Mama says: Food change making a difference
by Lauren Harkawik
Apr 03, 2018 | 3967 views | 0 0 comments | 103 103 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Millie Donahue holds some of the MamaSezz plant-based products
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BRATTLEBORO - About seven years ago, at 80 years old, Millicent “Millie” Donahue was told by her doctors that due to congestive heart failure, her heart had 10% function. She went home with her daughter, Meg Donahue, and her daughter-in-law, Lisa Lorimer, who moved her into their home so they could care for her and keep her comfortable.

“They told us there was nothing else they could do,” says Lorimer. But still, they did some research on what might help, and they discovered writing by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn from the Cleveland Clinic, who said a whole food plant-based diet can reverse heart disease.

Lorimer and Meg Donahue felt they had nothing to lose, so they started making whole food plant-based soups and smoothies for Millie Donahue. Lorimer and Meg Donahue jumped in headfirst with the diet, too.

“Over time she got better and better and better,” says Lorimer. “We brought her home just to live and be with us, and thinking we were just going to make her comfortable. As of today, her folks at Dartmouth are amazed. Her heart function is basically normal. She swims most days.”

“She’s going to be 88 this year,” says Meg Donahue. “Normally at 80, people aren’t getting better.” She adds that during a recent checkup at Grace Cottage, Millie Donahue’s doctor remarked that she’s off most of her medication. “He asked, ‘What do you want? I can give you a flu shot, that’s about all you need.’ And we used to have to keep spreadsheets to keep track of her medicines.”

Seeing the positive effects the new diet was having on Millie and on themselves, Lorimer and Meg Donahue got curious. They enrolled in the T. Colin Campbell Center’s plant-based nutrition program to learn more. “From there we sought out and talked with the top doctors in the field, who we luckily ended up working with,” says Lorimer. “We said this is something people need to know about. Why don’t they know about it?”

As they worked to spread the word, they were embracing the diet full-on themselves. “One thing you realize when you start to eat this way is that it’s a pain in the neck,” says Lorimer. “You spend half of your life chopping and half your paycheck in the produce section.”

They sought out a company that could send them fresh, whole food plant-based meals, and they came up short. Wanting to make this type of eating as easy as possible for themselves and others, they started to think about a company that could make that happen. Soon after, MamaSezz was born, with Lorimer and Meg Donahue at the helm.

Lorimer, who grew up in Wilmington, was no stranger to the food business. At 21, she started working for the Vermont Bread Company, which at that time was known as Innisfree Farm Bakery and sold its products at the Farmers’ Market in Brattleboro and a health food store on Main Street in Brattleboro.

“People would say, ‘Oh, that Vermont bread company,’” says Lorimer, “so eventually we changed the name.” Lorimer says the Vermont Bread Company’s “big break” came when a buyer ended up at the Farmers’ Market. Not long after, at 26, Lorimer became a part owner of the company and it grew and grew.

A few years ago, Lorimer decided to sell Vermont Bread Company and retire. “I retired in my 40s and thought, OK, cool, I can be on boards, I can volunteer,” says Lorimer. “And then my mother-in-law got really sick.”

Which, of course, led to Lorimer and Meg Donahue’s discovery of whole food plant-based diets and, ultimately, MamaSezz, which serves both as a way for Lorimer and Meg Donahue to share their findings about whole food plant-based diets and to make eating within the diet more doable for people.

“We really felt called to do this,” says Meg Donahue. “People are suffering for extended periods of time when they don’t need to. We’ve just begun to expect that how you live out the last 20 years of your life is in this gradual painful decline. That’s actually not normal.”

Today, MamaSezz, which has locations in Brattleboro and in Keene, NH, delivers freshly prepared meals nationwide. Many of the meals Lorimer has dreamed up for MamaSezz are in what she sees as the Vermont spirit of hearty meals. “Again, it’s back to my roots,” says Lorimer. “I developed most of the recipes by asking ‘What does a Vermonter eat?’”

The result is a range of meals, including whole food and plant-based takes on shepherd’s pie (gardener’s pie), mac and cheese, Moroccan stew, lasagna, Hungarian mushroom soup, and Millie’s chili. Everything is packaged fresh to stay good in the refrigerator for two weeks from delivery.

Like many meal delivery services, the food arrives in a cooler with ice. Unlike many meal delivery services, MamaSezz is committed to reusing and recycling those materials.

“If you’ve ever ordered from a meal delivery service, you know you end up with a lot of trash,” says Lorimer, noting that she and Meg Donahue said they wouldn’t start a company if that was to be the end result. So, they’ve created a system by which everything goes back to them after it’s used, including the cooler, containers, ice packs, and inserts that come with the delivery.

“You just put a return label on the cooler and it’s picked up,” says Lorimer, joking that they’ll even take containers from other meal delivery services.

Meals can be ordered via MamaSezz’s website, and if they want, locals can stop by either of the company’s locations to pick up their orders. Hours and locations can be found on the website as well. Lorimer and Meg Donahue say the company has a very active Facebook page and hosts potluck meals at the company’s Brattleboro location frequently. The next one is scheduled for Friday, April 13, at 5:30 pm.
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