This year, the Fun Food Feed is featuring dishes inspired by blue zone project communities.
Summer’s featured longevity blue zone project community is the Beach Cities of Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan, in Southern California.
Blue zone project communities use evidence-based environmental and policy changes to support residents to adopt and enjoy healthful lifestyles. Here, where the quality of living is at its best, the healthful choice is the easy choice.
Blue zone project communities support the “Power Nine” shared lifestyle habits:
- Plant-based diet, including legumes as a staple
- Moderate calorie intake, stopping eating when feel 80% full
- Abstaining from alcohol, or limiting intake to 1-2 small glasses per evening.
- Moving naturally, growing gardens, walking to the store, doing house and yard work by hand
- Life purpose
- Stress reduction, with meditation, prayer, naps and socializing
- Belonging, to a positive community, often faith-based
- Family, with members committed to helping each other
- Social circle, of several supportive members with healthy behaviors
In the Beach Cities community, the blue zone project partnered with the Beach Cities Health District, as well as restaurants, markets, work sites, schools and local government. They are currently building a community-driven “Healthy Living Campus,” re-imagining their former hospital into an 11-acre site, “anchored in Health, Livability and Community.”
Several of my formative years were spent in Redondo Beach, California. My friends and our families flourished in the sunshine-splashed beach town. We were able to safely walk to and from school each day. At recess, we spun around the monkey bars by our ankles and played handball, in addition to PE each day. We rode our bicycles and roller bladed around our neighborhoods and on the boardwalk. People played volleyball on the courts on the sand, and surfers rode the swells.
Today, the Beach Cities’ blue zone project is helping even more students walk and bike to school together with family members or volunteers. Physical activities at schools include morning exercises and classroom activity breaks.
My idea of health food then was a dish of frozen yogurt, and our school lunch was often a hot dog wrapped in a slice of white bread with french fries and inedible canned green beans.
Thankfully, my mother and father’s home-cooked meals, chock-full of flavorful fresh vegetables, nourished me at home. Breakfast always included fruit, and dinner, a salad. I have fond memories of sitting at the dinner table with my father, playing rummy and peeling florets off a giant head of steamed broccoli.
Now at schools in the Beach Cities, the blue zone project’s programs include school gardens and nutrition lessons with tastings of colorful plant-powered dishes, mindfulness practices and social-emotional learning to help students adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors and habits at an early age.
Growing up in the 1980s in Redondo Beach, the farm-to-table and slow food movements hadn’t yet reached us. Market produce was limited in selection and had been trucked in from industrial warehouses. My memory of restaurants is mainly pizzerias, sandwich delis, diners and drive-thrus.
Restaurants participating in the blue zone project throughout the Beach Cities now offer customers approved healthful menu choices. These restaurants are promoted online and display the blue zones restaurant® decal.
Residents can take the online “blue zones project pledge,” to “live longer, better” by following the blue zone’s nine shared lifestyle habits, and receive a perks card for 10-20% off purchases at participating Beach Cities blue zone restaurants and retailers.
Participating markets also display a blue zones store decal, and have blue zones project signs for healthful food options. Some markets even offer ongoing cooking and nutrition classes with a registered dietitian!
I have many fond memories of those childhood days in Redondo Beach. Flash forward thirty years, and I’m now living just a few hours north, in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, California. After living in cities all over the US, I’ve fallen in love with SLO. This small, seaside community is my unofficial “blue zone,” offering me the makings of a healthful and happy life.
After settling here, I discovered that blue zones researcher, Dan Buettner, named SLO one of the “happiest places on earth” in his book reviewing happiness research and sharing stories of his travels, Thrive – Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.
Buettner writes “San Luis Obispo offers a clear example of how an American community can proactively change itself to create an environment where people live longer, happier lives.
“A student group galvanized citizens to push through a project that created a cultural and social focus for this city and, in doing so, improved the quality of its government. With more citizen participation, the town’s focus shifted away from optimizing the business environment to maximizing quality of life.
“As a result, San Luis Obispo gained a more aesthetically pleasing downtown, with less traffic, less pollution, more gathering places, protected green spaces, a farmer’s market, thriving arts, and an environment where it’s harder to do things that are bad for you (smoke, eat fast food) and easier to do things that are good for you (walk, eat vegetables, recreate in nature, and bike). The result is arguably the healthiest and happiest city in America.”
The Slow Food movement is alive and well in SLO. Farmers markets take place six days a week, morning, afternoon and evening, all over the county, year round. One can enjoy a meal, say hello to friends and farmers, and pick up the week’s groceries.
Many local restaurants, like Novo and Mint Craft, also shop at the farmers markets, and feature these items on their menus.
When I first moved to SLO, over ten years ago, I mainly frequented the Thursday evening farmers market. The produce and prepared food booths, and entertainment, stretch down most of the main street downtown, and hundreds of locals come out to celebrate.
Chavez Family Farms became (and remains) my favorite stand at the market. Maybe it is the sweet clean flavor and delicate texture of their affordable sustainably grown vegetables, the jammy intensity of their berries, and maybe its the kind generosity and warm smiles of the father and sons who grow them.
These days, my go-to is the Saturday SLO morning market – a delicious way to start the weekend. This market hosts several farmers who rarely appear elsewhere, and whose produce is the cream of the crop. They greet customers by name, with wide smiles, and seem to enjoy sharing about their produce and products.
Finley Farms is well frequented by local restaurant shoppers, famous for their crisp, delicate gem lettuces, with a dizzying array of other produce as well.
The Bautistas’ crisp sugar snap peas, sweet cherry tomatoes and carrots are addictive. Once tasted, mainstream market produce will no longer “cut the mustard.”
Branden keeps SLO supplied with adaptogenic immune-balancing gourmet mushrooms to keep us well. Some days he has a “secret” stash of reishi mushrooms available.
Jennifer’s plant-based dairy-free cheeses are in high demand. She has been a special guest of my Principles of Food lab at Cuesta College, teaching us the fine art of plant-based cheese making. Her Vreamery Cheese Shop and Melt Bar will be opening this winter in Paso Robles!
The microgreens grown by Alvin and Tammy of Gracious Greens are also found on many local restaurant menus. They have also been guests at Cuesta College, teaching us about the health benefits of microgreens, and how to grow them. Alvin and Tammy have big hearts, and help keep SLO in peak health with their brazen brassicas.
I always have to stop for a quart of Julia’s fresh cold-pressed green juice. Made with vegetables straight from neighboring farms, brightly colored with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, and thick with prebiotic soluble fiber and minerals, her therapeutic juice has a vast following. Her juices can also be found at Julia’s Juice Bar & Farm Fresh Cafe in Grover Beach, as well as delicious and nourishing tacos and sandwiches.
Each summer, I teach SLO Cuesta College for Kids culinary nutrition courses. Course titles include “Eat the World,” “Non-Dairy Dreamery” and “Kitchen Chemistry.”
Together, we make plant-based dishes like rainbow nachos with cashew queso, and almond ice cream sundaes made with homemade almond cream and fudge made from hazelnuts and cacao nibs we melange.
Talley Farms donates farm-fresh produce each week to the College for Kids culinary nutrition courses, and we shop at the fabulous local SLO Natural Foods Co-op, that fills their store with local produce and products.
This Summer’s featured recipe is for Summer Rolls. This recipe was inspired by the locally famous dish served at the sparkling gem of SLO’s healthful restaurant scene, Shine Cafe in SLO County’s Morro Bay. Summer rolls are also a favorite in the Beach Cities.
Parks overlooking Morro Bay dot the coastline, and are marvelous locations for weekend picnics of farmers market bounty.
Morro Bay is nestled next to Highway 1. The town’s most striking feature is arguably Morro Rock, a 576 foot high volcanic plug, standing at the harbor entrance. Morro Rock is one of the Nine Sisters, a series of picturesque plugs that stretch in a line inland, through SLO county.
A section of Morro Bay is designated as a national and state bird sanctuary and estuary, hosting snowy egrets, blue herons, ducks and bald eagles.
Sea otters and their babies play in the bay, between the anchored boats.
A bike path threads through the town and along the water, where many come to walk, eat and relax. Water sports like paddle boarding, kayaking and surfing are also popular.
Morro Bay’s Shine Cafe and sister Sunshine Health Foods Market are just up the hill from the water.
When not devouring their summer rolls and other savories, weekend customers beeline for Shine’s fluffy organic buckwheat pancakes, served with real maple syrup and filled with the fruits of one’s choice.
Sunshine Health Foods Market is located next door, where one can purchase whole grain summer roll wrappers, among an abundance of other sustainable sundries stowed in its diminutive structure. The market’s atmosphere is relaxed, organized and friendly.
Video: Vietnamese Traditions (0 to 3:05 minutes)
Video: Rice Wrapper Making (7:30 to 9:04 minutes)
Summer Rolls, or Gỏi cuốn, are cold rolls filled with an assortment of fresh, colorful vegetables and herbs. Various proteins are also often fillings. Their wrappers are usually made of rice. They are served with a dipping sauce, which is often hoisin or peanut sauce.
Summer rolls are considered Vietnamese, believed to be the evolution of a roll that originated in China and was modified for Vietnamese people’s tastes by immigrant chefs.
Summer rolls are best served fresh, on the day of preparation, when the wrapper is tender and vegetables crisp. This light and customizable finger food is a favorite of young and old, and great for family summer outings, as well as parties.
CENTENARIAN-STYLE SUMMER ROLLS
Preparation Time: ~20 minutes
Yield: ~2 to 8 servings
- 1 package summer (aka spring) roll wrappers
- baby greens
- assortment of favorite colorful vegetables, julienned (e.g. purple cabbage, red bell pepper, carrot, avocado, cucumber)
- optional filling: fresh herbs & sprouts (e.g. Thai basil, mint, cilantro, sunflower sprouts)
- optional filling: protein (e.g. seared tofu, marinated tempeh and/or chopped nuts & seeds)
- optional filling: rice vermicelli noodles
- dipping sauce
- pan of warm water
- cutting board
- Prepare fillings.
- Dip wrapper completely in pan of warm water, until soft. Quickly remove and carefully spread on cutting board or plate.
- Arrange fillings in center of wrapper.
- Carefully roll ingredients tightly in wrapper, while folding edges inward.
- Serve with dipping sauce.
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and living like the world’s healthiest people. National Geographic Books, 2015.
Beach Cities Health District website
Buettner, Dan. Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. National Geographic Books, 2010.
Thaker, Aruna; Barton, Arlene, eds. (2012). Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 171.