Living By Sweet Potatoes Alone

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“If the human being is viewed merely as a physiological object, it is impossible to produce a coherent understanding of diet. When bits and pieces of information are collected and brought together in confusion, the result is an imperfect diet which draws away from nature.” -Masanobu Fukuoka, “Living By Bread Alone”

 In an excerpt from his book The One-Straw Revolution titled “Living By Bread Alone”, Masanobu Fukuoka describes the nutritious fare of farmers past in the Japan area: rice, barley, miso, and pickled vegetables. “This diet gave long life, a strong constitution, and good health,” Fukuoka exalts (139). But a diet with four staple ingredients is very different from the Western relationship with food today, when we walk down grocery aisles that have not only a million options, but a million options for the same product. But while we have been raised on the values of full, varied grocery carts and eating a “well-balanced diet,” Fukuoka rejects this logic on the basis of two claims (140).

The first is that Western nutrition does not link the diet to the natural cycle, or the foods currently in season in our local areas, which “serves to isolate human beings from nature,” resulting in “a general sense of insecurity.” The second problem is that “spiritual and emotional values are entirely forgotten.” Fukuoka argues that we are whole persons, and our physiological processes, like eating, cannot be separate from our spiritual well being (141).

The solution to the current state of our Western woes? Eating “plants which ripen naturally,” or locally and in season, therefore satisfying the soul.

I loved Fukuoka’s argument, because I also believe that our relationship with food is linked to a whole-person awareness and health. In fact, I have taken this belief to the extreme. I am that girl: the ingredients snob who washes her fruit with an organic wash while reading her roommates articles on what the DATEM in their commercially produced bread is doing to their insides. But while I generally feel confident in my choices regarding food, I’ve never thought about the benefits of eating in-season produce. The idea makes sense to me, because, admittedly, tomatoes and strawberries do taste worse in the winter.

In that spirit, this weekend I set off to Tuscaloosa’s local farmer’s market to learn what’s in season right now. The unfortunate answer is that there really isn’t much*. The farmers all smiled bravely from behind sparsely filled tables, inviting me to buy their collard greens and radishes and sweet potatoes. Collard greens and radishes aren’t my cup of tea, but sweet potatoes–– that’s a buy I can get behind.

Those deliciously wonderful roots have always been my favorite food, and I grew up looking forward to my mother’s annual sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving. But I decided to buck tradition and make something new with my sweet potato purchase. I looked online for a simple recipe and found some gloriously unassuming vegan sweet potato bars that I decided to adapt.

I am not a baker. I quickly learned that in the making of this supposedly “easy” recipe. I had to look up baffling things, such as how to blend a mixture of ingredients with coconut oil without the oil hardening and clumping up, and how to chop almonds without a food processor. But I can honestly say that when I finished my creation, made of the work of my own hands, I felt a ridiculous amount of satisfaction. Perhaps the satisfaction was even spiritual. I stood in my kitchen sampling bites and grinning triumphantly, while my roommates walked by, casting suspicious looks my way.

These guilt-free, gluten-free, dairy-free vegan sweet potato bliss bars are perfect for snacking or satisfying late-night sweet tooth cravings, or even as a grab-and-go breakfast treat.

*Note: another great resource for finding out about in-season food in your area is Sustainable Table.

Vegan Sweet Potato Bliss Bars (serves 10):

Cream Ingredients:

  • 2 medium peeled sweet potatoes
  • 9 pitted dates
  • 2 generous tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1 tbsp honey

Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole natural almonds
  • 10 pitted dates
  • 1 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup water


Cut the sweet potatoes into cubes and bake them at 400° F until soft (approx. 30 minutes). While you’re waiting, prepare the crust. Toast the almonds for four minutes to enhance their flavor. Then mix the almonds, dates, cocoa powder, and water in a food processor. If you don’t have access to a food processor, you can also crush the almonds with a roller and then use a blender. The crust will be ready when it is sticky but still textured. Press the mix into a baking dish lined with wax paper.

When the sweet potatoes are done, process them with the rest of the cream ingredients in a high speed blender until fully creamy. Spread the mixture over the crust. Top with some brown sugar if desired, and refrigerate for a couple hours. Then enjoy!

––By Yasmeen Sayyah

 Recipe adapted from Sparkrecipe’s user Melanie2110.

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