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Those who have been following this blog for a while know how much I love everything sweet. Especially chocolate. When I went vegan (almost 10 years ago!) Ritter Sport had a couple of vegan options in Germany. Their semisweet chocolate (50% was vegan) and so were their marzipan and peppermint bars. When they changed the ingredients of the peppermint bar and unveganised it by adding butterfat, I wrote an angry blog post.

A while later I switched to organic, fair-trade chocolate anyway. Over the years you can find a huge variety of chocolates at German health food stores. Plain dark chocolates, others made with rice syrup, white chocolates and lots of varieties made with nuts and fruits, too. With all these to choose from I have to admit that I haven’t eaten a single piece of Ritter Sport chocolate in a couple of years.

This year in August the company introduced two new bars, which for the first time are labeled as vegan. They contacted me and asked me if I wanted to review them in exchange for a package filled with their new chocolates. And how could I say no to that?

The new bars are similar to two varieties they already had on the market: one with roasted almonds and one with roasted hazelnuts. For their vegan version they switched out the annoying butterfat with hazelnut mass. Also they made the bars just a bit more vegan by adding popped amaranth and popped quinoa. At least that is what I thought at first. These days every proper vegan products needs to have either amaranth or quinoa. It’s a bit annoying, but in these chocolate bars the popped grains are pretty great. Together with the nuts they add a lot of crunch and texture. I give Ritter Sport a huge thumbs up for the amount of roasted nuts and popped grains they crammed into these bars. Whoever came up with the recipe for this chocolate isn’t a stingy person.

Ritter Sport vegane Schokolade

As for the chocolate taste I think it is great that these bars have so much additional stuff going on. The roasted nuts are fantastic, they add so much flavour and texture. The popped cereal is really nice, too. But unfortunately  I have to admit that I didn’t care too much for the chocolate itself. It is hard to describe but I didn’t find it very balanced. I thought the chocolate flavour itself was a little bit too sweet and too bitter at the same time, if that makes any sense. One of my coworkers described the chocolate as tasting a bit like raw chocolate. And that hit the nail on the head I think. (No offense if you love raw chocolate. But it’s just not my cup of tea.) I personally would have wished for a milder, more mellow chocolate. Especially because they added hazelnut mass, I would have expected the chocolate to taste a little bit more like gianduia. A hint of milk chocolate would have been great, too.  There are already a lot of regular vegan semi-sweet chocolate on the market.  I had to choose I probably wouldn’t necessarily go for the Ritter Sport bar. My husband on the other hand and a couple of coworkers really liked the chocolate. The almond amaranth bar in the purple packaging was the most popular one.

Ritter Sport vegane Schokolade

Ritter Sport chocolate bars are not labeled fairtrade. I usually buy fair-trade chocolate and I love to know where the processed cocoa comes from. I know that fairtrade labels can be problematic though. Especially since the practice of mass balancing makes it possible to mix fairtrade and non-fairtrade produce. Many fairtrade chocolate bars have an additional note printed on their packaging informing the consumer that the chocolate was produced by using mass balance. Which simply means that you have no idea to what extend the product was made using fair trade cocoa beans.

According to a German article from 2013 Ritter Sport buys most of their cocoa at the stock market. Half of this cocoa is grown in Ivory Coast. For these two new bars on the other hand the cocoa is harvested in Nicaragua. There they have their own plantation and claim to “pay above the minimum wage in Nicaragua guarantee fair and safe working conditions“. The chocolate for these bars is not from that plantation though, because the first harvest their will probably be next year. At the end of the article the company mentions that they have been supporting small farmers in Nicaragua for several years now and they have some additional information on their website.

So far these new bars aren’t listed on their English version of the website and I don’t know when or if they will be available outside of Germany. Here you can find them at grocery stores or at Ritter Sport’s own online store.

In Germany there is a new trend of large meat and poultry companies selling vegetarian and sometimes even vegan products. I’ve often heard that this is a good thing because it shows that vegetarians and vegans have the power to change the market. I have heard people say it means less animal products are sold, it means companies will change. I am not sure if anybody has ever tried to verify these claims. Because we’re lying to ourselves. Yes, the demand for vegan products is growing. And so is the demand for dairy products. People eat less meat so they eat more dairy. Which I don’t see as an improvement. Also many of the new fake meats are egg based. The egg industry is just as cruel as the meat industry. In Germany every year over 40 million male chickens are killed because they are considered “useless”. And a court just ruled that this is in line with German animal rights laws. Because people eat more dairy and egg products meat consumption in Germany is indeed stalling. But is that a success? No, it isn’t. Because the killing of animals does not stall. It has increased. German meat production (link in German) is growing. The companies have explored new markets in Asia and Africa. And the meat-free products they sell here probably cross-subsidise their meat products and help the companies grow.

I grew in an area where these companies have their factory farms and their slaughterhouses. Being aware of what they did and how they did it made me go vegetarian at the age of 13. That was over 20 years ago and things have gotten so much worse since then. [Factory Farming: The True Price of a Pork Chop] There is no way I am ever going to support them and buy their products. (Here is a great overview [for the german market and in German] to find out who’s who.) Which is apparently meant to be like that because these products are aimed at flexitarians.

To me there are better alternatives. Especially since there are tons of companies that I can support instead, small companies dedicated to producing only vegan products. These small companies whose products I have been buying for years now have a hard time (link in German) because they have to compete [again] with the meat industry, which just has more money and more influence to get their stuff placed on a supermarket shelf. And since there’s only so much space on a shelf, the vegan companies that also produce in a more sustainable way than meat companies, are discontinued (link in German).

An argument I have heard often is that on the one hand, these large meat, poulty, or dairy companies make veganism more accessible.That it is, on the other hand, a huge privilege to have access to health food stores and be able to pick out the best and most sustainable products. To have the time and educate yourself about the things you eat is a privilege, too. That some people only can get one brand of vegan cookies at the supermarket and that the vegan minced meat from the poultry company is the only meat alternative available to them. And that very many people have to time to cook their dinners from scratch and with hand selected produce. And yes, these are all good points. And they’ve made me understand that not everything is as easy anymore as it used to be.

In my opinion veganism is not about being convenient. At least not if you think about it as an ethical decision you’ve made. If you want to change things that annoy you, make you angry or disturb you that is not convenient. It is not supposed to be. We like to say veganism is easy and yes, it has been getting much easier. The catch phrase on every new vegan cookbook is: “You don’t have to sacrifice x!” But that is not true.You are sacrificing things, you are making choices and you always have to keep making choices. You have to question the things you do. Only this way you will help changing things or at least make others think about the way they live.

When I went vegan there was nothing for me to buy at the supermarket. Except for vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains, there was not a single vegan product available. I was used to making my own stuff.. And of course I often heard the complaint that “I could never go vegan because I can’t cook/I don’t have the time to make my own food.” These days I am happy to see more products but I find myself get lured into the convenience trap, too. Because of course sometimes all I want is to buy that frozen dinner and put food on the table in ten minutes because there was no time and energy for a homecooked meal. Sometimes I’m gonna buy those cookies because I don’t want to make my own.But I don’t think we should make “You can have everything you like just the way you like it” our main selling point for veganism. Just like those sugar-free, fat-free back bean brownies will never taste like the real thing. And they don’t have to, right? Because the moment we start telling these tales, things will go into the wrong direction. Because  veganism is linked to so many other things like sustainability, environment, and ethics. We should talk about these things, too. They don’t really go well with capitalism. They don’t really go well with our upbringing that tells us to “vote with our dollars”. Making people promises about how they don’t have to sacrifice anything won’t make them think about why they are making the choices they are making.

Now that I have said that,  I feel that I need to get off my high horse for a moment. Recently I posted a picture of a vegan cream cheese on Instagram. I had bought that cream cheese on a whim in a vegan online store. I hadn’t researched the company. And even if I had, it would not have become instantly obvious to me that the cream cheese (By the brand Simply V) I had bought was not made by a vegan company. On their homepage you won’t find out that they are a brand of Hochland, a large European cheese manufacturer. A quick internet search on the other hand will give you this information. On Instagram I commented that I didn’t want to support this company. I have to admit that I was mostly mad at myself for not getting my butt in front of the computer before I had ordered the cheese. I had my usual arguments at hand: I won’t support a company that is part of the dairy industry.

A couple of minutes later I was standing in front of the fridge, taking out a tub of soy yoghurt. I am used to making my own stuff, but soy yoghurt and soy milk are not one of the things in my fridge that are homemade. I rely on them a lot, I use them in baking and both my daughter and I use these foods as a source of calcium. A while ago I argued that I didn’t get why everybody was so exited about Ben and Jerry’s producing a couple flavours of vegan ice cream. I don’t like it when companies like that are praised for making veganism easier. Because eating fruits, vegetables, and grains has always been easy enough. And now I am standing there with that tub of soy yoghurt in my hand, which is basically made by a dairy company.

In Germany there are only two or three brands of soy yoghurt available. One of them is Alpro/Provamel and the other one is Sojade. While Alpro is available at many supermarkets, Provamel and Sojade are only available at health food stores. Now guess what. Both brands belong to companies who do sell a ton of milk products, too. Alpro/Provamel is owned by WhiteWave Foods, a company that is advertising their plant based products as the future, but still sells tons of dairy, too. In Europe though, Alpro/Provamle is their only brand. They don’t sell any dairy here. Sojade belongs to Triballat Noyal, a French company selling soy products but also goat cheese and other dairy products.

I remember that a couple of years ago when WhiteWave Foods wasn’t an independent company yet and still belonged to Dean Foods, there were huge discussions in the vegan community. Some even said that since Alpro was a part of Dean Foods at that time, their products could not be called vegan. I am not very familiar with them, but the fact that such a large dairy company had bought the Alpro brand made a lot of vegans angry. At that time I just shrugged my shoulders and kept buying their soy yoghurt. I didn’t want to think about giving it up. I thought that would be silly because the company Alpro was selling only vegan products. They were just bought buy a company that was not vegan.

Today I see how flawed so many of my arguments are. I an a complete bigot. I don’t live without convenience foods. It’s easy to draw a line and say hey, I don’t consume any animal products. But then things get blurry. There’s not much of a difference between the soy yoghurt I buy and the almond cheese or Ben and Jerry’s I don’t buy. I have always understood that veganism isn’t about purity. It is a complicated subject and I don’t see through everything. But I see that my personal history is repeating itself. I went vegetarian because I didn’t want to feel bad about eating animals anymore. Then I went vegan because I didn’t want to feel bad for supporting the horrible dairy and egg industries any longer. And now what? I still feel bad. And I guess that’s just kind of normal if you try to question some things. But it doesn’t mean that you have to give up and just not change anything at all.

I realise that I don’t get anywhere with my yes-or-no, black-or-white attitude. But I also don’t want to cheer for every vegan product out there just because it’s vegan.I think we still should make choices and, if we are in that position and have those choices, think about where our shiny new vegan products come from. I realise I am very privileged to even be able to think about these issues. I know that many contradictions are going on here. The minute my favourite non-dairy product is at stake, I feel like boycotting companies just because they sell both dairy and non-dairy products might bite me in the butt. I used to say: “Hey, I am out. I don’t consume animal products.” But really, the line isn’t that clear. On the one hand, I have a responsibility and can do better than just reaching for those Oreos. But on the other hand, it is impossible to do everything right. And I probably need to stop thinking about having to make everything right. Which is not meant as an excuse though. I still think it’s important to make conscious choices it’s just that they aren’t as easy as “I don’t consume animal products” any longer.

For everybody else I guess you just make the decisions you make and do the best you can. I’ve heard some people say that folks might starts by eating vegan convenience products from the supermarket. The products I have just scolded. And then they start to educate themselves and start buying other products and change their lifestyle some more. Maybe that Oreo Cookie Ice Cream might just have been a start. And they might be right. I remember that I used to get exited about new vegan products, too. For me it’s been a process, too and I know I’ll think about it some more and I might change my opinion again. I just think that even though this is a controversial topic, it is a really important conversation to have. What do you think?

 

 

 

When browsing a vegan only store I found the perfect food. It has zero calories per 100g. And it’s only 10 to 22 € per kilo. That is crazy, you think? No, it’s just one of the fancy new sugar substitutes that are marketed to us. Sugar is a bad food, it has empty calories, it raises my blog sugar, it will give me diabetes, it will make me obese. Baking with sugar is not only bad for me, it’s also irresponsible. At least this is the impression I get on social media.

Sugar-free and sorrow-free: Erythritol and Xylitol

The sugar substitute I am talking about is called erythritol and it’s a sugar alcohol just like xylitol (12 € per kilo), which is another low calorie, low GI sugar substitute. It has tons of benefits, for example it can improve your dental health. But it still has calories. Erythritol on the other side has no calories at all. Which is probably the reason why people who try to avoid processed foods don’t have a problem with this highly refined product.

In vegan online stores lots of fancy things are marketed to me. If I am not a fan of sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol, I can also find “more natural” sweeteners like coconut or palm sugar. Compared to the price of coconut sugar erythritol is a cheap treat. A kilo of coconut sugar would cost me 30 Euros per kilo. And I always thought I was splurging when I bought the fair trade cane sugar for 5 € per kilo. I know, my health should be worth it though. Even if I am not overweight, don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes, or coeliac disease I should still invest more money in food that is good for my body. Coconut sugar has so many health benefits and it has a low glycaemic index. And it has vitamins and minerals.

Food is pleasure, not morals

That is great but honestly, I don’t eat sugar for its health benefits. I hate to admit it, but I eat sugar for pleasure. Which is something you apparently don’t do anymore. As I said, sugar is a bad food. It doesn’t have any nutrition, just calories. And these I should avoid because they will make me fat. And of course I don’t want to be fat. That would be the worst!

But wait, I still can have it all. I just have to empty my walled and buy chia seeds instead of flax (much more affordable and often locally produced). And coconut sugar instead of this bag of empty white calories. I should splurge on good foods so I still can have my cake but don’t have to feel guilty about it.

I live in an abundant world. Even as a vegan there’s food all around me and I never have to starve. Which is exactly the problem. I feel guilty because I have it all, I feel guilty because I don’t nourish my body the way I should. Am I fit? Am I glowing? Am I the right size? Am I a good vegan? Things like xylitol or coconut sugar are the perfect solution for all my gnawing thoughts, I am told. I can watch my calories and still have that cake. It will be low-calorie and it’s going to be full of minerals and trace minerals. My blood sugar won’t spike and my teeth will be spared.

But I don’t think these people marketing me some fancy new product are after my health. It’s purity they want to sell me. And a morally superior food.The only problem is that I don’t believe in bad foods. I only believe that year after year, some new poor ingredient has to become the scapegoat for our way of eating, for our abundance and the bad conscience that comes with having it all. Old but still best example: gluten. A very dangerous food for people suffering from coeliac disease. For the rest of us? Not so much. But still, as Ruby Tandoh writes:

On popular wellness blogs, the gluten I’ve heard about is “evil,” “poison,” “contaminating,” and “toxic.” There’s even a leading Australian gluten-free site called glutenisthedevil.com. This isn’t just about nutrition, it’s about morality, and when food becomes imbued with this kind of scandalizing language, the dinner table becomes a minefield.

Someone recently reposted my a picture of my marshmallows on Instagram, praising the recipe as “healthy”. Well, I don’t even really know what healthy means, but since my marshmallows contain a ton of white sugar, they can’t be it, right? And they are not supposed to be. They are supposed to be sweet and full of calories and all that. Because I eat these marshmallows for pleasure. And honestly I really dread all these questions of healthier versions of my food. Guys, either you eat them or you don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t like your questions: I don’t believe every food I eat has to be healthy. Even these marshmallows can be a part of my diet. You don’t have to eat them three times a day, you know what I mean?

I don’t want to ban sugar from my diet. And I definitely don’t want to replace it with a super expensive alternative just because that alternative has three milligrams of calcium. I want good old refined sugar to be a part of my diet just like vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, but also bread, tofu products, soy milk, ice cream, mayonnaise, and pasta. I do not want to divide my food in good and bad (because to me that is what “healthy” and “unhealthy” really means) and I definitely don’t want to feel bad for eating certain things. Because after all it seems that

thinking of the foods [people] want to avoid as morally bad does not help them to eat a more nourishing diet in the long run. It doesn’t even help them to avoid those foods, most of the time. For a lot of us, it only succeeds in producing guilt for eating a perfectly human mix of foods” (Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist).

Eating a slice of cake made with refined sugar and refined flour is not bad for you. It’s just one single piece of cake. It’s just food. And I’m pretty sure that if I eat cake once or twice a week this will not ruin my health. It’s not all good or bad, black or white. I eat a lot of whole foods, too. And that’s where I get my vitamins and minerals from. Not from fancy and expensive “sugar alternatives”. Because just like Ruby Tandoh I am wondering,

why, just because maple syrup contains some valuable nutrients, we must omit cane sugar from our diets altogether (least of all considering that the former costs over five times as much per gram). If the end goal really is just good health, why does the focus seem to be less on reducing sugar intake and more about promoting expensive, less accessible forms of it? […] If health food advocates take us down only the most expensive and exclusionary paths to health, we ought to question their integrity.

We shouldn’t forget that many people don’t have the means to buy sugar that expensive. Or they don’t have access to it. Not every person has the time to search three shops or three online stores for three different sugars. Also, eating expensive sugar substitutes or refined sugar alternatives won’t change the problem many of us have with food. Look at all those self-proclaimed wellness and health food blogs. (The article I just quoted makes some very good points about these blogs and their concept of ‘wellness’.) Most of the recipes you’ll find there are for sweet treats. People spend so much energy on creating healthy alternatives to caramel sauce (dates), brownies (black beans), and macaroons (xylitol) and all of them will give you the impression that you don’t have to miss out. You can have your cake and be healthy and slim at the same time. And you will feel good about yourself. No guilt, no shame. But the problem is that these recipes aren’t helpful for some people. Alternative sugars and sugar substitutes don’t have health advantages. You can still gain weight from brownies made with coconut sugar. It’s not the food that is the problem. It’s our relationship with it.

Coconut sugar doesn’t solve problems

For me that means that I won’t stop baking with white sugar and white flour. It’s more important to look at my diet in general. I try to focus on eating a lot of vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts on a daily basis. I also eat processed foods, I eat soy products, I eat gluten. Variety of taste and texture is more important to me than trying to avoid sugar. I know myself and I know that it’s important for me to have that cake and enjoy it. Sure, sometimes I eat too much sugary stuff. But I know that if I replace the white sugar with coconut sugar or xylitol that won’t stop me from overeating. In fact, that will only give me an excuse to eat more of these things because they are “healthy”.

Instead I follow an approach suggested by The Fat Nutritionist. It’s called subversive food combining. I eat pizza with kale or cookies and almonds. I might even eat a brownie made with black beans. But I don’t call it healthy and I don’t praise myself for being a good girl. (I am way too old to be called a girl.) Instead I will just try to enjoy my food and spend that money I saved by not buying the 30 € sugar on a good book.

A good week to all of you!

 

 

Last week P. came across a German so called women’s magazine, which announced a “new” diet on its cover. It was called the “veganista diet” and promised to get skinny with the help of a “detox effect”. And surprise, surprise, the featured article was about losing weight on a vegan diet. It opened by mentioning celebrities who follow a vegan or almost vegan diet. Then it stated that veganism was more than a celebrity trend. According to this article, whose authors quote an association for German vegetarians (Vegetarierbund), 600 000 Germans (out of 83 millions) are vegans right now. That is not too much, is it? But the authors continue their argument by explaining that the numbers were rising.

And yes, this article shows that veganism has reached the German mainstream. It is not a celebrity trend, I have to agree. It seems to be a popular weight loss diet trend. But basically that means, this is not about veganism. it is not this lifestyle that has become popular. Much more popular are the myths which surround this lifestyle.  While the authors take the time to explain ethical veganism very briefly, it soon becomes very clear that ethics, compassion  and animal welfare are definitely not what this article is about. Instead they ask: “How can  I profit from a vegan diet?”
They mention some health benefits of a vegan diet and claim that vegans are leaner than omnivores. Their explanation: vegans pile more vegetables on their plates than omnivores, their diet is free from (animal based) chemicals and they do not have to digest animal protein leftovers. This will help them to “detox” their body. That means, so the article claims, that after eating vegan for two or three days, people feel “lighter”, more satisfied, and full of energy. Then the authors give some tips on nutrition. They mention calcium and B12. According to the article you can get B12 from algae and sauerkraut. And when it comes to protein, the only source they mention are nuts. And because nuts are included, this diet is not as rigid as usual women’s magazine weight loss “plans”. 1500 calories per day are suggested as the upper limit, to lose weight slowly and without hunger pains.

Where do I start? That people should aim at slow weight loss is, in my opinion, the only decent advice this article gives. The rest is based on myths and misinformation. Some of it is even dangerous. I think it is great if people go vegan. For ethical reasons, for health reasons, for environmental reasons. But if they go vegan for whatever reason, they should have the chance to make informed decisions based on solid information, so that they can thrive on this vegan diet.  B12 in algae and sauerkraut? Last time I checked no plant food was a reliable source of B12. Vegans need to take supplements or make sure to eat a decent amount of B12 enriched foods every day. (In Germany there are not enough of those foods though.) To be fair, the article mentions supplements. But there already is so much misinformation on B12 available everywhere. It is frustrating that this article makes just another contribution to this mess. It is exactly this kind of misinformation that makes veganism seem complicated for many and dangerous for some. Further, veganism is presented as a fad diet that you follow for two weeks and then you quit because that diet is too restrictive or because you don’t get the results it promised you. Vegans come in all shapes. They all have different bodies, different metabolisms and even different diets. Some eat a lot of vegetables, others don’t. If people feel sluggish, that might be for a ton of reasons. And if they feel energetic and light after two days of eating vegan, that might have more to do with a placebo effect than with their diet. Oh and for the record, vegetables can contain chemicals, too. Vegans don’t live under a bell jar.

The way veganism is presented here really concerns me. To me, veganism is about compassion and about critical thinking. It challenges many views we have not only about food or the food industry, but generally it challenges views we have about power and hierarchies. It’s is not a quick-fix for weight loss. It is not another fad diet. It should not be about weight or looks but about ethics and compassion. I know that many people go vegan to lose weight. What if they are not successful? Not only will they likely go back to the diet they followed before, they will probably also feel bad and disheartened. (For example because they are told that vegans are leaner than others. Well, statistically that may be true. But still many vegans to not fit into this statistic.) And that might also be because of articles like this, where someone tells you that vegans weigh less than omnivores and that you can lose that weight, too. Sounds so easy, right? But if you ever tried losing weight, you know how hard it is and that it is not about diet alone.

It makes me angry that veganism is used here to reinforce gender stereotypes, when in fact one of the biggest advantages of veganism is that by challenging society’s view on animal exploitation, we also learn to see and challenge many other levels of exploitation. For me it is important to remember that veganism is not about “How can I profit?” but about “How can I contribute?”, for example to a society that is less cruel not only to animals, but also to humans, especially women.