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Eat your plants - finding ways to eat lower on the food chain

Sustainable food expert and author Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) encourages people to “eat food, not too much, and mostly plants.” This sounds good, but images of giraffes nibbling on leaves, koalas crunching on eucalyptus trees, or cattle grazing on alfalfa may come to mind. So if vegetation is so great for human beings to consume – how can we realistically eat more plants and actually enjoy it?

Longtime Boulderites Lester Karplus and Karna Knapp have plenty of ideas. They are the co-creators of Delectable Planet, a comprehensive, informational and user friendly website to help people learn how to prepare, eat and enjoy a wide variety of healthy, sustainable and plant-based foods. Their mission is “to encourage people to eat lower on the food chain to support environmental sustainability, increase social justice, and be healthy.” They also encourage eating whole, natural foods and avoiding highly processed foods with sugar or chemical additives such as monosodium glutamate.

Over the past few years, Karplus and Knapp have traveled the world and visited South America, Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South Korea. Their travels were highly insightful because they got a firsthand view of how people of different cultures prepared and consumed foods.

“The realization that people were adopting the American diet all over the world was really starting to drive us crazy,” Karplus said. “From Africa to Asia, people think it’s great to become like Americans, and the cornerstone of this is eating an animal-based diet. We saw that people were shifting from a traditional plant centered diet to an animal-based one.”

Karplus said they began working on the concept for Delectable Planet in 2007 after reading the report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “This is a phenomenal study about the impact of animal production throughout the world,” Karplus said. “It’s very thorough with a lot of good information.”

Karplus and Knapp wanted to “help make the planet a better place,” and decided to create simple cooking videos that would show how to work with plant-based recipes. They started out by creating about 24 videos that went out over the internet on YouTube, and in the process, ifood.tv picked them up. This resulted in “more than 400,000 viewings over the course of the year,” Karplus said.

They quickly realized many people were interested in the subject and decided they could make their biggest impact by creating their own website. “We realized we should just put our efforts into helping people eat lower on the food chain,” Knapp said. So they returned to the United States to create Delectable Planet and found a beautiful log cabin in Nederland, CO with a newly renovated kitchen that would be ideal as a part-time television studio.

Currently there are 53 cooking videos and more than 60 different recipes on Delectable Planet. Chocolate silk pie, whole wheat bread, mushroom gravy, egg-less egg salad, avocado pine nut salad, veggie sandwiches, tempeh stir fry, mint lemonade, and muffins are just some of the many foods featured on the website.

Knapp, who presents information in a clear and easy to understand way, is the primary chef/host for the cooking videos, and Karplus handles production. He films her making the foods and then edits the footage and uploads it to the website. The videos are only a few minutes long and provide a visual and simple way to teach viewers how to prepare the food. Recipes, information, cooking utensils and helpful tips are provided for each recipe. “Our goal is to have about 200 cooking videos by the end of 2010,” Karplus said. “We also encourage other people in the community to send in recipes and host videos.”

Delectable Planet also provides a means for people to purchase cookbooks and kitchen tools related to plant-based food preparation, as well as a wide range of natural and organic plant-based foods including items such as baking supplies, beans, condiments, flours, grains, nuts & seeds, spices and vegetable oils.

Karplus became a vegetarian in the ‘70s and raised his children as vegetarians. He believes it’s impossible to feed the world on an animal-based diet and says he has never felt okay that too many people on the planet go to bed hungry.

Knapp, who is a modern dancer and self-taught cook, converted to a plant-based diet in 2005. She has spent a great deal of time learning how to develop recipes and eat nutritiously without meat and dairy products. She likens eating a plant-based diet to a grassroots movement and says it’s a “fabulous way to make a statement and change the world on individual level.”

Karplus and Knapp have chosen not to use the terms “vegetarian” or “vegan” on Delectable Planet. “In mainstream culture, people sometimes see the concept of vegetarianism as being exclusionary or elitist, so we’re using the word “plant-based” because we’re really talking about something that people already do - it’s just that we want them to do more of it,” Karplus said. “Everybody eats plants in some way or another; it’s just the degree that they do it to help themselves and the planet.

Over the next year Karplus and Knapp are teaming up with individuals from the Cancer Project, which is based on the work of Dr. Neal Barnard, the founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Karplus and Knapp are now in the process of starting to produce more than 100 recipes from the Cancer Project cookbook, The Cancer Survivor’s Guide: Foods that Help You Fight Back!. Katherine Lawrence, an instructor for the Cancer Project Food for Life cooking class, will host the cooking videos.

 

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