With a new cookbook out, a recently launched kids' eco-clothing company, and a "wicked" healthy website, veteran plant activist Chad Sarno is pretty busy greening up the country. Oh, and did we mention his day job as the Healthy Eating senior culinary educator for Whole Foods Market?
We recently caught up with the plant-fueled author, chef and health advocate for the lowdown on his many endeavors.
Bringing Plant Power to Whole Foods
If you've been to a Whole Foods Market lately, you probably noticed healthy tips around the store, recipe cards, and even a cooking demonstration area. As senior culinary educator for the chain's Healthy Eating Program, Sarno gets a lot of say about these initiatives.
"We're trying to remove the veil a bit with our program about what healthy eating really is. We offer a lot of recipes; we have health specialists in about two-thirds of our stores. We're trying to get back to the store's roots of healthy eating and culinary education," Sarno says.
What are Whole Foods' shoppers putting in their carts these days? "It's impossible to nail down exactly what health concerns are driving the Whole Foods' shopper," according to Sarno. "We serve every demographic you can imagine, from the health conscious, to the active, to the people who are just foodies unconcerned with health. At Whole Foods, the one thing we do push is options."
In his leadership role at the influential company, Sarno hopes to offer opportunities for people to dive a little deeper into their health. "I want to empower them to get back in the kitchen. Not everybody is going to make an intricate recipe every night; people are on the go, and they have busy lives. Our program is about helping people minimize processed-food intake, quick healthy solutions, and using fresh healthy ingredients—scratch-cooking, really."
Feeding a 7-Year-Old
For Sarno, feeding his daughter is more than just putting a plate of healthy food in front of her. "I try to get her involved in the process. Every Saturday we go to the farmers' market and she picks out some vegetables. She has a cutting board and little knife and she works alongside me preparing meals. She loves cooking. I think the trick for getting any kid to eat a little healthier is getting them involved; get them handling the ingredients rather than 'OK, sit down and eat your greens.'"
Because Sarno's been giving his daughter a wide variety of healthy options since she started eating, she's got a palate primed for plants. "I've been getting greens in her since she was real young. I make her smoothies with fruits and some greens like kale. I used to put them in a dark sippy cup so she couldn't see the color.
"Now at dinnertime, she gets her choice between a salad and a smoothie before her meal. She usually chooses the smoothie because it's sweet. It's great though, because she gets fresh fruit and kale, which she wouldn't eat otherwise."
Breakfast is usually her favorite: toast with avocado, and a squeeze of lemon (yes, parents, you read that right). Dinner might be simple pasta with fresh veggies or a "pita pizza" loaded with her favorite vegetables. "She loves to assemble them," Sarno says.
What's in His Fridge?
No, Sarno's fridge isn't packed with the tempting prepared foods and gourmet goodies Whole Foods is known for. "There are usually lots of veggies and tofu in there and always kale. And then maybe whatever I see fresh at the market. Today I have these baby, baby, baby Brussels sprouts I picked up at the market. They are like pill size and absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and there's usually some form of nondairy milk in the fridge."
Crazy Sexy Kitchen
Sexy doesn't make it into a cookbook title too often, but when you're coauthor is the New York Times best-selling author of Crazy Sexy Diet (Skirt, 2011), Kris Carr, outspoken health advocate, it's headline material. Collaborating with her was a no-brainer for Sarno.
"I've known Kris for a while now and she's just this total powerhouse wellness warrior. I'm inspired by what she's doing, and we'd been talking for a while about doing something on the culinary side and that's how the book came about. I worked closely with her developing the recipes based on her personal philosophy around diet. We had a blast, a ton of fun."
What makes this plant-powered recipe book different from all the other healthy cookbooks out there? Flexibility and ease, according to Sarno. "It reaches a wide audience and it's incredibly accessible. I wanted to create recipes for people who didn't cook, but also that chefs would find interesting. A lot of the recipes have different sauces and marinades and techniques, so you can mix and match and double or triple the number of recipes in the book."
In the back of the book, you'll find menus for special occasions and holidays, which come in handy when you want to offer healthier options for those typically fat-laden affairs. Suggestions for Valentine's Day include Truffled Edamame Dumplings with Shallot Broth and Pineapple Rose Sorbet. There's even a Game Day menu touting Green Chili Guacamole and Crazy Sexy Bean Chili.
It's no shocker that plant hero Sarno was a raw foodie at one time. "I was so neurotically militant about it," he says. "I opened a number of restaurants before I started working with Whole Foods Market that were about 80 percent raw."
But a few years back routine blood work done delivered some shocking news. "My cholesterol was really high and my triglycerides were off the charts. But I hadn't eaten meat in 20 years so was totally stumped. I was eating so many high-fat foods though—nuts, cocoa and coconut butters—all these so-called 'superfoods.' I adjusted my diet from strictly raw, so that the base was grains, greens and beans, and my numbers plummeted. It was very humbling; for years I thought I was eating the healthiest diet possible. But I guess all those rich raw foods caught up with me.
"So many people go raw and start eating handfuls of nuts, sugars, and butters and call themselves healthy. You don't realize how much fat, salt and sugar you can get eating an unbalanced raw diet. I do feel that raw foods are the most cleansing diet out there, but you have to do it right. It has to be balanced with veggies, and with lots of greens as your base rather than so nut-centric."
In 2012, he collaborated with other raw-food leaders to write Raw and Beyond (North Atlantic Books, 2012), which discusses the challenges of a solely raw-food diet.
And More Green
When he's not writing cookbooks, working at Whole Foods or whipping up smoothies for his kid, Sarno is busy with his brothers. He recently launched Wicked Healthy, www.wickedhealthyfood.com (and on Facebook), with brother Derek. "It's a lot of fun—a community for anyone trying to eat better. We're simply trying to take the fear out of healthy eating by showing that you don't have to get lost in the nutrition aspect of it; just get in the kitchen."
With brother Darren he's established Island Sprouts, a children's eco-clothing company. The organic clothing is adorned with garden-inspired sayings (Peas Grow a Garden, for example) and graphics; and with each garment purchased, Island Sprouts donates a packet of organic vegetable seeds to select youth gardening organizations closest to the customer.
A look at Sarno's endeavors makes it clear what is unique about this celebrated chef. Each project he takes on has the ultimate goal of helping others live healthier lives, from his daughter to the thousands of Whole Foods Market shoppers he'll never meet. Keep your eye on what's next for this wellness warrior in his own right at www.chadsarno.com.