There is no doubting that Luke Escombe is a true Veggie Lover… fully appreciating their funky attributes and giving them full props for playing a key role in his recovery from illness. Luke is one cool Dad and I am delighted to share his veggie lovin’ insights with you on V&M today.
Luke is a member of the children’s entertainment group The Vegetable Plot which emerging as a live show at the 2014 Sydney Fringe. This year, The Vegetable Plot has gone global, partnering with international education initiative The Garden Project to infiltrate schools worldwide. The new single Vegetables are Funky, featuring the voices of Daddy Longlegs and All our Exes live in Texas, is the theme song to this year’s NSW Fruit and Veg month, a NSW Health initiative running in of schools state wide.
Why was it important for you to use your talents and experience as a performer to share the virtues of vegetables, particularly to kids?
The Vegetable Plot began as a motivational soundtrack for my own health journey. I’d just spent twenty years living with a chronic illness (Crohn’s Disease) which made it really hard for me to even digest, let alone enjoy, fruit and veg. When I found out I was going to become a Dad I made the decision to have a risky surgical procedure, hoping it might set me free from the illness for the first time in my adult life. It paid off, and I was able to get off all my meds and start actually enjoying food. I felt very inspired going to farmer’s markets and picking out fresh produce. I started to LOVE cooking, especially with vegetables. I wanted to make food and health the centre of my life, and so I thought the best way to do that was to make it the focus of my work too.
I think we’re very fortunate with the medical care that’s available to us in this country once we get sick, but the job of staying healthy is mostly left up to us. As a parent, you’re fighting an uphill battle against corporations who have gotten rich from selling sugary junk food to kids, often using music and storytelling in ads to make those foods seem more appealing. I realised that as a musician and storyteller myself, I could create a narrative and a soundtrack that would make kids curious about vegetables. I feel like previous efforts to do this have concentrated too much on trying to lecture kids about the health benefits, whereas I just wanted to create something wildly entertaining that made them associate vegetables with having a good time. Vegetables aren’t the answer to all our health and environmental problems, but they’re definitely a part of the solution.
Why are “vegetables funky”?
Just look at them. They are seriously funky-looking. They have cool names like Rutabaga and Raddichio. They live underground. They’re chunky, crunchy and filled with juice. They wear bright colours and have outrageous hairdos – I mean, broccoli has a giant green afro, how funky can you get!
What does health and wellness mean to you and your family?
It means a happy life. I had so much trouble with my health in my twenties. I was housebound for years, unable to work, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to 30. Now my wife and I have a beautiful son and we’re both doing work we feel passionate about. Any time I feel stressed or overwhelmed I have to remind myself how far we’ve come, and how important it is to continue to be patient and kind to ourselves. When you’ve struggled to find health and wellness for so long in life you really appreciate how precious it is.
How would you describe your approach to food?
I see food as a wonderful way to be creative and show my love for my family. There’s something very zen about picking your ingredients, dreaming up how to combine them and then methodically chopping and preparing them. I love to experiment with different colours, textures and temperatures. If a plate has six or seven different colours on it I feel very excited.
My favourite meal is the one at the end of the week when you feel like there’s nothing left in the fridge and then you slowly start putting together what’s there….half a capsicum, some mushrooms, coriander stems, a bit of stock, some rice, some beans, spices, vinegar…all of a sudden you’ve made something delicious out of what feels like nothing at all. It’s the perfect way to create because the purpose is so clear, the audience is already at the table waiting. No matter how it goes, tomorrow night you get to go back in the kitchen and do it all again from scratch
Do you have any tips for how you regularly include fresh fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet?
The important thing for me is to stay inspired, so I make sure to mix it up – soup one night, then a stew, a curry, a roast, a salad, a rice dish, pasta – keep changing the pattern. Some nights I use a cookbook, other nights I might google 2 or 3 ingredients and see what ideas pop up. If I’m using leftovers I make sure to add new ingredients – more sauce, a new salad, some spice. The key is to make sure you always have a few good, fresh ingredients at hand. I still eat meat sometimes, but I’ve stopped thinking of it as the star of the meal. Now I think in terms of an “ensemble cast”.
Luke’s alter ego aka “Aspara Gus”
How do you think we stack up, in Australia, when it comes to having plant-based meals featuring in our homes, cafes and restaurants?
Australia has a great food culture. It’s one of the things I first noticed about Sydney when moving here from the UK in 1999. But there does seem to be a big part of the national identity that is tied in to eating meat and seafood, so I think it’s an ongoing mission for vegetables to get the respect they deserve. If the only way you cook your dinner is on a barbeque then you’re going to find it difficult to appreciate just how amazing and versatile veggies can be.
Can you provide any words of encouragement for other guys and Dad’s out there keen to improve their health through eating more plant-based meals?
Don’t see it as a chore. Find the love in it. You know that veggies are good for you, so embrace the thrill of putting good things in your body. You deserve it, and so do your kids. They want to see you healthy and happy. They want you to be around for a long time. It’s all about love.
Are there any books, films, individuals or groups that have forever changed the way you look at health, wellness and nutrition?
There are plenty of great docos. The Men who made us Fat is well worth watching. It explains how high fructose corn syrup came to become such a huge part of the “western” diet. Cowspiracy is more controversial but also well worth watching. Many of its claims have been disputed but it still mounts a powerful argument for the environmental and ethical benefits of a plant-based diet. A book that made a big impact on me, not so much because it says anything profound or startling but just because of the timing of me finding it (a few months after my surgery) was a thing called The Clean, Lean Warrior, which was filled with very simple steps towards a more nutritious way of eating.
In my work as a musician I also come into contact with some pretty remarkable artists who have gone on their own health journeys and shared their wisdom with me. My former sax player Lee is a raw vegan who made all the food at his own wedding. Imagine going to a wedding with no alcohol, meat, dairy or sugar, and yet it was without doubt the happiest and best wedding I’ve ever been to.
I am currently developing my first online programme, which will focus on teaching people to get confident with a suite of recipes they can adjust to their own tastes and adapt to their local produce available seasonally. How do you get inspired to prepare a meal?
I get inspired by going to the farmer’s market and getting up close with the produce. Once I get home I think of all the ingredients I’ve got and start dreaming up ways to put them together. Often the leftovers from one meal will act as inspiration for the next. I use music to inspire me too. I’ve recently bought an old vinyl record player for our kitchen and was given a huge stack of vintage jazz records by my father-in-law. Getting the right music for the meal helps keep the creative juices flowing.
Luke has shared a snippet of Let’s make a Salad filmed at The Vegetable Plot’s first ever live show. Check it out here.
The complete lyrics are on our website. The guy singing is Lionel Cole, aka Butternut Squash. This was one of the first songs I wrote for the album and is still one of my favourites. I was in an underground carpark starting my car and the image suddenly came into my head of all these vegetables getting together in a bowl with some oil and getting to know each other better. I’ve been trying to write a sexy soul ballad for many years and I was delighted to find that the missing ingredient was salad.
If anyone feels like actually making the salad described in the lyrics and letting me know how it tastes I’d be very grateful. I feel like I’m too close to it.
The Vegetable Plot recent performance for 800 kids at St Michael’s primary school in Baulkham Hills to launch Fruit and Veg month.