Food magazines worldwide have redefined the term plant-based over the years to the point where many of their followers now face a barrage of sheer and constant confusion.

A good example of how such confusion develops was delivered to the email boxes of thousands of New Zealand’s Healthy Food Guide (HFG) readers last Thursday afternoon.

In this message HFG’s editor, Jenny de Montalk, says:

“Plant-based simply means a healthy diet based mostly on foods derived from plants, such as veges, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, but including, to a lesser degree, meat and animal products, if you want to eat them.”

We have no dispute with the first part of her explanation but, for evidence based eaters like ourselves her definition runs right off the rails where it suggests that meat and animal products can be included “if you want to eat them.”

For us there is a clear distinction about what it means to be plant-based. In fact, this shortened form of the full terminology is not something evidence based eaters prefer because it tends to leave the door open to the kind of confusion referred to above. The term evidenced based eating is relatively new and its followers are often referred to as EBE’s by the very affable Southland GP, Dr Martyn Williamson.

Lately, one of the better descriptions we’ve come across for defining this type of eating is used regularly in personal presentations by plant-based advocate, Dr Luke Wilson, of Wellington. 

As Dr Wilson puts it,  if you’re ever wondering whether a particular food is good to eat, you only need ask yourself two questions:

1. Is it from a plant?

2. How close is it to something plucked from a tree, picked from a bush, or pulled from the earth?

Dr Wilson is the New Zealand ambassador on the newly formed Australasian group, Doctors for Nutrition. Doctors for Nutrition last month ran two well attended health symposiums in Auckland and Wellington and also managed to garner a small amount of traditional media attention.

The term ‘whole food plant-based’, was originally coined by renowned American biochemist T Colin Campbell.

He describes how he arrived at it in a brief but interesting article published on his Nutrition Studies website where he explains that the term ‘plant-based’ was something he first came up with in 1982 and later added ‘whole food’ to the nomenclature because of “the inappropriate use of nutrient supplements.”

Thus the acronym WFPG, whole food plant-based, was born and is still used by a growing movement of people who are unquestionably Vegan but came in via a different path.

Some because of medical events like heart attack or stroke but others because they simply became wise after reading books like The China Study or watching Fork Over Knives – seminal works in this area.

Many evidenced based eaters are proud to call themselves Vegan today but, not having arrived here from any other ethical standpoint, can sometimes be surprised to discover that Vegan is what they now are.

Campbell however draws a distinction between WFPB and a traditional Vegan diet which tends to define itself by what it excludes whereas “a WFPB diet is defined also by what it emphasizes: a large variety of whole foods,” he says.

Over the years avid food writers have become more than a little confused about all this and now, if one of New Zealand’s most prominent food magazines is to be believed, you can still include meat and animal products if you want them.

Every year food magazines take millions from meat and animal product producing industries to flesh out pages with recipes thousands of people now avoid.

Many food magazine writers are aware of this and, perhaps in an effort to preserve their secure pay packets, try to keep a foot in both camps. All round, for farmers, foodies and cuisine writers alike we’re in the midst of a gut wrenching problem.

And, as familiar as they are with big words like degustation, traditional food reviewers are at a total loss when it comes to describing the sensory delights of a good, whole food plant-based meal. Unless totally converted, their traditional diet taste buds will always deny them the full pleasure.

This puts food mags like Healthy Food Guide, and many others, in something of an ethical bind.

On the one hand they know whole food plant-based is really the healthy way to go but, somehow, you can also serve meat with that if you want.

Mixing up the message can only prolong unnecessary misery for millions.

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