VEGETARIAN TIMES

Clean Eating: Q+A with Cookbook Author Terry Walters

Vegetarian Times | May 4, 2011 | Anthony Howard, guest blogger

Terry Walters wears many hats. She’s the author of two cookbooks, CLEAN FOOD and CLEAN START (the latter of which was just nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award). She also offers group and private cooking classes, runs a health counseling business, and travels all over the country speaking out to change the way Americans think about food. Below, she talks about what’s gone wrong with the average American diet and explains how to get started cleaning up your own eating habits.

In Clean Food, you accentuate the need to go back to the foods our parents and grandparents ate when they were growing up. Older generations have had less exposure to the processed foods that now stock grocery store shelves. How did this change come about?

We have absolutely traded in nourishment for convenience. Convenience is key for a lot of people. We have been fed a bill of goods that it is not in our best interest. I think our entire food industry is driven by agendas other than our own health and well-being. The lobbyists have a lot of money and they wield a lot of power, they are looking purely at profit. They don’t want us to go back to eating real food. I tell my kids all the time to eat food that comes out of the green kind of plant, not the cement kind of plant.

What do you think is particularly flawed about the average American diet?

There is a misperception in our society that we need a lot of protein. We need much less protein than the average American eats. I see a lot of people who tell me they have eggs for breakfast, some type of meat in a sandwich for lunch, and chicken or fish for dinner. The average person only needs 15 to 20 percent of their diet to be from protein.

Also, we are so apt to value everything that is on a label. We latch on to the next greatest trend, but truthfully our grandparents were the ones who had it right. They ate food you can recognize. By returning to those basics, we can be much healthier. I would much rather pay my farmer or grocer than my doctor, insurance company, or pharmacist.

So how do we break the cycle of a processed food diet?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. We go into the grocery store and buy what we are programmed to buy. We go down the same aisles, we get the same salad dressings, and we buy the same snacks. We buy the same things because we know what to do with them. Take a deep breath, go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, and force yourself to buy one new food. Doing that once a week, we can slowly build a repertoire of new foods, and we can make our diets much more interesting. Check to see what is being displayed prominently in the produce aisle because those stands are likely to feature seasonal produce that is abundant and at its peak flavor and nutrient levels.

Data from the USDA shows that in 2010, there were 6,132 farmers’ markets operating throughout the US, a 16 percent increase from 2009. Do you think the local, seasonal food movement is putting Americans back on the right path?

I think that we are going in the right direction. I think it is grassroots, coming from the bottom up. I wish there was something big happening from the top so it would start trickling down. There are more farmers’ markets, and there has been a lot of change. In truth, if I came out with my book Clean Food 10 years ago, it probably would not have caught on like it did. That said, I think food continues to be entertainment. I see lots of cooking on TV and people watching food on TV, but it doesn’t seem to translate as much into people cooking at home. I am on the board of an urban farm and it’s still a struggle to stay afloat. The subsidies are still going to big agrobusiness a lot more than they are going to organic farms. So yes, we are headed in the right direction, but a lot more needs to be done.

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One Comment

  1. Irwin Tyler
    Posted December 25, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Often the best understanding comes from looking at the extreme, here being Vegan + organic. Let’s look at all sides of this eating style and see what would happen if all the U.S. adopted this regimen PROPERLY.

    Obesity would end – that seems clear. Some studies and much private reports indicate that this regimen would eliminate most diabetes, many cancers, most heart and vascular conditions, much osteoarthritis, and a host of other conditions. The consequence of this would be a major impact on drug company profits. Many would go out of business. The same for supplement companies. Funds for research would be cut severely – but then, again, research would be applied where today it is not because of today’s severe focus on high-profit opportunities.

    As the population becomes healthier, many physicians, hospitals and pharmacies would go out of business. Fewer drugs would be produced. In short, needed health care would be more difficult or even impossible in some cases, especially in rural and small-town areas of the country. Remember, there will be some number of the above-mentioned conditions that still will occur. And with fewer physicians and hospitals available, ready care for many other conditions, like broken bones, burns, conditions involving genetics such as hemophilia, etc. will not have the needed resources as available as they are today.

    So, medically, there’s a tradeoff. For those who become and remain healthy on this regimen, their health costs should go way down. But where the health care system becomes negatively impacted, for many people their costs may rise – if care is even available for them.

    But that’s not the only area of Vegan + organic to examine. The rise in consumption of organic fruits and vegetables would be enormous. Land used to graze cattle can not automatically be turned to farming. Most of that land in the Midwest and southwest is not now suitable for farming organically, and water access at the needed levels will not be available – available water in many of these areas is already in short supply. Regional droughts still occur, and that would severely curtail the supply of organic fruits and vegetables. The price of organic foods would necessarily rise. Importing such huge quantities of organic produce for extended periods is not realistic. To where does the nation then turn for its sustenance? Non-organic farms with higher yields, and imported meats and non-organic produce are the only alternatives. The risk of thus re-establishing an unhealthy population grows under these conditions, with a health care system that is then incapable of handling the consequences.

    Suppose we step back a little and go Vegan but not organic. Or vegetarian in its several options. Each step “backward” lessens the impact of some of these problems. But with each step “back” it is supposed that the effect on the general health worsens, in ways we don’t fully understand and can not predict. Therefore, it seems we can’t devise with any confidence a national approach that would be effective in all its effects the way we would want it to be. Is there an effective solution to this problem?

    We are all individuals in the U.S. We do not live in an absolute monarchy or dictatorship that will decide for us the “best” way to eat and order the health care system deemed “best”. And, there does not seem to be a “best” that covers all bases well: health, economic, social, to name a few. As a nation we can make certain methods and practices more attractive through laws, taxes, and incentives We would base the solution on the best information (ALL information available) and the wisdom of advocates and leaders. But every nutritional choice still will be an individual decision. And the accumulation of all these personal decisions WILL have unintended consequences, sometimes disastrous ones, and we just have to be prepared to accept that notion before we even start to promote one or another national campaign.

    I want to close with an observation about meat. We know that most meats in the standard American diet (SAD) contain various combinations of antibiotics, hormones, microorganisms, chemicals, etc. all designed to maximize the profits of the farmer, processor, distributor, and retail store. But these are the meats used in most animal tests. What exactly are they testing? Then there’s the added MSG or other flavorings and additives, the way the meat is prepared and the kinds of pots used (aluminum, non-stick, etc.). These are the meats consumed by most of the nation, yet studies conclude that the meat is a root cause of their bad health. Is it the meat or is it some of these other things we need to be most concerned about? We really don’t know how much of the harmful effects we measure and observe are from the actual meat and how much from the rest of the “garbage” the meat contains. If we’re going to rely on science, then let’s make that real, honest, complete science.

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