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Sunday, August 14, 2011

What I Learned from Fran Costigan

My real profession is "People Watcher." What I know, I have learned from watching others. Really.

For example, I like to watch how my husband, Patrick, eats his dinner. He is tall and thin. And the reason he is thin is due to the fact that he is a very, very slow eater. He chews his food well, stops eating when he is full, and occasionally, leaves food on his plate. I, on the other hand, eat at meteoric speed, and have never, never, left food on my plate. Never, ever.

I am intrigued by slow eaters. Like, how did they get that way? Last week, I joined some friends for dinner at Seasons 52. We are all vegans, so it was fun getting together, sifting through the menu, and finding something that we could all eat. One of my friends at the table was noted vegan cookbook author, Fran Costigan, that's her in the picture. If she and my husband ever went out for dinner, they would still be eating dinner at closing time. But Fran's "sensibility" goes beyond how she eats. Watch her do her "thang" in the kitchen. It is a reflection on how she approaches life...all with balance and keen observation.

I would describe Fran as a whisp. She is quick moving, a thoughtful talker, and an ace in the kitchen. She was busy showing her fans how to make vegan truffles. There she was in the middle of a Whole Foods Market where an audience of forty watched her every move as she discussed the virtues of fair trade chocolate, the importance of organics, and the fun of vegan dessert making. This is a woman who doesn't miss a beat. She takes it all in, and gets the job done. She is also a "food-balancer," someone who is cognizant of what she puts into her body, and if she thinks she has eaten too much, her next meal will be greens and more greens. How smart is she?

When Fran was ready to make the truffles, in my mind, they were going to be the size of golf balls. Really, when did you ever seen a truffle the size of, well, a pellet? Fran meticulously made each truffle with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. And each one was about 10-12 millimeters in size. She dusted each truffle with ginger powder and they were so pretty.

As she was busy rolling away, a light went off. Nothing in a healthy person's life is supersized. Everything is normal. Within reach. Balanced. No extremes. Slow. Unrushed.

I am going to take a few lessons from Fran. She is a witty lady, and has a sense of humor that makes you laugh into the depth of your soul. But my take-away is this. Don't overdue it. Add balance. Love what you do and do what you love. Add greens, and don't overeat. She hasn't told me this, but, remember, I am a people watcher. And watching Fran was my master class.


  1. I was just in a talk with Doug Lisle about this very thing - it turns out it comes down to genetics - it is fascinating, why some people do not have the 'switch' to turn off when they are done, and when they have had enough calories. Someone once said that you only have to eat two more oreo's per day than a thin person to gain almost 10 pounds a year, over 10 years that is 100 pounds, for what doesn't seem to be a lot of calories. Oddly enough, the people in our society who are overweight or who have an easy time putting on weight were the strongest people in our tribes... the overweight people now were the people who could eat more, and live longer, make the long boat rides to new lands, survive long periods of time with out food. It's because of food abundance that this has changed, but to fight it is SO hard, because it goes against what our biology is telling us to do, it's set in our brains. Which is why eating low calorically dense foods is so important for people who need to lose weight, we don't have the same things going on in the brain as the thin by nature people. Learning about this has really helped me, in realizing I'm not a big failure for being overweight, I was just doing what my brain thought it should do - had it been a few hundred years ago I would have been the one left surviving on the boat or through famine. It's why in some cultures people who are a little heavier are looked up to - they are (or were) the strongest people, the ones who would live the longest. So we are going against our nature, and that is tough... which is where planning comes in, making sure you are eating enough dense foods - especially grains, and being sure that you feel satisfied, even if you are eating less calories. Our brains are tricky :) but I am glad to know that I was once the strongest in my tribe, I'll take that! :)

    I'm glad Doug is going to be at the upcoming immersions - he says it much better than I do, and gives a lot better advice. :)

    OH and I love Fran, and I can't wait to meet her!

  2. Dear Char,
    Somehow I missed reading your post. I had to wait until my eyes stopped tearing and my heart beat went back to normal to comment. I am so touched by this post and by our new but definitely not new friendship. I learn so much from you (and the specifics will be enumerated when I have at least an hour to write.

    This is a very generous 'review'. I am honored that someone as smart and sharp as you would have made these observations.

    You know, or did I not tell you that before I VD (vegan diet), I ate very fast, and didn't know waht it felt like to feel very hungry. Not only that, I pushed away feeling full and was endlessly feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. This is the way my family ate. Well, my youngest aunt (we are only 6 years apart), became engaged to a really gorgeous, tall, thin guy. He stood out, really he stuck out since it was incomprehensible to the family, that a person really had to eat because he felt hunger and he STOPPED whe he'd had enough. I remember not being the only one who asked many questions about that. As you would figure, he ate slowly.

    Over time, but not very much time, eating a whole foods plant based diet, created change in me. As if it wasn't enought to have more energy, live allergy free, lose weight effortlessly, with no yo yo 8-10 lbs, here, gone, here, and food hangers a thing of the past, my taste changed naturally as did mealtime, at home, in restuarants, when I 'had' to taste many desserts. I remember how I used to feel, and how I feel now. I can't stomach the idea of going back to the former. Last night, was one of the rare times in a year that I over ate and ate FAST. It was labor day, I wanted some 'fun' foods. Vegan does not by definition equal healthy, right? But you know that.

    True to form, I was so uncomfortable that I couldn't stand it. I took a slow walk, trying to digest and feel better. Luckily the meal was early so I could sleep. But I woke with a headache and puffy eyes. What I craved was watermelon (thirsty), then later some oatmeal and kale. I'll be the one sipping the green juice in an hour, and eating salad today. Not even one of the truffles sharing space in my freezer with cakes, ice cream tests, cupcakes, do I crave or will I eat. This is 360 from the me years ago, who couldn't keep sweets or pretzels or junk, nutritionally nothing foods in my house. Honestly, truly deeply, if I was able to change, anyone can. And it's not about deprivation. I am a foodie. I teach cooking classes. I visit food markets whereever I am. It's about what I got. The ability to have my food, and eat it right!

    You Ms Charlene, are an inspiration to everyone who has had the privilege of knowing you in person or via your posts.

    Have a great day.


  3. Yep, I, too, was at the truffle demonstration at Whole Foods and Fran Costigan. I loved being there. She did make the truffles very small. I thought it was because it had to feed all of us. Nope, just one little Milk Dud size (see, I grew up on candy, and that's how I describe everything) truffle was enough. It wasn't supposed to be a meal, it was a special treat.

    I'm back to juicing every day, so I know I'm getting my greens. And when I feel those hunger pains, I know to have all my salad ingredients prepped and ready to go. I think the trick of not wanting to over-eat is to eat small little meals throughout the day.

    And Char, it's your turn to play on Words with Friends.


  4. She's my cousin so I've know Fran since forever--and I love how you describe her!