ELLSWORTH — When it comes to describing his plant-based lifestyle, Marc Blanchette tends to speak in sound bites.
“If it was grown on a plant, have at it. If it was made in a manufacturing plant, don’t eat it.”
“You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”
“If it has a mother or a face, don’t eat it.”
Blanchette knows it can get repetitive. His friends sometimes tell him to “ratchet it down.” But he doesn’t stop.
“I would give up everything else to be able to help people regain their health,” says Blanchette. “I’m that passionate about it.”
His crusade began a few years ago, when the City Council chairman hit 339 pounds.
“I hated cooking,” says Blanchette. PB&J and spaghetti sauce were largely the extent of his culinary repertoire.
“In the beginning, it was ‘let’s see if I can lose 15 or 20 pounds.’” He began reading nutritional labels. Doing that, Blanchette says, “You’re bound to run into recipes.” Not long after, he was doing “all the cooking.”
Blanchette cut out oils (he sautés in water), sugar and a slew of other foods. He became a vegetarian and finally transitioned to a fully plant-based diet several years ago. He began exercising — walking, riding his bike for the first time since he was 16 — and eventually dropped 184 pounds.
The father and grandfather regularly gives public talks, conducts cooking demonstrations and generally holds forth to anyone who will listen on the merits of a plant-based lifestyle.
“It’s not a diet,” Blanchette cautions.
Did he have to adjust his budget when he made the switch?
“I had to put more money in the savings account,” says Blanchette. “It’s cheaper.” He still looks for the circulars from local grocery stores on Fridays, but says even without those the lifestyle is still affordable, pointing to cheap, protein-rich beans as one example.
What about the time involved? If cooking and meal preparation takes more time, says Blanchette, he hasn’t noticed. “It’s fun.”
One of the first questions he’s often asked is “Where do you get your protein?”
“The same place all the largest animals on Earth get theirs,” he says, ticking them off. “Rhinoceroses, elephants — it’s all plant-based.”
Blanchette starts his days with oatmeal, sprinkled with a host of nutritional powerhouse additions: cinnamon, pumpkin seeds, Amla (an antioxidant powder), cacao, flax seed, chia seeds, blueberries, strawberries and apples. He relies heavily on his Vitamix and Instapot (“brown rice in 22 minutes!”) to prepare meals and tries to work tomatoes in twice per day to help with his recently diagnosed macular degeneration (foods rich in carotenoids have been shown to delay progression of the disease).
He keeps several bottles of Fiore vinegars (Italian Herb, Raspberry White Fruit) on hand to drizzle on steamed kale. Pizza is still on the menu, but it’s cheeseless and made with a cauliflower crust. While volunteering at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, Blanchette dished up Sloppy Joes made with sorghum and lentils in place of meat.
“They couldn’t tell the difference,” he says.
The Ellsworth resident is adamant that he isn’t “trying to force it on anyone,” but simply wants everyone to feel as energetic as he does. He readily offers his phone number to those struggling with weight and health issues and says several have broken down in tears in front of him.
The retired woodworker also has spoken with local school officials about changing the offerings in the cafeteria to cut out certain foods, including processed meats.
Blanchette says he regrets some of the food choices he made for his own sons when they were young and has tried to instill healthy eating in them as adults. He cites studies (such as those recently published by the World Health Organization) that rank processed meats alongside cigarettes and asbestos as major causes of cancer.
“If we’re feeding our kids known carcinogenic foods….” Blanchette shakes his head. “What are we doing?”
Blanchette says he understands schools are operating within constraints — federal nutritional guidelines, limited funding, donated food — but says he still sees reforming the way children (and adults) eat as both possible and pressing.
“The answer,” says Blanchette, “is at the end of your fork.”