Book Review & Giveaway: Unprocessed by Chef AJ

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After seeing Forks Over Knives, I took a look at my diet to assess how just how much processed food I was eating.  What I realized was surprising and little unsettling: frozen burritos, boxed cereals, prepackaged organic ramen, chips, pretzels and a whole host of other vegan “convenience” foods still had prominent places in my diet.  I knew it was time for a change.  So when Chef AJ contacted me about her book, Unprocessed, I was more than happy to take a look at it.

Unprocessed is largely based on personal experience and heavily stresses the benefits of eliminating all processed foods–especially added sugars, oils and salt–from the diet.  Chef AJ presents her journey to this type of eating in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner that gets right to the point.  It’s clear from her emphasis throughout the book that AJ thinks an entirely unprocessed diet is the way to go.  Lots of fruits, veggies, legumes and nuts with no added salt, sugar or oil in anything and pretty much nothing that comes pre-packaged.  For most of us, even long-time vegans, this is a huge change.  AJ suggests starting small and taking steps toward replacing all thing boxed, bagged, jarred and bottled with whole, fresh foods and homemade alternatives.  She gives tips on how to shop, including a few suggestions on saving money when buying fresh produce and other potentially pricey items.  And the second half of the book is full of tasty unprocessed vegan recipes to help you get started.  (Raw truffles, anyone?)

One thing I would have liked to see in the book is more statistics showing the positive effects of eating unprocessed.  I’m a sucker for good data.  It backs up personal experience and is great to share when you’re trying to explain the health benefits of any kind of dietary change to someone else.  AJ’s story is a compelling one, but I’ve met enough hardcore processed food addicts to know that even the best personal experience story isn’t always going to make an impact.  AJ affectionately calls this type of person a “Yabbut,” because they often preface excuses about not eating healthy with the ever-popular, “Yeah, but…”  (We’ve all heard it, haven’t we?)  And she makes some good points when addressing these excuses.  The one that resonated with me the most was her repeated emphasis not only on personal health, but also the health of families and children.  She points out that continuing to eat food that hurts us only serves to feed our addictions to fat, sugar and salt.  And feeding this stuff to our kids sets them up for a host of health problems in the future.

Though Unprocessed contains good some suggestions and interesting information, I did find some of it to be a bit militant.  I don’t disagree that eating a largely unprocessed diet is the best thing you can do for your body; in fact, I took away several new ideas from Chef AJ’s text.  But I think more accessible language is necessary to get a large cross-section of people interested in eating this way.  The “yabbuts” of the world might be inclined to believe that McDonald’s hamburgers aren’t good for them, but it’s going to take a little more than a good kale salad to convince them to permanently give up the salt shaker.  (More’s the pity.)  Of course, it’s important to point out that this has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the prevailing mindset toward food in today’s society, something that’s unfortunately not looking like it’s going to change any time soon.

As far as the recipes are concerned, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.  They range from simple snacks to fully-loaded entrees, all utilizing unprocessed whole foods.  I’ve tried three so far: bRAWnies (raw brownies), fruity quinoa and the almond butter dressing from AJ’s “Hail to the Kale” salad.  The dressing has already become a staple item in the QV household.  My mom and I both love almond butter to begin with, and this dressing has a light enough taste that you can use it on just about anything.  I first tried it on a big chopped salad with some quinoa and steamed tempeh cubes, adding a little dusting of black pepper over the top (you can see the picture at the beginning of this post).  Since then, I can’t count how many chopped salads I’ve drizzled this stuff on.  I only make a quarter of a recipe at a time because a little goes a long way.

raw vegan brownies
The only description the bRAWnies need is: YUM!  They’re really simple: nuts, dates, raw cocoa powder and alcohol-free vanilla extract.  I used half almonds and half walnuts, and made a couple special purchases at the co-op so I’d have all the ingredients.  I’m really glad I did!  Raw cocoa powder is a bit on the expensive side, but worth every penny.  These were easily the most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever had, and healthy, too!  And there’s no fancy prep work involved; just a food processor, a brownie pan and a little time in the freezer.  They reminded me a bit of Raw Revolution bars, only not as greasy.

fruity quinoa
Fruity quinoa is meant to be an alternative to oatmeal in the morning in case, like me, you find yourself in a breakfast rut.  Like a lot of Chef AJ’s recipes, it’s simple and straightforward, involving only quinoa cooked in orange juice with a little cinnamon and vanilla extract, then topped with raisins or other dried fruit.  I added a few walnuts to mine as well.  Despite a tendency to boil over while it was cooking, I thought this was a good recipe.  It’s tangy and warming with a bit of a wet texture suitable for hot cereal, and is definitely different than most common breakfast offerings!

If you want to try these or any of the other tasty recipes for yourself, Chef AJ has offered to give away a copy of Unprocessed to one lucky QV reader!  This one’s easy to enter: just leave a comment on this post telling me why you want to try more unprocessed food.
Are you a “junk food vegan?”  Are you stuck in a food rut?  Whatever the case, let me know by Monday, April 16th for your chance to win!  Good luck!
Giveaway is now closed!  Winner to be announced soon.

A side note for eating disorders sufferers and those in recovery: I personally found some of Unprocessed to be triggering.  I’ve struggled with restriction a lot in the past, and some of those old thought patterns started to pop up as I was reading.  However, I’m not saying this would be the case for everyone with an ED.  Chef AJ herself recovered from a struggle with anorexia and bulimia, and eating this way seems to have been a big part of her recovery.  Everyone’s different, but I felt it was important to make mention of this.


About the Author:

Sam has been eating a plant-based diet since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of plant-based food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a former member of Toastmasters International and was awarded a Competent Communicator designation for public speaking. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, play silly card games and knit socks.
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  1. Sierra Hawksley  April 12, 2012

    Sounds like an awesome book! I was vegetarian for 8 years before going vegan in 2010 and up until that time, I was definitely more of a junk food vegetarian. So when I first went vegan I was excited to find all sorts of meals ready to pop into my freezer labeled vegan! Now I’m learning more about an oxygenated, clean plant-based diet and find myself running out of ideas sometimes. I also learned that I am gluten intolerant (like many others!) and that has thrown a whole new loop in to make me realize I need to get all that processed junk out that I used to rely on.
    ‘Unprocessed’ sounds like it would be an awesome resource!! =)

    • Sam  April 13, 2012

      I hear you on the convenience foods! It’s so easy to pop into the store and grab an Amy’s burrito or frozen meal instead of focusing on healthy, whole foods. I’ve gotten almost completely away from that stuff now and am so happy that I did. 🙂

      Good luck in your journey to gluten free! Fortunately there are a lot of alternatives now, like brown rice pasta and tortillas.

  2. Gayle  April 12, 2012

    I am trying to stay away from processed foods and eat more whole foods. I enjoy feeling healthy and full of energy. I want to avoid diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

  3. Mary L.  April 12, 2012

    I transitioned to vegetarianism by leaning heavily on processed food. I’ve been vegan for the past 3-4 years and am looking for less processed meal ideas. This cookbook looks great for that purpose!

  4. katherine d  April 12, 2012

    I eat pretty healthy, but the few processed foods I eat don’t jive well with my body – and i want to treat my body better

    katherinedibello (at) gmail (dot) com

  5. Shelby  April 13, 2012

    I definitely agree that processed foods should be left alone! Unfortunately I can’t go vegan as much as I prefer that way. I’ve been getting B-12 shots because my levels were super low (I was at 100!) I was feeling tired and dragged out all the time, however, I believe that a healthy balanced diet is the best and that means eating whole foods and do away with all this processed foods with all their additives and preservatives. I’m not a great example because I haven’t lived that way for the most part, but in my mind, I know it is what is best.

    • Sam  April 13, 2012

      Hmm, I’ve known other vegans who started out with low B-12…were you supplementing? :-/

      • susan  April 13, 2012

        we live in a world where we rush around so much ,there is no time to cook real food. we are abnormal if we are healthy. i have seen such tremendous gains in my health from cleaning up the crap. i would like to win the cookbook as i struggle to find good recipes that do not have processed foods in the recipe.
        on a side note regarding low b-12, my doc says he sees many non-vegans also low on b-12. i was only 6 months vegan, when i found my b12 low. i think it has to do with the poor quality feed fed to animals that we ended up eating.

        • Sam  April 13, 2012

          I agree that healthy eating is far too often seen as “abnormal.” I’d love to see it become the norm…which is why I want to keep sharing books like this!

          As far as B-12 goes, I supplement every day with Deva sublingual B-12 and haven’t had a problem yet. 🙂

  6. Chef AJ  April 13, 2012

    Thank you for the wonderful review! As far as some of the foods being triggering, I wonder if you are referring to the rich desserts with dates, nuts and cacao powder? Just to clarify, these rich desserts, which I created while I was the pastry chef at Sante, are treats. I don’t suggest they should be the mainstay of ones diet. I see these date sweetened desserts as “methadone” to get people off of white sugar, white flour and oil desserts which truly destroy your health.

    As far as being militant, what can I say? I have lost too many loved ones to food borne illnesses like heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and cancer. All of which can be prevented, and largely reversed, with a whole food, plant based unprocessed diet.

    Love & Kale,
    Chef AJ

    • Sam  April 13, 2012

      Though I’ll admit I LOVE dessert–and always will–none of the foods were triggering to me. (Yey!) It’s more a matter of having to be careful about restriction. I had a big problem with restriction when I was struggling with my eating disorder. Whenever I approach a new dietary change, I need to be sure that I’m doing it for health reasons and not because there’s a voice telling me to restrict.

      I can’t blame you for championing this diet. I’ve been loaning Forks Over Knives to a bunch of people for similar reasons. So many people say they want to get healthy, but don’t do anything about it. It’s important to stick to your guns when you’re concerned about the people you love!

  7. victoria  April 13, 2012

    It is hard to find good tasting healthy foods. They get sooo boring when trying to keep them healthy. I have a box of the date brownies here at work with me and make them into truffles and put them in tiny cupcake papers and they are delightful. The key to keeping up with the healthy eating is good tasty food. THANKS Chef AJ for all the yummy food.

    • Chef AJ  April 13, 2012

      Great tasting healthy foods don’t have to be boring! Once you stopped stimulating your taste buds from excessive sugar, fat and salt (AKA processed foods) even the simplest oods become exciting again!

      • Sam  April 13, 2012

        I have to agree…one of my favorite things is fresh raw apples. So sweet and delicious all on their own!

  8. Ed  April 13, 2012

    There are a few processed foods that I enjoy, such as date bars, a few Clif Bars, Odwalla juices. Not like it used to be; I was very much a polish dogs and frozen pizza kinda guy.

    I would like to try some of the recipes in this book for our monthly pot-luck. Would like to sway some the participants to a healthier, and fun, diet/life style by introducing some delicious, whole food, vegan meals.


    • susan  April 13, 2012

      chef aj is correct, when you start eating healthier, your palate changes. in the beginning i would eat the larabars, but i have lost the strong craving. i fill up on my salad, and my dinner and then add a piece of fruit after dinner and that is enough. my “mind” still pictures the old unhealthy food, but then i remember it is poison to my body and i want to stay healthy.

  9. Laura  April 13, 2012

    After abusing my body in obvious and non-obvious ways for years, I am now attempting to eat my way back to health. I’m trying for the whole-foods approach, and finding that it’s challenging to find replacements for even the healthier processed foods I rely on (“Yeah, but … bran flakes! Yeah, but — do I really have to make my own (fill in the blank)?”). Fortunately, I consider time in the kitchen a blessing — the more I have to cook, the happier I am, regardless of how the recipe comes out, and I love being surprised by new flavors and textures.

  10. Ashley  April 13, 2012

    I rely way too much on fake meat products…I would love a new inspiring book! Thanks so much for the giveaway!

  11. ikkinlala  April 13, 2012

    There’s not a lot of processed food in my diet (I’m not militant enough to cut out things like salt, but I consume a lot less of it than average because I add it myself rather than having it hidden in things). I am kind of stuck in a rut, though, because I’ve needed to cook quick meals lately, and I think a book like this might have some quick and easy new recipes.

  12. Karen  April 14, 2012

    While not a junk food vegan,I definately eat more dessets than I need to,usually when I’m stressed and not even hungry! I’d love to win this book.

  13. Ilana  April 15, 2012

    Unprocessed food is the best! I bake and cook a lot and always appreciate ways to eat the best that I can.

  14. vegAnn  April 16, 2012

    There are a few processed foods that still have their grip on me … Am looking forward to owning a high spend blender so I can make my own almond milk 🙂

  15. Jackie  April 16, 2012

    I too watched Food inc recently and decided to make some changes in my diet. I’ve cut down on processed foods considerably. I would say my diet is 99% vegan at this point and I want to get to 100%.