[Estacada News]

A first course of summer vegetable salad with pumpkin citrus dressing, incredibly moist Anasazi corn bread with maple coconut butter, a scrumptious dessert of cacao nibs, Medjool dates, hemp nuts, and agave nectar -- sample local chef Al Chase's vegan cuisine, and you may wonder why you've ever eaten any other way.

"Vegan food isn't simply meant to be nutritious," Chase says. "It should also be delicious and fun. And it's good for the planet as well as the individual eating it."

Chase buys his produce locally, which not only supports local organic farmers but also cuts down on fossil fuel usage.
Chase slowly began to eliminate meat from his diet. Soon after that, the one-time French classical and nouvelle chef began to feel he could no longer cook meat.

"I'd learned too much about health and environmental issues to do that any longer," he says. "For example, it takes 25,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. The rain forest is being destroyed for factory farming and to raise cattle.

"Animals are often cruelly treated, separated from their young, and their food is full of unhealthy additives that harm them and the humans who consume their meat. I wanted to educate others so they would be aware of the impact of their food choices."

Pairing his love of cooking with his knowledge about health and sustainability, Chase created what was then called the Institute for Culinary Awakening, a mobile teaching organization, and traveled all over the country teaching organic plant-based cuisine to chefs, businesses and individuals.
"Vegans do live with a strong commitment to health and the environment," she says, "but Al and I teach, we don't preach. We'd love society to see vegan as another food option. For instance, when someone's going out to dinner and they're deciding whether to eat Italian, Chinese or Thai, it'd be wonderful to have them adding vegan into that choice."
Vegan dishes are cholesterol-free and high in fiber, and they can eliminate, reverse or prevent heart disease and diabetes. A vegan diet also has proven to be effective for battling obesity, osteoporosis, and some other major health concerns.

"People sometimes worry that if they become vegans, they won't get enough protein and calcium," Benjamin says. "But those are both available from a plant-based diet. People can also appease a sweet tooth. Al makes incredible chocolate pudding, pecan pie and all kinds of other wonderful treats. There are plenty of great recipes out there."

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