Podcast Episode 65

Why Plant-Based Food Is the New Love Language

Julieanna Hever | 48 Minutes | October 25, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with Julieanna Hever, a plant-based dietitian, host of the Choose You Now podcast, and author of the best-selling book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition.

Today, Julieanna is a global nutritional consultant who inspires “big change” and holds discussions around inclusive plant-based living and ways to form better nutritional habits.

Listen as Julieanna talks about why nutritious food is a love language, the difference between “vegan,” “whole food,” and “plant-based,” and the solution to the constant battle for healthy eating.

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, I am speaking with Julieanna Hever, the OG Plant-based Dietitian, author of the best-selling book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition,” and host of the “Choose You Now” podcast.

Julieanna is a force, a powerful force, and a name in the plant-based world. She was the host of “What would Julieanna do?,” gave a TED talk, and instructed for the E-Cornell Plant-Based Nutrition Certification Program. She has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, Harry, and the Steve Harvey Show. Today, Julieanna consults with clients around the globe.

Join me today as I chat with Julieanna about the life you can build when you take away decisions and thoughts about food.

And there she is. Good morning, Julieanna. How are you?

Julieanna Hever: Good morning, Kirk. I’m great, thank you. How are you?

Kirk Bachmann: I’m good. I’m good. For the viewing audience, I think a lot know that I’m in Boulder, but you are in Los Angeles, right?

Julieanna Hever: Born and raised.

Kirk Bachmann: Born and raised! Really. Wow! Did you ever venture out a little bit?

Julieanna Hever: I spent two years at UC-Santa Cruz, which was incredible, but came back to UCLA. Then when I was taping my TV show, I had the opportunity to live in New York City for six weeks, which was probably six of the best weeks of my life. It was so magnificent.

Kirk Bachmann: Really. That brings me back. My oldest daughter finished her journalism degree at the University of Oregon, and she spent a lot of my money in New York City. She spent about ten weeks doing an externship with a morning show in New York, and she, too, just had the time of her life. I think she loved it a lot because she knew she didn’t have to stay. It was a lot for her. Was that part of your lure as well? “I don’t have to set roots here. I can go back home.”

Julieanna Hever: My dad’s side of the family is from New York, so I have a lot of family there, and I have a lot of very good friends there. I’ve spent my life loving it there and thinking about living there, but I never actually committed to it. My kids and everyone are here. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Also, I was doing my dream job. It was kind of a win-win.

Why the Term Plant-Based?

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great. My wife just took our youngest to New York for the weekend, and there still isn’t’ a better food mecca anywhere in the world. It’s just absolutely spectacular.

I am super excited. I’m incredibly appreciative of your time today. I got to know you by watching you on other shows, as I’ve shared with you. I’ve had that good pleasure of listening and just embracing some of your live events over the years, particularly your passion for plant-based living. I grew up in the pastry [world]. To be completely transparent and let you know, in a pastry chef’s kitchen. My father’s a master pastry chef, so I’ve been around butter for a long time in my life, and I’m not ashamed of that. However in recent years, we have moved over to a plant-based lifestyle in our home. We’ll get into that. It’s been something I’ve really appreciated particularly because of the way I feel with that diet.

I’m going to kick off with a fun fact. You were on Rip Esselstyn’s Plant Strong podcast. He was with me just a few months prior to that, I think in February of this year. The reason I bring that up is because I love how this community is coming together, and we’re all collaborating and connecting within this plant-based community of ours. Speaking of which, as I understand it – this is a fascinating story – you were one of the first, if not the very first, to evangelize the term “plant-based” with one of your cookbooks. Is that accurate? Did I read that right?

Julieanna Hever: I will not take credit for it. What happened was Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who is a mentor of mine, he coined the term “whole food, plant-based.” At the time, when I was starting to teach and starting to do online work and blogging and writing books, I called myself the plant-based dietitian. I was the first plant-based dietitian in terms of terminology, but I took that term from Dr. Campbell. Rip pointed [out my book] when I was on his podcast the first time, that I think it might have been one of the first titles published [with plant-based].

That was a whole story, because I was hired to write “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Nutrition,” but I quickly petitioned to change the title because I am a dietitian. It’s about the nutrition. It’s about the science behind it. I didn’t want to get into any of the ethical things. That’s a wonderful, beautiful thing that adds to eating plants, but it wasn’t my expertise. I knew the term plant-based was going to take off. Right when I was writing this book, that was when it was in the media with Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, with Bill Clinton and everything. They were talking about plant-based. It was becoming a thing.

I just love why Colin coined it because, for me, a definition of what is a vegan diet, it’s an exclusive definition. It means I do not eat animals. But a whole food, plant-based diet is more inclusive. It means I eat a diet based on whole plant foods. I love that more inclusivity type of feel. I always want to open this idea up to the masses. I want everyone to eat more plants. I don’t think that would exclude anyone because I believe that is a health-promoting decision that can be done in so many different ways. I think it is more welcoming and less daunting for a lot of people who just can’t imagine giving up certain things. I feel like I want as many people to feel allured by this idea because it is the most health promoting way of eating that we know about. The more plants, the better.

I love that terminology, and I think that words are very powerful. I put a lot of emphasis on how we use language, so I’m pretty excited about how this has all evolved now. When I would say plant-based before, nobody knew what I was talking about, and now it really is a thing. It is something that people recognize world-wide. I’ve visited remote islands and places around the world. It is a thing. It’s quite extraordinary how things have evolved.

Leafy Green Love

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I love all the names. Wonder woman. Coming back to that community that you’re a part of, that you’re helping to build. It’s interesting that you say that. Even as we did the marketing around rolling out a plant-based program, both online and on-ground here in Boulder, it was very much a passion play for me. A very good friend of mine, Lauren Lewis, who is a yogi here in Boulder, wrote a majority of the program. She’s been plant-based for a long time. We didn’t say it as eloquently as you did, but for the specific reasons of attracting a broader audience, we selected the plant-based terminology versus vegan or vegetarian. Al thought we do have vegan students that come to us and vegetarian students that come to us. I love that clarity.

The rumor is that you love nothing more – I took this right from the Internet – than diving into a colossal bowl of salad. I just want to know what’s in that bowl, and how big is that bowl?

Julieanna Hever: I’ve autographed every single one of my seven books for seventeen years with “Leafy Green Love,” because it’s all about the leafy greens, because leafy greens are so extraordinary, nutritionally speaking. They are the most health-promoting foods, the most disease fighting, the most nutrient dense foods. You get the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck with leafy greens.

I love to have a big bowl of goodness. It depends on the day. Before we got on here, I was chopping up the vegetables for today’s salad. Today I’ve got some bell peppers and Persian cucumbers and some tomatoes and jalapenos, and some fresh-shucked corn. Always, there will be some greens. I think today I’m going to do some Romaine. I actually have to stop at the store and get some kale slaw because I like to just throw that in the bowl. I change it up. I like cooked vegetables and raw vegetables, hot and cold salads. I always will include a legume or some starch, like the corn or some potatoes. The key is the sauce or dressing. I always say, “Food is a delivery system for sauce or dressing.” I love to whip up a really quick and easy nut or seed-based dressing that is full of all that flavor that makes you want to eat more vegetables.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Who else would love that is Farmer Lee Jones, because you basically just said it kind of depends on the season, too. You’re go-to can depend on what’s fresh and what’s in season, what’s local, any particular day. It all kind of comes together, right?

Julieanna Hever: It does, although I’m a little hyper-fortunate for where I live because [we can have anything, any time of year. We have farmers’ markets open all year long. I do like to emphasize the local/seasonal, but we really have access to everything, so it biases my palate, and I stick to my favorites most of the year. But I do appreciate the beautiful, synergistic effects with our circadian rhythm and our connection to the earth and seasons and all that.

Unfortunately, In L.A. we don’t really have seasons. We really don’t.

Kirk Bachmann: Just one long one.

Julieanna Hever: One long one. It’s sunny and hot 360 days a year. We had a little drizzle, which we desperately need here last year. So my hair is curly. It was a little humid, but we really need that.

I definitely appreciate the holistic and health benefits of sticking to those closer things, but it is kind of an interesting time in history where we have so much more access than ever before, especially here in Los Angeles.

An Unexpected Journey from Theater to Nutrition

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Speaking of which, you hold a Bachelor’s degree in theater from UCLA. You have a Master’s degree in nutrition from Cal State. I’m just fascinated, and I can’t wait to hear your response to how you bridge these passions. Food, performing, helping people. Can you talk specifically about how your theater training impacts your approach to food, but more than anything, how you talk about food with others?

Julieanna Hever: I love that Steve Jobs quote of how you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only do it looking backwards. I could never have expected this. I didn’t plan my journey, but it was quite interesting and unexpected.

I grew up in L.A. I started dancing before I could walk. I loved acting, just like a lot of people here. The lead in the class play. I was always doing that stuff. But I also ended up in a performing arts high school. Just like “Fame,” there was a new one in L.A. about five years prior to me getting in. It was a really hard school to get into, and you had to audition, this whole thing. So I got in, and I was very passionate about Shakespeare and theater, and I did a lot of theater training.

And I loved it. I loved it so much. But – and I just wrote about this in my new book, “The Choose You Now Diet” – this is where the seed was planted for me. I also always loved fitness, and I had tape recordings of me at five years old teaching my friends and sister aerobics and stuff like that. The nutrition piece, I was always interested in that, but I will never forget when I was about ten or eleven years old. I was a ballerina. I was doing so much ballet. I was in class with all my little colleagues, and my teacher called out to me in front of everyone – in front of the entire class – “Julieanna, cut out your snacks.” This was the time when girls are turning into women. I remember watching in the mirror as my shape [was] changing. And that floored me. That literally made me want to be swallowed up and just disappear because it was so embarrassing.

But it introduced me to this whole world of body image and diet. It was a bless9ing in disguise because I started reading and studying and trying different diets on and testing new things. It does go with the territory, but it was an evolution for me. This is where the plant-based came in, too, because one of the books I stumbled on was John Robbins’s “Diet for a New America” which shifted my complete thinking about food. I didn’t know how food ended up on the plate. There was no internet. It wasn’t really talked about that much. He was such a revolutionary, such a pioneer, and it moved me. I wanted to change the system, but first I wanted to change myself, and I didn’t know what that looked like. I was a young girl. I was a teenager.

So I tried. I was trying to do that. But I kept learning and kept reading and kept studying, and I was fascinated by it. And then I wanted to be a doctor. I was going to go to med school. When I got into undergrad at UC- Santa Cruz, I was a biology major. I kind of put the acting/dancing to the side. I went to Santa Cruz. I was studying biology. I was two years in, and I was taking Calculus C my last quarter of my sophomore year. I was working so hard at the sciences because my high school was really good at the acting and theater, but it was really not so good with academics. I had to really struggle to learn chemistry and biology and all that stuff. But I remember in Calculus C, my professor whom I was going to office hours with religiously, he said to me, “Julieanna, go back to dancing. You’ll be so much happier,” because he could see how stressed out I was.

I’d already applied to UCLA for physiological sciences major, and it was too late. But I had a friend from high school who was in the theater department. He was able to get me an audition for the theater department. I auditioned last minute, got into the UCLA theater department, and transferred down back here, home, and went back to acting and dancing.

But I still loved all that science stuff, and it still kept percolating in my brain. That’s the point where I got an agent. I was going modeling and acting – mostly acting at the time, theater and some commercials, TV and film stuff.

Then my agent at the time said, “You need to lose a few pounds for camera.” Again, it came up. Ugh. Okay. She set me up with this personal trainer. That was a whole other turn of events. I fell in love with personal training. I’d always loved that. That was it. I wanted to become a personal trainer. At least it would be a great side job or a job while I was doing all the acting auditions and theater at night.

So I became a personal trainer, and right away when I was just about to graduate undergrad, these clients were asking me, “Well, what should I eat?” I felt this pull. I didn’t want to just say what I had memorized. It was literally one chapter of nutrition in the personal training handbook that I got certified with. I didn’t feel like I had that expertise, the wherewithal to actually give that information knowing why I was saying what I was saying.

Even though I thought I would never want to go back to school – I couldn’t wait to be done – there was a calling. “I have to learn. I need to know what I’m saying.” So I applied to grad school, got in right away that next fall. I graduated in April and started in September or August, something like that. That was it. I fell in love. This was my thing. I was getting straight As for the first time in my life. These were things like o-chem and bio-chem, and statistics. I loved school so much. I love nutrition. It took me seven years because I was a full-time personal trainer. I put acting to the side.

What’s so cool about that is, as much as I fell in love with nutrition, I didn’t know. It was like, “What a waste of a degree! Why did I bother to get a degree in theater?” But then I ended up having my own TV show and getting guest spots on Dr. Oz and all that stuff, and teaching and lecturing and podcasting and everything. “Wow!” Everything seriously came together, and now I get to teach what I love to teach with a message that I’m passionate about. Now I know I’m more comfortable in front of the camera, I’m more comfortable in front of the stage, and it all came together in this cool, unexpected way.

Planting the Seeds for Nutrition

Kirk Bachmann: You can tell in your voice how excited you are in that story. It’s a beautiful full-circle. It’s so clear that you have this comfort in front of the camera. I’m going to connect that to a really neat story. Year’s ago when I was working with a French Master Chef in Portland, Oregon, I think. There was something about seeing an experienced chef in this beautiful white jacket and the tall toque and the flowing apron. I found myself watching him a lot, the way he glided through the kitchen.

Here I am over here, breaking all of these seafood sausages that he asked me to cook so delicately. He comes over and he’s just started talking to me about how, in fact, a chef, a cook, is always on stage. You have to be aware of that. You have to have this presence. This was in the day of Rachel Ray. Do you remember her television show, where she would have a big bowl and she would walk to the refrigerator, and she would put everything in it, and she would bring it back to her cooking station. He used that example as that’s the way you should think – mise en place – ahead of time when you’re in the kitchen. If you’re going to move to the other side of the kitchen, sort of glide to that side, but don’t dart back and forth. Be thinking all the time about what you need. Bring it back, because the audience is watching. They’re always watching you.

I love that. It sort of aligns with everything he shared with me a hundred years ago.

I have to go back a little bit, because you started to talk a little bit about your own childhood. You knew that I was going to get into this. I’m sort of jumping ahead of myself a little bit. I’d love it if you could talk a little bit about how important and how to talk to our children about healthy eating and nutritious eating. How would you suggest, or how do you talk to clients about addressing that? Because there’s lots of influences and there’s lots of obstacles to getting your children to follow your lead.

Julieanna Hever: A million percent. I could speak passionately and empathetically as a mom. I’ve got two teenagers. When you have kids, they’re your life. They’re your heart outside your body. They’re just everything, and you want for them the best. You want to put them in a bubble and protect them and give them all the skills and all the positive – everything you possibly can.

I’ve found that it’s been incredibly challenging as a dietitian to really get this message to my children. It’s what’s called the cobbler’s children; the shoemaker’s child has holes in their shoes.

I could look at the research, and I’ve worked with hundreds of families over the 17 years I’ve been practicing. What it boils down to most importantly, number one of all, and all the research substantiates this, is what I like to say, “Be a lighthouse, not a tugboat. The children are watching.” So no matter what you say, it’s what you do that they’re really taking in and absorbing. So if you want them to eat their broccoli, you’re not off eating ice cream and telling them they should do such-and-such. They’re watching you as a role model. Research really emphasizes role modeling. How you are around food is really important for your children to witness.

That said, there’s other strategies. It’s ideal if both partners, both parents, or whoever is in the home that are raising the children are on the same page. Now, I struggled with that in my marriage with my children. It was a real battle, and that was not helpful. There are families that I know that come to me, “We’re plant-based, and we want to raise or children plant-based. We want to raise our children healthy. What do we do?” Then it’s easy, because that’s what’s in the house. There are only healthy foods in the house and this is how we eat. “Look how delicious this kale salad is.” That kind of perspective. “This is for dinner, and this is what we’re eating.” When everyone is on the same page, it’s so much easier. Unfortunately, it’s not usually the case. More [often] it’s the case like I was involved in where you’re constantly battling. Ideally, you’ve got that situation, and you provide healthy food. Then, you don’t want to have the junk food in the house. You don’t have a lot of stuff that you don’t want them to eat around. Obviously, they’re going to go for that.

Now, you can’t control as much what goes on outside the house: school, peer influences, and fast-food culture, commercials, internet, TikTok and all the social media.

Kirk Bachmann: YouTube.

Julieanna Hever: It’s everywhere, and the kids are bombarded with messaging about food that’s less than optimal. We’ve got an obesity crisis and an ongoing chronic disease crisis, ubiquitously now, globally. Diet is the number one cause of early death and disability in the world. This is a very major problem for everyone. In fact, we have more over-nutrition than under-nutrition, than malnutrition from under-nourishment now, for the first time in recorded history.

You do your best. You provide the role modeling. You provide healthy food. The other tips that I give people is to get your kids involved as much as possible age appropriately. Maybe you create an herb garden, or your take them to the farmers’ market, or you ask them what they want to cook, or you create a bar effect – a taco bar or a pizza bar, so kids get to choose. You put all the stuff on the table and they get to choose what they put on their plate. Getting them involved gets them invested emotionally in wanting to participate in the food thing.

My parents did not raise me like this. I as always the one who said, “Let’s try the low-fat diet. Let’s try this.” It was a real struggle. My mom never really loved cooking. She says she does, but it was an all-event for her to make a recipe and it was very stressful. She never taught me how to cook. It was never an innate thing. I had to learn all this on my own.

Having the kid pick a recipe. I think all those little things and having healthy foods and getting passionate about it. If you’re talking about culinary, the culinary perspective, it’s a really beautiful outlet to inspire someone. “Look at how gorgeous this is. Look at how fun it is to make this. Ooh, we can chop together.” Just encouraging them where they’re at, and meeting people where they’re at. Kids evolve over time, and they’re brain capacity grows and matures, so they’re more apt to absorb different messaging and different things. But they’re taking it all in, so everything matters. Eventually, they hopefully come out of it and you’ve planted some seeds. Some kids are really interested in that. It has to come from an organic thing.

I was going to say that my grandmother – this is what incited these little nuggets in my brain – we would be cooking together. She’d be cooking because she actually enjoyed it, and she’d be like, “Why are we eating bananas?” And I’d say, “Oh, potassium.” “Why do we eat this?” It planted these little fun seeds about nutrition and food and how food can be medicinal. I never thought about it like that because it wasn’t what I was exposed to at home. Those little seeds that you plant, and you get excited about it, grow throughout their lifetimes. The most important thing is role modeling.

I Don’t Try to Convince Anyone

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I was going to ask that question, what was it like for you growing up. I can share, too. I have younger kids as well, and they always laugh because I tell them the stories. When my mother cooked or my father cooked, that was the meal. If it was a braised dish, or cauliflower with a poached egg, whatever the meal was, that was it. Quite honestly, it took me a long time to embrace the way my wife cooks. It’s very similar to what you just said. We’ve got one of those long farm tables. The neighborhood kids love to come over because she does the bar. Whether it’s a taco bar or even an ice cream bar, the kids have a choice.

What’s really interesting is to see where they go. It kind of blows me away sometimes to see how much the kids go to the sweet peppers and the nuts. The things that we don’t have to force them to eat, they are put on this farm table. They look beautiful. There might be some dips, or not. But they tend to go to it on their own. Then you step outside and there’s a small garden, so they see the zebra tomatoes. From that little garden that they planted – sometimes over-planted – right to the table.

I’m going to bring up a funny story in a minute with adult learners because it gets a little bit more complicated. I was going to ask really quick. You’ve written seven books, lots of articles, TED talk. I think the TED talk was maybe a decade ago or so. 2010 or 12. Half a million views. Half a million views. In your life and work, you’ve touched a lot of lives, and a lot of people with your message about diet and nutrition that you clearly deliver with this vibrance and enthusiasm like we’re seeing today. I’m wondering in terms of your mission, you said at the beginning that you were focused on changing yourself, and I absolutely adore that. You were focused on changing yourself. It’s so humble. Unapologetically humble to be able to admit, “I have to change myself.”

I’m just curious in terms of Julieanna’s mission and your purpose, what would you say, over time, has been the most impactful? I like to speak in moments, even in the restaurant – soup of the moment. Dish of the moment. I like to live in moments versus hours or weeks. I’m just really curious, what’s been the most impactful moment on your journey? These are the stories I like to share with students. Tough question.

Julieanna Hever: It’s a tough question. I can’t pinpoint a moment. There’s been so many different types of moments. There’s been moments when I connect with a client, and that’s been so extraordinary. I work very intimately with my clients. I do a lot of transformations, diet transformation. That’s what I do. They come to me and they have a concern, a health issue. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Something happens, they’ve watched something happen. They’re inspired, and we get really intimate and it’s very intense. This is what evolved into my last book, “Choose You Now.”

The concept of Choose You Now, it’s that everything happens in the moment and you have to choose again and again. I said that about me, having to start with me, because my first few years in this world, I was trying to tell everyone, “You should do this. It’s incredible! Look at the research. Look at this, look at that!” I lost friends. Family didn’t want to eat with me anymore. I really realized that I can’t do that anymore. I don’t know at what moment exactly I stopped and said, “I’m done. I understand. This is so personal.” That is what my TEDx talk was about. It’s about that food is not just nourishment; it’s culture and it’s society, and we’re tribal people. Breaking bread is very important for our psychological well-being. There’s so much depth to why we make our food choices. It represents our families and our culture and our history and our relationships, all of that. I realized that it was so personal that I stopped – in fact I refused – to convince anyone. I refuse. I will not try. I was doing that for years, and I was banging my head against the wall saying, “Why are my clients not always succeeding the way I want them to, because that’s what I’m here for? I want to help them.” I realized it was because I was trying to convince people.

I stopped, and I decided, “If you want to eat this way or you want to eat healthy, or you want me to help, I will love you all the way through this program. I will hold your hand. I am the dietitian in your pocket.” I have all my clients on my cell phone. They text me all the time when stuff happens. I want to be there for you, but I’m not going to try to convince anyone.

I have a moment. I can share one moment that was profound. I’d already known this to be true, but it sealed the deal for me. It was last year when my father had an incident and he was in the hospital and he came to. It was kind of like a stroke situation. He was in a different country. He was in Mexico and I was here at home. I couldn’t get there because of passport and covid and all of that. When he came to and I was able to talk to him on Facetime, I looked at him and I said, “Dad, what happened?”

He told me, “Well, my diet’s been not so great.”

I said, “Dad, I could help you with that. That’s what I do.” He knows that, but I was reminding him.

He looked at me and really profoundly he said, “Jule, you have to want it.”

I was like, “That’s right.” So I’m done. I don’t try to convince anyone of anything anymore, but I will help anyone. My ultimate capacity. I put everything into helping and doing what I can. I feel like that’s what I’m here for. I know it sounds a little cliche, but I really do. I really want to help as many people in as profound a way as possible. I think it starts with me making that choice for myself when I did and how it’s evolved for me.

Learning the Language of a New Diet

Kirk Bachmann: That is profound. We sort of say it a little bit differently to students, adult learners. We need to meet you halfway. Our teachers are facilitators of knowledge. They can’t make you learn, and they can’t promise that you’ll learn. But they can present the information, and the rest is up to you.

We all run into people that hear our message, or maybe they don’t hear our message. They know that they need to get to a place where they stop getting tired of being tired. “Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it tonight.” But they don’t know where to start. We know that a huge part of getting to a place and staying healthy, a place that people is comfortable, is not just about physical exercise. It’s about your diet, whether you like that or not.

If someone is new to the plant-based movement, let’s say, or a change in their diet and lifestyle, is there a little bit of advice of how to ease into that? Start with the pantry. Let’s just start really easy. You mentioned earlier about what’s in your house and what your children see. Would the pantry be the easiest place to start with someone to make that commitment to change their life?

Julieanna Hever: I would rather look at it more behaviorally and thought-wise rather than what’s actually in your kitchen, but I could tie that all together, actually. Here’s what I always say. Changing your diet is like learning a new language. Very similar. You think about it like trying new foods as new words. Maybe you’ve never tried jackfruit, or maybe you’ve never tried couscous or quinoa or wild rice, or anything. An herb. Kale. Something you’ve never tried before. Try it. Try something that sounds good. It’s a new word. You’re adding new words.

Then you tie those together into a recipe. When I started this, it was not easy to find recipes. There was no Google. There were a few cookbooks at the bookstore and you had to play with things and play in the kitchen. Again, I wasn’t as experienced in the kitchen. You put it together. Nowadays, you could literally look up anything you’ve ever wanted to make, and you can find it online. I always say, Use the recipe as a template. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s already been done. Let’s say you love lasagna. You can Google, “whole food, plant-based lasagna.” You’ll get so many hits, it’s ridiculous. Where do you start?

Then if something sounds delicious, start there. Perfect. Good. You start with that. That’s a sentence. Oh, you love this recipe. I would print them out and I would put a heart on the one’s I loved. If I didn’t like it, I would try to modify it or get rid of it. Eventually, I had a pile of recipes in my repertoire that I loved to eat. And then I started modifying, playing, and I had to write books with recipes and all that. It just starts with one simple recipe.

Many of us are creatures of habit, myself included. We rotate through one or two different breakfasts. Maybe three or four different lunches, maybe five or six different dinners. Ultimately, we really only rely on maybe ten recipes a week, max, and then we repeat, because we like what we like. If you just think about it as, “I just need to find my ten new recipes in my repertoire” – I call them find your people, that’s all you need. That’s so much less daunting than thinking, “I have to eat a perfect diet all the time, and every day a new recipe.” It doesn’t have to be like that. Just go back to basics and find stuff you love. Eventually, it becomes fluent. You just know how to make those ten recipes, and you start building on your repertoire and incorporating different recipes and different foods.

It’s kind of exciting. We’re really just putting aside – We have so much landscape on a plate. If you’re swapping out that big hunk of meat in the middle of it, in rethinking the plate and the bowl, you’re really eliminating five to seven different ingredients, but you’re opening your plate to infinite possibility. I think there are 30 to 40 thousand varieties of edible grasses, rice, out there that you can choose from. There are so many possibilities if you just think outside of the plate that you’re used to looking at. It’s really an exciting journey.

My biggest advice is have fun with it. Go into it with wonder and curiosity about what else you can do. What else can you add to your diet? Then you start feeling good, and you start noticing the changes. Then it’s this beautiful self-fulfilling prophecy where you get better and better and it gets easier and easier. Then there’s that learning curve that you’ve gotten past, and you get to decide what you want to do after that. You don’t have to decide what you’re doing next month, next year. It’s just what you are doing. Choose You Now. It’s all about right now.

Restaurant Decadence and the American Diet

Kirk Bachmann: I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a dietitian – and I’m not sure what the stereotype is – with as much passion about food, lots of landscape on the plate. Learning about new food is like learning a new language. Totally stealing all of those, Julieanna, just so you know. I have this crazy question. At Escoffier, one of our newest programs, both online and on-ground is a holistic nutrition and wellness program that is rooted in culinary arts. The basics are very important – the basics around cooking.

For some, becoming a professionally-trained cook or chef can lead to whatever they want it to lead to: Michelin stars, local success, name in lights, whatever path you choose. I’d love to hear you talk about the simple yet complicated approach to preparing ingredients to create nutrient-dense meals that achieve other health and wellness goals that we’re talking about. Do you believe you can do both today? Can you be a Michelin-star superstar chef while achieving incredible, really nutritious food? I know Tal Ronnen is going to say, “Yes! Yes!” who I’m sure you know.

Julieanna Hever: Oh, he’s amazing. Yeah.

Kirk Bachmann: He is amazing. He has this beautiful way of getting there.

Julieanna Hever: And his restaurant, Crossroads, is opening nearby me. They’re opening another [location].

Kirk Bachmann: Oh wow! Wow!

Julieanna Hever: My daughter’s all, “Mommy, they’re opening Crossroads. We’re going to go broke and get fat because we’re going to go there every day.”

Kirk Bachmann: I don’t think you’re going to get fat at Crossroads, though. Oh, I love that.

Julieanna Hever: It’s pretty decadent. I don’t eat that food very often. Restaurant food is decadent. No one’s ever asked me that question, Kirk, about Michelin star and healthy. I don’t know the answer. I’m not a trained chef. I’m just a rookie.

Kirk Bachmann: You’d never know that. It comes from the heart. Sometimes you need the technical prowess. I get it. I get it. But most of the cooking comes from the heart. When you go to the level of Certified Master Chef, let’s say, through the American Culinary Federation, and you show up that day for ten days of testing, it’s not about recipes. You cook with your heart. You either know how to cook, or you don’t.

That’s a compliment to you, by the way. You don’t have to be a trained chef when you’re moving people to change their lives, to do different things. The Tal example just popped into my head because I’ve known him for years. God, I’ve just answered my own question. Of course you can. Of course you can have incredible success. Daniel Humm just did it at Eleven Madison in New York City. Three years ago, he was the number one restaurant in the world and decided to move to plant-based. It doesn’t mean it’s not the number one restaurant in the world anymore. He just went plant-based.

Julieanna Hever: Quite extraordinary. I want to go check that out. I haven’t been there yet.

Kirk Bachmann: Right? Oh my goodness.

Julieanna Hever: I love what you’re saying, and I feel that way, too. That’s how I show love. I always say my love language is making healthy food for people, delicious, nutritious food. I invite my friends and family. My friends and family are always like, “When are you making your mushrooms?” They want to come over just for me to cook for them, and I love that.

But I still feel like I don’t really know exactly about what I’m doing. I wonder. I watch these cooking shows. I’m fascinated by it. I’ve taken classes, of course, and I’ve taught classes, which is quite funny. I feel like I’m not really classically trained. I want to be more trained. I like to cook oil-free. I don’t use any oils at all, any butter, any of that. I don’t use a lot of flour. Barely at all. I don’t use refined sugars. I don’t add salt. I’m very particular in terms of nutritional optimacy, [sic] in terms of what I recommend for my clients who are reversing their chronic disease.

There’s a shift that has to happen in your palate. Restaurant food, by definition, is more decadent. I wonder about that. I deal with my clients going to restaurants, and we see the change in their blood work if they’re eating accordingly.

I wish. I’ve always wanted a movement where it’s healthier but it’s really health, too, and as delicious. But again, we’re dealing with a palate, especially here in the United States, with the standard American diet where people are getting massive hits of hyper-palatable foods all the time. High in fat and sugar and oil and salt, so much salt. I spent so much time at restaurants, at as a dietitian and looking at the kitchens and watching how they prepare food at five-star, top restaurants, watching how they make it palatable for the public. We’re used to this certain palate, and there definitely needs to be a shift if you’re going to go towards more health-promoting foods and clean it up so it’s even more healthful.

There is a balance there that has to be discussed and moderated and, depending on your goals, adjusted.

The Challenge in Your Palate

Kirk Bachmann: I think that’s a really beautiful response. I’m going to set you up for a finale here. I read something about your quote, the tipping point. I’ll get a little personal, as I try to connect the dots to my own life. I received a kidney from my father forty years ago. Long story. It was an incident. I’ve been so, so fortunate, but only in recent years, as I’ve grown a little older, and I have my wife to thank for a lot of that, that I’ve realized how much better a plant-based diet makes me feel.

We run a culinary school. I still believe there’s something to be said about beautiful food that is raised by beautiful farmers, whether it’s wine or lamb. I’m totally not opposed to any of that. We just made some personal choices in our life. And I realized how important controlling inflammation, specifically for me, has been.

So here’s a tough question. It’s kind of funny, kind of not. My goal was to add a snack machine to the campus, because the students have asked for it for in between classes. They just need a little something. Even though we have whole foods and everything, they wanted their own little snack machine. As we build the snack machine, we survey them. The podium included energy drinks and high-sugar, saturated fat snacks. I get it. I’m not picking on my students at all. I’m just wondering how to change the message.

On one of your podcasts, you mentioned that we’re at a tipping point, that we have a chance to redefine “normal.” These are your words: “Let’s be revolutionaries. Let’s claim our children’s health and their future.” We talked about kiddos earlier today. You have also proposed all these incredibly cool, simple, groundbreaking ideas like making your kids’ lunch before they go to school. It’s funny how we do it. We have the menu up on the refrigerator and we have the discussion with our kids before they go. Nine times out of ten, they are like, “Mommy, make my lunch, because I don’t want the nachos.”

We can work with adult learners here on the campus, outside of their typical lessons. One crazy idea was that we have them make their own snacks. Let’s just pull them aside, create another class. They can make their own snacks.

Do you believe, Julieanna, that it’s getting easier to find that people are embracing the idea of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle? I don’t think plant-based is a trend. I really don’t. I think it’s here to stay forever. Caught you off guard. It’s here forever. We have full-blown programs around this. They’re phenomenal students, if I can just tell you, because they come to us with unbelievable knowledge. And some confusion, but unbelievable knowledge around plant-based cooking and lifestyle.

But I’m curious: do you believe it’s getting easier for people – because of people like you – to embrace that lifestyle? Or is it still really hard to overcome?

Julieanna Hever: I don’t know even how to answer that other than to refer back and say, You have to want it. My other saying that I published in the “Mediterranean Diet,” was “You could lead a human to healthy, but you can’t make them eat.” When I start with my clients, [I ask] “Why now? Why do you want this? Write it out. Think about it.” Because it’s so hard in this culture. You are bombarded by temptations that are hyper-palatable foods. There’s no competition between an ooey-gooey pizza hot off the grill or pizza oven, and crudite and hummus for a lot of people. That’s a no-brainer for a lot of people – unless you want it and you need it, and there’s a reason for it.

I won’t try to convince everyone, but I literally do quiz my clients. When they reach out to me, I’m very careful who I choose to work with because I have to make sure they want this. Otherwise, it’s beating my head against a wall. It’s a waste of all our time, and it’s disappointing to them, it’s disappointing to me if it’s not effective. If you want it, you can do this, but you have to change your palate. If you change your palate, and you get one hit – one hit – of chocolate peanut butter cake, whatever, something that was your thing, and you get that sugar rush and that dopamine rush, it’s very hard to come away from that and get back to your palate.

I call it Days of Deliciousness. That’s how I phrase it and frame it. If you stay on plan and you’re eating a healthy diet most of the time, there’s always rooms for treats as long as you get back on your plan. If you eat a couple days of these hyper-palatable foods, you’re palate goes back. We’re never immune to that. Salt, sugar, oil, flour – all that stuff – there’s a biochemical reaction that takes place.

If you’re out in the world saying, “No, I’m eating healthy right now,” everyone will try to stop you. Everyone’s going to ask you, “Oh, aren’t you getting too thin? Aren’t you worried about protein?” All of these little things. People plant these seeds in your brain that grow, and then you’re worried about protein. You find yourself worried about B12. The palate is really hard. You have to really want it badly enough to say no to these things all the time. You can have anything delivered to your door. There’s all these different apps that will deliver anything to your door – fast food, anything at your door, 24/7. You have to keep staying on course. There’s messaging everywhere, these flashes of pictures and imagery. I have to sometimes get off social media because it makes me think about food in ways I wouldn’t normally think about. It’s because we’re human. We’re humans adapted for times of scarcity. We’re adapted to survive and take in as many calories as we can, as possible, to store for later. But later never comes, and here we are constantly dealing with these battles.

I don’t know if there’s more of it. We’re still creeping up in obesity rates. We’re still creeping up in cardio-vascular disease. It’s not going anywhere. It’s still the number one killer around the world, yet it’s so preventable for so many people. Type 2 diabetes. It’s kind of interesting. Even the vegan movement: I have long-term vegans coming to me in the last seven or eight years that have the same health issues as the omnivores because of all of the foods that are now made vegan and are very similar to the animal version. A burger that looks like a burger, no matter what it’s made out of it, a lot of them are high in saturated fat and all that.

Again, I like to frame it as This is a healthy diet based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices in infinite tasty combinations. Have a day of deliciousness planned if you need to or want to, and then go back to your whole plant foods.

Julieanna Hever’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: So well said, and what a great answer to one your weren’t expecting. I absolutely love it.

I don’t know where the time went. I can’t believe how much fun this has been. I just adore you. Your message is just spectacular, and your energy is infectious. I just love it. I’m going to reach back out to you because it would be so fun to have you on a webinar with our students. We’re going to call it, “Be a Lighthouse, Not a Tugboat.” People will go crazy. I can’t wait.

But before I let you go, the name of the podcast is the Ultimate Dish. You’ve talked a lot about food today, so Julieanna, what is the ultimate dish?

Julieanna Hever: Thank you for all those beautiful things you said. I really appreciate that, and I would love to be on there answering questions on a webinar with your students.

There’s so many ways to answer that question, but I think it comes down to what I said before. My love language is showing my love for someone by feeding them healthy, delicious, nutritious food and filling their bodies. You are quite literally what you eat, and filling them with nutritious items that they enjoy and that will bring them last health, at least for that moment. I love connecting and bonding over healthy food. It’s everything to me.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely perfect answer. After 65 podcasts, no one has called food their love language. Absolutely yours. I won’t let anyone else say that. Perfect. And I won’t steal that, that’s absolutely beautiful.

Thanks so much for spending some time. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day, a great salad for the family tonight, and I’ll be sure to reach out. We’ll get in front of some students real soon.

Julieanna Hever: Thank you so much, Kirk. I really appreciate it.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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