When Melissa Furman looks down at the food on her plate, whatever that food may be, she does not notice how appealing it may look or how good it’s going to taste.
“I see nutrients,” she said. “I see this as how I’m nourishing my body, which is what the food we eat is supposed to do.”
Furman has been following a whole-food, plant-based diet for the past four years, endeavoring to “eat as close to the ground” as possible. She quickly convinced the rest of her family to follow — in part because once she made the commitment to such a diet, she cleared her kitchen pantry and refrigerator of all meat, dairy and processed foods — and is now hoping to share this culinary lifestyle with the rest of the Tulsa area.
Furman co-founded with Krisann Polito-Moller Plant-Based Green Country, a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate and encourage people about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle.
To help in that mission, the organization is hosting the first Tulsa VegFest, bringing together local vendors and restaurants that offer a wide range of plant-based menus and dishes, as well as presentations by local and national health professionals, who will speak to the benefits of a plant-based diet, such as how it can help prevent and even reverse such ailments as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, while also providing all needed nutritional and protein requirements.
“We thought, what better way to get out the word than with a big party?” Furman said, laughing.
The idea for such a party came last year, when Furman was visiting her parents in Florida.
“By chance, there happened to be a ‘VegFest’ event going on, and I wanted to see what it was like,” she said. “It was so educational and so inspiring, I ended up staying for the entire day.”
She shared the idea with a group of friends, who became the core group of volunteers behind the Tulsa VegFest.
“Everything is done 100% by volunteers,” Furman said. “We’re not trying to make money from this. We’re just wanting to help people learn what this kind of diet offers them.”
One of the major sponsors of VegFest is Ediblend Superfood Cafe, which has been providing Tulsans with plant-based drinks, meals and snacks since 2014.
The business began when sisters Piper Kacere and Amy Miller decided to follow the recommendations of TV personality Dr. Oz for a “blended cleanse.”
“We both agreed it was the worst thing we had ever tasted,” Piper Kacere said, laughing. “My husband, who is a cardiologist that has been following a blended diet for about 10 years, said he would rework the recipes for us. And what he came up with was delicious.”
It got to the point that family and friends kept asking the sisters to create blended drinks for them.
“We realized that lots of people wanted to be healthy, but they didn’t want to do the work,” Kacere said. “And when it came to a plant-based or vegan diet, most people didn’t know what to eat after ordering a salad. So we decided that maybe we could create a business like this in the middle of meat and potatoes country.”
Ediblend offers a variety of custom-made and prepared “grab-and-go” blends, salads, acai bowls and one- and three-day cleanses that include all the foods needed to “flood your body with maximum nutrition,” according to the shop’s literature.
For example, Kacere points to a blend called “Peach Perfect,” which includes spinach, cucumber, pineapple, peaches, ginger and coconut water.
“If you put all these things on a plate, it would be a little overwhelming,” she said. “But to blend all of these ingredients into a drink, it’s not only delicious, but it probably provides more fruits and vegetables than you’ve ever had in one dish before.”
Kacere has a unique way of distinguishing a plant-based diet from, say, a vegan diet.
“To me, ‘vegan’ tells you what not to eat,” Kacere said, “while ‘plant-based’ tells you all the things you can eat — all the fruits and vegetables that are out there. You can follow a ‘vegan’ diet and get much of what you eat at QuikTrip. If you’re following a plant-based diet, there’s not much at QuikTrip that’s for you.”
That doesn’t mean, Furman said, that one who wants to start a plant-based diet has to seek out exotic fruits or expensive heirloom vegetables.
“It’s really not expensive, especially if you don’t rely totally on prepared foods,” Furman said. “And you can start by taking small steps. Replace your dairy milk with a plant milk, like almond or cashew milk. Or use a mix of flax seed and water in place of eggs.
“I think people will discover how their palates change once they switch,” she said. “They’re going to discover that the foods in a plant-based diet really taste amazing.”
Mocha Matcha Latte
1½ cups almond milk (or any plant milk)
1 teaspoon matcha tea powder
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (to taste)
1. In a small pot on the stove over medium heat, warm the almond milk until bubbles start to form.
2. Add the warmed almond milk to a blender. Add in the rest of the ingredients and blend for 30 seconds until combined.
3. Pour into a mug (the whipping action of the blender should leave a nice foam forming at the top). Enjoy immediately.
— Recipe adapted from theorganicdietician.com
Slow Cooker Jackfruit Tacos
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 (20-ounce) can green jackfruit, rinsed and drained
1½ cups of your favorite green or red salsa
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
8 to 10 corn, sprouted or whole-grain tortillas
Avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
Green onions, sliced
1. Combine the onion, bell pepper, poblano, jackfruit, salsa, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika and red pepper flakes (if using) in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours.
2. When you are nearly ready to serve, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat in the oven while you prepare the toppings.
3. With two forks, gently pull apart the jackfruit until it has the appearance of pulled pork. Turn down the heat to low and cover until you are ready to serve.
4. Serve the warm tortillas topped with jackfruit filling, greens, avocado, salsa and green onions.
Melissa’s note: I like to add fresh corn and a can of kidney or black beans and then top with fresh cilantro. For variety, leftovers are tasty served over baked potatoes.
— Recipe adapted from “The Plant Pure Kitchen” by Kim Campbell
Chocolate Chip Pancakes
6 ripe bananas, mashed
2¼ cups unsweetened regular (not vanilla) plant milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups oat flour
1½ cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
¼ cup ground flax seed
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt (optional)
¾ cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips
Blueberries and sliced strawberries for topping
100% real maple syrup
1. Whisk the bananas, plant milk and vanilla in a medium bowl.
2. Whisk the flour, oats, flax seed, baking powder and salt in another bowl.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Heat a nonstick griddle over low heat. For each pancake, pour ¼-⅓ cup batter onto the griddle and spread gently. Batter will be thick. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Repeat with remaining batter, wiping off griddle between batches. Serve hot with fresh fruit and 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup per serving.
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James D. Watts Jr.