Tracy Childs Teaches How to Cook Health and Great Meals At The Same Time
A commonplace perception is that whole foods, plant-based diets are healthy, but perhaps lacking in taste, variety, and satisfaction. Tracy Childs is working to change that misperception, showing her students that whole foods, plant-based recipes can delight their taste, fill their stomachs, and please their families.
I met Tracy, a fellow San Diegan, a couple of years ago. Since then I have been fortunate to sample several of her cooking creations. Wow! I asked Tracy to share how she became a vegan cooking teacher and the joys and difficulties of this work.
Tracy grew up eating mostly made-from-scratch dishes her mom cooked. Influenced by television, Tracy wanted to try white bread, sugary cereals, and store-bought cookies. Yet she also always liked vegetables, which was unusual for the kids she grew up with. She remembers her mom’s friends remarking on her appetite for spinach and mushrooms. In addition to her appreciation for vegetables and unprocessed foods, Tracy also picked up on her mom’s enjoyment of creative cooking.
I asked Tracy about her path to the whole foods, plant-based diet she enjoys and advocates now. “I never really liked meat or milk, so when, at 17, I heard about vegetarians I decided it was for me! I still ate some fish, eggs and cheese for the college years (back then, the definition of vegetarian was quite blurry). I dropped eating fish after college, and moved to being mostly vegan when I was 30. So it has been a life-long progression,” Tracy recalls.
“At first, I just decided I didn’t want to eat farm animals – and I didn’t really like those foods anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. Later on, I became educated about factory farms and how the dairy and egg industries work. I decided to extract myself completely from these cruel industries. I also wanted to do my part to make the planet a better place by not supporting the polluting animal foods
industries. Over the years I have learned more and more about the advantages of a plant-based diet for my health.”
Tracy was always slim, but still lost 15 pounds after adding more vegetables to her diet. She notes she is stronger on a vegan diet and can now do pushups – an exercise she was never able to do before. The asthma that she struggled with as a child and young adult is now gone, and her seasonal allergies are so improved that she no longer needs medications for them.
Tracy is enthusiastic about her vegan diet. “It’s my life! I really enjoy these foods and can’t imagine eating differently.” Her major challenge is finding foods she likes when travelling or eating out at restaurants that are not veg-friendly.
A Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society of the UK solved this problem on a recent trip to
Europe. This document, which describes a vegan diet in 73 languages, helped both Tracy and the restaurant staff who wanted her to be happy to enjoy her meals.
Tracy has found that education is key in encouraging others to choose a whole foods, plant-based diet. “Once people understand that they can stay healthy and likely get healthier on a plant-based diet and how the meat and dairy industries work, many people choose to avoid those foods and increase their consumption of whole, plant-based foods. It’s a win-win all around – for their general health and disease prevention, for the animals and for the environment! Basically, money and animals don’t mix. I don’t think they can ever be raised “humanely” and in a healthy, sustainable, affordable way for profit.” Tracy observes.
Tracy started her path as a vegan cooking instructor to help interested people transition to a plant-based diet. She had been a long-time member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). “I read about The Cancer Project Food for Life program in PCRM’s “Good Medicine” publication and knew this was the job I had been dreaming of,” Tracy tells me. The Cancer Projectadvances cancer prevention and survival through nutrition education and research. Tracy immediately contacted them to
learn more about the program and apply for the position of Cancer Project Cooking Instructor.
Tracy has been working with The Cancer Project more than five years. Classes center around the power of whole, plant-based foods in cancer prevention and how some foods – mainly high fat (meat, dairy, eggs, and oils) and low-nutrient, highly processed foods – can be a catalyst for and actually initiate cancer growth. Tracy has been reaching many people but recently decided she wanted to do more.
When a friend approached her about getting a group together to teach more classes, she jumped at the chance to work with others to further education about whole plant-based meals. Tracy joined with two friends with a common vision to form Veg-Appeal. This company specializes in teaching a wide variety of focused, plant-based cooking classes in the San Diego area. “We teach classes about once per month on many different topics including “Healthy in Hurry,” “Festive and Healthy Holidays,” Lean Meals on a Lean Budget” and “Maintaining Bone Vitality,”” Tracy explains. The upcoming August 28 class is “Transforming Comfort Foods – Classic Comfort Foods Get Healthy.”
Many attendees in both programs that Tracy is involved with are cancer survivors, looking to take control of their own health through adopting a healthier diet and finding out more about nutrition and cancer prevention. Others are looking to reverse diabetes, lose weight, or simply searching for easy, healthy recipe ideas and cooking techniques.
I asked Tracy what she likes best about her classes. “It has been rewarding to keep in contact with people who tell me how much better they feel after adopting this diet – and finding out that “there really is something to this!” I love making people feel empowered – they find out that there is a way for them to take control and fight disease through a healthier diet – using foods they can find in their neighborhood grocery store.”
She goes on to observe “The only frustrating thing is the threat of “burnout” from hauling cooking equipment and food around from venue to venue and setting up a “kitchen” from scratch on a 6 foot table. My dream is to someday have a permanent place where we can “show up” and teach classes! We would be able to teach many more classes this way and teach more people about the power of whole foods nutrition!”
What is the one comment from students that most stands out in Tracy’s mind? “I never thought this type of food could taste so good and be so satisfying!” Having feasted on Tracy’s cooking myself, I can second her students’ enthusiasm.
When Tracy first started teaching, she was afraid to use the word “vegan” in class as many did not even know what it meant or had a negative reaction to the word. More recently, she has been gratified to note that more people are aware of vegan diets and many are working towards it as a goal – or at least they trying to consume less animal products, especially meat. She notes the film Forks Over Knives has had a positive effect. She often receives emails from people who have seen this movie and are looking for help in transitioning to a more plant-based diet.
Tracy and her husband, who is also vegan, raised their two children on a plant-based diet. I asked Tracy about the rewards and challenges of vegan parenting. “I’m glad that my kids have never had meat. Even though I never liked it myself, I’m glad that I never had to transition them away from it, if they did like it. But being vegetarian or vegan in our family is a choice. I think it would be very difficult to “force” anyone to be vegetarian – especially as they get older. My kids are 16 and 20 so they are out on their own a great deal, making food choices. When they were younger, of course there were many challenges with our diet choice. Travelling can be difficult and both kids have played competitive sports on travelling teams. There are many group dinners and eating out at places we wouldn’t ordinarily choose. I have always been a “food toting” mom, though, so we never went too hungry.”
If you are in San Diego, look up Tracy’s classes for either The Cancer Project or Veg-Appeal. If you are elsewhere, you might try a web search to find vegan cooking classes, starting with The Cancer Project, with instructors in 30 states, 150 cities, and at least 8 other countries.
Consider buying some vegan cooking DVDs. Tracy recommends Jeff Novick’s Fast Food. Awesome plant-based cookbooks give a huge range of choices as well. Try sharing your favorite dishes with others and giving out copies of the recipe. You may be happy to see others attracted to your food choices, and then spreading the word themselves, while you enjoy new, exciting, life-giving meals.
If you are feeling inspired to cook, you might enjoy the post Twelve Ways to Make Cooking Fun and Easy.
Intrigued? Now you can use our Whole Foods Blog Finder to target informative, fun postings on plant-based nutrition. Quick information at no cost!
Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. This easy-to-follow eating plan is built on sustainable food choices that can prevent, and even reverse, most chronic disease.
Tags: cooking classes, diabetes, getting healthy, Janice Stanger, lose weight, PCRM, Plant-based nutrition, Recipes, The Cancer Project, Tracy Childs, Veg-Appeal, vegan parent, whole foods plant-based diet