Derek Sarno’s Wicked Thoughts: “Plant-Based is Unhealthy? Gimme a Break!”

Derek Sarno, Co-founder of Wicked Healthy and Good Catch Foods, responds to the recent backlash against vegan foods. Derek “calls BS” and says that it’s time for people to take responsibility for their own choices and their health.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are that of the author’s and do not represent those of people, institutions or organisations that the author may or may not be associated with professionally or personally.

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion

…and complaints around plant-based products and how they need to be healthier. Here are some thoughts, as we move forward into a plant-based future…

We all say we want to eat ‘healthy’, yet we don’t usually buy the healthiest option available.  Only two or three short years ago, there were minimal vegan options compared to the huge choice we have today.  Now we finally have some choice and with the increase in plant-based food available, suddenly complaints have swung to ‘there are too many unhealthy options’ and ‘you should be making products and meals to be healthy’. 

I call BS! Gimme a break! 

Do I think there are enough healthy plant-based options available?

“HEALTHY” FOODS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AVAILABLE and still are!  They’re sold in the form of produce, vegetables, potatoes, fruits, mushrooms, beans, greens, grains, nuts, seeds and water.  They’re called whole foods and they’re all plant-based!  But some people are just too lazy to take the time to cook or learn to cook, most would rather just blame and point fingers than get off their butts and take responsibility and matters into their own hands.

Cheeseburger Wicked wellington
©Wicked Kitchen

It would do certain people good in such circumstances to ask themselves: “Am I a victim to what’s available or am I responsible for my own choices?”

Hats off to the long-time vegans and whole foodies who have been taking care of themselves while the world figures out that factory farming animals is not healthy for them, for us, or for the planet. They know how hard it’s been in the past to eat out and how little choice there has been in any grocer outside of the veg department. We now have an enormous array of vegan choices in retail foodservice – this is just the tip of the iceberg of options being made available and I say keep them coming!

What if you’re too busy to cook?

Even if you’re busy, and god knows we’re all just so busy, it’s important to cook at least a couple of times a week.

This is why so many of us chefs share plant-based-vegan recipes and videos on how to do just that, cook.  Do it yourself!  It is not any one company’s job to ensure we eat healthy!  It’s just not.  Yes, chefs and developers can work on healthier options, and we do. However the question around developing ‘healthy’ needs to be ‘compared to what?’  I’d argue that any plant-based burger is healthier than its animal-based equivalent.  Another truth of the matter is, fresh foods won’t have a long shelf life unless they are frozen. 

Fresh foods will naturally be more expensive because most companies are used to doing what they’ve always done.  Manufacturing of animals and such processes need to change in order to make plant-based foods in those factories or build dedicated facilities to meet vegan standards.  And they are changing, slowly.  The more we choose plant-based products the more investment goes into making them easier, better and more affordable with scale.

Bottom line.  And the least expensive most effective way to eat healthier is when you cook yourself. When you take the time to prepare meals, you’re more likely to eat it and enjoy it, spend less money, and not complain because you know exactly what you put in it.

Cluster oyster mushroom steaks Wicked Kitchen
©Wicked Kitchen

Are plant-based processed products unhealthy?

Plant-based products are not made to be unhealthy – they are made to be meat alternatives.  They are made to replace animal products as the more sustainable choice! It’s how you use them that makes either vegan products or animal products either healthy or unhealthy.  When I develop a vegan burger or sausage or any meat alternative, it is made to be part of a balanced diet, eaten with lots of vegetables, beans, and grains – even when I use just mushrooms as the base. 

People who are still choosing to eat animals and dairy whilst aware of all its related science and negative impacts, and then trying to tell me plant-based products are unhealthy, take a seat and check yourself.  

Eating animals is in no way healthier than eating veg and I don’t need to be a doctor to know that. Taking a life, raising it, feeding it foods grown that we could use for ourselves, then killing and eating those animals from mass factory farming is NOT the best option, it’s horrible.  Eating animals and defending that bad habit means you continue to support this horrendous practice.

Southr fried Buffalo ramen Wicked Kitchen
©Wicked Kitchen

So how to eat wicked healthy?

Eat lots of veg, as much as you can, no matter what else you eat with them, that’s what makes a healthy diet, healthy.  “Eat your veg”! That’s what mom always said, even in the predominantly meat-eating house we grew up in.  It’s part of our 80/20 Wicked ethos.  Focus on eating at least 80% whole foods plant-based diet (healthy), and 20% whatever it is you want (wicked).  That same ethos works across any diet of choice.

Eating loads of VEG and the way you prepare them is key.  Steaming over frying will always be healthier.  What’s healthy and what’s not is really about the individual. That is why it is so hard to generalize.  Taking responsibility by preparing your own meals from scratch will always be best.  No one is forcing anyone to live on animals or soy, pea, or wheat proteins.  How quickly we forget that beans, greens, and grains are just in the other aisle of your supermarket.

Pizza isn’t healthy if you only eat pizza, nor is chocolate, anything fried, or ice cream – vegan or not! Still, of course, they are good once in a while.  

Take responsibility for your health – own it!

Take ownership, take responsibility, take control of your own choices.  No one is forcing anyone to eat or buy anything – but there are better choices available when we factor all the variables and the health of the planet.

For the majority of us, straight vegetables, beans, greens, and grains are generally always available in some way, shape or form. They’re here for us to use, so use them.  

How about we stop blaming and expecting companies to make some magic, minimally processed health food that is as cheap as chips? When governments start taxing meat and allocating subsidies to plant-based then we’ll see the step-change in pricing to make it a fair playing field.  There is no all-in-one life-saving elixir but we already have the answer available and it’s sold in the form of whole foods that are grown and picked and ready for you to use! 

Derek Sarno, Chef – Director of Plant-Based Innovation for Tesco and the Developer/Co-Founder of Wicked Kitchen.  Derek leads Tesco’s plant-based team and the initiative to bring delicious, unpretentious vegan foods to the mainstream market.

Prior to Tesco, Derek served as the Senior Global Executive Chef for Whole Foods Market, where he oversaw global recipe development for the company’s healthy eating initiative, worked with suppliers and leadership to develop and promote plant-based foods across the organization, and served as Culinary Director for the Whole Foods Academy for Conscious Leadership.

Derek is the co-author of the Whole Foods cookbook and the Wicked Healthy Cookbook.

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