Life's a feast, and here's how to enhance it with plant-based food

Tenterfield is developing into quite a foodie hub, and it can now add another facet to that niche with a series of plant-based food workshops proving hugely popular.

It all started when Lara Flanagan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis back in 2013. Traditional treatments didn't alleviate her symptoms to any great extent, but on investigating science-backed alternatives she discovered that switching to a plant-based diet did help.

Lara is certainly not flying the flag for veganism but she is keen to share her new-found appreciation of plant-based eating with others, and they're keen to receive it. She has joined forces with trained nutritionist Rebecca Everett from Tenterfield Go Vita and the duo are three events into a series of workshops that are booked out well in advance.

"Bec and I have been bowled over by the level of interest," Lara said.

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Locals make up around half of the participants with the remainder travelling in, generally for a weekend stay boosting those tourism dollars.

"They stay and shop, have breakfast at The Corner, lunch at The Potting Shed and check out the local sights," Lara said.

Launching a plant-based food movement (Lara strongly avoids the term veganism and its associations) in cattle and sheep country is not for the fainthearted. Lara feels, however, that most people recognise that boosting their fruit and vegetable intake is a boon to their health.

She and Bec are out to demonstrate that this can be done is a way that's not only acceptable but enjoyable. Their workshops go by the name FEAST, and that's an acronym for Family, friendly and fun, Economical, Available and attainable, Sexy (in that it looks good on the plate) and Taste.

As a struggling single mum of five-year-old twins with a debilitating disease when she was first diagnosed, Lara was not in a position to purchase exotic and/or expensive ingredients for her new diet, and preparation had to be easy.

"I looked at vegan cookbooks and they were more like lab books," she recalls.

She now spends a month ahead of each workshop developing new recipes, and each workshop has a different theme. The August one is A Winter Grazing Table, followed by The Sweetness of Spring in October.

They're held in the shed behind the Old Council Chambers, providing the perfect rustic ambiance for the social sharing FEAST philosophy. Participants are limited to 20 per workshop, to maintain a cosy, social experience.

Lara said the format may change slightly next year but will continue to promote seasonal eating, a bonus for the keen gardeners aiming to grow some of their own food.

The ingredients are all available locally. She sources most of the produce through Sue's Fruit and Veg, with other ingredients coming from Go Vita or the local supermarket.

And they're ingredients people are familiar with, worked in a different way like converting nuts into a cream or using hummus as a spread.

"There's nothing different or strange," she said.

"It's important that it's available, and it's got to be yummy, comforting and fun."

Recipes also have to pass the Rissie test. There are no restrictions on what Lara's twins Archie and Rissie eat outside the home but while Archie is easy-going, Rissie can be quite a fussy eater so the meals have to be kid-friendly.

The recipes also maintain ties to traditional dishes, so you will find mac-and-cheese, Caesar salad, bean chilli and perhaps a mushroom bourguignon on the menu. Follow that up with an apple crumble cake or chocolate and raspberry fudge cake for dessert.

Ingredient choices are becoming easier with protein-alternatives going mainstream. Lara said she was impressed to find products from Beyond Burgers and Alternative Meat in the meat cabinet at Coles.

"In a little town like this, that's amazing."

She was thrilled to see one of the workshop participants tag a post #tenterfieldfoodmovement. She credits foodie events put on by Josh Telford at Our Place and by Sapphire Daly for promoting the town's great produce, along with regular eating experiences like the home-cooked meals at The Potting Shed, home-baking at The Bohemian Tearoom and quality dining at The Corner.

"We're getting a reputation as a foodie destination," Lara said.

In her overseas travels looking for answers, Lara said she learned a lot but especially about how joyous food can be, despite or perhaps due to her plant-based regime.

"Life is a feast, not a diet. It should be shared at a table with people you love."

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