For Alma Rangel, following the Blue Zones Power 9 principle of PLANT SLANT is both a lifestyle and a livelihood.
Plant-based foods are the mainstays of meals in the world’s original Blue Zones, where people live notably longer and healthier lives. That means a diet with very little meat, instead favoring beans like fava, black, soy and lentils. For Alma Rangel, this Blue Zones Power 9 principle of eating with a “Plant Slant” is key to both her lifestyle and livelihood.
As proprietor of the Down to Earth Vegan Kitchen, Rangel serves tasty plant-based cuisine from a traveling food truck. In 2014, she and a partner launched the business, and worked to become a Blue Zones Project organization by aligning its mission to promote healthy eating and more mindful living practices with an overall focus on community well-being. They collaborated on such outreach projects as serving meals at schools and community events to providing healthy cooking demonstrations. When her partner left the business in 2017 to pursue other ventures, Rangel quit her “day job” as an information technology professional to work the food truck full time. “It was exciting and scary all at once,” Rangel recalls, adding that the demand for quality vegetarian and vegan food has exploded in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “People are more mindful about what they put on their plates.”
While adopting a Plant Slant doesn’t require a strictly vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, Rangel decided to go vegan in 2019, both personally and professionally. She wanted the menu to reflect her values. The main difference between vegan and vegetarian is that vegetarians avoid meat, while vegans avoid all animal-sourced products including eggs, honey and dairy. She soon realized that following a Plant Slant diet could help offset her family history of diabetes and heart disease.
The youngest of 10 children, she grew up cooking and helping at her family’s small restaurant in Matamoros, Mexico. That’s where her love for the kitchen began. “My most vivid memories are of us making tamales and sharing stories and laughter,” Rangel recalls. “That's why making tamales holds such a special place in my heart. It's the communion that makes it so special.” Rangel now uses Mexican-inspired flavors to create vegan, gluten-free tamale recipes with ingredients ranging from black beans and mozzarella-style shreds to chickpeas with chard in a guajillo and chile rojo sauce. After testing several substitutes for the lard traditionally used in the masa for tamales, she settled on grapeseed oil. Her pumpkin pecan dessert tamales are made with coconut oil.
Rangel says starting a mobile food truck also helped her identify her life’s Purpose. Understanding what you are meant to do is another Blue Zones Power 9 principle shown to add years to life expectancy. Hers is “to live a life of kindness and add a little grain of sand” to improve life around her. “It’s about treating the people around me in a kind way,” she explains. “The extension of that is offering my food that I’ve made with lots of care.”
The Power 9 principle of Family First is another big part of Rangel’s life. Like the inhabitants of the world’s original Blue Zones, she puts a high priority on making time for loved ones. After all, her family has played a huge role in making her business a success over the years. “I don't think my sisters will ever forget the Christmas they helped me make hundreds of tamales for the holiday orders!” she recalls.
Small changes can make a big difference when incorporating a Plant Slant and Rangel says it’s okay to keep it simple at first. Involve family members by enlisting them to cut fruits and vegetables for recipes. Use inexpensive lentils as the base for an easy and nutritious soup, and add favorite vegetables to dishes. Eating less meat and more beans can provide a powerhouse source of nutrition and protein. “I think the more hands-on you are, the more exciting it is to explore new recipes,” Rangel says. “Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might just love it.”