published Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Healthy eating specialist wants you to learn to love your veggies

Mae Bell Cousin, left, samples a mayonnaise alternative made of white beans created by Ruth Kerr, the healthy eating specialist at Greenlife Grocery.
Mae Bell Cousin, left, samples a mayonnaise alternative made of white beans created by Ruth Kerr, the healthy eating specialist at Greenlife Grocery.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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FACTFILE
  • Age: 24.

  • From: Corinth, Miss.

  • School: Went to Ole Miss, majored in nutrition and hospitality management. Taking classes at Chattanooga State Community College to apply for a dietitian program.

  • Enjoys: Being outdoors, running, reading.

  • Favorite books: "The Omnivore's Dilemma," The Harry Potter series.

  • Favorite dessert: French macaroons.

  • Meaningful words: "We never know how high we are 'til we are called to rise. And then if we are true to plan, our statures touch the skies." -- Emily Dickinson.

TRY IT

The Health Starts Here Supper Club kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Greenlife Grocery, 301 Manufacturers Road. Healthy eating specialist Ruth Kerr will serve three plant-based courses featuring nutrient-dense foods free of any added oils. A $20 meal ticket may be purchased at the customer-service desk. For more information, email ruth.kerr@wholefoods.com.

Whatever you do, don't call Ruth Kerr a vegan.

"I like to say I'm a nutritarian, or plant-based," said Kerr, who avoids animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy. "I don't want to label myself -- 'I'm this, I'm that, I'm vegan, I can't eat that' -- but from the research I've done, I do think mostly a plant-based diet is at least what I thrive on."

A plant-based diet is central to Health Starts Here, a program by Whole Foods Market to promote healthy eating. To bring the message of plant-strong consumption to the public, the company, which owns Greenlife Grocery on Manufacturers Road, is employing "healthy eating specialists" to act as liaisons to the public.

Kerr, 24, plays that role in Chattanooga. She runs special programs, is available to answer questions and creates samples of recipes for customers to try.

"It's fun because I have to get creative," she said.

One thing she doesn't want to do is tell people what not to eat. Her goal, she said, is simply to increase awareness that nutrient-dense food is not only available, it can be delicious.

"I think anything in the health industry can be really easily thwarted, just because people think you have to be on a diet or eating healthy doesn't taste good," Kerr said. "My goal isn't to restrict. I think my demos show how you can highlight all the plant-strong things in a really good way and not even address cutting out something. It's just giving more options and putting all those ideas and recipes in someone's orbit."

  • What she does ... A healthy-eating liaison is the person who promotes the Health Starts Here program. It's about reconfiguring your plate. I think you could easily misconstrue it as pushing a certain diet or lifestyle, which is counterproductive. I think a lot of people would be turned off by that and not inspired.

  • Getting creative ... One time I steamed kale and mixed it with walnuts and a little water. It made this pesto-type thing. Kale butter is what I called that. It was really good. I've made a raw apple pie. The crust was a date, walnut, almond mixture, and the filling is just apples, and I processed a whole orange, raisins, dates, lemon juice and marinated the apples in it. It was awesome. People have come up to me and said, 'I've made that pie four times since you did that."

  • Being schooled ... I am in school, taking classes to get into a program. To be a dietitian, you take courses that make you eligible to do an internship. You do the internship, and then you're eligible to take the exit exam. Then if you pass that, you're a dietitian. So I'm taking the chemistries and the basic classes I didn't take in college to get into the program. It helps to see different ways I can apply this in the real world.

  • The learning process ... One part of my job I like is I'm always learning. I'm learning about gluten-free options or Crohn's disease. I think of a recipe that would work for all those things. I would love to learn more about different intolerances. It would interest me to learn how your body functions differently with those intolerances.

  • Work satisfaction ... Every day when I talk to somebody, I feel like I'm helping. I remember thinking a few years ago I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I was really interested in nutrition and that at the end of the day, I feel fulfilled when I've helped people. I feel like those two have been fused.

  • Her favorite meal ... I love whole-wheat crust pizza with homemade tomato sauce and piled with veggies. And I love kale. I'm not just saying that because I'm supposed to. I really, really like it. And I love finding new recipes for it. I love black-bean burgers.

  • Family matters ... My husband likes that lifestyle, but he has to have his chicken and his meat. I have three brothers, and they're definitely meat-and-three type of guys. They roll their eyes and say, "Oh, she's vegan, she just eats nuts and seeds." I definitely don't think there's any shame in calling yourself a vegan, but I don't see myself as a vegan. I just see myself as someone who chooses foods with more nutrients.

  • Tracing her roots ... My love for cooking definitely came from my mom and grandmother. My mother has her own chicken coop and her garden. The slow-food part of my passions comes from her. But the health part ... I don't know, I think I've always been very interested in the fact that what we put into our bodies is fuel. I'm so interested in that. It amazes me how strong our bodies are.

  • Stress relief ... As a girl, it's hard in high school. But in high school, I had a cross-country coach who was really encouraging, and he built my confidence a lot. But in high school, I was more stressed about food. But somewhere in there, it got really fun all of a sudden instead of stressful. You don't think about the nutrients in cashews; you just think "oh, I can't eat a lot of this, because it's high fat." I think growing up I didn't appreciate the good value of what's in food.

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about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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