Being a football fan is complicated. Many of us are born into our allegiance. Team loyalty can feel like it’s a strand of DNA woven into our bones; we patriotically dedicate our autumn Sundays in what Jerry Seinfeld once referred to as little more than an enthusiastic love of uniforms. We love our football teams like they’re family members — even more than that, like royalty, like gods. We collect stats like they’re equations vital to solving the mysteries of the universe. Which, of course, they are. If we come to The Game later in life, we can feel a sense of urgency to prove our team devotion, making up for not carrying our fandom in our blood line. How ever we come to it, our dedication means we loathe the enemy — be they division or league rivals — with fierce battle-ready detest. The New England Patriots have been longtime rivals of mine; I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers initiate (born in Boston, ironically, and moved to Pittsburgh before age 2). But my disdain for New England quarterback Tom Brady is certainly not unique to my love for the Black and Gold. The five-time Super Bowl champion is hated around the league for many reasons: his smugness, his good looks, his unapologetic I’m-married-to-Gisele-and-you’re-not life perfectness. But it’s the rumors of cheating in 2015 — best known as Deflategate, which earned him a four-game suspension even though he maintains his innocence — that made him the most hated man in football. But I can no longer hate him, friends. And, trust me, after you eat his vegan meals from Purple Carrot, you can’t either.
I’m not going to get into a whole lesson about the inherent problems with hatred in the first place, though there are many. I’ll just leave you to ruminate on the fact that it’s too heavy a burden to bear, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is famously quoted as saying. Keeping score is best reserved for those chilly Sunday afternoons, anyway. But when I saw that Purple Carrot — my beloved vegan meal kit program — was launching “TB12” meals in a partnership with none other than Tom Brady himself, I felt a little bit of my Steel world falling in on me. “Not HIM,” I said out loud to no one as I sat staring up from my computer, looking around the room for anything black and gold. For a moment, I envisioned James Harrison sacking Brady to the ground for a fourth and long in yet another one of our playoff rivalries.
Like millions of people, I watched that Super Bowl victory just a few months back in utter awe. Cheater or not, people just don’t pull off wins like that without being entirely amazing at their jobs, especially considering Brady missed the first four games of the season. Brady, now pushing 40, is redefining athleticism in ways that can’t be ignored. And much of the credit, he says, goes to his diet.
In this, he and I are not so different. I’ve yet to marry a supermodel or play any professional football (although, NFL, if you’re reading, I’ve long wanted to be a referee so bad that stripes are my go-to style of choice), but I’ve been eating a vegan diet for more than twenty years with much success, including pushing a healthy, thriving human football out of my body at age 41. While Brady isn’t vegan, his diet is predominantly plant-based. It’s been the obsession of many — called out for being extreme or unsustainable lest you have personal chefs like Brady and Bündchen do. But Purple Carrot has cracked the code, stepping in as your halfway chef, pulling together Tom-worthy meals that the super athlete either eats on the reg, or meals that mirror something his Michelin-star-worthy team of chefs would possibly whip up -- meals Purple Carrot founder Andy Levitt calls “Balanceatarian.”
“Balanceatarian is a term we coined at Purple Carrot and refers to a person who consciously integrates plant-based eating into their life while not completely giving up meat, fish, and dairy,” he told me via email. While it’s similar to the more popular "flexitarian", someone who may be predominantly vegetarian, Purple Carrot, Levitt says, is “strictly focused on vegan meals with no animal by-products.”
Last year, I tried out some Purple Carrot meals for another story and they were far and above better than any other vegan meal kit I tried. A few months back, with work piling up, recipe fatigue, and an insatiably hungry vegan 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, I signed up for the program again and have yet to be disappointed. (Even a missing item in my box was handled so swiftly and professionally by the team I felt like I owed them something for their kindness.)
Like many people, I have mixed feelings about meal kits. Getting a peeled clove of garlic in the mail is never not awkward. But I’ve weighed the pros and cons, and for our family, the pros win every time. Purple Carrot has recently upped its recyclability of the boxes, sources mostly U.S. produced food, and occasionally includes organic ingredients. You can look too at the journey most food takes to the supermarket, and meal kits may be even more sustainable in that regard -- shipping meal-size portions instead of excess you're likely to let go bad and rot, saving you food waste guilt and cash.
And for me, supporting a vegan company is a no-brainer. While there are certainly good vegan meals coming out of other meal kit programs, the creativity and flavors coming out of the Purple Carrot kitchens are simply the best. My 3-year-old daughter ate mustard greens -- that's right, mustard greens! -- and asked for more. I’m assuming there’s no unicorn dust on the meals (not vegan), but they certainly have some kind of magic.
“A plant-based diet has been shown to reduce the chance of high-blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes,” says Levitt. “In fact, it is the only dietary regimen that has been clinically proven to reduce or reverse the effects of these chronic conditions!”
Brady, who avoids gluten, excess soy, and refined sugars to help reduce inflammation, says these meals do indeed boost his performance.
“This type of diet is a key factor in Tom Brady’s ability to maximize his performance on the field -- and to continue to stay healthy and injury-free this far along in his career,” says Levitt. “Our hope is that they help others take their lifestyle to the next level -- whether that’s in the gym, on the field, or at work.”
Brady isn’t entirely new to the food business. He launched his signature line of vegan TB12 snacks last year; they sold out in mere hours. And with the influence athletes like Brady have on their fans, the benefit of this program can’t be understated. Here you have arguably the greatest football player in NFL history — certainly in New England Patriots history — touting the benefits of arugula and quinoa at a time when obesity and type-2 diabetes are at epidemic levels. That's going to turn a lot of heads, and even stadium vendors are taking the hint. If Brady can do to our food system what he's done for football, we're looking at an incredibly healthy, delicious, and all-around amazing future.
“While many people think they need to turn to steak, poultry, and eggs [for protein], plant-based foods, such as legumes, spinach, and mushrooms, are also high in protein in appropriate portions,” Levitt notes. “As more people become aware of the power of plants, I would like to think that we’re going to see fewer people suffering from chronic disease. And, our planet can begin to see improvements in terms of water savings, carbon emissions, and protecting farmland.”
The environmental considerations are huge. Plant-based foods are significantly less damaging to the planet. In a story on Organic Authority last week, I reported that just one vegan burger (made by Impossible Foods) uses 75 percent less water than beef, reduces greenhouses gases by 87 percent, and uses 95 percent less land. For football fans, that’s like hundreds of stadiums-worth of land (and, ahem, beer).
"Switching to a plant-based diet is actually the fastest way to reduce your carbon footprint," says Levitt.
So, what exactly did I eat on the TB12 program? I gotta tell you, it was some Super Bowl worthy deliciousness.
We kicked off the two-weeks with a scrumptious ramen soup featuring a miso broth, hearty noodles, and amaranth greens that even my non-vegan dad enjoyed. There were beluga lentil tacos that my daughter ate like they were M&M’s (which she’s never had). We enjoyed a white lentil risotto with roasted veggies, quinoa tabbouleh, and scrumptious turnip pancakes that I thought tasted better than traditional potato pancakes. There was a rich and flavorful saffron paella and creamy cauliflower alfredo worthy of at least one Super Bowl ring.
Compared to the “regular” Purple Carrot meals we’ve been eating over the last few months, which are absolutely phenomenal, by the way, these meals felt more decadent, despite the list of omissions. They are designed to be higher in protein than other Purple Carrot meals to align with Tom Brady’s diet (and they're a bit more expensive than the regular Purple Carrot meals), but we never felt like they were too heavy, although we did have leftovers from a few of the meals, which made for great lunches. While my workouts don't even come close to anything Brady does, I did notice my frequent midday urge to lay down on anything soft and sleep for a thousand years was mitigated. My energy sustained, and overall, I felt less hungry than normal.
As a longtime vegan, it’s crazy for me to hate anyone who eats like this, even — and, all right, especially — when it’s Tom Brady. Am I going to win any Super Bowls? I think we all know the answer to that. But even as a vegan who already eats healthy, there’s room for improvement in my diet. I’m pretty sure Purple Carrot and Tom Brady have figured out how to make that happen. And, who knows, maybe when his contract is up, Brady will head down to Pittsburgh and put on a real uniform. He already has one fan.
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