By Geri Herisse
In honor of nutrition month, I had the opportunity to attend the “Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community – Plant Base Culinary Clinic” hosted by the Association for Healthcare Food Service of New York (AHFNY) and the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). The workshop included a short presentation about mindful eating as well as several cooking demonstrations by professional chefs representing restaurants and corporate institutions across the tri-state area. Presenters demonstrated how easy it is to prepare and substitute animal products for plant-based ingredients without sacrificing flavor and taste. Samples of each dish made were distributed to the audience. The attendees seemed to enjoy the variety of vegetables and grains used to prepare each meal.
Presenters emphasized the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet which include lowered/decreased rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In fact, one presentation by Chef Alex Askew of Black Culinary Association Global (BCA), discussed the benefits of a plant-based diet in concert with mindful eating. Chef Alex believes that mindful eating should involve all the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight and sound) and more importantly the idea of communal eating. Chef Alex discussed how communal eating fosters mindful eating which can have social and nutritional health benefits.
After the presentation and food demonstration, I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Chef Alex who further expanded on his thoughts about what it means to eat a plant-based diet. When asked what compelled him to pursue plant-based cooking, Chef Alex responded that eating a plant-based diet is about choices. People want the freedom to make their own choices. A plant-based diet is seasonal, sustainable and flexible. Allowing individuals the option to choose from different sources of protein is a more practical and realistic method of changing behavior rather than setting limits on what people should or should not eat. Chef Alex went further to say that if people decide to eat animal protein than it should be of the highest quality in order to reap any beneficial nutrients it may have.
When asked what he tells clients who want to begin a plant-based diet, Chef Alex recommends cooking at home as a way to introduce and experiment with new vegetables to stimulate the palate and excite the taste buds. For example, eggplant is always a good vegetable to experiment with because the texture is similar to meat and serves as a good replacement. Above all he advocates that cooking plant-based meals should always be a fun activity.
Chef Alex suggests any beginner trying out plant-based meals for the first time, should start with seasonal vegetables. They are at their peak freshness when harvested during the season they are grown. He recommends using garlic and onion—allium vegetables—and carrots and celery—root vegetables which adds flavor, color and variety to any vegetable dish.
Eating a plant-based diet not only is good for lowering blood sugar levels, maintaining stable body weight and improving heart health, but as Chef Alex states, it can also be a cost-effective response to eating a nutritious and healthy diet. Ingredients he recommends that are inexpensive and should be part of any beginners’ basic repertoire of plant-based recipes, include shelf-stable friendly items like beans and grains. Beans and grains are available in abundance and as he informed me, beans retail at $1.29 a pound, a relatively cheap option. However, Chef Alex does note that preparing a plant-based meal at home requires lots of preparation time. Therefore, it is important to plan ahead, purchase the necessary ingredients and allocate enough time to prepare a nutritious, delicious and flavorful plant-based meal.