DON’T HAVE A COW: Candle Cafe Proves Vegan Can Be Gourmet

New York City's Candle Cafe West, Candle Cafe, and Candle 79 have earned rave reviews for their organic, vegan, and locally sourced cuisine.
New York City’s Candle Cafe West, Candle Cafe, and Candle 79 have earned rave reviews for their organic, vegan, and locally sourced cuisine.

New York City’s famed  Candle Cafe and its sister restaurants—Candle Cafe West and Candle 79—helped prove to the country that vegan food can be delicious, upscale, and gourmet. These pioneering green restaurants have also been members of  of Green America’s Green Business Network® for nearly two decades. Below, our former editorial intern Sierra Schellenberg tells their amazing story.

(This article first appeared in the 2014 edition of Green America’s National Green Pages®.) 

On Friday the 13th, 1993, New York City natives Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson flouted the 13th’s reputation for bad luck and won the lottery. Their $53,000 prize was small by lottery standards, but it was enough for the couple to launch their dream—what was likely the country’s first upscale organic and vegan restaurant, the Candle Cafe. At the time, vegan food was pretty much synonymous with “tasteless” and “boring” in many people’s minds, but Potenza and Pierson again managed to fly in the face of expectation.

Determined to prove that vegan food should be known as “delicious” and “high class,” they began serving local, organic, and seasonal vegan gourmet cuisine that soon won an eager following on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Pierson, who had served as the in-house nutritionist of the couple’s pre-lottery juice bar and health food shop, Healthy Candle, says that when she and Potenza discovered the health benefits of a vegan diet, it became their passion in life to share it with others—primarily by making it look and taste as good as non-vegan cuisine.

“When I felt the impact of good food on my body, mind, and spirit, I got inspired. I learned that a vegan diet has such a profound effect on people’s health and the environment. This really created the lifestyle choice for me, and I ended up turning it into my full-time passion and career,” she told Planet Green.

Two years after Candle Cafe opened its doors, New York food critique Eric Asimov gave the restaurant a boost when he gave it a favorable review, calling its grilled tempeh and portobello burger “pleasantly savory” and its French toast “excellent.” Business started to pick up as word spread, and
by 2003, Potenza and Pierson had launched Candle 79, a more upscale cousin of Candle Cafe.

“This sort of thing had never been done. Nowhere in the US was there a restaurant solely dedicated to fine, gourmet vegan food,” says Mark Doskow, executive director of the Candle restaurants. The trailblazing has paid off for Potenza and Pierson, who have seen so much demand for their food that they opened up a third restaurant called Candle Cafe West about a year ago.

Health-conscious celebrities have been vocally singing the cafe’s praises almost since the beginning. Radio talk host Howard Stern has been known to order Candle Cafe takeout while on the air. Actress Alicia Silverstone appeared on local NYC talk show LX New York to teach the city how to
make Candle 79’s Seitan Piccata in 2009 to celebrate the release of her vegan nutrition book The Kind Diet. And actor David Duchovny told The Gothamist in 2013 that while he isn’t actually vegan, Candle Cafe and Candle Cafe West are two of his favorite restaurants.

Candle chefs have also been featured on The Today Show and Good Morning America. And Candle 79 was the first vegan restaurant to be reviewed
by famed New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, who wrote in 2008, “I, like most of my restaurant-critic kin, haven’t given vegan cuisine its due. Candle 79, which has prospered for five years without benefit of major reviews, showed me the light.”

In addition to serving vegan and mostly organic and locally sourced food, the Candle franchise has a firm commitment to keeping GMOs (genetically modified organisms) out of its restaurants. Pierson and Potenza pursue greenness down to the very last detail. It is company policy to use recycled materials, eco-friendly décor, energy-saving equipment, and nontoxic cleaning supplies in the restaurant and offices. The company also invests in wind power to offset its environmental impacts.

For the folks at the Candle restaurants, the increased interest in vegan dining is more than just another food trend. “Not only is veganism better for us and the planet, but veganism can hold its own as a genre of cuisine,” says Doskow. “When I was a kid, you’d go out for Chinese food. Now I think people go out and want vegan food. All of us at the Candle restaurants look forward to moving the process along and being on the forefront.”

—Sierra Schellenberg

Pier_Vegan-Holiday-Cooking (2)The Candle restaurants are located in New York City, but if you want a taste of Candle Cafe at home, check out the Candle Cafe Cookbook and the Candle 79 Cookbook, as well as the upcoming Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe.  For a delicious recipe from the Candle Cafe Cookbook for Tofu Scramble with Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Fries, check out the Epicurious website.  And watch for the Winter 2014 Green American, coming in late November, which will feature tips and recipes from Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe. 

DON’T HAVE A COW: 4 Sneaky Ways to Veganize Your Family’s Plate

P24Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld are two sisters who discovered through personal experience the joys and health and environmental benefits of eating vegan. As vegan chefs and certified plant-based nutritionists, the sisters know all sorts of tricks to get the most flavor out of your vegan dishes and get your family on board with plant-based eating. Through their business, Anything Vegan, they offer vegan nutrition consulting (remote and in-person), vegan personal chef home-delivery services, vegan cooking classes, vegan catering, and wellness planning. They are also popular speakers, including at the Green Festivals®

Marji and Jasmine graciously agreed to let Green America reproduce an excerpt from their free e-book, 10 Sneaky Ways to Veganize Your Family’s Plate, below. To get the full e-book, sign up for their newsletter at AnythingVegan.com.

And read more about Marji and Jasmine’s journey to embracing a plant-based lifestyle and tips for making the vegan transition simple and joyful in the upcoming Fall 2014 Green American.

Is trying to get your family to eat healthy like pulling teeth? Do your kids hate vegetables? Does your man think a vegetable is a garnish? Is your woman’s idea of eating healthy getting a beef burger without the fries?

You have now been recruited by the Anything Vegan Espionage Society. You now have 4 secret tips to make your undercover operation a success. Let’s get started.

1) Keep Your Secrets. As an AV Operative You Must Keep the Confidentiality of the Mission. Keep a low profile on your vegan changes. Don’t talk about how the food is healthy or how they have to eat healthy food. That can be a turnoff. Don’t force the subject or you will meet resistance and fail! So instead of dragging them kicking and screaming into the dining room, just do it.

There is a common rule of vegan infiltration that must be followed: Say Nothing! The best way to overcome stubborn objections is not to tell them that you are making healthy decisions for their plates. That’s right—keep your secrets. If you tell them ahead of time, their preconceived ideas of what tastes good and what tastes weird will override their taste buds. Did you ever think you were drinking orange juice but gagged when you discovered it was grape juice in the cup? There was nothing wrong with the grape juice, but your brain already decided what it “should” taste like. Any deviation from preconceived ideas may be perceived as “tasting bad”. So don’t let them know you’ve changed anything. If they notice something is different, simply say “Thank you, I think I’m becoming a better cook. Glad you noticed.”

2) Create an Illusion. Find foods that they already love and quietly substitute animal ingredients with vegan foods. In our full e-book (get it free by signing up for our newsletter),  we give you recipes that show you how to begin doing this. But use your imagination to figure out what you can use in place of meat, eggs, dairy, and bad sugars. You should become familiar with the many meat, dairy, and egg substitutes that are in most local supermarkets now in the frozen aisles or by the fresh fruits and vegetable aisles. They are even in Walmart and Target now! These are good transition foods. The truth is that for you to be a vegan, you don’t need a lot of money for great food. But until your knowledge and skills get you to the point of making your own vegan substitutes, there are plenty on the market to choose from. This is a great time to become a vegan. Most of the food substitutes presented may cost a little more per pound, but you will eat a lot less of these than you do of meat and dairy to feel satisfied and full. As you become more comfortable creating more grain-, fruit-, and vegetable-based meals, you will use less and less of these processed foods, and may eliminate them all together as well. But for now, relax, have fun and enjoy the process.

Use egg substitutes in your baking and cooking. There are plenty of egg substitutes available for baking or preparing a dish that calls for eggs. Ener-G Egg Replacer is a reliable egg substitute for use in baking. It is available at health food stores and most grocery stores.

Tofu is great for egg substitutions in recipes that call for a lot of eggs, like quiches or custards. To replace one egg in a recipe, purée 1/4 cup soft tofu. It is important to keep in mind that although tofu doesn’t fluff up like eggs, it does create a texture that is perfect for “eggy” dishes. Tofu is also a great substitute for eggs in eggless egg salad and breakfast scrambles.

In desserts and sweet, baked goods, try substituting one banana or 1/4 cup applesauce for each egg called for in a recipe for sweet, baked desserts. These will add some flavor to the recipe, so make sure bananas or apples are compatible with the other flavors in the dessert. (thanks to Peta.org for this concise egg-sub info).

Make pizzas with vegan pepperoni by Lightlife instead of pork.

Use vege-ground crumble instead of ground beef in your lasagna.

Replace the dairy cheese in your mac-n-cheese with Anything Vegan’s O’So Cheesy alternatives.

Use vegan chik’n patties instead of chicken. Season it with the seasonings you normally use for chicken, then fry or bake it. Dress it up the same way as you would do with a chicken patty. They even make chicken nuggets.

So, roll up those sleeves, and get going… What’re you waiting for!? Have fun!

Check out our upcoming cookbook for lots more specific guidance and transition recipes.

3) Outwit Their Taste Buds. Introduce new fruits, grains, or vegetables, but cook them with the same seasonings you’ve always used. Start small by substituting rice or soy milk for cow’s milk, vegan butter for dairy butter, delicious Anything Vegan cheese alternatives for dairy cheese, etc. as suggested in tip # 2. Start using more and more fresh grain, fruit, and vegetable ingredients.

People cannot break habits without replacing them with new habits. What you want to do is create new habits by purposely creating meals using lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and for drinking, lots of plain water. We believe that as people know better, they do better, but only within a community, with support, and understanding. This is where you come in. As you work on changing family habits, there are things you can do each day to make it easier.

Drink plenty of water daily. Replacing soda with water can help you drop up to 50 pounds. Think before you drink – what are we putting into our body? Water refreshes and replenishes your cells, brain, skin, hair, and everything else. This is an instant energy pick-me-up too. And you won’t crave as much junk.

Eat a nutritious breakfast to avoid feeling ravenous—you can then better control snacking and lunch choices.

Eat healthy snacks often throughout the day—nuts, fruits, raw vegetables. These things cut up and carried around in little baggies keeps our cravings down for the junk food.

Reduce your sweet tooth by eating less and less un-natural sugar. In a short time you will get the same “sugar-satisfaction” without the processed sugar.

Eat only until you are no longer hungry—not to Thanksgiving full. Train your family by preparing small portions of food at each sitting. You can always get seconds if you really want to but wait 15 minutes before taking that second plate to give your brain time to register what you just ate to see if you really want more. This is a good time to catch up on each other’s day.

Be guilt-free if you occasionally deviate from your new eating habits. Give yourself a break already! The world beats us up enough—don’t do it to yourself, too. If you eat the occasional cookie with egg ,don’t make a federal case out of it. And the same goes for how you treat your family. The key is for everyone to keep doing better in your goals each day without making yourself feel bad about what you don’t do at this time. Good feelings and congratulating yourself for what you do right will encourage you and them to continue and to want to do more. And this is the most important thing.

4) TAKE ACTION NOW! They’ll never know they are eating healthy vegan meals. Here a delicious, easy vegan recipe to get you started.

Family Dinner: Vege-Crumble Spinach Lasagna

VegeLasagna

The tofu “ricotta” has a wonderful creamy texture and boasts all the familiarity of the traditional lasagna that most of us grew up with. Paired with the veg-crumble instead of ground meat, this is a family favorite. For more cheesiness, add O’So Cheesy vegan cheese to each layer.

INGREDIENTS 1/2 to 1 pound (225 to 455 g) lasagna noodles 2 packages (10 ounces each) fresh chopped spinach 1 package (16 ounces) firm tofu (not silken) ½ cup nutritional yeast 1 tablespoon raw turbinado sugar, agave nectar or other natural sweetener (optional) 1/4 cup nondairy milk (such as rice, oat, soy, almond, or hazelnut), (add more if needed) 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 peeled garlic cloves 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced 1 teaspoon vege-salt or sea salt (or to taste) 4 to 6 cups tomato or pasta sauce of your choice (be sure there is no meat added) 4 garlic cloves, minced “crumble seasoning mix” (½ teaspoon each of salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil or oregano) 1 package of vege-ground crumble or vege- saugage.

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; (180 degrees C, or gas mark 4).

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions or use “no-boil” lasagna noodles. Drain and set aside. Wash fresh spinach in cold water and drain. Place tofu, sweetener (if using), milk, garlic powder, lemon juice, basil, nutritional yeast, salt and half of the garlic into a blender or food processor and blend until like a cottage cheese consistency. The tofu “ricotta” should be creamy but still have body. Transfer to large-size bowl, and stir in spinach. Add salt little by little until it’s just right for your taste. In a medium sized skillet heat oil. Add vege ground crumble, onions, the rest of the garlic, and “crumble seasoning mix”. Sauté until browned. Cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of noodles (use about one-third of noodles). Follow with half the tofu filling then a thin layer of ground crumble. Repeat in the same order, using half the remaining tomato sauce and noodles, and all remaining tofu filling, fresh spinach, and ground crumble. End with remaining noodles, covered by remaining tomato sauce. Drizzle O’So Cheesy cheese over the top or use a vege shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 55 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes more. Let set for at least 20 minutes before serving to be sure it sets nicely and holds its shape when cut.

—Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon

What are your favorite tips for veganizing your family’s meals?

DON’T HAVE A COW: A Sneak Peek at the Fall “Green American”

FallGAMCover2Cows have a profound impact on our planet. In fact, if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your diet, the single-most important thing you can do is eat less beef—or none at all.

According to a 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), raising beef and dairy cattle contributes 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (14.5 percent for all types of livestock).

However, researchers from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation say that figure underestimates the impact of livestock on the climate crisis. Add in the rainforest lands that are razed to make way for livestock grazing (primarily cattle), and you end up with a figure closer to 51 percent, they say in a 2012 report for Worldwatch.

And that’s just the climate crisis. Consider the tons of genetically modified soil and corn grown to feed cows. The pesticides applied to those fields that runs into the ocean, causing “dead zones” where no life can survive. The stunning amount of water cows need: It takes 840 gallons to produce one pound of conventional beef, according to Denis Hayes, co-author of Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment. The unspeakable cruelty practiced in conventional slaughterhouses.

In our upcoming Fall issue of the Green American, we talk with Hayes—president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and founder of the first-ever Earth Day—about the considerable environmental and health impacts of raising and eating cows, and what to do about it.

As a first step, Hayes recommends zeroing in on your beef consumption and making what beef you may choose to eat local, grass-fed, and organic. (There’s evidence, Hayes says, that the best-managed grass-fed cattle farms can actually be a carbon sink.)  But even more importantly is the fact that everyone needs to cut their beef consumption in half, at least—grass-fed beef requires more land than conventional beef, so converting the world to grass-fed beef but maintaining current consumption levels would be an environmental nightmare.

Of course, the best option would be for people to go vegetarian or vegan. Our upcoming issue features two sisters—and co-owners of Anything Vegan—who are vegan chefs, caterers, and nutritionists, offering their best advice for going vegan simply and joyfully.

But, as Hayes notes, “according to a poll done for Vegetarian Times, just 3.2 percent of American adults are vegetarian.”

Those of us at Green America wish that number were much larger, but, as Denis says, “wishing won’t make it so.”

That’s where our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series comes in. Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of September, Green America staff and select outside experts will be blogging about our favorite ways to eat less meat and go vegetarian or vegan. Use the magazine to spread the word to the 97 percent who eat meat in your community about why everyone should eat less meat. And use the tips, recipes, and resources we’ll include in this blog series to challenge yourself and everyone you know to further in shrinking your dietary impact.

If you’re already vegetarian or vegan, we invite you to share your expertise with others in the comments sections.

In that spirit, here’s my favorite, simple recipe for (vegan) hummous, from the family recipes of a Lebanese friend. 

Hummous bi tahini

19 oz. chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)

¼ cup sesame tahini

1 clove garlic

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup lemon juice

Drain liquid from the chickpeas and set liquid aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or blender, adding only enough liquid to achieve desired consistency. (More liquid = thinner dip.) If you like your hummous lemony, you can add lemon juice in addition or instead. Blend 2-3 minutes into a smooth paste. Place in a small platter. Sprinkle with olive oil and garnish with fresh parsley.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe in the comments section below!

 

 

VICTORY: Apple to Remove Two Potent Toxins from Supplier Factories

Green America campaigns director (right) joins representatives from China Labor Watch for our April 25th joint protest at Apple's flagship New York City store.
Green America campaigns director Elizabeth O’Connell (right) joins representatives from China Labor Watch for our April 25th joint protest at Apple’s flagship New York City store.

This spring, Green America’s End Smartphone Sweatshops campaign, in partnership with China Labor Watch (CLW), called on Apple to remove toxic chemicals including benzene and n-hexane from its supplier factories in China. Only five months into the campaign, Apple announced in August that it would “explicitly prohibit the use of benzene and n-hexane” at 22 of its final-assembly supplier factories.

“If you’ve ever wondered if signing a petition can really make a difference, now you know. With 23,000 signatures since March of 2014, we’ve been able to push one of the biggest companies in the world to change its practices,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaigns director.

A known carcinogen, benzene can cause leukemia, a blood cancer, and leukopenia, a dangerously low white blood cell count.The chemical n-hexane is a neurotoxicant that can cause nerve damage and paralysis after long-term exposure. As reported in the April/May Green American, workers in electronics supplier factories—including those making Apple products—use both chemicals to clean touch screens. Undercover CLW representatives have found such workers using little to no protective equipment, with inadequate safety training.

In a statement released August 13th, Lisa Jackson, former EPA Secretary and current Apple vice-president of environmental affairs, stated that Apple had investigated 22 final-assembly supplier factories that make iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Mac computers, “and found no evidence of workers’ health being put at risk from exposure to [benzene and n-hexane].”

O’Connell, however, says the campaign’s work is not over. “Benzene and n-hexane are still allowed in factories that produce the components for iPhones and iPads,” she sas. “Beyond benzene and n-hexane, there are thousands of chemicals used in electronics manufacturing—some which are largely untested—and many chemicals used by Apple suppliers remain undisclosed. Apple needs to do more to protect workers.”

With production set to ramp up this fall with the release of the iPhone 6, Green America and CLW are now calling on Apple to extend the chemical ban to substances other than benzene and n-hexane, and to all of its supplier factories, including early-production facilities where chemical usage and safety measures are less controlled.

In July, the campaign also began targeting Samsung, after news broke that five children below the age of 16 and many minors between 16 and 18 were found working in Shinyang Electronics Co., Ltd., one of its Chinese suppliers. Workers are also exposed in Samsung’s factories to toxins like benzene and n-hexane.

Sign our new petition to Apple, as well as our petition to Samsung and demand they take action to protect all workers across their supply chains.

U.S. Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademarks

Today the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins, ruling that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans”. This beautiful ad shows better than anything we could write why this name needs to go away for good.

In addition, you can read our article on “Native American Marketing Images” for more ideas on how to support justice and respect when it comes to using these images and mascots–or not using them. It was written quite some time ago, but the advice is still sound.

 

 

 

 

Which US Corporations Exploit Immigrants?

7-11-prepaid-cardsWhen you hear the word “sweatshop,” what comes to mind?

Most likely shadowy factories in faraway places like China or Bangladesh, where workers are packed into small spaces with their machinery,   breathing in dust-filled air and working 14- to 18-hour days for poverty-level wages. Anyone who has ever read about sweatshops knows that abusive working conditions are the norm in such places.

But they’re “over there,” not here in America, right? With our better labor and environmental laws, surely sweatshop conditions don’t occur on US soil?

It’s a popular myth that even the most knowledgeable Green Americans may believe. In fact, after Green America’s online editor Andrew Korfhage posted a link to a story on the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh back in April, one commenter urged people to buy “Made in the USA” to avoid purchasing from companies that do business with sweatshops.

If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, worker abuse—horrific, inhuman worker abuse—does occur in the US, and it’s more prevalent than you think.

“Fair Labor at Home,” the July/August issue of the Green American covers in-depth how workers in US restaurants, farm fields, domestic labor situations, and workplaces tied to national corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s are regularly subjected to sweaetshop-style working conditions. Because they may still be learning English or may be unfamiliar with US labor laws, recent immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are among the most exploited workers in the country, enduring wage theft, dangerous working conditions, discrimination, and even physical assaults.

In 2012, student guest workers from Latina America and Asia on J-1 cultural visas won a settlement against McDonald’s, which agreed to pay them $213,000 in stolen wages and $141,000 for health and safety violations the students endured in the workplace.

Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), a coalition of workers at US warehouses in Walmart’s supply chain, has, to date, recovered over $700,000 in stolen wages through lawsuits against Walmart-contracted warehouse companies, with more suits pending. The majority of the workers are people of color, says WWJ’s Leah Fried, with up to half of them being immigrants.

And farmworkers picking tomatoes for Wendy’s say the company isn’t doing enough to protect workers from abuse and assault, and it hasn’t raised its wages of 50 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes for 30 years. Almost all of the top fast food chains in the country have signed onto the Fair Food Program—an agreement spearheaded by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in which they agree to pay a penny per pound premium to tomato pickers and implement real protections for workers. Wendy’s, however, is the lone holdout.

The “Fair Labor at Home” Green American has more details on each of these cases. But imagine our editors’ surprise (not really) when, as we sent the issue to the printer, news broke that 7-11 was being investigated for luring more than 50 Pakistani immigrants into the country to work for 14 7-11 stores in New York and Virginia. Upon their arrival, the workers had to put in 100-hour workweeks (That’s right—at least 14-hour workdays.). In addition, they were forced to live in employer-owned boarding houses and had “rent” money deducted from their paychecks. In fact, the money that was left over was so miniscule that the New York Times referred to the scheme as a “modern-day plantation system.” The federal government is also investigating allegations that the 7-11 employers stole additional, “substantial” money from the workers’ paychecks.

The 7-11 franchise owners also stand accused of committing identity theft to give the workers false identifications and conceal their trafficking scheme. The 7-11 corporation did little to monitor the situation, even though its records showed that stores in two different states had several workers with the same name and Social Security number on their employee rolls.

7-11 stores in at least seven other states are under federal investigation for similar trafficking and labor violations.

As we noted in the Green American, “The immigrant rights movement is not about handouts, but about ensuring that every US immigrant’s situation is handled fairly and with compassion—and that exploitation of this vulnerable worker population comes to an end.”

As we work together to promote Fair Trade and stop sweatshop abuses around the world, join with us at Green America to also call for the rights of workers inside our borders.

For the next four weeks, join the Green America editorial staff every Tuesday and Thursday as we blog about worker rights in the US. 

Advice from a Nutritionist: How to Gently Detox from Sugar

Guest blogger and Certified Nutrition Specialist Tricia McCauley
Guest blogger and Certified Nutrition Specialist Tricia McCauley

Guest blogger Tricia McCauley is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and herbalist, and the author of the popular  Green American article “Managing Stress with Herbal Support.”  Twenty years ago, Tricia began her exploratory journey with food and cooking as she coped with severe food sensitivities. Learning to cook with brand-new staples; cutting all gluten, corn, soy, garlic, canola oil, and sugar out of her diet; and discovering the connections between digestion and stress taught Tricia a great deal about patience and self-care.  She is thrilled to have recently re-introduced her formerly forbidden foods back onto her plate! She’s the resident herbalist at Common Good City Farm in Washington, DC, and through her business Nutricia Consulting, she helps clients adopt healthier relationships with food, specializing in identifying food sensitivities, undertaking dietary transitions, and managing stress. See the end of this blog entry for a special deal on her e-book and e-workbook on detoxing.

Green America asked Tricia to talk to us about how to best cope with “detoxing” from too much added sugar.

Does the title of this article make you feel anxious or a little jittery?  Does the idea of taking the added sugars out of your diet seem overwhelming?  Do you feel like you have a Relationship with sugar, that it functions in your life as a friend or maybe even a significant other?

These are good signs that a sugar detox is exactly what you need.

For all the reasons outlined in the “Sickeningly Sweet” issue of the Green American, taking a break from sugar is a worthwhile experiment.  Maybe you’ll find that it’s not a problem in your life.  Or, maybe you’ll find that you actually are an addict and that the detoxing process is a true rite of passage.  I’m a big fan of having as much information as possible about the effects of food on my body.  Even if you decide, after a detox, to return to eating candy corn for lunch, you’ll have a clear idea of how sugar affects you, and how much power you have over your cravings and addictions.

What can you expect when detoxing from sugar?  That depends on two things:  (1) how deeply you are addicted, and (2) how gently you approach your cleanse.  Going cold-turkey from sugar can be a huge challenge.  You might experience shakiness, sweatiness, lethargy, mood swings, or even skin breakouts as the body re-orients itself.  It seems counter-intuitive, but often when we take out toxins, things get worse before they get better.  Sort of like when someone quits smoking and then gets a bad (or worse) cough.  The body is readjusting itself to the lack of toxic inputs, and that can feel disorienting. Or, you may feel just fine and have no side effects.

If you skip the cold turkey and instead plan a GENTLE, gradual detox, it’s very possible to have a delightful experience.

I took refined sugar completely out of my diet for about two years, over a decade ago.  It was in conjunction with a lot of other dietary changes in an attempt to get my food sensitivities under control.  When I couldn’t eat any gluten, corn, or soy, it was so easy to avoid sugar.  Lately, though I’ve noticed that the sugar has crept back in—this past year of unrestricted eating has been a slippery slope of temptation!  When I’m at a party, I can actually have a piece of cake; and when my friends Olivia and Jeff invited me to their Seder, ohmygosh yes I did sample all three decadent desserts.

I’m currently leading my annual spring cleansing group (students learn how to design a gentle detox for themselves, and then we support each other as we embark on our cleanses), and I’m very excited to get my food choices back on track .  (Full disclosure: I’m more of a salt-and-fat girl than a sugar girl.  So for me, an off-track diet is surviving on store-bought hummus, cheese, and nut crackers, rather than cooking up the salmon, kale, and brown rice.)  And even though nutrition is my profession and I’m an experienced cleanser, I’ll still follow all my own rules to create a gentle experience for myself.

Here they are, in a nutshell:

Rule #1: Practice Kindness and Patience

Why is removing sugar such a challenge?  Because as with any addiction, we’re dealing with both the physical and the psychological triggers.

Physically, the body will experience cravings when something is missing. Cravings are like a red flag: Are you dehydrated?  Are you hungry? The body is trying really hard to keep you alive, and when something is awry, its first go-to craving is sugar.  This is because, historically (as in, before the invention of refined sugar), sweet foods such as berries and honey are nutrient-dense and safe.  Isn’t the body smart??  It’s amazing.

Psychologically, the relationship between a sweet taste and nurture is reinforced by holiday treats, birthday cakes, and even lollipops given out at the dentist’s office. We’ve been programmed to equate sugar with reward, safety, and comfort.

So there’s a lot riding on the relationship you have with sugar.  For some people, the physical addiction is the biggest challenge, while for others, it can take a lot of work to root out the psychological triggers.

Whatever your particular relationship with the sweet stuff, practice compassion for yourself.  Remember that you and your body are on the same team, despite all those cravings.  And keep in mind that a detox is not punishment!  You’ve already been punishing yourself by ingesting sugar, right?  So breathe deeply and make the commitment to this journey.

Rule #2: Make A Plan

To effectively, gently detox, you’ll need a plan.  You can make this plan in a journal dedicated to your sugar-free experiment, or on the computer, or on a coffeehouse napkin—whatever works for your brain.  But you will need a plan to support you when the going gets rough.

Start by gathering information.  Identify the ways sugar shows up in your daily routine, read labels, and observe when you seem to crave it the most.

Choose a start date that works for you, and put it on the calendar. From there, sketch out the rest of your detox.   I’m not a fan of going cold turkey: it can be harsh for the body and intense for the mind.  In the spirit of gentleness, I put my vote in for gradually easing the body off of an addiction.  For example, Day 1, no more candy from the office candy dish.  Day 2, no ice cream after dinner.  Day 3, use honey in your morning coffee.

Rule #3: Add Things In

Deprivation is no fun.  So once you’ve gotten through your plan to eliminate sugar, you get to the joyful part: adding things in!

Address both the physical and the psychological aspects.  For the body, stay hydrated; get dense nutrition through vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins; indulge in sleep; and exercise.

For the taste buds, add in healthy sweet foods—fruits and root vegetables.  It may take your taste buds some time to readjust and find the sweetness in natural sources. If your addiction is particularly intense, you can use a tablespoon of honey as a treat.  One student of mine had to add honey to her fruit smoothies, because fruit didn’t taste sweet to her. That’s not the perfect long-term solution, but satisfying the craving will help get you through the early days. Honor your body and start where you are.

For the mind, add in other forms of sweetness: creative projects, massage, time in nature, a special adventure.  Really nourish yourself, body and spirit.

Rule #4: Get Support

It helps to have community when doing any sort of detox.  Find support by announcing your project to friends and co-workers, finding a cleanse buddy, or simply by reading about the experiences of others through this blog!

Rule #5: Remember Rule #1  :)

SPECIAL OFFER: You don’t have to be in DC to get Tricia’s advice on detoxing your diet. Her e-book Cleansing & Detox Made Simple: Create Your Personalized Healing Diet for Any Season is available for $9.99 at NutriciaConsulting.com .  Green America blog readers can get a free companion e-workbook, which includes 11 worksheets to help you plan and focus your short-term detox, plus shopping tips, recipes, and more resources to guide you along the way.

To get your free e-workbook, visit NutriciaConsulting.com, add both the Cleansing and Detox Made Simple e-book and e-workbook to your shopping cart, and use coupon code SugarDetox.

Don’t forget to let us know how your sugar detox is going in the comments below!