In Conversation with Elysabeth Alfano – A New Way of Eating

Elisabeth Alfano on the Culinary Stage

Elysabeth Alfano is usually heard on WGN in Chicago, but I first heard her on another station.  I caught a snippet of an interview where she talked about dairy foods being problematic. I had heard this previously and wanted to learn more. I contacted Alfano and received an immediate and enthusiastic reply.  I was intrigued with the new information and believed it would also interest Splash Magazine Worldwide readers.  I hope you, our reader, will find this information of value.

Elysabeth Alfano at WGN

What was it that initially interested you in a plant-based diet?

Since I can remember, I had a nagging feeling that eating animals didn’t align with my values.  I would see happy cows on TV and then see animals in horrible conditions on farms (of all types, not just factory farms.)  Even as a kid, I knew something was wrong. However, I didn’t know what to do about it.  Growing up in the Midwest, meat was everywhere.  So, I tried to just avoid it, always ordering the vegetarian option.  There is something great that happens with age: you feel empowered to no longer do what everyone else does just because everyone does it.  So, I made a decision to no longer eat meat or dairy.  Yet, I kept putting off starting this new way of eating because I was struggling to put the right structure in place for myself to succeed at parties, restaurants, etc.  Then, my nephew, who is an athlete, came home from the University of Oregon and said that his coach told him to not eat meat or dairy in order to stay fit.  BOOM! I was plant-based mid-sentence.  Hearing someone else declare it so simply: meat and dairy aren’t good for you helped it all crystalize in my mind.  I couldn’t go plant-based fast enough.  I started January 1, 2016. 

When did you begin reporting on these issues?

In 2016 I was still interviewing celebrities but felt that I didn’t want to interview anyone that wasn’t putting out 100% positive energy into the world for something good.  I tried to focus my interviews on celebs who were doing some kind of charity. Naturally, I was drawn to celebs that were involved with animal and environmental organizations, so I just started to interview more and more of them until I began to specialize in interviewing the influences and leaders in the plant-based movement (celebs, doctors, politicians, environmentalists, musicians, athletes, influencers, economists, entrepreneurs, investors) on my Awesome Vegans Podcast and Video Series.  By throwing myself into this field which covers so many arenas: health, environment, politics, finance, innovation, culture, I quickly became an expert speaking on TV, radio stations and summits across the nation on the physical, mental, emotional and financial benefits of a plant-based diet. 

Elysabeth Alfano at WGN

This field was very “far out” at one point.  How would you explain the changes in this view?

The exponential growth in the plant-based movement is nothing short of stupefying.  Grub Hub’s Plant-based orders are up 25%. Plant-based meat sales are up 23%. Plant-based yogurt is up 55%. Plant-based ice cream is up 40%. Plant-based creamer is up 62%. The Beyond Meat IPO this year, which was the most successful IPO since 2008, has economists in awe.  The Impossible Whopper launched in Burger King in Missouri (not LA or NYC) and sales in St. Louis were up 28% (compared to McDonald’s in the same area, same time.) KFC launched a plant-based burger in London and sales were 500% higher than expected and month-long supplies sold out in 4 days.  Plant-based meat options in restaurants is up over 250%…where do I stop? This list of breaking records is endless. 

Elysabeth Alfano prepares a vegan treat

I attribute this change to the following reasons. 

  1. People are starting to understand that meat and dairy are not health foods. 
  2. People are starting to make the connection that animal agriculture comes at the price of their own environmental security. 
  3. Millennials want to align their purchasing power with their values and don’t want to support factory farms. 
  4. Food innovation technology is allowing products to be extremely similar in taste and price.  So, if the plant-based options are good for you, the environment, and animals and it tastes the same and costs the same…why not?  

What is/are the best resource/s for exploring reasons to adopt a plant-based diet?

I can’t say enough about the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible MedicineNutritionFacts.org and Switch For Good. And of course, check out my plant-based recipes

Are there any guidelines available for individuals wanting to begin a plant-based diet?

My recommendation is to start slow. You don’t have to go from zero to 100 in a day.  I started by cutting out meat and dairy but not fish or honey.  Then about six months in, I cut out all fish, but not shellfish. Then I cut out shellfish and honey. However, I suggest starting slower than that.  Try no meat and dairy every other day at first.  There are some great starter kits from the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine and Veganauary and I highly recommend them.  And of course, visit my recipe page for healthy, tasty recipes like Eggplant-Mushroom Meatballs, Kung Pao Chick’n, Stuffed Peppers, Asparagus Potato Casserole and more.  

The funny thing is that when I went plant-based I wondered what I would eat.  Now that I am plant-based I realized that when I was eating meat and dairy, I was really cheating myself because my choices were so limited: Ham and cheese sandwiches all the time. I was ignoring the plethora of choices available to me like sweet potato, black beans, eggplant, zucchini, quinoa, lentils, bok choy and so, so much more. I rarely had any of these things before. I just stayed in my meat and dairy lane.  It was really boring.  

Note: Elysabeth uses the Happy Cow ap to find plant-based restaurants.

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and his partner Chloe Mendel and Elysabeth Alfano

What kind of diet did you grow up with?

Meat and potatoes, with the occasional casserole and taco.  While I loved anything that hid the taste of meat (taco seasoning!), I fought eating straight meat head on.  I didn’t like to chew anything that felt like muscle and not eating large quantities of meat or much dairy for most of my life, even before I was plant-based, is what I attribute to feeling and looking younger than my age. I’m 52 and we just did the Grand Canyon – all the way down and all the way – in one day.  I truly believe that a plant-based diet has me Aging Backwards.

The few times I have gone off of a plant-based diet, I was so ill that I have no desire to ever go back to eating meat or dairy. Life is just too short to feel that awful. 

What are three major benefits of a totally vegan diet and removing dairy from one’s diet?

Dairy is the source of so much discomfort and disease for so many.  Firstly, most African Americans and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant, as are many other people. In fact, 65% of people, according the National Institute of Health are dairy intolerant. Cutting out dairy can help you feel so much better.  Secondly, dairy causes mucus which is a main symptom asthma. For many people, cutting out dairy helps them with asthma, as well as acne. Finally, dairy has been linked to ovarian cancer, and who needs that risk? 

Are there situations where a vegan diet is not recommended?

There might be. I don’t know of any. Of course, everyone has to listen to their own body.  I would also say listen to your doctor; but, remember that doctors get VERY little nutrition in medical school. It isn’t part of the curriculum. In order to make sure that any kind of diet is right for you, it is best to seek out a dietician. 

Is there any special information regarding supplements or other factors to be aware of when adopting a vegan diet?

Animals living on concrete slabs in factories do not get B12, since they are not taking in soil from the ground, and need shots. If you are eating meat, you are getting B12 supplements because it has been added.  The same is true on a plant-based diet. You need to take B12.  It can be bought anywhere and isn’t expensive.  I also make sure I always have hemp seed around because I want to get my Omega 3s and 6s and because I love the taste.  Here is a yummy recipe that has over 19g of protein, thanks hemp seeds!, to get your day started. 

Those “meatballs” look good enough eat

Are there any misconceptions about being plant-based?

I want to put a couple of misconceptions to rest.

  1. You will never be hungry on a plant-based diet.  You will have lots of choices, have fun cooking, have gobs of options at restaurants and will be fully satisfied with beautiful, diverse, colorful, satiating food. 
  • Please know that there is no such things as humane meat or humane dairy.  Just like when you walk into Costco and you see the organic sign and then you see a strawberry the size of your fist and you know something isn’t right, the same is true here. Humane meat is a marketing label, not a reality.  And dairy, built on the separation of mother and baby in order to take mother’s milk, is even worse.  Given that 100 billion animals are churned out and killed every year for food, the concept of a commercially humane farm disappeared decades ago.
  • It’s not overwhelming!  Check out my recipes and hit up one of the starter kits. When in doubt, tune in to my podcast with the leaders of the plant-based movement who are literally redefining the future so that we still have a planet. And if you are really in a debacle, email me!  Starting is as simple as working in the veggies and leaving off the meat, one meal at a time. Your heart, literally and figuratively, will thank you.
Elysabeth Alfano enjoying what she does

Thank you for taking the time to share this important information with Splash Magazines Worldwide readers and for what you do to share this with others.  I appreciate your time.

All photos are courtesy of Elysabeth Alfano

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