I don’t think I could live without Vegenaise mayonnaise. It’s so handy for making vegan potato salad and pretty nice to spread on a sandwich with a few slices of Tofurky. I feel the same way about Tofutti brand vegan sour cream; a dollop on top of a burrito or in a bowl of black bean soup makes all the difference in taste and texture.
But some vegans choose not to eat these foods. They object to the environmental and health costs of highly processed products made from soy and other plant proteins, and might even shun a nice friendly vegan cookie made with white flour.
It’s true that for responsible eating, nothing compares with whole plant foods. Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the most healthful foods on earth and they take a smaller toll on the environment. They don’t require fancy packaging or huge amounts of energy for processing.
On the other hand, processed foods like meat and dairy analogues can make it much easier to take that leap from familiar omnivore meals to vegan cuisine. It’s already a challenge to convince people that vegan diets are delicious, fun and easy. Imagine how much harder it would be without products like Field Roast sausages, Coconut Bliss Ice Cream, Dandies marshmallows, and Nate’s Veggie Meatballs. For many new (and experienced) vegans, these foods make plant-based eating realistic and accessible. If they didn’t exist, the job of every vegan activist would be that much more difficult. And they will only exist—and continue to get better, more appealing, and less expensive—if vegans support the companies who make them.
The quest for a “perfect diet” is pretty much a lost cause anyway, since nutrition scientists have yet to define that ideal. For example, common wisdom tells us to eat lots of fruits and veggies, but the science hasn’t been at all consistent about the benefits of doing so. Maybe it’s better to eat more nuts or legumes. There continue to be questions about whether we should avoid fats or cook with a little bit more olive oil? Do we need more or less plant protein in our diets? Who knows?
When it comes to nutrition, there are far more questions than answers about the best way to eat. I guess we can say with considerable confidence that an apple is more healthful than a Twinkie, but beyond that, it doesn’t pay to be too perfectionist about diet.
Enjoying foods now and then that don’t fit into the “whole foods” ideal is very unlikely to do much harm to your health. It’s good activism, too, because it promotes the image of vegan diets as approachable and fun. And it supports the companies whose work and contributions are essential to building a more humane world.