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Published: January 10, 2024

colorful array of fruits and vegetables

Check the cookbook shelf at the bookstore or the internet for healthy recipes or culinary events for sustainable eating and you’re likely to stumble across these two words: Plant Forward.

As we start the new year with goals of taking better care of ourselves and our planet, here is a quick overview of a nutritional movement affecting how many of us are eating, including Kendal at Oberlin residents.

What is a Plant-forward?

A plant-forward diet, often used interchangeably with plant-based, “is not about excluding or limiting food groups; it’s about being more mindful of how to add and enjoy more plants on the plate,” explains the Produce for Better Health Foundation in its 36-page colorful guide.

“Flavorful fruits and vibrant vegetables, satisfying whole grains and a variety of wholesome, nutrient-packed foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, edamame and tofu are the mainstays. Low-fat milk and dairy products, seafood, lean meat, poultry and eggs are also parts of this balanced diet and complement plant foods deliciously and nutritiously.”

Yes, plant-forward can include meat, but think “supporting actor” not “star” of the show.

Consuming less meat has lots of health benefits, according to the American Heart Association, including reducing the risk of:

  • Heart disease;
  • Stroke;
  • Obesity;
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • And many cancers.

Meat is also unhealthy for our planet, given the greenhouse gas emissions of livestock. According to a study in the journal Scientific Reports, if everyone in the country reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by a quarter and substituted plant proteins, we’d save about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

How to Eat Plant-forward

 Here are 4 tips from Yale Sustainability for moving plant-forward:

  1. Start slow. Think Meatless Monday or Whole Grain Wednesday, and experiment with plant-based meat substitutes, for instance, roasted eggplant pasta instead of meat sauce;
  2. Make animal protein a side dish, rather than main course. One idea is to add more vegetables and less meat to dishes such as stew or lasagna;
  3. Get creative with protein. We all know about tofu, but other foods high in protein include nuts and seeds, quinoa, legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils, soy and edamame.
  4. Be a curious culinary adventurer. Experiment with seasonings and recipes, such as these from Love & Lemons.

Meet Kendal’s Plant-forward Residents

About five years ago a group of plant-based and vegetarian enthusiasts got together to represent their concerns to the Dining Matters Committee. Mary Clare Beck, outgoing contact for the group of 20 or so residents, shares her insights.

Christian Ramsey, our dining consultant from the Kendal Corporation, recently told the Dining Matters Committee that Kendal is “Plant-forward.” This was encouraging news to our Kendal vegetarians, a diverse group of those who eat little or no meat and care deeply about healthy and sustainable food that is nutritious and delicious, good for our health and that of the planet, free of the meat industry's cruelty to animals and workers and its enormous damage to environment.

 Our members variously identify as lacto-vegetarians, pescatarians, vegans, flexitarians, nutritarians, and planetarians without getting hung-up on exact definitions. Most of us were raised on typical meat-centric American meals but started to think in different terms with the 1971 publication of “Diet for a Small Planet,” which explained that protein is available in grains, legumes, nuts, and vegetables, healthier for people and the planet than the industrial-scale meat production that damages the environment while slaughtering billions of animals.

When the New York Times recently evaluated twelve personal steps individuals could take to reduce their carbon footprints, a vegan diet is one of the five actions that have a major impact, while vegetarian diets and organic food are among the three with a moderate impact. So we can make a difference with what we eat, and the Kendal vegetarians are hopeful about a healthy, sustainable plant-forward Kendal at Oberlin.

Feed Your Body Right: Nutritional Needs After 50

As you age, having a healthy and balanced diet will help you look and feel your best while helping prevent many serious health issues. Learn how in our free guide.

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Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.