Rip Esseltyn is a real man. Okay, he got the nickname Rip when he was two days old, not because of his lean ripped look. But it fits. An all-American swimmer in college, he became a world class triathlete, which is when he adopted a ‘plant-strong’ diet. After ten years in that grueling profession he needed a break. Friends suggested he might want to be a firefighter.
“It’s an awesome profession,” said Rip. “You help people, you save lives. It’s like a big old slumber party. You get to go through red lights and stop signs with sirens blazing. And you do good deeds. Cook good food. No two shifts are ever the same.”
He applied to the Austin fire department, one of 4000 applying for twelve positions. “It’s more competitive than getting into Harvard,” he joked. It took two years but in 1997, he made the transition from full time triathlete to full time firefighter.
Triathlete, Texas firefighter, stand-up guy – he definitely qualifies as a real man. And he grills veggies. And occasionally fruits.
“At the firehouse we had a nice grill in the backyard and we would grill every chance we got. Portabella mushrooms, bell peppers, corn on the cob, onions, every kind of squash you can imagine, white button mushrooms, romaine lettuce…oh and pineapples. I love grilling.”
Of course, when he first started at the firehouse, they were doing a lot of grilling but it wasn’t veggies. “Oh it was an abomination,” recalled Rip.
“I like to say the four major food groups of the Texas male firefighter are: Big old honking burgers with cheese and mayonnaise on white bread with a side of deep fried French fries; Beef fajitas with sour cream and cheese, full fatty beans and white rice – and if there are onions and bell peppers they’re slathered in oil and butter; Pizza with as much pepperoni, ham and hamburger meat you can throw on that guy; And the other food group is bluebell ice cream. They have bowls of bluebell for breakfast lunch and dinner.”
For years, he brought his own food, did his own thing. But then in April 2003, Rip was sitting out of the front porch of the fire station with a couple of his fellow firefighters and they made a bet on who had the lowest cholesterol. It’s fortunate they did because one of the men, whose family had a history of heart disease, found out his cholesterol was 344 mg/dl. That put a scare into the whole crew and over a period of time they started to change what they ate. Rip challenged his friend with the dangerously high cholesterol to go all in with a plant-based diet for 28 days and see what happened. The cholesterol number plummeted to 197 mg/dl.
“Vegetables, fruits, and tofu and other meat substitutes are delicious when cooked over coals or a wood fire. Toss them lightly with a marinade first. Spray the bars of the grill with a fat-free cooking spray or employ one of those neat-o perforated skillets or cooking baskets.”
In his latest book, My Beef with Meat, he includes a recipe for BBQ Seitan Grilling Kabobs and a Grilled Romaine salad. He also warns that when you’re grilling any kind of meat – chicken, beef, pork, or fish – “what you are really doing is growing carcinogens on it. There are two that appear only in grilled meat: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS.)”
He told us that the great thing about veggies is they don’t have the inherent building blocks to create any of these carcinogens. “Grill veggies and you get all char and no carcinogens.”
For the last five years Rip’s been working with Whole Foods to spread the word about eating plant-based food. He has a line of Engine 2 health food products, exclusive to Whole Foods, that includes everything from cereals and almond milk to pizza crust and veggie burgers.
Finally, he talked with us about how fat and cholesterol in animal products can clog arteries to the heart, head, and…other extremities important to real men. In contrast, when you’re eating whole plant-based food it keeps your blood vessels useful and elastic. “So I’d say real men eat plants,” said Rip, “and drop the blue pill in exchange for a bunch of green leafy vegetables.”
Meatless Monday is in the news again, this time in relation to whether the US military should offer Meatless Monday options in their cafeterias. Critics of the plan state that eating meat every day is needed to meet the US Dietary Guidelines and get an adequate amount of protein in the diet.
Meatless Monday’s scientific advisers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) say that cutting down on meat is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines and doesn’t have to mean a shortage of protein in the diet. In a recent blog, CLF explains:
The recommendation on “protein foods” has actually not changed since the last Guidelines, issued in 2010: 5.5 ounces of protein food per person per day. But this year’s Guidelines break it down more: we have a recommendation to eat 26 ounces of meat, poultry, and eggs (combined) per week, which is 3.71 ounces per day. By contrast, Americans eat between 4.4 and 5.9 ounces of meat each day. That’s 20 to 60 percent above the recommended level.
The post continues:
The Guidelines do acknowledge specifically that men and teenage boys are consuming more protein than they need, and they suggest that we all shift to alternate forms of protein, such as seafood, beans, seeds, and nuts. It’s an indirect way of advising that we cut back on meat.
Meatless Monday is a simple, memorable way to cut back on the overall amount of meat you consume and meet the Dietary Guidelines. Read CLF’s full analysis of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans here and learn more about getting the protein you need from plant sources with these helpful articles:
Check out what Dr. Robert Lawrence, scientific adviser to the Meatless Monday initiative has to say about the benefit of joining the movement:
As of 2016, Meatless Monday campaigns are active in over 40 countries around the world. While many of these campaigns are grassroots efforts led by individuals or small groups of motivated individuals, several initiatives are actually official declarations or policies implemented by world governments: Israel’s Knesset, the Taiwan Ministries of Education, Health and Food & Agriculture, the cities of Ghent, Belgium and Barcelona, Spain – all have decided it is in the best interests of their constituents’ health and the health of their environments to go meatless at least one day a week.
Despite common misconceptions about physically active people needing meat for protein, even the Norwegian military and Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense have developed policies that require the provision of meatless meals to their staffs and soldiers on Mondays. The government of China also released new dietary guidelines around reducing meat consumption that are expected to foster the growth of the Meatless Monday movement in mainland China.
All around the globe, governments are beginning to recognize the importance of cutting back on meat, and suggesting Meatless Monday as a reasonable step towards that end is netting positive results!
This week Kimatni D. Rawlins takes our hero challenge to a new level—helping fathers become fit for their families. A former college athlete, Kimatni lost sight of his health goals in the early years of raising a young family, but later experienced a personal epiphany that inspired him to shed 50 pounds through a plant-based diet and daily workouts. The founder of the fitness and wellness website Fit Fathers, Kimatni today uses his knowledge as a certified fitness instructor and nutritionist to create programs that speak to men at all fitness levels. Learn more about his work and his enthusiasm for Meatless Monday in our recent interview below.
You were a 250-pound running back in college. What stressors happened in those post-college years that turned you into a self-acclaimed couch potato?
Work, partying, traveling, and entrepreneurship. After years of football at Georgia Tech I was a bit worn and didn’t exert that same effort as I did on the field. Basically, I chose to let excuses run my life.
Did you experience a specific wakeup call to get healthier? Was going meatless part of this change?
At age 35 I actually wanted to relive my playing days at Tech, yet I lacked the energy and stamina needed to obtain the goal. I finally said, “Enough is enough,” and signed up for the Men’s Health Urbanathlon in Chicago. I finished in the middle of the pack but was very exhausted after the 9-mile, 7-obstacle course. That moment I decided to study the body and how it metabolizes energy. It all led back to the foods we eat and those we choose to discard. Slowly I began eliminating chicken, fish, and dairy. Red meat and pork was never an option. Then, the icing on the cake was after my wife (also a vegan) and I watched the movies Forks Over Knives and Food, Inc.
What are the positive changes you’ve experienced from being on a vegan diet?
I have energy for days, my doctor says that my health numbers are that of an 18-year-old athlete, and I feel fluid and light on my feet after meals. I have since run a marathon and a few Urbanathlons, and every year I complete at least three half-marathons. I also train a few clients and lead group workout sessions for schools, non-profits, and work groups.
Did getting into shape make you a better father? How?
Yes, of course. Together my wife and I prepare well-balanced meals for the kids instead of relying on processed school lunches and fast foods. The girls (now 12 and 9) are little vegan chefs and also prepare plant-based meals for the family, especially when we have guests over. Additionally, I have the energy to expend with them after my workday is over. No longer do I let an excuse supersede our values, which are staying active, eating clean, and energizing our lives.
What are the challenges men face that cause them to lose sight of their health? Do fathers in particular face special challenges in balancing home and work life?
Far too often men continue to rely on the female of the household for shopping, cooking, and meal preparation. If she eats poorly, then most likely so will he. If she eats healthily but is often away, then dad is at a disadvantage if he doesn’t know how to grocery shop or cook. Fit Fathers helps offset these behavioral patterns by providing recipes, nutrition tips, meal plans, etc.
Today you are a physical trainer, active marathoner, and athlete. Can hard-core athletes really be successful without eating meat?
Yes, that’s me. It’s amazing because I could barely run a mile when I was a meat-eating footballer. Keep in mind fruits, veggies, and grains are complex carbohydrates, which are humans’ main source of fuel, converted into glucose to be transported into every cell for energy. What repairs and accelerates the growth of cellular tissue is the macronutrient protein and it’s found in all foods. Beans, for example, provide needed protein, dietary fiber (which the majority of Americans lack), and various vitamins and minerals. Thus, veggies are also comprised of protein so a plant-based diet will never be devoid of any major food group. Moreover, we only need 5 to 10 per cent of our daily caloric intake to stem from proteins. Heard of Scott Jurek? He follows a pure vegan diet and is virtually unbeatable in 100-mile-plus ultra runs.
Can you capsulize your health program in a few words?
Yep! We have two key mantras. “Lead by example so your child becomes the example” and “Eat Clean, Stay Active, and Energize Your Life.”
Why does Meatless Monday appeal to you? How do you incorporate it into your programs?
We love Meatless Monday. It helps people let go of animal protein one step at a time while nourishing their bodies, reducing their carbon footprint, and ultimately giving animals another reason to breathe. Many of my close friends and followers have gone plant-based after starting their lifestyle change with a Meatless Monday. It works!
Readers can follow the Fit Fathers movement at www.FitFathers.com and @FitFathers.
What does it mean to be a hero? In Meatless Monday’s terminology it means having the courage and wherewithal to turn challenge into change. Former marketing and PR exec Gabe Canales did just that. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 35, he set out to discover why and how he got sick, then brought those answers to thousands of men and boys across America. Today he is the founder and president of Blue Cure, an organization that empowers males to embrace an anti-cancer lifestyle, including Meatless Monday, as early as possible. Each year, another 240,000 of our brothers, husbands, and fathers are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Gabe Canales is making sure that number diminishes, one brother at a time. Check out our recent interview with him below.
Gabe, you were diagnosed with prostate cancer at such an early age. It’s usually considered an “old man’s disease.” What was your first reaction?
I thought: “Am I going to die?” I don’t have a family history of prostate cancer so I wondered, “How did I get it?”
What changes did you choose to make in your diet and lifestyle?
I grew up in Texas where I ate lots of Mexican food, smoked barbecue, and country food like chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy. After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a doctor (one of many) in New York asked me to radically alter my dietary habits. So I ditched beef and pork, adopted a mainly plant-based diet with lots of cruciferous vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. I also eliminated dairy and reduced my sugar intake.
I used to drive a big Chevy Tahoe but almost three years ago I got rid of it, bought a bicycle, and made a choice to walk, jog, and bike everywhere in Houston. It was the best decision for me. When it’s raining or if I have to dress in a suit, I’ll take an Uber. In addition, I exercise at the gym five to six days a week for an hour.
What motivated you to start Blue Cure and what’s at the heart of the Blue Cure message?
When I was diagnosed, I got “active” in more ways than one. Here’s a short video about my story:
I started Blue Cure to be the blue side of the women’s pink movement for breast cancer, but for prostate cancer. Most men don’t start thinking about screenings till age 55, but Blue Cure reaches out to men and youth decades before screenings start. The substance behind our blue is education—to empower men, youth. and families with knowledge on ways to prevent, reduce risk, and improve outcomes of those diagnosed with prostate cancer. One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer, one in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer; however, only one in 10 cancers are due to an inherited genetic mutation. There is so much we can do to reduce our risk by changing diet and lifestyle habits, eliminating/reducing exposure to harmful chemicals, managing stress, and sleeping more.
How is Meatless Monday part of your program?
Blue Cure promotes Meatless Monday. That one day of the week has served me and the Blue Cure community well. Most guys and youth I meet love fast food, are big meat eaters, and have very little if any fresh fruits and vegetables. We have to meet people where they are without hitting them over the head with judgment. So I encourage them to consider Meatless Monday as an opportunity to make small changes which will lead to healthier habits. Behavioral modification doesn’t happen overnight and Meatless Monday is a great jump-starter which can lead to bigger changes.
Via Blue Cure, you have started youth sports camps and basketball teams (elementary, junior, and high school levels) across Texas to prevent and reduce prostate cancer through lifestyle changes. Why should youth be thinking so early about prostate cancer and how do you convince them to change their soda-guzzling, sugar-consuming, cigarette-smoking habits?
Youth care about the “NOW,” so we let them know that by adopting healthier habits now, they can positively affect their athletic performance while reducing their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The education is age-appropriate and varies.
Blue Cure promotes physical activity, eating more plants, sleeping more, managing stress, and removing environmental toxins. It’s important we plant these seeds at an earlier age. Young people often give us their attention when they realize we have support from professional boxers, football, basketball, and baseball players. They want to be like them!
What are the obstacles men face (socially, culturally, physically) in eating less meat?
Where I live (Texas), many friends celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions with a steak. A lot of marketing from restaurants and fast food hits us with the message of meat as a reward.
Eating meat is part of our culture and identified with masculinity. We have to change perceptions. In 2012, the first year Blue Cure sponsored a Meatless Monday on a college campus, I made sure that college basketball players were involved in serving the meatless options we offered. The idea was to have more male students line up to try the delicious meatless options.
Again, my encouragement to men and youth is to add fruits and vegetables to each meal. Would it surprise you to know that I’ve spoken with many men on college campuses who share they don’t eat any fruits and vegetables? Start off with Meatless Monday, and on another day, remove it from another meal, and so on. These small changes will lead to bigger changes and soon you will find that you are reducing meat consumption and eating more plants—easily.
You have amazing support from athletes, civic leaders, corporations, major cancer centers, etc. Who are some of these entities and why have they’ve signed on with you?
I believe Blue Cure receives support from a growing number of influencers because they believe in the received support from professional athletes like NFL players JJ Watt, Owen Daniels, Chris Myers, celebrities like Roger Moore, Bob Saget, and Fran Drescher. Our #LightitBlue initiative has received support from cancer centers and hospitals like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Baylor College of Medicine, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Memorial-Hermann Health System in Houston, and others.
I’m grateful for the support we’ve received from professional athletes, celebrities, business, and political leaders, and the growing number of advocates who support our mission.
What’s your next biggest goal?
We just launched our nationwide #LightitBlue initiative, with the goal of “lighting blue” 100 landmarks, city halls, stadiums, and cancer centers for one evening during September’s National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. We are asking supporters to go to LightitBlue.org and nominate a landmark in their city. We will work behind the scenes to secure a commitment. We would also like The White House to “light blue” one evening, just as “The People’s House” has lit up pink one evening during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We must change the conversation with a greater emphasis on prevention. Here’s a recent television interview about #LightitBlue with me and former NFL player and Blue Cure board member Chris Myers.
June is Men’s Health Month, heightening awareness of preventable health problems and encouraging early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. At Meatless Monday, we care about our men–young and old—and we’re excited this month to feature friends and partners who are inspiring others to go meatless at least one day a week in order to create health-driven lifestyles.
Is it manly to go meatless? For years, a “macho” chow-down included a groaning hamburger or a big slab of steak. But these days physicians tell us that meat consumption is associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers. By just going meatless one day a week, you can not only impact your arteries in a positive way, you can even help the planet. And you won’t be alone. Some of our biggest supporters are among the most successful chefs in the world, like Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.
So get on board, celebrate Men’s Health Month on Wear Blue Friday, and check your neighborhood for screenings, health fairs, media appearances, and other health education and outreach activities.
Why? Because you’re our men, and we love you.
Sweep that meat off your grill! This summer, farmer’s markets are bursting with fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables that are perfect for grilling at your Memorial Day blast. But don’t reach for the normal culprits. This holiday sear up some off-road options like charred romaine or grilled kale; they’ll make excellent salad starters. All you’ll need is a simple oil-based dressing. Or, try grilling up some fresh cucumbers; they’ll remain just as crunchy as they are fresh, but perhaps a bit denser. Or, try charred avocados—a delicious standout either alone or with fillings. Sure, you can always grill up old fruit standards like peaches, but why not go nouveau with our recipe for grilled grapes? And for a real Summer crowd-pleaser, char up our delicious watermelon salsa!
Avocado. Sear some tracks in this baby! Start with large ripe Haas avocados, cut in half and remove seeds. With a spoon drizzle with fresh lime or lemon juice and brush lightly with olive oil. Gently place cut side down on grill over hot coals and grill 2-3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Fill with chopped veggies or salsa (see our “Watermelon Salsa” below).
Artichoke. A smoky alternative to steamed. Steam and cook artichoke the day before, until fully tender, but not overly soft. (Cool on rack or prepare the day before and cool in fridge, covered.) When ready, prepare grill for direct, high heat. Brush artichoke with herb-infused oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place halves cut side down on the grates. Cover and grill for 5-10 minutes, until char mark appear on cut side.
Romaine lettuce. Versatile for salads or as sandwich filler. Wash and cut romaine halves. Start with medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat on gas grill to medium-high. Place halves cut side down on grill, and cook about 4 minutes, turning once, until charred and slightly wilted. Transfer lettuce cut side up to a serving platter, and season with salt and pepper; drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.
Red, orange, and/or yellow peppers. Make a tri-color array. Prepare outdoor grill for covered direct grilling on medium. Cut each pepper lengthwise into quarters; discard stems and seeds. In medium bowl, toss peppers with oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper. Place peppers, skin side up, on hot grill rack. Cover grill and cook peppers 4-5 minutes or until beginning to soften. Turn peppers over; cover and cook 3-4 minutes longer or until slightly charred. When done, return to same bowl. Add parsley and toss to coat. Add to salads, or eat as a side dish tossed with onions and chickpeas.
Cucumbers. Still crispy, but with a dense bite. Slice English (seedless) cucumbers lengthwise in half, scoop out centers, then cut into spears. Place on a plate and sprinkle with salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse, drain, and pat dry, then toss with a bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Grill the spears, alongside a green onion or two, over medium heat about 2 minutes per side. Toss with rice vinegar, sliced green onions, thinly sliced red or green jalapeño, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Top with sesame seeds.
Grilled Kale. Crisp, smoky, and addictively delicious. Remove stems, leaving large leaves. In a large bowl, toss leaves with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place leaves on grill, cover, and cook until bottom sides are lightly charred, about 2 minutes. Flip leaves, cover grill, and cook until other side is lightly charred, about 1 minute longer. Remove kale from grill and set aside to cool. Add feta cheese crumbles or pine nuts, if desired
Portobello Mushrooms. Plush and filling—a delicious alternative to meat. Wash, remove the stems, then brush with 1 tsp. oil. Grill 15 minutes per side. Eat alone or use as sandwich filler.
Grapes. Healthy alternative to traditional sides. Prepare outdoor grills for covered, direct grilling on medium. Wash, then place grapes, broken into clusters (for ease of handling) on hot grill grate. Cover grill and cook 4-5 minutes until grapes begin to char and soften, turning occasionally.
Watermelon. Bring out the hidden caramel flavor. For Watermelon Salsa, brush wedges (keep rind on for easier handling) with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, about 2 minutes per side, until grill marks appear. Cut off and discard rinds, then dice into small pieces. Toss gently with minced red onion, some fresh lime juice, finely chopped mint, and a pinch of cayenne. Serve, topped with crumbled feta cheese, if desired, with pita chips.
The 2016 Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and Meatless Monday Recipe Contest just announced the winners of their annual contest for teenage chefs. This year the challenge was: “get the beef off their buns” and create the best veggie burger on the block.
High school students from seven C-CAP markets participated, and some of the best chefs in America judged, including Rick Bayless, Chris Feldmeier, Scott Uehlein, and Jason Weiner, along with Meatless Monday’s recipe editor Diana Rice, RD.
C-CAP, the nonprofit organization that runs the annual contest, kicked off the campaign last fall by introducing teen chefs from around the country to the Meatless Monday public health campaign, which encourages everyone to start each week with a healthy, meatless meal.
Winners beat out thousands of their high school peers from across the country with recipes you could place in any good restaurant. According to the judges, this year’s impressive ingredients ranged from unexpected fillings of kale, spinach, falafel, sun-dried tomatoes, tofu, and beets to a rich array of exotic spices.
This year’s Grand Prize Winner of the C-CAP Meatless Monday $5,000 scholarship is Eubene Kim, a 12th grader from Chatsworth Charter High School, Los Angeles, for his “Taste of Korea” kimchi tofu burger.
And new this year, C-CAP and Meatless Monday awarded $2,000 scholarships to six recipe contest finalists from each of the C-CAP markets. This way, all seven C-CAP markets have a winner!
One of those scholarship winners, Tyler Ramos, currently a senior at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, NY, worked with her teacher Chef David Schwartz to come up with an Italian-style burger infused with rosemary, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes. She also incorporated red potatoes and white kidney beans for protein. Try her veggie burger recipe just in time for summer!
Says Chef Rick Bayless, one of the Chicago judges: “Even having a contest like this shows the giant leaps forward we’re making when it comes to good food. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see young people taking up the mantle of healthy eating. The experience of judging filled me with all kinds of hope.”
The $2,000 scholarship winners are:
Juliet Auld, Mountain View High School, Tucson. “Falafel, Spinach, Feta and Sundried Tomato Veggie Burger with Homemade Tzatziki Sauce”
Aliyah Taylor, South Shore International College Prep. “Smoked Chipotle Rice Burger”
HAMPTON ROADS, VA
Reece Conwell, Woodrow Wilson High School. “Spicy TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) on a Toasted Onion Bun”
NEW YORK CITY
Tyler Ramos, Tottenville High School, Staten Island. “Sundried Tomato Patty”
Nyshiera Jones, Randolph Career and Technical High School. “Beet Burger with Asian Slaw”
WASHINGTON, DC/PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MARYLAND
Jasmine Blackwell, Cross Lane High School, MD. “Kale Burger”
We here at Meatless Monday love chickpeas. And what’s not to love? A great source of protein and high in fiber, magnesium and folate, these naturally gluten-free legumes are loved across the globe for their nut-like taste and buttery texture. In its newest rendition, the versatile chickpea is used to make pasta, and we sat down with the founders of Banza to see how they came up with “pasta that loves you back”.
MM: What was your initial inspiration to eat more nutritiously? Health, sustainability? Did you grow up with healthy cooking/eating as a family or did you become interested in it later on?
Brian: Growing up, I was a picky eater – I didn’t venture far away from chicken nuggets and bagels. After college I started paying closer attention to the way I ate, and noticed a real difference in how I felt. I began to focus my attention on food and nutrition. Now I’m the guy who stays up late reading food science books and thinking about our next innovation.
MM: How did you get the idea to use chickpeas as your starter food? Why pasta?
Brian: I’m a huge fan of chickpeas. They’re delicious and a staple of the mediterranean diet. Meanwhile, I love pasta. If I could, I would eat it every day. But durum wheat doesn’t have a ton of nutritional value. So I bought a hand crank and started making chickpea pasta in my own kitchen! I figured I wasn’t alone – other people also must be craving a better pasta. So I recruited my big brother Scott, who was working in private equity at the time, to co-found the business with me. And we’ve been chickpea dreamin’ ever since!
MM: Tell us about some of your creative failures creating the pasta and your final ah-hah moment?
Scott: Early on, we realized why chickpea pasta didn’t already exist. It’s really hard to make! We worked with pasta experts, and still weren’t satisfied. We finally found the right plant, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into production, and landed our first big order. But our initial attempt fell short of our expectations. We lost a fair amount of time and money, but the challenge motivated us to spend every waking hour researching, testing and perfecting. We’ll never stop obsessing over making our product better.
MM: What’s the feedback you hear from people about your product?
Scott: When we’re sampling our pasta in stores or at events, we get to meet our customers, which is incredibly rewarding. We love watching people take a bite, and be shocked to discover Banza is made from chickpeas. Since day one, we’ve made a commitment to building a brand that’s personal – one that people can meet and get to know.
MM: What’s your favorite chickpea pasta recipe of all the time and can you share the recipe with us?
That’s like making a parent choose a favorite child! Mac & cheese is a team favorite. We also love this avocado cream with herbs!
MM: Do you have plans for other products with chickpeas or other ingredients?
Brian: Right now we’re focusing on pasta – we’ll be launching a high protein mac & cheese soon! But yes, our mission is to take the foods that people love and make them better, by using more nutritious ingredients. I’m continually experimenting in my kitchen – making better versions of the foods we don’t want to give up – from cereal to tortillas. Stay tuned.
MM: What advice can you give our readers about how to live a healthier and more sustainable life – besides eating Banza chickpea pastas?!
Everyone’s different, but everything in moderation. You don’t need to give up all the foods you love to eat well. There are a lot of options out there that are healthy, simple substitutions for everyday foods, and healthy is much more sustainable over time if it’s done without sacrifice.
For a city once enamored with hot sausage sandwiches, pierogis, and 25-cent wings specials, Pittsburgh has just made a huge leap. Understanding the impact that reducing meat consumption has on sustainability, the environment, and public health, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has recently signed an official proclamation recognizing every Monday in 2016 as Meatless Monday! This comes on the heels of a Meatless Monday proclamation in November of 2015.
Pittsburgh now joins millions around the globe in the Meatless Monday initiative founded by Sid Lerner and Johns Hopkins University to promote cutting out meat one day a week. As part of the city’s Live Well Pittsburgh program, the proclamation has given added boost not only for locals to think more about wellness but also for chefs to get more creative.
Although Meatless Monday first kicked off in 2003, most Pittsburghers hadn’t been aware of it. To change that, a small group of dedicated citizens, including Leila Sleiman of Justice for Animals, Natalie Ahwesh of Humane Action Pittsburgh, and Christin Bummer of Beans not Bambi, gathered together to inspire more veg options in mainstream restaurants as well as at cafeterias in schools, universities, and hospitals throughout the Steel City. Already on board is an impressive group of partners, including Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and Live Well Allegheny (a county-wide initiative to educate residents about making healthier lifestyle choices). The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Passavant, continually recognized as one of “America’s Best Hospitals,” now features Meatless Monday options and other affiliates are expected to follow.
In September, 2016, schools in Mt. Lebanon are also planning to launch Meatless Monday.
Though Pittsburgh had generally been a meat-and-pierogi kind of town, thousands of Pittsburghers did show up for the city’s first annual Pittsburgh VegFest in August, and more are expected this summer for 2016! “Pittsburgh is a progressive city, says Sleiman. So many people are ready to make changes, and want to be healthier and more environmentally friendly- they just didn’t know where to start.”
Some Pittsburgh restaurants have already welcomed the proclamation with inventive expertise. Mexi-Casa, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Dormont, long devoted to fresh and healthy ingredients, has initiated a new Meatless Monday menu loaded with vegetarian and vegan options. Café Phipps, located at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and recognized by Food & Wine magazine as one of the “Best Museum Restaurants,” has added Meatless Monday options to its already local, organic, and sustainable menu, featuring vegetables and herbs from its own rooftop garden.
The Meatless Monday Pittsburgh Facebook page regularly showcases other local restaurants bursting with Meatless Monday creativity. Some of the best, offered at the Chateau Cafe & Cakery, include: the “Berry Manilow,” a triple berry compote with toasted almonds and Brie cheese options on sweet onion bread, and the “Brussel Crowe,” a panini packed with shaved Brussel sprouts and caramelized onions. Who said Pittsburghers can’t combine healthy and humor?
“We want to make it as easy as possible for our fellow citizens to live compassionate, healthful lives,” Ahwesh says. “It just seemed like the right time to introduce it citywide. We are so happy the Mayor was supportive.”