This article I read last week made me think. In short, it says that if you claim a recipe is vegan or vegetarian in the menu or on the packaging, you are less likely to sell it than if you had omitted those two words. Same thing if you say it is healthy. Why? Mostly because they are perceived as a loss. A loss in taste, in this case, and consequently in the enjoyment of the meal.
Have you heard of the concept of hedonic hunger? Again, in short, it describes a physiological response that makes us eat according to taste anticipation and pleasure rather than as a reaction to a real need for an energy refill. We probably developed this response in times when food was scarce and we did not know when our next meal would be available to us.
If you are reading this post, however, you are probably living in a community that is wealthy enough to be able to provide food every day for its population.
So why are we all still under the spell of hedonic hunger? Because we are feeding it.
In order to sell more food, we are getting very good at making it highly palatable. When I say “we”, I mean all of us, from the biggest junk food producers all the way down to – to some extent, myself when I try to create recipes that you and my dear ones will love. How do we do it? We mix salt, fats and sugars in a way that makes food pleasant enough to lit up the reward system (the pleasure area) in our brain and give us bliss and a desire to want to repeat the experience.
The difference between me and the big food industry is that I go after taste and nutrients trying to manipulate the ingredients the least possible, and I don’t use sugar; processed food, instead, is not made to nurture us. It is designed in labs with formulas and charts to make us crave more, to make us feel hungry when our body really is not.
Food is a HUGE thing.
It defines us and our cultures. Food is a way to socialize and communicate. I am not here to say we should all eat carrot sticks and plain grains and be in good health but sad. What I really wish for is that we could find excitement around a plant-based meal in the same way we do around non-plant-based meals. Gratification of the senses ideally achieved with ingredients that have not been processed.
When I started teaching and promoting raw food classes back in 2013, I tried to avoid the word vegan too because I could feel it was discouraging people. Since then, I have witnessed an incredible surge in all things vegan and I felt confident in starting to use the word again. But, in light of the article I have mentioned above, I wonder: “is it still too soon?”. Apparently yes. Shall I stop using it then, for the sake of my personal gain?.
No. I will keep using the word vegan and I will keep associating it with beauty, taste, benefits. And freedom. In Sugarlibre, we claim we want to free ourselves from a food obsession and you may think it is just about sugar.
Indeed sugar plays a big part in the game but it’s not the only one to blame. It is a complex network of false needs and cravings, of hunger that is hedonic and deadlines we need to meet.
In Sugarlibre we encourage the tribe to take a few steps back from the food and a few steps forward toward the person. This is achieved through exiting our comfort zones, dropping old impairing habits, installing new ones, and through learning to use natural unprocessed plant-based ingredients. Do they have to be vegan at all costs? Not necessarily. But they have to be authentic.
Yes, they might be perceived as a “loss” at the start, especially because we do not use sugar, but in the long-run, they will help us re-train our tastebuds to detect the original taste of food. The article says meat is tasty. The way I see it, it is as tasty as raw potato if I don’t cook it or dress it up with a little oil or butter, salt and some spices, that is to say how a chef would prepare it. Think about it.
Let’s all make an effort now and the words vegan or vegetarian will not put anyone off. We all have a pinch of responsibility in this: we eat processed refined food cleverly created in a lab, we become addicted to it and belittle simple food; we educate ourselves and learn to make scrumptious food with our own magical hands and we get back in charge and gradually move away from any food obsession.
In case you are wondering, I do not think less or more of you if you eat exclusively vegan or not. I mean it (for the record, only 5% of the awesome people who have joined Sugarlibre so far are vegan).
I would, however, feel a little sad if you didn’t give plant-based food a chance to make you feel and be happy.
Stay libre, always.