Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegan Recipes Take Over a Nursing Home

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm noticing increased curiosity about vegan cooking and nutrition. There are signs that plant-based diets, once considered fringe, are finding acceptance in the medical and culinary mainstream: dozens of news stories during the past month discussed the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, and vegan options are showing up at unlikely restaurants and bakeries. Is it the economy, recent food-poisoning scares, or the fact that everybody in America weighs 900 pounds and will die from diabetes complications if a heart attack doesn't kill them first? For any or all of those reasons, people are taking an honest look at the Standard American Diet and realizing the harm they're doing to their bodies by ingesting aerosol spray cheese, Wonderbread, chicken nuggets (which part, exactly, of a chicken's body is supposed to be the nugget?), and other imitation foods. They're making friends with leafy green vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and realizing that once they break their addictions to salt and simple sugar, real food is actually a lot tastier and more interesting than the garbage they're used to.

I was flattered when a contingent of readers at the Maine Veterans' Home in Scarborough invited me to their staff wellness luncheon to talk about vegan cooking. While I'd like to think their interest in my blog stems from their work in medicine and nutrition and their discriminating taste in food literature, in truth my mother works there and she hung a big advertisement on the lunchroom bulletin board. A few of her coworkers, including the dietary manager, have turned into regular readers who've tried out many of my recipes. In fact, the lunch menu included my minestrone soup and fruit smoothies, made to feed an army. The soup was served in a giant vat, and five bunches of bananas went into the smoothies.

Both soup and smoothies were delicious, earning approval from residents and staff, and it was a kick to see that the recipes held up to the extreme change in scale. The minestrone is so good it's been given a spot on the regular menu! How many vegan food bloggers can say they developed a recipe that's served in a nursing home?

Here's the whole spread, vegan except for the bread and salad dressing:

The luncheon was part of an all-day safety fair for staff that also included interactive stations like handwashing with a blacklight inspection, instruction on how to wrap up and drag away bedridden residents in case of an evacuation, and a regulatory trivia Wheel of Doom that I really wish I'd taken a picture of. I had my own little table, where I set out whole-grain scones as a lure and displayed a variety of books.

Though I disagree with Michael Pollan about the ethics of eating animals, The Omnivore's Dilemmachanged the way I think about eating. After reading it I cut out eggs, dairy, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oil. In Defense of Foodoffers a bullet-point version of Pollan's argument, with advice on what and how to eat. It would be a great choice for a wellness committee book club!

I brought Veganomicon, for people ready to experiment with seitan and nutritional yeast, as well as some lacto-ovo cookbooks with lots of appetizing pictures for people who aren't interested in going vegan, but want to cut back on meat and don't know how to plan a meal without a big slab of animal on the plate. The mouth-watering photos in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World(one nursing home at a time!) got lots of attention. I'll make a batch next time I visit.

Several of the people I talked with described what can only be called crimes against tofu: tasteless, jiggly preparations that made them fear vegetarian food. Thankfully, they kept an open mind and tried the smoothies, which provided a tasty and non-threatening reintroduction to the 'fu.

This was a great opportunity to share recipes and demonstrate that vegan food doesn't have to be weird. Thank you, wellness committee, for inviting me to lunch and for testing out my recipes. I'd love to come again, so leave me a comment if you've got any requests!


  1. Crimes against tofu! So true! It took me years and years to learn to like tofu because of that kind of thing.

    You're making such a positive impact. Way to go!

  2. Congrats! It sounds like you were a big success at the nursing home.

  3. This is SOOOO GREAT!.. I just love it.. the BEST way period to get someone who eats meat is through their stomach!

  4. I second that, excellent post !

  5. There's also that Michael Pollan NY Times article where he sums up his philosophy as
    "Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants."

    Omnivore's dilemma was great... loved (in a way) the description of the ingredients of the "food" served to cattle in factory farms.


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