Thank you for stopping by! This blog is full of recipes and information on how to eat a plant-based diet that is free of added salt, oil and sugar. My focus is not only on consuming a vegan diet (avoiding animal foods and ingredients), but one that actually *promotes* excellent health. Toward this, my recipes are based on whole foods (still in their naturally grown state) except for a handful of minimally processed foods used for convenience (such as canned beans, frozen produce, non-dairy milks). I often note substitutions to lower fat, and all recipes are gluten-free. Recipes are easy to prepare and call for ingredients that are easy to find. For more information, read on!
Who are you?
I am a culinary instructor at two health centers in Santa Rosa, California: the McDougall Program and TrueNorth Health. I started working at the McDougall Program in 2006 and TrueNorth in 2010. I also give classes at veg-related conferences and for private groups. I started this blog in 2010 to offer my students more of my gluten-, salt-, sugar- and oil-free plant-based recipes. It is now read by people from all corners of the globe who are seeking a more healthful way of eating.
I made a serious commitment in 1999 at age 32 to begin changing how I ate, and have continued to learn and fine-tune my diet in the years since. I have a certification in basic nutrition, and am a self-taught chef, having learned on the job at both of the above centers, and putting in countless hours in my kitchen, honing my cooking skills and reading all I could about cooking and food. I also take every opportunity to attend other vegan chefs’ cooking classes to continue my learning. I absolutely love what I do and am so thankful to be doing it. To read more about my professional path to becoming a chef, click here.
Who is this blog for?
This blog is for anyone interested in shifting to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and it’s especially for you if (1) your health has been in the dumps for a while and you’re ready to try a new approach, (2) if you’re a parent who is concerned about raising your family in today’s world of overly engineered and processed foods, or (3) if you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for a while but want to clean up your diet even further.
What kind of vegan chef are you?
I consider myself a whole-foods vegan chef. This means that I do not use many of the packaged and processed foods you may have seen in some vegan cookbooks and restaurants, such as foods that look like meat but are soy- or wheat/gluten-based (like hotdogs, burgers, Tofurkey). I also avoid vegan mayonnaise, vegan cream cheese, and plant-based butters (made from soy and olive oil). These products are often stepping stones for people transitioning from the standard American diet to a vegan diet, but I don’t recommend them long-term since so many of them are highly processed and full of salt, sugar, oil and other unhealthy fats, chemicals, preservatives and/or other ingredients that do not promote health.
Do you have a cookbook?
I am working on a cookbook. To be notified of when the book is out, please subscribe to my mailing list here. I will keep folks on my mailing list updated as it gets closer to completion. Thank you for your interest and support!
Do you ever eat unhealthy foods?
When I’m cooking for myself, at home or for others, I keep it as healthy as possible. When I go to a restaurant or function where there will be non-healthy food (which is a given), I will do my best to choose and order foods that align with my healthy way of eating (or eat before I go). I actually eat out a lot less than I used to, and I don’t miss it; I much prefer my own food. Once in a blue moon I will eat something that I usually don’t that contains oil, sugar and/or salt. But the longer I avoid these and other foods/ingredients, the cleaner my body becomes, and even when I’m tempted by something I typically avoid that’s loaded with salt, sugar, or oil, it’s easier for me to pass it up because (1) my brain isn’t addicted to it anymore (since I’m not eating it on a regular basis), and (2) it feels really, really good to exercise respect for my body and keep it in top running condition. I never eat animal foods, however, because not only are animal foods health-harming to humans, they harm animals, obviously, and I don’t want to be a supporter of animal suffering in any way.
Why do you eat this way?
I and many others eat a whole foods, low-fat, plant-based diet because we have done our homework (boy, have we!) and have learned from our reading as well as our personal experiences that it can provide us with incredibly good health and vitality, and in a way that is delicious, sustainable and utterly enjoyable. If you are just starting out, you may be skeptical, but after a while your taste buds will adapt and you will be thoroughly excited about diving into a baked potato with hummus and steamed vegetables. Trust me!
Dismissing the connections between food and health has led our nation down a dangerous road, resulting in sickness and discomfort for so many. Our food choices took a turn during the 1950’s when food industrialists decided to manipulate whole foods from their natural forms. Corn became corn syrup, wheat became Wheaties, and potatoes became artery-clogging French fries.
We became increasingly sick and overweight as we ate more and more of these new, fast and fabulous foods. The more we ate, the more our bodies yelled at us, in the form of pain and discomfort, and the harder it was for us to pass up these unusually high-calorie, hyper-stimulating foods. When we give the human body its favorite whole foods—those that it has shown to run most effectively on, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts/seeds—and leave out the things that aren’t health-promoting (animal foods, oil, sugar, salt, and other ingredients we often find on a food label), we are rewarded with vibrant physical health.
It’s easy to become deceived about the negative effects of food since we are able to eat most anything without immediate discomfort. But even if you cannot feel the negative effects of your diet right away, your body can, as it struggles to compensate for running on the wrong fuel. Imagine if you poured sand into your washing machine instead of laundry detergent; it would still go through the motions, but your clothes would not get very clean, and at some point the washing machine would plug up and make funny noises. Eventually it would stop working all together. Like the washing machine, your body will begin screaming at you in various ways (we call these “symptoms”), urging you to change something you’re doing that is making it hard for it to function correctly.
Most people wait until the screams get unbearable before they consider making dietary and lifestyle changes. Before this point, they may have tried medication to quell their body’s troubles. But while medication may calm things for a while, it does nothing to address the underlying cause or root of the problem, and most often introduces a whole new set of problems in the form of side-effects. Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can be your path to avoiding this misery and discomfort.
Have you ever been overweight?
It’s a valid question for a skinny cooking teacher I suppose. I think people are hoping I’ll reply, “Yes, very, and now look at me!” But the unexciting truth is I’ve never been very overweight. I lost about 15 pounds over the course of going plant-based. I don’t own a scale, but when I’m at my parents’ house I weigh myself, and my weight rarely fluctuates. I’m surprised, especially since I eat a lot of food. This is where my body wants me to be so it can provide me with optimum health. Everyone’s healthy weight will be different. I did not get into this way of eating for weight-loss reasons, but because I am very sensitive to dairy foods. When I discovered that alternatives existed, my health changed immediately, and as I continued to learn and incorporate healthier eating into my life, the small weight-loss that I experienced was a very natural by-product of these actions.
What motivates you to stick with a healthy diet?
For many people, after exploring the link between food and nutrition, their reading and interest in plant-based eating naturally leads them to the discovery of how animals suffer to become our food, whether they are cows raised for beef or dairy, pigs, chickens, ducks, goats or fish. Most live a very unnatural existence of separation: from their natural diet and environment, from their animal families and communities, and from any possibility of living a happy life free of exploitation.
As an animal lover, learning the painful truth about what animals go through to become our food was heartbreaking to me. While I had obviously known that bacon came from pigs and steak from cows, I rarely gave the farm animals, and their lives before they were killed, much thought. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, and I no longer buy animal foods or products, which is one of the most powerful ways that we can all stand up to animal cruelty. If you would like to learn more about farm animals and how they are raised, I recommend a film called Peaceable Kingdom.
After learning how our food choices could so negatively affect humans and animals, I also discovered how industrialized farming has taken a tremendous toll on our natural environment. Earth’s precious forestlands are being clear-cut on a daily basis to make room for cattle grazing, which is absurd since many more people could be fed and fewer resources used by growing and harvesting plants instead of animals. Additionally, our oceans are in peril due to pollution and over-fishing.
Whether you are led to eating a plant-based diet because of your health, because you love animals, or because you value the environment—or all three—it is important to understand that how we eat affects everything. And like a delicate spider’s web, it is all connected, with the whole at its best when the pieces are in harmony. How we choose to live our lives creates a ripple effect: after touching us, our choices impact those around us, and ultimately shapes our communities and the entire planet.
How did you become a plant-based chef?
As is the case with many other people, it was my health, specifically my intolerance to dairy foods, which caused me painful stomach aches as a kid and into adulthood. Once I determined that dairy foods were the culprit, I became very interested in the relationship between food and health, which snowballed into a full-blown hobby as I devoured books, DVDs, and websites, and attended lectures and cooking classes. I also took a 10-month-long course on nutrition and eventually got jobs working at two nearby health facilities that advocated a plant-based diet. I am a self-taught chef who has learned through extensive reading, watching other vegan chefs, and most importantly, just jumping in and cooking in my own kitchen. For a more detailed read about my professional path to becoming a plant-based chef, click here.
Where did the name “Straight Up Food” come from?
When I was finishing up my nutrition certification, our final project required us to come up with a fictitious business and I came up with “Straight Up Food” as my business name. To me, it meant presenting food information that was honest, open, clearly stated, and easy to understand, with recipes that were easy to make. Also, it sounded grabby and different. When it came time to choose a domain name for my website, I thoroughly brainstormed names that sounded more professional and mainstream; but I couldn’t come up with anything I liked better than “Straight Up Food,” and now I love it!
Subscribing to the Newsletter:
In the upper left-hand corner of any page on this blog you can sign up for the free newsletter (or click here), which I send out about once a month and includes my newest recipes and articles, and any other news that’s going on with me and StraightUpFood.com. (Here is a past newsletter if you’d like to see an example). If you have any problems signing up for the newsletter, feel free to email me.
Thank you for reading the blog and for your support! I appreciate it so much, and love hearing from everyone around the world! Thank you!