Whole Foods Market Promotes Healthy Eating and Local Food

A visit with Denise Breyley - Whole Foods Market regional local forager,  re-enforces the importance of buying local foods.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Whole Foods’ senior global chef Derek Sarno gives a healthy cooking demonstration based on the Health Starts Here program principles.

Whole Foods Market’s local forager and global chef share information on BC-made products and easy tips for healthy eating

I’ve been thinking about health a lot lately. The planet’s and mine. Have you ever noticed that when something’s on your mind, opportunities to explore these thoughts seem to pop up?

I was recently given such an opportunity at Whole Foods Markets, where I learned about one of the coolest jobs I never knew existed and acquired some great tips from the company’s healthy eating initiative.

Whole Foods’ Local Forager Brings Locally-Produced Foods to You

Whole Foods Market’s Pacific Northwest regional local forager Denise Breyley, centre, visits a cranberry farm in Oregon. (Image: Whole Foods Market)

Denise Breyley is Whole Foods’ regional local forager for the Pacific Northwest. Her job is to travel throughout BC, Washington and Oregon looking for new and exciting farmers and producers to work with – basically a long-term discovery road trip. Sounds fun!

Not only does Whole Foods help small business owners by offering their products on the store’s shelves, they also offer assistance in the form of the Local Producer Loan Program, a $10 million dollar fund that offers low-interest loans ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.

Each region (there are 12 in North America) and each individual store are free to source their own local products and Breyley has the thrilling task of sussing out new talent in the Pacific Northwest.

Vancouver’s Whole Foods Stores Carry Over 500 Local Products

Breyley says there are over 500 BC products on the shelves in Vancouver’s Whole Foods stores, and that number can increase depending on the time of year. You’ll always find local meat, cheeses and nonperishable goods, but during the growing season the produce department is bursting with local fruits and vegetables.

Supporting locally produced products not only boosts the local economy and reduces your carbon footprint (did you know that the average North American meal travels 2,400 kilometres to get from field to plate?), but, in terms of fresh produce, it boosts the nutritional value of your food.

When I met Breyley (who radiates warmth and effervescence) at Vancouver’s Cambie location, she gave me a parting gift bag stuffed with local products found on the store’s shelves, and enthusiastically shared a story about each item’s producer.

Local Producer Heads to the Oscars with Cranberries in Tow

I am a huge cranberry fan so I was delighted to receive a jar of Cranberries Naturally Jalapeno Cranberry Jelly, a tasty, low-calorie condiment that’s free of preservatives and made in nearby Fort Langley, BC. Owner Jasmine Marjanovic recently made the news as her company received a coveted spot in the Academy Awards’ gift lounge. In fact, I discovered the news article as I ate my lunch one day – a turkey, cranberry and avocado sandwich I made with my Cranberries Naturally Jalapeno Cranberry Jelly!

Another gift bag item that got me excited was a re-sealable bag of dried mushrooms from Untamed Feast, a Vancouver Island company who forage their wild mushrooms in secret locations around the province. Breyley says that every home cook needs dried mushrooms on hand, and I learned a new use for them (besides making pasta sauce extra-tasty) when I met Whole Foods’ senior global chef, Derek Sarno, at another event.

Whole Foods’ Four Pillars of Healthy Eating and Easy Recipes

Chef Derek Sarno prepares southwest-themed and Asian-themed Mighty Bowls of Goodness, and a kale salad with guacamole and fresh salsa. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Sarno and Jami Scott, regional mission specialists for Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here program, were on hand to do a cooking demonstration and talk about the program’s key principles.

Scott shared the four pillars of healthy eating that the Health Starts Here program is founded on:

  • Whole Food: eat unprocessed, whole foods in their most basic form.
  • Plant-strong: let vegetables encroach on the majority of your plate.
  • Nutrient Dense: prepare meals with micronutrient-dense foods (check out the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring system to help you choose high-scoring ingredients).
  • Healthy Fats: obtain healthy fats from plant-based sources like nuts, seeds and avocados.

The program suggests making little changes to your diet, like choosing whole grains over refined (like brown rice over white, or quinoa over pasta), starting lunch and dinner with a big colorful salad (I like to have a big salad with breakfast alongside a frittata and fruit) and getting healthy fats from whole foods rather than refined oils.

Sarno provided us with some recipes that align with the aforementioned principles. The first was a template for what he calls “Mighty Bowls of Goodness”, which makes planning healthy meals easy when you’re in a rush or lacking motivation.

Mighty Bowls of Goodness Recipe

The Mighty Bowls of Goodness are easy to whip up because all you have to do is select your choices from each of the following categories:

  • Cooked whole grains or starchy vegetables examples: rice (brown, red or wild), quinoa, millet, whole wheat couscous, buckwheat, kamut, spelt, barley, whole grain pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash (any variety)
  • Cooked beans Examples: lentils, red kidney beans, white beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, edamame, split peas, chickpeas
  • Roasted, lightly steamed or raw vegetables examples: mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, kale, watercress, bok choy, spinach, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, arugula, avocado, bell pepper, corn, zucchini, radish, bean sprouts, turnip, carrot, cauliflower, artichoke, tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, onion, peas
  • Herbs, spices and condiments examples: all dried spices, all fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, chives, green onions, lemon, lime, chilies, nutritional yeast, nori, honey, hot sauce, salsa, vinegars

Sarno showed us how to make a southwest-themed bowl (with barley, black beans, chicken, corn, cilantro and lime) and an Asian-themed bowl (with wild rice, edamame, tofu, broccoli, bean sprouts and tamari).

He recommends adding flavour naturally (instead of using heavy sauces) and showed us how to make salt-free seasoning using dried mushrooms. I am going to try this with my Untamed Feast mushrooms from Breyley! Sarno used a Vitamix blender to make a coarse powder out of dried mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and suggested adding different herbs and spices to the mix at your own discretion.

He also showed us how to make a salad that I’m really excited to make myself (his version was exceptional) using kale, guacamole, fresh salsa and lime. All you do is toss the kale with guacamole (plain mashed avocado works, too) and fresh lime juice, and the acid in the lime “cooks” the kale to tenderize it. Top with fresh salsa (see my favourite recipe here) and there you go!

For more recipe ideas, check out Whole Foods’ online recipes or their wonderful cookbook, The Whole Foods Market Cookbook, which I discovered almost 10 years ago.

For help choosing in-season produce, check out the handy dandy seasonal food chart from Get Local (a joint venture from FarmFolk CityFolk and Vancouver Farmers Markets). It’s a great resource to consult as you make your menu and grocery list for the week ahead.