Clean Food: An Interview with Terry Walters

Terry Walters’ Clean Food is the best cookbook I’ve used in a long time.  Why?  Mainly because it’s full of recipes for real food.

Clean Food isn’t about pounding soy into various meat-shapes and pretending it doesn’t taste like soy (which tastes, mostly, like nothing).  It’s about getting fresh, seasonal, nutritious foods and preparing them in a simple way that highlights their flavors.  The meals are filling, but in a comfortable way.  A clean way.  A way that leaves you feeling light and energized, not ready to slip into a food-coma.

When I found out that Terry, the author, was a fellow marathoner as well as a cyclist, I knew she’d make a great interview for No Meat Athlete.  She agreed, we talked on the phone for 20 or 30 minutes, and a lot of good stuff came out of it.  Enjoy.

Matt: So, let’s start with Clean Food, which my family absolutely loves, by the way.  When I picked it up for the first time, I had no idea it was vegan.  I’ve talked to you about this already, but can you just explain for readers why you didn’t make it a point to call it a “vegan cookbook”?

Terry: Because actually my point in writing the book was not to write a “vegan cookbook.”  My point in writing Clean Food was to give people ways of bringing in the foods that we all need more of.

I have a health coaching-counseling business as well, and over the years, sometimes I recommend meat for people, and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes dairy’s okay and sometimes it’s not.  I feel like everybody is unique, but across the board, I notice that the people who are eating meat—red meat, chicken, seafood—they pretty much knew what to do with it, but they didn’t know how to eat a variety of dark, leafy greens.  They didn’t know how to bring in a variety of non-animal sources of protein, or whole grain.  And so, my focus is on giving them the tools so that they can enrich their diet with these other clean foods and have less dependency on animal protein, on dairy, and on processed foods in general.  So I think of these as the minimally-processed, maximal-nutrition foods of the foods we all need more of.

M: That’s neat.  So I guess, theoretically, someone who eats meat could just work these recipes into their diet?

T: You know, actually, I self-published this book originally, and it’s been a while now, but I think there was one recipe that had honey in it, one that had fish sauce in it, and then I thought, “Well, if this is going to be mass-produced, then I might as well just take those things out.”  Because it’s easy.  If the label is important to you, then you should know, yeah, it’s vegan.  But if the label turns you off, I don’t want to turn you off.  I want to be in your kitchen with you!

M: Right.  Well you certainly have been in ours!

T:  And to that end, my next book is not only vegan, but it’s gluten-free.  And I’m not marketing that one as gluten-free either, because I feel like, first of all, the foods are delicious.  And the baked goods—when you bring in almond meal, and garbanzo bean flour—these are delicious flours, they have so much taste!  And that’s a great reason to use them, right there.  If you want to substitute wheat flour, though, go right ahead.  But it’s gluten-free, and the people who are gluten-free I feel will find it.  Again, I don’t want it to be stereotyped as “Oh, it’s not for me; it’s gluten-free.”

M: That makes a lot of sense.  Do you know what the name of that one’s going to be?

T: I do; it’s called Clean Start, and it’s coming out in the fall.

M: I’m sorry, was that “Clean Start,” or “Clean Starch”?

T: Haha!  Clean Start, as in “wake up in the morning, take a big breath of fresh air, and start on the road to cleaner health.”

M:  Okay.  So I was actually going to ask about the gluten-free thing.  I can’t recall making anything in Clean Food that had wheat in it.  Are there any wheat products in there?

T:  You know, there are some wheat products, but gluten comes in more than wheat products.  So gluten’s also in rye, it’s in barely, and there’s a recipe with barley, there’s a recipe with wheat berries, there are two with seitan, there’s one with couscous.  So I want to say that’s a half a dozen recipes out of 233.  And not all the baked goods are gluten-free; some of them use wheat flour as the primary flour.  But in those recipes, in the introduction I usually say, “To make this gluten-free, substitute one cup of this and one cup of that.”  And in hindsight, it probably would have been a lot easier for me to just make Clean Food gluten-free.  But, moving forward…

M: Another thing I really like about that book is that so much of it is about energy: having energy to do a bunch of stuff, whether it’s sports or just getting through your day.  But I thought that was really neat that it didn’t push that stuff really hard, like by talking about raw food or the acid/alkaline thing.  But I’m wondering what your opinion is on that; what do you think of those more-extreme “energy diets”?

T: You know, I have this thing; I call it my “black dress” theory.  I go to the store and I find a black dress that looks really good, and I bring it home.  But if I want it to look really good, I bring it to the tailor and the tailor makes it look like it was made for me.  Then you come over, Matt, and you want to borrow my black dress—go figure!  Then lo and behold; it fits you and it looks alright, but you really want it to look great on you.  And so you take it to the tailor and they make it fit you perfectly.

I feel the same way about diet.  I feel like the raw diet, the acid/alkaline diet, these are all languages that help us examine not only what we’re eating, but how our body is responding.  And where they are beneficial to us is in helping us tune into our own, unique beings.  Where they become extreme and rigid is when we embrace them and put the onus on the “diet” of listening to our bodies and remove ourselves from that.  So there’s a fine line there.  But if there were a perfect diet, we wouldn’t have thousands of books on diet!  If you go to a homeopathic physician, you could have two people with the exact same ailment, who will be treated with very different remedies, because they’re different people.  They live different lives in a different environment with different stressors.  And diet’s the same way; the only person who knows what’s right for you is you.  And the only way to figure that out is to bring the clean food in so that we have enough sense and connection with our bodies and can truly hear and feel what’s working and what’s not.

M: So would you say that you ignore, for example, the acid/alkaline thing and just say “I’m going to use whole foods and a variety of foods,” and figure that a lot of it’s going to fit that diet anyway?

T: You know, I don’t actually personally ignore any of it.  When I first started learning about diet, it was through macrobiotics.  That was a long time ago, and Clean Food certainly is not a macrobiotic cookbook.  Macrobioticists would roll there eyes at many of my food combinations!  But I don’t ignore any of it, and I think that it all has its place.  I like to try all of the diets, not because if I’m talking with somebody, what it does in my body is going to be relevant to what it does in their body, but just so that I can speak from experience.

For instance, I know that bringing in components of the raw diet works really well for me in warm weather, and in the winter I tend to feel somewhat weak from it.  And I know that eating right for my blood type also has some great insights into figuring out my body’s stuff; some of them seem to really work while others don’t, for my unique constitution.  It doesn’t mean that any of those diets aren’t good; it’s just that none of them work 100% for my unique constitution.  Again, I think they’re great insights and they’re great tools, and they help us learn not only about our bodies, but about food.  And ultimately, that’s my goal; to educate people about food so they can make the choices that are right for their body.

M: Switching gears a little bit to the “endurance athlete” thing, I know you told me that you’ve done a few marathons and some long cycle rides.  What are the specifics, and do you actively race still?

T: I do.  I’ve done six marathons and a handful of century rides.  I ride semi-regularly and I run addictively.  Riding is pleasure, but if I don’t have a certain number of running miles in a week, I feel like “I can’t go for my ride; I didn’t get enough miles in.”  It’s really quite a disease!

On the Staten Island Ferry, on the way to the NYC Marathon.

I ride for pleasure and running is my mental exercise.  And maybe that’s why I need it more than the riding, because it’s something I never thought I could do.  So everytime I go out, I come home with this feeling of “I just did something I once thought was impossible.”  Whether I’m running with friends, or my best friend—my iPod—or with nothing but my thoughts and my gaze focused on the tops of the trees ahead of me, it just fuels my mind.  It clears my mind and the mental strength that I get from pushing myself and from accomplishing filters to every other aspect of my life.  And that is addictive.

M: Yeah, I feel pretty much the same way.  So much of it is mental, and convincing yourself day-in an day-out that you’re able to do something that was so hard before—that literally was impossible before—I just think it’s so powerful to teach yourself over and over that here you are doing it.

T: Yeah, and the truth for me is that I don’t even enjoy the race.  I like the training; I go to the race because I’ve trained.  And I like the gear, to wear!

You know, I used to have all my medals hanging in my office in a little corner, and then one day I thought, “I don’t really even need this,” and I gave them all to my daughters and they love them.  Except one, that’s kind of hidden in my bookcase with a picture of two of my really, great friends who I run with, as a reminder.  And that’s really all I want to know, is that I’ve done it.  And you know what?  I could do it any time I want it.

I was an athlete my whole life but hated running.  And so, I don’t know about you, but people tell me, “Oh my God, you’ve done a marathon, I could never do that!”  If you could put one foot in front of the other, you could do it.  It’s a formula, and what it requires more than anything else is just determination.  And it’s really good to check in and realize “Wow!” what you’re able to accomplish if you just put your mind to it.

And to that end, I just really don’t want my body getting in the way of my doing what I want to do.  You know, mentally or physically.  I have two young girls, and we love to ski and we love to hike, and I have a dog, I like to snowshoes, and I’m not a gym rat.  I like to be physically active with my family.  To me, that’s as nourishing as any clean food.

M: Okay, so then back to Clean Food, how would say that works as a diet for endurance training?  Would you suggest that someone make changes and try to get extra carbohydrate or protein, or do you think just eating that way is all you need to do?

T: I think whenever you’re training for something like this, you need to be in tune that you’re going to need more protein, that you’re going to need more carbohydrate, that you require long-lasting energy, that you require food with a really good balance within 30 minutes of completing your workout, so that you can regain strength and rebuild and restore muscle.

And so that increased knowledge of your body’s needs is essential when you’re an endurance athlete.  Can it be filled with a vegan diet?  Absolutely.

When I first got into this, I had this book on running your best marathon.  And the author talked about getting up in the morning and having two bagels.  And then in the afternoon, having another bagel.  And then dinner, ice cream.  And it was really simple, easy-burning sugar and simple carbs.  The author was a great athlete, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I wonder how great this athlete could have been if in addition to fueling their activities, they were fueling their body efficiently as well, and fueling their health.”  And so, both are essential, and there’s just no doubt in my mind that the high-protein grains like quinoa and teff and amaranth are absolutely adequate to fuel an endurance athlete, as are legumes and nuts and seeds.  Figuring out the balance for your unique comstitution and for your workout is a challenge, no matter whether you’re eating bagels, ice cream, and red meat, or whether you’re eating clean food.

M: Neat.  I’ve never thought of it that way, as far as fueling your activity versus fueling your body.  There certainly are different nutritional needs.  At least, in my experience, if I eat differently during those times, I get better results.

T: Well, and when you’re training, it’s not “Ok, I’m going to have this and put it in my body for the run.”  I mean, food can stay in your body for up to two weeks.  So you’re feeling the influence in every aspect of your training, from your  mental preparation, to your actual physical activity, whether it’s the run, the ride, the swim, to your recovery, to resting and healing.  The foods that are in your body are actively working whether you are or not.  So it’s not “What am I gonna eat before I go to run this marathon?”

And for me, it’s kind of like the double-edged sword.   Being in touch with your body can be a curse as much as a blessing, so for me, I’ve always struggled when I hit 18 miles, and on the bike it’s about 85.  My digestion just shuts down.  All my energy is going to fuel the activity, and when I bring fuel in, it sits there and I get reflux.  I’ve never had reflux in my life—only at mile 18 or 85.  So it’s taken a long time for me to figure out what I’m eating and how I’m fueling.  It’s usually not actually the fuel; it’s usually the things that I’ve eaten the weeks before.  And little, simple habits.  For me, that’s when I took gluten out of my diet.  And a number of different foods really cleaned me up and made it much easier for me to get through those times.

M: Interesting.  I think “clean” is such a perfect word to describe it.  Every time we eat these meals, afterwards it’s like, “Man, we just feel light and clean.”  And Clean Start is a great title for the next book; I’m looking forward to that, for sure.  Do you know when it’s going to be out?

T: It’ll be out sometime before November 1.  So sometime in October.

M: Good, then I’ll certainly look for it then.

T: We’ll make sure you get a copy!

M: Alright!  Well I guess that’s all I have today.  Thanks so much for doing this.

T: Sure thing.  That was easy, Matt!

Thanks again to Terry for taking the time to share her thoughts with all her fellow no-meat athletes.  To keep up with Terry and her new projects, you can follow her on Twitter, visit her Facebook page, or check out her website.

I’ll be interviewing vegan pro-Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier in a few days; look for that one next week.  In the meantime, you might enjoy reading my first interview with Brendan.



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  1. Great interview! I can’t wait until Clean start comes out. I love how she describes almond meal and garbanzo bean flour as delicious on their own. That really encourages me to try the recipes because I’ve always thought of GF flours as just “replacements”

  2. I can’t wait for her next book. In her first one she does mention one of her children needing to eat gluten-free or wheat free. I forget. Thanks for this interview. It was awesome.

  3. Great interview. I am going to have to add that book to my stash or healthy cookbooks I use every weekend when preparing my grocery list-
    The Kind Diet
    Thrive Diet
    30 minute Vegan
    Tosca Reno’s Clean eating

    Love the endurance athlete/clean eating combo!!

  4. It’s nice to know the author behind cookbooks. Learning she is an endurance athlete makes me think her recipes really will benefit my training.

    Can food really stay in your system for two weeks? That seems like an awfully long time.

    • Bridget, I’d never heard that before. But Terry struck me as knowing what she’s talking about when it comes to food. My bet is that trace amounts stay for that long, but who knows how strong the effect is after a few days pass.

  5. I already committed how much I love this book! Being a trained macrobiotic chef, I love this book because it is so close to my personal philosophy and cooking style. I love everything I’ve made from Clean Food. I think you’d really like my recipes 🙂
    .-= Christy´s last blog ..Meatless Monday: Brussels w/ Squash & Almonds =-.

    • Christy, I’m checking out your stuff right now. Do you roll your eyes at some of Terry’s food combos, like she says those who do macrobiotics might? 🙂

  6. Chris H. says:

    I am definitely pre-ordering this!

  7. I have to get my hands on this book, I’ve been reading about it everywhere! Oh and pre order the next one. Nice interview.
    .-= JoLynn´s last blog ..REVIEWS: French Meadow Bakery and Miessence certified organics =-.

  8. Great interview and food philosophy! Thanks for sharing Matt.

  9. That was a great interview! Thanks Matt and Terry!

    I’ve made the millet/black bean/corn pattie recipe you posted from the book multiple times and everybody I serve it to loves it. I need to pick up the book and try other recipes in it.
    .-= Jill Will Run´s last blog ..Team Challenge 2010 Napa Group Run #7 =-.

  10. Megan @ Sweet On says:

    Ooh I really want this book now!

    But my favorite part was this: “I just did something I once thought was impossible.”

    What a powerful statement! I realize I’m feeling some version of that when I go out running, but to be able to say it so simply. I’m inspired!

  11. Went out and purchased the book last night! Stayed up way too late reading the delicious recipes. I love that the recipes are organized by season- makes so much sense. Thanks for the great interview!
    .-= kristmjo´s last blog ..Mesne in Chlorine =-.

  12. i love terry. end of story. that book is one of the best cookbooks i own.
    .-= holly (the healthy everythingtarian)´s last blog ..The Queen of Drama =-.

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