Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 93
Author + 30-year vegan Peggy Brusseau on The 12 Vegan Food Groups, the 80/20 rule and more
Karina Inkster: Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to no-BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach.
Today, I'm speaking with Peggy Brusseau who's a food writer, cook, and committed vegan of more than 30 years. She's written or co-written 24 books on food and health and is originally from Minneapolis. She now lives in London with her husband and two sons. Peggy's new book, The Contented Vegan: Recipes and Philosophy From A Family Kitchen, has just been published. Peggy and her team were kind enough to send me a copy of this book, and I can tell you that it is fantastic. It contains over a hundred recipes with gorgeous photos, and it also contains sections on transitioning to veganism, living in a household where not all family members are vegan, nutrition for infants and children, and the age-old, “Where do I get my protein?” question, and much more. Peggy says her favorite vegan meal currently is her TLT tempeh lettuce and tomato sandwich, which is her simple but bold challenge to the outdated BLT. Here's our conversation.
Hey Peggy, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Peggy Brusseau: Hello, Karina, I'm really happy to be here.
Karina Inkster: Well, thank you so much for reaching out. And when I looked at your website, I was like, yeah, we for sure have to have this person on our show. So, it's going to be great. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes up and learning all about you. And I think, why don't we just jump right in to that background story. I want to learn how you came to be vegan so many years ago. You've been vegan for three decades, which is amazing. So, why don't we start there? How did that happen before people even knew what vegan was?
Peggy Brusseau: That's right. It was a very rare and bewildering sort of category of person for the very longest time. I mean, I grew up in the Midwest of the states, so I grew up with meat and dairy as part of my diet. I was never very fond of them, but I didn't know any better. And I didn't know that there were options as far as how we choose our diet. And then I started traveling as a young woman, really a girl, and I came to Britain and by myself running a small holding, which is, you know, like five acres in Independence, that sort of thing. It was wonderful. It was a kind of a derelict house and a decrepit, small holding. And so the job was to bring it back to life and it had a huge orchard and meadow, pond.
And I gradually started working with it and made that my income producing life. And had herbs and vegetables. I used the orchard of course, and part of the small holding ideal is to have a few animals, but I very quickly realized I did not want to participate in that. I just, I could not get past the suffering that I saw and the assumption that I heard people make about animals. I'd never really met an animal before, to be honest. And perhaps that was good for me in a way because I wasn't what people call an animal lover. I didn't really know them, but I could see straight away that I didn't want to partake in that practice. So I shifted to a vegetarian diet, and after a few years, I'm not sure how many, five to six years, I lost the pleasure in eating things like cheese.
And so I shifted to a vegan diet and that was the best choice I've ever made. I've had so much fun since then with food, with cooking, with finding things to grow or to work with. The best thing I've ever done. And then of course my husband was vegetarian when I met him and we became vegan together and we then had children and raised them on a vegan diet. It was wonderful. It is wonderful. Cause they're both still vegan. I'm sure that they've had episodes of people offering them things that aren't vegan, but we raised them vegan. So it's up to them what they do with that. But I believe that they're both still vegan now and I just never looked back. I've enjoyed every moment I can.
People who come to share food with us are amazed really that it's flavorsome and that there's enough of it. I think there's this widespread myth or feeling that it's going to be lettuce and two sticks of carrot. And that's it. And that they're going to go away hungry or that they have to eat before they come, that sort of thing. So that's my story of how I became vegan. And especially when we were having children we had to learn a lot about nutrition and the basic health influences that a vegan diet can have. And that also has been a wonderful eye-opener for how food impacts on our health, no matter what we choose.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for sharing. So, you were originally from the states, and so has this all taken place in the UK, like these 30 years you've been there? Or have you been traveling around kind of, or what's the deal?
Peggy Brusseau: I have lived here. My husband's British, so I have lived here for, actually, it's about 40 years. It's a long time. But we've traveled in Europe and, you know, found areas where we thought we'd die of hunger and other areas…but it's, it's much, much better now. The tide has really turned. And I'm so happy about that.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. What is also amazing is how many books you have written and/or co-authored, just incredible. Is it 24? That’s mind blowing. Very impressive.
Peggy Brusseau: Well, I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed it. And I've started that with research really into the health impact of food, the food choices that we make. And there's so much research out there. So many papers have been done by medical or scientific people that indicate a plant-based diet is top of the heap. And I believe that the doctors who deal with people on a daily basis don't have time to read them. I don't think, I think there's this huge mountain of research available to us. So part of my excitement for writing those books was to bring those, bring that information out into the public. And talk about it in normal language.
Karina Inkster: Yes, that's actually a really good point in that there are a lot of researchers out there who are looking at plant-based diets, who are not necessarily frontline folks working with patients. And so there's this whole branch of science, which is essentially communication, how to get that information out there to the masses who may not want to sit around and read, you know, the latest peer reviewed journal article with all its jargon. So that's a really good point actually, is that, is bridging that gap between the initial data sets, the initial studies, and the everyday language communication.
Peggy Brusseau: Yes. Yes. I think that there's a crucial point to make here Karina. And I mean, you've said that so well, but there is another sort of communication that is…it's puff. That there's so much that it's insubstantial information. If I can say that.
Karina Inkster: So is this, do you think this is like in mainstream, mainstream media?
Peggy Brusseau: Often, or internet media. Really, I have so much respect for what people call the ordinary person. I'm an ordinary person. And I resent it when people think the ordinary person is stupid. We might not know the language of a well-trained researcher or a scientist, but we have the intellectual capacity. If it's given to us in a different language, we can understand the message. So that's what I've tried to do.
Karina Inkster: Amazing. So what's your latest book? You have one that either came out super recently or is about to.
Peggy Brusseau: It's about to come out in the States in March, actually early March. It's come out in the UK and in Australia already. And it's called The Contented Vegan and it has a subtitle, Recipes and Philosophy From A Family Kitchen. And that was really to bring together all the family favorite recipes, but also to bridge the gap in a different way to talk about the problems that people face, who might want to explore a plant-based diet, and to bring to the surface a lot of the issues that when you put them together are considered to be the philosophy of veganism.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. Wow. So this is a little more well-rounded than just, “Hey, here's a bunch of recipes.”
Peggy Brusseau: It is. It's definitely it. I mean, the recipe is kind of a good to eat while you read it. I wanted to promote a sort of relaxed approach so that a person who has even an inkling of interest in a plant-based diet can feel comfortable doing it, that it doesn't have to happen overnight. It doesn't have to, it doesn't have to be that angry sort of militant: can't do this, can't do that. It doesn't really even have to say no to other animal-based foods. I try and say, try it, bring yourself to a plant-based way of eating more gradually, one that suits you, one that's comfortable for you. But that isn't a beating about the bush. It's saying this is what it's about. It's about health. It's about animals. It's about the environment. And especially if you are already vegetarian, it's about taking that next step.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. I think that transitions really nicely into something we were going to talk about, which is your approach to helping folks who are not yet a hundred percent plant-based, but might be interested in it, which is an 80/20 concept. And I feel like the 80/20 rule or the 80/20, I don't like the term rule, but you know what I mean, 80/20 guidelines. It's, it's used in a lot of different ways in business, in the gym when you're talking about getting results in nutrition and in going vegan in our case. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about how you approach this 80 20 concept?
Peggy Brusseau: Sure. I feel that if you look at your, if you are not totally plant-based, if you look at your diet, a day's diet or a week's diet, and think about it for a moment, you'll notice that about 80% of it is likely to be plant-based already. And the examples I've given are if you've had a burger and you take the meat burger away, most of the what's left is plant-based. You might have cheese. You might have mayo. And it's very simple then to work with that 20%, that is not plant-based. And in the case of the burger, make it a bean burger, make a coconut cheese, make it vegan mayo, and no one's hurt. So, it's a very, it's a very can-do sort of approach, right? To say you set the pace, but bear in mind that you're already some way down the road.
Karina Inkster: Hmm. You know what? This reminds me of the psychological concept of, you know those, this might sound like a total tangent, but I swear it's related, those stamp cards that you can get for things like coffees or sandwiches? Where after you buy ten or after you buy nine, you get the tenth one free. Or maybe you buy ten and you get the eleventh one free.
There's been some really interesting studies where people are more likely to use those cards if the first stamp has already been taken care of by the restaurant, versus giving someone a completely blank card. And so it's just a psychological thing. It's the same end result, but it makes the person feel like they've already taken a step toward that end goal of getting that full card of stamps. This is the same approach. It's, it's just, you know, nothing has changed, but psychologically you are telling people, “Hey, you might be further along than you might've realized. And look, here's how, and here's why.” I think that's brilliant.
Peggy Brusseau: Thank you. I want to make it easy for people. It has to be simple. It has to be gradual and it has to be sustainable. You know, we have this, we have Meat Free May and Veganuary and all these projects and I love that they exist. But it's to make the plant-based…first of all, just set your direction and to say, that's, that's the direction I want to go in. But not to be pushed, not to be rushed, not to be coerced, not to be fearful or even confused. And to then say, well, you've set your direction and now let's build something that's really sustainable.
Karina Inkster: Yep. And I think this approach of not doing a complete one-eighty overnight, doing it gradually, doing it in a way that's positive in a way that doesn't feel like you're avoiding all of your favorite foods. Instead, you're adding new foods that you love. That's going to lead to more long-term vegans than just saying, nope, you have to go a hundred percent right off the bat. Otherwise you're doing it wrong. It doesn't work.
Peggy Brusseau: It doesn't work. And it's very off putting to people who are on the cusp. They want to make a difference. A lot of people are very interested and feel that way of eating has a natural appeal to them. But they've been raised on a certain diet. They have traditions and habits and they don't quite know what's going to happen next. So, a coercive approach is very off putting, and I don't agree with that.
Karina Inkster: No, I don't either. We're on the same page there for sure. So what is this, you have this sentence that you sent me before our show where there's four cornerstones of good health in the same sentence. It's kind of the concept of “Let food be thy medicine.” Which, for a lot of us vegans, is part of it. It's not all of it. We're ethical vegans as well. And there's environmental considerations and whatnot. But I think the health aspect and food as medicine is huge and it does appeal to a lot of folks. So, what's the deal here? Is this something that you've written yourself? Basically, the sentence is “Eat a variety of plant-based foods that are whole, organically or locally grown, and in season where you live.”
Peggy Brusseau: That's it. Those four cornerstones build a foundation so that you can maximize on the value, the nutritional value of a plant-based diet. And once you start to do that, a number of things happen. You start to increase the nutrient value of your food, your meals, and with that, you perhaps lose the need or the feeling that you want to overeat. You have enough because what our body seeks is nutrition. Of course it needs calories. It needs energy. But it can derive what it needs in energy terms from whole foods really well. And the energy is released over a longer period of time.
So, there's not this constant urge to nibble and seek more calories by working with these four cornerstones. You're providing yourself with this nutrient baseline and it's the nutrients that give us health. So much of our food is polluted. It's over-processed, sometimes to the extent that there is like only 10% of its original nutrient value left, and no wonder were suffering an epidemic of obesity. Like, three quarters of the American population, adult population, is obese or overweight. Now I'm sure no one wants to be that way, but I think that the body naturally says, find this nutrient, keep eating until you find this nutrient. I need it. And if we give it the nutrient first, I think our collective tendency to overeat will reduce.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. So the cornerstones are what you mentioned in here just to, just to review and make sure I'm on the same page, like the local in season? Like what are the four points distilled?
Peggy Brusseau: To eat variety. First of all, that's almost the most important thing. Whole foods, because they have more of the nutrients built into them. Organic or locally grown. Both of those provide foods that are, have to have more nutrients. The organic, because that's how it works with organic growing, and the local because fewer of the nutrients are lost during transport by the passage of time. So, to choose between those, as suits one’s situation, will provide more nutrients. And the last, in season, again, if the food ripens where you live and you harvest it when it's ripe, it has more nutrients. So, there we go. And it sort of all starts to link together and encourage one another. They support one, another, those four cornerstones.
Karina Inkster: I'm going to nitpick a little bit because I think a lot of consumers believe that organic means pesticide free, but it doesn't unfortunately. Because, you know, technically all farming uses pesticides. And so, just in case, you know, there's a lot of marketing out there that might not be completely on point or true.
There are pesticides used in organic farming, and I'm not convinced that they are safer than synthetic. Now, organic farming, I'm not saying is across the board is a negative thing. Sustainability, rotating crops, there's a lot of really good things happening there. But I think there are some misleading statements out there about, “Oh, well, I'm eating pesticide free.” Well, actually now. In a lot of cases, organic foods use so-called natural pesticides, which sometimes are actually not healthy for us at all. So, I think there's, there's a bit of a whole other podcast episode in there probably.
But there are things about it that are like, you know, they're not doing mono crops as often. They're rotating crops. There's some discussion about maybe it's better for the environment, even though generally you need to use more resources for organic farming. But oftentimes the organic farmers are smaller scale and local just by default. A lot of times, like here where I live in Powell River in BC, getting the organic label is expensive. It's a marketing cost. So, technically if I go to my farmer's market, I'm getting organic vegetables, but they're not labeled as such because the farmer is super small scale and they don't have the funds to pay for the label every year. You know, I feel like there's a, a little bit of a more in-depth discussion there.
Peggy Brusseau: Yeah. I agree. There's a huge, a huge discussion actually. I'm in total agreement with you. I talked about setting direction, and the reason I've included organic and local in the same breath, there is exactly your point that a lot of local growers, like when I was a small holder, I was a grower. I supplied, but there wasn't an organic labeling system then. So, a local grower will at least benefit you for the fact that the nutrients are more available to you because less time has passed. And there's this other, for the next discussion, the point of organics, as far as I'm concerned is also to look after the land. If we're going to do this thing, we have to start from basics and absolutely looking after the land is one of those.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Yeah. I think a lot of folks also will have less access to organic foods depending on where they live, depending on finance, you know, financial situation, economic status. So, we don't necessarily want to say you have to eat organic or don't go vegan. We're just saying these things are preferred and they're part of the puzzle, right?
Peggy Brusseau: I would say apply the 80/20 rule, do your best. We buy from a farmer's market. And by no means are all of those stallholders organic for the same reasons you mentioned. But they're small farmers or small holders. And we like to support them. We get to know them and we can nudge them and say, when is this coming into season or what I'd like to double back to that, please. And it all helps, is what I'm saying. Again, harking back to the days when I was a small holder, I know that I preferred receiving the funds directly from the people who bought my produce rather than having a middle person taking part of my income, basically. So whatever's around, I would say, keep your direction and do the best you can.
Karina Inkster: Love it. That's a really good approach. So, you can use the 80/20 rule in almost any circumstance you can. It applies in a lot of ways.
Peggy Brusseau: Yes. It just takes the pressure off, don't you think?
Karina Inkster: It does. It really does. And actually, I think it also leads to longer term adherence. If that's what you want to call it. It works in fitness. It works in nutrition. It works in any sort of lifestyle change. It works in business. So yeah, it's huge. So, I'm intrigued about your 12 vegan food groups. You have this concept of how to build a really well-rounded healthy plant-based diet around 12 food groups. So, I don't know what those are. Maybe you can share. I mean, I'm sure I do know what they are, but I don't know what your 12, you know, all nice and listed are.
Peggy Brusseau: They're an expansion of the groups that you are already aware of, like the beans and lentils and so forth, grains and vegetables. But I've just broadened it to include what people see. So I'm not disparaging the science at all, but it's not based on what nutrients are in those pigments or what another set of foods does for your protein intake. I'm out there. I’m at shop or a market and I'm thinking, well, what do I buy? And I see all these lovely foods. And so I've categorized them into 12 groups that covers everything. And I know immediately what I'm, when I look at it, that it's fitting into one of those 12 groups. And all I'm saying is explore food, look at it and think, well, this is, this is what we've got. And I'm going to select something from each of those 12 groups every week, not every day.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. That'd be a lot of food. Yeah.
Peggy Brusseau: Just over the course of a week. Just make sure that I've got some from each of those groups. And the purpose goes back to those four cornerstones, to build variety, right. Which is central, I would say, to the whole idea. Because in variety, you're covering the basics with your nutrient intake. Then you might get this sort of amino acid from that food. And then this from another. You don't have to worry about counting and measuring and deciding which amino acid that is. You just go for variety.
Karina Inkster: That's a really cool way of looking at it. So relaxed. It's a relaxed way, but it's also a useful hands-on way. So there's no translation needed where someone says, well, you need to have this nutrient and then you have to think, okay, well, what foods have that nutrient, you're going by? I'm already in the grocery store. What am I seeing? What do I put in my bag?
Peggy Brusseau: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Karina Inkster: So do you have this available somewhere? Like, in one of your books or on your website or something like that for our listeners to check?
Peggy Brusseau: Yes. I have it on my website. The 12 vegan food groups are listed there.
Karina Inkster: I think that'll be really cool for our listeners to actually see a visual. Can you give us a couple of examples of how that might, like, what some of the categories might be and just how that's different from something like a food guide, for example?
Peggy Brusseau: Yes. I've split, for instance, the green vegetables from the red, yellow, orange vegetables. Two distinct groups that I've made root and STEM vegetables, a separate category. I've given sea vegetables and algae a separate category. And the most invisible one of all is yeast, fungi, and ferments, because often you cannot see these things. And yet they're very, very nutritious, very good for us for the enzyme they contain. And for instance, yeast is very rich in the B vitamins. So, you don't need to know that, but if you think of those three things as foods then you really invite them into your diet.
Karina Inkster: Wow. Okay. I'm going to go check this out immediately after our conversation. I've actually been getting into fermenting things myself. I hadn't really, before. I mean, I eat a lot of fermented things, miso and sauerkraut basically every day, but I'm getting into things like, I'm fermenting my own sodas with wild cultured sodas, ginger beer, that kind of stuff.
Peggy Brusseau: Sourdough?
Karina Inkster: I don't eat a lot of bread cause I mean, I like bread, but bread doesn't like me.
Peggy Brusseau: Yeah. I know. Yes I do. I do. I'm doing tempeh at the moment. That is fun. And that's homemade at the moment. It's just a thrill.
Karina Inkster: I have not ventured into making tempeh. I'm not confident in my own fermentation abilities at this point.
Peggy Brusseau: There's another step, isn't it? Because you have, as you say, you invite the wild yeast or whatever to do its work. And so there's a lot of, sort of a little bit of tension, I suppose, until you trial and error as well.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, definitely. Very cool. So, where can our listeners go to check out this list that you have of the food groups and also to connect with you?
Peggy Brusseau: Okay. It's very simple. My website is my name, peggybrusseau.com. And on there is, there's a whole bunch of, and there'll be more put on over the months ahead. There's a form there. You can ask me anything you like. I'll reply via my newsletter, which I've also got a little form that you just ticket. And there's a free download when you sign up for that, it's called The Vegan Action Plan: Seven Days to Change Your World. It’s just another, a seven-step way of easing into the vegan way of eating. I'm on Instagram again. So, it's just, my name is, is how they get in touch.
Karina Inkster: That's great. We will have links in our show notes to these as well, but sometimes our folks are listening and they're at the computer and they want to type it in right off the bat without going to our show notes, but we will have them available. I really like the ask me anything and I'll answer in my newsletter. I may have to steal that concept. It's brilliant. I like it.
Peggy Brusseau: But over the years, people have been curious and they've asked how to do things or what do I do for protein and all those basic questions. So I love answering them.
Karina Inkster: And then, and then it's also really good content for other folks who may not have known these things, or may not have known that they had the same question.
Peggy Brusseau: Exactly.
Karina Inkster: Well, Peggy, it was so great to speak with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Much appreciated.
Peggy Brusseau: It's a pleasure, Karina. Thank you.
Karina Inkster: I loved speaking with you. Thank you again for being a guest on the podcast and our listeners can access our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/093. Thank you so much for listening.