Calling animal-free food “plant-based” is simple and factual, but a bit bland, echoing the outmoded stereotype of vegan food as such. Instead, Rip Esselstyn, who was in Philly this week, works to spread the “plant-strong” message.
Unlike the neutral and somewhat ambiguous “based” (after all, cheese fries could be called plant-based, couldn’t they?), “plant-strong” expresses a positive value judgment with oomph, and subtly implies its opposite, “animal-weak.” Esselstyn calls animal foods “a dirty fuel.” In speaking to fellow Austin firefighters at Engine 2, many of whom wound up cutting out meat and dairy, with measurable health gains.: “If you’re eating animal foods, that’s a dirty fuel, your engine is going to clog up.”
This is more than a motor-based, er, motor-strong metaphor. Slowly, Americans (and Westerners more generally) are beginning to deal with the fact that a whole-foods plant-based diet is not just adequate, but a better diet to live on than the standard American meat-and-dairy meals. Esselstyn said cancer and many other common ailments are “all manifestations of eating weak, problematic, destructive food,” while plants, on the other hand, “have 64 times the antioxidants of animal foods, there’s over 25,000 phytonutrients, there’s fiber to scrub out your system, to sweep away toxins,” of which, by the way, animal fats are a rich source due to the phenomenon of bioaccumulation.
“Real men eat plants” was the slogan at Engine 2, though of course “real people of all kinds eat plants” is also true. But is vegan really, literally stronger? More, say, manly than otherwise? Well, vegan men have been found to have “significantly higher testosterone levels than both vegetarians and meateaters,” so there’s that. I’m not saying it will turn you into, say, Mr. Universe or, you know, the strongest man in the world… OR AM I?
Actually, those guys aren’t alone; many weightlifters, bodybuilders and football players are adding to the ranks of ultramarathoners, ice skaters and tennis players (e.g. the Williams sisters) who have excelled at top levels on a plant-charged diet. That’s part of the reason Esselstyn was in town, talking “Plant-Based Health & Athleticism” along with Joe Holder for the Penn Vegan Society. He cites the most recent high-profile example, 300-lb NFL Defensive End David Carter, who thought vegan eating was for ‘weaklings’ until he tried it out himself — and stuck with it.
It might look like Esselstyn is riding the recent “vegans can be macho” mainstream-media trend, but actually he’s the original macho vegan, a former firefighter and triathlete who was using his brawn to back up his bran more than a decade ago, and who has continued to speak out about healthful food as a source of strength, becoming a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author in the process. So if (and it’s a big if) men in general are finally moving away from macho myth and toward the facts of plant-strong advantage, he’s one of the people to thank.
Esselstyn said he’s working now on a documentary to be released at the beginning of next year, called ‘Game-changers.’ Could be an apt term for Rip himself, no? But he demurred: “If you want to be a true hero, for your health, for the planet, for animals, you’ll start eating a plant-based diet - that’s what I tell everyone I talk to.”
The trigger for the NFL’s Carter was seeing the film Forks Over Knives, which features the work of Rip’s father, Caldwell Esselstyn, who did the science proving that heart disease can be reversed with a rigorously healthy diet. Another scientist featured in that documentary, T. Colin Campbell, also laid much of the groundwork in this area with his long-term, large-scale work that culminated in The China Study.
Campbell’s son Nelson established PlantPure (after the film PlantPure Nation), a national group working to put the health benefits of whole-foods plant-based eating into practice, and its first affiliated restaurant, the PlantPure Café, has its grand opening today, Saturday, Feb. 11.
The ambitious new healthy vegan fast-food joint run by Fernando Peralta of VGE Café is at 1115 Walnut Street, in the space where Maoz used to be, but with a fresh, updated look. Having soft-opened in December, PlantPure is now ready for its crunchy, yummy closeup. As the Café’s page put it, “It’s a moment to celebrate the plant-based lifestyle and taste some delicious food!”
Stop by from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and enjoy a Seitan Reuben or a Groothie alongside Nelson Campbell himself, along with his wife Kim Campbell, who will sign her PlantPure Nation Cookbook. (UPDATE: She is also signing copies of her newest cookbook, PlantPure Kitchen.) Get a copy or two to help you go plant-pure, or plant-strong, or plant-charged yourself!
Along with many others, we’ll be watching the progress of the PlantPure pioneers, but the indications are sunny. The food is good and the science is strong. And though it’s not an Esselstyn project (family friends with the Campbells, but they’re not affiliated) it’s safe to say that this little green plant-forward eatery could turn out to be a game-changer.