What is Good Food?

Browsing on the New York Times website recently, I saw a notice that Julia Reed, a food writer, had died. By all accounts she was a delightful person—irreverent, witty and kind—and a marvelous writer. She had a cancer diagnosis but at the time of her death was visiting friends on a holiday trip. Given that she was possibly quite ill, some people would say this was a good way to depart life, although much too soon at the age of 59.

Intrigued by this woman, I read on, wondering if I would resonate with her food writing. Ms. Reed was born in Mississippi and celebrated Southern cooking, a cuisine with some notable health pitfalls. The Times offered links to 5 of her recipes: Hot Cheese Olives, Roman Steak, Summer Squash Casserole, Milk Punch, and Pralines. I guessed that none of these recipes would be whole-food plant-based, but I couldn’t check, because the Times saw fit to put them behind a paywall.

Fortunately, this move on the part of the Times elicited a barrage of complaints from commenters, one of whom incorporated the recipe for Summer Squash Casserole—the one recipe that had a prayer of being healthy— into her remarks. Here are the ingredients.


Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 pounds yellow summer squash

7 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, chopped

½ red bell pepper, chopped

½ green bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

4 slices plain white bread, toasted

24 Ritz crackers, crumbed in food processor

½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

4 large eggs, beaten

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

I have to admit I was shocked by this recipe. The only healthy ingredients are the vegetables: the squash, peppers, onion and garlic. Ms. Reed has used them as a delivery system for a load of animal foods: butter, eggs, cheddar cheese, and heavy whipping cream. Ms. Reed does not do a nutritional analysis —she wouldn’t have dared—but it doesn’t take that to know that the calories from vegetables are outweighed many times over by calories from high-fat animal products. Even the grain products used are refined and processed: white bread and Ritz crackers.

It seemed a shame to take a detour from appreciating this entertaining and lovable writer who had died too young, to tut-tutting about the recipes that she wrote; but I had no choice.

It made me realize that the world of whole-food plant-based eating isn’t just a counterweight to the world of “non-food” such as what you find on the shelves of a thruway rest stop. (Forgive me, I just went on a road trip.) It’s also a counterweight to a respectable world of gourmet cooks who believe that taking care of yourself and being good to yourself require that you be open to any and all taste experiences, no matter how decadent.

But eating this food is not taking care of yourself or even being good to yourself in the final analysis.

The problem is that foods such as Ms. Reed’s casserole do taste good: we are programmed to have a taste for fat, salt and sugar because for early humans food was scarce, and it was adaptive to eat these things when you could find them. Now they are as close as the corner supermarket. And down the road from eating this way is chronic illness, disability, and just plain not feeling good.

Summer squash lightly steamed or sautéed without oil tastes just as good to an enlightened palate; and eating this way not only doesn’t hurt you, it builds health. That makes all the difference. Rest in peace, Ms. Reed, but alas, I won’t be using your recipes.

Here’s a summer squash casserole that’s “a Southern favorite made healthy.”

Vegan Squash Casserole

And here is a stovetop summer squash sauté that is plant-based and also Esselstyn- and RLMI  Jumpstart compliant. Read about Jumpstart here: https://www.rochesterlifestylemedicine.com/about-community-jumpstart/


RLMI summer squash blog


1/4 cup braising liquid, more as needed (IE: veggie broth, dry vermouth, etc)

2 or 3 medium-size summer squash or zucchini, or a mix for a pretty result

1 small onion or 1/2 medium onion, chopped (save the rest for another dish)

2-3 cloves garlic. minced

Bell pepper, diced (optional)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp dried oregano or thyme or fresh herbs if you have them

In a medium saucepan, pour in about 1/4 cup of white wine, dry vermouth, dry sherry, or vegetable broth.* “Slice and dice” the squash: cut it into coins the then each coin into wedges depending on their size and the final result you want. Turn on the heat and add the onion and garlic; cook at medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the squash/zucchini coins and keep stirring and cooking. Total cooking time should be 5 to 10 minutes. Look for the squash to take on a more translucent look to let you know it’s done. Summer squash and zucchini can be eaten raw so people differ in deciding when it’s done.

And here is a vegetable cooking chart: https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and-techniques/how-to-cook-vegetables24.htm

*Use salt-free veg broth if available; if you use regular veg broth, leave out the salt in the recipe.

RLMI Board of Directors publish paper in AJLM October 2020

Lifestyle Medicine in the Midst of a Pandemic, authored by RLMI Board of Directors, Susan M. Friedman, MD, MPH, Carol Hee Barnett, PhD, JD, and Ted D. Barnett, MD was published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. An excerpt from the paper’s abstract: Patients with chronic conditions are at higher risk of complications and mortality if they get COVID-19. Approximately half of American adults have at least 1 condition that increases their risk of complications if they become infected. The medical and public health communities need to send a clear message about the impact of lifestyle on
health, particularly in the time of this pandemic. We need to communicate with patients and the public, to let them know how rapidly major lifestyle changes can improve health. This communication is urgent; the timeline for self-care and lifestyle medicine interventions has been telescoped, so that chronic diseases are now acute risk factors.

Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute is Committed to Fighting Systemic Racism

Rochester Lifestyle Medicine is dedicated to addressing the root causes of disease. Structural inequities and racism increase the risk of chronic illness, and social determinants of health have contributed to poor outcomes in communities of color. As medical providers and as human beings, we want to eradicate racism and the damage it causes. Our goal is to make lifestyle medicine and sustainable healthcare options available to all.

Independence from Meat Day

Every year on July 4, our national celebration of independence from England shares the day with an international holiday: Independence from Meat Day. This day also celebrates Jackfruit, which accentuates Independence from Meat Day, as jackfruit serves as an excellent and easy replacement for meat in many dishes (recipes below).

Independence from Meat Day encourages everyone to try going meat free for the day, enjoying the fresh produce and other delicious foods that are grown and cultivated during the summer months. It’s an opportunity to give the climate, the forests, the air and our water sources a break. It’s an opportunity to explore healthy plant based dishes, with no harm to animals.

Independence from Meat Day emanates from the Vegetarian Awareness Network/Veganet in Tennessee (Knoxville), with the goal of promoting a plant-based vegan diet, whereby the consumption of meat is abandoned

Just do it. Celebrate on July 4th by trying some recipes from these festive and filling meat free recipes  sites: https://www.planted365.com/2019/07/03/4th-of-july/ and https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/healthy/g4898/best-jackfruit-recipes-for-vegetarians/.

Be resourceful. Go online and look up easy plant based and vegan recipes. Buy a vegan or plant based cookbook. Make some new dishes. Post images and share your Independence from Meat Day celebrations on social media; use the hashtag #IndependenceFromMeatDay.

Adhere to the Independence from Meat Every Day lifestyle and LIVE the difference. Your body, the planet and the animals will all thank you.

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.– Vegetarian Leo Tolstoy

 “Animals are my friends… and I don’t eat my friends.” – Vegetarian George Bernard Shaw


Plant-Based Comfort Food: Dig In!

Not to cast a pall over your day or make inappropriate political observations but—we all need some comfort right now.

At the time of this writing (early June 2020), we have been under lockdown for a pandemic for almost three months. We are in a state of social unrest (some might say upheaval). It is a time of economic change for everyone and hardship for many. And that’s just for starters. 

What could be a better time for comfort food?

What is comfort food, anyway? And is it possible that indulging in comfort food could actually be a good thing?

According to lexicon.com, comfort food is “Food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

A quick look at the tables of contents of Melanie McDonald’s Vegan Comfort Cooking yielded the following recipes: Feel-Good Potato and Chickpea Curry, Mom’s Spaghetti and “Meatballs,” and Miracle No-Knead Focaccia.

If there is a theme to comfort food, it can be summed up in one word: carbs.

Carbs make us feel calmed, satisfied, sustained, soothed, and nurtured—in a word, comforted. Most of us can think of a carb that makes us feel anchored and grounded: a bowl of rice or pasta, a baked potato, a slice of warm bread. 

But can it be good to eat carbs? The answer is YES. Carbs are good for you, if you eat the right ones.

A short nutrition lesson:

—All whole foods have all three macronutrients in them: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. 

—Carbohydrates are healthful if they come from whole foods and are in as close to their natural state as possible. 

Many carbs like beans and grains need to be cooked or sprouted to be edible, which is a kind of processing. And many of us enjoy bread and pasta, which is processed, but that’s okay as long as nothing valuable is taken out and nothing bad added (credit to Dr. Greger here, How Not To Die p.)—i.e. whole grain bread and pasta with no or few additives. 

There are at least four or five cookbooks with “vegan” and “comfort food” or “comfort cooking” in the titles. But be forewarned that many of the recipes in these books are high in salt, sugar and fat and you would need to steer around or adapt many of the recipes.

Here are a couple of recipes from plant-based websites that are sure to nourish you and make you feel full and taken care of: plant-based comfort food.

(10 min. prep, 20 min. cooking)
(Serves 4 to 8)

1/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, sliced (some leaves ok)
1 teaspoon EACH dried thyme, basil and oregano*
2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
12 – 16 ounces rotini pasta (use whole wheat or brown rice pasta)
10 – 12 cups water or vegetable broth (or combo)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
salt & pepper, to taste
lemon wedges, to serve
Sauté: In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat water over medium heat, add onion, carrots, celery and herbs, cook for 5 – 6 minutes, stirring frequently.
Simmer: Add the chickpeas, pasta, and liquids to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 6 – 7 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
Season: Finally, stir in the chopped parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve: Ladle into individual bowls and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing. The lemon is highly recommended and will add a delicious spark of flavor, trust me! Add a little more fresh parsley to garnish.

*If you don’t have all three herbs on hand, use 1 tablespoon of whichever herb you have on hand. Or if using 2 herbs, use 1 1/2 teaspoons each.

(15 min prep, 30 min cooking)
(Serves 6 – 8)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
28 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
4 small zucchini, sliced
2 small yellow crookneck squash, sliced
1 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 tbsp soy sauce (optional)
1 tbsp parsley flakes or 1/4 cup fresh
1 tsp dried basil or 1 tbsp fresh
1 tsp oregano or 1/2 tbsp fresh
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed in 1/4 cup cold water

Place the onion, garlic and bell pepper in a large pot with the vegetable broth. Cook and stir until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and beans. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the corn and seasonings, except for the cornstarch mixture. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Editor’s note: I would not be able to resist adding some peeled diced potato along with the corn. Also, you could substitute flour for the cornstarch, or you could use neither and have more of a soup than a stew—still delicious. Good served over cooked brown rice or quinoa for added comfort!

Lifestyle Medicine Week 2020: Summary

Welcome to the last day of Lifestyle Medicine Week 2020!

The mission of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute is to establish Lifestyle Medicine, especially the adoption of Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) nutrition, as the foundation for health and the healthcare system.

As you can see from this graphic, Lifestyle Medicine is critical for preventing the most common and costly chronic conditions afflicting our citizens. Learn more about Lifestyle Medicine Week.

Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute is proud to support the critical work of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM). ACLM recognizes six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine: the use of a whole food, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle; regular physical activity; restorative sleep; stress management; avoidance of risky substances; and positive social connection. As you can see from our Wellness Wheel, we have added 3 pillars of our own: spending time outdoors, seeking purpose, and finding joy.

Stay well and have fun!

Ted D. Barnett, MD, FACLM
Partner, Borg and Ide Imaging
Board Member, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Founder and CEO, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Group
Founding President, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute