Interview by Erika Satkoski of the CCV News Team
“Each person’s food choices are unique. My life focus is viewing sound scientific food research and sharing it with others, so they can make their own informed decisions. Positivity, compassion, humor, and inclusivity can help to welcome people into a conversation about personal and planetary health. Sharing delicious nourishing food is my favorite way to bring people together!”
Plant-Based Living Q&A with Elisabeth DeSwart
If you are a Central Coast resident you have undoubtedly seen Elisabeth DeSwart teaching in class at Cuesta College, speaking at an event, at our local potlucks or at Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. We decided it was time to find out more about her!
A Southern California native, Elisabeth was groomed as a child for her current role as educator extraordinaire in all things plant-based. She was inquisitive and in awe at even the smallest of creatures and learned the delicate balance of our coexistence with nature. At a young age, Elisabeth experienced plant-based foods and was influenced by a variety of cultures. She is exceptional in her teaching and outreach because she acknowledges the sensitivity that cultures have with food and finds creative ways to both respect and keep the cultural practices alive through easy plant-based modifications.
A registered dietitian, a Nutrition instructor, and Culinary Arts department lead, Elisabeth has what it takes for effective education and outreach. She has worked as a dietitian and chef in hospitals, schools, restaurants, and research studies. Her first culinary job was as head cook for Ocean Robbin’s camp Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES). With deliberate intentions to practice compassion, she carefully meets people where they are. One by one, she wants her students to feel “guided and supported,” encouraging them to experience just how easy it is to go plant-based. Elisabeth reaches out to people of all ages and backgrounds including at the California Men’s Colony and College for Kids. “I have found that people share an affinity for delicious food, community, positivity, and opportunities to express creativity and generosity.” Elisabeth has hope that anyone can potentially receive her message. Elisabeth DeSwart, our bright light on the Central Coast, wants everyone to have “the space to shine.” After this interview, we definitely have some more tools to help us all achieve that!
We are so grateful to have Elisabeth DeSwart in our Central Coast Community!
To get in touch with Elisabeth:
Instagram: @deswarte @cuestaculinaryarts
Plant-Based Nutrition Club (PBNC): Cuesta students can join the PBNC by contacting Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org, or club president Crystal Robb at email@example.com
Of course, we have to get right to it and start with the question of the moment; what would you say are the most important foods to eat for optimal health on a plant-based diet? Do you recommend supplements and if so which ones?
The healthful plate model is based on research of communities living with the greatest vitality and longevity: half raw and cooked non-starchy vegetables, and half whole-plant starches, legumes, and fruits, garnished with avocado, olives, raw nuts/seeds. The healthful plate model can be each meal or spread throughout the day.
Within each whole intact food, there are thousands of compounds working in concert together, optimizing our health. When one compound in a food is isolated and consumed in large quantities, it can have unexpected deleterious effects, (e.g. vitamin E, folate, extracted oils/fats). When we are eating a variety of colorful whole-plant foods, nutrition and health are optimized.
If one is eating 100% plants, one will need to supplement with vitamin B12. Many are spending more time indoors and may be low in vitamin D, found in mushrooms, fortified foods, and made via sun exposure. Annual labs are recommended for identifying and addressing possible deficiencies.
Not eating animal products contributes to such positive results for our health, for animals, for our environment and creates food equality. In your experience, do you see people choosing a plant-based diet because they make are making these connections and see the greater good? Any tips on how to have that conversation?
I’d like to warmly invite all who are interested in our world adopting plant-based eating and sustainable agriculture to enroll in our brand new program, launching this Fall 2021: “Plant-Based Sustainable Nutrition, Agriculture and Culinary Arts – Certificate of Specialization.”
Students can earn the certificate online, from anywhere in the world.
This program provides the science, and history, that supports the benefits of whole plant-based foods for health, sustainable agriculture, and culinary arts. It explores how food choice can promote sustainability, industry, public policy, health, and equity worldwide. To learn more, please contact me, or our Division Assistant Vicki Schemmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Each person’s food choices are unique. My life focus is viewing sound scientific food research and sharing it with others, so they can make their own informed decisions. Positivity, compassion, humor, and inclusivity can help to welcome people into the conversation about personal and planetary health. Sharing delicious nourishing food is my favorite way to bring people together!
Your knowledge of historical accounts of food over the centuries, how this evolved and the continued cultural ties to food is fascinating. How do you keep someone’s cultural ties to food and encourage a plant-based diet in this day and age?
Research indicates the healthiest communities alive today eat traditional whole-plant-based foods. Examples include Okinawa’s staples of soybeans, azuki beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and the Nicoya Peninsula’s black beans, corn, yucca, papaya and pumpkin.
Archaeological and anthropological research indicates most humans evolved also eating whole-plant-based foods. Examples include the traditional Chumash staples of corn, squash, beans and cassava, and Hawaiian staples of taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, plantains, gourds and wild greens.
We’ve always been creatures desiring safety, convenience and leisure – plants can’t run away, and require little preparation. When we look back a couple hundred years in a community’s history, before high refinement and processing of foods, labs and appliances, most have a whole-plant-based diet. It’s important to celebrate our cultural connections and traditions – and we can while eating healthfully by looking to our ancestors.
Have you seen a shift of younger people moving to a plant-based diet? Have you noticed a rise in plant-based diets in a certain age group?
A higher percentage of people, of all ages, are adopting a whole-plant-based way of eating. Current events dramatically affecting our lives, like COVID, climate-change-related extreme weather and fires, systemic racism, are rooted in what we choose to put on our plates. There are also now so many new tasty whole-plant foods widely available to try.
With so much controversy around diet in our society, how do you cut through the noise for your students?
Our Cuesta College nutrition courses are based on science. The aim of science is to build true and accurate knowledge about how the world works. Sound scientific food research helps us to understand how to eat optimally. Nutrition students learn how to find and assess research, to identify what we know about food and health. They analyze their own diets using professional nutrition software. They can then use these skills throughout their lives and careers.
How do you see our planet moving to a plant-based diet? What is your vision?
Food is reported to be the most impactful factor on climate change, communicable viruses, and health. Adopting whole-plant-based ways of eating contributes to our survival as a species. I am hopeful that people are becoming more aware of this opportunity and partake in delicious and nourishing plants.
Give us a snapshot of the day in the life of Elisabeth DeSwart during COVID times.
I am a lover of science (nutrition being the science of food), and thus follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for COVID. I spend a lot of time at home and on walks with my pup, Anne. When I do venture out for provisions or a nature walk, it is in the wee hours of the morning, when much of the community is still asleep.
These days I spend a lot of time at home online with my Cuesta students, staff, and faculty.
Every week, I visit the Saturday SLO morning farmers market, where I pick up all of my food for the week – vibrant, crisp, colorful brassicas, beets and blueberries from Chavez Family Farms, herbs, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes from Bautista Family Farms, lettuces and onions from Finley Farms, napa cabbage from Hayashi Farms, microgreens from Gracious Greens, oyster mushrooms from Morro Bay Mushrooms, fresh salsas from Los Tamales Poblanos, hummus from the Grape Leaf, miso paste, brown rice and nori from Koda Farms, seaweeds from Kelpful, butternuts from Le-Fort’s, walnuts and sunchokes from Mount Olive, and a green juice from Julia’s Juices.
Pre-COVID, I was in love with our SLO county vegan potlucks (e.g. Central Coast Vegans in SLO and Seventh Day Adventist in Templeton). Hope one day we’ll be able to revive them! Great friends and food.
Also enjoy providing talks and food demonstrations at local events, like Cougar Talks, YMCA Family Nights, VegFest, SLO Food Co-op videos. These days, events are online. I promote these events on Instagram: @deswarte
Do you have a favorite recipe for newcomers to a plant-based diet?
Cuesta College’s Cougar Voices recently invited me to present a demonstration of my current favorite delicious nourishing dish: Potachos! Potachos are roasted potato wedges crowned with a rainbow of whole-plant nacho toppings, like beans, almond-queso, avocado, peppers, corn, greens and salsas. Watch the Potachos demo recording here.