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Bucharest, Feb 25 /Agerpres/ - Florian Chirila, the owner of Bihor County's only vegetarian restaurant and one of the few such dining establishments in Romania, unveils in an interview with AGERPRES the secret to a healthy diet.
He says that vegetarian cuisine is an alternative to the traditional one and that it makes no compromise on food quality or pleasant taste either.
''Everything was perfect on Earth in the way of diets, it's just that we strayed a lot from the principles of nature," says the owner of the Oradea-based restaurant 'Cris', admitting also that he became a vegetarian after having health issues.
At the same time, Florian Chirila and his family offer free culinary education classes in the country or abroad, and counseling to the health-conscious. Through the soup kitchen, they feed a lot of homeless every day, and their books with vegetarian recipes are on hand for those interested to consult.
AGERPRES: You have been a vegan since January 2, 2000, that is for 15 years. How did the transition to this lifestyle happen?
Florian Chirila: There are two kinds of people: clever ones and stupid ones. I belong to the second category. Clever people learn from others' mistakes, stupid ones learn from their own mistakes. Having led an unhealthy life or, to be more precise, having led what in my opinion was a good and lavish life, I wore out my body by eating 'well'. You are tempted, or that's how we were educated to do, to go see the doctor when we get sick, give money for health. This is true especially now, that there is also a private medical system. It wasn't back then, but I knew this rule, that if you want health you go to a good doctor. Unfortunately, no one asked me, in this quest of mine, what I eat, what I drink, when I go to sleep, when I wake up. Medicine deals especially with the effects and not with the cause. Until the circumstances led me - in fact it was God, not just the circumstances - to get my hands on an article about a clinic in Breaza, where I met Dr. Doru Laza, who became my mentor in this field. There I learned that, in reality, the disease is caused by our lifestyle. Let us not confound lifestyle with our food intake alone. It also means exercise, water, air, sun, physical rest, spiritual rest. We were created in a natural environment we must enjoy in order to stay healthy. Plus, there are man's relationships on the horizontal within the society, or on the vertical, with God. If one of these components suffers, a wearing-off occurs in the body and amplifies with time.
AGERPRES: Was yours a serious issue? How long did it take to heal?
Florian Chirila: Pretty serious. If the digestive organs - stomach, pancreas, liver - were all affected, so that basically the body could no longer digest food, you can figure it was very serious. On top of that, my immunity system was down. I was referred for surgery. Well, I lived for half a year on raw food alone, and improvement was visible right in the first weeks. This convinced me that I was on the right track and helped me go on. Nothing convinces you better than your own experience. No matter how convincing you would relate it, you must go through that experience to see what it is like. But some people I met, ridden with serious illnesses, told us: 'I'd rather die than change my eating habits.' Yes. Battered by cancer, by other serious illnesses, they would still rather die than change their diet. Culinary habit overtakes ration. And the food industry takes advantage of this degradation of appetite preferences ...
AGERPRES: What made you decide to open a vegetarian restaurant?
Florian Chirila: Unable as I was to keep under cloaks the secret I had learned, out of the desire to share with my fellow people a 'recipe' for their many sufferings, I decided to change my profession and opened this restaurant. My satisfaction is not in the least financial, because people are still unaware of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. But I feel my mind is at peace, I have the feeling of an at least partially fulfilled duty when I know that some people are able to eat healthily, learn to cook healthy food and enjoy life.
AGERPRES: Is your family vegetarian?
Florian Chirila: Yes, I made a U-turn, learning everything possible about plants. My wife, Mioara, is a health professional and a nutritionist, our daughter Cristina is a dentistry student and our eldest son, Cristian, is a resident doctor specializing - how else? - in nutrition diseases, diabetes and degenerative diseases at the Oradea County Hospital. He has already taken over these nutrition classes we hold at the restaurant and I hope he will also carry forward the art of vegetarian cookery.
AGERPRES: I see that you don't keep the tricks of your trade hidden, but offer in every possible way information about vegetarian food, both in your restaurant menu, as well as through books, classes, counseling; you even have organic food on offer in the store that you've recently opened next to the restaurant.
Florian Chirila: Our restaurant currently serves 320 courses. Beginning with appetizers, soups, going through side dishes, salads, and ending with desserts and fresh juices. All of these can be found in the third edition of the book 'Vegetarian Recipes for Every Taste'. We sold or offered for free over 10,000 copies. We are now working to put together the second volume of the book, with a collection of another 160 - 170 recipes. We are creative. For all those interested, we organize free nutrition courses in three-month sessions (with two hours a week), three sessions a year. Around 4,000 people attended since 2002, when we started these classes. In addition, we discuss and offer counseling in the restaurant for all those who want to improve their physical condition through diet. On request, we also hold seminars in other cities or communities abroad. Last year we were in Graz - Austria, in summer we were in Constanta, Suceava, Simleul Silvaniei. Wherever we are invited we go with great pleasure, free of charge, for the sake of the people.
AGERPRES: What is vegan cuisine?
Florian Chirila: The concept of vegan cuisine or vegetarian diet is an old one. It is not a matter of just a few years. ... In the past, due to economic or social circumstances, people had a preponderantly vegetarian diet. Civilization brought nourishment forms which in time proved destructive for the human being. Man is an inventive and creative being, only that by narrowing the scope of his creativity to the bounds of his mind he seems to have caused a lot of damage. Everything was perfect on Earth in the way of diets, but we strayed a lot from the principles of nature.
Science today confirms on a large scale - and 'Colin Campbell's book 'The China Study' is a clear example in this respect - that man works better in the preventive mode and recovers better from illness when using a dietary pattern as close to nature as possible.
Speaking of digestion, ie the metabolism, note that the energy consumption it requires is much lower if you eat as simple as possible food, ensuring an enzymatic bed right from the food itself. If we ingest a food that is not written in our genetic code, an entire laboratory gets into action and not always does our body succeed in metabolizing it, and many compounds end up being stored in the liver, joints etc.
Vegetarian cuisine represents an alternative to traditional cuisine, but neither the quality of food, nor the pleasant taste thereof don't come up short. As raw material we use everything that is cleanest in biological or organic farming, right from the producers.
It's an alternative that brings health. Provided that we respect it. A reality we must put it into practice, ie in the plate, every day, and then the results are visible. Whoever is curious should better verify the information and experience for some time, and eat as simple and as natural as possible; he will see the advantages. A few days with a diet of natural juices help clean the blood, the entire body gets lighter. Many people tell me: I feel lighter when eating this vegetarian dish. Digestion is easier, I have more vitality, I don't feel sleepy after meals. Why does sleep set in, instead of a state of energy? Because after a heavy meal, a higher amount of blood is directed to the stomach, to the detriment of the head, for instance, and in addition the body consumes energy to digest.
AGERPRES: You don't compromise on taste, you said. And neither on the names, because I noticed a number of courses with the well-known traditional names: 'tripe' sour soup, 'beef' salad, 'minced meatballs', 'haggis', 'schnitzel', 'black pudding', 'eggs', 'pizza', 'hamburgers' ... even 'milk', and 'sour cream'.
Florian Chirila: Yes, we don't sacrifice taste, on the contrary, we discover new savors of vegetables, fruits and grains that we didn't know or have forgotten. Because our tastes have been perverted by industrialized diets. We rediscover a very broad array of flavors. We preserved the classical names of the dishes exactly to ease the transition to the vegan diet. The content is vegan, but it tastes almost identical as the traditional course, even more delicious.
AGERPRES: What false myths exist in vegetarian cuisine? The most circulated is that there is no protein intake with vegetables.
Florian Chirila: People should have a minimum of information, be educated in the family, in schools and in church. Just as a side remark, the church should be the best informed because it draws the most on the word of God and on His wonderful creation, Nature. Basically, the plant world is the primary source of the three groups of nutrients that are carbohydrates, fatty acids and proteins. The question 'where do we take our proteins from if we don't eat meat' is a typical parrot's question. In the plant world, the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, form through photosynthesis. So, by eating a diversified diet of vegetable products, they provide our body these amino acids. When we eat meat, our body must break down the protein to amino acids, to be metabolized. But taking them first hand, from the plant, we have a direct and cleaner source of amino acids.
AGERPRES: Which are the vegetables that are richest in amino acids?
Florian Chirila: Soy is undoubtedly on the top position; we can consume it in various forms: from the so-called soy milk, cream, in pies, butter, cheese (tofu), soups or baked. There are also ready-made preparations we can use, such as soy schnitzel. Its protein content is 35 percent. Yet be careful not to eat too much because protein in excess is not beneficial either, and is not deposited; instead, carbohydrates and fats do deposit. In the second place come mushrooms and everything that means cereals and pulses: beans, lentils, peas. So a protein deficit in a vegetarian diet is out of question. It doesn't occur if we observe a diversified diet. It happens only if we have a limited diet.
AGERPRES: What is the best possible breakfast?
Florian Chirila: In the morning, we should not have just breakfast, but the 'big breakfast'. Because people work especially during the first part of the day, it is appropriate to best fuel ourselves at the first meal of the day. The vegetarian diet does not require a long time for digestion, unless you eat in the late hours.
In the morning, I for myself eat - and also recommend - a meal of fruit, with cereals and oilseeds. We thus provide a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. For instance, one morning we can have berries we stored since summer in the freezer: blueberries, cowberries, raspberries; then the other day, apples - I recommend Romanian apples, and Romanian products in general, because intensive agriculture has not yet gained so much ground here. For fats: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or if we don't eat seeds we can have whole-wheat bread layered with avocado. Avocado has a 60 - 70 percent content of unsaturated fat, it's a replacement for butter. Then there are cereals, either in the form of flakes - oat, wheat, rye, barley flakes - or whole-wheat bread (that has nothing removed from the wheat grain), or we can prepare cereal porridge. Thus we provide the necessary intake of both calories and metabolism-boosting catalysts (vitamins and enzymes). AGERPRES