Part I: Del Sroufe
Plant-based chefs are no longer a novelty – there are lots of people who have learned to make fabulous vegan dishes – and many are so good that most people don’t notice that the food is prepared differently. The problem is that many of the dishes produced by these chefs, while made with plant foods, are unhealthy because of the fat content. Del Sroufe is the best chef in the U.S. at creating dishes that are not only plant-based, but low-fat and oil-free; most are compliant with programs like the McDougall Program, Dr. Esselstyn’s program and many of the other plant-based gurus who are achieving incredible results with their patients. Del has mastered the art of captivating the new convert to a plant-based diet with mouth-watering dishes that seem like they are just too good to be healthy. But they are! Additionally, he has developed a diverse repertoire of hundreds of recipes that guarantee that no one will ever get bored with or tired of the food. Let’s face it – humans spend a lot of time eating, and eating should be enjoyed. Converting to a program of dietary excellence with Del’s help means that you are not giving up anything – in fact you’re going to have a culinary experience better than you ever imagined!
Part II: Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni
Born in Milan, Italy in 1966, Sebastiano has been a vegetarian and an animal rights activist for nearly thirty years. He is the owner and chairman of one of the most renowned and pioneering wineries in Europe, Querciabella, where organic viticulture implemented in 1988 led to a complete conversion to strict biodynamic practices in 2000. His Tuscan wines have garnered worldwide acclaim, including “Best Italian Wine” in 2004. Sebastiano is an industrial designer and the creator of a multinational business network encompassing fields as varied as agriculture, financial advisory, advanced technology, and real estate. He currently lives with his family in Northern Europe.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and it’s time for It’s All About Food. It’s September 4th, it’s a Tuesday in this year of 2012, and we’ve moved, and it was easy, no sweat or anything! We just changed days, so instead of Wednesdays from 3 to 4, we are now every Tuesday from 4 to 5. And I am really honored to be in this part of the schedule, following Dr. Helen Caldicott, and she is a really an amazing individual, and it’s really quite an honor to follow her today. I am going to be looking forward to listening to her show just before I start mine.
Okay, so I’m Caryn Hartglass and I have a nonprofit called Responsible Eating and Living, which you can find at ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com. I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s a delicious one, believe me. Just go there and visit. There’s lots of wonderful videos and recipes and you can find the archives to this show, lots of information there. And if you want to send me a message, comments, questions, my email is, are you ready? Its firstname.lastname@example.org and if for some reason you are inspired during this hour and you absolutely have to ask us something right away, you can call at 188-887-4488. Very good.
And before I bring up my first guest, I wanted to talk about one of last week’s guests, which was Zel Allen, and she was talking about her cookbook Vegan For The Holidays. And it’s a little early to be talking about Christmas and Kwanza and Hanukkah, but it got me thinking about Hanukkah in particular, because one of the things that drives me crazy, I love holidays and I love traditional foods, but one of the traditional foods for Hanukkah is the potato pancake, the potato latke. And the holiday is all about celebrating this magical oil that was used in a lamp and it lasted for eight days instead of one day. And as result, the tradition is we celebrate the oil by eating lots of it. And especially potatoes fried in lots of it. And it’s really rough eating all of these oil laden potatoes. And yet I like to keep the tradition going so years ago I came up with a potato pancake recipe that was vegan it had no eggs in it but it did use a lot of oil. It’s been driving me nutty, and I finally came up with a wonderful recipe. It’s potato pancakes, tastes great and you can make it with next to no oil or no oil at all. Still delicious, so visit responsibleeatingandliving.com and click on the recipes over on the left hand column, just real recipes or sides, you’ll find it, it’s great. And I have included lots of variations where you can add kasha to it, buckwheat, spinach, carrots, onions; I’m so excited about this recipe! But I’ll remind you about it when the holidays come around. It’s also a great party food.
Okay, I’m excited about food! Can you tell that? Because it’s all about food and there are lots of fun things to talk about when we talk about food and we’re going to jump right in and talk about healthy, delicious food, my favorite subject, with Chef Del Sroufe. He has worked for six years as chef and co-owner of Wellness Form Foods, a plant-based meal delivery and catering service that emphasizes healthy, minimally processed foods, produces a line of in-the-bag mixes and offers cooking classes to the public. He has worked in vegan and vegetarian kitchens for twenty-two years, including spending time as a vegan personal chef. He lives, works, and cooks in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Chef Del.
Del Sroufe: Thank you so much, glad to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you’re all part of the Forks Over Knives brand, which is a very exciting thing in the vegan world.
Del Sroufe: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So I talked about the video when it came out and had Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn and your producer Brian Wendel. And then we had Gene Stone on the show, he lives in Manhattan here so it was easy for him to come into the studio, and we talked about the book Forks Over Knives, and now the natural progression is to have the cookbook. And I want to tell you, I’ve been carrying it around today and it’s heavy.
Del Sroufe: There’s a lot of recipes in there.
Caryn Hartglass: This is one heavy book, over 300 recipes and you could get a workout. Workouts are important so it’s a good book to carry around and build bones.
Del Sroufe: A new use if you don’t like to cook.
Caryn Hartglass: Right! Okay, so before we dive into all the wonderful recipes in this book, you have a story and I want you to share it with the listeners because people love to hear individual stories. They resonate mostly with them, rather than all the facts and numbers and reasons to eat a certain way. People like to hear individual stories and you have a good one.
Del Sroufe: Sure. I’ll go back to when I was eight years old, but I’ll skip ahead some, so bear with me. When I was eight years old, I was put on my first diet. It was an 800 calorie restricted diet, it wasn’t plant based or anything like that, but it was significant because it set off what I call a career of yo-yo dieting, one where I would gain weight and loose weight and all using this restricted calorie method, assuming it was the way to do it. In 1997 I opened a vegan bakery, became vegan, and spent the next four years not only trying to grow my business but gaining over 200 pounds myself on a vegan diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we just stop there for a minute? Why did you become vegan?
Del Sroufe: All of my cooking experience has been in vegetarian and vegan kitchens. The eight and a half years prior to that, I worked for a vegetarian restaurant and it sort of happened naturally. I was meeting a lot of people who were vegetarian and vegan and working with people who were vegan. They had very convincing arguments for why vegan was a smart way to go. Of course there are the natural reasons we talk about, and for some it was spirituality and for some it was for the environment health and the health of the animals as well. And some of these resonated for me and it seemed like a smart thing to do. I was cooking this way even before I was eating this way. Eventually the cooking won out and there I was.
So anyway, over the course of the first 2 or 3 years of running my own bakery, I gained 200 pounds and I did it eating not only a vegan diet, but a vegan diet that was full of processed foods. As I heard you mention earlier, a lot of oil, white flour, processed sugars, and the like. It was very easy and it happened without me really paying much attention to it.
Caryn Hartglass: Enjoying every bite I imagine!
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah, I’m a baker and I hate to say it, but a good baker. I spent the next four or five years close to 500 pounds. It wasn’t until I fell one day, twisted an ankle, and tore a tendon in my foot that I had a wake-up call. In 2005 I actually came to Wellness Forum as a client because nothing I was doing was working. I wasn’t exercising because my foot hurt, I was working all the time, and I was still eating. I closed the bakery by this time and opened a meal-delivery service, but it was still a lot of oil and a lot more of the processed foods. I went to the Wellness Forum and I said I need some help. I became a client and a member, adopted a low-fat, plant-based diet, and spent the next several years regaining my health, which I am still doing. I have lost over 200 pounds.
Caryn Hartglass: Good for you!
Del Sroufe: I am a much better, much happier, much healthier person today than I was six years ago so I am very happy.
Caryn Hartglass: I think we’re all on a path when it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets. I think that all of our culture is on a path where we’re learning about health and nutrition. We didn’t really know much about health and nutrition with regards to food over a hundred years ago and it’s just all starting to come out. We’re discovering what the nutrients are in food and what they can do for us, so it’s all new. Some people romanticize and fantasize about going back to the way things were and I don’t know if that’s entirely ideal because we didn’t really know what the right foods were to eat back then.
Del Sroufe: And actually I won’t disagree with you, I agree in a lot of ways. I think that we have a fantasy of what the way things were. I think that there’s a reality that’s out there too and we see that in populations who still eat the way that our ancestors really ate. In other words, if you go back 200 years or 300 years, and in civilizations around the world you’ll see plenty of populations who do not have processed foods in their diets. They don’t have oils and they don’t have sugar and white flour. They don’t have potato chips and they don’t have those kinds of foods. Not only that, they don’t have a lot of meat in their diet because they can’t afford it, it’s expensive. So they eat a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet that’s based primarily on starches like potatoes and beans and grains and vegetables. The rest of it comes just sort of as condiments, they eat meat when they can afford it, but you don’t see 32 ounce steaks on a plate. So that’s the way that we really ate and there’s a lot of science that shows that. We can look at populations around the world that don’t have our health conditions that show it as well. So it’s fantasy versus the reality of the way that our lives used to be that we want. But even my grandparents ate less processed foods than I did.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh sure, it started really after World War II when we had the chemical explosion with pesticides and herbicides and then the manufacturing, the industrialization, and the food system totally changed.
Okay, so we’re getting back to where we belong and fortunately more and more people are getting on this path and we have the whole “Forks Over Knives” package and now we have over 300 recipes to try! Let’s jump into the cookbook. You’ve got everything in here.
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah, the goal is that you can start with breakfast and go through dinner and even have an occasional dessert as a treat.
Caryn Hartglass: I talk a lot about not using oil and salt. When we cook at home we rarely use oil. I will admit that occasionally I do use oil in food, but it’s really a rare event and I rarely use salt as well. You’ve probably seen this, but people’s reaction to that is “What? No oil? What? No salt?” They just don’t know and can’t imagine it. Yet you talk about a lot of things in here, I’m looking at the Nitter Kibbeh recipe for example, and it’s easy to sauté onions and caramelize them and have them be loaded with flavor without oil.
Del Sroufe: As a matter of fact, when I came to the Wellness Forum, my business partner said to me, “Get rid of the oil from your foods.” I spent two or three weeks in my own kitchen going, “How the heck does that happen?” But once I figured it out and developed the technique for doing it, it’s the easiest thing you’ve ever seen, whether its sautéing and caramelizing onions or whether it’s doing a stir fry. We think of stir fries as definitely needing oil because every time we go to the Chinese restaurant it’s loaded with oil. But you can do stir fries and there are several recipes in the book that show you oil-free stir fries that are full of flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Now the other thing people are confused about is when you talk about not eating oil, they equate that to fat, and we need fat.
Del Sroufe: Right, we need some fat. We don’t need a lot and I know that USDA recommendations are higher than you’ll hear us talk about, especially the experts at Forks Over Knives. There’s a difference between getting your fat from oil and getting it from whole food and the biggest difference is we’ve removed the fiber and we’ve removed most of the nutrients from our fat so that when we buy oils, we’re buying oils that have had the nutrients added back in and let me tell you, the humans are never as good as putting nutrients in the food as nature is.
Caryn Hartglass: Now not because we don’t know what all those nutrients are.
Del Sroufe: We’ve barely begun to identify the micronutrients in our food, but nature has done a really good job of it and we need to let nature run its course with our food and get back to eating that way. There are plenty of ways to get fat, the little fat that you need, flaxseed is one of the ways I get mine, or a few nuts and seeds. I talk about this all the time when I teach my cooking classes, that there’s a difference between garnishing a dish with a couple tablespoons full of cashews and then eating a jar of cashews. That’s what Americans tend to do, and I’ve been that person, we tend to go all out on our consumption. It’s okay to have nuts and seeds because they’re healthy nuts and seeds. Well, they’re healthy in the right quantities.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what’s great about them is when you garnish a dish or meal with it, it brings out all the flavor and so you get these lovely taste sensations, these tickles of wonderful flavors, and the nuts and seeds will do that. They can perk up a salad or any kind of dish, it doesn’t take much.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, it doesn’t take much. If you find yourself eating a whole jar of cashews, if you ever really look at why it is you’re doing that and start to ask that kind of a question, if you can eat just that garnish on a salad or something, you’re eating more in balance, and anything else, there’s a question that you’ve got to be asking yourself about why you’re doing that.
Caryn Hartglass: So the other thing is a lot of creamy sauces are used in restaurants and French food, and I’m looking right across the page from the Nitter Kibbeh, I mean, I haven’t even barely gotten into the book here yet, but I’m stuck on one page! The cauliflower Béchamel, I think it’s really an important concept because it gives you the look, the feel, almost a mouth feel of a really creamy sauce, it has a lot of flavor and when you blend things up together, you don’t know what’s in them, you just have flavor.
Del Sroufe: Right, right, you can fool the mouth, if you will, in a lot of different ways. I’ll tell you, the idea for that cauliflower Béchamel came from a soup that I used to make, which was a roasted cauliflower bisque, and the original recipe had oil in it, but even taking the oil out of that one, I would make that soup and puree it and everyone loves that soup. It took on the flavor of whatever I did with it, as do a lot of foods, so I used that sauce in a curried pasta sauce, you can use it as a traditional Béchamel sauce, as a topping for lasagna, as a white sauce, anywhere where you can use a traditional Béchamel you can use this sauce and that’s what makes it exciting. The cool part is, especially if you’re doing what I call health by deception at home, you’re putting another serving of vegetables into the mouths of those who you feed and they don’t have to know it.
Caryn Hartglass: Especially children and probably my father! When he sees something like a stack of greens or something he’ll usually say “What’s that?” and it’s just so much easier to blend it all up and make it taste good. “It’s white sauce!”
Del Sroufe: I highly suggest it with family members who are a little bit hesitant to change the way that they think about food. Be deceptive, you’re doing it in a loving and caring way and that’s okay.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. You’ve got a lot of recipes for one of my favorite ingredients, fava beans. I never see them in anything.
Del Sroufe: Well, Americans eat an average of six to ten different food items a day; we’re not very good about variety in our food. One of the goals of this cookbook was to make sure that there were a lot of different kinds of foods in there for people to sort of try and to expand their horizons with. I love fava beans and I have two Middle Eastern food restaurants near my house, Columbus is a great city for Middle Eastern food, and one of them has an amazing fava bean dip which is pretty similar to hummus. It has a lot of oil in it but the oil isn’t what gives it its flavor, the fava beans themselves are delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Fava beans, garlic, lemon. Period. So good!
Del Sroufe: That’s all you need! It’s delicious so I had to include some recipes in there because it’s one of my favorite beans.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re not that easy to find, but if you look, they’re there.
Del Sroufe: I think if you really want to be a food explorer and if you live in a small town where you’re not going to be able to find fava beans, I think that there are great places online where you can order food now as we’ve changed the way that we can buy our food. There are some good options out there so don’t let that stop you. I hear this criticism a little bit from time to time that fava beans are a definitely one kind of bean in front of a book but there are plenty of other beans that you’ll find in your regular grocery store too and that’s important. Most of the food in this book you can make by shopping in traditional grocery stores.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s another thing I really like in here. I started my vegetarian path a long time ago and I used to enjoy going to Indian food restaurants a lot because they had a lot of options and lots of flavor. I’ve been going to Indian restaurants less and less because it’s oil and salt, but you’ve got some great recipes in here that are the traditional dishes that have all the right seasonings and vegetables without the oil and salt.
Del Sroufe: My first vegetarian experience was from one of my closest friends, I’ve known her for thirty some years, and she lived in India for several years. She cooks a delicious Indian meal and she at this point in time doesn’t use oil in her food. I learned the flavorings a lot from her as well as my own love of Indian food. And again, Indian food is something you can find in abundance here in Columbus.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s the climate like in Columbus, Ohio in terms of health?
Del Sroufe: Well, Columbus is kind of the test market for the country for a lot of things. Fast food is abundant here and there are plenty of fast food options and there are plenty of unhealthy foods here. But its changing as it is everywhere. As you know, the Wellness Forum has been here for fifteen years, we have several hundred members in our program and several thousand have gone through the program locally. So there’s awareness of health but like in a lot of places, there’s some resistance to change our ways and to see new ways of thinking. So we’ve had and I’ve worked at some of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town so there are veg and vegan options. Most restaurants now offer vegan options where you can go in and even it it’s not on the menu, you can talk to the chef or talk to the waiter and say, “What can you do for me?” and when you say vegan, people know what it means.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, isn’t it nice?
Del Sroufe: The harder part is the oil-free thing, and it’s getting better, but you still have to say no oil. And I hate to say it but again, it’s the health by deception by sometimes saying, “I have a cardiovascular condition, I’m really trying to be careful with my heart here, so could you steam my vegetables?” I always look at it as the thing to do is to call ahead. Call the restaurant and say, “I’m coming in, here’s how I eat, what can you fix for me?” and a lot of chefs love to do something special for things like that. So the climate’s changing as it is everywhere, but there’s a lot of health industry here. Cardinal health, Ohio health and all those others are all here so when you go to health fairs, you still get some of the traditional screenings and people telling you to eat heart healthy oils which drive you crazy, but what do you do?
Caryn Hartglass: You just keep on keeping on. So the Wellness Forum’s website is wellnessforum.com and what is it?
Del Sroufe: The Wellness Forum has been helping people to improve, in other words to achieve optimal health and to reverse degenerative diseases for 15 years. The diet that we teach in the program is very much like what you’ll see in The China Study and programs like Dr. John McDougall‘s, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, so a low-fat, plant-based foods diet. We teach people through a ten hour course how to eat, and the importance of exercise, proper hydration, and stress reduction. What I think makes our program different from a lot programs that you’ll find like ours is that you become a member for a year. Over the course of that year, we offer on-going support so we have a monthly call that you can do with both Dr. Popper the founder and me. Her call is going to be on a different health topic and then it goes to a Q&A format, and mine’s the same way with cooking. So we spend ten minutes talking about fall fruits and vegetables and the rest of the hour answering your general questions about cooking. We have cooking classes once a month, we bring in guest speakers, we have an annual conference, and we have a members-only portion of the website where you can find a lot of archive information. All of this is part of the goal of being able to say that you can do this course and go off on your own and do it really well, but for a lot of people it’s nice to get that ongoing support that helps you stay in tune and stay on track.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely! I have a friend that’s trying again to go vegan and he called me to let me know what he ate last night at a Mexican restaurant. He was at a party and he had the power to forgo the cheese and the sour cream. Just for somebody to say, “Good for you! You’re on the right track!” and people need that support.
Del Sroufe: And you have to remember that a lot of people go home to what I call a hostile environment where nobody else wants to eat that way. That’s hard to deal with every day and every night, to know that you’re the only one who thinks the way you do. We have monthly dinners that people come to, the different events and the calls let them talk to like-minded people, which really help them a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s get back to what we were talking about in the beginning which was your story. My partner had a similar path when he was young. He was always overweight and his mom was putting him on all kinds of crazy diets like the egg and grapefruit diet.
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, do you know that one?
Del Sroufe: Not the egg and grapefruit diet, I went on the grapefruit diet.
Caryn Hartglass: It wasn’t until he came to this vegan lifestyle that he finally made peace with his food, which is what he talks about. Before he went vegan, he did this seven month performance piece called Eating Dis Order, Eating Dat Order when he talked about all these different diets he that had been on. How do you feel now about your food?
Del Sroufe: Part of making changes to eating a different way is dealing with the reasons why we eat. We can teach you how to eat and what to eat, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with some of the triggers for why we eat bad foods. I’ve been dealing with this in the last couple of years with some great success. For me, bad foods used to be meat, cheese, and such, but now the bad foods might be potato chips and some of those processed foods. I don’t fight myself with food the way that I used to and I really look forward to eating. I cook really good food so I’m a really lucky person.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that could be lucky or it could go against you. If you can cook, you can make anything you want and then you’re in danger.
Del Sroufe: Right, but having this conversation is about choosing the healthier path so I have to look beyond the individual meal to the goals that I’m trying to achieve. I still have twenty to thirty pounds that I need to lose and I still have the rest of my life to live which means I don’t want cardiovascular disease, I don’t want diabetes or any of those other degenerate diseases. I don’t want medication to be my course of life and living my life in doctor’s offices so I have to make choices that help me achieve that goal. That’s part of what drives my eating decisions every day. Now one of the things that I do is sanitize my house. You won’t go into my house and find potato chips, oil, sugar, white flour and any of those things that would tempt me. As a baker, the flour especially is an easy one when I can have pancakes in ten minutes. So you don’t find those things that tempt me, I have to leave the house to go get them if I want them. That allows me to have time to have that conversation with myself. If I’m going to get in a car at ten at night and go get even vegan ice cream, there’s plenty of time to talk myself out of it and to have a conversation about what it is I’m even doing here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s really important to buy only the healthy food in your house, which can be really be a challenge when you’re living with other people who aren’t in line with what you’re doing.
Del Sroufe: I don’t know that I could do this if I had to live in a house that had cookies, potato chips, and that kind of food. It’d be really hard for me.
Caryn Hartglass: But I make some pancakes that are healthy. My pancakes are just like a bowl of oatmeal all whirred up and cooked.
Del Sroufe: I’m not saying that I would never ever eat pancakes. I’m saying that to have them available all the time is not a smart thing for me. So when I choose to have them, that’s one thing. If I have company coming over and we’re going to have Sunday brunch, then I might have pancakes or I might have a scone, but I don’t make that something that’s available to me every day.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a thing that we’ve kind of fallen out of, making special food, food that’s a treat, fruit that’s a luxury.
Del Sroufe: We want the treat all the time. That’s where we’ve gotten to and I think that’s what we need to get away from.
Caryn Hartglass: So do you have a comfort food that you like to go to that’s within the regimen?
Del Sroufe: I do, I love pasta and I make a pasta stir fry that’s very healthy. When you’re trying to lose weight, pasta can be a healthy food, but it’s a very concentrate calorie. The difference is that a cup of grain, like a whole grain like a wheat berry, is about a hundred calories where a cup of flour has four hundred calories. So it’s that caloric density that I kind of balance out in my life, but every now in then a nice pasta stir fry dish makes me very happy.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well let’s just underline, in these last few minutes, the importance of what we’ve been talking about. We’re talking about food that’s delicious and good for you, but thing is over six hundred thousand Americans today die every year from cardiovascular disease. It’s reversible and preventable, and that’s shown by lot of great work by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn in his book Prevent Heart Disease. We know this now and we need to do be doing more about it so this definitely a good step in the right direction.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, I think so too. I’d like to see some scared straight programs where we show people what they go through when they have cardiovascular disease and having your chest ripped open to have a stint put in there and what’s that’s like. I have a friend that’s has a heart replacement done and he says that the pain was the most unbearable thing you can think of for months.
Caryn Hartglass: Well it’s just interesting what people think of as extreme. People will say eating plants is extreme but cracking your sternum open is normal.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, that’s a normal thing. That amazes me all the time that you’d rather spend your life navigating doctor’s offices and visits and navigating the nine medications that you’re on, each one a response to the side effects of another and feeling like crap all the time. I have energy that I have not had most of my life.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s amazing isn’t it?
Del Sroufe: I look forward to that every day.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well Del, thank you so much for joining me today on It’s All About Food. Thanks for creating this very heavy book. I look forward to carrying it around the rest of the day.
Del Sroufe: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: And wellnessforum.com is where we find you and all that you do. Okay, thank you so much.
Del Sroufe: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. We’re going to take a very quick break. In the meanwhile you can go to ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com, that’s where I live. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about sustainable biodynamic farming with Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Flannery Cash, 2/7/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II
Hello, we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, because you know what? It is – all about food. Everything that you can think of, I think, is related to food. Our health, the environment, animals, all life on Earth; it’s connected to the food we eat and what we are doing to get food in our mouths. Every time we sit down at the table we really should be thinking at least for a moment where that food came from and the incredible path it took to get to the point where it’s on our plate and we get to enjoy it. Something a lot of us take for granted. Okay, so I want to bring on my guest Sebastiano Castiglioni. He was born in Milan, Italy in 1966. He has been a vegetarian and an animal rights activist for nearly 30 years. He is the owner and chairman of one of the most renowned and pioneering wineries in Europe, Querciabella, where organic viticulture implemented in 1988 led to a complete conversion to strict biodynamic practices in 2000. His Tuscan wines have garnered worldwide acclaim, including “Best Italian Wine” in 2004. Sebastiano is an industrial designer and the creator of a multinational business network encompassing fields as varied as agriculture, financial advisory, advanced technology, and real estate. He currently lives with his family in Northern Europe. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Thank you, Caryn. It’s great to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m so glad I got to meet you last week and to coordinate it so that you could come into the Manhattan studio because you’re not always here
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to touch on the subjects that you often talk about. I’m convinced, really, it is all about food, and we need to start asking ourselves some serious questions. That’s what we did when we started figuring out a different way to produce wine. Not only had we approached it from the organic standpoint, which I think is a ‘must’ nowadays. I mean, how else can we think to do anything responsibly, sustainably and in a healthy way, if not going the organic way? But as you know, we also share a passion for animals and for their well-being, and so I thought about how to create an agricultural complex, a farm that would work without ever using any animal based products. And it is possible. We are doing it. We’ve been doing it for years now. Now the question is, I don’t know if you want me to explain a little bit about biodynamics.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Okay, not too many know. We all know more or less what organic is. You take away all the harmful chemical products and get rid of them. With biodynamics you take a much wider approach, and you’re actually very proactive, so what you are trying to do is to bring nature back into agriculture. So, you’re trying to reestablish an ecosystem where nature does what it normally does; what it does best. And so, there are lots of techniques that we use. Most importantly, cover crops. Cover crops are these plants that you plant among the ones that you are growing for food. So, in vineyards for instance, every year we plant every other row with this wonderful mix of flowers and aromatic herbs, legumes and you name it. It’s 32 to 36 different plants, depending on the period, the area and…
Caryn Hartglass: Do you use those legumes and herbs?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: No, because the way you use it in biodynamics is you plant in between rows and when they bloom, when they come into flower, you cut them and mix them into the soil. This brings so many nutrients back to the soil. You might be familiar with the fact that legumes, for instance, extract certain substances and give back nitrogen to the soil. So what you do with this process is, first of all, these plants have a fantastic influence on everything around them while they are growing and they are in flower. For instance, at our winery Querciabella, we have a fantastic population of bees that we support by planting tons of organic flowers all year round. By the way, I’d love to say that these bees produce a ton of honey, which we do not harvest. We only take what’s in excess and bothers them. Actually, it’s a very long story, and Jane, my wife, is the one who deals with all of this, and she’s the mastermind behind all the work on the bees. Anyway, there are certain ways to build beehives that are more natural to the bees, where they live happier and, believe it or not, they produce exactly what they need and very little extra, so all we take is what bothers them when they need to move around, but we leave them all their honey which they need in the winter. Anyway, back to the cover crops, they have fantastic functions, for instance there are plants like mustard that repel funguses, and there are plants that attract certain insects that are beneficial. There are other plants that repel other insects that you don’t want to have around because they are damaging to the grapes, so there’s this fantastic balance, and there are scientific studies that show that where you have cover crops, you have twenty times more animal species than you have where you don’t. And so, imagine…
Caryn Hartglass: That might be good for nature, but does that affect the grapes at all in a negative way?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Well, it does in many ways. First of all, the vine is a vine, as the word says, so yes it’s normally in our hearts to assist them where it grows, but if you let it grow more freely, it will actually produce much better grapes and a better fruit. So this environment that has lots of insects and birds and where the soil is fantastic- imagine that the goal is to obtain a soil that is very similar to what you find in a forest, humus in a forest, so it’s very soft, it’s humid. In some of our vineyards, you can stick your arm into the soil and it goes all the way to the elbow, it’s so soft. Imagine this environment that is very conducive to nature being in balance with itself and the fruit that you obtain. We all know the difference between the flavor of a conventional carrot and an organic carrot, and it’s shocking. The difference is shocking. Now imagine a fruit that not only is organic but has lived in an environment that is as natural as it gets, with all the flora and fauna and the insects and the microorganisms that are supposed to be there and normally are not because they are all killed. So, biodynamics tries to recreate this balance and this beautiful ecosystem where life is abundant and beautiful.
Caryn Hartglass: I can’t believe that that’s not going to add to the flavor.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Well, what happens is, technically speaking, the roots go much deeper. There’s no irrigation in biodynamics and, of course, no fertilizers and of course we do not use manure because that’s against our principles. So, what the vines do is they grow these roots that go very deep down. They go 45, sometimes 60 feet underground…
Caryn Hartglass: Wow!
Sebastiano Castiglioni: … so their nourishment comes from very deep in the soil and comes from this beautiful soil. They, of course, get some nourishment from the surface, from this very soft soil that I described, but there is also nourishment from deep down. So what you get is fruit and therefore wine that is very mineral; it’s very rich in deep flavors, and it respects, let’s say it reflects much more the character of the place where it grows.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned that there is no irrigation used.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember maybe five years ago or something, France didn’t use irrigation, and then they made it legal to irrigate in their vineyards. So, I guess…
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Well, in France, actually they have irrigated for a longer time, but they usually irrigated only when the vineyards were… when the vines were very small and this and that. There are always excuses to use irrigation. But just imagine, a vine that is nourished from the surface with horrible petroleum-based fertilizers and the roots turn upwards, and everything is dead basically because the soil is absolutely dead. The difference is the soil is completely alive. You look at our soil and you see insects crawling all over the place and birds flying around. The birds tend to nest all around these places and these plants, because of course they eat the insects, and the whole cycle is beautiful. That’s a fundamental difference. The interesting part is, as it often happens to those who do things differently, we get criticized all the time. The funniest thing is I have people coming up to me and saying, “But, is there any scientific basis to biodynamics?” And I say, “Well, let’s assume for a second that there is no basis for what we do, there are hundreds of scientific studies that show that conventional agriculture is dangerous, harmful and damaging to the world, to people, to animals and to everybody else. So just because of that, I think it makes sense to explore alternative venues.” Then there are people who say, “It cannot work because you have sicknesses, and you have this, and you have the weather and this and that.” Well, guess what, we have been organic since 1988. Not a single molecule of chemical product has been sprayed on our vineyards since then, and we’re doing great.” In fact, many times, we do better than our neighbors who spray all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Does that affect you at all that your neighbors around you are spraying?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Well, actually, I’m talking about the neighbors, but we luckily have very few neighbors. In fact, most of our vineyards are surrounded by forest, luckily, and we border with only one guy in one specific spot, and we are working very hard to convince him not to spray, in every possible way, but it’s a microscopic contact. For the rest, we’re very protected. What I meant by neighbors, I meant other people in Tuscany or the region of Chianti Classico who grow vines in a conventional way.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s frustrating what people will believe without really being knowledgeable. So, this is kind of an analogy but last week <a href=”https://responsibleeatingandliving.com/?page_id=5539″ target=”_blank”>I was talking with Brian Clement</a> who works at the Hippocrates Institute, and he just put out a book called Food is Medicine, and I really didn’t understand the point of the book, because all it is are lists of studies that have been done with a brief description of the results on all these different foods and how they affect health. And I thought I can go on the internet and find this stuff out, but he said he goes to these conferences where doctors and nutritionists say, “Oh, you know, I don’t believe it, what work has been done showing plants are healthier?” And now he has it, here it is; here’s the book.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: It is very important. Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: You need something like, here it is! Here’s all the organic vineyards, biodynamic vineyards that are doing it, and here’s all the studies that show chemical pesticides are dangerous.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: You bet. The greatest demonstration is opening a bottle, drinking the wine, tasting it and wow, it’s great. We, as you mentioned, won the award for Best Italian Wine. It can be done. It certainly can be done. Paraphrasing my friend <a href=”http://www.teslamotors.com/about/executives/elonmusk” target=”_blank”>Elon Musk, the creator of the Tesla</a> and many other things, he says, “I don’t want to hear complaints from losers. All I want to hear is ideas from people who actually do things. I’m tired to listen to people who sit there, criticize and don’t do anything.”
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s a problem in this country unfortunately.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Absolutely. It’s a problem everywhere.
Caryn Hartglass: The biodynamic thing, I was talking to somebody about it recently, and he kind of rolled his eyes because he thought about the woo-woo wa-wa stuff that’s associated with biodynamics. So, what part of it… or, I imagine there’s a range of what biodynamics is because there really isn’t an official…
Sebastiano Castiglioni: The way it is, biodynamics is based on these conferences of Rudolf Steiner at the beginning of the twentieth-century, and then one part of biodynamics, this group decided to codify and establish these very strict rules, but what Steiner actually said is: These are my ideas. You have to adapt them to your environment and dynamically transform them to better your environment. The main concept is to create an ecosystem that is in balance with the rest of the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: Work with nature, not against it.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Work with nature, not against it. So now there are the biodynamic zealots who say that you have to do it this way, not that way, and if you change an iota it’s not the real thing. And then there are people like us who adapted and actually go much further than the original ideas or the codified ideas. For instance, we have banned all animal-based products. You may have heard of the biodynamic thing, the cow horn that’s filled with manure and buried underground and then blah, blah, blah. Well, there are very useful things there, and I could go into that, but the point is you don’t really need a cow horn, and you don’t need cow intestines to transform other products that then you spray on your vineyards. You can do it all plant-based and it can be done. It’s done, not only by us. There’s a very famous woman called Maria Toon who codifies the biodynamic calendar, and she publishes every year the calendar that we all follow that instructs you about the best time to plant and to harvest and this and that. But it can be done. Regarding the esoteric image of biodynamics, I concur. In general the perception and the substance in many cases is absurd. I’m an atheist; I despise astrology. I have no time whatsoever for any new wave nonsense. I’m completely separate from all the woo-woo surrounding biodynamics. In fact, I’m more interested in scientific evidence that is mounting evidence, it’s growing, about the positive effects of biodynamics, and the way nature and plants interact. For instance, there’s this fantastic scientist called Peter Barlow in England who’s been collecting information about something very important. We know that our ancestors for thousands of years relied on moon phases to decide when to work in the fields, and only during the twentieth century it’s been considered superstition, but it makes complete sense. These studies by Peter Barlow show that the strongest force in the life of a plant is the interaction between the moon and the sun and the gravitational forces they create. We all know that plants live by the sun; that they point towards light and that temperature influences their life. But guess what; if you put plants inside a box, inside a closed box, with no temperature change and no light, they will still move every few hours, and no one could explain why they were moving until Peter Barlow figured out that it was the exact coincidence with gravitational phases of the moon. So this force is so strong, as we can see with the ocean tides, that it influences the life of plants completely. Now, we don’t have a manual that says exactly ‘if the moon is like this, this is what you have to do.’ What we’re doing is we are trying to learn and listen and try and empirically establish what works best. Believe me, there are huge differences. The most basic experiment being plant a plant during a certain phase and see how much is grows. Plant it during another and see that it grows three times as fast.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: I mean, who can explain that?
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we think we are so smart and we have so much to learn. Just by paying attention, we might learn a lot more. I just know as humans a lot of us are affected by the phase of the moon, just in terms of our moods. There’s evidence of that. There’s a lot of magic out there that we haven’t quite figured out that isn’t really magic, it just looks like it is.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Especially for thousands of years, people have used certain techniques. They must make sense. It can’t be that… throughout the world lunar phases were followed in places as varied as Latin America and Australia and Europe when they had no contact with each other. How could that be?
Caryn Hartglass: Have you heard of veganic agriculture? [Sebastiano: Yes, yes I have.] So maybe what you’re doing is… I’m like trying to come up with another name- biodynamic or bioveganic.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: The way we call it is cruelty-free biodynamics. I like that because I focus on this mostly because I care about the animals, so I want to emphasize the fact that the alternatives require cruelty. We all know that there is no sustainable way to farm animals, to grow animals in a farm, no matter what kind of model is put in front of our eyes. And we all know that raising animals for any purpose in agriculture means suffering and pain to them, and so I want to focus on the fact that cruelty is part of that model and I’m against it. I want to do without it.
Caryn Hartglass: I love that you’re doing without it. There are some that believe you need animal manure, and they use that to justify having animals, but then I think, ok, so have a few cows and chickens. You don’t have to kill them. Why don’t you just let them hang out?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: But then again, we are the demonstration that you do not need manure. You can use green manure. Not only do we grow grapes, but we now have, I don’t know if I ever mentioned this to you, but we now grow all of our grains and all of our legumes and all the plants and all the flowers, the herbs that we need for preparations, and we grow everything ourselves in biodynamic fields without a molecule of manure. Manure is not necessary. In fact, plants are much happier when you feed them with plants.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t want this sh…!
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Think about a forest. Yes, okay, there’s the occasional animal that dies in the middle of the forest and nourishes the soil there. But mostly, what is it fed by?
Caryn Hartglass: Mostly plants.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Leaves and other plants that die. It’s so natural. That’s where you find, guess what? The most wonderful soil and if you imagine your ideal soil is the one that grows at the bottom of a forest. So that’s the ideal soil if you want to do the most wonderful agriculture in the world. So why go and reinvent everything and bring animals into the picture when they don’t belong? I mean, they belong free, happy, alive and flying around and playing. We have a population of rabbits that is incredible, and we have all the most beautiful animals you can imagine. They’re happy, they eat the plants there and that’s it.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just curious, how did you get started being an animal rights activist and getting into biodynamic agriculture?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: I was 15 years old and, by chance, I saw some literature about vivisection, and so I became engaged in that. Of course, once you see that you cannot eat meat anymore and so I became a vegetarian overnight
Caryn Hartglass: Some people can, unfortunately.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: I couldn’t. It didn’t make sense to me to say, oh I don’t want animals to suffer in experiments, but I’m going to have them slaughtered and killed and tortured for my food, so I just made the decision. Overnight, I became a vegetarian, and now I’m vegan. I’m vegetarian every once in a while socially when I can’t avoid it, because I travel a lot for work, and in some countries the word vegan has not even appeared in the dictionary yet. I certainly am involved in animal rights activism, and I have been since then. I’m honored to be on the advisory board of Sea Shepherd and I would like to take a chance if you’d let me…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh sure, absolutely.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: To send a heartfelt hug to Paul Watson, wherever you are…
Caryn Hartglass: Wherever you are!
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Paul, we’re with you. It all goes together.
Caryn Hartglass: The message that I really like to give is that we can eat delicious food, we can drink wonderful tasting wines, and we can do it in balance with nature. Now some people may believe that you can’t produce enough food or enough wine by growing in this way.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: It’s quite the opposite. We have fantastic, fertile soil, and there are thousands of scientific studies that show that organic and biodynamic soil is more fertile, and especially that it is going to be fertile forever. Whereas, conventional soil might be overnourished for a while and then it dies and it becomes desert, so it’s the opposite. For one fertile acre of conventional soil, you know that thousands are going to die.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it doesn’t. Well… thank you!
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for making wine. We’re not drinking anything else anymore, just Querciabella.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. Where can people learn more about your wine?
Sebastiano Castiglioni: Oh, we have a website. Querciabella.com, so Q-U-E-R-C-I-A-B-E-L-L-A dot com and our wine is sold throughout the U.S. Actually, the United States are our number one market.
Caryn Hartglass: And I noticed you are on Barnivore.com, which is where we find out all our vegan wines and alcoholic beverages.
Sebastiano Castiglioni: You bet; we’re there. Fantastic, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Please visit my website ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com. Send me a note at email@example.com and don’t forget, have a delicious week. Bye-bye.
Transcribed by Maggie Rasnake, 3/2/2013