2018-01-02 / Dishing

Plate Shift

Former Whole Foods trainer to offer plant-based cooking classes.
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern


Sandy Vandeven steps up to the front of the room and draws a circle on a whiteboard, sectioning it into three pieces.

“Help me fill in the plate,” she tells the people who have gathered at New Leaf Initiative on a November evening. At the co-working space’s monthly CentreSOUP event, Vandeven is one of four people pitching a small-scale idea that has the potential to positively impact the community. In between spoonfuls of split pea soup, participants jot down notes and cast their votes.

The largest piece of Vandeven’s circle, which is meant to represent the typical American diet, is labeled processed food — items like sweets and refined grains or anything that comes out of a box, bag or window.

She then labels a smaller piece — about 25 percent of the circle — meat and dairy.
As for whole, unprocessed “plant food”? It gets a slice the size of a string bean.

But the vegetable of choice for most Americans isn’t even green. “It’s usually potatoes,” she points out. “Believe me, I like tater tots as much as the next person,” she says, eliciting laughs.

A plant-based cook, yoga teacher and apprenticing herbalist who has been facilitating classes and workshops for more than 10 years, Vandeven wants to teach people to allocate a larger portion of their plate to vegetables.

Her idea: monthly hands-on, plant-based cooking workshops that will focus on seasonal, nutritious food. Foodies, those interested in learning more about healthy eating, and anyone up for a new culinary experience can learn practical cooking techniques, prepare several recipes and enjoy a meal together.
If the CentreSOUP event is any indication, Vandeven’s veggie-laden table should fill up fast. Much to her surprise (she almost didn’t vote for herself!), she won the $250 CentreSOUP prize.

A few weeks earlier, at a team meeting for TriYoga of Central Pa, where Vandeven teaches yoga (and where I serve as communications coordinator of the nonprofit), a fellow teacher contemplated Vandeven’s “brown bag” lunch — a large bowl filled with vibrant, seasonal vegetables — and raised her eyebrows.

“Do you always eat like that?”

The answer is yes, at least for the past decade. Inspiration arrived in her early 20s while working as a regional trainer and healthy eating coordinator for Whole Foods. At the time, the high-end grocery chain’s CEO had started a wellness program that offered a discount to employees in good health. Vandeven ordered her blood work with the self-confidence of a 20-something fueled by organic vegetables. But the results indicated high cholesterol. The awakening forced her to pay close attention to what she put into her body.

Vandeven’s identity as someone who cooks took root in a Whole Foods training session with Austin-based brothers and chefs Derek and Chad Sarno. “I remember they handed me this recipe and said, ‘Make this.’ And I thought, ‘I’m not a chef. I’m just here as the program manager.’” Following their directions, she successfully prepared stuffed shells with tofu ricotta and homemade sauce. If she could do it, she figured, others could, too.

Armed with newfound awareness and skills, Vandeven enrolled in and completed Cornell’s online Plant-Based Nutrition Program created by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. She surrounded herself with cheerleaders for healthy eating and fell madly, deeply in love with food.
“The cookbooks in my house are like my good friends,” she says.

Of course, when you work full time, teach yoga and aim to start a new business, time in the kitchen is limited. Vandeven’s go-to 30-minute meal is vegetable stir-fry with tofu. (The secret to tasty tofu? A good pan.) To get a crispy texture, cook the tofu on medium high heat without burning it, she says. That requires the right oil. Avocado oil has the highest smoking point, but coconut oil is more economical, she explains.

If she doesn’t have 30 minutes or the right ingredients? That scenario is most likely to occur at work, where she’s a human resources manager for Pennsylvania Certified Organic. In that case, she turns to her trusty can of chickpeas, stashed in her desk. “My co-workers laugh at me, but I know I can do something with those chickpeas and the hot sauce in the breakroom.”

Vandeven is committed to a meatless existence, but views it as her own journey. She isn’t interested in preaching and wants you to eat meat and dairy if it works for you. She eschews the word “vegan” and would prefer to keep food politics out of her venture.

She recognizes that vegetables are hard work, and that people who feel competent and creative in the kitchen are more likely to incorporate them into their culinary repertoire.

As she explained that evening at New Leaf, she’d simply like to put some veggie know-how in our apron pockets — and have some fun with rainbow carrots along the way. •SCM

Vandeven’s 3-hour classes will begin Jan. 14 and continue the second Sunday of every month inside the kitchen at Videon. To register email Sandy at

Creamy Tahini-Miso Sauce

This is the kind of sauce you can drizzle over anything. Enjoy it on top of your favorite raw/cooked vegetables or grains. Steam a bunch of local kale and toss together for a creamy, comforting side dish.

1/3 c. warm water, plus more to taste
1/3 c. tahini
1 Tbsp. white miso (any light miso will do)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or pushed through a garlic press
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Method: In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. A blender works just as well if you’re not in the mood for whisking. For a thinner sauce, add more water. Cover and chill until ready to serve. The sauce will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator.

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