Mindful Eating, Mindful Living: Chatting with Christine Wong, Author of The Plantiful Plate
Your New Year resolution might have been to eat healthier, but how exactly? Christine Wong, a certified health coach and creative director of Pearl River friend LUCKYRICE, can help.
Christine has made it her mission to help others discover how delicious mindful eating can be. Her new cookbook, The Plantiful Plate, includes 80 vibrant, colorful, and mouth-watering recipes to help you incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet.
We had the chance to speak to Christine about some easy ways to eat healthier, some unsung “superfoods,” and the importance of cutting plastic from your life.
Let’s start with the basics. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hong Kong, which will always have a piece of my heart.
How did you become interested in photography? Were you always primarily into food photography?
I took a few photography lessons in high school, capturing moments and scenes, but didn’t really pursue it afterwards. Food photography came about when I started documenting my food journey on Instagram four years ago. The quality of my images improved merely by taking a photo every day, oftentimes using my phone (which I still do!). My graphic design background also might help with some of the compositions I put together
Have you always liked cooking? If not, what got you interested?
In high school, I always brought large salads and bags of popcorn to share with friends -- food is always better when shared, right? Then in college I realized that it doesn’t take much to prepare a healthy meal, especially when buying vegetables in Chinatown. Similar to a design project, I enjoy the creative process that cooking offers of making something out of “nothing”. But I really focused on cooking when I had kids, and I wanted to ensure that I was giving them the best nutrients possible. As a result, they are pretty adventurous eaters, who also don’t shun vegetables.
What’s your favorite vegan dish? Why?
I have to say it’s a ratatouille, the Pixar/Thomas Keller method of preparing it, which is also known as a confit biyaldi or a tian. Hence I’ve dubbed it a Ratatian.
I love preparing this dish because it uses very accessible ingredients and looks incredibly impressive at the table as a main dish. I’ve made a few iterations of this dish substituting the tomato base with a curry sauce base.
It seems vegan meat substitutes are getting better, but I remember when they weren’t great. Is there a vegan version of a meat dish that you find particularly challenging?
I never try to make a mock meat. There are way too many additives and if you are going to embrace eating vegetables, why should it taste like meat? Having said that, there are two delicious vegan dishes that do give the animal version a run for their money. These are shiitake “bacon” and carrot “lox.” Both recipes are featured in my cookbook.
You hear a lot about “superfoods” in the news. Are there any unsung nutritious foods out there you feel don’t get their due?
ALL fresh fruits and vegetables are superfoods in their own right. Globally, everything is so accessible these days, and while ancient foods from faraway lands are enticing and in demand, what is often overlooked is locally grown food, which is the freshest, tastiest, and more nutritious option. That’s why I love going to farmer’s markets, or any local market whenever I travel.
What tips do you have for someone who wants to incorporate more vegetables into their diet?
Ideally for each meal, half of your plate should be filled with vegetables. The best is to have a rainbow of produce on hand so you are getting a great variety of nutrients. Vegetables are so versatile, you can juice, roast, ferment, sauté, grill, steam, stew them, they’re way more fun than just a salad.
What tips do you have for cutting more plastic out of our lives?
The first step is to be aware of all the plastic items that are used each day and tossed away on a daily basis. Note any single-use “disposables” that are used. Plastic has an average of “working” life of 12 minutes, takes 450 years to break down, and never goes away. In fact, all the plastic ever made still exists in some form today, and is negatively impacting our planet, particularly our oceans. Around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.
There are many small steps that can be taken to create convenience, mainly by bringing your own bag(s) / bottle / lunch / utensils. These simple swaps are the start of a more positive daily routine, can sometimes start conversations, and can inspire others to start taking small steps to reduce plastic usage too. Plastic is everywhere and sometimes hard to avoid, but every piece of plastic NOT used is still a great step in the right direction.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would that be?
I certainly wish I knew more about the impact of how our habits are having on the environment. I would tell myself, less is definitely more.
What significance does Pearl River Mart have for you? What’s your strongest memory of the store? Do you have any favorite products?
I love Pearl River Mart! Moving to New York from Hong Kong 17 years ago, I would always pop into Pearl River Mart for a bit of nostalgia whenever I got homesick. From all the retro Diamond-brand clocks and tin toys, to classic “Good Morning” towels, and embroidered slippers, it was always a comfort zone for me.
When PRM reopened in Tribeca, I loved the addition of more modern Chinese products, including the double happiness tableware and clothing. NO babies for me, but the Buzz Bear Studio onesies are the cutest!
I'm still a big fan of all the classics because, after all, "what's old is new again," and I'm happy to find reasonably priced stainless steel lunch tins, especially the stacked tiffin. Most days, I bring my lunch to work, and these traditional containers are handy, lightweight, and durable (and, of course, plastic free!).
Chopsticks are my utensil of choice, and a beautiful travel pair (and embroidered case) is much more fun to eat with than disposable wooden ones. I carry these around with me at all times! Sometimes I use the bamboo utensils too, and it's easy to throw them all into my Pearl River tote, which also comes in handy when shopping for food along with the super-expandable mesh bag.
But what I love most about Pearl River Mart is the selection of loose leaf teas (including butterfly pea flower and rose) which I can purchase by weight, without any plastic packaging. These infusions are especially pretty in the glass tea infuser which is one of the more modern, but essential, items I've found here.
Is there anything you’re finding especially inspiring or are obsessed with right now? That you’d tell someone, “You have to watch/read/listen/eat this”?
My plastic-free journey started a year and a half ago because of the award-winning documentary “A Plastic Ocean” You have to watch it.
If you had a one-word mantra, what would that be?