According to a Forbes food trends article for 2013, the most popular trend is vegan upscale dining. It is nice to see that there is a growing market in fine dining with all plant-based ingredients. It was a movement that started early in the year with many top chefs predicting that vegetables would become the main attraction at top restaurants as discussed in this blog post. It should help make the cuisine even more exciting, flavorful, and desirable especially as top restaurant vie for customers. It will also pressure meat-based restaurants to add more vegan options to their menus to stay competitive. This is a trend with very positive implications!
A 2012 Harvard Medical School study compared results of studies measuring women’s blood levels of carotenoid, colorful plant pigments that can act as antioxidants. The study determined that women with the highest levels of carotenoids had a lower risk of breast cancer..."
It's encouraging to see more research evaluating the ability of plant-based diets to counter chronic illnesses. This study by Harvard suggests that a diet rich in carotenoids is a possible way to prevent a prevalent type of cancer. Vegetables that supply carotenoids include yams, carrots, red bell peppers, and winter squashes along with the dark leafy green vegetables which provide an array of additional body balancing nutrients as well. Plant based food is also low in dietary fat, which has similarly been linked to preventing chronic illness.
The U.S. surgeon general has stated that “a comparison of populations indicates that death rates for cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate are directly proportional to estimated dietary fat intakes.”
As the article points out, no single factor can be directly linked to preventing chronic illness, but the research demonstrates that adopting a plant-based diet can mostly likely give one an advantage over time in staying healthy.
When Arizona's Maricopa County decided to switch to vegetarian food in all of it's county prisons, it was doing more than just saving money which was the main impetus. It was giving inmates a second chance. Vegetarian and vegan diets have been shown to improve behavior and reduce violence in study groups as discussed in this blog post. If the new diet has this affect, then the individuals learning the new way of eating and the community they return to will both benefit. It is hoped that, someday, this becomes the model across the country.
Sometimes the best way to increase the consumption of healthy food, especially plant-based ingredients, is to make them more accessible. In spite of the abundance of fruits and vegetables available today at grocery stores and farmers markets, not all communities have easy access to these ingredients. In fact, in many under-resourced communities, access is limited for a number of reasons including costs, transportation, time, and dislike of the quality available to them.
A new method of increasing the quantity and consumption of vegetables in the homes in these communities is called CSA or Community Supported Agriculture, which gives residents the opportunity to buy a "share" of a local farm's vegetables at the beginning of the growing season, which they can pick up in boxes, weekly, once the produce is harvested. The feasibility of this type of program was testing on a specific community by a CDC study to determine if it worked. The vegetable "shares" were paid for by a community center through donations. The larger purpose of the study was to find ways to ease health disparities within these communities.
Fruit and vegetable consumption helps prevent chronic diseases responsible for the major causes of illness and death in the United States (1–3). Despite the known benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, the typical US diet fails to meet recommendations (1). Substantial disparities in fruit and vegetable consumption exist by region, race, and income (4); these are mirrored in disparities in health outcomes and disease prevalence (5,6). Source
The results on the groups tested showed some success:
Compared with a control group, the participants in the Farm Fresh Healthy Living program reported a greater variety of fruits and vegetables in their households at the end of the season than did the control group. There was no difference in fruit and vegetable intake, though a trend toward higher consumption in the intervention group was observed. The greater number of fruits and vegetables present in food inventories of intervention participants demonstrates that the intervention increased the diversity of foods available to families. A larger sample size or a more sensitive data collection instrument for dietary intake may have demonstrated a significant effect on fruit and vegetable consumption. Source
The difficulties encountered by participants in accessing the vegetables from the farm are to be expected:
Participants picked up their food an average of 9 of 16 weeks. Although the pick-up schedule was more generous than is the case with other CSA programs and accommodations were made for participants’ schedules, these efforts may have been insufficient to adjust the program to the life situations of low-income women. Many women worked multiple jobs and lacked workplace flexibility. Some depended on multiple buses to travel to and from the pick-up point, and they struggled to transport the produce box on the bus. Such issues that prevented full participation are consistent with those observed by other researchers (17,24)
This study is very valuable since it highlights the barriers many under-resourced communities encounter to getting proper nutrition. Many participants wanted to keep the program going, even if they had to pay as much as $25 per box. If access was improved even more, the results of higher inventories within the household would have been even better. My experiences have been similar. I currently have very good access to a couple grocery stores that provide high quality vegetables at very reasonable prices and often put those vegetables on sale. As a result, my kitchen is packed with great, healthy ingredients.
When I've lived where access was more difficult, or not readily convenient, or the quality of the vegetables was poor, I bought less and made fewer attempts to visit the store since it wasn't enjoyable. If the quality isn't there, or the prices are ridiculous for what you get, or it takes too much effort to get to the store, or it's a hassle with parking or long lines at the cashier, the more convenient option is to eat out, order in, or rely on packaged foods. I've felt that high quality vegetables and fruits increase consumption, and poor quality ones repel people. In fact, sometimes restaurants actually have better access to higher quality vegetables and fruits, since they are delivered, than the grocery stores in or near the same community.
Although the study didn't see a statistically relevant result for increased consumption, it's hard to expect people who have not had regular access to good produce to immediately start incorporating them into their meals. It takes time. They have to develop new recipes and get used to the flavors. Good ingredients slowly start to replace bad ones, but when access, quality or prices interrupt the adoption of plant-based ingredients into the diet, it is less likely that they will become permanent fixtures.
This study was very useful and the program has potential for success, but it needs to be fine-tuned and done over a long period of time so that the participants get used to and enjoy making plant-based ingredients a common and frequent part of their meals which will eventually lead to a reduction of the health disparities we see in these communities.
“If man wants freedom why keep birds and animals in cages? Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat.” - Leonardo da Vinci
The vegetarian life is not a new concept. It's been around for a long time. Many luminaries throughout history have reached a point in their lives when the consumption of meat no longer makes sense to them and provides no pleasure. The list is long and extensive. This article from Living Green Magazine is encyclopedic in its scope and demonstrates that vegetarian ideals have influenced many of the great thinkers and writers including Pythagorus of ancient Greece, Leonardo da Vinci, Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Gandhi.
Even the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly, was vegetarian which inspired to her to make her monstrous creation a vegetarian as well, a very nice redeeming quality. All of us can be connected to the wonderful minds or our times and times past by delighting in the vegetarian and vegan life.
“...nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” - Albert Einstein
According to research by Mintel, more than one third of Americans use meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh, and faux meat products. Respondents indicated that the main reason is for the health benefits along with the taste of the products. Since only 7% of those in the market study identified themselves as vegetarian, it shows that meat alternatives are gaining popularity beyond just the meat-free consumer market.
Health perception plays a large role in use of meat alternatives. One-third of consumers indicate using alternative meat products because they are healthy, higher than any other reason measured in the report. What's more, more than half (51%) of users believe they are healthier than real meat. In addition, some 31% are trying to reduce their meat consumption and another 31% say they enjoy the taste of meat alternatives.
Another interesting find was the increase in product labeling as 'vegan', surpassing 'vegetarian' labeling since 2011, which means the market demand for vegan products is gaining traction!
According to the Associated Press and NY Daily News, two hospitals in NYC are offering prescriptions for fruits and vegetables instead of pills and medications. Termed "Health Bucks", the prescription is actually a voucher to be exchanged at local farmers markets for plant-based ingredients. Patients also get nutrition counseling.
This strategy is a very good way to encourage better eating habits leading to long term health and fewer hospital visits for its patients! So many chronic illnesses are related to diet that a prescription for more vegetables and fruit in one's diet makes sense and gives patients the opportunity to overcome illnesses naturally and for good while boosting sales for local farmers. Some day, it would be nice if all prescriptions were plant-based or vegan, but this is a fantastic start!
"Vegetarian athletes can meet their dietary needs from predominantly or exclusively plant-based sources when a variety of these foods are consumed daily and energy intake is adequate," Ghosh wrote in his presentation. Source
A common concern expressed by those considering a vegan / vegetarian diet is about the diet's ability to provide adequate nutrition. It's a good question to ask since dietary changes should be preceded by research. For those who are still weighing the trade-offs, this research presented at the Institute of Food Technologies annual expo suggests that even athletes can perform well on a vegan or vegetarian diet. In fact there are several high performance athletes that are currently vegan and achieving success.
It requires eating a wide range of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, but it's not hard to include all of these ingredients in daily meals. It's important to learn a few good recipes that combine nice flavor and an abundance of plant-based ingredients. If competitive athletes can operate at the extremes of human performance and be vegans, those of us who do not put great physical demands on our bodies should have no problems with the vegan lifestyle as well!
Shanghai, July 4 (CNA) When economic growth and environmental protection are in conflict, "we have to give up economic development because protection of the environment and sustainable development are more important than pursuing economic growth," Taipei Mayor Hau Lung- bin said Thursday. Source
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin speaking to a group of EMBA students in Shanghai advises the future business leaders of China that the cost to clean up the environment from manufacturing waste is much higher than the income earned from those industries. His message comes at a time when pollution in China's rivers and water tables along with smog in it's cities is generating outrage from concerned citizens.
The message of sustainable development is an important one as many developing nations along with developed ones seek ways to boost GDPs at the cost of the community. Nations which are looking to grow should focus on the long term and protect the natural resources that help sustain it's ecology. Finding industries other than animal agriculture, logging, and heavy, unregulated manufacturing is a reasonable way to plan for the best future possible!
A fun and entertaining read about journalist Matthew Nussbaum's first exposure to the plant-based lifestyle through his vegan girlfriend in Philadelphia! See the story.
It has been an adventure. The discovery of a previously invisible (to me) universe has opened my eyes to more than cuisine. What I had scoffed at as the territory of hippies and radicals has surprised me with its mainstream feel - not to mention its flavor. But our food choices, I've learned, involve more than taste. There is a strong ethical component to it that I cannot help but respect, even if that respect took some serious prompting.
Make Simple Vegan Meals