Friday, July 19, 2024

New plant-based food truck inspired by the notion ‘food is medicine’

Lucas McLawhorn launched Well-Fed Ed, a plant-based food truck with an educational bent to teach others the benefits of stripping meat and dairy from their diets. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — A health issue that upended one local man’s life has become the impetus to feed people well and educate on the power of wholesome food.

READ MORE: Reality check inspires lifelong restaurant veteran to take leap owning first eatery

Lucas McLawhorn launched Well-Fed Ed, a plant-based food truck with an educational bent to teach others the benefits of stripping meat and dairy from their diets. The former teacher visits classrooms to speak to the importance of nutrition on one’s health.

“I don’t believe in labels,” he responded upon suggesting the food truck was vegan. “I grew up on a hog farm. Labels are how people divide us; I don’t want to do that. I want to help people.”

The 44-year-old taught Spanish at Myrtle Grove Middle School and was a basketball coach before stepping into the food business after relocating stateside. He lived in Switzerland for six years near family.

Upon his family’s move from America, McLawhorn had been experiencing excruciating back pain. Local doctors could not find anything wrong ahead of his departure.

“I just felt miserable,” he said. “I couldn’t walk, couldn’t sleep at night without sweating through seven shirts. It was pretty much hell.”

He thought he had a bone disease. Yet, doctors in Switzerland found it was an inflamed lymph node. 

“It was just pulling out all the sickness of seminoma, which is testicular cancer,” McLawhorn said. 

He underwent chemotherapy and regained his health. During that time, he also began a deep dive into the benefits of food he was putting into his body. McLawhorn had been a meat eater his whole life. He said one of the doctors told him during his first chemo treatment “stop using the knife.”

“I asked the nurse, ‘What did he say?’ She explained, ‘Well, he’s telling you to stop eating meat.’ At first, I was like, ‘Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,’” he recounted.

Seven years later he is meat-free and says he doesn’t miss it. 

“I have a surplus of energy and feel as youthful as when I was coaching,” he said. “I’m playing basketball again and on a team with 20-year-olds.”

McLawhorn has always been homed in on fresh fruits and vegetables since youth, as his family had a farm in Pitt County. Yet, they also would eat bacon and beef regularly and go through a gallon of milk a day.

“I was lied to,” he said. “I saw all these big posters that said, ‘milk does a body good.’ And I’m like, ‘Dang, it doesn’t. It’s actually the reason why we have all these sicknesses.’ That’s the problem with advertisements.”

Containing saturated fats, the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine has concluded copious amounts of dairy can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Made up of 17,000 physicians and one million members worldwide, the committee published a study finding dairy consumption also can be associated with increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Though it’s never been proven that any food can cure cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests sticking to plant-based diets — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans — is effective in lowering risks. 

“As Hippocrates says, food is your medicine,” McLawhorn said. 

He began reading a book his wife brought home from the school they worked at in Switzerland. A French teacher had suggested 2006’s “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health” by Dr. Thomas Campbell.

Campbell grew up in a family of successful cow farmers, an industry that earned the family $7 million a year. 

“What he wrote did not behoove his family — that’s when you know it’s the truth, when the bottom line isn’t money,” McLawhorn said. 

The book delves into diets versus disease and how big industry affects it. The doctor even brought his conclusions to CEOs of some of the best cancer centers and hospitals in the world, saying avoiding foods that inflame are major components of suppressing illness. It fell on deaf ears.

Since, the book has been hailed as one of the most extensive studies on health and nutrition. McLawhorn said he walked away with a breadth of understanding of how the body is like grass seeds.

“You can either water the seeds and they will be expressed, or you cannot water and it will be suppressed,” he said. 

Even if cancer is genetic, McLawhorn is a firm believer nutrition sets up protective measures to thwart it. So he set out on a mission to spread that message — to show people the importance of foods rich with antioxidants that don’t inflame the body.

Onions are a good example as they contain quercetin, which helps lower swelling, he said: “They just have a magical power to neutralize toxins.”

The vegetable is apparent on the 11-item menu devised for Well-Fed Ed, such as the La Professora — a southwestern cheese-less pizza. It’s topped with corn, onion, bell peppers, and tomato, with the dough created with carrot juice, a source of carotenoids and other phytochemicals that boost immunity.

“It just gives it a sweet flavor and also a beautiful orange color — you eat first with your eyes,” McLawhorn said. 

La Professora is a southwestern cheese-less pizza. It’s topped with corn, onion, bell peppers, and tomato, with the dough created with carrot juice. (Courtesy photo)

All vegetables are sourced from area farmers, including a lot of greens from his family’s farm. The dark leaves of spinach, for instance, fight off free radicals through lutein and zeaxanthin, both antioxidants.

The greens appear tucked into The School Resource Officer — a Middle Eastern hand pie, similar to an empanada. 

“I basically just saute the spinach, kale or whatever I’m using with onions, carrots and garam masala, some salt and pepper, and fold that into the dough — which is similar to the carrot juice dough, but I usually use plant-based milk instead and bake them,” he said.

McLawhorn steers clear of dairy and leans into almond yogurt and plant-based “mayo,” normally made out of avocado or sunflower oils — but not canola oil.

“It’s beautiful as it’s blooming, but it’s not made for us,” he said. 

Canola was used as lamp oil in ancient Egypt and by World War II as lubricants for naval machinery. 

“Yes, we are machines, but we’re not that type of machine,” McLawhorn said.

He also avoids the faux products that emulate meat or dairy and only makes everything from scratch. For example soy-based patties and cheese are not served.

“Soy is one of the worst things that they spray with Roundup,” he said.

Instead, McLawhorn makes a burger from scratch, by combining smashed black and kidney beans, onions, garlic, spices, and red pepper flakes, adding in flour and bread crumbs to bind.

His favorite item on the Well-Fed Ed menu is the 15-ingredient chocolate mole, including cumin, cinnamon, coriander, a touch of chocolate and other items McLawhorn keeps close to the vest. The sauce blankets a tostada, with beans, rice, corn and mango salsa, accompanied by homemade guacamole. The latter is a spread McLawhorn said always gets complimented, likely due to its copious amounts of lime.

“It just elevates the taste and gives it that tanginess to make it pop,” he said. “One girl came up and said she wanted to cry it was so good.”

Well-Fed Ed parks at various events roughly five days a week, including schools such as Cape Fear Community College, Pine Valley Elementary, and Wilmington School of the Arts. 

“I knew a lot of teachers and principles from six, seven years ago when I was a teacher,” he said. “They have been so supportive.”

As his menu names imply — The Music Teacher, The Principal, The Custodian — education remains a crucial part of the business plan. McLawhorn takes meals to teachers who order from his menu weekly via email blasts. 

Before launching the truck in the midst of Covid, his wife, Ingrid, suggested he do caterings first to ensure it had a market. Along with a restaurant consultant he has hired, Ingrid helps him with the business, too.

“She’s like my brain, sometimes, but also patient and loving and hard on me — I need that,” he said. “She’s my number one critic, honest and blunt. Every good person has somebody like that in their lives and I’m just thankful for her.”

The McLawhorns launched Well-Fed Ed in January but started branching out to more spots recently. On weekends, the truck is mostly parked at breweries, festivals and events.

Yet, the food truck operator sets aside time on his days off to embrace the “Ed” part of the business name. Tuesday, he left an event where first-graders were learning about watermelon. 

They did a science experiment to see how many rubber bands could fit around it before it popped. McLawhorn then served them slices of the fresh fruit and discussed its benefits of hydration and how it’s packed with vitamins to make the body stronger.

“But they already knew that — smart kids,” he said.

Well-Fed Ed will be parked at local bottle shops and breweries in coming days: Fermental at 5 p.m. on June 7; on June 9 at Wilmington Brewing Company from noon to 3 p.m. and thereafter at Bull City Ciderworks at 5 p.m.; and Flytrap Brewing at 5 p.m. on June 10.

It also will participate in the Food Truck Rodeo this weekend in Ogden Park, Sunday, June 11, noon to 5 p.m.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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