In a previous blog post, [see here], I described what I see as the most compelling case against the consumption of industrially processed seed oils (colloquially known as “vegetable oil”). One of problems with vegetable oils is their ubiquitous use, particularly among food manufacturers, restaurants, and even home cooks. As we approach the holidays, I want to provide some guidance as to how one can avoid these oils.
The degree to which you avoid vegetable oils should first be prefaced with a determination of your dietary tolerance for them. Do you want to exclude them entirely? Are you willing to make concessions? Put another way, how strict are you willing to be? There are realistically only 3 public arenas you will encounter them: grocery stores, restaurants, and someone’s home. I’ll dive into each individually.
The first locale, a grocery store, is the easiest to navigate. All foods, whether presented in a package, food bar, or samples station, should be evaluated on the basis of their ingredients list. I personally avoid all foods that contain vegetable oils, but if I’m hosting a party I might not. For the convenience of my guests, I may decide it prudent to provide food options that contain these oils. Some people have no hesitations about them and that is okay. I’m not one to judge. I’d rather provide a wide array of options than force everyone to eat my way, and you should too! That said, I do my best to find foods that are both diverse and without vegetable oils.
The second location, a restaurant, is only slightly more complicated to navigate and is best described with an example. Let’s say I go to a typical restaurant. I want the ribeye, but I know that many restaurants cut costs by searing steak in oil rather than butter. Lya prefers the pasta alfredo, but those often contain vegetable oil as well. When the waitstaff arrives to take my order, I ask what oils, if any, are used in the dishes. They often have to visit the kitchen to answer this question (they should be more than willing to do this for you if they don’t know). When the server comes back, he informs me that the steak is seared in canola oil and the alfredo sauce has sunflower oil in it. In response, I request that my steak be cooked only in butter. If they can’t, I don’t go back. Lya, on the other hand, is really excited by the pasta alfredo and decides that she still wants the dish. Perfectly fine! Our intake of vegetable oils is so low that a little here and there is no problem. This is where personal preference comes into play.
Last are those occasions you find yourself eating at a family of friend’s house. This is perhaps where most people are willing to give themselves the greatest degree of freedom in an effort to avoid offending someone or being labeled “difficult”. The key here is to remember that this person is doing you a service by hosting and shouldn’t be required to cook a certain way (although a good host will ask you about any dietary restrictions prior to the event). If you want to be sure you have something to eat while being free of vegetable oils, offer to make a dish or two for the event. If you aren’t a cook, buy something. Assuming you can’t do either, I suggest eating something small beforehand so you don’t go hungry. Then, when you show up, a graceful way of determining if vegetable oils were used is to simply ask how the food was prepared. Not only will you learn what ingredients were used, but now maybe you’ll have an idea of how to make something for next time.
And that’s basically it! Remember this is by no means the only blueprint for avoiding vegetable oils. You may feel that the effort isn’t worth it, or maybe you’ve determined another way that works best for you. In any case, just be honest with yourself.
P.S. These guidelines can be used beyond just the holidays!