health based, he shares some lore from Buddhism- including the surprising fact that the Buddha himself ate flesh if it was offered to him. He says the Dalai Lama rejoices over “vegetarianism and spreading compassion for animals.”

Khedrup says, “My take on this issue is that the modern meat industry has been shown to abuse and exploit animals. Since it has been proven it is possible for most people to live in a healthy way on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, this seems advisable as it eliminates the suffering we cause in the world (and hence, from a Buddhist perspective, our negative karma), it is also hard for me to meditate on compassion for all sentient beings as advocated in the Mahayana scriptures when I am eating some of those sentient beings. That being said, for those who find their health is compromised by a vegetarian diet, reason would dictate they should take some fish or meat. I wouldn’t want people’s health to suffer due to following these principles… I would like to see factory farms eliminated altogether, and animals that are used for the nourishment of human beings living life as nature intended – under a blue sky in un-crowded conditions. Omnivores should investigate the sources of their meat, and attempt to purchase meat from producers who care about the lives of the animals in their care.”

It can be stressful to sort out conflicting information. The only real way to sort it out is to look back, and look all over the world. And when we do, we find some irrefutable facts that need no sorting: that ideally, we minimize a creature’s suffering before eating it; that vegan eating is a brand new experiment in history that no human society has ever participated in until the 1940s; that all cultures have valued animal foods, seafoods, and fats most highly of their food supply. Celebrations revolved around these foods; that all vegetarian cultures worldwide are so because of religious belief, not out of health intentions. And that none of these are or have been vegan; and that unfermented soy foods, grains, legumes, refined flours, sugar, chemicals, and vegetable oils are the new kids on the block. The diseases we attribute to meat and animal fat have only been around since we cut down on animal foods and began introducing these.

How crazy are we to demand cheap food from tortured diseased sources instead of putting our money where our mouth is? How crazy are we to think artificial processed egg-like chemicals, or egg whites only, are healthier than eggs? Pretty crazy.

We must look back to fully reclaim our human health. As Nina Planck told me, “The future for omnivores is to make our diet clean and ethical, not to remake our biology.” Our DNA has been the same for a very long time, and the health we enjoyed in simpler times can be ours again. We can truly have our steak and eat it, too.

*  *  *

Don’t Take My Word For It
(further reading)

Weston A. Price Foundation has hundreds of articles by various doctors, nutritionists, and consumer advocates:

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
 by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig

Chris Masterjohn’s site on cholesterol’s bad rap. But we can’t live without it:

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

‘What if it’s all been a Big Fat Lie?’ Gary Taubes’ NY Times article.

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan

Real Food by Nina Planck

The Queen of All Fat: Why Omega-3s were removed from the Western Diet and What we can do to Replace Them by Susan Allport

Could it be B12? by Sally Pacholok

Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine, and The Untold Story of Milk by Dr. Ron Schmid

Health Food Junkies by Dr. Steven Bratman

‘The Myths and Truths about Vegetarianism’ by Dr. Stephen Byrnes

American Council on Science and Health, ‘Why I am not a Vegetarian’ by Dr. William T. Jarvis

The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend

Humane Meat Sources

These listings have an Ontario bias for the most part. Wherever you are in North America, try Googling “pasture fed meat” “grass fed” or local family farms. Don’t be shy to call up a farm nearby and find out their practices. Head to the farmer’s markets and ask each farmer about their use of hormones, antibiotics, and compassion. If you have Mennonite or Amish farmers in your state or province, that’s a great place to start. : downloadable pdf files for all over North America, giving some local guides to smaller scale farms, organic food sources, grass-fed pasture animals, or hormone free foods. a great web portal about the horrors of factory farming- horrors for our fuzzy friends and those who eat them. Lists ways you can help, grocery sources with more-humane food supplies, current campaigns to reduce animal suffering. there is a wealth of information here about kinder eating but there is definitely a vegetarian bias. If you are recovering from a vegetarian diet, remember to read health-related information armed with the truth of your ‘new’ ancient knowledge. However, the information on animal treatment and compassion for farm food can only help us move in a more ideal direction. a great celebration of local eating with all kinds of information for sustainable eating.

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Sacha Douglas’ Coupe Space

Chef preparing food in restaurant

Sacha Douglas points to a table at the back of the long storefront on Queen Street East in Leslieville and informs me this was the setting for what has become to be known as “Battle Cheese”. We are in Coupe Space, an old martial arts studio which houses her husband Bill Douglas’ design culture magazine Coupe and the 32 year old cook come impresario’s burgeoning gourmet business, which is part venue rental, part catering and part culinary experience. It’s the last part, namely her Tasting Club, that’s been making waves in Toronto’s foodie scene. “Battle Cheese” saw Canadian dairy against the world. Canada was passionately defended by Douglas’ long-time friend and former George Brown classmate Chef Tobey Nemeth from Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, while Nemeth’s partner, Chef Michael Caballo, from the Niagara Street Cafe attacked with the best from France, Italy and Spain. Douglas says it was close, but the forces of old world cream won in the end.

Until recently, Douglas was Executive Chef at Trish Magwood’s dish cooking studio, itself a pioneering Toronto food space. Douglas migrated to catering after a few years in the kitchens of big restaurants like the Rubino Brothers’ now defunct Zoom. But the windowless world of the brigade held little appeal for the Cornwall, Ontario native who didn’t want to spend her working day “with her head down”. Instead she worked on ways to “share food knowledge” while learning as much as she could herself. She’s kept to her script at Coupe Space and the roster of food experts leading her Tasting Club sessions is a who’s who of the city’s gastro-pros. Leaders have included everyone from Cumbrae’s butcher Stephen Alexander to The Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine (he led a session on “Stinky Cheese”) to beer expert Stephen Beaumont. The events have proved popular with amateur enthusiasts and industry folk alike, with participants returning regularly. Douglas explains: “With the whole Food Network and celebrity chef phenomenon, people are getting so savvy about cooking. The next logical step is to learn about ingredients.”

When I caught up with Douglas, she was planning the next two Tasting Club events: a Champagne tasting with Zoltan Szabo and an Oyster tasting with Adam Colquon (aka “Oyster Boy”), the latter paired with beer from the Mill Street Brewery. Douglas’ roster seems to more or less alternate between a drinks tasting and a food one, but she’s quick to tell me that there’s always food with the former and drinks with the latter. It’s her mission to get away from the formal structured tasting and create a meal atmosphere where everyone sits around the table and talks to one another while they taste. While her visiting experts are always the stars, she also wants them to be able to relax and be themselves. This focus on conviviality is a natural outcome of her involvement with the Slow Food movement. She tells me she is committed to ensuring that every event she hosts stays true to Slow Food’s mantra of “Good. Clean. Fair.”

In the serene atmosphere of Coupe Space in the afternoon, Douglas smiles and explains that hers is designed to be a “chilled and mellow business, free from panic situations”. That may not always be the case – there are still hungry mouths to feed, after all – but she sure seems to be having fun, and learning a few things on the way.

Learn more about Coupe Space at

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Andy Shay on Cheese, a Gremolata exclusive

Various cheeses on cutting board

Gremolata’s Cheese Expert, Andy Shay of Shay Cheese, looks at fine cheeses and related topics in Canada and around the world. You can order your own supply of artisanal cheese from Shay Cheese to be delivered right to your door. Browse all of Andy’s cheese wisdom at the column to the left. Meet Andy at the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show: click here.

Are there only Five Italian Cheeses? (Parmesan, Mozzarella, Provolone, Gorgonzola and Romano?)

It is a rhetorical question and I suspect that you already know the answer – but if it is not true, where are they? If there has been a cuisine that has dominated the past 15 years in culinary interest it would be Italian. What was unheard of in 1990 is common today, from olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to Radicchio and Prosciutto. How could such a prolific, wide and varied cuisine have such a limited offering of cheeses when its neighbors, Spain and France boast at least 300 varieties apiece?

The idea seems suspicious and indeed with a bit of research the truth reveals that Italy is home to just as many cheeses as Spain and France. Why haven’t we heard about them? The common thought among Italians and Italophiles that I spoke with is that Italy has always been a fragmented nation and these small production artisan products are simply consumed locally. It sounds simple, but I think that there is a grain of truth here.

A few years ago Slow Food (An Italian inspiration and organization based in the city of Bra) published a guide to artisan Italian cheeses. Somehow I have two copies- but I never opened them knowing that a) I was not planning a trip to Italy and b) none of them were available in Canada.

But that is not true any more. The dam holding back Italian artisan cheeses from Canada has sprung a leak and Elvira Bertozzi is responsible.

If North Americans are swayed by name, than the Italians that I know are swayed by quality and tradition. Indeed, a conversation with Ms. Bertozzi is all about quality and the origin of her goods. Ms. Bertozzi is the matriarch of Bertozzi Importing a firm that has specialized in importing the highest quality Italian goods for decades.

A prime example is Parmigiano Reggiano. In the 1990’s we all learned that Parmigiano Reggiano is the “best” parmesan cheeses. Indeed, it is a fine cheese that has a DOP designation ensuring certain standards of production and authenticity, but they are not all created equally. A few weeks ago, I bought a chunk from my local grocery store. It was pale, acidic and had an acrid flavor.

Ms Bertozzi pried a piece of her Parmigiano Reggiano from a 30kg wheel, it was a different animal. The wheel is a rich tan/yellow color; the cheese is firm, but flakey. The cheese is full of umami (the mysterious fifth flavor) flavor, rich and complex and nutty with wonderful granular texture.

What accounts for this difference? Ms Bertozzi talks about the quality of the milk, the type of cows used to produce the milk, the fields where they graze and what they eat. It also turns out that while the wheels are being aged they are also regularly tested and the wheels of highest quality are selected for extra aging and marked with an “EXPORT” stamp.

This is the perspective from which the Bertozzi import their artisan cheeses. Many of the cheeses are only available for half of the year because the shepherds still drive their herds high in to the mountains to feed on the rich grasses during the summers and this is when the cheeses are made.

Below, I have outlined some tasting notes on a few of the cheeses available. They are unique and wonderful. So take up your cheese knife and head to the dam, let’s all suckle ourselves and make the crack a little bit bigger!

Tuma dia Paja – This is a delicate cheese, from the crinkly paper secured with raffia, to the undulating bloomy rind, to the oozing yellow interior. The cheese cloaks the mouth in silken creaminess that releases over time and leaves the mouth salivating. Made from sheep’s milk, it was voted “best cheese” at the New York Fancy Food Show – the premier North American food show.

Crutin – Aged in volcanic caves, this sheep milk cheese, with somewhat crumbly interior, has fresh truffles shavings throughout which lend a delicate flavor. Excellent on its own or incredible shaved over fresh pasta, on potatoes, or in risotto.

Testun Al Barolo – I think this is my favorite so far. This is a firm Alpine cow and sheep milk cheese that has been covered in the must (pits and skins) of Barolo grapes. The pale white cheese is covered with this deep purple mixture and is truly striking. The juices seek fissures in the cheese creating pale purple veins. Oh…and the aroma! Rich, fruity and nutty. The interior is firm and grainy with a sharp edge and is full of complex nutty flavors. Wow!

Castlemagno – The recipe has been perfected for at least 1000 years – it is pretty good! This is a cow and sometimes sheep and/or goat milk cheese. The use of the three milks gives depth and complexity to the flavor. The interior is very creamy and there is a faint bitterness and sharpness that leaves the mouth feeling very clean.

Blu di Fabrosa – A sheep milk cheese produced in the Alps at over 1000 meters of altitude. As with Roquefort, the cheese is seeded with a blue mold developed from rye bread. The cheese is a pale yellow and nearly translucent near the rind. The interior is a salty and lightly sharp blue that leaves a pleasant mustiness in the nasal passages and a tingling sensation in the back corners of the tongue.

Look for these cheeses at the Cheese Boutique, Shefflers at the St. Lawrence Market and All The Best on Yonge Street. Or call Bertozzi directly at 416-213-0075

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Calling all Cheese Lovers!

Ontario has a burgeoning cheese culture and it is being fostered by the Ontario Cheese Society.

If you would like to find out more about the state of the industry in Ontario and cheese in general the society has put together a block buster day of events as a part of the Toronto Wine and Cheese Show on March 24. Cost is $55 for members and $85 for nonmember. The events of the day include a presentation on raw milk by Max McCalman from the Artisanal Cheese Center in Manhattan, as well as lunch and panel discussions by industry experts. There will also be a separate cheese and wine pairing guided by Szabo & Szabo. There are only 100 spots so be sure to book early and find more details at

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Andy Shay:
Andy Shay is a food devotee. After graduating from the Cornell Hotel School, Andy managed gourmet food stores in Manhattan and Sydney Australia. He moved to Toronto in 1995 and founded Shay Gourmet with his wife Meredith Johnson. For the past year, Andy has been a cheese consultant helping Quebec and Ontario artisan cheese producers access the market in Ontario. Currently he teaches at Centennial College, is the busy father of Max and Simon and delights customers with monthly cheese boxes from Shay Cheese.

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Madhur Jaffrey Interview

Gremolata: Is Climbing the Mango Trees a food memoir?

Madhur Jaffrey: I have no idea what it is officially. It is a memoir with a lot of food in it. I wasn’t trying to write about food, actually. I was just trying to write about my life as a child and there’s so much food in it that it sort of comes in automatically.

Gremolata: The food sounds fantastic. In some ways, I thought, the food you describe eating in the 1930s is thoroughly modern. It’s all organic, you know exactly where it comes from…

Madhur Jaffrey: Well, you see that’s the thing: nobody knew all those words then. But everything was fresh, from a nearby farm or our own garden. The milk would come that day from our own cows. It was assumed that that was the right thing to do things. If you begin reading, you’ll see that the old Ayurvedic system of medicine has been saying forever that you should eat things that are grown close to you, that are grown properly. You know, all that which we know call organic and these wonderful newfangled names for it: that was the way to do things. There was no other way to things in India.

Gremolata: Does all that remain?

Madhur Jaffrey: Some of it remains, but the country as a whole is slowly being Monsantofied, or whatever seeds are coming from the West. It’s all changing and there’s havoc as a result. So, we are also having to say, “Stop, stop, stop. Let’s go back.”

Gremolata: Your memoir has an Arcadian feel with the gardens, and going to pick out chickens, and all that. But the world you describe is also very cosmopolitan and layered. From the centuries of history, the various rulers in Delhi and their influences and then the influx of refugees at the time of partition. The English, too – you’re always eating soup.

Madhur Jaffrey: Yes, I thought that English food was always soup; that they had to get some liquid in them before they could get the rest of their meal down!

But it’s interesting. Sometimes when you are very specific – and write, really, about Delhi and my growing up in a very specific kind of circumstance – it becomes universal. In many ways what happens in one place happens in another place and sometimes in the whole world. The whole conflict that was to flare up between Muslims and Hindus, that was going to partition the country had its origins way, way back when Islam first came to India. And certainly, my family has historically lived through all the elements that made up for the final partition of India: the Muslim element because my family worked for the Moghul Emperors and the British, who my family also worked for after the Moghul Empire crumbled (thanks to the British). When they took over my family just shifted and many were working for them. Taking notes

Gremolata: This is your caste?

Madhur Jaffrey: This is our caste: scribes, historians, writers and accountants for 2,000 years. My whole theory is that we wanted to read and write but we didn’t want to be like the priests who read and wrote religion. We wanted to have a bigger field, a more intellectual field and we became scribes and maintained it. Until now – and it’s ironic that I’m writing, my daughter’s writing and there are many writers in the family who just somehow do it. They don’t even think about it. Ink is in our blood.

Gremolata: I’m skipping ahead of the scope of the book, but you left India for England to become an actress, so how did you become one of the foremost authorities on Indian food? A famous cookbook writer?

Madhur Jaffrey: I have no idea. It’s a total mystery to me. My grandkids dream of being chefs, but I had no such dreams. No such dreams. And I don’t call myself a chef, all I call myself is a cook.

When I left India and couldn’t cook at all at 20 I started writing to my mother and she sent me back air letters, so I started with these air letters and began cooking. And then, I came to America and, as promotion for a film that I’d done, Craig Claiborne of the New York Times did an article on me as ‘an actress who like d to cook’. It was really about the film Shakespeare Wallah, but from there these strange doors began to open. I didn’t solicit any of it – I always say I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of food. It just happened to me: I kept making a very bad living as an actress and a very good living as a writer about food.

Gremolata: A friend gave me your Ultimate Curry bible, and I absolutely love reading it in bed. I mean I love all the stories about the food. It’s clearly very thoroughly researched.

Madhur Jaffrey: Yes. I still do that. Research is the greatest; I prefer that to writing, actually. I love going around finding and discovering. That’s the highlight of the book writing process for me.

Gremolata: So how much of the memoir could you call up then?

Madhur Jaffrey: It was a very funny process because when I was asked to do it by my editor, more than 10 years ago, I said, “I can’t. I can’t remember what I did yesterday. How will I ever write a memoir? I never even kept diaries – nothing!” Even today, I can’t think about what happened in the past.

But then, I began thinking. I began thinking about he food that we ate as kids, the emotional things attached to the food, and the food attached to the emotions. Suddenly it came back in a rush. I just all poured out.

There were things I couldn’t remember, so I would call or email to various brothers and sisters: what was the colour of that car in 1946? And each would email me back a different colour. So, I thought, it doesn’t matter! Memory is totally selective. You remember what you want to remember, or what you think you remember. It’s no use, almost, asking anyone anything. So, from then on I felt free to go with what I remembered. Though some things I still had to consult my brothers and sisters about.

Gremolata: And is everyone happy with the result?

Madhur Jaffrey: No! Of course not. That’s why I don’t want to touch memoirs again. It’s a Pandora’s box.

Gremolata: But you have to write the next book. The next chapter of your life.

Madhur Jaffrey: Well that’s it. I dare not because already there’s enough people angry with me. And you know, the people who are the angriest, I praise the most. I think that people are just not used to being in print. And you somehow break into their lives when you write about them you expose them in a way they don’t want to be exposed. Even when you think something is the least of things, you’re exposing them and I think it’s dreadful for them.

I’m used to it, being in the public. And I carefully shield what I don’t want people to know.

Gremolata: In the book you describe a fascinating life in terms of being in a very interest place in a very interesting time: the last days of the Raj, the Second World War, Independence, Partition…

Madhur Jaffrey: Right. I never knew it was so. In retrospect, I suppose it is so, but when you’re living it, you’re just living your life. I didn’t think, ‘I’m living in historic times’. I was just so angry about the partition and so fearful of what would happen. And then Gandhi’s death. We were all great supporters of Gandhi, great followers of Gandhi: my father, my mother, my brothers, all of us. And then he was killed and we thought there’s going to be chaos. What we stand for is this kind of great tolerance and accepting everyone whomever they are. India must be a secular nation, it cannot be a country of these people or that lot of people. And suddenly it felt very threatened, all that. But somehow over the years it’s managed to stay, more or less, on an even keel, which is amazing.

Gremolata: You’re based in New York. You’re on your third continent.

Madhur Jaffrey: Right.

Gremolata: And you go back to India often?

Madhur Jaffrey: I do. I do all the time. Most of my family is there. As you know, I come from a huge family, so there are a lot of us there.

Gremolata: One of the interesting food things in your book is when you talk about partition and Punjabi refugees who brought all these wonderful new foods like naan to Delhi.

Madhur Jaffrey: Which I had never heard of.

Gremolata: In the west we assume that every one in India eats the dame things.

Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. We had never heard o f naan and to us it was as exotic as it was perhaps to someone eating it for the first time in Canada or Britain or in America or whatever. So, it’s hard to explain to people that India is the size of Europe. It’s such a huge country and it’s like Europe, the differences like being in Sweden, then Italy or Spain, the Ukraine. The food is just totally different. And that’s the exciting part of India, for an Indian too, travelling and eating. It’s just great.

Gremolata: And this is still happened to you, isn’t it? You discover new foods.

Madhur Jaffrey: You never stop learning about anything. Certainly not abut food in India; it’s a never ending process.

Gremolata: Is there something that food-fashion-forward Westerners ought to be on the eye out for? A new dish from India that hasn’t been discovered?

Madhur Jaffrey: Oh, I would say there are a million that have not been discovered. I was in an airport in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, and I was talking to an Indian who was returning to India as I was coming back to New York. She was from Andhra, one of the states in Southern India, and she was telling me about the three distinct types of regional foods from there and the various dishes. I didn’t know any of them.

There’s someone else I know who is now the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, which is in the north and the east of India. It borders China. I’ve never been there and would like to go because the food is totally different.

Even in places where I’ve lived, people make dishes that I do not know! It’s endless. It’s been going on for thousands of ears. It’s not like American cuisine, or Canadian cuisine, which id basically new. It comes for old sources, but it’s basically new. In Indian cuisine is so old and each family has its own dishes that have stayed with them only for thousands of years.

Gremolata: So each family has their own dishes and their neighbours…

Madhur Jaffrey: Would be eating totally different things. Take mango pickle. It’s not universal, mango pickle. It’s going to be different in each family.

Gremolata: This is like de Gaulle saying, “How can you govern a country with 300 cheeses”. It’s exponentially worse!

Madhur Jaffrey: Exactly!

Gremolata: Although, when I read the book I recognise some dishes and spices, as someone who doesn’t know very much.

Madhur Jaffrey: The spices are the same. It’s like a palette of colours. Every painter has the palette of colours, but it’s how they’re used. What is emphasised? What is the base oil? What spices are they putting on the fore? What other ones are they putting in the background? How are they breaking things up? And that makes all the difference.

Gremolata: Are there violent disagreements about this sort of thing?

Madhur Jaffrey: Within regions there’s a history of spices being used in a certain way. But even in our region, there’s garam massalla, which is a mixture of aromatic spices which Ayurvedically heat the body. It’s used throughout North India, but everyone, every family has there own mixture.

Gremolata: So when I go to the super market and buy a jar…

Madhur Jaffrey: Forget about it.

Gremolata: That bad?

Madhur Jaffrey: You can use it but what happens in a jar is that they try to get the maximum profit for the minimum input of spices so they fill it with the cheapest spices. In my spice mixture, when I make garam massalla the most I have is cardamom seeds. That’s one of the most expensive spices. And there’s cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, which are expensive. They fill theirs up with more coriander and cumin, the cheaper ones.

I know this because I use them and I know which the good mixtures are, and even those you cannot use like my homemade mixture. So, sometimes in my recipes I’ll say, two teaspoons of the one you get from the market – it’s fine here. But for others, Ill say, you have to use my mixture and you need only a half teaspoon.

Gremolata: So for the recipes at the end of the memoir…

Madhur Jaffrey: These are the family recipes.

Gremolata: Right. Could a novice start with your garam massalla and then expand on it?

Madhur Jaffrey: Sure. Absolutely. That’s what Indians do.

Gremolata: Spices like coriander and cardamom seem to be popping up on every fusion menu.

Madhur Jaffrey: I just went to Susur Lee’s second restaurant.

Gremolata: Lee’s.

Madhur Jaffrey: Right, and he had used cardamom seeds in a few things.

Gremolata: Appropriately?

Madhur Jaffrey: Hmm. Well, I don’t know. It’s a question of taste. I mean your palette, how you are putting these things together. Sometimes it works beautifully, and sometimes – to my mind, and all minds are different – it doesn’t work so beautifully. I find, for example, the Swedes use cardamom in their desserts. It’s one of the main ingredients, like vanilla. They must have got it very early on from, I don’t know, Sri Lanka. Could be from there. So they use it in their spice cakes and it’s wonderful, to me a perfect idea. But people are now travelling so fast and incorporating a whole lot of things: coconut, cardamom, this, that… You have to be careful.

Gremolata: That’s very diplomatic. I thought it was interesting that you compare Indian food sensibilities to Italian. I’m thinking of the emphasis on fresh produce.

Madhur Jaffrey: It’s that. Also it’s a grain based diet like Italy. I think we have a lot in common: very fresh vegetables, at least in homes. In Indian homes you get everyday one, or two, or three very fresh vegetables, which are cooked very nicely and simply. That I think you find in Italy.

It’s a similarity of mind: you eat a lot, you sleep a lot, you listen to good music. It’s that way of thinking that Indians have as well.

Gremolata: They’ve figured out how to live.

Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. It’s a wonderful way to live, actually, with good food as part of a way of life, as opposed to adding it on at the end of the day.

Gremolata: For a home cook who’s not familiar with the traditions of Indian cuisine, where’s a good place to start?

Madhur Jaffrey: Start with the recipes at the end of the book. But I always try and tell people, “Just don’t try and make a whole meal.” You’ll kill yourself and say that you’ll never do it again. Take for example the meatballs in this book. They’re fairly complicated, so just make the meatballs and buy naan from a shop and make a salad. And that’s all: don’t try anything else. Make it a few times, then add an Indian vegetable dish, then add a rice or a chutney, or a raita. But don’t get overwhelmed. Make one dish many times until you have grasped it.

Also, don’t buy too many spices. Just buy the ones you need for that dish.

Gremolata: Buy small amounts of spices because they go bad?

Madhur Jaffrey: Well, if you buy them whole, then they won’t go bad. Only the ground ones. So get a coffee grinder for grinding and grind in small quantities.

That’s how I learned: literally one recipe at a time. I kept doing them until I got it right. And then another one and another one. So, I’m just passing on my method, actually.

Gremolata: And, at the time, you would have been at the mercy of English purveyors.

Madhur Jaffrey: Yes, but everything was coming in. If you look at the 19th Century they were bringing things in. There was quite available when I was a drama student and that was the late 50s.

Gremolata: So, no excuse, seek it out?

Madhur Jaffrey: Seek it out. No excuse! Have will, will travel.

Gremolata: What’s your next project?

Madhur Jaffrey: Film and television continue: I’m just doing a Law & Order this week. So that goes on. Cookbooks generally go on. I have some cookbook offers that I will do, probably. But I think I might want to write a novel. I just haven’t decided. But I think that’s where I am at the moment.

Gremolata: My impression from reading the memoir is that you enjoyed writing it.

Madhur Jaffrey: I did. I did.

Gremolata: And will we see more of you in Gourmet?

Madhur Jaffrey: Absolutely. I’m going to Sri Lanka and The Maldives to do a big piece. And I write for the Financial Times, I do columns for them.

Gremolata: How many books have you published?

Madhur Jaffrey: I have no clue. I would guess it’s under 20. You’ll have to go with that!

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Paul Finkelstein Saves the School Lunch

Children working in a garden with their father

Paul Finkelstein is a happy man: earlier in the day that I spoke to him a group of grade two kids, from the local elementary school had taken a tour of the patch of land he and a handful of high school students grow vegetables on. He beamed, “It was amazing to see them in the gardens picking product and then eating raw beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, basil, Swiss chard. This was the true vision of the garden and today it was fulfilled for me.”

That vision was more than just a hobby garden, it was Seeds of Change a program he started last April with seeds donated by Antony John, the organic farmer whose Soiled Reputation greens are served in some of the province’s top restaurants and who starred as the Manic Organic on his Food Network show. Naturally much of what was planted was heirloom, and outside of foodie circles a little exotic. But what makes this market garden different is that it was planted on 3,000 square feet of schoolyard at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School. The “farmers” who planted and tended these crops over the spring and summer are actually high school students of Finkelstein’s and the “market” for these certified organic vegetables is the student cafe he and the students run as well as the kids at the elementary school that shares the premises with NSS. Alice and Jamie have nothing on this guy.

I ask Finkelstein if the kids ever complained about tending to the garden. He replies that the only kids who occasionally grumbled were the ones who actually lived on farms, since they’d usually come form doing a bunch of chores anyway.

Seeds of Change is a natural progression from Finkelstein’s first project: The Screaming Avocado Cafe, the student run cafeteria where the ex-chef got his culinary Arts Program students to provide healthy, gourmet meals as an alternative to the French fry sodden regular fare being offered by the school. Now the Ministry of Health and the Avon-Maitland District School Board, as well as the environmental organization Evergreen and the Perth Community Futures Development Corporation have got behind him and his students will feed the elementary kids in the building five days a week.

Gremolata readers will remember our coverage of the Slow Food Youth symposium he organized and his exchange with students for Salt Spring Island. And now Finkelstein and his programs is really starting to get noticed, starting an article in Saveur this month.

Finkelstein’s program is seen as so innovative that federal government asked him and his students to represent Canada at this summer’s Expo in Japan, where they cooked at the Canadian Pavilion and he and the students ate as much fresh fish as they could.

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Spilling The Beans – The Trouble With Soy

Man holding soy beans with Soy Warning label

It never crossed my mind that soy – a favorite health food – might be toxic and dangerous. It wasn’t the first time. Bottled water, margarine, and gluten grains all come to mind. But soy? The wonder bean?

I was faithful to the plant. I’d been a vegetarian for five years and though I now enjoy the multitude of benefits and gourmand delight that meat and seafood offer, I trusted in plants. Soy was something I’d celebrated, along with everyone else in Vancouver, in my hippie years. Later, even the men in my life enjoyed my “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Meat” stir fries. After moving back into the omnivore’s diet that nature gave me, I still loved miso soup for breakfast and made an effort to regularly enjoy soy proteins.

Who didn’t? Even Dad’s got soymilk in the fridge- it’s great for preventing prostate cancer, right? Even people who never got used to the taste- or shall I admit tastelessness- of soy added it in hopes of reaping the benefits of those amazing nutrients. Isoflavones, genisteins, lectins, saponins, and phytoestrogens- don’t these wonderful names signal a whole host of cancer fighting, heart disease preventing, cholesterol-lowering miracles?

What if I said that those fancy words are actually toxins and the soya bean is naturally loaded with all of them? What if I told you that big business soy ran campaigns like Soy 2000 to convince us that these antinutrients were beneficial? What if I told you that soy is not a complete protein, is not widely used in Asia, and is incredibly dangerous for human consumption? What if I told you that the Food and Drug Administration lists soy as a poisonous plant?

The thyroid is a tiny butterfly-shaped gland in the throat. The rate of thyroid problems in North America is epidemic, especially among women. It’s so common to have a thyroid disorder that it’s easy to forget that’s not the natural state of being. Because the thyroid regulates the entire endocrine system, the metabolism, and more, it’s a very important body part. The most common disorder is hypothyroidism. This means the thyroid does not produce very much thyroid hormone, and the resulting quagmire of ailments is distressing to say the least – exhaustion, overweight, depression, hair that is dry, falls out, or won’t grow, brittle nails, anxiety, skin disorders, feeling too hot or too cold all the time, menstrual problems, metabolic disorders, recurring infections, immune system fall-out, and a whole lot of other fun stuff. Untreated thyroid problems, or a thyroid that responds poorly to lifestyle change and medication, are gateways for a whole host of Hellish things from fibromyalgia to cancer.

When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism many years ago, it was something of a relief, despite the fact I was not thrilled to have a chronic and serious gland problem. But even less thrilling was the depression that had always hovered around me- I’m a cheerful, festive sort of person, and the unshakeable melancholy didn’t seem like me. Worse still was the unexplainable weight gain and the exhaustion and picking up every last cold and flu and Bell’s Palsy, a lovely thing that damages the facial nerves and has given me the lopsided features some find sexy, and my ‘sneer’. Finding a reason for this slew of complaints that forced me take medical leave from work gave me hope for a vibrant future, or at least one I could make the best of.

The doctor suggested a few ways to support my health in addition to simply popping pills. I was mildly surprised that I was told to avoid soy foods. I learned the word ‘goitrogen,’ read a bit about thyroid-suppressing foods. I stopped eating all soy foods but didn’t make a big deal- I also learned that peanuts, broccoli, and cabbage all have thyroid suppressing properties. Those were good healthy plants, too, just something to avoid the way fibromyalgia patients should avoid nightshade plants or celiacs should avoid wheat. Nothing more.

One day, my godchildren’s mother was over, and she asked if I thought soymilk was safe for the kids. Safe? Never thought about it. The vegan girl in the circle said enthusiastically, “yes, of course,” without question, which bothered me straight off the bat. Soymilk is way modern and loaded with sugar. For those reasons alone, I would have to say I wasn’t sure. Julie borrowed a couple of my nutrition books. I had no idea whether soy was bad for everyone’s thyroid or just mine, so I said I’d look it up.

I put on my Nancy Drew outfit and began some nutritional detective work. A clue here and there, some secret passages, a couple of bad guys named phytates and lectins later, I realized I was in the middle of a big ol’ can of worms and the only way out was through, down the rabbit hole.

It all starts out rather confusingly- after all, hadn’t everyone’s favorite health dude Dr. Earl Mindell dubbed the nutrition phenomenon, “The Soy Miracle”? Sure enough, Mindell’s Soy Miracle assures me (innocently enough, as the year is 1995, before the mother load of research gets unearthed) that soy is a good food for me. In fact, he writes about how beneficial it is to my thyroid. “Soy may somehow stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormone,” he writes. This is immediately suspect, as the thyroid-lowering connection is well known, well established, and not controversial. A few pages extol the virtues of the perfect protein and cancer fighting wonder food. The rest shows a bunch of groovy recipes like the Tempeh Reuben sandwich.

Sounds tempting – but it sure doesn’t take long in my new detective hat to see some suspicious handshaking. The good doctor thanks the United Soybean Board and Soy Foods Association of America straight off the bat for their help. Hmmmm…

Go figure- looks like many of us forgot the obvious adage Mom told us: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Think about this: who told you that Asians eat a lot of soy, that they have for thousands of years, that they eat it instead of animal protein, and that soy is why they are so healthy? Soy is monk food, and what could be kinder or healthier than a monk’s vegetarian diet?

So who said all this? Your Asian family or friends? Not mine. And here’s something shocking: none of it is true.

It was one of the biggest industries in the world, soygriculture, who told you this. I thought it, too, but then I realized I don’t really know a lot of Asian families intimately enough to know their customs. The ones I do know cook a great deal of pork, delicious vegetables and rice.

Bur Dr. Mindell says, “In many parts of Asia, soy foods are a dietary staple.” But simply looking beyond the Soy Board’s claims into history and anthropology, it doesn’t take long at all to find out that in fact, the Chinese eat massive amounts of eggs and pork, and very little soy.

Mindell touts how Japan enjoys the longest life span, lower rates of colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer. “Judge for yourself,” he says. And we did. We were presented with seemingly obvious information, but advertising is what it was. Because the truth is much different, and lower Asian cancer rates just might be from the lack of un-food in Asian diets and the masses of seafood they consume. The Japanese eat a few TABLESPOONS of soy a day as a condiment.

Monk food? Clean protein? The roots of soy are much more humble. Soybeans were used as crop fertilizer and livestock feed. Knowing soy could be harmful raw, the resourceful Asians made an art out of fermenting techniques to make them digestible. Hence, miso and tempeh, the most edible forms of soy, are important arts in Asian history. What about the nice monks? Moby’s sarcasm may not be far off- does the high estrogen content in soy messes with testosterone, making monastic life a little easier on the celibate?

Still, what’s the big deal? So it’s not Asia’s star dish. It’s still the picture perfect glow of rosy health, right? A complete protein, low in fat, fighting off cancers and osteoporosis, lowering cholesterol, non-allergenic, brain-building, green, low carbon footprint, and yummy, too – right?

Not so fast. Concerned consumers in both the carnivore gourmands and the garden of Vegan groups are starting to suspect the reality might be more like this: gas, bloating, infant starvation, moobs, a whole host of thyroid problems, coronary disease, anaphylactic shock, Alzheimer’s, serious endocrine disorders, a range of menstrual abnormalities and ‘female problems,’ cancer, low or nonexistent libido, puberty before age ten, hair loss and more. Could it really be? Aren’t all of these things among the endless problems soy was going to prevent?

Hundreds of doctors and scientists and consumer advocates worldwide are now expressing concern and caution over soy. But one has devoted her research in recent years to the alarming topic.

“In the mid 1990s I started noticing a lot of articles with headlines like the ‘joy of soy’ or ‘soy of cooking’ and was entranced by the claims that soy was good for personal health and also the planet,” Dr. Kaayla T. Daniel says. “The reality was another story. I was seeing a lot of sick vegetarians and other health conscious people who ate a lot of soy and seemed to be suffering greatly from it. That aroused my curiosity and I began researching the subject.”

She is not a messenger for the dairy industry – she is a citizen and scientist concerned with faulty propaganda and real food. She exposed the soy industry’s endless dirty secrets in her book The Whole Soy Story: the Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food.

While the vast sea of information online and in journals is confusing, jargon-riddled and often pits the debate as a vegetarian/meat-eater’s one, Dr. Daniel’s book is clear, organized, factual, meticulously documented, and explains all the hard words. Though Daniel, as a nutritionist, obviously sees wisdom in our natural hunter/gatherer diet, it’s clear that soy is dangerous for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, and that we must all find alternative foods.

If only the problem were one little toxin. But it takes Daniel nearly 400 pages to cover all the info, plus 44 pages of study references, so that we can verify the sources for ourselves. “It was read for accuracy prior to publication by leading MDs, scientists and toxicologists. And my conclusions have certainly been validated by the recent warnings issued by the Israelis, French and Germans,” Dr. Daniel says. This is solid science, but thankfully Daniel is also an engaging writer. “The studies come from a wide variety of sources – universities, clinics, FDA’s Laboratory for Toxicological Research, USDA scientists, etc,” she explains. “Many of the most damning studies were funded by the soy industry itself.”

Here’s a brief overview of Daniel’s findings:

  • Soy oil was the first and primary profit center for soy, and soy was largely responsible for the spread of hydrogenated or trans fats
  • Most soy is genetically modified
  • Soy farming is wreaking greater devastation on forests, cottage industries, and family farms than the cattle industry. (If you mistakenly thought soy was a bunch of hippie farmers, like I did, Dr. Daniel tells it like it is: “Let’s name names. Monsanto, Dupont, Archer Daniels Midland, Solae . . . Nearly all the old hippie companies have been bought up by the big boys. For example, White Wave is owned by Dean Foods. Some of America’s largest food companies now manufacture soy foods or use soy ingredients heavily in their products. Think Kraft, Kellogg, ConAgra, General Mills, Heinz, Unilever Best Foods and Dean Foods.”)
  • Soy is a major allergen, and because it is used as filler in hundreds of products including meats and ‘vegetable oil,’ people with allergies may be at risk
  • Soy contains goitrogens, which damage the thyroid
  • Soy contains lectins, which cause red blood cells to lump together and may trigger abnormal immunity responses
  • Soy contains oligosaccarides, sugars that cause bloating and gas
  • Soy contains oxalates, which prevent calcium absorption, cause painful kidney stones and vulvodynia, a vaginal disorder
  • Many plant foods contain phytates and phytic acid, naturally occurring ‘pesticides’ to keep plants from being eaten while growing. phytates impair mineral absorption, and in fact, remove many minerals already in the body, including iron, zinc, and calcium. phytates in many foods are alleviated by cooking – soy’s phytate levels are high and stubborn.
  • Isoflavones, lauded as natural estrogens, are serious endocrine disruptors, lowering testosterone, causing menstrual disorders, and cancer cell proliferation
  • Protease inhibitors interfere with digestive enzymes, saponins may lower good cholesterol and damage intestine
  • That all of these plant chemicals can have benefits, and do exist in other foods, to varying levels of edibility: that soaking grains and fermenting beans are ancient food prep traditions
  • Soymilk is far from a natural food: it is filled with rancid fats and high in sugar
  • Soy cheeses are largely made with hydrogenated oils (safety level of hydrogenated products? ZERO)

Some health problems that may be associated with soy foods are:

  • Bladder, prostate, colorectal, thyroid and breast cancer
    Precancerous lesions
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Malnutrition
    Stunted growth
  • Flatulence
  • Pancreatic problems
  • Low libido
  • Early puberty
  • Anemia
  • Zinc deficiency
  • Osteoporosis
  • Intestinal damage
  • Mal-absorption and leaky gut syndrome
  • Kidney stones
  • Allergies
  • Infant death
  • Immune system disruption
  • Thyroid disease

And the list goes on. This isn’t the first time we’ve been concerned. Before the massive health movement of the late 80s and early 90s, all sorts of articles came out about soy safety. But hardly anyone liked the stuff anyhow, and vegetarians had yet to think of it as a food group. Soy decided to get a makeover, and save itself from the financial fallout that was nigh – when it’s dirty toxic margarine secrets would inevitably leak out.

“By 1985, there was a considerable body of research from U.S. Government and university laboratories and British government institutions warning of the health dangers of soy foods, particularly to high-risk consumers such as infants and vegetarian women,” says Dianne Gregg, writer of The Hidden Dangers of Soy, and survivor of soy-related illness that nearly killed her.

“These were published in scientific journals. In response, in 1985 the soy processing industry in the U.S. held a number of conferences and devised a program, ‘Soy 2000,’ the intent of which was to aggressively promote soy as a health food when they already knew it contained biologically active levels of toxins. This involved heavy political lobbying of Congress and Federal regulators, a vast advertising program, planting favorable articles in popular and academic media, obtaining huge Federal farming subsidies, and sponsorship of meetings by the U.S Department of Agriculture. The aim of Soy 2000 was to promote to the consumers that soy was a proven health food with no adverse effects. Their claim was that millions of Asians have been consuming soy in large quantities for thousands of years and are all remarkably healthy as a result. American consumers were expected to believe this, and most of us did!”

Soy’s first incarnation in North American consumption was also a health food imposter. After millenniums of wisdom where humans used butter or lard or olive oil, good enough for the Bible and good enough for the world, suddenly margarine was “heart healthy” and “cholesterol-lowering.” But lately, studies started talking about how heart disease INCREASED from this new artificial fat, hydrogenated margarine, which our body cannot recognize. OF course it did. This was not a real food.

Sound familiar? It is. Those who perceive of soy as innocent and concerned for your health may be surprised at how big a player soy was in the hydrogenation revolution. Most hydrogenated oil was soy. Now, even junk makers like chips and fast food have pulled these artificial fats out of their products. Hydrogenated oils are liquid plastic and they are poisonous. Most governments place safe consumption levels at ZERO.

Clearly soy, which still defends hydrogenation, did not then have our best health interests in mind, just profit. When the tide turned, they turned up the noise on how healthy soy is, and it became a health food, its history in margarine conveniently blotted from public consciousness.

While the health dangers are considerably ominous, not everyone is in immediate danger of death. But Dianne Gregg came within inches of her life.

Gregg had never been a vegetarian, but slim, health-conscious, and staring menopause head-on, she decided to take charge of her health and began eating soy. “I started to include soy protein drinks for breakfast, and protein bars as a snack. For eight years I was constantly nauseous, bloated, and gaining weight each year. I knew something was wrong but the doctors said it was normal and to accept that I was getting older. In April 2003, I had a soy veggie burger for dinner and that is what did me in. This was the first time I had one. The next morning I was rushed to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack ? but I went into anaphylactic shock.”

“After four days in the intensive care unit, the doctors diagnosed food poisoning, but I didn’t agree. By now I weighed 150lbs. That was more than I weighed in my ninth month of pregnancy!”

Dianne went home, and didn’t eat much of anything for a while. When she recovered from her mystery illness, she started her day again with her soy health drink. She began having palpitations and other symptoms. Linking the reaction to the soy, she began her internet research, and found that in addition to very common and possibly deadly allergies, soy is implicated in hundreds of deadly or chronic diseases. Other consumers may not be linking their health problems with their health food. So Gregg wrote her book, The Hidden Dangers of Soy (

“My intention was not to bash the soy industry but to make the public aware of what the Western version of soy contains, and that if they are not feeling like themselves, or are developing health issues, to try and eliminate soy and see if they don’t feel better. In my book, I have testimonials from others with real horror stories that never attributed it to soy products.”

Part of the ‘hidden danger’ is what’s hidden. Gregg says that soy is hiding in everything from meat to chocolate to oil, so people hoping to avoid it don’t usually do a good job. “The number of processed and manufactured foods that contain soy ingredients today is astounding. It can be hard to find foods that don’t contain soy flour, soy oil, lecithin (extracted from soy oil and used as an emulsifier in high-fat products), soy protein isolates and concentrates, textured vegetable protein (TVP), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (usually made from soy) or unidentified vegetable oils. Most of what is labeled ‘vegetable oil’ in the U.S. is actually soy oil, as are most margarines. Soy oil is the most widely used oil in the U.S., accounting for more than 75 percent of our total vegetable fats and oil intake. It’s found in margarine, shortenings, frozen dinners, canned tuna, mayonnaise, breads, cookies, crackers, canned soup, breakfast cereals, and fast foods to name a few.”

Gregg says many women keep eating soy in hope of the benefits, and end up with hypothyroidism. While contributors to the thyroid epidemic may include hormonal birth control products, fluoride content in water, stress, and sugar, soy’s strength as an endocrine disruptor should not be underestimated. Especially with soy hidden throughout many foods – you can’t eat uncooked broccoli, another goitrogenic food, in high quantities by mistake, for example ? even those who choose not to eat soy may be eating a lot of soy!

Another person who is very concerned about thyroid health is Mary J. Shomon, a patient advocate and best-selling author, whose many books on thyroid and autoimmune diseases I have read and enjoyed, notably Living Well With Hypothyroidism. Shomon is not an anti-soy crusader by any stretch. Her research and advocacy is concerned only with the thyroid. She has no vested interest in vegetarian/omnivore battles, soy business practices, or anything else that remotely relates to my story, except as it may or may not affect the thyroid.

It has been a well-documented fact for decades that soy foods lower thyroid hormone (Drs. Doerge and Chang, FDA, Division of Biochemical Toxicology, for starters, and more from 50 years of diverse sources). But the Soyfoods Association of North America is not very concerned about my health. They cheerfully tell me, “Like other plant foods that contain goitrogens, soy can be part of a healthy diet.” (Cooking broccoli or peanuts destroys their lower levels of goitrogens, but cooking soy does little to remove them.) They tell me that soy does not cause thyroid problems in healthy people (though even small amounts of the food in a daily diet have been shown to slow a normal thyroid.) They tell me to get enough iodine, which is fair enough, and to take my medicine in between meals so that the soy won’t affect the absorption.

Shomon says, “I think that you need to consider the messenger. The soy industry has a vested interest in promoting soy, and downplaying any potential negatives. Again, some soy can have a place in a healthy diet, but stick with the fermented forms you find in Asian foods, like tempeh, tofu, miso, and use it, like the Asians do, more as a condiment.” She says, ” if over-consumed, especially in its processed, isoflavone-heavy forms, it can have detrimental effects on thyroid health. Soy is a goitrogen, a food that has the ability to slow down the thyroid gland. In some people, over-consumption of soy can trigger a thyroid condition — or aggravate an existing one.”

For the record, I contacted the Soyfoods Association of North America by telephone and email to ask about these claims and to ensure fair storytelling as a journalist whose only vested interest is the truth, not profit or ideology. No representative from any of the soy boards returned my contact.

By far one of the most thorough, informative and wide-ranging info portals on soy danger is Soy Online Services, in New Zealand. Associated with Dick and Valerie James, the content-heavy site shows no agenda but to help people dismantle the confusing array of information. No membership, no fees, no hidden agenda- just the facts, ma’am. Dick James has been correcting misinformation for years, writing letters to governments and health providers on his own time and own dime. His formidable efforts to spread his truth are honorable- Dick has never taken a dime for this time, or for Soy Online Services.

For the Jameses, it all began when his prized parrots began getting sick and dying after switching to miracle-soy-based-bird-food, he decided to get to the bottom of the issue and found astounding horrors surrounding soy foods. A dear young friend also died somewhat mysteriously, and that’s how they started researching soy. They launched a legal investigation to get to the bottom of the bird-food issue, as well as the human health implications, and so began Soy Online Services.

Dick James is a man who has generously given his time and energy to educating people about their health. He says it’s a “fallacy is to think that vegetarianism equates to soy consumption. It does not.” Vegetarians used to eat a wider spectrum of food. Because of marketing and industrial politics, soy is everywhere, even in bird food.

The internet is abuzz with theories hoping to defame the cozy circle of soy opponents, many whom, like the James’, are affiliated with the Weston Price Foundation ( Dr. Kaayla Daniel serves on the board of directors. The foundation follows the nutrition research of Dr. Weston Price, a dentist who wandered the globe studying the diets of diverse people. The foundation heavily encourages traditional diets based on animal foods and vegetables. Their agenda doesn’t scare me away: I have a deep respect for the Weston Price research, and these people work hard to advocate safe, humane farming practices, chemical-free food, and old fashioned methods of fermentation and soaking. The diet may sound funny to those used to boxes and cans, but any student of world cuisine or of history and anthropology can tell these are hardly off the wall. Dr. Daniel says, “The Weston Price Foundation is supported by membership dues and private donations and receives no funding from the beef or dairy industries. We recommend an omnivorous diet that includes free-range eggs, grass-fed meat and raw dairy products from happy, pastured cows, but such products do not come from factory farming operations or corporate agribusiness. We support small farmers, humane treatment of animals, sustainable and organic agriculture and the consumer’s right to obtain fresh healthy foods directly from local farmers.”

The good sense of sustainable and humane farming and traditional food preparation get lost in the extravagant propaganda. “It’s all about money. Soybeans were first heavily grown here for the soy oil? the one used most often in margarines and shortenings. But once processors took the oil out of the soybean, they had a lot of soy protein left over. The question was whether they should take it to the landfill and pay to dump it or turn it into another profit centre. Soy protein would make an excellent fertilizer, but unfortunately the chemical fertilizer companies had that market cornered. It is used as a primary ingredient in animal foods, but there are limits on how much they can safely feed to animals… It was initially hard to sell people on the idea of eating soy because it was perceived as either a poverty food or a hippie food. Then marketing experts changed the image of soy to an upscale ‘health food.’

And that dear readers, is why all of us think this toxic waste, not healthy enough for animal feed, is a wonder food.

Not everyone is as concerned about phytic acid or lectins as Daniel, James, Gregg and myself. Dino Sarma is a passionate vegan chef with a degree in biology. Though vegetarianism was not historically synonymous with soy-eating, it is now, and Sarma’s cookbook, The Alternative Vegan, was the only one I could source that was vegetarian and soy-free.

“Most vegans in the USA and Europe don’t really bother with actual vegetables,” Sarma laments. “Alternative Vegan is so named because it provides an alternative to your typical vegan cookbook, where it seems like soy and other meat/dairy analogues are so pervasive that non-vegans often feel that you can’t eat a vegan diet without them.”

Sarma’s lively cookbook is teeming with inspiration from India- stuff he learned from mom. He has a flair for international cuisine, and likes to be able to recognize how his food started out. He recalls fondly the markets in Chennai, where people, vegetarian or not, ate a variety of produce. “I can remember the boisterous shouting of the vendors? The sheer amount of colors and smells that surrounded me. I also remember the stunning variety. Spinach did not mean a selection of one or two types of leaves? More like ten or fifteen, each season. ..Squashes and gourds abounded. Jackfruit, lychee, mango, papaya, guava, grapes? The long bananas, the short skinny ones?.” Sounds like paradise to me, too.

Most of his recipes are meals simply put together from the produce aisle. He likes to keep things cheap, and he likes to avoid weird ingredients you can’t pronounce. There were already more than enough soy cookbooks flooding the market. And while Sarma is not impressed by pricey, flavorless soy ‘meats,’ he didn’t avoid soy because he finds it unhealthy. “Most of my readers aren’t really all that concerned about soy, and just like simple, tasty, healthy food,” he says. He doesn’t worry about getting enough soy for protein. “All food contains proteins in varying amounts,” he says. “Get enough calories, and your protein will take care of itself? Eat a varied diet, including lots of whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat berries, millet, quinoa, amaranth,) dark green leafy vegetables (mustard greens, kale, collard greens, radish greens, wild spinach), fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and some beans, nuts, and legumes to round out your meals.” I highly recommend Sarma’s book to anybody: vegetables are not just for vegetarians!

As a science major, he’s heard the words phytates and saponins before. “If I were to get scared of everything with saponins, I’d also be avoiding yucca, tomato, grapes,” he says. Phytates, lectins, these are “commonly found in animal feeds.” As for saponins: “Again, the high levels of saponins is found in the feed for dogs, but hasn’t been really linked to human food.”

Sarma believes in living compassionately and says going vegan is one of the best things he ever did for himself and the world, but that he doesn’t ever see a reason “to be a jerk about it.” He likes to educate people through colorful produce and joyful eating. And while he does not cook with soy in The Alternative Vegan, he says he has yet to see study against soy that convinces him. When I ask him what he believes, he says, “I don’t like to use the word ‘believe’ when it comes to scientific data. Upon examination of the sources of the soy scare, I sincerely question the motives, the research methods, the data collection methods, the statistical analyses? And the funding organizations.”

Amen. Exactly. And after I did, you can be sure I will enjoy wonderful vegetables of every kind, but I will never touch anything- not chocolate, not tuna fish, not salad dressing- that contains unfermented soy, ever again- and as for fermented, I love my tamari on sushi, but that’s about all I’ll risk.

After the margarine debacle, soygriculture just got lucky. Other food issues like mercury in fish or pesticide-riddled oranges were their own issues, not a spiritual war between two opposing camps. Soy just happened to be there, pumping its health-makeover propaganda just as the vegetarian-meat debate revved up. That debate won’t ever be resolved, because people all over the world eat all kinds of different weird things, from insects to blubber to nothing but olives. The vegan versus omnivore question has nothing to do with soy, which is bad for both groups.

But the soy market saw a perfect opportunity to pit big business against two groups that consisted of citizens with a similar concern- what to safely put in our mouths. Soy conveniently became an emotional, spiritual issue: saying soy is bad is the same as saying ‘you shouldn’t be a vegetarian.’ But it isn’t. It’s just saying soy is bad for you, same as soda or sugar are bad for you. Except that soy might be worse!

If you only read one thing on the topic, make sure it’s Dr. Kaayla Daniel’s expose. “It’s sad that so many people feel that all information must be financially motivated. The truth is that neither I nor New Trends Publishing has ever accepted any funds from the beef or dairy industries or from any government agency.”

Meanwhile, Big Soy is happily pocketing everyone’s money while they defend one of the most deceptive businesses of all time. Dr. Daniel says many- meat eaters and vegans- have read her work. ” I think they owe it to themselves and certainly to their children to educate themselves. Many who have taken that step have come back to me with thanks.”

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