Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tofu Overdose

That's what I googled to try to come up with some information on soy protein. Not that I actually think such a thing is possible. Not in the way one od's on, say, heroin or whatever else the kids are doing these days, but I have a suspicion of mono-anything. Like monocropping or monocracy or monogamy. All potentially fraught. Everything needs a little variety. One way or another.

Don't you think?

Especially one's diet. I know that in certain cultures in certain climates, people live on nothing but fish for the majority of the year, but I believe that in general, in the world most of us reading blogs on the interweb inhabit, our most healthful option is to maintain a diet that is varied. This means getting vitamins, minerals, fats (yes, fats), protein and whatall from several sources. Several sources each. One of the things that most concerned me, going into this vegan thing, was the soy problem.

Soy has become damn hip. At the coffee shop I work at, we've gone from ordering two cases of soymilk a week to three. And we still run out. I've noticed in a sort of non-scientific way that I'm reaching for the soy way more often then I was even six months ago. I've noticed that some of my regulars have switched from skim to soy. Why?

I mean, they're not vegan. I doubt it has anything to do with food politics. Why is this happening? What do they think they're doing? What's the draw?

Is it all about health?

I've been drinking soymilk for years. At the beginning, it was because of the candy goodness of vanilla soy, but now that I've gotten over the adult joys of eating brownies for breakfast, it's just because I think milk is a little icky. Personal ish. So I already keep it around the house for my coffee or randomly in baked goods, to drink with cookies, on cereal. Etc. I knew that going vegan would up my tofu intake – since every time I drop cheese partially from my diet, that's what happens – and on top of that, there are about a thousand other soy protein items that are pushed on vegetarians and vegans for the sake of meat-y-ness. Boca burgers, TVP, soy yogurt, Fakin-bacon. All soy based. Even if you don't abide by fakery, you still can't avoid it. It's in all kinds of “normal” processed foods, too. One's that are marketed to you and yourself and everyone you know.

It's like this: normally, I would put buttermilk on my oatmeal, but now it's soy milk. Normally, I take yogurt with me for breakfast when I work early, but now it's soy yogurt. Normally, I eat grilled cheese and put butter in my cookies and feta in my stuffed peppers, but now it's baked tofu, silken tofu, soft tofu. Normally, I buy about two blocks of tofu a month. Now it's what? Five? Six?

So what I'm getting at is simply that I am eating significantly more soy. And. And I noticed I was feeling funny. My stomach was bothering me. Not like nauseous but more like . . . just strange. Off. Sort of like the idea of cramps, but not cramps-actual. A hollow sort of full feeling. And I wondered if it had anything to do with all the soy.

Now I don't have anything particularly smart to say about this. I've done a little research via the internet, and a friend who is studying to be a nutritionist, and perhaps unsurprisingly, results are mixed and often contradictory. Tofu is both super heart healthy and maybe not. It could both reduce the likelihood of breast cancer in women, and "one hundred grams of soy baby formula has approximately the same amount of oestrogen as a contraceptive pill," which seems maybe like a bad thing. Soy is the most complete protein of the legume family, and in its unfermented state it hinders absorption of minerals and inhibits the digestion of . . . protein!?


I bring all this up not to say something conclusive, but rather because I noticed it and if one has been vegan for a while, or is intent on veganism for more philosophical reasons, one might not notice it. I'm clearly not a nutritionist or a food scientist. Just your everyday snobetarian. But I'm also not the soy industry and I don't have any particular agenda here. I think it's interesting to consider this aspect of veganism. It's hard enough to eat a variety of things if you're not vegan, especially if you don't cook, and putting this kind of obstruction on your diet only further complicates the diet variety matter. Like my nutritionist friends says, “In my personal philosophy I believe in a balanced diet. I wouldn't recommend a vegan diet to a client but if they wanted to be on a vegan diet I would tell them how to do it safely. I wouldn't discourage something they wanted to do. Anyways, because the B12 and vitamin D is low in a vegan diet and because the fiber content makes absorption more difficult and protein requirements are harder to fill it can be less safe especially if people aren't eating enough nutrient dense foods.”

In other words, this is a tricky business. There are all kinds of things that could be causing my tummy to feel funny. My carb intake is also up – maybe more on this – and who knows if I'm actually eating as much as I usually do. But while soy has had a lot of great press, it could be a part of my problem, too. It's not a health "panacea", nor is it a vegan panacea. It's just part of ye olde balanced diet. And I wonder if anyone else has anything to say about this.

(Not to mention the monocropping again. If we're all eating so much soy, where's it coming from do you think? If we're worried about the environment and de-rainforestization and the farming industrial complex...why are we purchasing the hell out of soy products? Especially you vegans. I mean, isn't that part of your reasoning? Isn't it partly about some environmental political philosophy? Isn't it? Or is that just me.)