your handy $oy primer

It’s been a crumby week in my world. Let’s talk about soy.


homemade tempeh

But first: Who knew? Blackle might not the shiz after all. Commentariat Piig helpfully notes: “I did a little research, and it turns out that using Blackle will only save energy if you’re using a CRT monitor. If you have an LCD monitor it actually uses MORE energy. Also, an LCD monitor is more energy efficient than using Blackle with your CRT monitor.” Dang.

Moving on.

It seems that a soy primer might be in order.

I just read an article in Utne Reader that mistakenly stated that “vegans and vegetarians…eat soy as their main source of protein.” – what a crazy made up statement! Many vegetarians eat lots o’ soy, but a vegetarian diet does not require that soy be your primary protein source. We’ve got the wide world of beans, and seitan and nuts and seeds, and most Americans eat way too much protein anyway! (shout out to Diet for a New America, the very first book to teach me that veg 101 fact.).

As with all foods, there are positives and negatives about soy.

These could be stated in one sentence as: processed = bad, traditional and, especially, fermented = good.

Allow me to expand ad nauseam in an offensively judgmental way.
-First, the basic fact that informs all of what we should think about soy: Sometimes healthy foods are seized upon by gigantique rapatious corporations that, by law, must make as much money as possible. The healthy characteristics of these foods are thus tortured out of them and forcibly introduced into as many crap foods as possible so as to make said crap foods seem healthy. Be wary.

-Americans have been duped into thinking that more is better when it comes to soy (and everything) but the fact is that most of the traditional soy products we should be eating are Japanese (miso, tofu, shoyu, tamari, natto) or Indonesian (I heart tempeh) and are traditionally eaten in (relatively) small quantities. The idea of a gigantic block of tofu set quiveringly in the middle of the plate in place of a steak is a strange American one and I feel, somehow, that my hippie parents might be partially to blame. In gigantic quantities, soy – primarily processed soy – can present some health dangers. The right kinds of soy in the right amounts can also present health benefits. Yay.

-In case you don’t know what I mean by “processed soy,” check your local health food store and, increasingly, supermarket. They are packed with crap soy added to random foodish items in the form of soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed soy protein, soy protein powder, etc. Those microwavable chick’n nuggets that you see in the health food store are not actually food.

-Vegans, back me up: this trend of vegan chefs trying to imitate nonvegan desserts by sticking tofu into them has got to go. Not only does raw tofu used as cake frosting give everyone in the world a stomachache, it also requires massive amounts of sugar to achieve a desserty flavor. I know vegans seem to love “cheesecake” made with half sugar, half tofu and a dash of vanilla, but we’ve got to get over this. I know, I know, it tastes strangely cheesecakey. Let’s not talk about why. Let’s just get over it.

Let me now rather dogmatically tell you which soy products you should eat and which you should eschew.

-Soy milk is sort of weird, and let’s admit it. It’s all beany and has a weird chemical flavor. It’s not a whole food so you’re denying yourself of the full nutrition that you only get from whole soy beans. It doesn’t have the thickness and richness I like in baked goods, so I use coconut milk instead. I don’t eat cereal because it’s all 2 years old and ultra-processed by the time it gets to you, but if I did I would honestly make my own almond milk for cereal. What’s wrong with fruit and toast in the morning, though? (Full disclosure: I am never awake during the so-called “morning.”) (Full disclosure #2: I like Peanut Butter Bumpers as a snack and yes, they contain honey.) (Full disclosure #3: I eat scarily-vegan “pink vanilla funfetti” frosting with pretzel sticks when I am depressed.)

-Soy oil is hideously processed and repellent. It also accounts for 80% of all liquid oils consumed annually in the US – most of that because it is so often used a deep-frying oil. (Full disclosure #5: french fries are a treat I would not want to live with out. I also personally own a deep fryer – I just fill it with grape seed oil.)

-Miso is a traditionally fermented, unrefined, super super healthy Japanese soy paste, without which I would also not want to live. Miso is generally overlooked except for the ubiquitous miso soup. I add a tablespoon or two of miso to most of my soups to add richness and depth. Miso thickens sauces and adds a certain round flavor to so many savory dishes. For maximum health benefits it is best not to heat it, but keep in mind that if you really need to heat it (if you’re bringing a sauce to a boil to thicken it, for example), it’s OK. It will still taste wonderful. Miso is expensive, but making your own is wonderfully strange and takes months and costs almost nothing. Let Sandor Katz teach you how.

-Tempeh is a traditionally fermented, unrefined, super super healthy Indonesian soy cake, without which I would also not want to live. Tempeh is relatively inexpensive, but making your own is wonderfully strange, tastes 100% better than store-bought (which, yes, means that store-bought tempeh tastes like nothing) and takes a day and costs almost nothing. Let Sandor Katz teach you how.

-No one, ever, eats natto, so I won’t talk about it.

-Edamame is just a soybean and everyone knows beans are good for you. Actually, it will totally fuck with your digestion if you don’t cook it enough. Make sure your edamame is not GMO.

-Shoyu is traditionally fermented soy sauce and you should make sure you’re buying it instead of a weird refined, GMO kind of crap soy sauce.

-Tamari is wheat-free soy sauce and it is not as good as shoyu – it’s saltier, rougher, and funkier – and you shouldn’t eat it unless you’re trying to avoid wheat and if you are perhaps you should ask yourself why because suddenly we’ve got all these weirdass wheat phobia fetishes lately and it’s getting a little out of control – we’ve been eating wheat for thousands of years and yes we need to not eat so much processed junk white flour crap but aside from that unless you really and truly have celiac disease which you most likely don’t – enough with the wheat phobia.

And that’s soy.

3 Responses to “your handy $oy primer”

  1. Elizabeth

    I couldn’t agree more!!!

    This interview is a sad example of why soy, in the western sense, turns me off and why I shy away from anything explicitly or zealously labled as vegan.

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  2. lagusta

    Heya Elizabeth!

    While I usually would agree, it sounds to me like Hearth to Home, while they use more soy than I personally do, are using relatively minimally processed soy products. I should say that Raisa, who runs that meal delivery service, became a friend of mine when she was starting up the business and we talked on the phone about how I run my service. I should also say that the idea of eating mashed up silken tofu for breakfast makes me feel almost as queasy as the idea as eating a soft-boiled egg for breakfast. But aside from that, they mentioned using only tofu (and the yuba (tofu skin) they talked about is minimally processed and a traditional Japanese product, it’s just the skin that rises to the top of the pot when making soy milk. I would use it more if I could find organic yuba, unfortunately the only yuba I can find is in Asian markets where it is not labeled as either organic or GMO-free, which is certainly scary), seitan (charmingly pronounced in the Canadian way, “see-tan”!) and tempeh. I do tend to use less soy than they do, and perhaps in slightly more traditional contexts, but most people, especially new vegetarians, tend to love tofu dressed up as meat – for better or worse. And it’s nice that they don’t use those extremely fake meats filled with soy protein isolate and crap like that that overflow off supermarket shelves…

  3. Elizabeth

    Hi Lagusta. You bring up some very thoughful points and I appreciate yoru opinion. My point of view is a little one sided. I was raised a vegetarian and have never craved, let alone tasted meat products so I’m definately not one to rush out and buy simulated meat products like tofu roasts or vegan eggs that look, smell, feel and taste like the real deal. I actually had one scarey experience at an Asian vegetarian restaurant where I haphazardly ordered the jumbo shrimp meal and was totally horrified when the waitor laid what looked exactly like jumbo shimp in front of me. They had shaped and died and flavoured gluten to simulate shrimp and even used filo pastry to make a tail. Living in the boonies of Northern Ontario I often look to Hearth to Home and Lagusta Luscious for menu ideas and secretly envy those who can actually order and enjoy your meals. However, the ingredients that are available to me up here are very limited…to the extent that I can’t even get tofu. Meat is not only a staple on the dinner table but a way of life, a culture. I am constantly bombarded with the question “where do you get yoru protien.” I simply reply that I don’t worry about it because we don’t actually need as much protien as the corporatly sponsored National Food Guide says we need. I guess when i hear vegans such as the chefs at Hearth to Home go one and on about thier protien power house meals I get a little discouraged. Do our meals really have to revolve around protien???


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