Cooking with love: Finding unexpected connection over plant-based food
By Dorrie Nang
In 2013, our Farm Animal Protection team upped its investment in reducing meat consumption in the U.S. and around the world by expanding our work with the biggest food service companies to bring plant-based dishes to their menus. This has led to hundreds of schools and colleges, hospitals, military bases, prisons and stadiums offering more plant-based meals, with many now committed to shifting half of their menus to plant-based within the next few years. Such achievements decrease the number of animals killed for food while providing healthier, more sustainable meals. Much of this work involves building relationships and connections with people in the industry. Here, Dorrie Nang, food and nutrition specialist with the HSUS Farm Animal Protection’s Food Service Innovation team, shares a story about what this work has meant for her personally.
It was December 2022, a few weeks before my father passed, when I first connected with Chef Herlan Manurung, the corporate executive chef and associate director of dining at Rochester Institute of Technology. We were discussing RIT’s remarkable pledge to serve 50% plant-based entrees by the end of 2025—a pledge that will not only drastically reduce the amount of meat consumed on the campus but introduce delicious plant-based dishes to thousands of students who may not have previously been exposed to this choice. As we planned the training that my team would deliver to the chefs in RIT’s dining hall, Chef Herlan and I shared our ideas about making plant-based meals more accessible to students, and we talked about how easily Asian cuisine lends itself to plant-based eating, as Asian dishes hardly use dairy, and tofu is a perfect protein stand-in for meat.
When our team of in-house chefs partner with food service companies, such as Aramark and Sodexo, we don’t just share recipes; we connect about the future of cuisine and how to make food healthier, more compassionate and better for the environment. And sometimes we even get to share with each other what brought us all into the food world in the first place.
When we realized that we both had roots in Asian cuisine, Chef Herlan shared that he grew up on Sumatra Island, Indonesia, and had been an executive chef on cruise ships. I shared that my father was born in the neighboring Philippines, where he learned to cook from his mother as his family lived and traveled in Hong Kong and throughout the Philippines. Although my father was an engineer by training, he had a special talent for cooking.
In 1993, when I decided to cut meat, dairy and eggs out of my diet, my dad supported me by making sure there were always plant-based versions of whatever he was cooking.
With Chef Herlan, there were so many commonalities between his view of cooking and my dad’s. When Chef Herlan said, “If a meal does not include rice, it’s just a snack!” I was reminded of my dad’s lifelong saying: “If you haven’t had rice with your meal, you haven’t eaten!”
When, a few weeks later, my dad passed at the age of 94, I tried to capture in words his beautiful soul and found myself writing about his love of cooking and sharing food: “He was an outstanding cook whose eggrolls, lo mein and fried rice could never truly be replicated, even after he shared the recipes with family. He cooked with love and from memory.”
Since my dad’s passing, whenever I’m in the kitchen preparing anything—from a brand-new recipe to a quick snack—I think of my dad and feel grateful for the love of cooking that he passed on to me.
My connection with Chef Herlan at RIT is just one example of the relationships that are central to our unique food service work at the HSUS that is helping to make the world kinder to animals. And I know my dad would be proud that I’m continuing to connect with people over a love of food, just the way he loved to do.
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