Friday, November 4, 2011

Unprocessed, by Chef AJ

Hey, it's VGC's very first book review!  Hooray!

OK,  down to business.  A couple weeks ago, I got an email from Chef AJ, a culinary instructor out in California, asking if I could review her book, Unprocessed.  I said yes, of course - with a name like that, it had to be my kind of book!

Turns out, it's a semi-raw, vegan cookbook.  As you may know, I am not vegan.  People sometimes think that, because my blog is called "Veggies Go Crunch," I'm a vegetarian.  I'm not.  I eat meat, eggs, dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  As a matter of fact, I can't think of a diet that does not include vegetables.  Veggies Go Crunch speaks to everybody.

The first half of Unprocessed is Chef AJ's support of a vegan diet.  She shares her story of how she switched to an all-natural, raw vegan lifestyle, gives her definition of what unprocessed foods are - more on this in a minute - and gives you some arguments in favor of this diet.  While I'm not a vegan, I was excited to read this book because of my passion for unprocessed food in general.

Chef AJ made some great points in her book.  I really liked something she said at the beginning:  "I'd rather see you eat a diet that is 90% vegan and 90% unprocessed ... than a diet that is 100% vegan and only 10% unprocessed."  She explains that it is possible to be a vegan and unhealthy.  I'll be honest - I don't think that a vegan diet is ideal for most people, especially growing kids (like me!).  But, like I've said before, you have to come to your own conclusions.  Experiment and figure out which diet works the best for you.

After I read the book, I picked a few recipes to try.  Admittedly, they all kind of looked like side dishes to me, since none of them contained meat!  However, I had no problem finding some that looked tasty.  While Chef AJ's recipes had bold flavors, my family and I all agreed that they were missing something.  Dare I say it?  FAT.  Chef AJ completely excludes added fat from her recipes.  The only fats in her book are those found in nuts, seeds, and avocados.  This is unfortunate, since, in addition to adding flavor, fats are vital nutrients.  They are needed in the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.  There are also essential fatty acids that are, well, essential, and cannot be synthesized by the body.  They must be eaten.  It's backwards to think that a healthy diet must exclude fats.  In fact, healthy fats need to be included in any balanced diet.  And as far as taste goes, well, I'm just going to quote Julia Child.  "If you're afraid of butter, use cream."

Specifically, I just can't agree with her stance on coconut oil.  Chef AJ avoids all oils.  While I understand why she avoids vegetable oils - we don't use them either - coconut oil is a health food.  Chef AJ claims that coconut oil is the most unhealthy oil of all; something that I have dedicated a whole post to disproving.  In a (coco)nutshell, people tend to think that, because of coconut oil's high saturated fat content (it's 92% saturated), it's evil.  But it's not.  It's one of the best things for you.  Click here for my post.

I do not agree with Chef AJ on some of her conclusions about what's processed and what's not.  When she says that meat is not an unprocessed food - her definition of "unprocessed" being "anything she can make in her kitchen from whole ingredients" - well, I don't agree with her.  She uses hot dogs as her example of "meat", but as far as I know, a steak is about as unprocessed as it gets, especially a steak from a grass-fed, grass-finished cow.  Then she goes on to say that tofu is an unprocessed food.  While it may be true that you can make tofu in your kitchen, soy in its unfermented state is not necessarily good for you.  It can cause all kinds of health problems, such as digestive diseases, immune system breakdowns, and cancer, to name a few.  Plus, most of the tofu on the market is highly processed and made from GMO soy beans.

One more thing: I'm allergic to tree nuts.  Many of Chef AJ's recipes call for some kind of nut or nut product.  On her recommendation, I did successfully substitute sunflower seeds for walnuts in a few recipes. 

Unprocessed was a great insight into a world that I might not have entered on my own.  I certainly wouldn't have picked up a raw, vegan book if I saw it at the library.  And that's what we all need - to see things in a different light.  I learned that maybe my way of eating isn't the only way, and that the more sides of an argument I see, the better.  That's pretty much all I want you to do; to research things, to see all the different viewpoints, to understand what you're eating, and to come to your own conclusions based on the facts.


  1. It is refreshing to see journalistic objectivity at work, here. You reviewed and analyzed, but did not succumb to the flattery of being asked. Well done!

  2. Very well reviewed, Kaynan. I especially appreciate your views on what is considered processed vs. unprocessed. Many people get confused by the difference and would consider tofu as unprocessed. I hope that you can explore the whole world of soy. It is almost literally in everything (processed) as an emulsifier (soy lecithin). You can check out more on Wikipedia:

    I also like how you touched on the GMO topic as well. I did a blog series a while ago on GMO foods... you and your readers can check it out here:

    Again, fabulous review and I definitely look forward to more!

  3. I eat a healthy plant based diet, low in processed oils. When you extract the oil out of the plant, such as avacado, nuts,seeds etc. you are left with just fat and none of the nutrients from the whole food, and there are too many to count. I agree that making a plant based diet taste wonderful takes a love of cooking and patience, but it is worth it. Its sad though, that most people can't take on the challange because its more work. I love my plant based life, it works for me and I gladly tell anyone who wants to know, it never push it on anyone. I only wish I could say the same about most people who are not. Whenever anyone finds out about my eating habits, I get bombarded with questions, judgements etc. and suddenly everyone, expecially those in poor health, overweight and such, is a expert in nutrition.

    I appreciate your review though.

    1. I'm really glad that you love your diet and that you feel good. It's great to know that there are other people out there who care about what they eat.