The Hidden Animal in That Vegan-Like Dish

I belong to a luncheon group that generally meets twice a month and works at figuring out how to stay on the whole foods, plant-based diet when eating out. It's become second nature to me when I'm at home. I can safely say that I'm pretty much 100% WFPB at home. But it's a challenge when eating out.

And we should recognize that it's not going to be 100% WFPB when we eat out. A good example occurred this past Monday. We went to a favorite restaurant, Chow Daddy's on Hilton Head Island. It's a favorite because they have several things on the menu that come as close as any to meeting our criteria. A favorite dish of many of our club members is the mushroom tacos. They are nothing short of delicious.

But there's also a number of other dishes, including kale and white bean soup, kale and quinoa salad bowl, roasted vegetables over brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries and more. I think you can start to see why it's a favorite of ours.

And once again, I was all set to order the kale and white bean soup along with a course of the mushroom tacos and roasted sweet potatoes, but one of the people in our party asked the question about what was the base for the kale and white bean soup. It turns out that it's a chicken stock that is made in house at the restaurant.

Aaaargh! Tilt! What now?

Well, first of all, that proved my point that dining out is just not going to be 100% plant perfect. But the bigger question is about how important is that. I've concluded that we can sometimes make it more important than it need be.

Let me explain why I say that. If you go back to Dr. T. Colin Campbell's studies to start with, you might remember that he turned cancer on and off by varying the amount of animal protein in a diet.  At a level of 5% of animal protein, cancer was turned off, but at 20% animal protein, cancer was turned on. Most of us have interpreted that to mean that we should eliminate all animal protein from our diets. And that includes me. But the test results don't go to zero; they go down to a 5% level.

And Dr. Campbell acknowledges as much in his book The China Study. On page 242, Dr. Campbell states that it's not absolutely proven that the optimum percentage of animal-based products is zero. But he does state "Certainly it is true that most of the health benefits are realized at very low but non-zero levels of animal-based foods."

So, what solution does he propose. Very simply, he states, "My advice is to eliminate all animal-based products from your diet, but not obsess over it." And that's where I'm at. At home, I know for sure that I am not eating any animal products. Period. But when I go out, I don't necessarily always know the full extent of what I eat. Many restaurants will add an egg into the development of a dish that otherwise sounds vegan for example.

Interestingly, Dr. Campbell goes on to remark on the exact situation that I ran into at Chow Daddy's. He states, also on page 242, "If a tasty vegetable soup has a chicken stock base, or if a hearty loaf of whole wheat bread includes a tiny amount of egg, don't worry about it. These quantities, very likely, are nutritionally unimportant."

This is not license to add animal products back into a WFPB diet. In fact, Dr. Campbell is very clear about that. He goes on to say, "I am not suggesting that you deliberately plan to incorporate small portions of meat into your daily diet. My recommendation is that you try to avoid all animal-based products."

And that's where I'm at. I've eliminated animal products from my diet, and I try to avoid meals with animal products when I go out to eat. But if a soup has a chicken stock base or if the chef sneaks an egg into something, I'm not going to obsess over that. If I did then I'd never go out because I'm pretty sure that it happens much more than we realize.