Heather Crosby in the founder, recipe developer and bonafide veggie junkie behind the website YumUniverse, and she’s also the author of the cookbook by the same name. In an effort to kick medication and heal naturally from disease, she’s been fine-tuning the maintenance of her plant-powered diet for almost a decade, and sharing what she’s learned for years with thousands of folks all over the world through her website and her book. Heather’s not interested in labeling you. Instead, she’s dedicated to helping folks incorporate more health-boosting whole, plant-based foods into their lives so we can all say “goodbye” to dieting and “hello” to building a healthful, inspired lifestyle for the long haul.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Heather, and we talked about Yum Universe, food, and the future.
You describe the way you eat as “plant-powerful.” How long have you been living a plant-powerful life? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
Heather Crosby: I eased my way into a plant-inspired approach to food about 10 years ago. And I went gluten-free about 5-6 years ago.
Illness inspired me to make the change, but very soon after I began researching, the more reasons I had to stick with this lifestyle (animal welfare, environmental realities). I was a complete veggie-phobe well into adulthood, but when doctors told me that I would have to be on medication for the rest of my life, it was then that I realized that I’d have to turn the health ship around myself. I wanted to heal the cause of my discomfort for good, and plant-based foods helped me get there. It took a while, making changes step-by-step, but eventually my palate changed, my symptoms subsided and I started to feel better than I ever imagined I could.
When people learn that you live a plant-powerful lifestyle, what is the #1 question they ask and what is your response?
It’s got to be “where do you get your protein?” And depending on the tone of the questioner (I don’t engage with aggressive types, but enjoy kind, curious people), I can respond by explaining that animals like gorillas and horses are able to build very strong bodies from eating plants—and, ok, maybe the occasional bug. Nearly all plant-based foods contain protein, and nearly all forms of protein contain all protein-forming amino acids in some quantity, and this why eating a variety of plant-based foods every day is so important.
Now, I think that the vegan protein question is not something to take lightly—it’s too often easily dismissed—but there’s plenty of processed, nutritionally-void vegan foods out there, and just like folks who eat a Standard American Diet (SAD), they can end up with deficiencies of all kinds, so we have to be accountable for our health.
Some excellent plant-based sources include lentils (cooked 18g per cup), pumpkin seeds and almonds (8g per ¼ cup), quinoa and peas (cooked 8g per cup), black beans (15g per cup)… even blackberries and avocado have 2-3 g per cup.
Tell me a little bit about your new book YumUniverse and what inspired you to write it.
When folks decide to make a long-term dietary change, I think the key to success is approaching it as a lifestyle, not a “diet” because our relationship with food has to be addressed—this can take a lifetime. We have habits, addictions and emotional attachments to food that are very powerful. That’s the reality, and anyone who tells people they can change in one week isn’t being honest.
I wanted to create the ultimate go-to book that provides people with the WHY, the HOW and the EATs they need to find the wellness they want. It was my goal to help people creatively incorporate more plant-powerful foods into their routine, no matter what label they fall under (vegan, paleo, etc.). I also wanted to make sure that these options would be gluten-free since there aren’t as many plant-based and gluten-free cookbook options out there—whether you’re gluten-free or plant-based or not, the recipes are delicious. Good food is good food.
Do you have any favorite recipes in the book?
They’re all like my children, it’s impossible to choose just one! I often find myself repeat-making Cardamom Cream Chia Pudding with Fresh Fruit, Roasted Veggies with any combo of herbs I have on hand, Brussels Sprouts with Miso Dijon Sauce, Quinoa Tacos, Pad Thai and Quinoa & Kale Salad.
What inspires you to create a new recipe?
It depends on the day. Sometimes, I want to “plantify” a family favorite, and other times, I will see produce at the market that I want to cook with. If I want to eat it, and I think others would too, then I get to work!
What advice would you give to someone trying to adopt a vegan and gluten-free diet but might think it might be too limiting?
It’s all about perspective. You can either focus on what you can’t eat, or what you can eat (infinite possibilities). So, before you begin, decide how you want to see the journey and try to stay in that headspace. If you’re curious and willing to try new foods, it can be a lot of fun. Eating a plant-based (or primarily plant-based) diet it a lot like learning a new language. It may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first, but with each new thing you learn, the more confidence you build and the more effortless it all becomes. So, take it one step at a time.
When we reach a point where we need/want to make changes, we usually have a lifetime of habits, addictions and emotional connections to food to re-examine and chip away at. If you don’t want to resent the changes you’ll be making, be kind to yourself and tackle one goal or intention at a time. You’ll make mistakes—don’t use them as excuses to abandon your goals. Learn from them, dust yourself off and keep moving forward. Once you master one goal, then add another. Repeat.
What vegan product could you not live without?
Fermented foods. They’ve helped me rebuild my health. My counters are covered in jars and bottles not only because they’re delicious, but they’re a lot of fun to create—good for the body and the creative spirit.
What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
Oh, it’s definitely some version of my recipe for gluten-free, vegan Mac & Cheese depending on the veggies I have in the fridge. Sometimes, you just want a big bowl of creamy, comforting noodles.
What’s next for YumUniverse? Are you working on anything now that our readers should know about?
I’m working on a pretty cool immersive experience that will help folks transition into, and maintain a plant-based diet. If folks are interested in learning more, they should click here for updates (and to get a free meal plan)!
In your wildest dreams what will your life look like in 5 years?
Creating and connecting with lovely people. I’m open to how it all unfolds.
I always come from a place of really listening to what people need. I’m listening. They ask me for things that i need. They may not specifically say I need meal plans but they’re saying to me “I’m super busy I wish I could make healthier choices more often. I can interpret that, if I can create tools for them it will make life easier for them. Really listening is super important.
I also believe that these layers change and evolve over a lifetime. I’m not here to judge or be the food police. I’m here to share ideas, connect, and grow.
It’s important that people feel heard. When you can give that to somebody, it’s really powerful and it feels good for them and it feels good for you. It brings that true connection component back into what you’re doing.