The Broiler: Your Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Appliance

by Michelle Rossi

Ahh, spring is in the air and grilling season is almost upon us. For those lucky enough to own or have access to a grill, grilling makes a homemade dinner seem so quick and easy! But what about those of us who don’t own a grill? And what about those chilly fall, winter, or spring months in Boston where all you want to do is stay inside and forget the crazy weather outside?

Enter: your broiler.

If you’re like most home cooks, you might only think of your broiler as a garlic bread-toaster, cheese-melter, or pizza-crisper. While you may have come across recipes that utilize the broiler as a cooking element, using this high-heat cooking style may seem intimidating. It’s okay, you’re not alone!

I consider myself an avid cook and baker, and I rarely use my broiler until recently. About a year ago, I stumbled upon a chicken recipe that required me to cook the chicken under the broiler and promised me grill-like results. Much to my surprise, my chicken cooked in less time than I thought possible. I was skeptical. I wanted to hate it so that I could prove that broiling was nothing like grilling. But I’ve fallen in love with my broiler, and now I just can’t stop.

For those of you without access to a grill, all you need for an almost-grill-worthy meal is a broiler pan.  You probably already have one, but its hiding in the forgotten drawer under your stove. Every oven comes one, yet no one seems to use it! If you don’t have a broiler pan, you can also use a rimmed baking sheet with oven-safe cookie racks, or purchase a new broiler pan here. Trust me, it is worth the investment.

Before we start, there are some things you should know about broiling:

  • Broiling uses the top heating element of your oven, cooking by radiation instead of convection (taking it back to high school physics here!). Broiling happens quickly—for any of you who have made garlic bread under the broiler, you know that it can go from delicately golden to incinerated in ten seconds. When broiling, it is a good idea to set your kitchen timer and stay in the kitchen!
  • Many oven broilers have a high and low setting—I almost always go with high. Don’t panic if yours only has one setting, just set it to broil and proceed.
  • There are debates on whether you should leave your oven cracked open when you broil. I usually do so that I can watch the broiling process (it happens fast). One source claims that electric ovens may need to be open slightly when broiling to avoid overheating; on the other hand, some gas models won’t operate with the door open. To further confuse things, The Kitchn recommends keeping the door open cracked to vent steam and to ensure cooking by radiation, not convection. Reading the comments on Food52 won’t help you much either, as it also offers varying answers. My opinion: consult your oven’s user manual if you have it. If you aren’t sure, leave the door open. If your broiler doesn’t turn on with the door open, try closing it. Whatever works!
  • Test to see how far your pan will be from the heating element before you turn on your oven. Put your cold (empty!) pan on your top rack and adjust the rack up or down until the cooking surface is 4-5 inches from the heating element (this is usually the top rack).
  • DO NOT use glass dishes under the broiler. Trust me on this one. Glass and rapid temperature changes do not mix.

Over the past few months, I have perfected a few recipes using my broiler pan.  Remember how I said the boiler cooks quickly? Well, I can have these recipes on the table in under 20 minutes. Happy broiling!

Grilled chicken broiler recipe

Photo: Author 

Almost-Grilled Chicken Thighs

This is one of my go-to recipes for a quick dinner with a vegetable, or as part of a fancy spread when friends come over. It can easily be scaled up, as the measurements do not have to be precise. Try experimenting with your own seasonings—I like adding smoked paprika, and a dash of cayenne for crispy chicken that is perfect for chopping up and putting on a pita with hummus and veggies.

Serves two for dinner, with lunch leftovers

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
  • 1 small (7oz) container full-fat plain Greek yogurt, about 1 cup (I like Fage)
  • 1 lemon, zest & juice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (more or less to taste)
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine yogurt, lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, and cumin. Season with salt, taste.
  2. Place your chicken in a large bowl or a ziplock bag and add the yogurt mix. Make sure the chicken is well coated. You can prepare the chicken up to 1 hour in advance (any longer will start to turn it mushy)
  3. Turn on your broiler to high (if there is a high/low option)
  4. Line the bottom drip-tray of your broiler pan with tinfoil for easy cleanup. Spray the slotted tray of your broiler pan with Pam or lightly coat with a high-heat oil of your choice
  5. Remove the chicken thighs from the yogurt mixture, letting excess drip off, while also keeping a good amount on the chicken (it acts as chicken “sunscreen”). Place them on your broiler pan in one layer, leaving some space in between pieces.
  6. Broil for 5-6 minutes, or until pieces of the yogurt start to char. Flip the chicken and continue broiling for another 6-7 minutes. Pay attention to which pieces are crisping quickest—you might need to rotate your pan or move the chicken pieces around a bit during the cooking process (just like grilling!)
  7. The chicken is done when it reaches 165­o on an instant-read thermometer, or you cut open the chicken and the juices run clear. Remember that chicken thigh is dark meat, and even when cooked may look slightly pinker than chicken breasts.

Serve over rice, or in a pita!

Not-Really-Fried Shrimp

This is a favorite meal from my childhood, that I recently re-discovered. Better yet—you don’t even need a broiler pan! Butterflying the shrimp can take a little bit of time, but this recipe can be made ahead up to 8 hours and kept in the refrigerator until it is cooked. I love making it for dinner guests because I can prepare it ahead of time and spend the majority of my party interacting with my guests!

Michele Evans Easy Seafood Recipes

Photo: Author

Adapted from “Michele Evans’ Easy Seafood Recipes”

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 ½ pound jumbo shell-off shrimp
  • 2/3 cup flour (plus a bit more, if needed)
  • 2 eggs, beaten (plus one more on hand, just in case)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (plus a bit more, if needed)
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Juice from 1 lemon

DIRECTIONS

  1. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan and add the garlic and lemon. Set aside.
  2. Butterfly the shrimp by carefully by cutting each shrimp down the back (outer curve) without going all the way through. (For a quick tutorial, check out this article)
  3. Set up a dipping station, with flour on your left, egg in the middle, breadcrumbs on your right.
  4. Dip each shrimp in the flour, the egg, then breadcrumbs, lightly shaking off the excess of each. Place each shrimp on a rimmed baking sheet. (The shrimp can be stored in the refrigerator at this point for up to 8 hours)
  5. Turn your broiler on high. Spoon the butter garlic mixture over the shrimp. Broil for 6-8 minutes, until the shrimp are brown and no longer transparent on the inside when cut open.
  6. Serve with cocktail sauce

 

Simple Broiled Fish

This is the simplest way I know how to prepare fish without giving my apartment a “stinky fish smell” because it cooks so quickly! Choose filets that are less than 1/2inch thick, and keep an eye on them as they cook. As with all broiling, it will go quickly!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 fillets of your favorite fish (I like Atlantic Char, Bluefish, or NY/PA Perch for their sustainability)
  • 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Your favorite spices

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare your broiler pan by lining the bottom tray with tinfoil, and lightly greasing the grated tray. Preheat your broiler
  2. Mix olive oil, garlic, lemon and spices together, and lightly coat each fillet in the oil mixture.
  3. Broil 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness until fish is flaky and cooked through.

 

Michelle Rossi is a second-year dual-degree NICBC-MPH student who spends most of her precious free time cooking elaborate meals for herself and friends. She is a collector of cookbooks, and especially enjoys reading and re-reading “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”, “The Smitten Kitchen”, the 1975 edition of “The Joy of Cooking”, and her 15-year collection of Cooks Illustrated Magazines. When Michelle’s not in the kitchen, you can find her teaching about the natural world at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, where she strives to find the connections between nature, nutrition and public health.

Cricket Pancakes (CrickCakes): A New Way to Eat Your Greens

by Jessica R. Manly

A growing movement of nutritionists, sustainability researchers, activists, and alternative foodies are calling edible insects the food group of the future. In America, one of the biggest hurdles remains how to get people to take a bite. These simple blender pancakes are an easy, delicious way to dip your toe into the radical world of entomophagy.

Before coming to the Friedman School, I taught nutrition, cooking, and gardening in several public elementary schools in northwest Montana. Many of the children I worked with were absolutely thrilled to try the kale, spinach, and carrots we grew together outside their classrooms. Others, no matter how many songs we sang, or smoothies we made, or stories we read about friendly vegetables, simply would not take a single bite.

What people choose to eat (and not to eat) is deeply personal, cultural, familial, and emotional. These daily choices are sometimes governed by necessity, ease, and are often immutable. When you really pause to try, it can be difficult to unravel the complicated web of nutritional knowledge, inherited tastes, cultural reinforcement, economic constraints, and effects of globalization that compose our plates. Why do you eat cows but not whales? Why kale now, but not ten years ago? Why lobsters, but not crickets? And what would it take for you to want to chew on an entirely new class of the animal kingdom?

Eating insects, or entomophagy, has many potential nutritional and sustainability benefits when compared to meat consumption. A two-tablespoon serving of ground cricket powder provides 55 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, less than one gram of carbohydrate, and a hefty dose of B vitamins (23% of the Daily Value B-2 and 17% of the Daily Value B-12). Reported sustainability benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions when compared to ruminants, pork, and poultry, low land and water requirements, high feed conversion efficiencies, organic by-product waste reduction, and potential utility as feed for livestock and in aquaculture. A 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessment of insect consumption and global food and feed security reports that nearly two billion people consume over 1,900 species of insects as part of traditional diets.

So why are crickets and mealworms still such a fringy snack choice in America? As a friend said recently: “eating bugs is just gross.” In fact, many of us (the author included) were reprimanded against doing so as children. Cultural barriers remain the largest hurdle for expanding insect consumption in America, in addition to lingering questions about scaling production, the environmental impacts of cricket feed, and concerns about access and affordability.

I buy my cricket protein online because it is still relatively hard to find on shelves in Boston. A friend of mine who works for a ubiquitous natural foods grocery store says they don’t stock insect protein because they don’t yet know how to apply their animal welfare ranking system—apparently they “don’t mess around with cricket welfare.”

Another common objection is to the pungent, nutty flavor pure cricket protein powder can have. As a result, most products sold in the West attempt to mask the taste, and any evidence of actual insects, in high-flavor, processed snack foods with questionable nutritional profiles and plenty of added fats and sugars. Though I don’t personally find the taste or smell of cricket powder offensive, I understand the reluctance to consume it straight-up, especially as a novice. As we work towards culturally normalizing insect consumption in the U.S., experimenting with variations on delicious, familiar, and nutrient-dense recipes will be key. I think these easy blender pancakes are a great place to start.

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes (Photo: Jessica Manly)

CrickCakes

Serves 1

Ingredients:

1 banana

1/4 cup raw rolled oats

2 eggs

2 tablespoons cricket protein powder

1/4 cup blueberries (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients except blueberries on high in blender until smooth (approximately 15 seconds).
  2. Heat a lightly oiled (butter, coconut oil, or vegetable oil of choice) griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  3. Add blueberries if using. Flip, brown on both sides, and serve hot as is, or with maple syrup or plain yogurt and additional cinnamon.

1/2 cup cooked sweet potato or winter squash can be substituted for the banana. If you want to get really fancy, add in a few pumpkin or chia seeds with the blueberries for extra protein.

Jessica Manly is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment MSc student at the Friedman School. When she is not researching food and agriculture systems with the potential to mitigate climate change, she is most likely running in the woods with her imaginary dog, or trying to get people to eat her unusual vegetable (or insect)-based recipes.

Gluten-Free or Not, You’ll Want To Try Sarah Lynn’s Desserts

by Nako Kobayashi

Gone are the days that having food restrictions means you have to resort to eating lesser versions of your favorite treats. Gluten-free dessert cookbook author Sarah Lynn develops dessert recipes that are both food restriction- friendly and delicious. The Sprout sat down with this Boston-based Instagram influencer to learn how she developed her successful food business.

Sarah Lynn Baketobefit donuts healthy dessert cookbook

Sarah Lynn, owner of BakeToBeFit, with her donuts from one of her healthy dessert eCookbooks (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

When someone asks what she does for a living, Sarah Lynn, a Boston-based food entrepreneur, never really knows what to say. “For most people, it’s a really short answer, but I don’t really know what I am.” That’s because Sarah singlehandedly develops and photographs recipes, writes cookbooks, maintains the blog, and runs the social media accounts for her healthy dessert cookbook company, BakeToBeFit. “I’m kind of an author, kind of an Instagram influencer, kind of a blogger, kind of a photographer,” she explains.

Sarah graduated from the University of Richmond in 2015 with a degree in Studio Art and a minor in Business. She never imagined that she would own her own gluten-free cookbook company. Having always loved cooking and baking, Sarah always dreamed about managing a food blog, but she had no idea where to start. After learning that many bloggers use Instagram to develop a following and gain exposure, she decided to start her own Instagram account during her senior year of college, with the handle @sarahlynnfitness. She began by posting daily meals, workouts, and the occasional recipe.

healthy gluten-free funfetti cake baketobefit

You don’t have to be gluten-free to want to eat this cake! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

The summer after graduating from college, Sarah was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Although she was relieved to find out why she had been feeling ill, she was also devastated that she would no longer be able to consume gluten – a key component of many of the things she loved to cook. Not wanting her diagnosis to keep her from pursuing her food dreams, Sarah started experimenting with gluten-free recipes. She found that the gluten-free versions of some of her favorite baked goods were also lower in calories and more nutritious than the traditional versions. This is due to the use of some ingredients such as oatmeal and coconut flour in the place of traditional white flour.

Baketobefit recipe healthy dessert

A re-post of a photo taken by someone who tried out a #baketobefit recipe
(Photo: Instagram @baketobefit)

Sarah’s Instagram followers loved the photos of her new gluten-free recipes. The most popular were the photos of gluten-free desserts. This led her to write the first of her four eCookbooks, available for purchase online, the Healthy Cake Cookbook. Initially, Sarah didn’t intend on making her cookbook a business. It was simply a way to put all the recipes in one place for her followers. The book quickly gained popularity, however, and she soon wrote her next book, the Healthy Cookie Cookbook. @baketobefit was born when Sarah decided she wanted a second Instagram account to share photos taken by people who had tried her recipes. Around this time, a reporter from Business Insider requested to make a video about her. The exposure she gained from this video allowed Sarah to start focusing on her food business as a full-time job.

healthy chocolate dessert baketobefit

Sarah’s Instagram account will leave you drooling (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Currently, @sarahlynnfitness has 148 thousand followers. Scrolling through the endless feed of desserts, it’s easy to see why. I personally can’t help but drool every time I visit Sarah’s Instagram page, and that is exactly what she says she wants. “I try to make [the desserts] look like the most indulgent things ever, but they are actually made with healthy ingredients [compared to the traditional versions].” Sarah boosts the nutrition profile of tasty desserts while also making them consumable for people with food restrictions. For Sarah, this kind of creative challenge is more fun than developing recipes for food that already looks nutritious.

Sarah is often inspired by photos of really decadent desserts. Other times, she tries to recreate “copycat” versions of her favorite childhood treats. A lot of experimentation is involved in getting the right taste and texture. “I do it by feeling, and what the dough looks like,” Sarah says. Keeping a notebook next to her while she experiments, she writes down what she added or tweaked to a recipe at each step. This way, when the dessert turns out the way she wants, she knows exactly how to recreate it.

healthy high-protein gluten-free donut

This fun donut has 8 grams of protein in it! (Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Not only are all of the recipes in Sarah’s BakeToBeFit eCookbooks gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and vegan-friendly, they are also packed with protein so they will keep you full for longer and can also be used as a post-workout snack. She accomplishes this by using ingredients like unsweetened apple sauce, gluten-free flour substitutes like oat and coconut flours, and her go-to protein powders (details in her FAQ page) which use minimal ingredients and are free of artificial sweeteners and flavors.

Most importantly, Sarah’s desserts taste amazing. “I feel like there are a lot of diets that are really strict, and they make you feel miserable. I don’t think that’s actually healthy. I think it’s great when you can incorporate food that is still pretty healthy but tastes really good and uses good ingredients.” More than the calorie or nutrient content of her recipes, Sarah is concerned with how her desserts make you feel. Sarah’s dessert recipes use healthier ingredients than their traditional counterparts and are relatively low in sugar so you can indulge in these desserts knowing that they will also help fuel your body.

healthy dessert chocolate instagram food porn

Sarah’s recipes always come with many substitution recommendations so anyone can try them!
(Photo: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Because Sarah has Celiac Disease, she is very considerate of the various food restrictions and preferences her audience might have. The FAQ page on her website thoroughly discusses the content of her recipes and her suggestions for substitutions so that anyone can feel comfortable purchasing her books. In addition, each of her eCookbooks has an “Ingredients and Substitutions” page where she details how the recipes can be adapted to meet individual needs.

While all of Sarah’s recipes are gluten-free, she emphasizes that she wants her recipes to be for everyone. She feels that a lot of people who are not gluten-free tend to avoid gluten-free products and recipes. “I used to be like that,” she explains, “if I saw gluten-free bread at the supermarket, I wouldn’t buy that. I would feel like I didn’t need to.” As someone who has no food restrictions, I can personally attest to the fact that you do not have to be gluten-free to want to devour one of Sarah’s desserts. One of the best brownies I have ever had, gluten-free or not, was one of Sarah’s.

healthy chocolate chip cookie dessert food porn

“These cookies are completely oil/butter-free, gluten-free, grain-free, vegan friendly, no sugar added, and super easy to make” (Photo and caption: Instagram @sarahlynnfitness)

Be sure to check out Sarah’s amazing desserts on her Instagram @sarahlynnfitness and the @baketobefit account. Be warned: soon you won’t be able to think about anything but her brownies, donuts, cookies, and cakes. If you find yourself drooling uncontrollably, visit her website baketobefit.com or youtube channel for access to her four eCookbooks as well as some free recipes!

Nako Kobayashi is a first-year AFE student who is always insatiably hungry. She would like to say that her favorite pastime is cooking but in reality, she spends much more time endlessly scrolling through photos of food on Instagram.

Food Label Fear Mongering and its “Toxic” Effects

by Megan Maisano

You know it’s hard out here for a processed food. These days, most consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s processed. While that may sound promising towards improving food choices and overall health, it also might be contributing to a culture of fear-mongering and food discrimination – none of which is helpful. This month, Megan Maisano investigates common marketing strategies employed by food manufacturers that result in unnecessary fear, doubt, and confusion in the minds of consumers.

Grocery supermarket

Source: pexels.com

Good news: over half of the U.S. population is paying attention to food labels. Bad news: it might be increasing consumer confusion and contributing to unintended health hysteria.

Whether it’s the latest Netflix documentary demonizing an entire food group, an Instagram feed promoting “clean” eating, or your mother’s cousin Carol pushing her latest detox agenda on Facebook, food fear mongering is real.

The problem is that many claims of “toxic” or “unclean” foods don’t come from health professionals or experts. On top of that, their messages are more accessible by the common consumer than, let’ say, the most recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I read Michael Pollen’s Food Rules a few years ago. I loved it. It was simple, easy to understand, and seemed logical. Nutrition science, however, is not simple, not easy to understand, and evolves with advancing evidence-based research… and nutrition research is hard.

While the desire for food transparency is warranted and can lead to healthier decision-making, the marketing response by the food industry has taken advantage of consumers’ unwarranted fears. Instead of highlighting what’s good in the food we eat, product labels emphasize what’s not in our food, and it’s contributing to the chaos.

I decided to explore the research and science behind common food label claims. The results: practices that range from reasonable transparency to questionable marketing tactics that make us say C’mon Man.

 

Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project, which started in two grocery stores in 2007, now has its iconic butterfly on more than 3,000 brands and 43,000 products. GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose DNA has been changed via genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The debate concerning GMO safety remains highly controversial. Without going into too much detail, cynics claim that GMOs have not been proven safe and that people have a right to know whether their food contains them. On the other side, folks like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claim GMOs have not been proven harmful to humans or the environment.

Regardless of the verdict, the Non-GMO butterfly is landing on more and more products that are naturally GMO-free, such as tomatoes, oranges, and milk. This trend leads to the misconception that tomatoes, oranges, and milk without said-butterfly DO have GMOs and are therefore less safe. This deceptive labeling practice not only hurts the consumer, but also competing brands and their farmers.

The Impact – a 2015 nonpartisan analysis reported that only 37 percent of those surveyed feel that GMOs are safe to eat and 57 percent considered them unsafe. Individuals with a higher education, on the other hand, were more likely to consider GMOs safe. Numerous studies also show that consumer knowledge of GMOs is low and that their information is mainly sourced by the media – insert cousin Carol’s shared Facebook article on GMOs’ toxic effects. The fear continues.

Paleonola grain free granola

Source: thrivemarket.com

Gluten Free and Grain Free

In his book Grain Brain, David Perlmutter writes, “Gluten sensitivity represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.” The well-known blogger, Wellness Mama, once wrote an article titled “How Grains are Killing You Slowly” (but has since changed the title). The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, list grains (specifically whole grains) as a part of a healthy eating pattern. How did this extreme divide on gluten and grains come about?

The 1990’s brought about increased awareness of celiac disease and the effectiveness of treatment following a gluten-free diet. This was a major win and relief for folks with gluten-related disorders. What followed was an increase in the amount of research on gluten and its potential effects on other chronic disorders – and that’s when hysteria hit. Books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, both which have been accused of literature cherry-picking and generalization, earned best-selling status and changed the way we looked at a baguette. This frenzy, combined with the highly popular low-carb Atkins Diet, created the recipe for a new villain – gluten and grains.

The food industry responded and so did the media. According to the research firm Packaged Facts, sales in gluten-free products came in around $973 million in 2014 and are expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019 – far exceeding what would be expected in marketing to the less than one percent of individuals with celiac disease. Oh, and these products are about 240% more expensive. Celebrity influences like Gwyneth Paltrow’s book and Miley Cyrus’ tweet, have made the gluten-free diet appear more mainstream, swaying consumer perception and decreasing the seriousness of disorders like celiac disease.

While research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (affecting about six percent of the U.S.) is still mixed, many studies suggest that gluten may not necessarily be the underlying problem and symptoms may even be psychological. In his book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz explains that the significant increase in negative responses to gluten may be due to a phenomenon called Mass Sociogenic Illness – where a physiological response is provoked by mass anxiety and negative expectations.

The Impact – a 2015 Hartman Group survey found that 35% of respondents adopted a gluten-free lifestyle for “no reason,” 26% followed it because they thought it was a “healthier option,” 19% followed it for “digestive health,” and only 8% followed it because of a “gluten sensitivity.”

There is a growing body of research that suggests there is no evidence to support gluten-free diets for the general population and that going gluten-free may even hinder health. Nevertheless, the damage may be done.

 

usda organic label

Source: usda.gov

Going Organic

The USDA Organic label identifies a product that meets federal guidelines for farming and processing. Guidelines include soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. As far as organic packaged foods, 95% of the product must be organic and free of artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.

The organic movement is a step in the right direction towards encouraging more responsible agricultural practices. However, the social impact of the organic label has created unwarranted confusion and fear in “chemically-ridden” conventional foods that aren’t free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The fear is hurting small farmers and our wallets.

A common source of organic fear-mongering comes from the infamous Dirty Dozen published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This list identifies twelve non-organic produce items that are reported to have the highest levels of pesticide residue. What the EWG fails to mention, however, is the type of pesticide and its relation to its chronic reference dose (i.e., safe maximum daily dose for life). A Journal of Toxicology study found that none of the dirty dozen products came even close to their reference dose and that EWG’s methodology lacked scientific credibility. While there is nothing wrong with being mindful of pesticide use, people should know organic farmers use pesticides too and their levels are not tested by the USDA.

From a nutrition perspective, research on organic food is mixed. Both organic and conventional practices offer nutritious produce with plenty of phytochemicals; however, organic produce may come out on top as far as levels of phosphorous, antioxidants and less pesticide residue.

From a health-outcome perspective however, there is no direct evidence that organic diets lead to improved health or lower the risk of disease and cancer. Pesticide residue risk, if a concern, can be reduced by simply washing fresh produce.

Lastly, organic farming, labeling, and products are expensive. If price is keeping consumers from purchasing organic produce and fear is keeping them from purchasing conventional produce, we have a problem.

In a country where less than twenty percent of adults eat their daily recommended fruits and vegetables, all produce should be promoted without adding unnecessary confusion or fear.

 

all natural health claim label

Source: topclassactions.com

“Natural” and “Free of …”

According to a 2014 global health survey, 43% of respondents rate “all-natural” foods very important in purchasing decisions. Therefore, having that green and neutral-colored label considerably influences consumer behavior. In regards to meat and poultry, the USDA defines “natural” as containing no artificial ingredients, added colors, and minimal processing. Unfortunately, there is no regulated definition of the use of “natural” for all other products – hence marketing exploitation and further confusion. Below are just a few assumptions that consumers make about natural products regarding what they’re free of, and whether or not that really matters:

Free of Preservatives: Preservatives in food help delay spoilage, improve quality, and decrease food waste. They decrease the risk of food-borne illness, lower oxidation in the body, and keep us from worrying about things like getting tuberculosis from our milk. Consumers often fear ingredients that have chemical-sounding names; however, lest we forget, we are made of chemical compounds!  Many preservatives are harmless and even nutritious like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), calcium propionate, niacin (vitamin B3), lysozyme, and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Some other preservatives, however, may have questionable effects on health when consumed in high doses, so more research is needed on their safety.

No Antibiotics Ever: This term’s tricky. For a long time, many farmers used antibiotics not just for the treatment of ill animals but also to facilitate growth. The FDA has since banned the use for growth and animal antibiotics sales have fallen considerably. However, sick animals do need treatment and not using antibiotics to treat them would be unethical and pose a risk to food safety. So, here’s the deal to understanding the label: Farm A has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken is therefore removed from the antibiotic-free group for sale (and who knows what that means). Farm B has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken then goes through a withdrawal period and is tested before it can be used for processing, often with the oversight of a licensed veterinarian. Only Farm A can have the “No Antibiotics Ever” label. Is Farm A healthier than Farm B? Probably not.

No Hormones Added: Fun fact: adding hormones or steroids to poultry and pork is illegal in the U.S. Just like tomatoes with a Non-GMO label, chicken and pork products with a “No Hormones Added” label are simply playing into consumer fears.

Free of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS):  Great! But keep in mind that sugar, molasses, agave nectar, cane juice, and honey are “natural” sources of added sugars too. HFCS is essentially a mix of fructose, glucose, and water. It varies from having either 42% fructose (often found in processed food) to 55% fructose (often found in soft drinks) – not too different from sugar with a 50:50 mix or your $10 organic agave nectar.

 

chicken breast no antibiotics non gmo organic

Source: target.com

Conclusion: Fear Mongering Isn’t Helping

When it comes to promoting healthy eating behaviors, fear tactics aren’t helping and may even be harmful. Unlike tobacco or drug use, two issues where fear campaigns were successfully used to impact behavior, we need to eat to live. Instilling unnecessary anxiety about foods that are not Non-GMO, gluten-free, certified organic, or “free from” whatever may keep us from consuming a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson from the anti-fat and anti-cholesterol era because we continue to look for something simple to blame for health problems, and the media and food industry continues to take advantage of that desire. Moderation just isn’t sexy.

Whether it’s the latest one-dimensional diet, a food blogger’s recent witch hunt, or a misleading food label in an earthy color tone, fear-induced messages are not helping. They are harming consumer knowledge, self-efficacy, health, and ultimate trust in food industry and nutrition science. It’s time to stop the food fear mongering and encourage the good in foods that will lead to our “natural” wellbeing.

 

Megan Maisano is a second year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. She has a Wheat Belly and a Grain Brain, but is doing okay. She’s got no beef with Non-GMO, Gluten-free, or Organic products, only their use in scare-tactics that aren’t based in science.

Nebraska to New York

by Molly Knudsen

Molly shares her journey of how she went from a kid watching the Today Show before school to ending up on the set in NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza ten years later.  Read on to see how TV, nutrition, and the Friedman School all played an integral role in a career-shaping experience for Molly.

Molly standing in front of one of Joy's healthy food swaps to be aired on the segment. Hoda is behind all the cameras in the background! (Photo provided by author.)

Molly standing in front of one of Joy’s healthy food swaps to be aired on the segment. Hoda is behind all the cameras in the background! (Photo provided by author.)

Every morning before school, I would enjoy breakfast at the kitchen counter while my mom watched the Today Show in the adjoining room.  In our neck of the woods, Omaha, Nebraska to be precise, this was my household’s primary outlet into what was happing in our country and the rest of the world.  The background noise from the television did little to perk my interest away from my hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs.  However, one regular guest on the show always seemed to catch my attention ­­­­— Joy Bauer.

Joy is the health and nutrition expert on the Today Show, and is the author of 12 New York Times best sellers.  Joy was one of my first introductions to the field of nutrition and dietetics.  I specifically remember her segments comparing the nutrient and calorie content of different meal choices at fast food restaurants.  I recall how 12-year-old Molly was astonished by how a salad could contain more calories than a hamburger at certain fast food outlets.  Joy was so knowledgeable, engaging, and realistic on the nutrition segments, and watching her on the Today Show with my mom helped light the path for my future career.

Fast-forward about ten years from Omaha, and I am now a newly credentialed dietitian who recently moved to Boston to begin graduate work at the Friedman School.  After the first two days of fall orientation and before I moved into an apartment, I received the first Friedman Weekly Digest email while I was sitting in a hotel room with my mom.  While scrolling through the list of opportunities available to students, I stopped and gasped.  Joy Bauer Ventures had a part-time internship position available.  I was sure as heck not going to let this experience pass me by.  After a two-week application process, I somehow managed to secure the position.  Not only was this a great introduction to nutrition communications, but I was also about to have the opportunity to work for the woman who introduced me to this field.  I was on cloud nine, as was my mom.

Joy Bauer Ventures takes several rounds of interns each year and often looks to the Friedman School to find qualified applications for her internship positions.

We love our interns and appreciate their hard work! Every day is an adventure in my world, and our crackerjack interns (aka future health leaders!) are thrown into all sorts of exciting projects for TV, radio, publications and digital. It’s amazing to see the new skills they acquire in such a short amount of time!”

-Joy Bauer

Without that connection between Joy Bauer Ventures and the Friedman School, I would have never learned about this internship opportunity.

Joy has a team of two full-time employees, who were my main contacts for the internship: Rebecca, a Friedman Nutrition Communications alumna, and Donna, an editor.  The internship was remote, so I was primarily in touch with them via e-mail or an occasional phone call.  Since Joy Bauer Ventures is such a small operation, I was really able to get my hands dirty with a variety of tasks!

Joy has very active Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, and she publishes content almost daily, if not more, on each platform.  So, each week, I submitted suggestions for potential social media posts. This required not only keeping constant tabs on all three outlets, but also reviewing her past posts to understand who her audience was and what voice and tone with which she used to communicate.  Fun fact: I actually created a Twitter account during this internship for the sole purpose of following Joy!  It was always exciting to see a post suggestion end up on one of her pages and be noticed by thousands, or more, of her followers.

Joy’s motto is “Life is hard, food should be easy.”  In order to make that motto actionable for her audience, brainstorming and drafting healthy recipes was almost a weekly part of this internship.  Creativity was key for this! Patience was also important, especially in one instance when the recipe I was testing called for a guava, and I had to go to four different grocery stores to find one. Pro tip: avoid seeking guavas in Boston in November.

Before Thanksgiving, Joy Bauer and personal trainer, Will Weber, teamed up to create a six-week Trim Before Turkey challenge for three women on the Today Show.  Joy created a meal plan outline for the women to follow, and I was able to work individually with one of them on her weight loss journey.  Weight loss is no easy task, but the ladies were successful in achieving their lifestyle change goals, while becoming more confident in themselves and their capabilities.  All three ladies had amazing transformations.  Click here to learn more about Trim Before Turkey.

Molly and Joy in front of the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza after the filming of Joy's segment. (Photo provided by author.)

Molly and Joy in front of the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza after the filming of Joy’s segment. (Photo provided by author.)

Remote internships can be a great experience, especially when confined to one city during the school year (I’m talking about you, Boston).  But, there was one day when I was able to actually be on location.  In January, Joy and her team were kind enough to invite and host me for a filming of a segment for the Today Show.  Of course, I jumped at this opportunity!  I was able to meet Joy and Rebecca at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Plaza, see her prepare for the segment, and then watch the segment live in person.  Being present in the studio was a surreal experience with the lights, the cameras, and the crowd outside!  Being able to meet the people I worked with all semester was such a treat, and seeing Joy do her thing live in New York City was an experience I will forever be grateful for.   This was a day that the 12-year-old Molly could never have imagined happening.  But now, I have the experience, memories and photos to prove it!

Molly Knudsen, RDN is a first year Nutrition Interventions Communication and Behavior Change student.  She is an avid viewer of Today Show viewer, who tried not to fan-girl too hard when she saw Hoda, a co-anchor of the show, on set.  She was only slightly overwhelmed when visiting NYC, but enjoyed the 20 hours she was able to spend there.

What is the SirtFood Diet?

by Erin Child

The Sirtfood Diet is popular in the United Kingdom, but hasn’t caught on in the United States (yet). The diet claims to activate sirtuins, so called “skinny genes,” that work in the body to reverse the effects of aging and help the dieter lose weight. To activate sirtuins, the dieter builds their meals out of “sirtfoods,” including red wine and dark chocolate, hence the diet’s popularity. Although the diet isn’t popular on this side of the pond, NICBC student Erin Child has decided to learn more about the diet (and its founders and followers), just in case we, as nutrition professionals, start getting questions.   

The Sirtfood Diet first came to my attention at a Sprout pitch meeting last semester. “Has anyone heard of the Sirtfood Diet?” someone asked. The room answered with a resounding, “No.” The idea of exploring a new diet that none of us at Friedman had heard of piqued my interest, and finally, a semester later, I started googling. As I researched, the main questions that I wanted answered were: Who started the diet? Who follows it? What is a sirtfood? What is the guiding science behind the diet? What does the diet entail? Here’s what I found.

The People behind the Sirtfood Diet

A few years ago, The Sirtfood Diet was popularized in the United Kingdom by Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten. Both men have their MS in Nutrition Medicine, and both seem to be health influencers with some celebrity status. Per their Instagram, Goggins is an athletic trainer, and Matten works with celebrities and makes media appearances. (Not being familiar with how famous they might be, I will not draw any comparisons with any infamous health celebrities in the United States.) In early 2017, Goggins and Matten published The Sirtfood Diet, an international bestseller, and based on the book’s cover, following the diet allows you to “eat your way to rapid weight loss and a longer life by triggering the magical powers of the Sirtfood Diet.” Magic, really?

Who follows the Sirtfood Diet?

The Sirtfood Diet rose in popularity after both Adele and Pippa Middleton (sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) endorsed the diet for their own weight loss. In early 2017 alongside the publication of the book, the Sirtfood Diet saw a lot of publicity across magazines, TV shows, and social media. Despite the coverage, the diet hasn’t captured a large audience in the States. The official @thesirtfooddiet Instagram has almost 14,000 followers, but most posts get only a couple of hundred likes. (Nonetheless, the diet is apparently becoming very popular in Italy.) It’s unclear why the Sirtfood Diet is not that popular here, but perhaps we will see an uptick in the coming months or year(s).

How does this diet work, and what on earth is a Sirtfood?

Sirtfoods are foods that are high in resveratrol and polyphenols, plant-based chemicals that are supposed to “switch on” sirtuin proteins in the body. According to The Sirtfood Diet, eating a diet high in sirtfoods is supposed to create a physiological reaction similar to fasting, in which the body will start to breakdown fat stores for fuel. The book states that sirtuins “are master metabolic regulators that control our ability to burn fat and stay healthy.” If the dieter follows a diet high in sirtfoods, they will activate the sirtuins and lose weight, and possibly live longer. Based on statements from the BBC and Good Housekeeping, the most common sirtfoods in the diet are red wine, dark chocolate (85% or more), kale, arugula, parsley, blueberries, citrus, apples, buckwheat, capers, olive oil, turmeric, and green tea.

It’s unclear from my research if the dieter can only eat sirtfoods or just eat a diet high in sirtfoods. The difference between these options would be a very restrictive diet versus a diet high in plant-based foods, which could be a positive thing. However, and this is a big however, the diet begins with caloric restriction: In the first three days the dieter consumes only 1000 calories per day, largely consisting of the sirtfood “green juice,” made up of apples, celery, kale, arugula, ginger, parsley, lemon, and matcha (green tea powder). Then the dieter can eat up to 1500 calories per day for the next four days. The extra 500 calories may seem better, but a 1500 calorie diet is still insufficient for most active adults. The diet plan claims that users can lose up to seven pounds in seven days. After that, the dieter follows a “maintenance phase” for two weeks, but it’s unclear what caloric parameters are required. Looking at the meals suggested for the diet, some sound quite delicious: “Asian shrimp stir-fry with buckwheat noodles” and “Miso-marinated baked cod with stir-fry greens and sesame.” Ideally, after this introductory period, the dieter will continue to follow a diet rich in sirtfoods to continue weight loss and live a long and healthy life. Because that’s how all diets work, right?

The Science behind Sirtuins

After reading about the supposed way that the diet works, I wanted to learn more about the actual science behind sirtuins. Sirtuins (SIR1-SIR7) are a class of enzymatic proteins that are thought to be involved in immunity, metabolism and longevity. To call them “skinny-genes” is misleading and fails to capture our evolving understanding of their role in the body. From animal studies, a 2010 paper found that SIRT1 is involved with the physiologic response to diet restriction. A more recent 2017 research paper, published in Biogerontology, indicated that there was some research supporting the connection between sirtuins and longevity, but the research was conducted in yeast and animal models. This paper specifically considered circumin, present in turmeric, as a possible activator of sirtuins, but the connection was still unclear. This same 2017 paper also stated that the “search for an activator of sirtuins is one of the most extensive and robust topic [sic] of research.” This statement clearly outlines what is most often the case in “science-backed” diets. There is research out there, but it is still on-going and not conclusive enough to point to one diet being the be-all/end-all solution for weight loss and longevity. In my research, I did not find any studies that clearly linked specific foods to upregulating sirtuins in the body.

The Takeaway

From the information available on the Sirtfood Diet, it comes across as the Mediterranean diet on steroids. In my book, any diet that focuses on restriction instead of moderation is cause for concern. If someone in your life expresses interest in the Sirtfood Diet, encourage their interest in a more plant-based diet by steering them towards the Mediterranean diet or the “everything in moderation” approach. As nutrition students, it’s important to be up on the current diet trends so we can pull what elements are positive from the diet (if any) and keep the conversation going. Knowing more about what diets are trending allows us to do more.  For now, I am still relieved that the Sirtfood Diet has not become popular in the United States, and hope it stays that way.

Erin Child is a second-semester NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program and the social media editor for The Sprout. Erin is fascinated by the science (or lack thereof) behind fad diets, so if there’s a new trendy diet you want to learn more about—let her know. In the meantime, she will be coordinating logistics for the Student Research Conference. She looks forward to seeing you there on April 7!

To Meat, or Not to Meat? (Is That Really the Question?)

by Kathleen Nay

After eight years of keeping a vegetarian diet, I’m compelled to ask myself: why am I still a vegetarian? And more intriguingly, why are my former-vegan and -vegetarian friends not?

Photo: Pexels.com

Photo: Pexels.com

Eight years ago, transitioning to a vegetarian diet was my New Year’s resolution. I’d just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals about the dark side of animal agriculture, and I’d been with my partner—a lifelong vegetarian—for three years. At that point making the swap seemed inevitable, and I’ve pretty much been vegetarian ever since.

It wasn’t a difficult transition. My dad had become vegetarian when I was a pre-teen, and we never had much meat in the house to begin with. Meat was a “special occasion” food, or something I’d order at a restaurant, but rarely prepared at home. For me, the choice was convenient and socially acceptable. I felt convinced that a vegetarian diet was best for the planet, and it neatly sidestepped the complex feelings I had around causing harm to sentient animals and the workers who kill and process them.

But I’ve never lost that particular craving for meat that substitutes just don’t quite satisfy. Some people seem to get over this; my dad, for example, always said that he eventually stopped craving it, and no longer enjoys the taste or texture. Not so for me. If we’re operating on strict definitions of vegetarianism, then I’m technically not one—I sample a bit of turkey at the requisite holiday gatherings, and occasionally give in to a craving for a roast beef sandwich when I need a quick lunch away from home. I try not to hold myself to such high definitional standards, however, and usually identify as a plant-based eater. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve fleetingly thought about abandoning my vegetarianism, though I know that if I were to return to eating meat, I would struggle with the dissonance between my values—the social and environmental benefits of a low-impact diet—and my tastes.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first to experience such turmoil over my diet. I know several individuals who just couldn’t make a plant-based diet stick, and Internet listicles abound with people sharing how they lost their “veginity.” Reportedly, even celebrities once famed for being vegan—Bill Clinton, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, and others—have ended their exclusive plant-food affairs.

So I got curious. Why do so many people, once persuaded to give up meat, transition back to it? How do those reasons compare with their motivations for avoiding animal products in the first place? Do they experience guilt or social pressures around their dietary choices, and why?

Much research has been done on factors that predict the likelihood of someone converting to a vegan or vegetarian diet. For example, being female, having greater educational achievement, and higher IQ scores in childhood have each been linked with greater likelihood of becoming vegan or vegetarian as an adult. Some research has linked feminism with vegetarianism. Other work has demonstrated that people who are oriented toward social dominance—that is, those who believe that hierarchical systems should be maintained, a personality trait that predicts social and political attitudes—are actually less likely to become vegan or vegetarian, and are also likely to view vegetarianism as a social threat.

However, the research into factors predicting lapses from vegetarianism is scant, though there are some studies beginning to appear in the literature. One very recent study by Hodson and Earle (2017) looked at whether ideology plays a role in returning to meat consumption. They found that political conservatism tends to predict lapses from vegetarian/vegan diets, particularly among eaters for whom reasons of justice (animal welfare, environmental concerns) are weakest, and for those who do not have strong social support for their dietary choices.

I wondered what I would find if I surveyed my networks. I created a survey of 25 questions for former vegetarians and vegans about why they went vegetarian in the first place; how long they adhered to a vegetarian diet; and what caused them to revert back to eating animal products. In comparison to Hodson and Earle’s work, my investigation is perhaps less academically rigorous and more qualitative in nature, but still valuable for understanding former vegetarians’ dietary motivations.

Through conversations around Friedman I’ve gathered that there are a fair number of us who once identified as vegetarian and no longer do. But I didn’t limit my query to Friedman students or alumni. A large number of people in my life are or once were vegetarian for religious purposes. Having been raised Seventh-Day Adventist, a Protestant Christian denomination whose adherents are well known for abstaining from meat, alcohol and cigarettes, it was once more common for me to meet lifelong vegetarians than to meet someone who regularly consumed meat. As I’m still well connected with this community, my survey skewed slightly toward former vegetarians who were raised with dietary restrictions and/or people who adhered to a vegetarian diet because of religious affiliation.

About 200 former vegetarians and vegans responded to my survey. Most respondents—around 77%—were female, while 18% and 4% identified as male and nonbinary, respectively (this is in keeping with considerable research finding that women are more likely to adhere to a vegetarian diet than men). Respondents’ ages ranged from 20 to 63 years, with the median age being 33. People reported having followed a vegetarian diet for an average of 9.2 years, though actual duration ranged widely, from 6 months to 39 years. Overwhelmingly (85%) respondents specified that they had followed a vegetarian diet, as opposed to being vegan, pescatarian, or fluctuating between the three. (For simplicity, I use the word vegetarian in the rest of this article to encompass all of these terms together.)

Age at conversion to vegetarian/vegan diet

Age at conversion to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Age at conversion back to meat-inclusive diet.

Age at conversion back to meat-inclusive diet.

The largest groups of respondents said they became vegetarian during their teens (45%) and twenties (25%). Respondents also reported transitioning back to eating meat during their twenties (56%) and thirties (22%), potentially suggesting that your parents were right—going vegan in your teens was just a phase. This tracks with ongoing research into the development of the adolescent brain. In a recent episode of the podcast The Gist, journalist Dina Temple-Raston explains that the insular cortex, the area of our brains responsible for causing us to feel empathy, is on hyper alert during adolescence. In her interview with host Mike Pesca, she surmises that “this may explain why you want to save the mountain gorillas when you’re 16, or why you become a vegan.” (Catch Temple-Raston’s Gist interview here.)

Indeed, the most salient reason people gave for rejecting meat in the first place was out of concern for “animal welfare” (20% of received responses). The other most common motivators cited were “health” (17%) and “environment” (16%). That last one especially resonates with me; the enormous environmental footprint of animal agriculture compared to crops is what finally convinced me to give up meat.

But then we get to the crux of my question: what was it that ultimately persuaded my respondents to resume eating animals? Here’s where the data started to get interesting.

The top three reasons respondents provided for why they returned to consuming animal products were “personal taste preferences” (21%), “health” (20%), and “convenience” (16%). Interestingly, health was a significant motivator for transition both toward and away from vegetarianism.

Motivations for converting to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Motivations for converting to vegetarian/vegan diet.

Motivations for converting back to meat-inclusive diet.

Motivations for converting back to meat-inclusive diet.

That health showed up as a primary motivator in both places was really curious to me. I wanted to dig in there, so I filtered out all the responses from individuals who said that health motivated them to both adopt a vegetarian diet and to abandon it. Samples of their comments are reproduced in the tables at right.

Pro-vegetarian/vegan health motivators.


*A common response I received was that a vegan/vegetarian diet was used to hide or aid an eating disorder. In the words of one respondent: “I said I loved animals too much to eat them but I was also really excited about the opportunity to be able to decline to eat in front of other people with a legit excuse.” Fortunately, this respondent later said that they got therapy and learned coping mechanisms as they gradually reintroduced meat to their diet. However, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the sudden elimination of entire food groups or adoption of dogmatic dietary practices can be red flags for disordered eating. For a brief exploration of this darker side of vegetarianism, read this Psychology Today article by Hal Herzog, Ph.D.

Pro-meat health motivators.

Above: pro-vegetarian/vegan health motivators vs. pro-meat health motivators.

Other questions that yielded interesting results were about convenience and perceived social/cultural pressures to eat meat. Aside from health concerns, frequently given reasons for reverting to omnivore diets included living or traveling abroad (also “living in the South” and living among First Nations peoples in northern British Columbia); not having the time or patience to prepare vegetarian meals; lack of available options on college campuses or at restaurants; causing conflict with loved ones (family members, partners); not wanting to inconvenience hosts or seem rude/ungrateful; unwillingness to “be constantly reading labels, turning down meal invites from friends”; the financial cost of keeping a vegetarian diet; employment (“I now work in a job where we encourage row crop producers to integrate livestock to regenerate soil health…” “I work in a restaurant”); and peer pressure (“Many of my friends ate meat,” “It was culturally weird among my friends… to not eat meat,” “social pressure around parenting”).

Finally, I asked respondents about whether they felt any guilt around eating animal products since resuming the inclusion of meat in their diets. Responses were about evenly split (48% Yes; 52% No). As expected, the majority of people mentioned feeling guilt over concerns about animal cruelty and environmental impact. Other common reasons included embarrassment for not sticking with what they felt was a positive lifestyle choice, unawareness of the meat’s origins, and contradicting their cultural upbringing or religious beliefs about the uncleanliness of certain meats. When asked how they alleviated their guilt or dealt with cognitive dissonance around choices to eat meat, most respondents said that they try to minimize or moderate their meat intake; attempt to source meat locally/ethically; look for alternate ways to reduce their carbon footprint; acknowledge the animal’s life; rationalize that meat is a necessary inclusion for their personal health; try not to think about it; or simply accept their guilt.

 

Having grown up a mostly-vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventist, and having later developed a more personal, moralized dietary identity, has caused me to reflect on my own cognitive dissonance when I sneak a turkey sandwich. What does my dietary identity even mean? Upon reflection, it actually means quite little in my case; as I admitted earlier, my interpretation of a vegetarian diet is increasingly more relaxed than the term might imply to others. But the distinction between calling myself plant-based as opposed to strictly vegetarian is relatively small—a difference of one or two meals per month, at most. Somehow, to say my diet is “plant-based” makes me feel as though I can hold on to my social/environmental values while giving myself wiggle-room to accommodate the irresistible pull of sensory memory and cultural pressure—in case I get caught with said turkey sandwich.

We adhere to dietary labels and self-imposed restrictions in order to project something about our selves and our values to the world. And yet, some 84% of vegetarians and vegans eventually return to eating meat. If my survey shows me anything, it’s that people’s reasons are vast, varied… and not altogether unreasonable. Now that we’re already a month into our 2018 New Year’s resolutions, I say it’s time to adopt another goal: to start being a little more forgiving of other people’s dietary choices—and our own.

Kathleen Nay is a third-year AFE/UEP dual degree student and co-editor of The Friedman Sprout. For being a vegetarian, she spends an unreasonable amount of time thinking about meat.