How to Avoid Fried Food, Coffee and Deodorant

Rachel Talshir, Haaretz columnist on cancer and nutrition, explains how she lives almost entirely on fruit and vegetables and why restaurants are an abomination.

Ayelett Shani
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Ayelett Shani

What will you eat today?

Until lunch I eat a lot of fruit – persimmon, bananas. I will drink juice that I make from all kinds of leafy greens and fruit. For lunch I will have a large savory puree – avocado and green leaves – and maybe I’ll have two slices of bread today, too. Those are satisfying meals; not like junk food or meat, where the more you eat the more you want.

I know you’re against the idea of comfort food. But what happens when you come home after a hard day and open the refrigerator?

I always have a pot of lentils in the refrigerator, also vegetable soup and a pot of whole rice.

Lentils comfort you?

Very much. Now, if I’m already full and I feel like something, it’s all right.

But what could you possibly feel like having after eating whole rice and lentils and vegetable soup?

Nothing. That’s why I warmly recommend this way.

Don’t you ever want something fried or a snack in a crinkly bag?

I started my journey in 2001, and it wasn’t easy at first. Do you know how hard it was to kick the coffee habit? I started and stopped three times.

But how can you live like that without leaving human society? You don’t go drinking with friends, don’t eat in restaurants?

One method is to bring your own food to the restaurant. Another is to turn yourself into the court jester at meals. When I feel good with myself, that’s what I do: I let everyone get on my case about what I eat. Most people laugh at me, but they also process the thoughts about healthful food. It’s a kind of therapeutic process people go through, by laughing at me.

What do you think of restaurants in general?

An abomination – 95 percent of the menu in restaurants is based on animal source foods. If there’s a salad, am I going to tell them to take out the egg and the tuna, and then pay 50 shekels [about $14] for three pieces of lettuce?

So what do you do in restaurants?

I eat at home and arrive full, because I like going to restaurants and I like to go out and hang with people. I learned another trick from an anorexic friend I used to have: to shovel what’s on my plate onto others’ plates and spend hours fiddling with the little that’s left.

But the concept of food shifts a bit here: Eating is part of the scene of being with others.

I don’t bother anyone. Some people like to differentiate themselves from others through food. Since I was young, I have felt so different in general that it’s not urgent for me to differentiate myself through food. I really don’t like to make a fuss, I will always try to tone things down.

What are the five minimal things a person can do for his health?

Eat a large bowl of salad with every meal, with at least five colors of vegetables in it; drink a glass of juice made of leafy greens and fruit; reduce the salt as much as possible, and also sweets of all kinds. Eat fruit instead. Also, cut down on packaged foods whose ingredients you don’t understand. The foods whose content you have to be a chemist to understand are not fit for human consumption. I tell people who come with problems to start with 50 percent fruit and vegetables, and after a time to up it to 60 and 70 percent. For myself I say 98 percent.

And is 98 percent of what you eat really fruit and vegetables?

Yes.

The turning point in your life came a decade ago, when you fell ill with cancer. Before that you were healthy.

I was supposedly healthy. I had psoriasis all over and terrible digestion problems. But because everyone in my milieu suffered from similar problems, I didn’t consider myself sick. I went for a routine checkup and discovered I was sick. I have to say something about my illness: I experienced it with extreme intensity, and wrote about it, but today, in retrospect, I’m ashamed.

Why?

Because I had a very small cancer. A little “sample” of it. And I think I was a drama queen.

Can we expect someone who discovers she has cancer not to be a drama queen?

I remember going to a healer in the Kingston method, and when I told him I had cancer he said, “Cancer is a sickness like all other sicknesses. Many people do not die of it in the end, and many people do die from high blood pressure, but when someone says he has high blood pressure no one panics.” When I was told I had cancer I went into a real panic. I started to imagine my children growing up without a mother ... When women tell me a lump was found in their breast, I say: “It’s great you only have a lump – you got it early, so you’ll be able to live a healthy life longer.”

What do you say to the terminally ill?

I meet people who have diseases that someone I knew had and didn’t survive, but if someone is capable of taking it to a place of learning and inspiration – that’s wonderful.

So your perspective on diseases has changed.

Yes. It’s hard for me to talk about the disease in sad or dramatic terms now, because I really don’t think of it like that anymore.

If a cancer patient asked for advice, would you tell him to stop treatment and change his nutrition, or take the chemo and also eat vegetables?

No one can tell someone else what to do. But if I fall ill again, I will fast.

And you won’t take treatment.

Definitely not.

Do you take dietary supplements?

No. Everything people recommend that they also profit from is suspicious.

Not even vitamin B12?

No.

That’s a matter of principle, because B12 exists only in animal sources.

It may disgust you, but one of the best bits of advice I got is not to overdo the cleaning of the leafy greens.

Because you can get B12 from the soil ...

From the soil and from the worms. Why are you making a face? Why are worms no good but snails are fine, or oysters? Look, I’m not at home anywhere; the vegans don’t agree with me, either.

Love of animals is not a consideration in your world?

Love of animals, looking after one’s health and concern for the fate of the world are three intertwined elements. I can’t say where one starts and the next ends.

Or where to prioritize.

No. When my kids were growing up, Tivall [“ready-made vegetarian food,” according to the website] schnitzel was the “national food” for children, Bamba and Bisli [snacks] were hysterical hits, and parents were sure they were full of vitamins. I had a feeling these were awful things ... There was no Internet. I had no way of knowing what I was feeding them. I saw that they came home from school and didn’t understand that they were feeling bloated from excess gluten and edgy from excess sugar ... When I made my son a chocolate drink from carobs he would say, “No, the smoother kind.” I was quite helpless, and then I fell ill. It was only after chemo and radiation that I knew enough to say: “I am not going to take the pills you want me to take for five years; I intend to treat myself.” These days the knowledge exists on the Internet, but a lot of people just don’t want to know.

What’s your take on militant veganism and that whole controversy?

To look at this phenomenon seriously, you have to try to see things as the extremist vegans do. They, and Gary Yourofsky too, see us as living in a world in which the human race subjugates animals and harms them callously. So they resort to every possible means, including violence, to try to fix what they perceive as a holocaust. No less. If you adopt that viewpoint, at least momentarily, there is no choice but to admit that animals are being murdered in our world wholesale and systematically, and to understand that Yourofsky, like others, is trying to show us something that we don’t want to see.

This way of life demands large resources of time and money. That’s something you always tend to play down.

Nonsense. I find the way of life led by people who frequent cafés and malls very demanding, too. Those are also costly activities.

But it’s not just money, it’s also time, mental “availability,” having to cook all the time.

There are people who have all of those assets and eat only terrible things, and there are people who have neither money nor education but have common sense and eat well. Lentils are cheap.

What do you miss most?

Yellow cheese and tinned tuna.

You say that there are “temptations,” but your readers get a picture of a person who has no qualms. You even write that after one opts for healthful nutrition, other food looks crude. So where’s the temptation?

All the industrial products look like dog food to me.

When you look at a yeast cake with chocolate spread at a café, what do you see?

It doesn’t look like food to me ... It would never occur to me to eat it. It’s something we’ve been persuaded and trained to eat. It’s odd you should say a yeast cake, because my mother, who died when I was 20, could make a yeast cake with cocoa like nothing I ever saw elsewhere. If you’d brought me my mother’s yeast cake, then yes, I’d eat it.

What about a slice of feta cheese on a bit of toast?

I’m ready to do community service work so as not to eat that.

A chocolate ball?

Repulsive.

Bourekas?

A horror.

Don’t talk about bourekas like that. In any event, the question is whether you still are tempted by things.

To some extent, because in contrast to many vegans I don’t live a secluded life with other vegans. I didn’t meet my husband through a veganism forum, and I don’t choose my friends according to whether they’re vegans. So I have this difficulty, living together with everyone and not upsetting them.

You’re also against deodorant.

Of course. You know, my husband’s sister called to ask if I could recommend a deodorant. I told her that all the so-called natural ones don’t work. It’s the same with all the “natural” laundry soaps: They freshen the laundry, but for a real stain you have to use the regular powders. She said, “So, do you smell?” I told her to ask her brother. You know what he replied? “Sometimes.”

Do you use soap?

No, I shower with water.

How do you wash your hair?

I have it washed in the beauty parlor and have it styled with a blow-dryer and dyed. I’m only human. But I only wash my hair once every 20 days.

Shocking.

The less you wash your hair, the less you need to wash it.

I’m shocked anyway. Let me ask you what food means to you. Is food meant only to nourish, to make us happy, to comfort?

Food is meant to bring us joy and to be lovely and tasty. But I make a distinction between harmful food and nutritious food: From my point of view, people who eat bourekas or snacks or donuts or other outrageous stuff that I don’t even remember anymore, are like a wife who loves her abusive husband.

You always say you don’t judge and that everyone should do what he thinks is best, etc. But what you just said is judgmental, even quite violent.

I try very hard not to be judgmental. I have a close girlfriend who is doing tremendous damage to her health, but I restrain myself and say nothing. When you love someone and see how he’s harming himself, it’s very hard to restrain yourself. A Chinese wise man once said that just because there is a key doesn’t mean the lock is ready.

If you’d arrived a little earlier and seen me drinking chocolate milk from a bag and eating two bourekas, would that have made you look at me differently?

I meet all kinds of brilliant people with academic degrees. And they have psoriasis all over their body. They know I was cured of it through nutrition, but they don’t want to hear about it. They want to take chemo pills and go on eating steaks and falafel every day. Look, there are no saints. I am wearing leather shoes. [The comic actor] Orna Banai, who is the most ardent defender of animals there is, did commercials for breakfast cereals. An ideological, idealistic woman, but she was willing to represent something that is harmful to children. For her the line runs there. Everyone makes his choices.

So you’re not judgmental.

I try not to be.

Rachel Talshir.Credit: Gali Eytan

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