Photo: Hands Holding an Apple

by Caitlin Rose

As Christmas approaches, everyone starts to wonder, “What can I give the people I love to really demonstrate that I care for them?” We want to find something personal, useful, something that shows our love and appreciation. But often times the gifts we give and receive only offer short-term benefits such as a new toy, a new gadget or a new appliance – some of which might not see the light of day after Christmas day. This year, why not give the most valuable gift that will last a lifetime: give the gift of health.

Give the gift of health by telling your family and friends about a plant-based diet. Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases are linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. This result is best achieved by adopting a healthy plant-based diet consisting of organic produce and natural foods. Plant-based diets tend to be low in fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting plant nutrients.

If you know someone struggling with diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, consider making a recipe booklet with vegetarian versions of all their favorite dishes, or invite them over for a vegetarian dinner using those recipes. I make mock-chicken tofu for guests all the time, and many people who regularly eat meat love it and can hardly tell the difference. There are lots of resources on the Internet to help you start. Here are a few of my favorites:

You can find great egg-free baking recipes and tips on egg substitutes here, (http://www.egglesscooking.com/#axzz15DNZipoH) tons of yummy mock meat recipes using seitan here, (http://vegetarian.about.com/od/maindishentreerecipes/qt/seitanrecipes.htm), and Down to Earth’s website is a great recipe resource for tofu burgers, mock turkey cutlets, barbeque tofu and lots more.

Accompanying your handpicked recipes with a gift card from Down to Earth would be a great way to encourage your loved ones on the path to good health! If they’re not ready to go totally meatless, encourage them to join millions of others around the nation and the world by going meatless on Monday. Meatless Monday is a movement to reduce meat consumption by 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet. In support of this great initiative, Down to Earth offers selected meat alternatives for up to 20% off every Monday!

Do you have a loved one who is concerned about your health? Give them a hand-lettered coupon promising to join them for one week in their exercise of choice. Sometimes you can make someone feel the most satisfied simply by accepting the gift they are trying to give you.

At Down to Earth, we hope you’ll accept our gift by joining us at our free cooking classes every week in Hilo and every month in Honolulu. At the Hilo store, Jordan Rose offers a class on raw foods made easy on Thursdays starting at 5:30pm and Anon Shine offers a vegetarian cooking class on Fridays, also at 5:30pm. At the Honolulu Lifestyle center next to the King St. location, Saradha Johnson offers a free vegetarian cooking class every first Saturday of the month, starting at 11am. The next one is scheduled for January 8th, just in time to kick off your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier!

However you finally decide to share this gift of health, whether large or small, every effort will make a difference in the life of someone you love. A little bit of support and guidance can help someone take the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately, good health impacts every aspect of our lives – it allows us to spend more time with loved ones, it makes our personal and professional goals easier to achieve, and it helps us be good examples to everyone else in our life. So, give the gift of health. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

(See more of Caitlin's writings and commentaries by other thoughtful writers by visiting "Let's get down to earth" a blog by Mark Fergusson and friends: https://www.downtoearth.org/blog)