Exporting Japan: A Live Episode with the ‘Gunma Vegan Project’

Episode 12 of the Vegan-Carne Alliance podcast is live (and is also our first live episode!).

For our twelfth episode, Brian Moeljadi joins C.W. Moss to experience new vegan ingredients from Japan. This experience is part of the ‘Gunma Vegan Project’, a food-focused Japanese-government initiative to expand veganism in and outside of the country. Two mini-courses are served, one by LA chef Kajsa Alger and another by Japanese chef Kazuki Arai (14:49). We discuss how ingredients spread, our experiences in Japan, and how a name can affect a product. Then, C.W. talks with chef Arai about experiences with veganism in Japan (53:46). After, C.W. is joined by chef Kajsa to discuss using Japanese ingredients to make other cuisines (1:03:09).

Find it on:

‘Virus Spurs Chinese Interest in Vegan Eggs as Protein Source’

Deena Shanker for Bloomberg News:

“Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out to me personally, our executive team, our board, and the team in China, about now wanting to partner,” he said in an interview. China’s producers are viewing the current climate as a time for more quality-controlled food, he said.

While Tetrick declined to name the companies, he said that authorities are trying to think about how to reduce the risk of future outbreaks by curbing China’s reliance on meat from confined animals. The country’s wet markets, where freshly slaughtered, unpackaged meat is sold, have been identified as a possible source of the deadly outbreak that’s claimed more than 3,100 lives and disrupted businesses amid its global spread.

I do wonder if outbreaks like this will end up being the largest driver of plant-based cuisine.

‘China bans human consumption and trade of wild animals’

From the AFP via CTV News:

China on Monday declared an immediate and “comprehensive” ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals, a practice believed responsible for the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The country’s top legislative committee approved a proposal “prohibiting the illegal wildlife trade, abolishing the bad habit of overconsumption of wildlife, and effectively protecting the lives and health of the people,” state television reported. […]

The coronavirus epidemic had highlighted “the prominent problem of excessive consumption of wild animals, and the huge hidden dangers to public health and safety,” said the report by China Central Television (CCTV).

Chinese health officials have said the virus likely emerged from a market in the central city of Wuhan that sold wild animals as food.

It’s interesting to see China become more involved with the regulation and trade of animals. I do wonder what effects outbreaks like this can have on a population. Will people trust meat less as a product? Will they be more open to plant-based meat alternatives?

‘Half of Us Face Obesity, Dire Projections Show’

Jane E. Brody for the NYTimes:

A prestigious team of medical scientists has projected that by 2030, nearly one in two adults will be obese, and nearly one in four will be severely obese. The estimates are thought to be particularly reliable, as the team corrected for current underestimates of weight given by individuals in national surveys. In as many as 29 states, the prevalence of obesity will exceed 50 percent, with no state having less than 35 percent of residents who are obese, they predicted.

Likewise, the team projected, in 25 states the prevalence of severe obesity will be higher than one adult in four, and severe obesity will become the most common weight category among women, non-Hispanic black adults and low-income adults nationally.

Add this to the pile of future problems with no easy fix. Things on America’s current To-Do list: teach cooking basics, raise wages enough so that people can afford to purchase healthy food, also raise wages enough so that people don’t have to work all the time and can make time to *make* food, stop subsidizing unhealthy food, and make school lunches healthier.

The worst part is I’m sure I’m forgetting things too. But we have to keep trying. It only improves if we continue to focus on them as a society—but sadly I think it all really begins and ends with regulation and our government.

‘Netherlands backs nutritional labeling: ‘Nutri-Score is best to promote healthy choices’’

Nutri-Score is new to me, but I’ve been hoping we’d start seeing a food-rating system that could be used to determine the general nutrition of things going into our body. This is how it works…

The health secretary said this news was a ‘major step’ towards empowering citizens to make better dietary choices.

In recent months, Dutch health authorities have conducted research into three different food selection logos: Keyhole, Traffic Lights and Nutri-Score. It found consumers ‘understand Nutri-Score best’.

The score awarded a food is based on the amount of calories, sugars, saturated fat, salt, protein, fibre, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts in the product.

NutriScore ranks foods from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +40 for those that are ‘less healthy’. On the basis of this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding colour code: from dark green (A) to dark red (F).

It’s currently in use or recommended by France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Austria. It’s a great start, and I hope it moves to the USA soon.

‘Why is vegan shōjin ryōri cuisine so deeply compelling?’

This is a really nice breakdown of one of the most celebrated veggie-focused meals on the globe. And, yes, it’s the opposite of the extreme. It’s the anti-Doritos. I’ve only had meals like this a few times, and the flavors were soft and subtle in way that I’ve probably never had before or since.

‘What can Twitter tell us about our neighborhood’s health?’

H. Claire Brown for the New Food Economy:

Those connections yielded a finding the researchers called “intriguing”: Higher-income neighborhoods—defined in this study as the proportion of people making more than $75,000 a year—tended to tweet less positively about food, whether healthy or unhealthy.

Tweets from lower-income neighborhoods—those where a higher proportion of people made less than $75,000 a year—tended to show something different. “A lot of people like to talk about food and have strong opinions about food,” Vydiswaran says. This led to a new hypothesis to explore, that “food may be an isolated source of enjoyment in otherwise difficult lives.”

The researchers also made a curious discovery: Neighborhoods with more young people were less likely to tweet positively about unhealthy foods. This seemingly counterintuitive finding could auger well for future research.

‘New study shows the EAT-Lancet diet is unaffordable for at least 1.6 billion people’

H. Claire Brown for the New Food Economy:

Earlier this year, a groundbreaking study from the EAT-Lancet Commission outlined a climate-friendly path to feeding 10 billion people “within planetary boundaries.” Its recommendations included limiting meat consumption to about an ounce per day, or roughly two chicken nuggets, and bulking up on low-impact foods like beans. […]

A new study from researchers at Tufts University and the International Food Policy Research Institute adds a wrinkle to the debate: the diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet commission is simply unaffordable for an estimated 1.58 billion people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

To get these numbers, the researchers cross-referenced local income data with the retail prices of 744 foods in 159 countries. They based their model on the lowest-cost diet that conformed to the recommendations made in the report and found that following the EAT-Lancet diet would cost a median of $2.84 per day globally. It was also about 60 percent more expensive than a diet that met minimum nutritional requirements, largely because it includes high-cost meat and dairy. 

Our future is largely tied to diet and the related agricultural effects. I have no idea what the answer is, but I’m glad the discussion is happening passionately. It needs to if we’re going to actually figure out how to eat our way out of this climate mess.

‘Why are people malnourished in the richest country on earth?’

Tracie McMillan writes a thoughtful and difficult piece for National Geographic:

Chances are good that if you picture what hunger looks like, you don’t summon an image of someone like Christina Dreier: white, married, clothed, and housed, even a bit overweight. The image of hunger in America today differs markedly from Depression-era images of the gaunt-faced unemployed scavenging for food on urban streets. […]

In the United States more than half of hungry households are white, and two-thirds of those with children have at least one working adult—typically in a full-time job. With this new image comes a new lexicon: In 2006 the U.S. government replaced “hunger” with the term “food insecure” to describe any household where, sometime during the previous year, people didn’t have enough food to eat. By whatever name, the number of people going hungry has grown dramatically in the U.S., increasing to 48 million by 2012—a fivefold jump since the late 1960s, including an increase of 57 percent since the late 1990s.

And these numbers will keep growing as the divide between the poor and the wealthy grows wider.

It can be tempting to ask families receiving food assistance, If you’re really hungry, then how can you be—as many of them are—overweight? The answer is “this paradox that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.”

It’s terrible that obesity would be an indicator of hunger or malnourishment. It could be a different picture if the government would subsidize the right things. This part, with emphasis mine, speaks to that:

These are the very crops that end up on Christina Dreier’s kitchen table in the form of hot dogs made of corn-raised beef, Mountain Dew sweetened with corn syrup, and chicken nuggets fried in soybean oil. They’re also the foods that the U.S. government supports the most. In 2012 it spent roughly $11 billion to subsidize and insure commodity crops like corn and soy, with Iowa among the states receiving the highest subsidies. The government spends much less to bolster the production of the fruits and vegetables its own nutrition guidelines say should make up half the food on our plates. In 2011 it spent only $1.6 billion to subsidize and insure “specialty crops”—the bureaucratic term for fruits and vegetables.

The USA needs to subsidize produce with a focus on health. Every dollar that goes against that is a dollar squandered, and it’s easy to see this in our population. The government is the reason fast food is cheaper than vegetables. The general health of the people should be considered our government’s problem, because it starts with what crops they subsidize.

‘Bread, Yogurt, Apple Pie and Impossible™ Burger’

Impossible has been running a new campaign that responds to the beef industry’s focus on Impossible being quote-unquote processed. I found this bit that Impossible wrote on their Medium page that expands a bit more on the idea that the Impossible is only as processed as many products in our lives:

Bread, yogurt, apple pie and Impossible Burger

Some critics imply that people want only simple food with few ingredients. This flies in the face of thousands of years of increasingly complex food preparation rituals and cuisine. And the number of ingredients is completely irrelevant to health and nutritional value.

Consider bread — the seemingly simple staple of Western cuisine: People selectively breed wheat or other plants; they wash, soak and grind wheat seeds; they harvest and crystallize salt; they carefully select yeast and other microbes and add these to a complex mix; they knead the mixture to unfold and align the gluten proteins to make an elastic dough; they ferment and finally subject the mixture to high heat in a specifically engineered oven (otherwise known as baking). Mechanical processing, diverse and carefully isolated ingredients, and natural chemistry are required — and it took our ancestors years of trial and error to get the choice of ingredients and processes right. Yet the result of all this sophisticated research and experimentation is a “simple” processed food — a loaf of bread, desired and consumed by billions of people every day.

I’ve yet to see any scientists or dieticians weigh in on these ideas, but I’m interested in seeing how it develops. Processed is a nebulous term. Unless you’re eating raw ingredients, they’re processed in some capacity. Even blending produce to make a smoothie is a form of processing.

I think calling Impossible processed is a bit of a misnomer. For me, processed foods are ones that can sit outside of a fridge or freezer for years and taste about the same—even though they should spoil.

This is Impossible’s ingredients list, and the italicized bits in parenthesis are my notes:

Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose (cellulose is fiber from plants), Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose (sugar from corn), Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin (plant-derived heme which is similar to heme from animals), Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

It doesn’t seem like there’s much to be afraid of here.