My Mama always sezz 'Eat your fruits and veggies!’ This is straight up, solid wisdom for the ages. When we choose to eat plants over animal products the benefits to our health and planet are exponential. Food as pharmacy is ancient knowledge, but somehow this simple message gets lost in the shuffle of our fast food culture. Americans consume three times as much meat as the global average. That’s simply not sustainable, on any level. I’ve recently begun to feel cautiously optimistic that a few more folks are waking up to the health and environmental consequences of excess animal product consumption. Baby Boomers are aging and eating lighter, fast food giants are dipping their toe into the proverbial vegan pond, and even the U.S. government is coming on board, with newly released nutritional guidelines that include recommendations for a vegetarian lifestyle program—that’s a stellar start!
‘It’s time to start treating our bodies less like graveyards and more like the gorgeous gardens they are created to be.’
The transition to a eating a plant-based diet can sometimes be fraught with trial and error, but please—do not let that deter you. The health rewards from reducing animal-based meals far outweighs any inconvenience or lack of knowledge. Even a couple of plant-based meals a week help to significantly reduce the risk of death from colon and other cancers; diabetes; heart, lung, kidney, and liver disease; and stroke; not to mention significant reductions in weight, joint pain, and overall inflammation.
I've eaten along this path for nearly two years and I can attest to the fact that courage and experimentation are involved. I’m lucky to have my wise daughter, Christine, a level-3 vegan, there to educate and encourage me. What I know for sure is that I don't like, or need, highly processed mock meat and most other food substitutes (except Beyond burgers!) I know that what I crave, on a daily basis, is organic vegetables and legumes—not sugar and white carbs. I know that the cleaner I eat, the easier it is to continue to do so—everything just works better physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I move effortlessly, my skin glows, and my energy levels are off the charts. I'm cooking towards a lifestyle and a lexicon that works for me. In this learning process, I've struggled to codify the language of how I am embracing this thing that has seriously enhanced my sixties decade.
Vegan/VG is widely understood shorthand for 'no animal products involved'. It's effective when I'm ordering in restaurants and conducting travel-related activities. I use 'vegan' when I need it, but veganism is such a vast, complicated landscape with so many levels of compliance that it feels a bit overwhelming to me. I eat plant-based 95% of the time out of choice, but I don't want to feel like I live on a balance beam, or that I’m a phony just because I eat an RxBar once in a while.
All eaters are on a spectrum of consumption and must discover what works best for them. This may change seasonally, yearly, or even by the decade. We gain confidence from reading, learning how to shop wisely, experimenting with ingredients, and cooking recipes. When we listen to our intuitive gut, the best information about what our body needs will come through; we already have the knowing, we just need to practice paying attention. Staying open to fresh thinking—and some risk-taking—makes change fun and invigorating.
Simply adopting a vegan lifestyle will not bequeath instant health benefits—it’s an accumulated knowledge. Just because a food is vegan does not mean that it is healthy to eat; for example, potato chips and Oreos are vegan-friendly, but they are not nutritious. What appears to be a vegan treat can very quickly become a cheat, in my book. The amount of saturated fat, sugar and salt added, cost, processing and packaging, and ratio of nutrients to calories all matter greatly. Yes, I'm thrilled that Burger King is offering the vegan Impossible Burger–it's currently on a trial-basis in the St. Louis area. While this is truly a major breakthrough in our culture's animal consumption consciousness, a vegan Whopper is not part of a regular healthy diet. I think all food must pay its way, ounce for ounce—nutritionally and environmentally.
My label, if I need one, is Nutritionally Dense/Plant Based food; it is more aligned with my desires and common sense. (Some also call it wholefood/plant based.) ND/PB makes eating well so very easy. It's my shorthand for sourcing: in any given situation, I choose the most nutritious plant-based food offered. If I'm caught in a pickle with no decent alternatives, I can always skip a meal and drink some water. Fasting occasionally, with intention, is another healthy choice. I’m not gluten-free, per se, but I do like a lot of the GF alternatives and appreciate the choice. I usually plan ahead so I don't have to compromise too much. I bring snacks like nuts, fruit, avocados, bars, nut butters, and multi-grain crackers for back up. Honestly, it's not really an issue.
I am loving the growing sector of 'fast casual' restaurants that offer high quality, often organic, ND/PB food like smoothies, salads, veggie wraps, poke veg bowls, and pho options when I’m on the run. When I travel to major cities I seek out Beyond Sushi, Sweetgreen, or Cava restaurants. They serve the most delicious plant-based fast casual food I've eaten, thus far. Locally, the vegan sofrita burrito bowl at Chipotle, or the Impossible Whopper, will do the job in a pinch. I also love the clean, nutritious food at places like Ecobean & Greens near my town. I appreciate having lots of options, and I enjoy the splurge of eating out.
I’ve been a scratch cook for nearly four decades, and I always adore a romp through the produce section. Lately, though, I find myself a bit bored with the routine of shopping-bagging-lugging-unpacking-cooking-cleaning up; it’s just not jiving with my QTR formula. But since I'm choosy about quality, sourcing, flavor, and excess packaging, I regard take-out as a special treat—not a solution. Recently though, a cooler of the cleanest vegan food I have ever tasted arrived at my doorstep. I was astonished by the YUM factor of this plant-based, non-GMO, organic food. My vegan niece, Ava, set me up with Mama Sezz—a Vermont-based organic delivery brand. When I read their inspiring founder’s story, I cried. I love their food, especially the quinoa stack and Moroccan stew. Tonight, I’m serving gluten-free quesadillas stuffed with Millie’s Chili, avocado mash, vegan cheddar—all topped with a fresh pea shoot salad. It’s going to take less than ten minutes to put a delicious, nutritious plant- based meal on the table—I’m in love!
If you are feeling veg-curious, check out Mama’s extensive product line; maybe even try out one of their plant-based bundles. There are many preference options including 'SOS' (salt, oil, and sugar-free) physician prescribed food for heart healthy eaters, and a bundle designed especially for hungry athletes. I would pass on the granola offerings, too much sugar for my taste. The website is a wealth of information, support, recipes, and solutions for the reluctant cook who wants to eat healthier. The generous portions come beautifully packaged and freshly prepared—not frozen—with detailed nutritional information, and a free FedEx return label to recycle the cooler. I find the price points fair and full of value. To spark some easy enthusiasm in my Spring kitchen, I’m excited to add a few Mama Sezz products to our menu rotation.
‘Be kind to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world.’ - Pema Chodron
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me.