With the commercialization of nutrition and rebranding of Western staples as “healthier” alternatives, today’s society is seeing a rise in veganism as a way to combat health challenges.
However, according to Qubtic Quitchen chef Tesha Fritz-Eneas (also known as Amunet), switching to a vegan diet does not necessarily mean you are switching to a healthier one.
“The truth is, now-a-days even many vegan meals are processed and nutritionally deficient,” said Fritz-Eneas. “The term ‘vegan’ is a popular mass marketed word now that doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.”
A 2010 study on popular media and the impact veganism can have on health expectancy, found that while there has been a push towards low-fat alternatives of staples in Western diets they are not effective in reducing the rate of non-communicable diseases.
“These processed options have failed to deliver clear health benefits in Western populations that face increasing rates of obesity and diabetes,” according to the article published in Australian Journal of Communications written by Lelia Green, Leesa Costello and Julia Dave.
“Health expectancy declines [have accompanied] increases in prescription rates for drugs designed to impact chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis,” they wrote.
While there has been a growing body of research promoting veganism based on comparative findings from population studies, anti-heart disease findings and anti-cancer data, the research has largely been based on whole-food, plant-based diets that reduce or eliminate the consumption of processed foods, and added salt and fats.
This is why Fritz-Eneas argues that individuals should aim for an agrarian diet not merely a vegan one.
Agrarian lifestyles promote a farm-to-table approach where individuals aim to eat only the food that they have grown.
“What is killing us is imported, poorly grown food and foods that lack nutritional value more than anything else,” she said.
“Agrarian diets promote a lifestyle whereby the foods we eat are foods that we have grown and raised, and thus we begin to take control of our health and dietary standards.”
A 2013 study published in “Public Health Nutrition” on the relationship between the availability of ultra-processed and the prevalence of obesity in European countries found a significant relationship between the two factors.
Ultra-processed foods are defined as industrialized food and drink products made mostly or entirely from substances derived from food together with additives.
Examples of ultra-processed foods include soft drinks, chips, chocolate, candy, ice-cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, packaged soups, chicken nuggets, hotdogs and fries.
Another 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal warns that greater public consumption of ultra-processed foods may lead to increased cancer rates in the future, as a strong association between both factors already exists.
The study found that just a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food in diets were associated with a 12 percent increase in overall cancer risk and an 11 percent increase in breast cancer risk.
These are some of the reasons Fritz-Eneas encourages individuals to take greater control of their diet.
“Our food industry is all about importing goods and these imported goods/products all go through some kind of processing that strips the natural nutritional value,” she said.
Fritz-Eneas also said that people should even be wary of products that are labelled as organic.
“Though a product may be labelled as organic, one cannot know that it is truly organic unless you have grown it yourself.”
Ultimately, Fritz-Eneas said people aim to achieve a self-sustaining diet and lifestyle.
An agrarian diet and lifestyle she said promotes food security, a sustained agro-economy thus ensuring a successful and healthy family and community.
While many see the potential shift to a vegan-agrarian diet as a hard one to make, the chef encouraged that the effort matches the health benefits.
“When making a transition, one must understand that your health is an investment.”
While some products may be costlier than their processed and ultra-processed alternatives “you may need to make a sacrifice to ensure you and your family have the best healthy alternatives that are available in the market,” she continued.
Fritz-Eneas also outlined some of the steps that are necessary for this transition.
“Start growing your own food, and learn how to prepare these naturally grown foods in creative ways without stripping most of its nutrients.”
“This may include taking a cooking class, investing in a health coach or health guide and doing some research.”
She said it is important for individuals to take as many opportunities to educate themselves on what is in the market, including learning about the best products, brands and companies and the body, its systems and how it functions.
Qubtic Qitchen also offers vegan-agrarian cooking classes for groups and individuals who are seeking to make the switch to a healthy plant-based diet. According to Fritz-Eneas, the cooking class provides participants with ingredients and cost-effective plant-based recipes to enhance and expand their food options.
“People can learn to prepare vegan and other agrarian meals by way of our monthly cooking classes that are hands-on, in so far as those that participate actually leave with days of food that they themselves have prepared.”
Apart from a hands-on cooking experience the class also provides a space to share helpful tips with participants including classifying bread-basket items in a good-better-best framework.
“Throughout our classes we provide a family oriented, safe, learning and sharing space where each person can speak, ask questions on their specific health and family needs and gather a wealth of knowledge of how to prepare the best healthy recipes for themselves and their families to enjoy,” she said.
To ensure participants truly enjoy cost effective alternatives, the chef said individuals are also provided with a list of all contacts for farmers’ markets, independent health stores, and healthy food eateries. Qubtic Quitchen is located at 74B Meadow Street.