The Altman family just has to walk onto their patio in Clarence Center to get a sense of what dinner will be like this time of year.
Jessica Meyers Altman nurtures two backyard gardens with a wide array of fruits, vegetables and herbs protected by 6-foot-high fencing to defend her bounty from the neighborhood deer.
Lilies, daisies, purple coneflower and other perennials help color the landscape. A waterfall adds to the serenity.
Plant-based food is king when it comes to the queen of the house, a 40-year-old environmentalist and former teacher who now handles marketing duties for her husband Frank’s company, Altman Dental in Williamsville, and runs her own nutrition business and blog called GardenFreshFoodie.com.
“One of my friends says, ‘You eat air,’” she said last week. “No. I eat a beautiful, colorful plate every time I sit down. I think food should be beautiful and taste fresh. With most of the American diet – high sugar, high fat, high refinement of products, and a loss of vital nutrients in the process – we’re overfed and undernourished.”
Altman holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Binghamton University and a master’s in science education from the University at Buffalo. She taught middle school science in Lockport for seven and a half years before working in professional development at the Buffalo Science Museum. In that job, she started a garden program with Charles Drew Magnet School students from next door.
A health scare, followed by an online nutrition program within the last two years, means there is a new vegan lifestyle at home for the entire family, including daughter Sophie, 12, and Sam, 9.
Q. Can you talk about your autoimmune disease?
It’s called Raynoud’s. People who’ve been affected by it, their hands get white or numb in the wintertime and they lose circulation in their fingers and toes. I had it really severe. ... Dairy was something I cut out first. When I gave up gluten and really got strict – I’m the annoying person at the restaurant who asks, “What’s in that?” – within two and a half weeks the change was amazing. I still had a couple flare-ups two winters ago and last summer. After I entered into my culinary program and became completely plant-based, I didn’t have a single flare-up this past winter. I think food is so powerful. There are many things we eat that inflame our body and autoimmune conditions are all about inflammation. Cutting out your triggers – and for different people, they’re different – makes a big difference.
Q. You also teach cooking classes?
I do an overview on plant-based nutrition: What are the staples? What are ways to incorporate plants into dishes? What should you have in your pantry? What’s easy to make? I’m big on food preparation. If people can take a day of the week and make a plan, they are so much more apt to be successful. As a busy mom, I know that if I come home after work and it’s 5 o’clock and my kids have to be at sports at 7, we’re not going to eat very well. I’m not going to take them through a drive-thru. I’m going to make myself crazy and still make dinner, but most people aren’t going to do that.
Q. How do you work your plan?
I decide on Saturday what we’re going to eat for the week and on Sunday I make sure I have those things. I prep. If you don’t cut things, you’re not going to eat things. It’s nice that you have a pineapple on the counter but it rotted because you didn’t cut it. If I have food cut up, everybody grabs and eats. It works for me, too. If I come home from work and I’m starving, and have something cut up, I’m not going for the chips. It’s also important to have healthy stuff to snack on while you’re preparing food. You won’t overeat. Have some veggies or fruit or some nuts while you’re preparing your food.
What we don’t eat right away, I freeze. It’s so much less expensive to purchase food in season. I can a lot of stuff, too. People think eating healthy is so expensive, and it doesn’t have to be.
Q. What are the staples of your diet?
We eat a ton of beans in our house. Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans. I make my own sprouts. A lot of lentils. We eat tons of veggies. We eat greens from our garden from early May until late December when it’s really growing. Tomatoes are huge in our house. I freeze them. I dehydrate them.