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Is It Possible, and Safe, to Raise Vegan Kids?

Almost three years ago, my father-in-law died of pancreatic cancer. It was not the first time cancer had touched someone in my family, and, sadly, it hasn't been the last. But soon after his passing, my focus turned to my husband and my two small boys, who now have a much greater risk for this type of fatal cancer. I felt helpless.

Soon after by chance, or perhaps by some greater intervention, I was taking a walk, when I met a man who had also been walking. He sat down beside me on the bench and told me he was dying from cancer.

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"I wish I had read 'The China Study' sooner," he told me. "The China Study," written by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional scientist from Cornell University, documents what has been called the largest cancer and diet related study ever done. It's a book people have recommended to me for years. But the conversation with this man had me feeling compelled to buy it, as if I had been knocked over the head.

The book is full of game-changing, factual studies on how the consumption of animal proteins, including milk and cheese, act as accelerants for tumor growth and, in fact, may instigate cancer cells from the get-go. The text made sense to me. I was soon searching for more information. That's how I found the film "Forks Over Knives."

I'm not a dietician, I'm not a health expert, but, if you're like me, wondering why there is so much disease in the world and why our food system is so broken, these works are definitely worth your time.

This film's premise is that America is suffering from a health epidemic. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the country's three leading causes of death. The medicines prescribed to remedy these and other diseases cost this country over $120 billion each year. It, too, provides recent research that there is a correlation between these deadly diseases and the amount of meat, dairy and processed foods consumed. The research from two world-renowned experts—Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., author of "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," and the man who convinced President Bill Clinton to treat his heart disease in a new way—led to this documentary.

The film follows the journey of real patients who are diagnosed with chronic conditions, everything from heart disease to diabetes. Viewers are given a firsthand look at their shocking physical and medical transformations after each patient adopts a whole food, plant-based diet.

Both the film and the book have been topics of conversation for a few years now, but it seems lately, at every dinner party or camping trip, people are talking about it. I'm not a dietician and I'm not a health expert, but if you're like me, wondering why there is so much disease in the world and why our food system is so broken, these works are definitely worth your time.

I also recommend "The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year," which is packed with great vegan recipes for every meal.

Spinach and Sweet Potato Lasagna

Serves 6 to 8

2 to 3 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds

2 large heads cauliflower, cut into florets

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Unsweetened plain almond milk, as needed

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1½ teaspoons salt

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced small

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon minced thyme

½ cup finely chopped basil

12 cups spinach (about 2 pounds)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

12 ounces whole-grain or Jerusalem artichoke-flour lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained and rinsed until cool

  1. Place the sweet potatoes in a double boiler or steamer basket and steam for 6 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Rinse until cool, then drain and set aside.

  2. Steam the cauliflower for 6 to 8 minutes until very tender. Combine the cauliflower and pine nuts in a blender, in batches if necessary, and puree until smooth and creamy, adding almond milk if needed. Add the puree to a large bowl and stir in the nutritional yeast (if using), nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

  3. Place the onion in a large skillet and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to keep the onion from sticking to the pan. Add the garlic, thyme, basil and spinach, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the spinach wilts. Add to the cauliflower puree and mix well. Season with additional salt and pepper.

  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  5. To assemble the lasagna, pour 1 cup of the cauliflower mixture into the bottom of a 9- × 13-inch baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Place a layer of sweet potatoes on top of the noodles. Pour 1½ cups of the cauliflower mixture over the sweet potatoes. Top with another layer of noodles, followed by a layer of sweet potatoes. Add another layer of the cauliflower mixture. Top with a final layer of noodles and the remaining cauliflower sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the casserole is hot and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Credit line: Recipe from "Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year," copyright Del Sroufe, 2012. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment.

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