Learn TO COOK Plant-based Cuisine
When the documentary Forks Over Knives premiered in 2011, the term “plant-based” became much more trendy. Not only that, but people who viewed the film were much more willing to leave meat and dairy off their plates. The documentary, along with Vegucated (2011) and What the Health (2017), claim a plant-based diet made of unprocessed, whole foods can help prevent, and possibly reverse, chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
One of the physicians interviewed in Forks Over Knives was Dr. Neal D. Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org). Besides advocating for ethical treatment of animals in the medical field, PCRM started Food for Life, a plant-based food program designed by physicians, nurses and registered dieticians. Backed by scientific research, Food for Life offers classes to help people improve their health through their diet. It also offers a certification class for those who want to teach these classes in their communities.
Food for Life Classes
Alisha Barker is a Food for Life instructor based in Salt Lake City. She has taught two cooking classes through the Lifelong Learning program at the University of Utah: Kickstart Your Health, which teaches the basics of the whole-food plant-based diet, and the Cancer Project class, which gives students the tools to fight and prevent cancer through food. Barker wants to empower students to take control of their health and to see their bodies as “disease fighting, healing machines.” As a registered nurse with 10 years of critical-care experience in preventive cardiology, she’s encountered many patients with preventable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
“When you eat a whole-food plant-based diet, you bathe your cells in phytonutrients and antioxidants that help your body to fend off and, in some cases, reverse chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and more,” she says. “Eating plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes fills your diet with fiber, which helps rid your body of excess toxins and hormones that promote cancer and inflammation.”
Besides boosting her confidence in the kitchen, becoming a Food for Life instructor has taught Alisha to cook simply without compromising flavor. Roasted veggies, sautéed or steamed greens, beans and whole grains make up her favorite meals. To keep it interesting, she adds nacho cheese made from cashews, enchilada sauce or a spicy chimichurri. Colorful and tasty fruit salads are another go-to, either eaten as a meal, or used as a topping for oatmeal or dairy-free yogurt. I asked her for some tips for the vegan home cook, and she said that having a decent knife and cutting board are critical. “There is more food prep involved in cooking plant-based, so dedicate some time to planning,” she says. “Chop fruits and veggies in batches beforehand and store them in the fridge or freezer.” She also encourages people to take advantage of online resources to learn about plant-based cooking.
The Almost Vegan Cooking School, taught by Debbie Devore, is suited for beginners and seasoned vegans alike. Besides offering free recipes and classes on YouTube, her six-part Introduction to Plant-Based Foods course is only $60 and covers a breadth of topics and recipes. Her advice for the home cook includes the importance of good knife skills and an organized work area, pantry, freezer and refrigerator, claiming it “clears the mind to help create great tasting food.”
Patty Knutson wants you to play with your food. “If you’re doing it right, plant-based cooking is fun,” she says. If you spend a few minutes on her website, VeganCoach.com, you’ll see her point. Her method of “freestyle cooking” teaches people to think outside the concept of recipes. “If you want to cook like the pros, learn all you can about working with seasonings and how to balance flavorings,” she says. Focusing on whole foods, Knutson teaches you to work with the food you have on hand to create healthy, delicious meals. She offers free cooking classes online and is available for one-on-one coaching.