As I start to type this it is not even 5pm and starting to get dark outside already. Fall is my favorite season of the year (the beauty of the changing leaves and pumpkin-everything being only two of the many reasons why), except for how early it gets dark outside. This year, however, as I think about the recent daylight savings time change and the transition to fall and eventually winter, I have not only taken stock of the beautiful changing world around me, but have also started thinking more about my personal life as well. The major uncontrollable seasonal change happening around us can also be representative of changes in our own lives.
Winter (especially in the northeast) is bitterly cold and barren. It is a time where things externally die off, the trees become bare, and animals go into hibernation. However, rather than internalizing this death and negativity, this external process can be a powerful symbol for our own lives. It presents a time to constructively sever things off that are not serving us and that are preventing us from being whole and well (physically, mentally, and spiritually). We can take this season to evaluate unhealthy relationships (with food or people), harmful habits, destructive thoughts, etc. that are negatively impacting our lives. Much like I love to sit in front of a crackling fire in these cold months, now is a time to kindle the real, true you and let your bare limbs and raw core shine through.
It is important to realize that this change is happening, so as to not fight against it. Rather, feed off of the changing world around you and work with it to become a better version of yourself. Take this season of change internally with intention. By no means am I saying this is easy — it is not. But it is important to honor yourself and nurture the core of who you are. Self-reflection is a challenging, yet fulfilling action for each of us to do.
It is easy to feel like we are victims of change or as if we are the only ones going through certain changes, but this change (both happening around us and within us) is a shared and collective experience. You are not alone out there. Just as we are all experiencing the change to fall and winter, so too can we all experience a deeply meditative, internal change for the better.
While this post has mainly been about food for your soul, I don’t know about you but all I want lately is a steaming hot bowl of food on these dark, cold, reflective nights. Oatmeal, soups, stews, and hot green tea are staples for me these days. So in addition to the soulful and reflective message, I wanted to end with a bonus soup recipe I recently created. Stay warm and be well my friends!
Health & Happiness,
(ps. I apologize for not writing in such a long time! I have gotten caught up in the crazy busyness of life. I hope to be able to start posting more often though!)
Red Curry Soup
1 onion, chopped
1 eggplant, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped (I’ve also made this with a head of chopped cauliflower instead of zucchini)
1 small container mushrooms, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 can each chickpeas & kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pumpkin puree
3-4 cups water or vegetable broth, depending how thick you like your soup (check out this easy recipe on how to make your own vegetable broth!)
2-3 tbsp red curry paste (make sure to use a vegan version with no fish! I use the Thai Kitchen brand)
2 tsp turmeric
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 avocado, diced
In a large stock pot, sauté all the vegetables in a little bit of water or vegetable broth. Once softened, add the kale, beans, pumpkin, and water/broth and mix well. Add the spices to taste and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the kale to wilt. Stir in the avocado and let heat through for another 2-3 minutes. Serve over quinoa.
Recently, a few of my friends have asked me for suggestions for quick meals and snacks that can be made in the confines of a dorm room. The list that I came up with (featured below) shows how much you can do, even without a kitchen stove or oven! These meals are not just handy for college students, however, they are great ideas for anyone who is short on time, who is traveling, or maybe just dislikes cooking! So in case you’re ever in need of a simple, speedy meal, here’s a list of things to eat!
And if you have any ideas that I missed, leave us a comment and share your favorite minimal/no prep snacks!
Quick and Easy Meals/Snacks:
- Mix things up. Go ahead and make it with banana and cinnamon, but don’t be afraid to also throw in some raisins, blueberries, kiwi, mango, grapes, walnuts, cashews, almonds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, nut butter, jelly, applesauce, pumpkin puree, etc.
- Rethink oatmeal. Oats are simply another grain. So get crazy and make them with veggies and/or beans mixed in. Top it off with some salsa, mustard, balsamic vinegar, barbeque sauce, hot sauce… whatever makes your taste buds happy! (as weird as it may sound, these combinations can make a delicious meal, and it’s super quick too!)
- Make a mix of multiple cereals, and throw in some fruit, raisins, ground flax or chia seeds, or nuts for good measure!
- Add some cocoa powder for “dessert cereal”! YUM.
- Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
- Poke them a few times and stick them in the microwave until they’re soft and ready!
- Topping suggestions:
- veggies, beans, and salsa
- avocado and salsa
- veggies and mustard
- beans and hot sauce
- just a “sauce”: salsa, ketchup, mustard, nut butter, etc.
- or eat them plain!
- Frozen veggies
- Heated up in the microwave
- Frozen fruit
- Eaten frozen or thawed
- Corn on the cob
- Heat up in the microwave, either in the husk or in a covered microwave-safe container
- hummus and veggies
- hummus and apple
- hummus, apple, avocado
- avocado, raisin, mustard
- nut butter and banana
- nut butter and apple
- mustard and veggies
- same as sandwiches
- applesauce and banana
- nut-butter and granola
- rice and beans (from can or microwaveable package)
- beans/chickpeas and salsa
- variation: use romaine lettuce or collard greens as your wrap!
- Corn, black beans, salsa
- mix together and enjoy!
- Microwaveable packets of brown rice (or any other whole grain you may be able to find)
- Soup! It’s hard to find ones that aren’t high in sodium, but the brand “Amy’s” has lots of vegan options. Dr. McDougall also has a line of microwaveable soups.
- with pita
- with crackers
- with carrot sticks/celery/peppers/broccoli
- with apple
- Nut butter and banana/apple
- Ezekiel English muffins (cinnamon raisin is our favorite!)
- with some sort of sandwich fixings inside, or just plain as it is!
- Salad! (endless possibilities here)
- Bean Salads (my new fetish)
- pour a can of beans (or two) into a bowl
- chop up some veggies—whatever you like best!!
- maybe some chopped fresh herbs if you want
- you can even add fruit if you so desire
- add a dressing of some sort
- balsamic vinegars
- lemon/lime juice
- for example:
- one can chickpeas
- one can black beans
- diced orange bell pepper
- diced tomato
- one bag frozen corn
- chopped onion
- chopped cilantro
- lime juice and balsamic vinegar
- I like to chop things small for these salads, but do whatever works best for you!
- And, of course, the classic healthy “fast food,” fruits and veggies!
When I make the drive from home (Pittsburgh, PA) to Bucknell (Lewisburg, PA), I pass numerous billboards sponsored by Allied Milk Producers’ Cooperative, Incorporated. According to their website, the organization is “a non-profit group formed to promote the use of dairy products.” The advertisements say things like “Milk: It keeps your body in tune!” and “Cheese: A slice of good life.” One that particularly bothers me pictures a child eating an ice-cream cone and features a caption saying, “For the health of it.” My point here is not to put down the dairy farmers, because until proven otherwise, I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe they truly believe in the integrity of product. Rather, my point is to illuminate yet another way that false notions of dairy products are perpetuated.
The dairy industry spends over $160 million in advertising costs each year. The industry’s primary vehicle for transmitting its messages is the public school system. In a 2003 Unified Marketing Plan designed to help increase dairy demand, the industry listed initiatives and strategies “to guide school-age children to become life-long consumers of dairy products.” These strategies included conducting and publicizing research favorable to their own products. It’s really quite brilliant, actually. We don’t think twice about the fact that milk is required in school lunches, or question who is running the “Got Milk?” campaign. It’s not scientists or nutritionists who are running the campaign and promoting dairy products, it’s the dairy industry itself! When explaining these programs to the public, the industry refers to it as nutrition education, but in their industry press-releases or official reports to Congress, they rightly describe all school-related activities as marketing activities. But the dairy industry doesn’t target only children—it also spends $4-5 million a year to fund research projects aiming to find something healthy to talk about regarding its products. This “science” is what they target towards adults; this is where the information in commercials or advertisements touting the health benefits of dairy come from.
To put things simply, the dairy industry is rich and clever. They have lots of money and lots of power, and they have done a great job of misleading society to think that dairy is not only healthy, but worthy of being its own food group. To anyone who was unaware of this fallacy, don’t feel bad about yourself. It’s really not your fault. For the majority of my life, I was under the impression that things like skim milk and greek yogurt were health foods, and consumed copious amounts of both. When we grow up in a society filled with messages convincing us that dairy products are beneficial to our health, we assume that this is fact and give no critical thought toward questioning its validity.
I mean, if we don’t consume dairy products, where will we get our calcium? How will be build strong bones? We’re doomed, right?! Wrong. Clinical research in numerous studies has actually found that milk consumption does not bring bone protection benefits. In fact, some studies have found that dairy actually has negative effects on bone health! Furthermore, the highest rates of osteoporosis are found in the countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption. While research is not 100% conclusive on why this is the case, it is most often attributed to the acidic nature of the protein in animal products. When consumed, animal products create an acidic environment in the bloodstream. In response, the body leaches calcium from the bones in order to neutralize the acid. Consumption of dairy products, especially those which are low- or non-fat (meaning they have a higher percentage of protein), can actually lead to lower levels of calcium in the body. Calcium can be found in a variety of other, healthier food choices such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, other leafy green vegetables, and beans; and these plant-based sources don’t come with the negative effects that dairy products bring.
Dairy products have also been linked to increased susceptibility to Type-1 diabetes, cancer (especially prostate cancer and breast cancer), acne, migraines, arthritis, and more. Adding to their danger, dairy products can be very addicting! Casein, the protein in dairy products, is most concentrated in cheese (it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese). When we consume cheese, the casein is broken down during digestion and forms casomorphins—yes, “morphins” like morphine—which have an opiate-like effect within the body. This is why so many people feel addicted to cheese—they probably are. Though it can be hard to give up at first, you can find solace in the fact that your tastebuds adjust after about three weeks. So if you can get over the initial hump, you’ll be good to go!
Plus, dairy products can have a frighteningly high fat content. Have you ever thought about the fact that milk helps calves to grow from their 60-80 pound birth weight to a 1,000 pound cow in a year? For the calves, it’s healthy. For humans… not so much. Of course, there are low-fat dairy products out there, but these products still have a long list of negative effects (such as what is mentioned in the previous two paragraphs).
Unfortunately, however, the people and organizations who know the truth about dairy have nowhere near the money or leverage that the dairy industry has. Therefore, the message that gets publicized is that which the dairy industry itself pushes and promotes. (Side note: Right now, I am in the process of writing my thesis on including nutrition education in the school curriculum. I was reading a study the other day that documented a nutrition education program used within a particular school, and one of the listed curriculum materials that the study used was written by the dairy industry! Oy vey. See my point here?)
However, there is hope. There are a number of ways that the information is making its way into the mainstream. For example, through documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Got the Facts on Milk?; books such as The China Study, Engine 2 Diet, My Beef With Meat, Breaking The Food Seduction, and many more plant-based nutrition books; and the work of people/organizations such as Jeff Novick, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, Dr. Esselstyn, Engine 2 Diet, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, TrueNorth Health Center, Sprout’d, and many others. Slowly but surely, the truth is being spread.
Plus, there is a growing abundance of non-dairy alternatives to help people make the move away from dairy products. Most grocery stores carry at least soymilk and almond milk these days, and many have rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, flax milk, and more! In addition, we have a ton of wonderful plant-based recipe bloggers sharing amazingly delicious plant-based recipes that offer tasty alternatives, such as Engine 2’s Macaroni Not Cheese, Happy Herbivore’s Low-fat Vegan Nacho Cheese, Dreena Burton’s parmesan cheese substitutes, Susan Voisin’s Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce, or Cathy Fisher’s pesto. Things like french toast, mashed potatoes, cookies, and carrot cake can be made without any dairy products too. Basically, I’ve found that anything that can be made with dairy can be made just as well—or even better!—without it.
The dairy industry is a big villain to take on, but I believe in us. If we band together, I believe that we can make an impact. We CAN make a difference. So ditch the dairy! This alone will have positive effects, for that is one more person voting (via grocery bills) against the dairy industry. And you never know, maybe you will even influence others to ask questions or think twice about their own consumption habits.
A new favorite—and very fitting—quote of mine (which I first saw on this Herbivore Clothing Company sticker) is “The world will change if we do.” So, come on, everyone! Let’s change the world
Almond milk mustaches all-around!
[Note: There are a number of other issues with the dairy industry’s practices (i.e. the environment of factory farms, the use of chemicals and hormones, the artificial insemination procedures, etc.) but these are not something that I went into in this particular post.]
Barnard, Neal D., and Joanne Stepaniak. Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons behind Food Cravings– and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003
Dahl-Jorgensen K, Joner G, Hanssen KF. “Relationship between cow’s milk consumption and incidence of IDDM in childhood”. Diabetes Care 14 (1991): 1081-1085
Dairy Management Inc. Press Release. “Dairy checkoff 2003 unified marketing plan budget geared to help increase demand in domestic and international markets.” Rosemont, IL: January 24, 2003.
Goldhamer, Alan, DC. “No Body Needs Milk.” T. Colin Campbell Foundation. N.p., 2008. Web.
“Health Concerns About Dairy Products.” PCRM. Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine, 2012. Web.
McDougall, John, MD. “Dairy Products and 10 False Promises.” The McDougall Newsletter 2 (Apr. 2003)
McDougall, John, MD. “When Friends Ask: Why Don’t You Drink Milk?” The McDougall Newsletter 6 (Mar. 2007)
Sonneville KR, Gordon CM, Kocher MS, Pierce LM, Ramappa A, Field AE. “Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents”. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published ahead of print March 5, 2012.
There are lots of tried and true, classic combinations of foods that we simply can’t deny pair fabulously together. Peanut butter and jelly, black beans and corn, apple and cinnamon, peas and carrots—hands down, yum. But one of the greatest things about eating a plant-based diet is the door that you open to such a vast variety of new food potential. And while sticking to the classics can be quite delicious for sure, it’s also fun to get creative and try new combinations—you may be surprised how great things taste together!
Look, we’re already weirdos in the eyes of much of the population. And as we go down the plant-strong path, some of us tend to get even weirder. But that’s okay, don’t hold it back. Embrace it!! Weird is the new awesome :) Some people just haven’t caught on yet ;) And really, weird can be so much fun. You don’t know what you’re missing out on until you let things get a little wacky. For example, I’ve seen Jenna eat rice and lentils for breakfast, topped with sliced grapes and granola—she said it was delicious! But that’s not the best of it. Jenna learned from a friend that you can eat the skins on kiwis and the green tops of strawberries, so she eats them now! She’s freaktastic and I LOVE it. Personally, I still peel my kiwis for the time being, but don’t worry, I have my own weirdness goin’ on. For breakfast this morning, I had oatmeal with blueberries, green beans, arugula, corn, chickpeas, and quinoa mixed in. Unconventional? Yes. But totally tasty :) Another example—last fall when I was home for Thanksgiving break, we had a couple of extra cans of pumpkin lying around. For dinner one night, I made a pasta dish with the canned pumpkin as a “sauce,” and mixed in a dash of Bragg’s liquid aminos and some diced avocado and raisins. My entire family loved it! Oh, and don’t worry, Craig’s a freaker too. While bean burgers and portobello mushrooms have become common go-to substitutes for the hamburger, Craig has taken this to a whole new level. He likes to use the portobello mushroom caps as the bun for his bean burgers. It might be a little messy, but it’s super yummy :) We think it’s a genius idea! I’m tellin’ ya, don’t be afraid of the weird
Next time you’re deciding what to eat for your next meal, let go of the rules of convention and bring on the creativity. As we know from our understanding of the Standard American Diet, what’s “normal” is not always what is best. Like I said earlier, many of the typical plant-based meals are quite yummy—no one is going to argue that black beans and rice don’t go together. They do, and it’s delicious every time. However, we don’t want to limit ourselves to these typical meals. When we get weird, we might find something sensational that we never would have discovered if we’d stuck to our meals of normality.
Here are some great plant-based recipes that are a little on the weird side but a lot on the fun and fabulous side:
(We’ve never tried this, but it looks wonderful!)
(Who would have thought that adding quinoa, dates, and banana to cornbread made it even more amazing?! Note: We like to add fresh corn kernels and/or blueberries when we make this.)
(Yes, you can make noodles out of zucchini!! E2X Coach Char gave a great, simple recipe for this as well in her recent post about spiralizers!)
(While black bean brownies have become semi-normal for many health-minded people, at one time they were totally freaky. Just goes to show how great your experimentation might be!!)
So get out there and get creative!! Let us know what wacky, delicious food combos and recipes you come up with!
Be weird. Dare to differ.
Most of the time, I love it when people ask me questions about the way I eat. I enjoy showcasing my love of plants and sharing what I have learned about the plethora of positive effects that come from eating a plant-based diet. But that being said, sometimes answering people’s questions makes me the bearer of bad news, and that’s not always the easiest role to play.
Craig and I found ourselves in this situation last weekend. We were visiting friends, and as it sometimes does, the conversation turned toward questions about our eating habits. They were interested in our answers, so the questions kept rolling. As I said above, for the most part, I love when this happens. It’s a great opportunity to educate people and be a positive influence! But it comes with a downside as well. It can be difficult to be in a place where you are contradicting much of what people have always believed to be “truths” in regards to nutrition. As we were explaining the myths about protein needs, the ability to reverse diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease, or the way that the dairy industry has tricked society into believing that dairy products are not only healthy but necessary for proper nutrition, we began to feel like conspiracy theorists. As we listened to ourselves talk, we realized how ridiculous we must sound to someone hearing all of this information for the first time. We had to be careful in the way that we presented the information, not only because we wanted to be believable, but also because we didn’t want to make our friends feel bad about themselves. (Especially because we had just finished eating dinner, and both of them had eaten meat and dairy-laden meals.) You don’t want to talk down or make others feel stupid for their current/prior understandings about nutrition. That’s not the point. The point is not to bring people down, but to lift them up; to empower them.
It helps to remember that this information could save people’s lives. By influencing them, you have the opportunity to bring better health and well-being. You can help people to find not only longer lives, but also a better quality of life in general. You are an amazingly valuable resource. So don’t push, but don’t completely hold back either. It’s definitely a balance, one that can be tough at times, but one that is important to keep within your awareness.
In some cases, it may be best to let someone else do the explaining. Instead of rambling off the facts you’ve memorized or describing your personal opinion on the matter, direct people to another trusted source—such as a book, website, or documentary. Some of my favorites are Forks Over Knives, The China Study, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Dr. Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes, Engine 2 Diet, or My Beef With Meat. I will suggest different things depending on the person’s personal characteristics. For instance, for a science-minded person, I recommend The China Study. For someone with heart disease, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. For someone who isn’t a big reader or nutrition guru and just wants an overview, Engine 2 Diet or/and My Beef With Meat. And watching Forks Over Knives is always a great suggestion to introduce people to the idea of a whole food, plant-based diet. Know your audience and their personality traits, and evaluate from there as to what the best suggestions for them would be.
And with the bad news comes good—no, GREAT—news. Yes, it is “bad news” that people have been mislead to believe that low-fat dairy products, eggs, poulty, seafood, olive oil, etc., are healthy for them when they are far from health-promoting—the exact opposite, actually. And yes, it is “bad news” that they should give up their beloved cheese or salmon. BUT, it is great news that they can reverse their chronic diseases and conditions by changing their diet. It is great news that they can prevent future ailments like cancer, osteoporosis, or Alzheimer’s; that they can improve athletic performance; and that they can lessen the occurrence/symptoms of MS, rheumatoid arthritis, acne, constipation, migraines, and much, much more—all by putting plants instead of animal-products on their plates.
Focus on the positives. Instead of saying how much they are hurting themselves by eating meat and dairy, focus on how much they could benefit themselves by choosing to eat a plant-based diet instead. Focus on empowerment. Focus on the amazing ability that we have to control our fate (not completely, but to a very large extent) through the foods that we choose to eat each and every day.
Oh, and of course, focus on the deliciousness factor of eating this way. It can seem daunting for people to think about cutting out two of their major food groups (which, lets be honest, shouldn’t even be food groups), but in reality, eating plant-strong expands our palates to eat a greater variety of foods, textures, and tastes than ever before!!
So even though we are sometimes the bearer of bad news, it helps to remember that we are, even more so, the bearer of good news. There is a time and a place for sharing information (never push, never preach), but don’t pass it up when it comes your way. Be a living example, be a promoter, be the change you wish to see in the world
Knowledge is power—share it!
Right now, I’m living in a house with four other vegans. Throughout the summer, as the interns have come and gone, I have lived with 6 different people total—all who have eaten a primarily whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet. But even though we all eat “the same things,” each of us has a unique way of doing so.
And that’s a beautiful thing about eating a plant-strong diet, you can do it however you want. There’s no single best way to do it, rather, there are infinite ways to do it! The best way is what is best for you.
For example, I cook mainly on the stovetop, but for my roommate, any cooking is done via microwave (a true testament to the ability of college students in dorm rooms to be plant-strong!!). Some of us prefer frozen vegetables, while others tend to buy them fresh from the produce section. There are five grocery stores within a mile of our house (yes, it’s wonderful), and we all shop at different places. Some people spend lots of time preparing recipes and extravagant meals, and others just throw together whatever ingredients they’re in the mood for/have on hand and have dinner made in 5 minutes. Some eat bigger meals, whereas others do more grazing throughout the day. I’ve been on a huge mango kick lately, while my roommate always has carrots and cantaloupe on hand. Some like raw vegetables in the form of salads, and some prefer the taste of cooked veggies instead. We all share the same cupboards and refrigerator, but each person’s shelf is filled with their own personal favorites and go-to foods. I could continue to ramble, but I’ll stop there. The point is that we all eat very differently.
I often see articles or news segments about the latest “superfoods,” the things you should eat to have the healthiest diet possible. But the truth is, nearly every plant-strong food can be dubbed a super food. Whether you eat goji berries or blueberries, chia seeds or pumpkin seeds, kale or spinach, or quinoa or oats, you are eating super foods that bring super health.
No Meat Athlete blogger Matt Frazier once wrote about his “Ultimate Energy Bar Formula.” Instead of giving a recipe, which has specific ingredients, he instead gives a formula in which you can sub in whatever foods you want into the given categories to suit your personal preferences. Recipes are a one-way street, but formulas, on the other hand, offer variability and individuality in how they manifest themselves. This is how I have come to view the plant-strong diet: as a formula.
The plant-strong formula is simple: What do you eat? Center your diet around vegetables, fruits, whole grains/starches, and beans/legumes—nuts and seeds can be included if desired. How much do you eat? As much as you want. When do you eat? Whenever you’re hungry. Trying to lose weight? Eat less calorie-dense foods. Trying to gain/maintain weight? Eat more calorie-dense foods. That’s it? That’s it
So stop worrying. If you stick to the formula, no matter what you plug-in, you’ll always get the right answer :) Your body is smarter than you may think—feed it whole, plant-based foods, and it will take care of the rest.
Peace, love, plants.