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Last fall we launched the Oldways Vegetarian Network (OVN) to help consumers find ways to put more plants on their plates. We’re excited to see that interest in plant-based diets keeps growing. New studies come out every month pointing to the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets and restaurants are responding with updated menus. Veganz, a vegan grocery chain based in Germany, is expanding through Europe and is planning to open its first U.S. store in Oregon in 2016. And we’re seeing an impressive number of new books by passionate authors, written to help us understand the benefits of making dietary changes, eating lots of plants, and enjoying every bite.

We recently had the opportunity to check in with the authors of these three books:

  • Ellen Kanner, Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger and the syndicated columnist for the Edgy Veggie, is the author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost.  Her soulful memoir is a beautiful reminder that food is much more than what we put on the plate.
  • Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet, has written Plant-Powered for Life, offering 52 simple steps for creating goals and making healthy eating a life-long habit. And, for each goal, she offers tantalizing recipes that show you how to realize that goal in your own kitchen.   
  • Kimberly Richards, a business manager, offers a heart-felt story – a diary really – of her personal experience in changing her diet and discovering the connection between food and fertility. In Passing the Pregnancy Test she includes interviews with a number of nutrition authorities to lend ballast to her tale.

Here are the questions we asked them, and their answers:

OLDWAYS:  Now that your book is out, is there anything you wish you had included?
ELLEN: So many positive changes happen with a plant-based diet — lower cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease for you, less carbon, more fresh water and healthier soil for the earth. That’s already five amazing improvements resulting from one simple choice. There’s always more great vegan information I want to share — more for the next book. But if readers come away from Feeding the Hungry Ghost with a few new recipes and insights about how what we eat affects everything we do, that’s a win-win.

SHARON: It’s really hard to fit everything you think is important into the confines of one book! I tried to boil down the most important aspects of eating a whole foods, plant-based diet into my 52 easy habits. However, I wish I had more space to cover some really exciting things going on the food and nutrition world, like making your own cultured plant-based yogurt, grinding your own grains for making rustic breads, and even making your own fermented pickles.

KIMBERLY: That’s a great question. It’s hot off the press so I haven’t had time to contemplate the idea of what was missed. However, the feedback I’ve received thus far has been great. Many feel although it’s a book about my struggle with infertility that it can help just about everyone.
OLDWAYS: What advice can you offer to people who are just getting started with a vegan diet?
ELLEN: Set yourself up to succeed. Stock your kitchen with plant-based foods you know you’ll eat and love — gorgeous, fresh produce, yes, but also hummus, fruits and nuts for nibbling, and fortifying beans and whole grains. Make up the beans and whole grains in big batches, then separate them into smaller portions and freeze them. That way, you won’t get ambushed by hunger or wonder what you’ll have for dinner. You’ll have delicious plant-based options ready when you are.

SHARON: I think one of the most important steps is to stock your home with plant-powered essentials, so that you are always ready to cook nutrient-rich, delicious plant-based meals. These include: a variety of dried (and canned) beans, lentils, and peas (I love heritage beans!); a variety of whole grains, such as brown (or red and black) rice, wild rice, barley, wheat berries, bulgur, and oats; dried spices, herbs, and seasonings; and a variety of nuts, seeds and butters, such as peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sesame, sunflower, chia and hemp. Once you’ve got these on hand, then you just supplement with fresh supplies: fresh seasonal local fruits and vegetables; tofu, tempeh, and plant-based milk; fresh breads—and you’ve got a wonderful world of delicious vegan meals to look forward to!

The other thing to remember is that you don’t need to overcomplicate things. You don’t need to pull out a difficult recipe to follow at every meal. Make things easy—chili with cornbread, a bean and rice veggie burrito, red beans and rice, tofu-veg stir-fry with whole grains.

KIMBERLY: Each individual person has his or her own journey with food. Some will convert to a 100% plant-based or vegan diet while others will cut down on animal food and increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. I will say that those who convert to a vegan or plant-based diet completely will see faster results with their overall health. It’s also important to note that there are amazing substitutions to help you transition to a vegan diet and that in no time at all most people lose their desire for animal products and processed foods.

OLDWAYS:  What do you think is the hardest part of sticking to a vegan diet?
ELLEN: Human design flaw.  It’s hard for people to stick to anything new, any change. Most of my Veg Therapy clients and readers tell me it’s dairy they miss — cheese or Greek yogurt. I find as a food consultant and plant-based cheerleader and advocate, the hardest part is getting people to eat their greens. What helps is to discover all the many amazing foods you’re welcoming into your life and remember your food choices not only feed you now but the right ones can benefit your body, your karma, the environment and all our animal friends.

SHARON: I think most people find it quite easy to follow a vegan diet at home. Once you get used to it, the food is so delicious and rewarding. It’s socializing that often can be the most challenging. I don’t like to trouble my friends and family to pay any special attention to my diet. But at the same time, they love me and want to make me happy! So, it’s important to share your dietary goals with your friends and family in a kind and unobtrusive way. The very best way you can make vegan eating easy on you and your friends and family is to always bring a plant-based entree to a party or social gathering. I find that if I bring a main dish that I know I can enjoy, then it’s easy to fill in with a side salad or vegetable dish. It takes the pressure off others, and people always end up loving my dish, too! Besides, in today’s day and age, more and more people are interested in trying this lifestyle, and most people hosting a party always try to keep in mind that there may be one or two vegetarians or vegans at any party.

KIMBERLY: I don’t find it difficult at all. I feel great; I crave plants and have no desire for animal products. Healthy food is a priority in our home. If we are going out and we know there may not be suitable food for us, we simply pack what we need.  Food preparation doesn’t have to take a lot of time, just a little organization. It’s the best gift you can give to you and your family.

OLDWAYS:  How do you deal with the issue of feeding carnivores at a dinner party in your home?
ELLEN: Everyone’s welcome at my table.  As many vegans know, it’s no fun to go to a party and find there’s food for everyone but you, so I’ll prepare something nonvegan for a serious I-gotta-have-meat guest. But I’ll surround it with plantcentric, wake-up-your-mouth dishes. We just had some friends over for seven-vegetable Moroccan tagine with olives and preserved lemon, whole grain couscous, flatbread with harissa and herb jam, and a gorgeous cabernet, with a chocolate almond orange cake to finish. It was only a couple days later a friend called and said, “Wow, that was vegan, wasn’t it?” Great food is great food — this just happened to be plant-based.

SHARON: In my home (since my husband and two sons are not complete vegetarians—though they eat several completely plant-based meals a week) and for parties, I like the rule of thumb that I will provide a wonderful plant-based meal that will make you happy as can be! It will be delicious, filling, and flavorful, based on fresh foods and global flavors. You will see bean dishes, grain dishes, salads, and vegetable side dishes. You won’t even miss the meat. However, if my husband wants to prepare an animal food dish, he can do so and add it to the offerings. And if we have a potluck, then people can bring an animal dish that they’d like to serve with my food.

I think how you handle your plant-based lifestyle is a personal choice that is completely up to you. There are some people who feel that they do not want to allow animal foods in their home, and others who have a different take. My husband went from a full on carnivore to rarely ever eating red meat, eating several plant-based days each week, and prioritizing mostly fish. This was a huge change for him—and it was his personal choice, without any undue pressure from me. As a result, he feels wonderful, is at a healthier weight than ever, and got off his statins—his cholesterol levels are the best they’ve ever been in his adult life, and that’s without the use of statins. And just think the impact he has made on the environment and animal welfare by almost entirely cutting out red meat from his diet, and cutting back on all animal foods by more than half.

I like to encourage people to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet—no matter whether their diet is, vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore. Just make a positive move on that spectrum and try to eat more meals based on whole plant foods.

KIMBERLY: Everyone can expect a healthy and tasty meal if they visit us. Most of our guests are surprised at the delicious flavors of plant-based foods when we entertain. I find myself many times emailing recipes before folks walk out the door. For me, it is not an issue, this is what we eat and we do not make any modifications when we have company. I think our friends and family enjoy trying new dishes when they visit.


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