Over the past few months I’ve been working harder than ever. With digital work, events around town and a full time day job to take care of, it’s a lot. The main reason I’m able to handle this workload is because I balance the scales with regular doses of pure recreation, or what Stuart Brown M.D. refers to as “play”.
Health and food are two of my major passions in life and spending more energy creating and sharing my perspective on these has been wonderful, but about 2 months ago I started to hit a wall. If I wasn’t at my day job or sleeping, I felt that I needed to be making progress on my creative endeavors. I wasn’t letting myself relax. It felt like spending a day off at the park doing “nothing” was the exact opposite of productivity. I ended up dispelling this notion for myself by spending more time relaxing and coincidentally followed it with reading “Play”. Now, I’m a firm believer that recreation is fuel for productivity. Of course there’s a tipping point to this, and we’re all different, but grinding out more work while feeling uninspired just to keep the wheels turning doesn’t strike me as productive.
One of the major takeaways for me in “Play” was the sheer definition of the word. Brown used golf as an example and that’s what really clicked for me. To some, golf is pure joy and getting out onto the course instills peace. That same person however, could be playing golf as part of a work function, maybe to butter up a client in the hopes of closing a deal. Then golf is no longer play. It’s no longer of pure intent. When we’re truly playing, we diminish our conscious self. We aren’t concerned with how we look, or what others may be thinking, we’re simply going towards whatever is intriguing us in that moment. For a lot of us, this is easiest to attain when we’re in nature.
“All evidence indicates that the greatest rewards of play come when it arises naturally from within”
When I was hitting that wall 2 months ago, I knew technology was a factor. I was spending so much time focused on digital content, that I was missing out on the simple joys of Spring. I went out to Robinson Park to get immersed in nature as a reaction to my technological excesses and it was deeply therapeutic. Now after reading “Play” I understand how regenerative times like that can truly be for the mind.
“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it”
It’s strange but sometimes true play can be tough to achieve. Separating completely from thoughts of productivity and the future is one aspect of “Play”, the other is a general mindset. I don’t feel that taking some time to play negates my goals. The other day I was getting some computer work done at Zion and felt like spending some time outside. Rather than debate this, I simply went to what was going to bring me joy rather than deny it for the sake of perceived productivity. After some fun in the sun I got right back into my productive groove feeling better than before. In general, I find that some time spent playing reduces stress in a substantial way and when this is overlooked, stress just builds up and inhibits learning.
Sometimes books like “Play” can feel so familiar that reading them seems unnecessary. Inherently I think we all understand the concept. We know that in most situations, working 5 days and taking 2 off is often more beneficial in the long run than working 7. What Brown does with “Play” is come at the topic from some angles that aren’t as readily understood.
I hadn’t thought about it being implemented on the corporate level but Brown regularly give talks at big businesses to drive home the message that the higher ups don’t have the language to convey. It can seem like mixed messages, having your boss, observer of your productivity, encouraging you to have some fun, but the two go hand and hand.
At a mere 200 pages “Play” is an easy read and a worthwhile one at that. Though the concept is certainly native to most of us, I do still think it’s an important read, if only to serve as a reminder to not take productivity so seriously. Loosening up a bit can often times help move things along and “Play” is packed with examples of this method working, from personal accounts to the story of how some relaxed thinking saved Intel. Sometimes the recommendations in books related to health can seem difficult to put into practice, but with “Play” the suggestions were music to my ears.
When I heard Michael Pollan was writing a book about psychedelics it was reminiscent of the joy I felt when I first saw that Jonathan Safan Foer had written a book about animal agriculture. He’s an author whose voice I already enjoy and it’s a subject I’m deeply passionate about so I was eager to read what he had to say on the matter and excited by how popular this book was becoming because I trusted that Pollan would handle this delicate subject with grace. I was actually about to read “The Omnivores Dilemma”, Pollan’s most well known book after putting it off for awhile, but then “How To Change Your Mind” came about and superseded that, along with a few others, in my line of what I planned to read next. This article is about the book and the impact it’s making not so much my thoughts on it’s subject, though I’m sure I’ll dive into psychedelics on here another time.
“[Psychedelics] would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology or the telescope is for astronomy. These tools make it possible to study important processes that under normal conditions are not available for direct observation” – Stanislav Grof
Over the last few decades there have been many books written about psychedelics, but the ones that tend to reach the most eyes emphasize the cultural side of psychedelics, with “How To Change Your Mind”, Pollan takes a different approach. He focuses on the history of the clinical use of psychedelics. This is what makes the book so powerful. Talking about the overt cultural impact of psychedelics is an easy subject to go on about. It’s riddled with over the top stories, the characters are mythical and it had an undeniable impact on society. Continuing that conversation is well and fine, but it’s not going take these medicines forward. In fact, it could actually take them a few steps backwards. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, if that’s the case, then psychedelics are the exception to the rule. What happened in the 60’s may appear to be progression because these substances were brought into the mainstream light, but I, and many others, would argue that it was more of a regression.
In February I went down to Envision Festival in Costa Rica where MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and others at the frontier of psychedelic studies held lectures, workshops and panel discussions on the many facets to this extensive subject. The common thread throughout them was that they presented these substances with the upmost respect, carefully considering their potential and challenges, something that past proponents of psychedelics often ignored. Whether they were discussing the progression of MDMA into Phase 3 clinical trials or practical users tips like how to deal with looping, it was refreshing to hear these substances expanded on so thoughtfully. The presenters enable this, but the crowd carried responsibility as well. It’s like talking about digestion. Sure, there’s easy jokes to be made, but doing so during discussion doesn’t serve anyone. This is the same approach Pollen took with “How To Change Your Mind”. It’s not a book written for entertainment and for that I am grateful. If you want to read trip reports full of surreal accounts of what these substances may result in, head over to Erowid instead. Pollan does include a few personal accounts of trials with psychedelics and many from others, but all centered around the clinical aspects, not the “frills” of the psychedelic experience. Much like the talks at Envision, this book is able to convey certain ineffable themes with a more honed perspective because as the years go, our language for the subject develops.
“You have to imagine a caveman transported into the middle of Manhattan. He sees buses, cell phones, skyscrapers, airplanes. Then zap him back to to his cave. What does he say about the experience? ‘It was big, it was impressive, it was loud.’ He doesn’t have the vocabulary for ‘skyscraper,’ ‘elevator,’ ‘cell phone.’ Maybe he has an intuitive sense there was some sort of significance or order to the scene. But there are words we need that don’t exist. We’ve got five crayons when we need fifty thousand different shades”
– Bill Richards
Theres no way to erase the history of these substances. Timothy Leary, MK-Ultra and the excessive use of these substances within certain cultures (past and present) will always be a part of the lineage. Past missteps help to inform the path forward and Pollan clearly understood that by keeping the old cultural baggage out of the narrative. By discussing these substances without their stigma, he allows for a more objective outlook, something these medicines desperately deserve.
I believe “How To Change Your Mind” is coming around at the perfect time. As the discussion of mental health takes a rightfully prominent place in the public sphere, so does the analysis of our current means of treatment. Therapy is a vitally important aspect to emotional healing but pharmaceuticals, in a lot of instances, are a broken tool and sadly seem to be distributed as if they are miracle drugs of the modern age when they are actually generating their own host of issues.
In the past few years, stories related to mental health have exploded, along with the use of prescription drugs, but they don’t seem to be taking care of the issues because they act as a band aid rather than something to truly heal. In my experience with pharmaceutical drugs (SSRIs) as treatment for depression, it was like having a plumbing problem, say a leaking sink in your home, and fixing the leak by shutting off all the water. Yes, the problematic aspect is sort of taken care of but it negates the necessary elements of plumbing along with the troublesome one. Using drugs to suppress or dampen negative emotions is a road that leads to nowhere and people are waking up to this after years of anxiety and depression pills becoming a non-thought, something consumed without regard for all their effects. As pharmaceuticals are used more and more, our bodies build up tolerances to them like they do with antibiotics. Most anxieties or mental difficulties are a result of our own thought patterns. We may recognize them. Even despise them, but breaking out of them is easier said than done.
“[Robert] Carhart-Harris suggests that psychological “disorders” at the low-entropy end of the spectrum are not the result of a lack of order in the brain but rather stem from an excess of order. When the grooves of self-reflective thinking deepen and harden, the ego becomes overbearing.”
– Michael Pollan
Psychedelics, when used properly, allow access to our emotional and spiritual core. With the defenses our ego constructs are taken down, we can work on our inner selves in an unfiltered way. Accessing these deep parts of ourselves is only one tenant of the experience though. If a large dose is being taken with a therapeutic intent, having a guide or companion with the user can help to work through the challenging parts rather than shy away from them. This is what therapy is all about whether it’s assisted by psychedelics or not.
“But when the brain operates under the influence of psilocybin… thousands of new connections form, linking far-flung brain regions that during normal waking consciousness don’t exchange much information. In effect, traffic is rerouted from a relatively small number of interstate highways onto a myriad of smaller roads linking a great many more destinations. The brain appears to become less specialized and more globally interconnected, with considerably more intercourse, or “cross-talk,” among it’s various neighborhoods.”
– Michael Pollan
Coupling psychedelics with therapy can seem like a short cut compared to other methods, and in some cases, I see how this could be the case, but if it genuinely can achieve the desired, lasting healing, I’m all for them, and so is Pollan. After nearly every psychedelic endeavor in my life, from a microdose to a more powerful, ego crushing serving, I wake the next day feeling like a snake that’s shed it’s skin. If these substances are taken for more than the fun side, it’s almost impossible not to learn something. The key is integrating the lessons and not relying on these altered states as the only means of emotional or spiritual growth.
Pollan does a fantastic job of covering the clinical merit of psychedelics without debating which types of therapy are best. He’s not really arguing anything in this book actually. He’s just expressing the benefits of these substances that have become so waterlogged with preconceived notions. Without content like this, it’d be hard for these substances to be allowed to even enter the discussion. Psychedelics don’t need to replace tried and true methods of therapy, they just need to be allowed a spot in the tool belt of healers, to be used when the patient, set and setting are appropriate. For decades psychedelics have been considered and studied for the treatment of mental health issues, but it’s the work of MAPS, Michael Pollan and many others truly making this a reality these days. As psychedelic assisted therapies blossom, “How To Change Your Mind” will be reflected upon as a pivotal factor in their rise and success. It’s books like this entering the mainstream that make me feel this third wave of psychedelic studies could be the one that breaks through in the way hoped for during the last two. With this book, Pollen is truly raising the global consciousness.
You’d think after years of being a book worm I’d learn not to judge a book by it’s cover, or in this case, the title, but low and behold, I had some preconceived notions about this book and was treated with a wonderfully fascinating surprise. I follow a whole food, plant based diet and I thought this would simply be a book touting the positive effects of this lifestyle and knocking the processed foods that it excludes, but it’s so much more than that.
“It turns out that eating – how we literally absorb nature, or an artificial substitute, into our bodies – holds huge implications for how we treat the rest of nature and our fellow humans” – Dr. T. Colin Campbell
For 60 years Dr. Campbell has been studying biochemistry and it’s subsets such as veterinary medicine, aging and nutrition. Through years of learning and teaching he was led to his cancer research. Not searching for a pharmaceutical cure, but identifying causes. Campbell would go on to orchestrate the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, known as The China Study.
“Everyone in the field of nutrition science stands on the shoulders of Dr. Campbell, who is one of the giants in the field. This is one of the most important books about nutrition ever written—reading it may save your life.” Dr. Dean Ornish on “The China Study”
This massive study covered 65 counties in China, 6,500 people and accounted for 367 variables. The subjects lived in a wide array of areas, both rural and urban and the difference between the 2 was abundantly clear. Those of a lower class, with less access to the foods that denoted wealth such as meat, dairy and new processed foods, also had lower rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Through this study and extensive research in laboratories with rats, Campbell concluded that,
“Casein is the most relevant chemical carcinogen ever identified.”
With this, nutrition and how it relates to cancer became Campbell’s life’s work. In research using lab rats he found that he could literally turn cancer on and off by adjusting their level of protein intake.
The China Study, and the best selling book that followed it, focus primarily on whole food, plant based diets vs the standard Western diet and their effect on disease, “Whole” narrows in on the complexities of whole foods. The current trend in nutrition science takes on a reductionist perspective, narrowing in on single nutrients or elements of foods. These types of studies are a disservice to the mesmerizingly complicated connections between all the components of food. The wholistic approach is that a food is more than the sum of it’s parts. Meaning that a food isn’t just a list of nutrients. The way elements of the food synchronize together or harmonize with other foods account for so much of what happens in our body when we ingest them. This is why supplementation, a reductionists best friend, often times doesn’t work. Certainly not in the way eating a whole food would. Campbell is outspoken against the popularity supplementation, often viewed as a new advent in modern day health. If that were the case, with years of it’s practice on the books, disease rates wouldn’t be where they are today. Reductionism can be seen many aspects of life, from nutrition, environmental studies or marketing. This analogy is one of my favorite ways Campbell explains reductionist logic,
“That’s why tobacco companies were able to get scientists to say that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer: not all smokers develop lung cancer and not all lung cancers are attributable to smoking. In a reductionist universe, the statement “Smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer” is perfectly accurate. But it’s woefully inadequate when it comes to the practical issue of understanding the profound effect of tobacco on lung cancer, thus convincing people to stop smoking.”
It’s easy to see how reductionism flourished, and continues to, in spite of the mounting evidence against it. When we think of an orange, vitamin C is the signature nutrient in there. What wholistic science reveals is that consuming the orange will do more good for the body than taking a supplement with the same levels of vitamin C and all the other nutrients in the fruit.
So with all the research Campbell has generated, all the reports published and thousands of books sold across many countries, why isn’t the message of whole food plant based diets more well known? If a pharmaceutical cure for cancer was found it would be the number one news story across the board. As Campbell began uncovering more evidence in favor of a whole food plant based diet, he began to be ostracized within the field and university he’d labored in for so many years.
When it comes down to it, a whole food plant based diet isn’t good business for companies causing or profiting off of the problems created by our current health landscape. For research to be conducted, first there needs to be funding, often times coming from grants. This can either be done with tax dollars or given directly from a corporation, business or interest group. With limited funding out there, researchers compete for the available funding, appealing to those who distribute it. So not only is the research concepts geared towards agendas of the donors, the parameters and outcome of the studies leans towards helping the goals of these groups with considerable bias. A sort of gerrymandering of the research available to us. It’s understandable that researchers don’t want to bite the hand that feeds, but at what cost?
This uphill battle is one of the primary focuses of “Whole”. Dr. Campbell, and many other doctors, continually reversed cancer, heart disease and diabetes with a whole food plant based diet, but their groundbreaking methods didn’t get the notoriety they deserved because the only business that stands to gain from it would be farmers instead of pharmaceutical, medical or insurance companies.
“If someone asked you to create a public health policy for which the goal was to mislead the maximum number of people in ways that would compromise their health while profiting the pharmaceutical, medical, and junk food industries, you couldn’t do much better than what’s currently in place.” – Dr. T. Colin Campbell
So how do we change this? What can be done when the opposing force is so monolithic? The main thing we can do is to shift our support. These industries have become so colossal because we’ve empowered them. As the tides begin to turn, we will weaken them. It won’t be a fast process and our singular efforts can feel like a drop in the ocean at times. That’s why spreading the message is just as important as practicing it ourselves. As more people understand whole food plant based lifestyles for what they are, preventive, restorative and enlightening medicine, we’ll begin to make major changes in the health and consciousness of our population. Much like the dynamic of interconnected nutrients with a whole food, this issue is connected to so many aspects of our lives and as we help it move forward we will feel an immense pressure dissolve globally. Our generation is the one that will make this paradigm shift happen. The framework has been laid by T. Colin Campbell and many others who share his passion, excellence and understanding, but it’s up to us to keep the momentum growing. The responsibility for this movement is on society, not industry, and I believe we’re up for the challenge.
For some, Mother’s Day means a Sunday filled with celebrations. For others, it’s more of a day for reflection, but for all of us it’s a day of love. In my life, Mother’s Day has been many things. There were the classic days of doing whatever Mom wanted for a whole day, typically gardening or maybe some baking. When I was 9 my Mom passed away and then it became a somber holiday, and still is, but in a different manner now. Once I became a teenager, the day morphed into a fine excuse to abuse alcohol because I had decided well in advance it was going to be a rough day. I knew that evening I could get blackout drunk and who could really blame me? Now with 2 years free from alcohol coupled with other forms of physical, emotional and spiritual detoxification and growth, I approach the day with pure unfiltered love.
This day is no longer a low point on my calendar, instead it resets me. It reminds me of the man I strive to be because I was able to see so much of that person in my Mom. When we’re in a city environment for too long, getting away from it all, into nature, can be a much needed reprieve, that’s what Mother’s Day is for me emotionally. My Mom was exceptionally kind to others, not to make herself feel good, but to spread positivity to those around her. While we can easily become the center of our own universes, this life is for sharing and connecting with others. I’m not writing this to unload my sadness, or in hopes of receiving sympathy, it’s quite the opposite. This piece is about love and I’m sharing it to offer my deepest empathy for those who may not be having joyous celebrations today. For those who have experienced loss, or even just a mounting distance within a family. While the bulk of the content I share is food related, the primary goal of what I do here is to help others. Changing what I consume has been a powerful catalyst for healing in my life, but it’s just one spoke on the wheel of health. Death is an undeniable part of life. The death of my Mom, and the path it has set me on emotionally, are so intricately weaved into everything I do today that I felt this was important to share as part of the broader narrative I’m looking to tell. This is not intended to be a sad story. This is just one persons experience with grief, we all go through it with different variables. Think of this article as a funeral when the attendees are asked to wear bright colors instead of black. Sure, there is an underlying heaviness, but this is a celebration, not only of Gynell Zich, but Mother’s everywhere, past and present.
It all started with a pain in her leg. We didn’t really know what was going on, but day after day the pain persisted until we took her to the doctor to get it checked out. I remember telling the doctor that she had mentioned falling in the shower recently, thinking I’d just figured out the mystery, but it was more than a bruised leg. Shortly after that appointment we learned she had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Hodgkins Lymphoma is a very treatable form of this cancer, sadly my Mom had the other kind. Then 10 months later my dad went with her to Mayo Clinic as we were trying anything doctors could offer us. A few days later I woke to him in my room and before he could get the words out, I knew.
I was only 9 when this happened, so sometimes I wonder about the scope of my memory, but it felt like after she passed, every person I’d ever met in my short life converged around us to show support and offer sympathy. Our house would be jam packed with people pouring out love, but even being surrounded by all of this, I still felt like I was standing alone on Earth. There is absolutely nothing in life like losing a parent. Regardless of how independent one may feel, they are still a column of monumental support. A parent is a source of unconditional, primal love and when that leaves us, the resulting void is staggering. Whether we’re 9 and our parents are basically our entire world, or we’re 59 and now taking care of our parents as they age, when they go, everything changes.
I went to Catholic schools through high school and after my Mom passed I started to question pretty much everything I was being taught. In the months she was sick, whole classes of kids would make cards with phrases like “get well soon” and “you’re in our prayers”, the hallways of the school were coated in them from floor to ceiling. We’d have weekly masses and some would even be dedicated to her. A massive church, filled mostly with children, asking God to have mercy on this one Mother, and none of it worked. When I was 9, I didn’t have much of a faith in religious matters, I just followed what was put around me the same way most sons become fans of the sports teams their dad roots for. As years passed, and I established my own outlook on religion, I knew I couldn’t support the institution that had failed so terribly. I’d see collection baskets go around at mass and want to scream “It doesn’t work!”, “This is a total sham!”. So as my anger grew I would often let my thoughts be heard about the church or God because I saw them as one in the same. If you believe in God, I thought you had to believe in the church too, and vice versa. In that time, I said terrible things about both. Words so awful I wince at the thought of them. This wasn’t done to get a rise out of anyone, it was simply because I had nowhere else to direct my hostility.
Over the next years, depression became a major part of my life and I chalked it up to a side effect of what had happened. I just assumed I would be a depressed person for the rest of my life. I drank excessively, alone more often than not, grappling with these feelings, finding short term reprieve in whatever substance I could. Thankfully that train ran out of steam by the time I was about 20. I stopped drinking liquor at 21 which helped me see what my habit had become a bit more clearly. I always knew that I drank differently than those around me. I loved parties because everyone was drinking so heavily, but they were more of a convenience to me than anything because I was going to be doing that anyways, but this way, I could mingle while I did it. Sort of hiding in plain sight. Instead of being something to casually enjoy in social settings or when I felt like relaxing a bit, it was a crutch. It was my go to when challenges arose. I just couldn’t seem to handle being alone with myself without it.
I knew I had some inner tribulations to work through emotionally and spiritually. It’s one thing to have some unprocessed grief, but to have a hate for God buried inside me was tearing me apart more than I knew. I realized the more clear headed I became, the better I’d be able to process what I needed to in order to free myself of these depressing and often angry thoughts. I had become so accustom to them, and almost possessive of them, that combating them felt counterintuitive. They were a part of me. It was “my” depression, “my” anxiety. I realized there was a part of me that was actively holding onto them, but I knew I had to fight that, to get out of my comfort zone and begin to mold my own mindset. Pills didn’t work. I tried therapy but the dynamic just wasn’t something I connected well within. I felt that I had to get to the source of the feelings on my own to truly alleviate the struggle.
At 24 I had my last beer and I haven’t looked back since. That alone has removed a substantial headwind for me emotionally and spiritually. In the winter of 2016, I spent a few weeks in Ecuador where I felt I could make some major progress spiritually. I went down there to attend a raw food culinary retreat and explore the country but the primary reason was for a spiritual excursion. Some parts are more private than I’m ready to share here, but I will say, during a few experiences I was able to connect with the higher power I’d recently begun seeking. I made a repentance for the heinous thoughts and words I’d carried for so long and I came out of it a new, absolved man. When I left Ecuador, it felt as if I’d left behind 20 pounds of dark, negative, crippling energy that I knew I would never be allowing it to grow within me again. My relationship with God was strong and my path forward became much more clear.
Grief is natural. Without fully experiencing it, we’re merely suppressing the challenging feelings when it’s the whole spectrum of emotions that define the human experience. My grief isn’t over with. It’s not something to be conquered. Though now, when I see a Mother’s Day ad or some type of reminder, it doesn’t put my day onto a path of sadness. It’s a reminder of something beautiful. I feel like through experiencing a depth of sorrow and anger to the degree that I did enables new levels of joy, love and gratitude beyond what I thought possible at other times. My favorite song by Sharron Von Etton has a line that’s repeated many times, “She made me love more” and when I listen to it, often times singing along with a big smile on my face, it’s because it makes me think of my Mom.
Our time together in this world may have been cut short, but I still feel her all around me. When my sister lets loose with a belly laugh, I’m able to hear her. When I smell banana bread, I sense her. Recently Annette Boucher on of my Mom’s best friends in life, told me that my Mom was the reason she got into gardening, now Annette’s backyard is one of the most lush I’ve ever seen. All those beautiful plants growing carry with them a trace of her spirit. While I may not be able to spend time with with my Mom directly anymore, through maintaining a clear mind and open eyes, I find more and more of her around me all the time. Her physical self my have been laid to rest but as a wise man once said, “death is but removing a tight fitting shoe”, and I focus more on her spirit than her physical self. So in a way I feel we’ll be together again. Not as Joe and Gynell, but in the esoteric sense. I do believe we are all of one. This physical world displays us in a fragmented manor but when this stage of life passes, my belief is that we all go back to one cosmic soup until we’re ladled back out again anew.
For a long time, I tried not to think about this part of my past. It was difficult. I knew I would probably start crying. I just wasn’t ready to be in that headspace. As I became better able to handle these difficult emotions without shying away from them or distorting them, it allowed a reframed perspective to build. I’m certainly an emotional guy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The preconceived notions of what constitutes manliness mean nothing to me. I see my expansive emotions as a part of my being that I’ve garnered a respectful appreciation for. I’m grateful that I feel emotions so deeply, both good and challenging.
I had several years of dreading Mother’s Day. I knew strangers would say things without knowing my situation like “What’s your Mom got planned for the day?” or “Will you be spending time with your Mom?”. Now I can brush that stuff off much better than I could before. Uninformed inquires or comments about my mom aren’t reason enough to let my mood slide down hill. Any reminders of her are a chance to experience my Mom’s energy because I perceive them as her sort of poking her head out and saying hello.
Do I wish things played out differently? Of course. But after years of dwelling on it, I know those thoughts lead to nowhere. So on Mother’s Day, I live in the way she’d be proud of. I feel gratitude for all the blessings I do have. I acknowledge the difficulties with reverence without succumbing to their weight. I focus on love above all else. I live how I’d like to live everyday. I think if anyone who dies could convey a message to their bereaved it would be to not spend their time here in sadness. I respect her life and death through joy rather than depression but it wasn’t an easy road to this. I don’t mean to say we can simply abdicate our own grief or the feeling that a part of our life, a part our ourselves, has been lost, though we do have a hand on the steering wheel of our emotions. I’m sure at some point on Mother’s Day this year I will cry. Though instead of being fueled purely by despair it’s more likely to be from a mounting tidal wave of many different emotions. Crying is a release I welcome. On my way back from Costa Rica 3 few months ago, I cried a couple times. These were tears of pure joy stemming from 5 of the most heart opening days I couple have ever imagined at Envision festival. So even in a public space, like the airplane, I felt no shame in letting some tears flow while I smiled ear to ear. Sometimes we have more emotion than we know what to do with and rather than struggle to keep our cool, it’s best just to let it flow.
So this year on Mother’s Day, I ask you to approach the day with more love than ever before by holding nothing back. If you will be spending time with your Mom, be present. Express everything that’s in your heart. Let her know how much you love her. Hug her with all of the love, care and gratitude she deserves. If your Mom is not with us anymore, spend the day how she would want you to. Whatever emotions come, feel them all, but if you feel like you’re spiraling too deep in a negative way, give yourself time and space to realign with feelings of love. Lately, when difficult times arise, I’ve been using the word Love as my mantra. As silly as it may sound, I say it over and over. After a short while, a smile begins to form and I come back to center.
I miss my Mom every single day, more than I can express in words. I wish so badly I could have another conversation with her. These thoughts used to be crippling, now they serve as a reminder of how important love is in this life. I have a dad who amazes me on a daily basis. A sister who I can connect with in ways unlike anyone else on the planet and a collection of friends and family that inspire, support and care for me so much that it seems absurd to ever think of loneliness. Through the highs and the lows, this is a beautiful life I’ve been gifted. If it all ended tomorrow I would go out a genuinely happy and appreciative man. The hardships have allowed for newfound depths of joy and gratitude in all aspects of life. This piece is meant to be expression of love. Love for life. Love for those around me. And Love for my Mom. Even years after her passing, my love for her continues to grow and Mother’s day is an exuberant reminder of that.
Since he was a youngster, Gene Baur has loved animals. Like most of us, he loved his pets, particularly his early childhood feline friend named Tiger, though he hadn’t yet made the connection between the animals he saw and the animals he ate. As he moved through adolescence his passion for animals and their welfare continued to grow, leading to the formation of his first animal sanctuary in 1986. Now with over 30 years of activism and a powerful commitment to animal rights, Gene Baur is at the forefront of the the movement. With his seminal book “Living The Farm Sanctuary Life”, Baur recants the story of his origins in animal activism and onward to the creation sanctuaries in New York and California. The book is coauthored by Gene Stone, author of “Forks Over Knives”, but it’s Baur who really takes the lead in the narrative. Since the books 2015 publication, Farm Sanctuary has opened a third location and continues to house, protect and care for thousands of animals who would have had their lives ended in terribly cruel ways without the sanctuary’s intervention.
Farm Sanctuary serves many purposes, the most prominent one being the rescue of animals, though the sanctuaries are also used as education centers. Since they’ve opened they’ve had hundreds of thousand of visitors who all get to interact with animals commonly view as food sources.
“Because Farm Sanctuary offers a view of the world so different from what we see in most of our everyday lives, visitors here seldom leave without having some kind of transformational experience.” – Gene Baur
As research progresses we’re learning that pigs have an intelligence comparable to that of dogs and even primates. Seeing the intelligence, personality and the beauty of these animals in person is a compelling way to bring home the understanding that these animals are someone, not something. This is what Farm Sanctuary is all about. It’s not your typical outspoken vegan group. They just want people to have a better understanding of what these animals being consumed are really like, then make more informed decisions after having mindful connections to these magnificent creatures, who bear many striking similarities to humans.
After 2 years of raising animals for their meat, a farmer by the name of Bob Comis had a revelatory experience after receiving a smaller pig that needed some extra help. Sympathy is best kept at by in the hog farming industry but in this instance Comis couldn’t deny his pangs to help this little pig who was going through life threatening health problems.
“He was staring right at me. I could see fear, but I could also see, and perhaps I was imagining it, imploration. I believe he knew that he was dying, that he didn’t want to die, and that out of the depths of his eyes – barely distinguishable in richness from human eyes – he was asking me to help him, to keep him alive.” – Bob Comis
After raising and killing 2,000 pigs, Bob Comis stopped farming animals and became vegetarian. Simply put, could not let his actions progress out of alignment with his personal values.
Eating in accordance with your values brings profound harmony, not only in the world, but in ourselves. Whether it begins with incremental shifts or going full vegan, moving in the direction towards a more compassionate and mindful way of eating is both healing and restorative.
As animals and their byproducts get less and less space on the plate, that means more plants foods will be taking their place. This is generally a good shift, though there’s certainly plenty of vegan junk food on the market. So while letting go of animal products and learning new culinary practices, I recommend taking a look at the source and ingredients of all foods in our diet.
From a consumer standpoint, this book is a tremendous value. The first hundred plus pages are filled with the story of the sanctuaries, their philosophy and personal anecdotes from people and animals impacted by their work. After those pages, there’s another 200 or so of recipes and photographs that highlight the delicious side of a cruelty free, plant based lifestyle. Most of the recipes are great ,though I’m not a big fan of the frequent reliance on processed foods, if they are vegan. Vegan versions of mayonnaise, cheese and butter are excellent for creating authentic tasting replications of old favorites but they generally aren’t worthwhile foods to form new dietary habits around. They can certainly be a helpful crutch during what can be a pretty major transition, but I see them more as a stepping stone, not something to fixate on.
There’s over 100 recipes in the book contributed from a wide range of authors, from renowned chefs, including Matthew Kenney who I personally admire, to more well known cultural personalities like Ellen DeGeneres, Moby and Twitter founder Biz Stone, who actually became vegan after visiting Farm Sanctuary. By having an assortment of recipes compiled together from so many different sources, the book offers more than just a diversity in tastes, but skill level as well. The 5 recipes below are just a few of the dozens that really stood out to me because of their unique use of whole food, plant based ingredients and easy going means of production. You’ll have to pick up the book to get the full recipes, but I assure you, these 5 are just the tip of the iceberg.
Hakuna (“No Worries”) Frittata by Alka Chandna
When I initially went vegetarian, I leaned on eggs pretty hard and the first real meal I learned to make was a frittata. Frittatas are a great catch-all for anything you’d like to use up in the fridge and something I routinely made as a means of trying out new ingredients I’d never really worked with, or even tasted before. This plant based alternative to the egg-centric version is a fantastic way to get the joy of frittatas without the heaviness and cruelty that often come along with the traditional egg based version. If you wanted it to pick up that classic look you can add a bit of turmeric powder to get a more yellow color.
Bangkok Butternut Squash Chowder by David Silver
I’m a sucker for anything spicy, but this recipe is much more than just a capsaicin delivery vehicle. By using butternut squash and coconut milk, a delightfully creamy texture is achieved without having to use any dairy products. Silver has this dish on the menu of his cafe Second Helping in Brooklyn for more than a decade and it’s easy to see why. This is the perfect type of dish to make a big batch of to have some meals ready for later on.
Aloo Mattar – Potatoes and Green Peas in a Curry Tomato Sauce by Darshana Thanker
Whenever I see a curry recipe that uses a culmination of herbs and spices to create the desired flavor rather than opting for a curry powder, I’m on board. Through following several recipes from Richa Hingle of Vegan Richa I learned that a good curry has layers and this recipe, which was passed down to Darshana by her mother, is a shining example of that. The balance of hearty potatoes and exuberantly nutrient-rich peas make this a nourishing and budget friendly dish that’s relatively easy to make.
Cuban-Gone-Conscious Black Beans and Quinoa by Angela Carrasco & Sam Polk
Cuban food is most definitely not synonymous with plant based dishes, but this vegan twist on a Cuban classic marries the best of both worlds by pairing all those time-honored flavors and techniques with satisfying ingredients like black beans, corn and the notoriously powerful superfood, quinoa. Sam Polk is a former Wall Street executive who left his corporate job to form Groceryships in Los Angles which provides low income families, often struggling with obesity, with healthy, affordable foods and this recipe is a shining example of what can be done without spending much on ingredients. This particular dish was inspired by Carrasco’s grandmother and is a dish that’s light on the budget, but not on flavor or nutrition.
Ultra Meatless Tempeh Loaf by Rich Roll
When I was growing up, meatloaf was a staple in our home. It’s filling, makes great leftovers and can by modified to suit a wide variety of pallets. With this recipe, ultramarthoner and author Rich Roll provides an authentic alternative that’s easy to make and loaded with flavor. Much like burgers, I think it’s the form and flavors that are most loved about this type of dish, rather than the meat that they’re often comprised of. The texture, taste and presentation are replicated to a tee here using tempeh to achieve that archetypical meatiness. I think tempeh is an underutilized substitute for meat and I love it’s application in this recipe. Tempeh is soy based and unlike seitan or other recently created and gluten based products, it’s been around for centuries and is cultivated through fermentation, a process I adore. The tempeh, along with a handful of other veggies, nuts and flavors culminate in a deeply satisfying plant based take on a dish quintessential to dinner tables across the country.
There’s a lot to love about this book and whether you pick up a copy, check out their website or visit one of their locations, any type of interaction with Farm Sanctuary is sure to be an insightful one. Gene Baur, and the whole team behind Farm Sanctuary, continue to do immensely important work. By purchasing this book, you’re not only getting the joy of it’s message and contents, you’re supporting their efforts to save thousands of animals, educate people in droves and make incalculable positive environmental impacts. The blend of education, photography and recipes result in a book that should be in anyone’s library who wants to eat more mindfully and deepen their understanding of what the life of an animal can be.
Through my health transition I’ve tried many different dietary lifestyles. I’m always making tweaks and trying new things and the most clear way for me to tell how something I consume impacts me is the effect is has on my digestion. Wether you’re plant based or not, we’ve all had times of bloating, gas or other tell tale signs of something going awry internally and these 11 tips will help combat and prevent these uncomfortable feelings. Consider these more as guidelines than rules though. It’s not about perfection and every day of eating is just a micro section of a macro story so just bear these in mind, no need to stress over them. They’re meant to reduce the release of cortisol, not increase it : )
I could write a whole article about any one of these tips but I tried to keep it brief so I could cover the topic of digestion more wholly because much like nutrition, a reductionist approach to a topic as vast a digestion would ignore the complexities that are so important for garnering a deeper understanding.
Portion Size – Generally speaking, within America our portion sizes have gotten a bit out of hand. Our stomachs can only handle so much and even though the distance from our bellies to our brains is not a long journey, it takes a little while for the signal sent from out stomach saying that we’re full to reach our brains. So if we stop eating before we feel stuffed it makes digestion a lot easier. Think of it like doing dishes. Having a few dirty dishes in the sink to work through is a breeze. Letting them stack up makes it more difficult to operate. This is especially true if the foods you’re eating are dry, processed or cooked. So as counterintuitive as it may seem, eating less can actually provide more energy.
Food Combining – The day I learned about food combing was a sort of paradigm shift for me. Some aspects were quite a surprise, others felt like they were obvious oversights relative to the amount I focused on what I ate. Food Combining is more about how we eat than what we eat. At the time a major part of my diet came from fruit so learning about the different categories of fruit and how they interacted once they’re in the stomach was a major help. While a smoothie of banana, kiwi and coconut might sound like a tropical delight, it also is a recipe for gas. Mixing acid fruit with sweet fruit is a combo to avoid on it’s own, adding in the fatty fruit coconut to the mix is going to make it a rough experience because these all digest differently and their levels of acidity don’t mix well. The main food combining surprise for me was that protein (especially animal based) and starches are best eaten separately. So this means the old meat and potatoes meal is best to avoid because those 2 things take more digestive enzymes than any other types of food to digest, so by not overburdening the body with too much at once digestion will flow better leaving more energy for other processes. If the concept of food combining is foreign just do a little digging into it and the foods you generally consume, check various sources and experiment a bit.
Timing – I used to snack all day long. I’d get bored as work and nibble on little things to keep me going. Now I prefer 1 or 2 solid meals a day without snacking in between and follow intermittent fasting for physical and mental reasons. When you have those set times for lunch and dinner, the lingering thoughts of grabbing a snack dissipate. I eat between 12 – 8pm and outside of those hours let me system rest. I do drink liquids all day though because they take little to no effort to digest and there’s no change of overlapping meals, which causes fermentation in the gut. This also gets rid of late night snacking which helps with mental clarity. It’s helpful to stop eating several hours before bed because as we start to wind down for the evening so does our digestive system. By eating late at night we increase the odds of leaving food undigested which causes grogginess. Also those late night snacks often are not great foods to be eating anyways and will stick to us more than if we’d let them full digest. So by keeping a regular rhythm our bodies are able to better handle what we’re sending into them.
Movement – The benefits of walking after a meal are well known but doing just 15 – 30 minutes of movement in some form ahead of eating helps create space in the body and gets our system woken up and ready to process the meal. If we’re outwardly stagnant, we will be inwardly as well. Movements like yoga, rebounding, jogging or anything that gets your body in motion before or after digestion will aid the process immensely.
Herbs – After going plant based I felt like I had a good rotation of herbs in my diet but sprinkling my dinner with dried oregano isn’t quite what I’m referring to here. In the last year I’ve been looking into herbs much more and getting stronger, Ayurvedic herbs into my rotation, mostly through tea. So wether you’re looking to improve digestion, reduce inflammation or any bodily shift, there’s almost certainly an herb to support your endeavor. I’ve been enjoying nettle tea almost daily now after Audrey Barron of Ezra’s Enlighten Cafe laid out some of it’s powerful healing properties and I can feel a major difference. I have it at night or in the morning usually paired with a few other herbs and it helps to break down my dinner along with a whole host of other benefits. Herbs and tea can be so fun to experiment with and there’s seemingly endless varieties to choose from.
Fermented Foods / Probiotics – If you follow my instagram page you’re probably well aware of my love for fermented and cultured foods. Culinarily, I just love creating them and incorporating them into dishes because they add such a depth of flavor to all sorts of dishes. My salads often feel incomplete without a fermented component. While I do love the taste, it’s the gut related benefits that resonate with me the deepest. Having some probiotic rich foods along with a meal can help digestion immensely. However if you don’t like the taste of fermented foods along with your meal there are plenty of probiotic supplements on the market that help promote the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Take those at night, then while you sleep the billions of microorganisms will go to work while you rest.
Mood – While digestion is predominantly a physical process there are absolutely nonphysical aspects to it. If we eat when we’re in a bad mood or feeling hectic our body will be in a state of distress which makes digestion and absorption of the food much more difficult. If I need to calm myself ahead of a meal, taking some deep breaths or standing outside on the Earth barefoot are fantastic ways to get grounded so I can go into the meal in a more calm and grateful manner.
Enzymes – Much like probiotics, enzymes can be incorporated though food or supplements. Our bodies need enzymes for every function from digesting our food to blinking our eyes and by adding more than we use up we can stay vibrant and energetic. Once fresh food is heated over 118 degrees the living enzymes start to die, this is what draws so many people to raw foods. Through raw foods we can load up on enzymes and it makes operating a lot easier. If you aren’t getting much raw food in your diet, supplementing enzymes is something I highly recommend. Take enzymes along with a meal to help digest it if the meal doesn’t have enough digestive enzymes in to really be processed effectively. I’m completely raw and still use enzymes sometimes. When I do take a big scoop, I feel the benefits big time. Enzyme supplements are great while you’re fasting or with a drink in the morning because they help to clear out and break down matter thats stored within the GI tract.
Plants – You don’t have to go fully plant based to let plants help your digestion. Salads are one of the best tools for digestion because all that plant material feeds our gut microflora while the fiber helps to move things through like a broom. So even if you’re going to have a hamburger, putting it on a bed of greens and veggies instead of a bun is a move your digestive system will thank you for.
Sequential Eating – This goes hand and hand with food combining. Staying mindful of how slow or fast foods digest and eating them in the appropriate order really helps with bloating and gas. Think about 2 trains leaving a station on the same track. First a slower moving one goes, then shortly after a faster one. Thats a recipe for trouble and by thinking of food in these terms bloating, gas and other digestive issues can be side stepped. Fruit should be eaten first since it moves the fastest. Since melons have the highest water content of any food, they should always be eaten first, even ahead of other fruits. They’re really best as the first thing in the day so the stomach can be empty.
Hydration – Staying hydrated helps the body in some many ways and digestion is certainly one of them. The odd thing about it is that while drinking water is great for the body, there’s certain times where it’s better than others. Drinking water ahead of a meal can help to “grease the wheels” of your digestive system in a beneficial way but drinking water during a meal can actually slow down digestion. Drinking water along with food can dilute stomach acids and enzymes. I wish this issue were a cut and dry one (pun absolutely intended) but there’s a lot of nuances to it regarding what food is being eaten. Most food needs all the hydrochloric acid it can get to digest it so diluting that with water will inhibit timely or full digestion, while others glide through the GI tract so easily, such as fruit or leafy greens, that having some water at the time of the meal won’t disrupt digestion much at all. These foods have such a high water content they travel through the GI tract without needing to generate hydrochloric acid for effective digestion. This is one of the reasons a raw vegan lifestyle is so beneficial. Unless someones only eating nuts and seeds, all their meals will have a high water content which helps to keep hydrated. The water in plants is also some of the best water available because it has been filtered and structured through the plants. However most people don’t live this way and should do what they can to help digest foods that don’t move through the body so easily. Starchy foods need some water along with them to help move them along because they are so dry and challenging for our bodies to process. If a food is dry it will pull water from the body to digest itself leaving the body more dehydrated which can be a drain on energy. I usually drink about a liter of water in the morning to get hydrated for the day and flush out and toxins released over the night then stay hydrated through the day with fresh juices and high water content food but if you’re prone to starchy, dry foods, keep the water flowing in so food doesn’t become stagnant.
There are so many variables involved with digestion and these few tips cover a fraction of ways to aid the process but certainly don’t encapsulate everything. My hope is with some of these tips that have been helpful to me you may experience some improvements that lead to better bodily function and increased energy. If you have any questions, please send them my way and I’ll do my best to answer them.
It’s hard to say if Broad Ripple is one of my favorite neighborhoods because of Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe or if Ezra’s is my favorite restaurant because it’s in Broad Ripple but as owner Audrey Barron said, “it’s probably a mix of everything”. That sounds about right to me, and it’s a fitting answer from Barron, since Ezra’s is itself an alchemy of many elements. From their nearby farm that produces everything from fruit to wild herbs, the monthly offering of classes and the recently formed yoga platform at the farm for communal events, there’s a lot more to this cafe beyond the vibrant plant based cuisine.
As her college days were wrapping up, Audrey began to make shifts in her dietary lifestyle as a means of improving her health which had gone the way of most college students after utilizing the cafeterias and restaurants populating campuses coast to coast. Unlike most, Audrey became aware of these new habits and the effects they were beginning to have and took action to restore her health. Now it’s not just her own health that she’s guiding, but the health of her family, Indianapolis and abroad.
The joyous atmosphere and welcoming energy of Ezra’s permeates the area that it’s so perfectly cocooned within. Once the space is in view it’s clear how bright of a beacon this repurposed space has become. This was my third meal at Ezra’s and each time there’s been a steady flow of regulars, those wise souls hip to the vibration Ezra’s exudes. With an expansive and eclectic menu it’s easy to see how one could easily become what Norm was to Cheers.
The cafe is named after Audrey’s son and though I’m not a parent myself I was curious to hear her take on how she handles her son’s dietary choices. I have a deep respect for Audrey’s approach to this. While she does pack his lunch and make desserts for him to take to parties, she’s aware there may be times with friends where he opts for some unhealthy foods, but knows this is all part of the learning experience and his choices are his own. By providing Ezra with options, and more importantly, the information to back them up, she’s truly letting him decide to follow a path towards a healthy life.
The reason I love places like Ezra’s is because you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it and that’s crucial to get people introduced to plant based foods, whether raw or cooked. When I first went plant based I basically ate stir fries, pizza, or when I was still doing eggs, frittatas, because I could work in new ingredients. I simply didn’t know what to do in the kitchen with plants. There’s immediate value in every dish ordered from Ezra’s because they’re overflowing with flavor and made with organic, often local ingredients that do the body good, but it’s the influence that each dish may induce that’s beyond calculation. The author John Green once said if you want to be great writer you’ve got to read, and read a lot. I think the same about anyone looking to expand their capabilities in the kitchen. Whether that’s in a more formal setting like one of the monthly classes offered through Ezra’s or by simply trying dishes or ingredients outside of your comfort zone, exploration is a powerful precursor to inspiration.
About 10 years ago Audrey graduated from the Living Light Culinary Institute and her expertise shows, not because the dishes are outlandishly gourmet, but because they are so balanced. From my understanding, one of the main purposes of Ezra’s is to spread education. By creating over the top dishes, the creation of which are beyond comprehension to most, plant based foods could seem to be of an unattainable league. The other side of that coin is that going too simple makes it difficult for newcomers to get excited about. The dishes at Ezra’s are impressive, but there remains a trace of, “I think I could make something like this at home”, which is so vital in generating shifts within customers, rather than leaving healthy foods as an occasional fare.
I sampled a few of their raw offerings and but they offer a fabulous array of cooked food as well. If I weren’t raw, I would be all over the Nacho Mama’s Bean Bowl ; ) Ahead of lunch I had a wonderful talk with Audrey, covering everything from her history, to our share love of musk melons, one of the luxuries of our shared Midwest residencies. While we conversed, I enjoyed an uplifting Blissful You elixir shot made with and their exceptionally refreshing Green Goddess juice. The cafe is lined with teas for sale, information about herbs painted on the walls and the conversation between Barron and I continually led back to herbs and their powerful properties, so I’m glad to have enjoyed one of Ezra’s many herbal offerings before digging into my meal. While many aspects of a healthy diet are ancient, there are plenty of recent innovations and Barron clearly has a sharp eye on both aspects. Seeing the option of adding CBD to drinks and some of my favorite superfoods as add ons for smoothies allows for more medicinal and personalized meals, but also signaled a level of understanding that’s hard to come by, even within vegan food businesses. The morning started brisk but it warmed up quickly so the cooling cucumber in the juice was especially welcomed. At home I just don’t find myself juicing apples too often and I forgot there was some in the juice, so when I tasted it I lit up! It was balanced perfectly, just the right amount of sweet along with the rest of the mix.
For my meal I went with a slice of pizza and the avocado bagel, both of which were raw and beautifully crafted. Oddly, the main thing I loved about the pizza was the onion. It had the perfect amount to give the dish a pop but wasn’t leaned on to generate the overall flavor of the pizza. As the picture shows, the pizza is covered in kale. Some people would be turned off by this but I’m quite the opposite. That being said, even though I do love greens, I still want pizza to taste like pizza whether it’s raw or cooked and this dish did not disappoint.
That was followed up with a pleasant surprise from the avocado bagel. Honestly, I was bracing to bite into an oversized flax cracker with some avocado and other toppings but the texture of the bagel was soft and the density was true to form. As if the spot on texture and artfully coordinated flavors weren’t enough, that plate is presented in way reminiscent of fine dining not usually synonymous with vegan fare. It’s that level of craftsmanship, forethought and care that shine through in everything done at Ezra’s making it more than you’re average health food spot. It’s no wonder that after over 150 reviews on Facebook they have an impressive average rating of 4.9 out of 5.
Hands down the best deal I’ve every seen on a raw vegan meal from a restaurant goes to the Buddha Bowl at Ezra’s. As Audrey and I concurred, it’s like the salad we make at home! It’s got all the goodies. Fermented foods, sprouts, falafel balls and a tahini dressing that pulls everything together. The portion is generous and I knew it would be too much for me this go around if I wanted to sample other things but to review this cafe and not mention this dish that’s among their top sellers would be an obscene oversight. One of my favorite things about the dish is that it’s not overtly raw. Whether you’re into raw foods or not, this is just a damn good looking dish with the flavor to back it up.
I loved all the savory, veg heavy dishes but it’s the desserts that were calling my name ahead of my day trip to Indy. While I could eat a whole tray of my personal favorite, Sam’s Brownie, instead I got 1 small piece of several different options because I’m just professional like that : ) Like I mention in my review of Chicago Raw, I’m more critical than the average customer. All the desserts I tried were outstanding but I would like to see some labeled as no bake rather than raw if they use ingredients that aren’t raw such as maple syrup. It’s not a big deal and 99% of customers won’t mind but it is a bit misleading. That being said, I still enjoyed them because if you get too rigorous with exclusionary rules it can soak the fun out of life at times and I’m not going to stress what was probably a collective tablespoon of maple syrup, one of the best sweeteners on the market. So even though these desserts were a bit of a guilt pleasure for me, they were still a superb and welcomed delight.
I tried the Almond Fudge Brownie, Sam’s Brownie, all 3 types of mini doughnuts and after walking around Broad Ripple a bit I circled back for a CBD chocolate. I knew well in advance that I’d be getting the Sam’s Brownie and it was as glorious as I remembered. As I type this I’m kicking myself for not buying extra to take home. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The display case had about 20 different options with the top selling being the Key Lime Cheesecake. I haven’t been eating cashews much lately but in my time at Ezra’s multiple people commented on it being a must try. It was even featured on the Food Network. So if you’re going to Ezra’s, be sure to grab at least one decadent dessert because unlike most sweet treats, these are made with whole, plant based ingredients that you’re body will truly appreciate.
Before the cafe opened Barron was doing workshops around Indy and her knowledge clearly translates into the dishes. Our conversation was incredibly inspirational to me personally and while all the food was wonderful, it was that conversation that particularly had me feeling a deep sense of joy. I admire so much about Ezra’s and all of the work Audrey does. I’m so grateful we were able to connect. I fell in love with plant based foods a few years ago and knew it was a path that I wouldn’t walk passively. I want to spread this love through many forms, much like how Audrey has done. She’s the type of person I look up to. A true rock star in my eyes.
While Audrey is certainly the captain of the ship, the rest of the staff are vital in making Ezra’s such a warm and positive experience. The manager Evan was exceptionally hospitable and the whole team was just so happy, a detail which speaks volumes about the cafe to me. Every time I’ve been in it seems like the most fun place to work and that energy is weaved into everything about Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe. I’ve never seen an unhappy personal there. How could you be with such a beautiful setting, radiant plant foods and a staff of people that my be strangers but feel like friends. I so look forward to my next chance to enjoy what Ezra’s has to offer because as Audrey’s story shows, when someone has a strong vision and the work ethic to back it, the possibilities are boundless.
Much like how vegetarians and vegans are often berated with questions about their protein intake, if you go raw, prepare to explain why you made that choice, a lot. For me, it’s just not as clear cut at the protein ordeal is. That can be cast aside by respectfully laying out the science and just being a generally healthy person. If you look like you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not really in a great position to justify unorthodox health practices to others. Going from cooked to raw is just so uncommon and unfamiliar that most people don’t know why anyone would do it because they don’t understand the concept, whereas with going vegan, the motives are pretty well understood to others without much explanation.
I don’t have a short answer for the question of why I’m raw and my answer will have a wide variance depending on who I’m talking to. I’m going to cover most of the ins and outs of why I’m raw here to provide some history beyond what I included in my story and to further articulate the beauty of raw living foods.
When I first heard about raw foods, I had a lot of assumptions. The word raw was already in my vocabulary so I thought I understood the gist of it fairly well but quickly learned there was more to it than uncooked food. Raw foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that have not been heated about 118 degrees. This preserves the enzymes and refrains from destroying many other essential components of the plants. By having the foods at their maximum vibrancy, we in turn take in that living water, light and energy.
I love experimenting. So, for most of 2016 I was trying out all kinds of different dietary lifestyles for various lengths of time. I’d been incorporating more raw foods into my diet over the past year and had done a few days or a week where I’d be all raw. I didn’t do for long enough to really feel the difference though. Mostly just long enough to understand that it’s tough, and I had some work to do before making that leap. I knew from going vegetarian, and then gluten free, that while there are some pronounced effects over the first couple days, after several weeks the deeper understanding sets in as the short term withdrawals pass. So I planned to do 30 days in a row all raw. I was mostly raw at this point, smoothes all day and a cooked dinner in the evening. I didn’t think that it’d be a big change really. I was so close to being raw. Could 1 meal a day really make a big difference?
By this point I’d already let go of alcohol but there were other, less apparent crutches that came to light. I was using some processed foods, all organic, but still, they were little time savers or just helpful for the budget. Those had to go, meaning I would need to allocate more forethought and time into preparing my meals if I wanted to eat things besides banana smoothies. This is what excited me about raw foods.
I love learning and like most of us I learn especially well through personal experience. I knew if I jumped into the swimming pool of raw foods, I wouldn’t sink. I put as much energy as I could into becoming knowledgeable about raw foods while using every meal as an opportunity to learn more techniques and refine my capabilities. I didn’t want to just get by on basic meals. I knew that ship would run out of steam real quick. I decided to educate myself faster than I could even put the new knowledge into practice so I would always have ideas in the bank.
There’s basically a vegan version of everything these days. Whether it’s homemade or prepackaged and processed, it’s a pretty easy time to go plant based. Raw on the other hand, doesn’t have that net of info, recipes and products behind it to the extent that cooked vegan food does. Much like going plant based in Peoria, a city devoid of meatless restaurant options, this worked to my benefit because I wanted to create original versions of the the cooked foods I loved while also seeing what sort of content these new parameters would foster without relying on others through the process. While creativity is undoubtedly boundless, working within some confines can help produce something with it’s own unique flair. When I made a raw dish it just felt so different. That’s one of the aspects that kept me excited.
Next was the exuberant shift in my energy. I can’t honestly say I had any type of spiritual revelations in the beginning, though there was certainly a change, those aspects would develop as more time passed. It was the physical side that provided the strongest contrast in the beginning. By eliminating any processed foods and swapping my heavier cooked meal at night for a lighter, raw option, a new level of energy was unlocked. I used to eat dinner and wind down. With raw foods, I ate dinner and it was like rocket fuel. I’d stay up late getting work done on personal projects like I’d taken some sort of stimulant. My roommate at the time was having similar experiences. He makes electronic music and would always be down to try what I was whipping up in the kitchen. The day after a raw meal it was common for him to say that he’d been up until the wee a.m. hours working on beats, just flying off the raw foods. That’s one of the major reasons I stay with raw foods. It’s a high I just don’t want to come down from. With the experiment being so controlled, I knew it was the raw foods taking my energy to new heights. Sometimes when people make a change, they may also change their exercise regimen, reduce their calorie intake, or another type of health improvement at the same time. I didn’t want to wonder if it was a combination of things leading to my increased wellness so I kept as much about my routine the same as I could to maintain the control of my personal experiment. So why am I telling you this? Because that feeling of increased energy hasn’t subsided, it’s continued to grow.
After finishing 30 days raw I went back to a diet of mostly raw foods and sometimes a cooked dinner, thinking maybe the energy would be comparable. Maybe being mostly raw could be the same as being fully raw. It’s not even close. It may have felt so different because I had just been all raw, but at night after dinner I felt as if I’d shifted down a gear and in the mornings I could feel a distinct difference. I stuck with the cooked dinners for awhile to insure it wasn’t just an initial variance but low and behold those feelings stayed and after a few weeks I knew going raw was the path for me, all I had to do was commit to taking the plunge.
There’s a lot of reasons to not go completely raw. From the social aspects, to the relentless self reliance. It meant when I’m traveling I have to be well prepared. It means unless I’m in a city with a raw restaurant, if I want to have a meal with someone, it’s going to be at home. That was one of the biggest challenges for me. My dating history at this time was brief to say the least and adding this social limitation to the mix felt like I was moving in a direction that drastically limited the potential for new connections. After I stopped drinking alcohol I realized just how much happens over drinks in settings that blur the line between work and socializing. From networking for business, to romance, it all seemed to revolve around drinking. With alcohol out of the picture, now cooked foods and by proxy, restaurants, I felt like I was creating a decidedly lonely path. I grappled with this for awhile because I felt that going back and forth negated the type of progress I was looking for. I wasn’t going raw for a cleanse, or a restart, I wanted to continually go deeper and I felt that going all in on a raw living food diet was the true path for me.
I wanted to live, eat and feel a certain way regardless of what the current food landscape looked like. In the beginning it was easier for me to see the challenges than the benefits but as things balanced out over time it was continually reaffirmed to me through personal experience that this was the wavelength I wanted to ride. I got into a plant based lifestyle because it’s what felt right for me, not because of my surroundings, and though it felt like I was gambling with my own potential happiness, I knew I was following my inner compass. That direction supersedes any momentary or social impulse for me. However, listening to that voice is the real challenge. Sometimes we get answers that parts of ourselves don’t want to hear. We can generate excuses. Form logic to persuade ourselves backwards by justifying the highlights and ignoring the downsides. If we take some time to relax, focus and let the mental chatter dissipate, the answer usually becomes clear.
On October 1st 2016 I had my last my cooked meal at a vegan food festival in Chicago. It was bittersweet in a lot of ways. I’d been raw for about 2 months going into the festival and anticipated more raw options but after enjoying a small mango smoothie, it was clear that was the only raw dish offered. I’d planned this trip to Chicago with friends months in advance and quickly realized that not eating would be a disservice to what was supposed to be a celebration of plant based foods with two dear friends how had recently gone plant based. I figured if I’m going to be raw for the foreseeable future, one last hurrah with my friends would be a good send off for cooked foods. It was great to indulge in 2 different cooked dishes but they also exemplified why I was going raw. They were labeled organic but still had some things in there that weren’t so great. When I saw the ingredients I couldn’t help but see them through a new lens. I knew the roasted cashews would promote the formation of long chain trans fatty acids. The flatbread was made with some good ingredients and some not so good ones. The vegetable stock used in a curry dish had so much sodium that the salty taste was overpowering. I just couldn’t relax and enjoy the dishes without examining their ingredients. I knew that going raw wasn’t only a fantastic means of quality control for my body, but never having to wonder would bring peace of mind as well.
On my blog I share lots of recipes of my own creation as well as others from sources I trust and I include both raw and cooked recipes. I do this because it would have taken a lot of convincing for me to go from a diet that’s pretty standard in America over to raw vegan. Cooked plant based foods can be a vital step in the journey. There’s no need to rush your transition if you aren’t needing something helped immediately. I recommend going slow and utilizing all the beautiful whole foods nature has to offer whether you cook them or enjoy them raw. That’s how I learned to work with plant foods and I’m much more capable in the kitchen because of my cooked food days even though some of what I learned may not directly apply to raw foods. While cooked whole foods on a plant based diet certainly have their place, I don’t honestly believe they’re what we’re meant to be consuming. Cooking food ruins their living water that’s so vital for our bodies. We are comprised of living cells that use enzymes for just about every function in our body. When food is cooked, those enzymes are destroyed so we use up our our reserves to digest the food. Over time if we’re not replenishing our own enzymes we become depleted. This is what happens to most people around age 30. They’ve had years of withdrawing their own enzymes without making enough deposits back into their bank. While there’s still lots of nutrients in cooked food, it’s the raw, living foods that truly nourish and regenerate our bodies on a cellular level. That higher energy level from raw foods I mentioned is what I believe we’re meant to feel like all the time, it’s just not a feeling that’s nurtured by our current world. We’re all radiant beings filled with the light of life, it’s up to us to decide how much we want to diffuse that light. As I chip away at the build up of my own habits and the societal programming instilled within most of us, more light and love are able emanate from me and outwards to others.
The stereotype of the preachy vegan been around for years and I often think back to an old joke, “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you”. I make conscious efforts to be the opposite of that because pretension can be a slippery slope for those interested in plant based lifestyles. It’s easy to come off sounding high and mighty when passionately describing newfound ways of living. This is multiplied exponentially with raw foods. When so much of my reasoning for being raw in centered around nonphysical aspects, it can be hard to communicate what I’m thinking and feeling to someone who may not understand. It’s sort of like trying to describe a color. As time flows and I take my detoxification further, my love and understanding of raw foods and their impact on me continues to deepen. I so wish I could feel what it will be like 30 years from now, after decades of progress.
Though there’s ups and downs, overall it’s a steady incline upwards in terms of energy, peace and connection. When I say raw foods make me happy I’m not referring to the stimulation from the food. Moving away from foods that do not serve me and only bringing in foods of the upmost vibrancy allows me to be my truest self. As old layers fall away I’m getting to the core of my being. This brings a deeply profound joy into my life which at this stage in my days I can’t imagine living without.
I grew up in Catholic schools but after my mom passed away when I was 9 I lost whatever scraps of faith I may have established so far in my short life. A whole school full of kids praying for one mom’s cancer to subside, and no answer from God. I didn’t just lose my faith, over time, I became angry with God. I said awful things about Him. I laughed at the lessons being shared in my religion classes and was quick to admonish anything religious. After high school, when I started to attain some real independence, I began to understand the world around me through my own perspective, rather than in relation to any sort of dogmas. I felt like there was an energy binding the world together. A presence that was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. However I still couldn’t bring myself to use the word “God” for it. As I left adolescence, I started having esoteric experiences, mostly through the use of psychedelics, which were integral in opening my mind to altered understandings of the world around me. This seems to be a common trend with raw foodists. We explore the bounds of consciousness. We seek adventures of the mind and spirit. We know there’s another layer to this world beyond the physical and we want to experience it. There are wavelengths beyond the cerebral. We can corroborate with the seemingly intangible or divine energies when we open ourselves up to them through detoxification, prayer and other types of focus work. I started feeling closer to God as I proceeded to edulcorate my diet because that in turn shifted my focus. It’s not about eating a mango instead of a pastry, it’s about the mindset that goes along with it. Weeks and months passed of loving raw foods and it was an experience in South America that firmly built the bridge between what I was doing with my dietary lifestyle and the direct connection it had to my spiritual life. After that experience, I was comfortable using the term God for the higher power I’d been feeling. Not only did a raw food lifestyle help to establish my connection to God, it was necessary motivation to start working on that relationship, bringing a meaning to life I’d never felt before.
So when I’m asked why I’m raw, I hesitate. I feel out how much or how little I should divulge. The challenge is that the aspects that take more time and understanding to effectively communicate are also the stronger reasonings. Circumstances may not always lend themselves towards offering complete explanations and with something as close to my heart as raw foods, I felt like explaining my motives all in one place for anyone who may be interested. The frame of mind enabled by raw foods is the catalyst for so much in my life. It took about 3 years of cooked plant based food from the time I started my dietary changes before I went raw. Those 3 years were some of the most important of my life. Without the rock solid foundation they provided, I wouldn’t be able to walk this path as surefooted as I’m able to now. I thank God every day for allowing me the strength to get to where I am and for my drive to keep learning, not solely for my own gain, but so I can better serve Him and those around me.
After summer in 2017 I felt like doing a bit of cleansing, but this time I wanted to take things further than I had before. Prior to this fast my longest was 15 days, during which I also did a psyllium husk and bentonite clay cleanse, which added some intensity to the last leg of that detoxification marathon. Like fasts often do, this one had it’s ups and downs. Without any sort of buffers or immediate means of stress relief, when the going gets tough, there’s no shying away from the challenges. On the other hand, when the body is so flushed out and nourished by fresh juices, unbelievable peaks arise making the whole experience a 3 week long physical, emotional and spiritual roller coaster that leaves me with a feeling unlike anything else.
This article just covers one story I felt like sharing. The experience is different for me each time and surely will be for you as well. Some of it was written right after finishing the fast and other parts I’ve weaved in recently to round it out a bit. This is a story of not only the longest, but the most difficult fast I’ve gone through. I have had fasts that are radiant joy for the overwhelming majority of the duration, this just happened to not go that way due to a variety of factors. That’s partially what I wanted to cover. Not to show struggle, but to explain how sometimes fasting, though it comes with it’s own challenges, can actually be something beneficial to practice during difficult times of life to see more help address the issues at hand more clearly. I started Easy Going Plant Based to share information, but also experience, in the hopes that my own history and perspective may be helpful to others. Fasting is something I’ll be writing more about on here, along with some other topics I touch on, but for this article I just wanted to narrow in on one specific story. This particular article happens to get deeply personal. If you find this sort of thing interesting or useful in some way, I’d love to hear from you. Thank you for reading.
The holidays were more important to me than ever at the time as my family had been going through some challenges and I wanted to foster connection as much as possible. I felt if I was juice fasting it would add a poorly timed layer of alienation so I knew I wanted to wrap it up before Thanksgiving. After a summer filled with travels and various explorations it was time for some detox and I knew this window of days would be perfect, and that’s the first key to a successful juice fast. If simply having to juice however much you need is going to add an overwhelming amount of disruption, then it’s not a good time to push yourself. I juice regularly and know I can clean my juicer in 10-15 minutes so it’s not too tough to work into a routine. I use a Green Star Elite juicer which produces juice that keeps for 3 days with minimal degradation. This is a major help because I can make big batches and run off them for a few days. I knew going into the fast that I could seamlessly shift my diet to liquids and still work my regular schedule while leaving enough time to actually focus on what’s happening internally which is incredibly important.
Juice fasting isn’t simply about passing the days. It’s about removing obstructions to allow deep physical and spiritual work to be carried out. Sleeping the days away during a fast is a disservice in my opinion. There certainly will be challenging days if you’re detoxing heavily or going for an extended period of time, days when getting out of bed seems like a monumental victory. The best advice I can give from my experience is to keep water near your bed so in the morning you can drink something right away. During the night major detoxification occurs whether you’re juice fasting or not. Our kidneys go through dialysis and flushing those expelled toxins out with a large serving of water is the best way to regain your clarity. When fasting, our bodies are able to release a lot of toxins that have built up in the form of both solids and gases. When those toxins are released, it’s best to get them right out as much as possible, to let more be released. I use enemas to work through the detox more quickly during fasting, not to get it over with, but to get more of it. The more colon cleansing is done, the further the detox can progress. Enemas should be done on an empty stomach anyways, but when you’ve been fasting for several days it’s easy to really work on that older stuff. This is why enemas and colonics are so helpful, but I’ll dive into that topic more in another article : )
I’d been on a raw vegan diet for just over a year at this point, and that, coupled with other detoxification practices, I’d gotten through a lot of detox ahead of this fast. Sure, there’s some initial hunger pangs around the 3rd day, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t worked through several times before. After about a week the physical aspects had balanced out letting the emotional and spiritual work take center stage. This is why I wanted to go for the length of time I did.
When you’re fasting, any internal issues you may be grappling with will come right up to the surface. Food and drink can be great distractions. They help us to deal with our troubles, allowing us to work through them at a pace we’re comfortable with. When our buffers are taken down, there’s no turning away. This allows for some major internal progress if we’re present and active through the experience. During this fast, it seemed like I had heightened levels of stress coming at me from every angle and without the reprieve of a hearty dinner or even a piece of fruit to lighten some of the burden, I was left engulfed in these stresses. So rather than just read or watch movies to distract myself, I contemplated what was on mind mind and why it was there. I thought about what aspects troubled me the most, and why I let them have that power. A reoccurring notion through the fast was that most of the anxieties in my life, whether short term or large scale, are of my own creation.
It was not an easy couple weeks for a lot of reasons, particularly some unrelated to fasting. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if my fasting was making the issues in other areas of my life more grandiose and burdensome, or if the circumstances would have been that difficult to handle regardless of whether I was fasting or living my typical way? I determined it was a mix of both and that ultimately I was meant to be fasting during this rough period of my life. With family, work and personal problems seeming to grow, I felt best equipped to combat them with a relentlessly focused mind rather than using distractions to let me handle them at a decreased rate. From my sharpened verbal communication, to my extra time spent focusing on the tribulations at hand, the results made it clear that this was the best state to be in for handling the issues and those involved with them. By working through the challenges, rather than deflecting, working around them or succumbing to their weight, I was able to better handle these strenuous circumstances, which helped me maintain my own stability and support the people around me, most of the time.
However, around days 13 – 15 I was on the verge of quitting. I needed some relief from the stress that was seeming to come from every angle, leaving me with no resting place. I was looking for something to tell me that’d be ok. When I prayed, I knew quitting wasn’t the answer and by talking things out with a close friend who is well versed in fasting I knew it was right for me to stay the course, to better understand these feelings, to break through them rather than retreat and I’m so glad I did. Fasting can feel lonely at times, while other moments bring connection of profound heights. You’re simply vibrating on a different wave length than those around you. Being on a raw food diet, I’m used to this in some ways, but fasting takes it to another level. This can lead to feeling less social than usual in some ways. I needed to talk though, not just just about fasting, but all the tribulations that were seeming to build up faster than I could handle. I knew my dear friend Stephen would be there for me and able to communicate with me fluidly with no need to hold anything back. He was the right friend at the right timed I’ll always remember the hours we spent talking around the 15th day because they were so vital.
Aside from feeling terribly lonely, I was starting to question whether I should even create this blog. I wondered if the content I was making was worth sharing. Would I run out of ideas soon and sheepishly end up abandoning the project I’d been so passionate about? I had trouble writing when I was in the later part of my fast because of the internal and external struggles and also from a creativity perspective, only making juice was getting old. I wanted to work on new recipes besides just juice. I wanted to spend my hours writing, but I just couldn’t. It felt like the bottom was falling out on everything. Having a friend to talk with and a strong faith in God served as a reminder that I’m not alone, ever. Just like juice fasting, verbalizing emotional difficulties is therapeutic, and at times, crucial.
I’m a firm believer that He never gives us more than we can handle and by focusing on why I felt the way I did I was able to learn more about myself and why I was where I was at that point in life. I knew going into the fast that feelings of alienation and loneliness were building up in me and a juice fast would certainly exacerbate them but it was undoubtedly the right thing to do at the time. I knew how much I wanted to start this website because it’s a pivotal stepping stone on my path towards a life where I continually dive deeper into what I’m passionate about.
Feelings of alienation that I’d had going into the fast began to grow in ways that couldn’t be ignored. I felt lonely because of being single for so much time. The apparent distance I was putting between myself and those around me as I pushed forward in an uncommon direction made me feel guilty. It felt like what had been such a clear truth to me was actually a selfish and misguided path deeper into my own anxiety.
Though prayer, conversation and meditation, I learned how much of a blessing the perceived loneliness genuinely was. If I had a romantic relationship or was going out every night, I wouldn’t have the time, energy or attention available to devote towards realizing my dreams at the level I’d like to be right now. Since this juice fast, I view my time so differently. I used to find as much time to be social with my spare hours and filled the remainder with creating content. Now, my free time is mostly used creating or learning and I go out when I need a break so I can come back recharged. Each minute or dollar spent on recreation unrelated to turning my dreams into reality is a conscious choice. I still have my fun and value any time I have with my friends, but I know dreams don’t just realize themselves so I stay mindful of where I’m sending my energy during an era when I can have so few distractions.
The 16th day felt like I was on the best drug of my life. My confidence was through the roof, with my ego absolutely silenced. It was freezing outside but felt like a beautiful summer day. I drove with the windows down carelessly while boisterously singing along to music loud enough to be heard a block away. Peace was restored. I felt like a snake that had shed it’s skin. I knew a rebound was imminent after the low points I was trudging through and God pulled me up in a way I’d never felt before.
Fasting isn’t about bringing on struggle. For me, it’s about chipping away at physical, emotional and spiritual buildup as a means of letting more of my inner light out to better serve God and understand my path. Letting go of spiritual binding I’d been complacent with through focus work and praying were both quintessential practices in allowing allowing me to absorb the burdensome feelings and converting them into deep, resounding joys. A few day went by of feeling good and I started to get signs spiritually, and physically that it was time to land the plane. I knew physically I was getting to the tipping point of not being able to handle the physical work of my job very well. Around the 19th day a coworker and I needed to move a 3′ x 7′ slab of granite. It can be done by 2 guys generally an we’d done several together but this time when we went to lift up I couldn’t stand. I knew instantly that I couldn’t lift my end. I gave it a few more tries and thought I was going to faint. My coworker seemed confused since only 2 months prior he and I loaded up a few slabs over the course of a couple weeks. I knew why this was though. I wrapped it up after 21 days and began transitioning back to solids and continuing to juice often. I started out with just fruit and eased back into tougher. Thanksgiving was only a few days away and I knew I was going to bring several raw vegan contributions this year. The timing worked out we’ll because I was more than ready for a big meal with my family.
Now, a few days after concluding the fast, I can honestly say that I feel like a new man. There are undoubtedly physical benefits, but I really perceive them as side effects of the spiritual and emotional cleansing because they’re all so intricately connected. My relationship with God has strengthened, I’m able to help my family in a deeper way and I can better understand what predicaments actually garner apprehension and which ones are just external forces trying to bring me down. As our bodies become cleaner our eyes can see with new clarity. This enhancement alone makes fasting worth it. I believe fasting can help to dissolve so many of our internal problems, which often cause the external ones, and it’s something I’ll be continuing to practice throughout my life. 3 years ago I did a 3 day juice fast and thought it was the most difficult physical challenge of my entire life. At that time, my diet was relatively clean vegetarian but my drug intake, particularly alcohol, was the most strenuous aspect to abstain from, even just for those brief 72 hours. However, in those 3 days I learned what my habits had culminated into and what I needed to work to move forward with my health and spirituality. So whether it’s a 3 day juice fast or an extended venture into detoxification, I can assure you there are insights to be had, and that your life, perception and understanding will be changed. During the difficult times of those 3 weeks, occassionally fasting felt like a mistake. Later I would realize the timing was a blessing and that He knew just what He was doing when events aligned as they did.
There was a period in my life when I was eating upwards of 10 bananas a day. While my banana intake has drastically changed since then, pound for pound they remain one of the most filling, affordable plant foods on the market that are available nearly anywhere, any time of year. After consuming untold amounts of this potassium rich and budget friendly fruit I started to wonder how a food like this, that comes from so far away, could be sold for so cheap. I looked around online and kept running into the book “Banana” by Dan Koeppel as what clearly seemed to be the preeminent source for the history of America’s most popular fruit. History was never really my strong suit in school and ahead of ordering the book I kept thinking back to those bland textbooks, devoid of any nuance that we had to siphon information from. Immediately after digging into the book it was evident that even though the book is packed with information, it’s miles away from the dull history books of my school days.
So how do bananas arrive to our stateside grocery stores able to be sold for less than a $1 a pound? Countries like Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and many of their neighbors were used as “banana republics”, a term penned by short story author O. Henry in his book “Cabbages & Kings”. When bananas first started hitting the shores of America, mostly in the New England region, the profit potential was blatant. Compared to other domestic fruits, bananas were, and remain, an exceptional deal. To secure the availability of this new and exciting tropical fruit, United Fruit Company, originally Boston Fruit, currently known as Chiquita, partnered with smaller, often politically unstable nations to establish massive banana farmlands.
After rising from janitor at a Boston Grocery store, Andrew Preston partnered with 7 other investors to bring Boston Fruit to the forefront of the banana import business. Preston told his partners he wanted bananas to be “more popular than apple” and his ambition shifted the fruit market in a colossal way. The ripening process poses some major limitations not only in banana importation, but most fresh foods and it was Preston who pushed for large scale refrigerated shipping, a revolutionary practice never seen before in the import business at such an expansive scale. This may sound like a no brainer of an idea but keep in mind, they weren’t able to use condensers or compressed gas to maintain low temperatures throughout the transatlantic voyage, it was done with blocks of ice. Much like the early tech investors of our era, Joseph Vaccaro saw the impending shift and bought up every ice factory along the Gulf Coast. This power move enabled him to start his own banana import business who would become United Fruit Company’s main competition, Standard Fruit Company, known these days as Dole.
A lot has changed since then, from the politics to the fruit itself. Much like today, back then coast to coast in America there was 1 type of banana, the Gros Michel which translates to Big Mike. After WWII the Gros Michel disappeared forever when Panama Disease began to quickly ravage plantation after plantation. Ironically, this thick-skinned fruit, one of the tougher ones available, is actually pretty weak when faced with a malady as brutal as Panama Disease. By 1960 the Gros Michel had disappeared leaving the banana industry on the brink of similar fate until a hero arose.
Today, when you pick up a bunch of bananas, unless you opt for plantains or are fortunate enough to find some of the smaller red varieties, it’s going o be a Cavendish. Banana species the world over from New Zealand to Latin America were all too susceptible to Panama Disease to replace the Gros Michel. The banana industry learned from their previous vulnerability and knew above strength, texture or taste, the replacement had to be able to resist Panama Disease and the Cavendish was able to fill that void. Thankfully it’s a tasty variety, though it’s said that the Gros Michel variety of yesteryear was much more flavorful and creamy.
While it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing with the Cavendish, it’s endured enough to remain the most widely eaten variety of fruit in America though globally, mangos still reign supreme, understandably so. God, I love mangos. However, it took more than just accessibility and a low price point to bring bananas to their ubiquitous level of popularity. As Koeppel details, the banana companies themselves played a strong hand in making sure bananas became an American staple, doing so through that exemplify the reach and power this burgeoning industry had already accrued. As mothers began feeding their babies mashed bananas, United Fruit began hiring doctors to endorse the practice, even promote it themselves in advertisements. Knowing that dethrowning cereal as the king of breakfast was a near impossibly, United Fruit originated and cemented the idea that sliced banana on top of cereal with milk was a complete and balanced breakfast. To cement this concept they began putting coupons for bananas on cereal boxes and established education departments devoted to generating and distributing materials that told of the fruits benefits to kids and adults alike. These ad campaigns were so deeply ingrained in society their reach can still be felt.
Like many thing in our world, from a consumer standpoint, the story of the banana is a triumphant one with an often unseen background of political and social injustice leading those doing the most work to get the short end of the stick in the ordeal. The conditions of workers, especially in nations where banana farming is far and away the most vital industry, like Guatemala, where conditions got so oppressive that things eventually boiled over, leading to wars and civic uprising, spearheaded by a young medical student by the name of Che Guevara.
“I tried to muster a group of young men like me to fight against the United Fruit adventures. In Guatemala it was necessary to fight but hardly anybody fought. It was necessary to resist and hardly anybody wanted to do that” – Che Guevara
Whether you’re a high carb vegan knocking back banana smoothies by the gallon or just an occasional banana eater, the story of this fruit is a fascinating one to investigate and Koeppel’s done an outstanding job of summarizing the tale in a intriguing and manageable way. With such an expansive history, the book could easily be twice the size but at around 250 pages it’s an approachable synopsis that had me engrossed from beginning to end. The revolutionary history of this universally loved fruit coupled with Koeppel’s seasoned investigative writing style make for an informative, surprising and concise abbreviation of a story the reaches farther than I’d imagined.