Last week‘s column featuring fans of Broad Street Dough Co. introduced me to several fascinating folks who I will be introducing you to via Lick the Plate. One of them was local Encinitas resident and plant-based chef Lena Ropp, who got me thinking about the benefits of adding more plant-based food into my diet. I also found her background growing up in Kazakhstan very interesting and a world away from her current vegan lifestyle in Encinitas. Some highlights from our conversation and more about Lena’s endeavors below.
LTP: Where did you grow up and what type of food was popular in that area?
Lena: I am from Kazakhstan and it’s all about meats and dough-based foods like dumplings and pastries there. But we had our summer garden where we grew all kinds of vegetables, fruits and berries. We would plant all of our crops in spring, work there every weekend during the summer, gather crops in the fall, pickle a lot, make all kinds of jams and preserves and store them to eat all winter. We always had a full table of delicious foods made from the veggies and fruits we grew in our garden with love.
LTP: Was there something you remember your parents or other family members making that you always looked forward to eating?
Lena: These were the two dishes I loved the most — both meat-based! My grandma made the most delicious Beshbarmak every holiday. It is probably the most popular Kazakh dish. Cooked horse, lamb and beef served along with traditionally prepared thin pasta squares. The dish is then combined with a flavorful sauce made with meat broth, onions, salt, and pepper.
And my grandpa made the yummiest Kazy, a horse sausage seasoned with garlic, pepper, and salt. It sounds terrible to eat horse, I know, but these two were the dishes I was always looking forward to. And when you are a kid, you don’t question what your parents feed you.
I think I ate too much meat when i was young. Perhaps that’s why when I moved out from my parents’ house, I hardly bought any meat for myself!
LTP: When did you shift to the current vegan, healthy living lifestyle you represent?
Lena: My whole family shifted to a plant-based lifestyle seven years ago, not long after watching the documentaries “Food, Inc.” and “Forks Over Knives.” These were mind-changing for my husband and me — they caused us to reconsider what we need and like to eat, and about food from an ethical perspective. We decided not to be a part of this money-making machine and to care more deeply for our health, and for the way we impact the environment and our planet.
LTP: Tell me about PureVeganFood, how it started and what it encompasses.
Lena: Ever since I realized how the food I make profoundly affected my health, it became my personal mission to inspire others to take control of their health, by starting in the kitchen. I’m a plant-based chef, recipe developer, food stylist, healthy living educator, author and social media influencer. I have been inspiring my community on @pureveganfood through the art of food since 2014.
With a focus on healthy balanced eating, regular self-care and whole-body wellness, PureVeganFood is an online community (instagram account @pureveganfood, blog mypureveganfood.com) where I share easy-to-follow recipes and tips to empower and inspire to take care of yourself through daily practices that support mind, body and spirit.
I also encourage my followers to devote time to daily exercise, meditation and mindfulness and strengthen their connection to themselves and our community. Additionally, I share about my trips, favorite restaurants and hotels, cruelty-free and ethical fashion, parenting, green beauty and other healthy lifestyle tips.
LTP: What advice do you have for people who are looking to explore the vegan lifestyle?
Lena: Educate yourself first, watch documentaries like “The Game Changers” and “What the Health.” Don’t try to become 100% plant-based overnight. Try plant-based foods, like coconut ice cream, almond based cheese, and oat milk; make plant-based breakfasts, lunch or dinner. Experiment with ingredients and begin increasing the frequency of plant foods at a pace that feels good. See how it works for your body, observe the way you feel after eating this way, if you like it, add more plants and enjoy the journey to healthier and happier you.
LTP: What North County restaurants do you prefer for vegan options?
Lena: I love Trilogy Sanctuary, Peace Pies and Choice Juicery
LTP: You are also a food stylist, that sounds fun, tell me more about what that entails.
Lena: I create delicious, high-vibe plant-based meals and desserts by using the purest, wholesome ingredients for magazines and brands. I have been a contributing chef to numerous recipe books as well as featured in many national print and online publications such as One Green Planet, The Healthy Mama Magazine, Eat for the Planet, and THRIVE Magazine.
LTP: You have four children, have they adopted the vegan lifestyle?
Lena: Two of my kids are fully plant-based and thriving on plants. They daily make smoothies, salads, ice creams, donuts, pizzas, and all the yummy foods! They love being in the kitchen and are always up to cooking, licking their fingers, plating their creation and enjoying with the whole family. My other two kids share time between our house and their mom’s house, so they are mostly plant-based but not 100%.
LTP: Anything else you would like to add?
Lena: Our desire to inspire others to consider a plant-based lifestyle, along with our passion for growing our food has compelled us to create Wilder, an eco-retreat center on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Wilder will be a regenerative food forest, permaculture farm and rustic-luxurious sanctuary. Retreats at Wilder will be focused on yoga and mindfulness, permaculture, plant-based cuisine and lifestyle, surfing and holistic healing. Our mission is to help people to find balance and to make a move toward wildness.