I once took a date to a vegan restaurant, and I was really, really confused. I had never been to a vegan restaurant before, and didn’t know what to expect. Will the menu be all kale chips? What the hell do you eat if you don’t have a pan-seared sirloin for dinner? Come on, the veggies are the accessories!
I ate my meatless sandwich, then picked up a bag of beef jerky on the way home. What a shmuck, right? In hindsight, I was so wrong. The menu was diverse and had plentiful options. The bounty of the earth was prepared in a way that made each meal unique and enticing, able to stand on it’s own without my normal main course. That is, without animal products.
You see, the definition of vegan is pretty simple. Vegan means without animal products. That’s it. Simple, right? No animals.
Vegan is not a synonym for healthy. Vegan does not mean “better for you.” Vegan does not mean, “You have free-reign to eat like an asshole simply because something is labeled vegan.”
Case in point, yesterday I ate a vegan cookie. It was “The Complete Cookie,” from Lenny & Larry. The deli near MFF just got few samples, and a friend asked me to try one. I was visiting the deli for a green smoothie, and these cookies were sitting across from the smoothie bar, near the register. This is an important detail in the story. Conscious of my decision to grab a cookie, I paid for my animal-free food and was on my way
When I got back to MFF, I drank my green smoothie, then turned my focus to the cookie. It was substantial, larger than most cookies, with an impressive heft. This was going to be a good cookie, I was sure of it. I opened my cookie, and bit into it. It was as tasty as a butter and egg free cookie can be.
And then I read the label.
The front of the package let you know there were 16 grams of protein per cookie and that it was a “good source of fiber.” My spidey sense of skepticism was tingling, but I’m eating this in the name of science.
Reading the label changed how that cookie tasted. This is an entirely psychological effect, but it was a potent one. This vegan, good source of protein, good source of fiber cookie, this delicious tasting treat, is absolute bullshit.
Do you know what’s a good source of protein? Beans, nuts, or animals if you’re into that thing. Ya know what’s a good source of fiber? Eating your damn vegetables.
Ya know what’s marketed to consumers under the guise of healthy or good for you? This bullshit vegan cookie. Even Ted Cruz thinks it’s sketchy.
I don’t want to anyone to be confused; I have no beefs with someone following a vegan diet. (Pun intended.) When a diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, we are fueling ourselves with greater nutrient densities than the packaged, processed frankenfoods on our shelves, vegan or not.
Vegan means without animal products.
Vegan does not mean healthy.
There’s a difference between finding an appropriate balance of being an omnivore, and eating organic, gluten-free, organic pseudo-Toaster Strudel and getting hung up on the V word. That difference is in eating more Eating more plants, regardless of your other dietary preferences, is going to benefit your health, well-being, and longevity. Starting with vegetables gives us more nutritional quality than anything we can bake and bag up, vegan or otherwise. A cookie is never going to be a good source of protein or fiber, when we compare it to the real deal.
Why do I think this matters enough to write about? It’s because those cookies were sitting right across from the smoothie bar. Their placement is optimized to catch your attention, and the labeling is designed to keep it. “Oh, what’s this, I can eat a cookie that’s got protein and fiber?” Neat!
You sure can sucker, all 400 calories of it, including 14 grams of fat. It says it’s two servings, but who really does that? The number one ingredient is enriched flour, but don’t worry, it’ 100% vegan enriched floor. Does that still sound like it’s going to help you nail your health and hotness goals? Didn’t think so.
For each time we actively think this through, there are many more times when the marketing and product placement get the best of us. In those moments “vegan” is read as “healthy,” and we’re on our merry cookie-consuming way none the wiser to how this labeling might actually be hindering our progress.
Let’s take a step back and consider a bigger picture. I hope that regardless of other dietary preferences, we can focus on eating as diverse a menu of plant products as possible. Perhaps the vegan label is a one that you’ve found useful to use when deciding what to eat. That is totally cool, but let’s not kid ourselves about the health benefits of processed, packaged, shelf stabilized foods. We’re way better than vegan cookies.