I am so glad to have Lani Muelrath, M.A., on my blog today! Lani is an award-winning teacher, author, and top plant-based lifestyle coach. Certified Specialist in Behavior Change and Plant-Based Nutrition, Lani has been featured on CBS TV, ABC TV, Prevention, USA Today, and The Saturday Evening Post. Lani is Associate Faculty at Butte College where her book has been adopted as required text. She is the author of The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide for Transitioning to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, recognized by VegNews as Top Media Pick for 2015, and Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Workouts. Come read more from Lani at www.lanimuelrath.com.
Your book focuses on your own plant-based journey, with lots of help for people wanting to kick off their own journey. Can you tell us what first inspired you to go plant-based?
This goes way back. When I was in high school, my mother was practicing yoga and this inspired me to start learning yoga as well. The yoga literature was infused with vegetarian-speak, which first awakened the idea in me. In college I started teaching yoga, studied meditation, and even over 40 years ago there was information about the environmental and ethical problems associated with eating animal products in addition to the health concerns. This led me to give up meat, fish, and eggs, and eventually dairy products as well.
What has this lifestyle meant to you in terms of benefits?
The positive benefits of living plant-based reach into so many areas. First, the difference in ease of maintaining ideal weight—as someone genetically predisposed to gain easily and lose weight with difficulty—are incomparable. It is wonderful to eat delicious food to satisfaction every day and not have to worry about your weight. Ease of meal preparation is another—there is so much variety in the plant-based world and it’s easy to prepare. I’m a very lazy cook and prepare food simply, and at the same time it has to taste really good as I love to eat! My cooking style is reflected in The Plant-Based Journey with my simple recipe templates that have been the runaway surprise hit of the book. They’ve taken the intimidation factor out of switching to plant-based food prep and this has been a huge relief to people making the switch.
Beyond the plate, there is also the resonance of what I eat with my advocacy for the environment and the animals. All benefit. If you can eat deliciously and healthfully in a way that doesn’t harm others and minimizes negative environmental impact, why wouldn’t you do that? Living without the use of animal products brings a peace of mind that rivals the opposite.
Do you believe that more people are interested in considering a more plant-based lifestyle? Why?
Yes, we know statistically that there are greater numbers of vegetarians and vegans than there were a few years ago, and surveys reveal that simply googling plant-based and vegan terminology brings up a rapidly expanding number of responses.
The growing interest in plant-based living is inspired by several things. One, the proliferation of long-term, peer-reviewed research underscores over and over again the health and environmental benefits of eating more whole plant foods and less of everything else. This is evidenced in the Kaiser Permanente directive that came out in 2013, recommending their physicians and health care providers direct patients to eat more plant-based. And the Ornish program for reversal of heart disease that has plant-based nutrition as one of its essential elements qualifies for Medicare.
Celebrity endorsement and interest in plant-based and vegan diets are grabbing public attention, which brings ideas rapidly to a broader audience. There has been a lot more of celebrity interest in the past couple of years. For example Suzy Amis Cameron and James Cameron have advanced their deep interest as environmental activists into the food realm. Their family went plant-based a few years ago and have become quite outspoken about this dietary change in relation to the environment. They have been very supportive of The Plant-Based Journey, and I am honored to have their endorsement in the book. Several copies are catalogued into the bookshelves at MUSE School that Suzy and her sister Rebecca co-founded—MUSE is now 100% plant-based in their food services and the curriculum is heavy on environmental awareness and sustainability.
Can you share a few of your best tips for people thinking about taking the plant-based plunge?
Yes! First is connecting with your reasons because this gives traction to your journey. Something you heard, said, or read awakened in you this idea—changing what’s on your plate. From there, investigate the basics. What’s on the plant-based plate? What does “whole food” mean? What might meals look like? What do you need to know about reading food labels, or getting the basics for your kitchen? In The Plant-Based Journey I call this the Scout stage. Once you’re armed with these simple basics, then it’s time to start eating—the fun part! This is where many people get stuck because they think they have to prepare fancy meals and gourmet dishes. Not so. I cook with a few basic techniques that just take minutes at meals, and that’s all you need to get started. I call this the Rookie stage. From there you learn to take it to the work place, social setting, and travel. But it all starts with your “why” and the basic “what.”
What are some of the challenges for this lifestyle? How can people face them?
First, no need to be a fancy cook, as already mentioned. People can find the idea of shifting the basics of their plate to plants daunting because they perceive it will take a lot of new foods. This challenge can be faced with a shift in approach. I tell people to find out what they already like and are eating that are plant-based. Most people are familiar with bean tostadas, enchiladas, spaghetti with marinara, salad with baked potatoes—even peanut butter sandwiches. All plant-based. Start with what you like and the tastes with which you are familiar. This way it is a smoother transition than uprooting yourself from all of your familiar favorites for the unknown vegetable with a name you can’t even pronounce. That can come later. From there, “plantify” the foods you currently like by replacing the processed foods and animal products in them with plant-based products. Fold greens into hot rice or pasta to add more color. Replace ground meat in chili with crumbly, textured grains such as bulgur wheat or quinoa, for example. There are multiple ideas for how to do this in The Plant-Based Journey.
If you don’t like to chop and prep, purchased bagged baby spinach, shredded cabbage—there are so many foods available now that save time. And overall, start by making the easiest and simplest changes you can to advance you toward your long-term goal. Some people make this change overnight, some over time. But everyone goes through all the five stages of transition if sustainability of a new lifestyle is what you are looking for.
What is one of your favorite go-to meals?
Brown rice with Savory Cooked Vegetables and tahini sauce, with baked tofu or yuba
Please share the five favorite foods you simply can’t live without.
Live without is pretty exclusive language. If I had to do without any of these, it would certainly be what I would call a first-world problem! Let’s just call it some favorites that come to mind.
-Brown jasmine rice with vegetables -Sweet black cherries -Raisin toast with peanut butter -Chickpeas any way—in hummus, roasted, soups, and on salads -Crisp sweet romaine lettuce -Tomato, avocado, onion, and any other vegetable I can throw in sandwiches on good grainy bread
This sugar-free version of a holiday favorite has been a hit 100 percent of the times that I’ve served it, and has been one of the most popular recipe downloads from my blog. Buy extra cranberries when they are in season and store them in the refrigerator so that you can make this all year long. It’s great for topping oatmeal and pancakes, or spread in sandwiches.
8 Medjool dates, pitted
Juice from 1 orange
1/4 cup water
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries (about 2½ cups)
1 tablespoon orange zest
Soak the dates overnight in the orange juice for a few hours or overnight.
In a high-powered blender or food processor, blend the dates with the juice and the water.
Put the date mixture in a large pot with the cranberries. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes. Add more water as needed so the mixture stays liquid though dense, like thick, chunky applesauce. Remove from the heat.
Let cool and store in the refrigerator. Serve as you would any cranberry sauce: with holiday dinners, or on cooked whole grains, mashed potatoes, your morning oatmeal, or to perk up a sandwich.
If you’re in a hurry, you can probably skip soaking the dates. If you do, cook them for a few minutes longer to soften.