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If you are concerned about our food system and its impact on animals, soil, water and air, you might consider eating a plant-based diet.

We often hear others say they are thinking about it, but that’s as far as they get. Maybe it’s time to think again.

The move to a plant-based diet is becoming increasingly mainstream. Many restaurants specialize in serving only plant-based foods, and offer vegan or vegetarian items on their menus.

What leads a person to adjust their diet to eliminate animal products?

Some do so because of their sensitivity toward animals, in general. Others want to reduce the carbon footprint of processing and transporting food, while others believe getting nutrients from plant-based foods promotes better health.

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Katherine Deumling

Katherine Deumling lives in Portland and is a strong proponent of plant-based foods. She is doing her part to influence us toward a vegan lifestyle.

She promotes a holistic approach to food and cooking by teaching classes, writing a blog and managing a subscription-based website, cookwithwhatyouhave.com.

The website features more than 900 recipes, tips, inexpensive cookbooks and information on how to cook with what you have, to save both time and money.

To access most of the information, Deumling charges $5.99 per month. But most of her blog articles can be accessed at no charge. Some of her recent blog titles include, “When olive oil and salt aren’t the answer,” “Fudgy and quick chocolate cookies,” “Noodles, broccoli and peanut sauce for busy nights,” and “When you start thinking about lunch at 10 a.m. …”

She takes a simplistic approach to plant-based cooking. In her manifesto, Deumling suggests not to stress if you don’t have one specific item, or you have to eat white rice one night.

“We know vegetables are good for us and they are so varied and beautiful and delicious,” she says. “Whether you eat mostly plants or have butter on your toast every morning or bacon in your greens, enjoy your food and let taste guide you. Cook when you can and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t.”

Learning to appreciate food

Deumling has been cooking since she was about 9 years old because her mother suffered from debilitating migraines and would be too ill to prepare some meals. But her mother also had a sprawling vegetable garden and believed in the approach of cooking with what you have. They lived in West Germany for about 10 years, in a rural area with little access to convenience stores.

Later, a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship took Deumling to rural Italy and Mexico, where she deepened her understanding of how and why people cook the way they do. She became involved in the “slow food” movement both locally and internationally, which led her to learn about food systems, regenerative agriculture and the combination of pleasure and politics.

Food makes life richer and connects us, she says.

While everyone is seeking a panacea, from paleo to keto, “everyone agrees on vegetables,” Deumling says.

Three staples in her kitchen are cilantro, parsley and scallions. For salads, she grates carrots, and adds radishes, seeds, toasted nuts, herbs and tasty dressings.

She also believes in simplicity — even if it’s not exciting — but enjoys adding spices and sauces to make a difference.

If you’re eating winter squash, for example, she suggests adding rosemary or ginger for seasoning. Her lentil soup is a template with many variations. Cilantro, radishes and scallions are served at her home every week, and “make everything better,” she says. Even more, her family sits together at the table for dinner without distractions from electronics.

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Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Turmeric and Cilantro

Deumling believes the rise in food sensitivities is a response to the pollutants in processed foods as well as chemicals in the air, fish, plastics and other items.

“There is a rise in toxins in everything and we are absorbing them through our tissue and blood when we eat processed and sugary foods,” she says. “Our gut is compromised from deadly bacteria and it affects digestion.”

When eating out, Deumling recommends searching out restaurants that offer plant-based menu options. She recommends Bijou Café in Portland as “top of the list,” as well as Harlow Restaurant on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, because it serves gluten-free, organic vegetarian fare.

She favors shopping at farmers markets, and supports community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm distributors such as Organics to You and Milk Run.

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Quick Green Curry with Broccoli

With so much evidence regarding the benefits of plant-based diets, Deumling sees the medical profession wholeheartedly promoting the concept. Kaiser Permanente is on the forefront of teaching its primary-care physicians about whole plant foods, and has brought in Deumling to teach and even give cooking demonstrations. Kaiser has partnered with the North American Center for Continuing Medical Education to offer a certification in culinary medicine.

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