2016-09-09 / Front Page

New group wants to test your Plant IQ

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Health coach Kirsten Scarcelli of Portland, a founder of Plant IQ: Maine Advocates for Plant-Based Living, leads a recent cooking demonstration at South Portland’s Cancer Community Center. It was founded in March to encourage a shift away from meat and dairy-centered diets. (Courtesy photo) Health coach Kirsten Scarcelli of Portland, a founder of Plant IQ: Maine Advocates for Plant-Based Living, leads a recent cooking demonstration at South Portland’s Cancer Community Center. It was founded in March to encourage a shift away from meat and dairy-centered diets. (Courtesy photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — A new group founded by a Cape Elizabeth resident is hoping to create a community of peas in a pod when it comes to healthy eating.

In March, Karen Coker, a communications consultant and former investigative journalist for the PBS series “Frontline,” joined with Portland health coach Kirsten Scarcelli to form Plant IQ: Maine Advocates for Plant-Based Living. The pair was motivated by the release last year of the documentary film, “PlantPure Nation,” which traces the attempts of nutritional scientist and author Dr. T. Colin Campbell to create a pilot program in Kentucky documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Campbell is professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University and author of “The China Study,” released in 2005 and one of the best-selling books of all-time about nutrition.


Top, attendees at the first Plant IQ meeting, held at March at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, sit down to enjoy of variety of vegan dishes. The group meets for pot luck suppers at Woodford on the last Thursday of every month. Attendees, left, sample a variety of meat and dairy-free dishes. (Courtesy photos) Top, attendees at the first Plant IQ meeting, held at March at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, sit down to enjoy of variety of vegan dishes. The group meets for pot luck suppers at Woodford on the last Thursday of every month. Attendees, left, sample a variety of meat and dairy-free dishes. (Courtesy photos) Campbell’s effort to spur government involvement in public eating habits ultimately died at the hands of lobbyists in the animal agriculture industry, and the film goes on to trace a drive led by Campbell’s oldest son, Nelson, to instead spark a national grassroots approach, starting in his hometown of Mebane, North Carolina. The film maintains that the government and the industrial medical complex have failed to properly educate the public about the benefits of a plant- based diet, as detailed in Campbell’s research.

“Unfortunately, there’s no big broccoli lobby out there,” Scarcelli said in a Sept. 1 interview at Coker’s home. “So, he thought there has to be a different way. If we can’t go at it from the top down, we want to start it from the bottom up, as a grassroots movement.”

To that end, the movie encourages the formation of local “food pods” to help encourage plant-based eating, and to help provide support for those who choose to make a lifestyle change away from the menus common in most American homes.

“The scientific evidence is that a whole-food, plant-based diet can not only prevent some of the major killer diseases we suffer from, it can also reverse them,” Coker said. “That’s particularly true of heart disease and Type II diabetes.”

“On this type of diet, people can experience a difference in as little as 10 days,” Scarcelli added.

The core of the local Plant IQ pod is a potluck supper held on the last Thursday of every month at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. At those meetings, which generally draw 20 people or more, Coker said, members join to share meals created using the PlantPure model, and to swap recipe ideas while sharing in the camaraderie of the movement. Plant IQ also stages food preparation demonstrations offered free to area community groups.

“The goal is to help people see just how easy this style of eating is, and how delicious it can be,” Coker said.

The menu plan is essentially a vegan one, Coker and Scarcelli said. That means a diet centered on whole grains, beans and vegetables, with no oils or added salt and with only limited amounts of unrefined sweeteners. The plan also includes high fat foods, such as nuts, seeds and avocados. Taboo to the Plant IQ table is anything made from animal products, or “no food with a face,” as the vegan motto goes.

However, Plant IQ shies away from the word “vegan,” for two reasons.

“It’s just a very politically charged word. Some people react to it very negatively,” Scarcelli said, noting that while she, Coker and other members are indeed advocates for animal rights, the Plant IQ group is about promoting healthy eating on an individual basis. It leaves campaigning for the vegan movement to other groups.

Coker said a vegan diet can include doughnuts, ice cream, fried and processed foods.

“Vegan can subsist on potato chips, beer and Oreo cookies,” Coker said. “Somebody can eat a vegan diet and still be very sick. We are concerned with championing the health promoting elements of this way of eating and it’s benefits for longevity.

“We eat a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, along with legumes, grains and nuts,” Coker said. “And this diet – although we don’t call it a ‘diet,’ it’s really a lifestyle – is incredible for weight loss. If you do it correctly, you can eat as much as you want of the right foods. You’re never hungry.”

“We eat enormous amounts of food, we really do,” Scarcelli said with a laugh. “If you like to eat, and you like really great tasting food, this is for you.”

Both Coker and Scarcelli have been vegetarians for many years, with Scarcelli noting a perk in energy levels and decrease in sick days following the conversion, while Coker says she dropped more than 20 pounds “without effort or counting calories.”

“Learning about this film and this movement did not convert me to this style of eating,” Coker said, “but it was a pathway for us to gain support to teach and spread the message, and to combat these very tightly held myths out there about protein and calcium, things people claim this way of eating lacks, which is what we are trying to do.”

To that end, Plant IQ will sponsor a showing of PlantPure Nation, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 24, at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

“Hopefully, people will show up and want to learn more,” Coker said.

FMI

Plant IQ: Maine Advocates for Plant-Based Living, a group founded in March to encourage a shift away from meat and dairy-centered diets, will sponsor two upcoming events to help spread its message.

• A showing of the film PlantPure Nation, which helped spur the nationwide grassroots Plant IQ movement – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

• A live food preparation demonstration and slide show on healthy, plant-based diets – Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Cape Elizabeth Community Center.

For more information on Plant IQ, or either upcoming event, visit the group on Facebook, or email akarencoker@gmail.com.

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