Go lean this summer with an elevated spin on a Sloppy Joe and coleslaw from "The 40-Year-Old Vegan"

More sophisticated than the Sloppy Joe, the Sloppy Jane uses balsamic vinegar and leeks for a mild yet zesty flavor

Published July 21, 2018 5:18PM (EDT)

Sloppy Janes and Skinny Slaw (Sandra Sellani)
Sloppy Janes and Skinny Slaw (Sandra Sellani)

Excerpted with permission from "The 40-Year-Old Vegan: 75 Recipes to Make You Leaner, Cleaner, and Greener in the Second Half of Life" by Sandra and Susan Sellani. Copyright 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

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Do you wish you could have your pasta and eat it too? So do Sandra and Susan Sellani, twin sisters who transformed the traditional Italian comfort foods of their childhood into healthier, plant-based versions. Sandra, a West Coast vegan, and Susan, an East Coast omnivore, have collaborated to create a rational approach to leaning in to vegan for those over forty. Mercy for Animals is a beneficiary of 10% of author proceeds from their book 40 Year Old Vegan.

“Don’t mind if I fall apart. There’s more room in a broken heart.”


Why write about plant-based living for people over the age of forty? Shouldn’t the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” apply? Well, if you think forty is old, it might apply, but as you’ve likely learned, forty is far from old. I’m well past forty, and still don’t feel “my age.” I fought the aging process every step of the way, kicking and screaming, only to discover something deeply beautiful about getting older. Something I couldn’t have known until I arrived. Something I hope you will also learn from reading this book. It has a lot to do with Carly Simon’s beautiful words.

Falling Apart or Coming Together?

If you’re forty years of age or older, you’ve likely taken a hit somewhere along the way. You’ve lost a job. Agonized through a divorce. Been a caretaker for an elderly family member while raising growing children. Looked at a dwindling checking account, wondering how you’re going to have enough money to pay for groceries, let alone the thirty-year mortgage staring you smack in the face. You’ve gone to a funeral or two. You’ve had your heart broken into a million pieces. Thank goodness. These hardships force us to lose the arrogance and invincibility of our youth and open ourselves up to the idea—and the exciting possibility—that maybe we still have something left to learn.

But the beauty of being broken by life, if we do not allow our hardships to make us bitter, is that each painful break expands our heart’s capacity for love, for ourselves, and for others. We might be more open to change now than we were in the past. A relationship gone wrong could spark the idea that perhaps we can live life without a partner, but not without a purpose. A health scare might make us more open to getting out into nature for daily walks, or changing our diet. The loss of a loved one can help us realize we must say “I love you” more openly and frequently to those who remain. We have come to know and accept our weaknesses and our strengths. We’ve pondered our mortality. We’ve softened a little, in a good way. The cracks that surface because of life’s shifting landscape can expose a beautiful vulnerability and willingness to change. We’ve learned empathy because we’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness. We’ve allowed ourselves to depend on someone without seeing it as a sign of weakness. We’ve come to understand love in its many forms. I ask that you open your mind and heart as you read the words ahead.

Food, Love, and Life: The Bigger Picture

I was compelled to write my book, 40 Year Old Vegan, with my twin sister, Susan, who is not a vegan but eats a predominantly plant-based diet, to underscore the fact that veganism is often a process, and that moving in the direction of veganism should be considered a healthy and celebratory step in the right direction. My sister was instrumental in helping me recreate the recipes of our youth into healthier, vegan versions and showing others how to do the same. We don’t want anyone to feel judged by their food choices, but we do want our readers to feel encouraged to take steps in the direction of veganism and to know of the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.

Many people in my life have shared their knowledge of plant-based living, and continue to do so. I want to continue that tradition of sharing. I’ve learned much from my long journey to veganism, which started more than thirty years ago, to my culinary training, and to my realization that the only thing that will sustain us as we grow older is our ability to find joy in things large and small; vegan living is rooted in joy, kindness, and peace. It’s been said that in order to be happy, one must have something to look forward to. That’s often a difficult concept when, by this age, many of us have already experienced what we consider to be life’s most successful milestones: marriage, a career, a home, an education, children. Is there really something left to experience? Can the best years of our lives still be ahead of us? They can be if we learn to find meaning and joy in simple things. In fact, we can find them in what may seem like the most unlikely of places—our dinner plates.

One of the easiest and most profound ways to find joy happens three times a day with what we put on our plates and in our bodies. You may not see the connection now, but there is a profound joy to vegan living that isn’t discussed nearly enough, a joy in knowing you have cared enough for the vulnerable creatures of this earth to allow them to have their own path, just as you have yours.

Susan and I have always enjoyed sharing what we love with others, whether it be new products or old recipes. Growing up in an Italian family, food was always a cultural expression of love and celebration, and through our lives we have enjoyed making our favorite meals for friends and family. Veganism extends the realm of love beyond friends and family to include animals and the earth we inhabit with them.

Susan and I look forward to sharing recipes handed down to us from our mother, aunt, and Italian grandmothers, as well as newer recipes inspired by my residence in and Susan’s visits to Southern California. You’ll also read inspirational stories from some other “40-year-old vegans” who have turned to plant-based living in the second half of life. Their stories will hopefully shatter any myths or stereotypes you might have about vegans. Are they hippie radicals trying to convert the world? No, they’re just people who have found a way of life that has forever changed them, demonstrating that simple choices can result in profound transformations. This transformative element is something many people don’t expect when they start eating this way; it’s just a beautiful by-product. Finally, you will come to know that you can exercise the profound power of kindness to change your life and the world by something as simple as the food choices you make.

Where is Love? A Greater World Problem

It seems that with each passing year, we witness a greater absence of love than ever before. Bullying is ubiquitous. If you have children, you’ve seen it in their schools and online. But bullying doesn’t begin and end in the playground or on social media sites. We see bullying in the workplace. We see politicians, businessmen, coworkers, and adults in general behaving badly. But there’s more. There’s another type of victimization and violence we don’t see because it is carefully and intentionally kept away from us. Or maybe we’re aware of it but we don’t want to acknowledge its presence. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, there are unspeakable atrocities that happen to millions of kind and gentle animals worldwide on a daily basis. Is it possible that there’s a connection between the unbridled rage we see in our world and the decisions we are making at the most basic level—our food choices? Why is there so much rage in our world? Why is unkindness so pervasive? Shouldn’t we know better by now?

For those of you who are compelled to live a kinder life, regardless of how you choose to eat, I encourage you to read on and see that everything we do is connected. Our food, our planet, our behavior, our health; these elements bring value and meaning to our lives. How easy is it, after all, to begin a path that starts with comforting, nutritious food that’s good for you, your family, and the planet? How easy is it to know that you’re not alone in wanting to live a better life and create a better, more peaceful planet for your children or future generations? If you are reading this, you are part of a growing number of people who are finding the joy of eating and living in a whole new way that doesn’t involve counting calories or being a nutrition expert; a way that involves bringing our hearts and souls into the process of eating by fully understanding the consequences of our eating habits and choices. Don’t be afraid of what you might have to give up by eating in this new way. You will gain exponentially more.

Take it Easy

I’m going to make it as easy as possible for you to transform your health, your life, and the world and to connect the dots between food choice and the joy and connectivity you can experience in your daily life— especially to people over the age of forty. I became a vegetarian at age twenty-five, but the full benefits of my plant-based lifestyle didn’t become apparent to me until I became a vegan at age fifty. And while my sister Susan is not vegan, she chooses to eat a mostly plant-based diet, and has lost weight and lowered her cholesterol in doing so, demonstrating that one small change in the direction of veganism can make significant changes in your life.

You’ve likely talked to people who felt better after changing or eliminating just one component from their diets, like milk or red meat. It was a small step that made a big difference for them. Imagine the difference a few more changes can make for them and for you. It’s important to acknowledge the importance of the transition period itself and the types of food that can help you seamlessly move from your current dietary practices to a healthy life without struggling with the hunger and frustration of fad diets. Even if you never become 100 percent vegan, the closer you move to the plant-based end of the spectrum, the more health benefits you will reap.

Your path toward veganism can take a day, a month, or a year—you decide. After all, if you are over forty you can still learn new tricks. But you must first be convinced that the new tricks will serve you better than the old ones. And when you do, you will realize that life begins, not at forty, but when your values and lifestyle choices are in full alignment. If you believe kindness is a virtue, this lifestlye, and our book 40 Year Old Vegan are for you. What you may not know is that when you incorporate kindness into every choice, including your food choices, your body, your life, and your planet will be forever transformed.

Sandra Sellani

The 57-Year-Old Vegan

Recipe: Sloppy Janes and Skinny Slaw

Total Time: 45 minutes

Level: Easy

Serves: 5

Slightly more sophisticated than the Sloppy Joe, the Jane uses balsamic vinegar and leeks for a mild yet zesty flavor. The slaw adds a beautiful contrast with color, crunch, and fiber. Reach for this recipe when you want your beef fix without the fat and cholesterol. This satisfies the heartiest of appetites.

Skinny Slaw Ingredients

2 cups finely sliced green cabbage

2 cups finely sliced red cabbage

1 cup red onion, finely sliced

1 cup carrot, finely julienned

1 cup (1 bunch) chopped fresh cilantro, stems discarded

juice of 1 lime

½ tbsp. celery seeds

1 tbsp. agave nectar

salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Sloppy Jane Ingredients

1 tsp. olive oil

1 ½ cups red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed and discarded, diced small

1 ½ cups leek, minced, white part only

4 cups Beefy Crumbles by Beyond Meat

¼ tsp. garlic powder

3 tbsp. organic brown sugar

1 cup Annie’s Naturals Organic Ketchup

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

¾  tbsp. salt

fresh ground black pepper, to taste

5 vegan rolls

Skinny Slaw Directions

  1. Mix all slaw ingredients and set aside.

Sloppy Jane Directions

  1. Heat oil in frying pan. Add red pepper and leek, and sauté until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and cook on low to medium heat until fully incorporated and warm.

  1. Place the mixture on top of the rolls. Top with a generous portion of slaw.


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