Good vs. Healthy vs. Tasty

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Leslie Berliant

Leslie Berliant › Leslie Berliant is the owner of Le Marais Chocolat, a chocolate company using locally sourced, organic ...

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Let's Talk About Food

I live in Southern California, the People’s Republic of Santa Monica to be exact, so I guess I should not be surprised by some of the questions I get about my chocolate truffles. On occasion, people will ask what kind of chocolate I use and I get excited because I know when I tell them it’s Fair Trade organic chocolate, it will mean something to them. More frequently I get the following questions: “Is it gluten-free?," “Is it vegan?," “What sweetener do you use?," or “Is it raw?” And too frequently, I hear one of the following very southern California declarative statements: “I don’t DO sugar!," “I don’t DO dairy!," or “I’m in the middle of a cleanse!!”

Yes, we are starting to pay attention again to food sources and impact, but the trend toward gluten-free, raw, or vegan food is making this foodie crazy. Understand, this is coming from someone who was experimenting with vegan and raw before it was trendy and has to stay gluten-free because of lupus – but, at the end of the day, I want my food to taste good. It’s why I choose not to eat bread rather than eat the sponge that passes for gluten-free bread. It’s why frugal, waste-avoiding me tossed the  two bags of organic raw kale chips someone gave me – one creamsicle flavored,  the other chocolate (I'm not kidding) – because they were among the more disgusting things I have ever tasted in my life. I didn’t even compost them, I was afraid the worms would revolt. And the chips command close to $10 a bag at the store! I don’t get it.

Food trends can be life-changing. Local, organic, raw, vegan, Fair Trade, the movement away from packaged and processed foods… all of these have health, environmental and, often, taste benefits. I myself have been through many food evolutions. I was a committed pescetarian for 14 years during which I discovered the incredible foods of the Greens Cookbooks, Alice Waters, Moosewood and so much more. I loved eating that way until I had trouble getting pregnant. I ended 14 years with a piece of brisket and I won’t lie, it tasted great. It also did the trick (along with a couple of steak dinners).

I did a stint as a vegan more recently and have even tried several month-long raw diets, as well as ayurvedic cleanses. Sometimes the foods were delicious, and sometimes they were merely nutritious. That’s okay. What drives me crazy is that with food trends and fads, people sometimes don’t know the difference until the trend passes. It’s like fad dieters. The same person that ate Grapenuts and whole wheat bread in the 70’s, grapefruits in the 80’s, low fat processed food in the 90’s, all protein in the ‘00’s, is now gluten-free and vegan. Maybe it works for them, maybe it doesn’t, but beware, trends can sometimes supersede taste and health. And just because something is vegetarian or vegan does not mean that it’s not heavily processed.

In my own life, restriction no longer works. I’m a flexetarian now, eating low on the food chain most of the time but allowing myself the flexibility to try the local specialty of wild boar in Italy or goat cheese in France. Even closer to home, if I’m craving meat, I might buy some grass-fed beef short ribs or a chicken at my local farmer’s market. As someone recently said at the Sustainable Food Summit, it’s not about judging which protein is best, it’s about knowing where your protein comes from and it’s impact in order to make a choice.

Similarly, it’s about knowing the health repercussions of a particular diet and how YOUR body and taste buds react to it. If you’re prone to depression, a high-protein low-carb diet can send you into an emotional tail spin, for example (the reason people crave carbs when they’re down is that carbs stimulate serotonin in the brain which gives you an emotional lift). Nothing but fiber all the time can lead to intestinal blockage for some. I have a friend that did a raw cleanse and ended up with a parasite that took months to remedy! All that packaged vegan food? What do you think makes something that isn’t cheese taste like cheese? It could well be processing and the liberal use of sodium and “natural” flavors that came right out of a chemistry lab.

So if you need to be gluten-free or choose to be raw or have made a decision not to eat sugar, go for it. Let’s even talk about it. But please do this foodie a favor, don’t mistake raw for unprocessed, or vegan for nutritious. And please, stop announcing that you don’t DO a certain food group. You don’t eat it – for now.

THE WRITER: Leslie Berliant is the owner of Le Marais Chocolat, a chocolate company using locally sourced, organic and Fair Trade ingredients. She a writer covering environment, sustainability and food, has a marketing and PR firm specializing in cause marketing and is co-founder of BLU MOON Foundation’s Haiti Orphanage Adoption Program.

What kinds of success and failure have you experienced in attempting new eating habits?