Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Mighty Meatball: Bringing Back Flavor

Do you want a flavorful meatball? Something that will wow your guests? Then think of adding cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and garlic.  Think that is new? It isn't - in fact it is returning to the origins of the "Swedish" meatball.

Todays Meatball is a bit Boring

When I went away to the states for college, the meatballs in the continental US were boring. Many are just combinations of beef and pork, and often the meat is overcooked leaving the meatball dry, although that is often hidden in the sauce (tomato sauce if you are making spaghetti, or a gravy sauce for others). One recipe had frozen meatballs from the grocery store placed into a crock pot with a vat of grape jelly (it wasn't bad, it was ghastly).

Most meatballs are like having only the meat from a burger without the crunch and sour of the pickle, the sweetness of the tomato, and that touch of bitter from the onion. I  didn't understand why my grandmother's and mom's meatballs were so delicious and these were so dull.  Over time I had received recipes from different people who made meatballs and they were all versions of the same until history showed me the ingredients I was missing.

In Search of The Mighty Meatball

While there may have been other reasons to visit Turkey, Norway, Italy, and Sweden - there was always project meatball. Finding a meatball that tasted like my mom's. I can't ask mom about this, her dementia won't let me crack that code, so I had to travel the world to find the secret to unlock the flavors in her meatballs.

The Swedish Meatball's Origins in Turkey

If you go to Stockholm consider taking a "food tour." Not only will you learn about the history and culture of the country, but you will eat well.  Then, if looking for recommendations they know the city and its food like no other. In this case, I wanted a meatball.  The traditional meatball as served in Stockholm.

My wife, who says she doesn't like meatballs really like these. How much?

This much

But when talking to the food historians in Sweden, the meatball did not originate in Sweden. The meatball was brought to Sweden by King Charles XII in 1714.  He was forced into exile in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) after losing a war to Russia in 1709.  For five years he was a guest of the sultan, and besides trying to get the Ottoman Empire to go to war against Russia, he enjoyed the Ottoman cuisine. After five years the sultan became tired of Charles scheming and tossed Charles out of Turkey. Charles returned to Sweden with two cuisine items: the meatball and coffee.
Besides loving war, King Charles XII loved food. From his exile in Turkey he brought back to Sweden two important products: coffee, and the meatball. 

The Meatball in the Ottoman Empire

Istanbul is the the western world's second cosmopolitan city. This was the last city of the Roman empire, until the Sultans conquered it in 1453 which began the Ottoman Empire. But today I was walking in The Spice Market. This market has been in business since 1664.  You can imagine when Charles XII came here and his nose was filled with aromas that came from around the world. Aromas he never smelled before. Food he had never eaten before.  When I was there the smell of the spices were so abundant and so fresh that my nose is overjoyed.  Just outside the spice market, as everywhere, are people who will sell you lamb that is cooked simply over fire and to that lamb is added lemon zest, salt, zaatar, as well as nutmeg.

There was something comforting about the smell in the spice market, I didn't realize that my brain was remembering food aromas from home.

Putting ground meat with spices isn't an original idea. In Roman times the cookbook author Apicius (25BC - 37AD) describes meats from chicken to fish being ground with spices added.  Almost every culture has a variation of a meatball (ground meats roasted with some spices).

For the Ottoman empire, the meats they used  were lamb and poultry.  No pork (they were Muslim and pork was forbidden). The flavor came from the variety of spices that were available to the Ottomans.  The Ottomans, it turned out, had all of the known spices of the Western World. The spices from Asia and Indochina were traded to Europe through the Silk Road that began in modern day Xiian and ended in Istanbul.

Isn't ironic, I am looking for a meatball made from lamb, and the best lamb I had was at the start of the Silk Road.  Simply cooked, much like in Istanbul, over some flames with some great spices.

The Silk Road started in modern day Xian and ended in Constantinople. These were spices they would use daily and likely ones Charles XII had never tasted before. Spices also made the Ottomans  wealthy: turmeric, pepper, nutmeg,  cardamom, cinnamon, as well as herbs such as ginger.  The addition of these spices to the meatball made the cuisine delicious.

The Swedish Version

Until the mid 1800's meatballs were mostly consumed by the wealthy in Sweden.  Charles didn't have meatballs as a meal but  would eat them as a snack with coffee (coffee being the other Turkish product he introduced to Sweden).  Meatballs were first mentioned in Cajsa Warg's 1754 Swedish cookbook. She described meatballs as chopped meat (calf, sheep, or ox) with grated bread and eggs.   The seasonings were pepper, salt, and nutmeg. Nutmeg, for a time, was worth more per weight than gold.  

By the 1850 the meatball became common food for the Swedes. Much like fashion trends are set by the famous today, the meatball was the fashionable food and became a beloved dish of Sweden.

The Meatball Coming to America

When the economy collapsed in Sweden, many migrated to the United States. Over 1.5 million Swedes immigrated to America in the mid 1800's bringing their love of meatballs.  It is in America that the first pork was introduced into the meatball.  Pork was the primary protein of early America, and while Swedes had cultivated pigs since the stone ages, pigs were often too valuable to be used for daily fair.  There is no record of pork being used in a meatball before the Swedes came to the United States. 

What the immigrants didn't have were many spices.  In the 1850's there were  few spices available in America. To season meat there was salt, and to flavor was pepper, and probably Allspice. Ironic that America was discovered in an effort to find a new route to get spices (trying to break the Ottoman's hold on the spice trade). The only spice native to North America is Allspice (first noted by Christopher Columbus on Jamaica). Allspice is from the dried berry of an evergreen tree but I'd describe its flavor as a mix of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

Italian Meatballs

When Italians migrated to the United States they would often write home about how inexpensive meat was. Their relatives would write back in disbelief, because in traditional Mediterranean cuisine there is little meat, unless you are wealthy. In Italy people would spend up to 75% of their income on food, and in the US their relatives would spend only 20% or less, and have meat. 

Going to Rome you want  the flavors of Italy. But Italy has been influenced so by the many cultures that have brought ingredients. All roads lead to Rome, and from Rome comes our first cookbook, restaurants, traditions.  Rome took these and made them their own.  Tomatoes came from the new world, and yet are such a part of Italian cooking. But one thing you won't find is a dish called "spaghetti and meatballs." In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a meatball in Rome. 

Italian-American meatballs are primarily beef and pork, with only garlic, salt,  and pepper to add flavors.

Norwegian Meatballs

Norway is one of the friendliest countries on the planet. Going to the little town of Otness to have great food from my relatives meant I had a chance to try meatballs.  I admit to getting lost in the cold poached salmon, the Norwegian variety of goat cheese, and cucumber salad. But I did find some meatballs and tried them. They were ok, but they were not what my mom had fed us.

Back in America, go to any Son's of Norway Lodge and during holidays they will have a smorgasbord with meatballs.  But now I was curious, did mom have the secret of meatballs from their recipe books? Somehow Amazon had a copy of the recipe book   put out by the  Midnatsol Lodge in Ketchikan (1969). I won't tell you what I paid for this, but suffice to say I would have paid double.  When it arrived I opened to find the meatball section and their meatballs have Allspice in them. I made the recipe, it was better than most, a hint of flavor that made the bland meatball palatable, but still not "wow."

Then I asked my aunt, who had my grandmother's cookbook.  The recipe my grandmother used came from a Son's of Norway cookbook from Minnesota that was printed in 1940 and it had ginger, nutmeg (from the old country) and allspice. This was the recipe I remember as a child.

Coming Home Through Food

They say you travel the world to find paradise in your backyard. In this case I had gone to four countries in Europe to find the meats and spices used to make the meatball that was in my grandmother's cookbook.

But we have to add a twist - we have more of the spices available, so here is my version of the meatball. Made, tested, and even wife approved.

The Ottoman-Swedish-Norwegian Meatball Revisited

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees

The Meats:

1/2 lb ground lamb
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground veal (or you could use hamburger)

The Spices:

It is always best to get the whole spice and grind it rather than getting pre-ground spices. They are far more aromatic. But if you don't use spices that often (yet) pre-ground will provide you with more flavor than you have experienced in your cooking.

1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp of ground Allspice
1 tsp of ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp Kosher (Diamond) salt

The Herbs:

2 inches of ginger - minced
Parsley leaves - chopped to make 2 Tablespoons (about a handful of leaves)

More Added Flavors

The zest from one lemon
1/2 medium red (purple) onion - minced
3 cloves of garlic - minced

The  Peaky Binders

1/2 cup of dry bread crumbs (best to make these. Tear a loaf of sourdough bread and place on a sheet pan in an oven at 325 F for 20 minutes). Once they are done then grind some in a food processor and keep the rest sealed in a ziplock bag.

1 large egg -- beat it, just beat it. It doesn't matter who is wrong or right
1/2 cup of water

Cardamon comes in a pod. The easiest way to extract it is with a rolling pin. Just roll over the pods then take out the seeds. 

Once you have enough seeds for a teaspoon then put them in a nonstick pan, no oil or grease, and roast for about a minute. Then place them into a mortar and pestle to grind. Or you could use a spice grinder. If you use other whole spices- roast them first, like the nutmeg or Allspice, or cinnamon stick - then grind them 

Spice grinders (like coffee grinders) are ok, but a mortar and pestle (especially the smooth kind) grind the spices quite well.

Lemon Zest is a classic Mediterranean addition to foods. In Morocco they make their meatballs with lots of lemon zest, and abundant spices

While the original meat was lamb, and it is still the tastiest meat, the combination of meats provides some unique flavors when blended.

The flavors of the meatball come from the spices that you add. Fresh spices are always best. Every year on my birthday I change out the spices in my spice rack. 

Toss all the ingredients into a medium-large bowl and mix together. Add 1/2 cup of water. Then make meatballs, all about the same size (shooter-marble or larger).

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a nonstick skillet and heat over medium high. Once hot add the meatballs. Since you don't wish to have too many meatballs in a pan, I often will have the oven on about 200-300 degrees and once I am done with one batch of meatballs, I put them into the oven to keep warm. Leave the brown bits (the fond) we will use this to make the gravy

Meatball Gravy

1 stick unsalted butter
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 oz of Chicken stock
The juice from the lemon you zested above
1/4 cup of heavy cream
2 Tbs of Dijon Mustard
1 shallot - minced

To the pan that roasted the meatballs at 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on medium heat until it is hot. 

Add the dices shallot and stir until you can smell the shallot and it is translucent.

Add the chicken stock and the lemon and use a spatula to scrape up the frond and mix it in
Leave on a medium-low heat until the stock is reduced by half. Add the heavy cream and Dijon mustard and the remainder of the butter.  Add the meatballs and let them sit in this for two minutes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pork Vindaloo from Simon Majumdar

Recipe from our good friend Simon Majumdar - made by Chef JJ with his Sous Chef Terry

Add caption

Here are all of your ingredients

Two Pounds of Pork Shoulder

Whole Spices of Cardamom, Cinnamon Sticks, and Cloves

Ground Spices: Ginger, Turmeric, Ground Cumin, Chili Powder, and Ground Coriander Seeds

Serrano Chili's, 4 cloves of garlic, 2 inches of fresh ginger

Coconut Milk, Sugar, White Vinegar, Kosher Salt, One white onion

Cut the Pork into 2 inch pieces

Add your 1/2 cup of vinegar. Traditionally palm vinegar was used, on the ships the vinegar came from the pork being shipped in wine, and the wine turned.  Distilled vinegar will work, as will any wine (white or red) vinegar.  But for today, we just used plain white vinegar. 

Next take the ginger and slice it. 

Pretty easy that even JJ can do it. Of course, I can always sew up a cut if I have to. 

 JJ also smashed up and cut the garlic and now JJ is putting them all into his food scraper

In go the garlic and ginger to a small food processor 

To help the ginger and garlic into a paste JJ is adding a sprinkle of kosher salt and about 2 tablespoons of water. These add a bit of friction to help break up the ginger.

We cut up some serrano peppers. We like it hot, so we left in the seeds and pulp. Most would prefer to take those out carefully.  These are added to the paste we made of the garlic and the ginger.

This paste is added to the pork shoulder that has been sitting in the vinegar

The whole spices, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are added with some salt and sugar to a nonstick pan on medium heat.  JJ is wafting the air and as soon as the ingredients are fragrant he takes them off the heat. 

Once the spices are fragrant, they are taken off the stove. Placed into a spice grinder (in this case a coffee grinder) and ground.  The aroma from this is amazing. You will have to break up the cinnamon stick to get it to fit into the grinder.  Since Uncle Simon is allergic to coffee we have a special spice grinder just for him.  

These ground up spices are added to our marinade for the pork. JJ is taking the last bits of them out using a brush (in this case a silicon one)

Remember all those dry spices, we put them out on a plate and JJ is adding them to the mix: 1 teaspoon each of Turmeric, Ground Cumin Seeds, Ground Coriander Seeds, Ground Ginger, and Chili Powder. 

Now JJ is mixing them all together. This is like second nature for any 7 year old. He is massaging all those ingredients and the pork together. Spices, vinegar, and pork. Once everything is coated, we are done - unless you like playing in the mud. But this is better than any mud castle. 

Covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for two hours. It can go longer if you wish, but two hours allows better penetration of the meat with vinegar. Or as JJ would say, "The vinegar serves to denature the proteins on the surface of the pork."

The white onion is diced and placed into a Dutch oven that has some oil that has been heating over a medium heat. 

We don't want the onions to burn, but to speed up the process a bit of kosher salt and some sugar are added. JJ says, "The sugar helps the Maillard reaction of the onions, quickly combining with the proteins on the surface. The salt, just gets some of the surface water out of the way for the reaction to speed up."

 The pork and all the marinade are taken out of the refrigerator, and as soon as the onions have started to turn brown the pork is added to the pot.  JJ is keeping his head away from the inevitable rise of steam. JJ says, "Safety first in the kitchen." 

Now add the coconut milk and keep this on a low heat for three hours. Use real coconut milk, not coconut water.  Often you can find this in a can, or a milk container in the dairy section. "The coconut milk will calm the heat from the chilis, forming a covalent bond between the capsaicin and the proteins in the coconut milk away from the pork surface." -Chef JJ

Three hours on the lowest heat possible.  Put over some rice and you can see how the chef likes it.

Pork Shoulder 2 pounds
Onion - white, 1 whole - will be diced

Vinegar 1/2 cup  - any white would do, distilled, palm, or white wine
Ginger 2 inches
Serrano chili's 4
Garlic 4 cloves
Coconut milk 2 cups (the real thing not the water)

Whole Spices

Cardium 5 cloves
Cinnamon 2 sticks
Cloves 5 whole cloves

Ground Spices

Turmeric 1 teaspoon
Ground Cumin Seeds 1 teaspoon
Coriander Seeds ground 1 teaspoon
Ginger, ground 1 teaspoon
Chili powder 1 teaspoon
Kosher Salt 1 teaspoon
Ground Sugar 1 teaspoon

Cut the pork into 2 inch pieces

Cover the pork in the vinegar

Dice the ginger and smash the garlic.  Remove the seeds and pith from the chilis.  Blend together in a food processor after adding a teaspoon of Kosher salt and a tablespoon of water.  Once blended add to the mixture.

Heat a nonstick pan.  Add the whole spices - you can add a teaspoon of sugar and salt to it.  Once it becomes fragrant remove and grind in a spice or coffee grinder.  If you don't have whole spices it is ok to use ground spices and just add them.

Put the ground whole spices and the ground spices into the pork and vinegar.

Massage the mix into the meat.

Cover with plastic and put into the refrigerator for two hours.

---------- Once Two Hours are Finished

Head a dutch oven and add oil (canola, grapeseed, or olive) - 2 tablespoons. Once shimmering add a diced onion.

Pinch of kosher salt and sugar on the onions and stir.  Once the onions are brown add the Pork and all the vinegar.  Careful - it will steam some vinegar.

Add 2 cups of coconut milk.

Close the lid and simmer for 15 minutes.

After fifteen minutes remove the lid and cook for another 3 hours.

Serve over rice.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What The Health: A Movie of Pure Vegan Evangelism and Bad Science

What the Health: A Culinary Medicine Review

A vegan manifesto 

Being a vegan

As you know, there are some militant vegans out there. They believe with passion, and the militants, of any food fad, will cherry pick their data better than most. This is a movie made for evangelical outreach – it mixes in some facts, leaves out a lot of others. So, if you want to be a vegan blindly, don’t read any more.
There are various reasons people choose to be a vegan, but to start with: it is not a healthier option than other methods of eating, it is not better for the planet, and it is not more ethical. If you can get past that, and be a vegan and supplement, you will, statistically, live as long as a heavy meat eater.


There is no information that will change the mind of a militant vegan. I have been in those “wars” before, and  discussing diets is like talking religion or politics at the table. If you have friends over with certain dietary views, trying to change their mind with data is futile. That can be any diet.
That being said, here it a review from a Culinary Medical perspective.  The good, the bad, and the very ugly. Many of these topics I have blogged about before, and the references will be in the other blog posts.

The Movie – it is not a documentary

The movie itself is well done. It is shot well, has a good story line, and presents its data with all the usual counterpoints addressed. It is made by First Spark Media, a vegan production house that is  pro PETA. All the “authority” figures in the movie are vegan all the talking heads in the movie are vegan – and there is no attempt to see the “other side.”
The Executive Producer is Joaquin Phoenix – who is a vegan activist, filmmaker, and actor. Kip Andersen is also a vegan, although the movie seems to be about him stumbling his way into becoming one (good acting, by the way).  Kip also calls various organizations to ask about their recommendations – nothing like calling an organization, getting the receptionist, and asking complex questions that should be asked of policy makers.  The reason Kip doesn’t talk to the policy makers of those organizations is pretty simple: they would have wiped the floor with publications contrary to his views.

Meat Causes Cancer – but not really

The movie starts out with this  theme. It is wrong, but that does not stop them from making the claim that it is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. It isn’t. So let’s look at the actual data and see if we can make sense of it. The overall risk for colon cancer is about 2.24%, which increases as you age (get your colonoscopy at age 50) and if you have a relative with colon cancer the risk rises to about 7% .
Lets break down the evidence for “processed meat.” This is  meat that has been salted, cured, smoked, or preserved (think hot dogs, sausages, salami, your basic charcuterie plate). If you don’t eat a lot of any meat then about 56 out of every 1000 people will develop colon cancer. If you eat a lot of processed meat (like two servings or more a day) for every 1000 people who do this 61 of them will develop colon and/or rectal cancer. (PMCID: PMC3108955)
The movie talks about a 20% increase in risk – but this is a “relative risk” which is a statistic that reflects the difference between non meat eaters (56 out of 100o will develop colon cancer) and heavy processed meat eats (66 out of 1000) – that is an increase of 10 or 17% (the movie rounds it up to 20%).
As you can see – it is a lot worse to have relatives who have colon cancer than to eat processed meats. Plus, we don’t know which processed meats do this – we think we have an idea, but not so much.  We know if you live in Spain you have a higher incidence of colon cancer than Sweden, and in Spain there is a ham shop on every corner, but to put this in terms for every 100,000 people: in Spain 40 will get colon cancer, in Sweden 32 will get colon cancer, in the US 34 will get colon cancer.
Is that as dangerous as cigarettes? Not by a long shot. Consider this: if everyone in the United Kingdom stopped smoking there would be 64,500 fewer cases of cancer. If no one at processed meats there would be 8800 fewer cases of cancer. Lung cancer is something we do not have good treatment for. We can check for bowel cancer, and everyone should (remember, the bigger risk for bowel cancer is having a relative who has it, and getting older).  Since bowel cancer starts as a polyp you can have a colonoscopy, have a polyp snipped off and prevent cancer – we cannot do that with lungs. So, when they say that the processed meats are as bad as smoking- they have gone way out on a limb and then sawed it off.
So what about red meat? Not processed meat, just the good old American steak. I blogged about this and did a video about this before called Meat and Mortality: Does Eating Meat Decrease Your Lifespan? You can see the citations in there but there was no association between red meat and cancer when a lot of great data was looked at.
When it comes to meat consumption in the United States, we have increased our total meat consumption (we eat more chicken than beef these days) so what has happened to cancer and heart disease? Their rates have gone down.  The big decrease in heart disease and cancer happened because people stopped smoking – but the trend to increased meat (red meat, chicken, etc) did not give the rise in either heart disease or cancer that one would assume would happen if the horrors depicted in this movie were true.  Consider that we have a more obese nation, with increasing diabetes, but most authorities find that association is with highly processed carbohydrates and not from meat.
Adding a rosemary Marinade reduces HCA - here some rack of lamb is in a marinade of fresh rosemary with garlic, dijon, and olive oil.

Dr. Barnard says, “… carcinogens can form when meat is cooked…” When meat is grilled over a high heat this happens. He fails to note that this happens with vegetables or any food cooked at high temperatures.  From a culinary medicine perspective using a marinade that is rich in antioxidants such as fresh rosemary. John La Puma shared his favorite marinade for chicken and beef which is two tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin), two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh cut rosemary.  I also like his ginger sesame salmon where the marinade is 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, and a 2-inch piece of grated, peeled ginger in 1/4 cup of soy sauce (you can get gluten free if you need) – just 15 minutes is all you need. In addition, cooking at lower temperatures, such as using Sous Vide for the majority of cooking reduces that risk.

Eggs and Cigarettes

When one has extraordinary claims, they need extraordinary evidence. So when Kip talks about eggs and how one egg a day has the same effect as smoking 5 cigarettes, there is no great citation for this. There is a reason, because it isn’t true. I blogged about is Smoking as Bad As Eggs? Vegans don’t like the dairy industry, and they always want to find a way to scare you away from dairy (see vegetarians can eat dairy, vegans think it is cruel to do so).

Saturated Fats – or Butter isn’t better

Dr Greger, an ardent vegan, dismissed the studies about saturated fat stating that the studies that have vindicated saturated fat were funded by the dairy industry. There is some truth to this. In culinary medicine we find that olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, works better and is one point on the Mediterranean Diet. While saturated fats are clearly not the evil they once were, the vegans have dismissed an entire generation of studies.
So while butter isn’t better, it isn’t worse either. I have blogged about Butter: Is it Good or Bad?

Dairy is evil- well, not so much

When Kip calls the Susan Komen organization to ask why they don’t warn against dairy consumption he cites a paper that examines the risk of recurrence of cancer in breast cancer patients. The paper’s title is “Intake of high-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy, was related to a higher risk of mortality after breast cancer diagnosis.” There you have it – but this paper has a lot of issues. For example, it is based on Food Frequency Questionnaires, which is based on a person’s recall of what they ate. Food Frequency Questionnaires do not make great data points. But the title of the paper shows that low-fat dairy isn’t an issue. Somehow Kip ignores this- again, pretty clear where the agenda of the movie takes you.
Diary, especially hard cheese and fermented dairy are a point in the Mediterranean Diet score – which again, has millions of people it has followed. Essentially, in the Mediterranean area they don’t eat a lot of dairy. I blogged about this in Mediterranean Diet Score: Dairy, Meats, Alcohol.
Kip talks about how avoiding dairy is associated with a reduced incidence of type 1 diabetes. This is pure correlation and not causation. There is a greater association with wheat (PMC 4185872) than with dairy – but consider that while the film brings this as an “all or nothing” with dairy, they neglect other information that is not great for vegans.
It was amusing when they brought up the American Egg board worried about vegan mayonnaise. For those who are not familiar with that product, Hampton Creek, who made the vegan mayo was involved in a major buy-back program from grocery stores to shore up their industry and get more investors. I guess vegans can be frauds too. On an even playing field there is no great substitute for mayonnaise, and the people who promoted investment in  Hampton Creek are now lawyering up (Bloomberg article about this here).

What About Fish

This bear thinks the fish in this box is good for him
The former president of the American College of Cardiology, Dr Ken Williams, is an ardent vegan. So the softball from Kip about fish is responded to: “Four worries… PCB’s, mercury, saturated fat, cholesterol.” I blogged about this in Fish and Mercury: Causes, Symptoms, Fish you Can Eat.
So while some fish are a problem, with a bit of care, most are not. If you use the seafood guide from Monterey you will be fine. For that you can click here.  They also have an app for your phone.
What Dr Williams fails to point out is that vegans do not have great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish are the best source, and the data is quite clear that people who eat fish have less heart disease, longer lifespans than even vegans.
Williams also fails to note that The American Heart Association recommends people eat fish twice a week, because of the clear reduction in heart failure and lower incidence of fatal heart attacks.
Still, the purpose of this movie is to convince you should eat a plant diet. Using this bit of nonsense they have thrown fish out of the bus even though fish eaters live longer than anyone on the planet.
From a Culinary Medicine perspective there is data encompassing millions of people with the Mediterranean Diet. Fish is one of the solid points on the diet, and that leads to an overall reduction in cancer and heart disease. I have blogged about this before in Mediterranean Diet Score: Part One.
My friend, Robb Wolf points out fish is  “That gate-way product for vegans shifting back to animal products.” Most vegans discover that they crave something in their diet, and often they find their way back to fish.

Diabetes and High Carb Diets

Part way into the film Dr Neal Barnard, a vegan who is president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (sounds nice, but it is a vegan activist organization. They do have some great material, and I have their “Nutrition Guide for Clinicians” on my desk). In this bit he claims that diabetes is not caused by a high-carb diet and that it is caused by a build up of fat and that is found in a meat based diet.
What he fails to note is that many studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets have been superior for people with diabetes. In fact the first way they were able to extend the lives of children with type 1 diabetes was to completely rid them of sugar and highly processed carbohydrates – thankfully Banting and Best discovered insulin and now type 1 diabetic patients can live quite a normal lifespan.
My friend, Garth Davis, a fellow bariatric surgeon, comes on board and states that “Sugar is not great… but does not cause inflammation and can be stored as glycogen.” He ignores that fructose, which is half of table sugar, is quite inflammatory, and is well known for the havoc it causes on the liver (fatty liver disease) and its role in heart disease and increasing low-density lipoprotein.
When toward the end of the movie Kip interviews Dr Robert Ratner he fails to mention that the low carbohydrate diets beat both ADA and conventional low fat diets for the treatment of diabetes.  In fact, 7 out of 11 keto dieters were able to reduce their diabetic medications where only 2 out of 13 low fat dieters did. (PMID: 24717684 PMCID: PMC3981696 ) Nor does he mention the effect that the Mediterranean Diet has on diabetes. Both low fat and low carbohydrate diets work to reduce issues with diabetes, what doesn’t work are highly processed carbohydrates.

Factory Farming – Save the Planet

Factory farming has a lot of issues, and they are brought up in this movie. The overuse of antibiotics in animals is a problem. Many factory farms are ecologic disasters, but opting out as a vegan means you are not supporting those farms that actually raise animals with care, like Elysian Fields. The ability of “foodies” to put their dollars where the creatures are cared for, and they are in balance with nature is powerful. When I blogged about this, Vegans versus Foodies: Moral High Ground, I pointed out that the real moral high ground is putting your consumer dollars where it counts.
When they talk about the large number of pigs raised in North Carolina and the potential for Swine Flu, this is not hyperbole. Far better to have a system like Spain where the Iberico hogs are raised where they graze freely, eat plenty and produce the best tasting ham in the world.
To be clear, it would be an environmenta
l disaster to not have animals in the eco-system and this is known by most who have taken a basic biology course. Still, the doctors on this (who did take those courses) seem to have forgotten that an ecosystem on planet earth is best with animals, including humans.

Food Industry and Health

There is no doubt the food industry is a major lobbying agency and has not benefited the health of the US. Probably the greatest was when the Harvard Scientists were bought by the sugar industry and said fats were evil. This was ignored by the film, of course, but let us not let facts get in the way of this film.

Why Do They All Show Their Abdominal Muscles?

Ever notice that any diet, dietary product, protein powder, or supplement loves to show people flexing their biceps and showing their washboard abdominal muscles?  The reason is this is powerful marketing, but poor. You don’t get those great muscles from protein powder, eating vegan, eating paleo. You get that through hard work, exercise, and hours dedicated to your body.
It is great if that is what you want to dedicate your life to, and people need to spend more time in the gym and less time in front of the computer. I think more people should spend time reading and learning critical thinking – or to quote Shakespeare, “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed.”
Yes, you can obtain the protein you need without eating meat or fish. Legumes are a great source of protein, so is rice, so is broccoli. Of course, if you eat this way you will have to supplement to get the missing omega-3 fatty acids, choline, B12, etc.  So if you have to supplement your diet, is it really that good for you?


I have written about Biotruths: What We Are Meant to Eat as a logical fallacy before. Some misinformed paleo diet folks love this argument, but so do vegans. They are both wrong- we are not “meant” to eat anything. We have evolved, and we can eat a wide variety of foods- going back to plants as a sole source of nutrition is not supported by this argument.Of course the movie couldn’t get by without mentioning the old biotruth about what man is suppose to eat. I would have been terribly disappointed if they missed this logical fallacy. A biotruth is a misstatement of biology or evolutionary biology stating that man was meant to eat this or that because of their teeth. They didn’t disappoint me.

Vegan Vs SAD

There is no doubt that the vegan diet is better than the Standard American Diet, but there is no proof it is better than any of the other diets mentioned. Getting rid of processed food, especially processed carbohydrates is a goal.
The problem with the Standard American Diet is not 25% Animal food in our diet (meat, eggs, dairy, fish). Nor is the answer in the 12% plant food, but we do need to eat more of that.
The problem with the Standard American Diet is that it is 63% processed foods, including sugars, refined grains, with added fats and oils. To be fair, over 70 percent of the diet that most Americans consume is “plant based.”
This movie tries to show that the animal based part of our diet is just wrong. It isn’t – the problem is the refined portion of the American Diet.

Beer and Sausage Diet

When my friend, Evo Terra, and I did a three year study about a beer and sausage diet, showing better markers for him with his liver, with inflammation, and with science – no one believed it. But alas, it was true. You can lose weight and feel better with any sort of diet.  This was our extreme, but it was fun.
So, for your pleasure here is the Beer Diet: What We Learned .