“Green” expert Blair Seibert will present a workshop on plant-based living in Culver City Saturday, Jan. 20, so we spoke to her to find out what we can expect…
CULVER CITY NEWS: WHAT WILL THE EVENT IN CULVER CITY ON JAN. 20 COVER? WHO IS IT FOR?
Blair Seibert: The workshop will be fun and interactive. We’ll be talking about the advantages of plant-based diets and the ways to start adjusting to them. Hands on exercises will help relieve some of the typical fears: How do I get enough protein? And How do I live with a family of meat eaters?
I’ll offer tips and tricks for dealing with new foods and share ways to simplify life in the kitchen with “no recipe” meals. We’ll talk about the eight foods you should be eating every day to make life healthy without having to spend time calculating your nutrients and calories.
I’ve been testing recipes for months to find the best vegan comfort food replacements. Some samples will be available to taste. I’m going to provide a list of my favorite recipes and inspiring and educational resources.
The workshop is for anyone who has thought about reducing or eliminating meat from their diet and wants to learn how to do it. In addition, I hope that people take it as an opportunity to share their stories and connect with others striving to be healthier and compassionate.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE WHEN TRYING TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO ESSENTIALLY GO VEGAN?
There are three reasons to eliminate animal products from a diet: #1 To improve health. #2 To reduce environmental impacts and #3, To improve the lives of animals and the people who live in communities where animals are raised. If people don’t care about any of those issues, then I don’t spend any time trying to convince them of anything. If on the other hand someone cares about any, some or all of those issues, then there are many facts I can share that support the benefits of a whole foods plant-based vegan diet. When people are interested in exploring a new plant-based diet, there are some common concerns that I had myself. The #1 concern is where they get their protein. Once I understood how to obtain protein from plants, beans and legumes, I was able to relax and experiment. That’s what I want to help them with. #2 is often concern about the availability or cost of the food. These are easily answered and will be discussed at length on the 20th.
HOW CAN YOU COMBAT THOSE WHO JUST “CAN’T GIVE UP BACON” OR “CHEESE?”
I totally understand their feelings. I was one of those people who LOVED cheese and still salivate when I smell bacon. Fortunately going “vegan” is not as difficult as it used to be. There are actually vegan bacons and vegan cheeses that are pretty tasty. What’s most interesting and hard for people to understand is that once you begin increasing the plants and vegetables in your diet, your palate changes. The rich, fatty foods you were accustomed to become less appealing once you try them again and they cause you digestive problems.
WHAT ARE THE OVERRIDING HEALTH BENEFITS?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that people who reduce and/or eliminate animal products from their diets have a lower risk of death from Coronary Artery Disease, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of type 2 diabetes and rates of hypertension and lower overall cancer rates. In addition, scientists have found that vegetarians eating a broad base of plant foods have stronger immune systems.
Some wonderful books like Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn’s “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” and Dr. Joel Furhman’s “Eat To Live” demonstrate how plant-based diets actually cured heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines and acne. When people are no longer taking the six to a dozen pills they are taking each day for medical conditions, it’s very inspiring!
HOW DID YOU GET TO BE INVOLVED, COMING FROM AN ARCHITECTURE BACKGROUND?
My mother will tell you that I was an environmentalist at the age of ten when I asked her to start recycling. This was back in Oklahoma in the 70s. No one recycled then. For the past fifteen years my architectural practice has focused on reducing the impacts of buildings on the environment. While teaching courses on sustainable and green design and energy efficiency, I reinforced over and over that everything in the world is connected to each other. Every decision we make, whether it’s to use disposable bags or buy organic vegetables, affects other people and other parts of the world.
Two years ago I had a serious health condition requiring surgery. Prior to the procedure, I had extensive blood work. Much to my surprise, I learned that I had high cholesterol and an A1c level that was perilously close to being diabetic. I also had a hearing problem that I learned was caused by too much salt in my diet. I’m not able to consume more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium a day without having problems. That’s half the suggested daily allowance for most people. While I thought I was eating healthily, I ate out a lot and consumed lots of ice cream, chocolate and cheese.
About that same time the City of Santa Monica sponsored a free screening of the movie Cowspiracy; The Sustainability Secret. I was teaching at SMC at the time and was invited. I was surprised to learn about the environmental damage factory farming had on the earth and surrounding communities. When I found myself closing my eyes during the part of the film where they showed the living conditions of the animals and the trauma to humans and animals during the slaughtering process, I knew I couldn’t continue to support that practice. I decided that night to work my way into a vegan/ plant-based lifestyle gradually over 30 days.
It’s funny when I think back on it now because prior to that night, I only knew a few vegans and thought of them as very restricted and deprived. As soon as I had my reasons for eliminating animal products from my diet, it seemed very natural to live without them. Not restrictive at all. The vegans I’ve met since I began are quite loving. That’s part of the reason many are vegans!
AS A VEGAN, FINDING RESTAURANTS CAN BE TOUGH. (AND SOMETIMES, NO MATTER HOW CONVENIENT THE MEAL IS, YOU DON’T EVEN WANT TO WALK INTO THE KITCHEN. WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
Oh contrar! There are dozens of vegan restaurants in Los Angeles and thousands around the world. HappyCow.net is your source for vegan restaurants around the planet. Almost every restaurant has something on the menu that can become a meal for a vegan, especially ethnic restaurants like Mexican, Thai and Chinese. Even Marie Calendar’s has a veggie burger and salad bar.
The smartest traditional restaurant owners are providing separate menus or highlighting their vegan fare. If there’s nothing on the menu, all you have to do is ask about changes and substitutions. With the removal of cheese, a Mediterranean salad or bean burrito become vegan in a second.
I understand the desire for convenience but find that the amount of sodium in even the vegan restaurants food can be very high. That’s when a well-stocked pantry, freezer full of prepared foods and a crockpot come in handy. We’ll be talking about how to get a meal prepared in a matter of minutes if you’ve done bulk cooking and freezing. It’s really kind of fun and something the whole family can enjoy.
DO MEAT EATERS EVER ATTEND YOUR TALKS, AND CONVERT?
Again, unless someone has a reason to consider giving up meat, I don’t expect them to attend my talks. I’ve heard of many examples where a partner is vegan and sets an example of health and joy with food that is attractive to their meat-eating partner and/or family. Of course having delicious plant-based foods for others to eat helps sell the idea.
Attendees will taste samples of my two favorite comfort foods: Spaghetti and Meatless Balls and Chocolate Chip Cookies. When I offered the spaghetti and meatless balls to my meat-eating boyfriend recently, he couldn’t get over their delicious taste. Throughout the meal he kept asking me what they were made of. This is what I want to encourage others to do in the workshop. Find recipes that are so good and healthy that your family won’t even care if there isn’t any meat in them.
For real meat lovers there are meat substitutes and some great vegan cookbooks just for meat lovers like Roberto Martin’s “Vegan Cooking For Carnivores.”
WHAT’S A REASONABLE FIRST MOVE FOR THOSE LOOKING TO CONVERT?
First you need to know WHY you are changing your eating patterns. If you don’t have a good reason, there are going to be many challenges as your taste buds adjust and people around you are less than encouraging. Once you have your WHY, I encourage people to start more frequently eating the foods they already like that are vegan until they find some suitable replacements. Using protein powders in smoothies each day is a way to eliminate some of the anxiety about lack of protein.
You may want instead to eliminate one animal product at a time. Have fun in the kitchen and find recipes to replace your favorite comfort foods.
Plant-based milks, yogurts and cheeses were things I began experimenting with first. Of course ice cream was important to me, so in addition to eating sorbet, I visited Van Leeuwen’s here in Culver City and found many plant-based milk ice creams at grocery stores. Even Ben and Jerry’s has seven flavors of vegan ice cream and has promised more!
One of the things I’ll be giving attendees is the recipes to some of my favorite things: easy hamburgers, those spaghetti and meatless balls and chocolate chip cookies they’ll be tasting and berry cobbler. I’m hoping that by starting with those, it may help them have some early wins in their household that will encourage them to go further.
Becoming plant based isn’t just about eliminating things. It’s about squeezing out the bad so you can make more room for the good! Give yourself time. Adding more plants in your diet offers big benefits for your health, the environment and animals.
“Introduction to Plant-Based Living” takes place at 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the Presbyrerian Church; 11269 Washington Blvd., Culver City.