When the more than 550 guests at Wednesday’s Cure Breast Cancer for ME luncheon sit down in the Holiday Inn by the Bay’s ballroom, they’ll be greeted by an all plant-based meal.

The three-course menu is part of a new feature of the benefit event, now in its 11th year.

The feature is called News You Can Use and will highlight specific actions attendees can take to help fight cancer or avoid it.

This year’s inaugural News You Can Use showcases the healing power of plant foods and will feature an interview with two-time cancer survivor and plant-based cookbook author Meg Wolff, who contributed the recipes for the luncheon.

“A lot of times at these events, you talk about what happens if you have breast cancer,” said Meredith Strang Burgess, event founder, breast cancer survivor and CEO of Burgess Advertising & Marketing. “What we really need to do is educate people about how to put themselves in the best healthy position.”

In recent years, evidence has mounted linking a diet high in meat, dairy and other animal-based foods with a range of chronic diseases, including cancer.

For example, the 2004 book “The China Study” provides the results of a large, 20-year epidemiological study that showed a tie between animal-based diets and a variety of cancers; and numerous peer-reviewed studies have found lower rates of cancer among vegetarians.

Because of this body of evidence, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends basing meals around plants to help prevent cancer.

Noting that typically three-quarters of the audience at the luncheon have never had cancer, Burgess said the News You Can Use message “is applicable to every single person sitting there.”

Plant-based diets are often seen as synonymous with vegan diets, and in many cases they are. However, a plant-based diet can also be a diet that includes small amounts of animal-based foods, such as seafood, chicken, milk, cheese and eggs.

This might be a diet where meat is used more as a flavoring (rather than as a centerpiece of the plate) or where a person only eats animal foods once a day or once a week.

In a recorded interview that will be played during the lunch, WGME-13 TV anchor Kim Block interviews Wolff and asks her for specific actions people can take to move toward a plant-based way of eating.

Wolff said she talks about adding more whole grains, beans and vegetables to daily meals.

“You can start implementing this today, even if it’s just eating more vegetables,” Wolff said. “While the (medical) treatments that are offered are passive, this is something active you can do for yourself. You can actually go to the grocery store today and buy beans and grains and vegetables and start adding them to your diet.”

The luncheon, which benefits the Maine Cancer Foundation and honors survivors, community members and health care professionals, will feature a purely plant-based meal.

In the past, it featured a turkey or chicken wrap, with a vegetarian version available upon request.

Today’s menu starts with a strawberry mushroom salad, then moves on to a Raise-the-Roof sweet potato vegetable lasagna, and ends with a blueberry cake.

Sally Page, director of sales at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, said the hotel is fielding a growing number of requests for vegetarian meals at the numerous banquets it hosts.

“It’s a trend that we’re seeing and that you’re going to see more of,” Page said. “I think people are more in tune with what’s going in their bodies. Our chef is so willing to do whatever is necessary for the guests.”

Each guest at the Cure Breast Cancer for ME luncheon will leave with the recipes for all three menu items, and one person at each table will take home a copy of Wolff’s cookbook, “A Life in Balance: Delicious, Plant-Based Recipes for Optimal Health.”

“What they’re doing is very progressive,” said Wolff of Cape Elizabeth, who frequently appears on television and offers a plant-based coaching service. “Because who else is doing a cancer luncheon and having it be plant-based? I applaud this effort.”

Next year, Burgess, who is a member of the Maine House of Representatives, said the News You Can Use segment will likely focus on other healthful lifestyle changes people can make, such as exercise or stress reduction.

“Can we promise that everybody that eats well and exercises every day won’t get cancer?” Burgess asks. “No. But you can set yourself up for success.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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