My name is Joe Zich and I’d like you to know a bit about me and what’s led me to the point I’m at today, so you can have a better sense of where I’m coming from in my writing and my notion to share certain work. I haven’t always lived the way I do now and never guessed I would have gone in this direction. I was always the pickiest eater until I began shifting things. Until I was 21 years old I ate like most everyone around me. It was a rare sighting to see me with a vegetable. I liked grapes and apples as a kid but never really thought about eating fruit as I grew up. I wasn’t into toppings or sauces all too much so I wasn’t even getting a slice of tomato here and there. From 17 – 21 my eating habits would serve as fine models of what not to do. Along with my regular rotation of fried foods, strategic dollar menu treasures and five dollar pizzas I was drinking beer on a basis that became all too regular. I’d always been slim but once I passed 22 I noticed the level of beer I drank had a quick impact on my size. I had a laboriously cultivated tolerance for alcohol which always made me feel like I had an upper hand on the vice. As for food, I wasn’t really aware of what an alternative would even look like, so overall I felt like I was doing alright. I was just doing what I’d always done and what I saw others doing. Then something made me decide I didn’t want to eat at fast food chains anymore which was the first domino to fall in the sequence of my health story.
I worked at a warehouse in the cornfields of Kickapoo, IL and the lunch options got redundant as time went by. I decided I wouldn’t eat at the adjacent fast food place along with a few others I just felt unwell about going to anymore. As this continued I began to look for more local options and opened my mind to trying new things, mostly through the Asian restaurants my neighborhood was surrounded by. I started to watch where my money was going and tried to eat at local places as much as possible. At this point I could fry an egg and make frozen pizza but I rarely even did that. I figured other places were better cooking than me, I’d have no dishes to clean up and I have no clue how to even begin making Egg Foo Young.
One night I was browsing through Netflix and saw a series of Ted Talks about food. Not so much about cooking, but about the food system and health. I remember staying up until 2 a.m. that night absolutely fascinated but what I was learning. The next day at work I was so excited to get home and dive back in knowing I had barely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg.
One of the first major changes I made was the water I drank. I started to drink only filtered water, using a pitcher I kept in the fridge. This is when I learned a lesson that has been a running theme throughout my research and practice with things of this nature, don’t assume something is what you hope it is. After a few months of using the pitcher I checked into what it does and does not filter out and was pretty disappointed. One of the main things I wanted filtered out was fluoride but low and behold it and a handful of other things weren’t filtered out so I started drink deionized water from a local health food store. Sure, refilling jugs at the store is more of a hassle than using a filtered pitcher but it was fulfilling to have such confidence that my water was what I wanted it to be. This showed me that as I continued to unearth startling and undeniable aspects of our food system it was going to come with some challenges. Did I want to know all these details? I felt fine so why should I worry about any of this? But my curiosity wouldn’t settle. I decided to learn as much as I could about our food system, both the good and the bad.
Much like with the water I drank, I wanted to know what was in the food I ate and began getting organic groceries as much as possible. Animal agriculture quickly became the unavoidable topic. I knew what was down that road and I didn’t want to look at it. Slowly I started to examine where the bulk of my food was coming from. At this time my diet primarily consisted of fried meat dishes and pizza. The tomato in the sauce of pizza would undoubtedly be my only semblance of a vegetable serving for days. I was a carnivore through and through. Swapping out my water was nothing compared for trading out my chicken for the unknown.
Pretty quick I knew my days of meat eating were numbered. So many reasons to go plant based accumulated making it clear what choices I wanted to be making. I knew I couldn’t do it overnight so from the beginning I went at my own pace (and still do) because I was so worried about stumbling and losing any progress I’d made. I started eating less chicken, beef and pork while increasing my seafood and vegetable intake. I used seafood as a stepping stone away from the other meats. I was doing stir fries, pizzas and even still grilling, but while I was using shrimp as the focal point of meals I was also learning to work with plant foods. I just kept trying different things in small amounts knowing I had to fill the void the shrimp would leave once I was ready to move on. This is where in one way I did make strides in improving my health but also began to swap one crutch for another.
There’s more options than ever for people looking to eat a plant based diet which is great in some respects. It’s all about what you’re looking to do. At this point my main hurdle was removing meat from my diet so things like store bought veggie burgers, meat substitutes and various vegetarian / vegan process foods served as my next stepping stone. Around this time I was looking into the difference between organic and conventional foods and started making meals at home more frequently. I frequented a local restaurant that is known to be the most health conscious in town, offering a variety of plant based and gluten free options but one day I had to ask the questions that I didn’t necessarily want the answer to. As I finished off my hoppy pint I asked the bartender if they made most things fresh and if they used organic ingredients, he looked both ways to insure the coast was clear, and leaned in to tell me, “you don’t want to know man”. I that’s when I realized I had to take things into my own hands as much as possible to truly get what I’m seeking rather than operating off assumptions. Losing a go to restaurant was a bummer but gaining the truth eclipsed the despair. I didn’t want to be fanatical about organic food, my main focus was removing meat from my diet and by occasional going to restaurants with friends or using some processed foods in the kitchen allowed me to deal with the implications of the transition at a manageable rate. I was doing all this to enjoy life more and though there were short term tribulations, I knew there was simply a bulk amount I had to get through before I came out the other side.
I needed to get more comfortable in the kitchen, not because of eating less meat, but because I never had been culinarily proficient in any capacity. By honing some skills in the kitchen it would be easier to be more self-reliant and use less processed foods. I was using a lot of eggs at this point and always knew that’d be the most difficult animal product for me to let go of. Eggs allowed me to to create filling dishes, keep exploring and getting used to all kinds of vegetables. I felt better about organic eggs than most processed foods because at least it’s a whole food.
My reasons for wanting to remove animal products and inorganic food from my diet was equally because of concern for my own health, peaceful protest by no longer contributing to factory farms & chemical companies and for ethic reasons regarding animals and the environment. I continued to refine things over the next several months. Incorporating new foods and letting others go. I was starting to cook a lot and even started baking. I loved it. I would spend all day doing recipe after recipe as practice. As my kitchen became stocked with a strong backbone of tools and ingredients I was learning fast and creating a space that encouraged progress. I looked for recipes with ingredients and kitchen gadgets I’d never used before. This practice allowed me to be more creative on my own. I knew what I liked but knowing how to produce it was tricky. I started to only learn vegan recipes, figuring it’s no use doing recipes that I’m actively trying to evolve beyond. Every new egg based recipe was just another thing that I’d eventually have to retire. I wasn’t using dairy or eggs around the house much anymore and once I stopped completely I could feel a sudden change.
Every time I would take a step, from switching the water I drank, to eliminating animal products I could feel a lightness. Like one of many veils had been removed and I could see a bit clearer. My energy grew in coordination with my progress along with a myriad of other physical and nonphysical benefits. I was feeling great despite the fact that I was drinking at least 1 beer basically every day, with my daily average hovering around 4 or 5. As the food I ate became cleaner I couldn’t ignore my alcohol consumption. I would read the label of anything I ate that came in a package but because alcohol, along with tobacco products, are curiously exempt from the law requiring them to list their reprehensible ingredients which enabled me to keep myself in blissful ignorance for years. I had even read that at bar it’s better to drink most beers than tap water because they’ll at least be filtered. I hunted for reasons to keep drinking. I clung to any report about the correlation between regular alcohol use and its supposed benefits, be it reduction in stress levels or antioxidants in wine. I knew that was a certain part of my brain grasping at straws, coping with it’s inevitable separation from the drug it loved so much since adolescence. Eventually I started to take little breaks from alcohol. It was alarmingly difficult at first which motivated me to continue because I felt alcohol was holding me back. There are undoubtedly social impacts to not eating meat and not drinking alcohol but I knew at a crossroads like this I had to do what felt right to me rather than focus on how it relates to others.
Around the same time I was starting to diminish my alcohol use a new friend told me about raw foods. Not since the first night watching those Ted Talks had I been so fascinated in anything. It was a paradigm shifting perspective and from the moment I learned about the concept it was constantly on my mind. I was totally perplexed by it. I reflected on a time a few years back, when discussing a friends recent decision to stop eating meat with a likeminded carnivorous compadre that it must be nearly impossible to get full, only to find myself in the throws of vegetarianism a few weeks later. But raw.. There’s no way I could make that leap. Not 100%.. that’s just not for me. In general though I liked the concept and began to incorporate more raw foods into my diet. It encompassed all the aspects of cleaner eating I was working toward but unknowingly dancing around at the same time. All whole foods with the maximum level of enzymes & nutrients sounded great to me and I still had plenty of misconceptions and apprehensions but above all the culinary confines were hard to get on board with. Just like with prior transitions, I edged forward at a pace that balanced pleasure with progress. I did a lot of wheat wraps with a cooked main component but the rest of the wraps filling would be raw to get accustomed with these original and unaltered textures I had overlooked. Smoothies became a major part of my life and after awhile I was drinking about 5 – 7 a week. Through smoothies I could substitute a raw meal for a cooked one while also delivering new ingredients I wasn’t getting elsewhere. I could feel the onset of a deeper lightening and that same excitement I kept finding throughout my journey resurfaced and served as my north star. Confusions dissipated and I moved with confidence toward my reignited passion. Just like with alcohol, I would take breaks from cooked food, going at the pace that was right for me. It was tough because by doing only raw food that excluded beer too. It was like kicking out both crutches at once. I was looking for challenge and I’d found it.
I realized foods were a lot like alcohol or any drug, after using them regularly, your body will get used to them so in turn removing them will trigger withdrawals. I had been staving off these feelings because until then I had stayed with raw foods all day but consistently did a cooked dinner so feeling the effects of a true raw food fast was eye opening. I felt so present. So very much in every moment of the day. As much as I gravitated towards raw foods I still would do cooked foods often but rarely any meal besides dinner since I began to feel a bit sleepy from them in contrast to the feeling raw foods left me with. 100% raw was still not something I was sure I even wanted to do. It just didn’t seem like something I could sustain. I could eat as much of my foods raw as I wanted but by leaving the door open for an occasional cooked meal I could continue to experiment without boxing myself it to something unmanageable. When traveling I didn’t worry as much about things being organic but other parameters were more important wether it’s vegetarian or vegan, but organic or not, raw options are a rarity at restaurants on a level I’d never experienced. It meant a lot more planning. It meant basically no restaurants in my hometown either. I started down this path to bring more joy and energy into my life and through raw foods my drive towards those grew while their meaning even took on new shapes. I was feeling connections that were dormant or barely pulsating until then and I knew that these nonphysical enhancements to life were the next chapter. I wasn’t doing this for any athletic or weight related reasons. I was simply seeking joy and I learned as my clarity grew that the light I sought was within me at full luminosity and my actions determined how defused it was, rather than considering external entities being the source.
It was about this time that I tried my first juice fast. It was just 3 days but in those days I learned more than I thought imaginable. It was staggering to feel such energy from glasses of carrot juice when I thought the more I packed into a meal the more energy it gave me. In some ways that is true, but there’s a tipping point, when stuffing yourself, even radiant plant foods can leave the body bogged down. If you saw my portions back then you’d probably think I was twice my size. I was an endless pit for plant foods particularly the cooked ones and when I started juicing I felt so nourished. Like finding a missing puzzle piece after trying to get along without it for so long, not fully understanding the power that one component held to the image at large. I started to look at food differently. I became more focused on it’s density and less concerned with how filling it is traditionally viewed as. A big chunk of white bread may be filling but is it truly satiating?
This spurred some important changes. I swapped my wheat wraps for a bed of greens. I would regularly grab some kind of pastry along with a smoothie or juice at the local health food store for a quick breakfast but learned to trust that it wasn’t the pastry that held the staying power. It provided a certain sedation I’d become accustomed to. That sleepy density I thought indicated a meal as filling. By bringing more plant foods into my life I felt their benefits, but when I removed the heavier items like gluten the true colors began to come through. What we don’t eat is just as important as what we don’t eat.
At this point I knew going raw was where my path was leading. I had stopped drinking alcohol completely knowing it was on of the things holding me back. I reveled in cooked foods at any opportunity during the summer of 2016. This gluttony was throughly enjoyable and resulted in some fantastic times with friends but after each meal I felt like I ate a ton of bricks and this was by design. Not only did I wanted to move towards raw foods, I wanted to be burnt out on cooked foods. I’d rack up triple digit bills at vegan restaurants from Denver to Chicago with friends capping things off at a vegan food festival October 1st when I ate my last servings of cooked foods and haven’t looked back since.
Since going raw life has become nothing short of miraculous. Like I was walking around a museum in the dark and someone turned the lights on. The layers of cosmic beauty were at the forefront of my experiences rather than something I had to dig for or attain through drugs. There are definitely a lot of factors for this but the clarity from the eating the way I have been has help facilitate many types of healing and regeneration .
I was mostly focused on fruits in the beginning, dabbling with the ever popular low fat high carb diet, then moved to the other end of the spectrum until balancing out at a happy medium, following how I feel rather than the ideals of any instructor or program. I would juice fast more frequently and took measures to detoxify as my body released the bonds it hand with the foods of my past. Socially speaking, being raw can be complicated. Grabbing a bite to eat with a friend isn’t a simple occasion and because of letting go of the heavier foods you begin to vibrate at a higher frequency so connecting in general isn’t like it was before. Now that I’ve peeled back so many layers though, people are meeting my truest self. I’m doing what makes me genuinely happy and no longer need common denominators like booze or damaging foods to convene over for connections to flourish. In fact, when those are removed deeper connections than ever are spawned. Conversation over meals gravitates towards fascinating and explorative realms rather than the surface level areas often clung to as means of establish common ground. Rather than focusing on the external things that connect us, the inner desires, tribulations and feelings shine through. I thought dating while raw would be strenuous but it’s on a whole other plane, allowing uncharted heights to be reached in so many ways.
So if through it all you’re wondering if the struggles are worth it? Is shifting your diet, mindset or lifestyle going to cause more joy than stress in the long run? That’s for you to determine, but by utilizing what this website provides I hope that your transition can be not just smoother but also enjoyable and exciting as you move towards whichever components of increased health or more ethically sound lifestyle choices are drawing you in. It’s all about bringing in more physical, mental and spiritually energy into life and like a performer spinning plates, every move is connected to the others so move at a pace that suits the level of progression or exploration that you can without being overly disruptive to other effected areas as you take your steps forward. I feel a strong guidance that this is what I’m meant to be doing. I’m here to help and am grateful to be connecting with you. If something about plant based lifestyles is on your mind send me a message and I’ll be happy to lend my perspective.