Get help getting real about healthy eating in 2014

Vegan Lasagna will be on the RFW weight-loss seminar menu.
Vegan Lasagna will be on the RFW weight-loss seminar menu.
Posted: January 10, 2014

"IS IT real?" That's the key question for any dietary change adopted in January.

It's easy on New Year's Eve to foresee a year of healthful eating, but a week or two in, the pie in the sky may become a pie in the face as aspirations give way to realities.

A local meal service aims to help you make real changes around food - to the point of being named Real Food Works. Founded by entrepreneur Lucinda Duncalfe, in 2012, RFW moved into Philadelphia proper (Juniper Street) this past fall, launching with an event that saw Mayor Nutter gulping down a celebratory green smoothie.

Nutter was announcing the city's stake in RFW, namely $200,000 in StartUp PHL seed money. Other funding also came from Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The company aims to do well by doing good, connecting interested eaters with local restaurants in a plant-based meal service that's rigorously healthful, varied and skillfully prepared.

The concept seems workable, but the mission goes beyond profit: RFW also hosts a free, weekly farm-table brunch (call ahead) showcasing animal-free foods.

"Every plant-based meal that's eaten," Duncalfe told me in an interview, "is a step in the right direction."

The meal program is year-round, but especially now, "when everybody is thinking about 'the new me' of the next year," it's supplemented by RFW events such as next weekend's Weight Loss Seminar at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, inviting attendees to "participate in a day that will help you embrace scientific ways to master weight loss."

I asked if the weight angle was a hook to get people thinking healthfully. Duncalfe put it this way: "Our core is about health. Being overweight is not healthy," and this session can offer benefits both long and short term.

"I dropped 15 pounds quickly by going plant-based," she noted.

There's a promising speakers panel: In addition to Duncalfe and Ana Negron (an M.D. specialist in nutritional approaches to health care), Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., will be there via Skype. You may recall that his clinical research showed that heart disease can be stopped and even reversed on a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

While the assembled experts will drop knowledge, that's just one out of three elements that Duncalfe sees as essential for change in eating habits. The other two are "ability and experience - the experience of eating this food."

Many Philadelphians don't know what vegan food can be. "People can't imagine what it's like eating this way," she said.

To that end, the seminar is interactive, with a cooking class and a filling, four-course vegan meal at the end. Duncalfe noted that "the gift bags include cutting boards," with participants empowered to take charge of their eating habits in a real way.

To that point, I do have quibbles: Touting the proven health benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet and then providing an "opt-in" for people who want to add "a bit" of meat to their own meal program seems to undercut a powerful, consistent message and tips the balance back from fundamental change toward comfortable yuppie habit.

Still, Duncalfe is doing real work to introduce people to delicious vegan food while also helping establish new revenue channels for businesses that specialize in this cuisine. On the whole, RFW takes the abstract idea of powering your diet with fresh, whole, plant-based foods and makes that real - with an eye to keeping it that way.

"Losing Weight and Gaining Balance in 2014," presented by Real Food Works, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 18, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, 824 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr. $105. Info at 215-789-9353, 800-215-1511 or

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. or @V4Veg on Twitter. 

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