I recommended Sharon Palmer’s book The Plant-Powered Diet a couple of year’s ago when I talked about the whole food Plant-Based diet. Now I want to review her new book California Vegan. From it I found out Sharon also has a graduate degree in sustainable food systems, which fits in well with the subject of my previous post. I’ll go over a great example from the book of traditional, sustainable farming of plant foods below.
The California Vegan
Bottom Line: Two Thumbs Up!
This is primarily a cookbook, but is also a book of inspiration about plant-based cooking. You don’t have to be a vegan or even semi-vegetarian to enjoy it. You might be just someone looking for looking for a little variety in your diet, or someone looking to try plant-based eating, like “meatless Mondays”. This is your source for inspiration and recipes.
The book is about the rich variety of plant-based recipes from our culturally-diverse state of California. All those cultures brought their traditional foods with them, and as Sharon points out, those that weren’t wealthy all around the world came up with great plant-based solutions (the “poor man’s diet”). If you think plant-based means buying a meatless patty at the store, this book will be an eye opener. There are chapter devoted to various cultures and regions of California. Each starts with an inspirational description.
The introduction is especially great. Sharon describes her upbringing by parents who instilled healthy eating in her. I especially liked the description of her mom’s upbringing on a subsistence farm in Arkansas, growing crops like sorghum, corn, and peanuts, and a huge vegetable garden. Beans, greens, and homemade cornbread from their own corn were all featured. This sounds like what you read about in Blue Zones!
Interestingly, as an aside, sorghum has been a staple in both Africa and India for centuries. There is evidence of it having been harvested by hunter-gatherers in Africa more than 100,000 years ago. In the US we’ve mostly used it as animal feed and to make a sweetener. and are only now that it’s a nutritious food for humans, too (not just for sweetener).
Sharon also described her experience when she first moved here for her studies at Loma Linda University, founded by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, in the heart of the Loma Linda Blue Zone. And she described the “smile that appears on my face today when I stroll into a farmers market on a bright Saturday morning, discover a throng of plant-based food trucks along a gritty downtown LA street, or spend a day in enlightened Ojai among citrus, avocado, and lavender farms”. I was especially pleased to hear that California “is now a leader in the sustainable farming movement, with a flurry of buzz surrounding urban gardens, CSAs, organic farms, farmers markets, and renewable farming systems.” (CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”). I’m definitely going to visit our local farmers’ market more often, and try out more local “farm to table” restaurants. I’ve got to vote with my wallet to encourage this movement!
The introduction to the chapter on Indigenous Food Traditions was both sad and educational. Sad to hear how much harm was done to the Indigenous people, starting with the Spanish and the Mission system (and the arrival of European germs), and later by the American settlers. I had heard about the “three sisters”, a native American staple since as early as 1000 AD all over North America: corn, bean, and squash. But I didn’t know how it was traditionally grown, and Sharon gives a wonderful description of this early example of sustainable farming.
Another good chapter is on Asian food. We have an incredibly diverse mix of Asian cultures in California, including Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodia, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian. Even that’s probably not complete, apologies to anyone I’ve left out. And they have all brought their wonderful foods with them.
The book is full of beautiful pictures. You really need the hardcover version, a Kindle doesn’t do it justice. Or look at it with the Kindle App on a computer with a decent sized monitor.
As for the recipes, their accompanying pictures are mouthwatering. I’m not competent to comment on the recipes themselves, mediocre cook that I am, other than give them the highest praise possible: Even I managed to get the ones I tried to come out well. My highest priority is to find homemade sauces and dinner recipes, so I tried lentil patties and Savory Mushroom Sauce, and they both are great! Even when I make them! The overnight oats also were delicious. There are a multicultural smorgasbord of soups, stews, casseroles, side dishes, breakfast dishes, and desserts in the book. Can’t wait to try them.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants great new plant-based recipes and inspiration.