motion blurred imagery of yellow leaves on white barked aspen trees

Are You a Qualitarian?

Guest post by Ashley Koff, R.D.

For years, people would routinely pose the same question to me: “So, what are you?” I’m pretty sure that people are clear that I’m a brunette, a female, even that I’m a dietitian. So since the question usually came amidst a conversation about food choices, I would presume they were asking about my eating habits. And for years, I wouldn’t really have an answer. I had been a vegan, a pescatarian, a person following a macrobiotic diet and later Westin Price’s protocol. I had dabbled with Atkins out of curiosity (and the promise of daily lattes with half and half), the Body Ecology diet (despite not having a yeast problem, call it ‘professional curiosity’) as well as other plans. But I stopped in my tracks when the question now came to me. It was about me and my eating for sure, but I also recognized that it came with undertones of the idea that obviously if I was doing it then that must be the plan I endorsed for others. It got me thinking—what protocol or plan do I endorse?

Around the same time I had the good fortune to vacation—truly vacation, as in no cellular service once we hit the 17 miles of dirt road that took me to the ranch, as in no cell service while I was casting, wading, or glaring at the bank in search of snakes, and as in not eating a single thing from a package. During that trip, a ranch hand cooked dinner for me one night, a fly fishing guide brought me lunch daily, and a group of women invited me to their gathering where I sampled some of their amazing treats. Yet, I was in Montana—and in Montana they eat meat, and not just meat but game.

I haven’t eaten meat in years (like 15) after a rather memorable experience with some veins in a supposed chicken breast in my college campus café almost sent me right into the hands of my frozen yogurt-loving, bin-food candy eating friends. While that didn’t work out too well as fuel for college, the no meat part lasted.

But back to Montana—at first I declined to eat antelope, to taste bison, or any other meat and said no to the dairy from the cow I could see eating the grass as I looked out the window. Then, someone said to me, “So, what’s your objection? Is it animal cruelty, taste, or what they might be fed, cause I can tell you that I treat these animals like they are my kids—no hormones and plenty of grass.” Then he chuckled and looked at his grown son, “And I do kill them when it’s time—I guess that’s where it’s a little different than my kids.”

“So what was my objection?” I pondered.

I object to animals fed food they wouldn’t eat in nature and to the medications used to treat them when they develop illnesses related to eating the wrong foods. I object to artificial ingredients, chemical combinations made in a lab to look like things in nature, but that don’t chemically resemble what’s in nature. I object to genetic modification of plants (and certainly of animals) so that we can speed up growth or get more of something when what nature provides should be plenty. And I object to making claims about components of foods when tone doesn’t have anything nice (or worthy) to say about the rest of the food or product. Thus, I realized, I had no objection, other than what my palate may or may not enjoy, to the meat being presented to me in Montana. And so—qualitarianism was born.

Being a qualitarian is, I believe, the solution to our health issues today—all of them. We wouldn’t have the quantity and intensity of health issues (mental and physical) if we ate better quality foods exclusively. And if we all ate better quality foods, they would cost less resulting from greater demand for food coupled with lesser need for advertising money to be spent to counter the poor quality food products. If we all ate better quality food, better quality food would be more available, too.

What does it mean to be a qualitarian? It means, first and foremost, that you choose to be the gatekeeper for what goes into your body. That you don’t feel deprived but rather empowered when you turn down a veggie burger with genetically engineered ingredients or hexane and enjoy one made from organic quinoa and mushrooms or a wild salmon burger or a grass-fed burger. It also means saying no to a ready-to-eat salad of chemically sprayed lettuces in favor of cooking your own organic broccoli (great to start with frozen too). And it means taking pride in being smarter than the front of a package or a commercial. Yes, you are smarter than both of those. You are smarter than the package that tells you what it wants you to know, but doesn’t tell you the rest of the story. Or what about the commercial—do you think whoever made it feeds that food to their kids or eats it themselves? So just as you wouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, get to know the whole story before you buy and certainly before you eat.

There are so many amazing resources out there today to help you on the journey to becoming a qualitarian. I have added one more—the Ashley Koff Approved lists—so that if you don’t know what questions to ask, don’t have the time, energy, or even don’t care to do the work, you can feel comfortable that I have asked the questions and have evaluated the products for you. Why should you trust me? Because I became and remain a registered dietitian to address my curiosity, which can be at times relentless, about what is actually good quality in our food system. That, and because I am not paid to evaluate any products—the Ashley Koff Approved stamp of nutrition for optimal health can’t be bought, it’s earned.

I hope you will join me in becoming a qualitarian and please follow me on Facebook and Twitter for daily tips and discoveries.

Ashley Koff is an internationally renowned registered dietitian on a mission to improve the health of people across America and beyond through raising public awareness of the value of quality eating.

Ready to become a qualitarian?
Ashley will give a talk—A Case for Quality—at Zenergy on Tuesday September 19, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.