Karyn Calabrese, founder and creator of Karyn's Fresh Corner in Chicago was my first introduction to raw foods some 10 years ago when I was an art student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I visited her restaurant for the first time ten years ago after eating salads and drinking fresh green juices for months to clear up some digestive issues that I was having as a result of eating a mostly cooked vegan diet of tofu, tempeh, and seitan.
I remember those ten years ago, when I first walked into Karyn's restaurant and how AMAZED I was at all the wonderful dishes that I could make just using simple and natural ingredients.
You know those moments you get when you feel like a door has been opened for you just when you feel like "is this it?" and you think to yourself like wow, there really is more to this thing called life than what we think it is.
That's what Karyn and all of her great work did for me. It opened a door. And that's what led me to restaurant and catering company, publish my first book, The Goddess of Raw Foods, and continue my work in this raw foods movement.
So I hope you enjoy this interview between Karyn and myself and get some answers to your questions about raw foods.
NK: So many people find it hard to balance their lives in regards to their health. How do you define balance and how do you create balance in your own life as a mother, wife, grandmother, and businesswoman?
KC: I think that the mistake people make is that they are looking for perfection. I allow the flow of my life to manifest what it will. Sometimes I am very strong in the physical, sometimes in the spiritual, sometimes in detoxing and eating right. I allow the ebb and flow of life to happen and have learned to be comfortable with whatever comes my way. Looking for balance instead of perfection is a key factor. Also, as I teach in my classes, it’s important to make yourself number one and everything else will fall into place… you’ll have more energy for your family, more focus in your business, and more health and happiness in your life.
NK:What are some amazing healing stories that you have experienced with clients or with yourself with adopting a raw foods diet?
KC: There have been so many amazing stories over the years. I’ve had clients with dramatic weight loss- up to 100 pounds in 8 months, people who’ve reduced their insulin dependence, balanced their hormones and blood pressure, lowered their cholesterol, healed psoriasis and skin issues. The results are endless. The most amazing thing is that people think when they are diagnosed with something it is a life sentence especially when their doctors can’t give them answers or solutions to their problems. When they come to detox they make a few changes to their diet, add some supplements, basically get back to nature and suddenly their symptoms are going away.
NK: You've seen the raw foods movement grow and you've been at the forefront of it all. How did you do it in terms of having a very long standing business and what future projects are you working on in your business.
KC: I’ve grown my business through education. Giving away as much time and information as possible so people can make better decisions for their bodies. I’ve also stayed very focused on my goals and have always practiced what I preach. People are more likely to believe in your philosophies if you are living proof that they work. Believing in myself and never measuring success through dollars earned have been very important as well.
NK: As a woman of color, how do you see the raw foods movement growing in the African American community? Are African Americans more resistant to it or do you find this to be a misconception?
KC: I would say close to 50% of my clientele is African American. Certainly in the past 5-10 years the raw food movement has been gaining popularity but I haven’t really noticed a trend in any one group over another. I don’t think African Americans are any more resistant that any other group of people. The key for anyone is getting educated about their health and about eating a natural diet. I think that because in many of our cities there tends to be large numbers of African Americans in lower income brackets who don’t have great exposure to this information there is a misconception that they are resistant.
NK: What is your personal story and journey with raw foods?
KC: When I was 27 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. she turned to natural alternatives to try and heal her body but the herbs and juices she tried could not overpower the effects of the chemotherapy. I juiced with my mother and adopted a vegetarian diet and started to notice my skin clearing and my allergies going away. I never started out to be a raw foodist but after meeting Dr. Ann Wigmore, the founder of the raw foods movement in our time and improved my detox methods, my body started to naturally gravitate towards raw foods.
NK: You live in Chicago, how do you stay warm in the winter months eating a raw foods diet?
KC: Once your body finds balance from cleansing and detoxing, you don’t have to try as hard to stay warm (or cool in the summer). The body is more comfortable at any temperature. Remember we are animals and we are supposed to be able to navigate all types of weather in the coats we were born with.
For people just starting out I recommend adding warming spices like ginger and cayenne pepper to foods and also putting a little cayenne in socks and shoes will help.
NK: Did you raise your children on a raw foods diet and if so what challenges did you encounter?
KC: I raised my children vegetarian and then vegan. As teenagers and young adults I allowed them to make their own decisions about their diets. Challenges came when they started school and were influenced by other children and families, but I always rewarded them with time off from school for staying healthy.
NK: Where has the raw foods journey taken you physically and mentally?
KC: It has allowed me to be more emotionally stable and not experience mood swings like so many people. I went through menopause about 10 years ago with no symptoms. I have no commercial medicine in my house, have had no surgery or botox, I haven’t been to a doctor in 38 years (although I don’t recommend that for other people) and most people say I look 10-20 years younger than I am.
NK: What's on your plate today? What do you eat normally on a daily basis?
KC: I’ve been really into my cold milled flax seed lately. I eat it like cereal with just coconut water. Today I also had a sprout salad, an orange and I had a piece of tiramisu from my raw fine dining restaurant.
NK: Do you use supplements?
KC: At times
NK: What would you say to someone who wants to eat more raw foods but is allergic to nuts?
KC: I would say they need to detox their body. Allergies are a condition of poor digestion and years of bad eating habits- they shouldn’t be seen as a sentence for life. In the meantime, start incorporating more raw food into your diet that doesn’t have nuts. These days there are so many options for people with all sorts of specific digestive concerns.
NK: What are some simple raw food dishes that are great for kids?
KC: Nut butters, smoothies, ice cream. The best way to entice kids to eat this way is to give them dessert.
NK: Do you believe food combining aids in digestion?
KC: The only food combining rule that I practice consistently is that I don’t eat melons with anything else because of their short digestion time. My teacher, Dr. Wigmore, believed food combining was most important for those eating a standard American diet. If you are eating raw and supplementing with enzymes, you don’t need to worry about it as much.
NK: And recommendations for people who experience bloating and gas when they first start eating a mostly raw foods diet?
KC: Blend your food into smoothie or soup form. Take lots of Karyn’s Kare Digestive Enzymes, introduce raw foods into your diet as part of a detox program so that your body is cleansing and better able to adjust.
NK: You emphasize that people detox their bodies often. Why do you emphasize this as part of the process of eating raw and what are the benefits to this.
KC: It would be nice if we were only a product of yesterday, today and tomorrow but unless you’ve been eating this way all along, you need to clear out the old stuff that is not serving your body, improve your digestive system and get rid of yeast and mucus that prevents you from absorbing nutrients. Also, we live in a chemicalized world and take in toxicity from so many places, not just our food.
NK: If children eat 100% raw from birth, are there any recommendations for mothers on what essentials to feed them?
KC: Anything that God created. My rule for anyone is if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you shouldn’t be eating it.
NK: What is your take on eating organic vs. conventional?
KC: Organic benefits not only our internal environment but the planet as well. Organic foods have more nutrition than conventional and the farming practices to grow organic preserve our soil. Conventional farming uses man made chemicals that are killing us all. If you aren’t in a position to do all organic, do the best you can and detox regularly.
NK: What do you say to people mostly women who often say that they have gained weight on a raw foods diet? What do you think they are doing to make them gain weight?
KC: They need to detox. Toxicity in the body causes our tissues to hold on to fat cells. Also, people need to listen to their bodies and eat only when they are hungry. The beauty of raw foods is that it takes so little to fill you up and to truly satisfy your body’s nutritional needs. If you eat emotionally, you can still over eat on a raw foods diet.
NK: What quick tips do you have for people who want to transition from eating cooked to raw?
KC: Detox. Transition gradually and find the foods you love to eat so you can stay passionate about eating raw. Meet like minded people that you can share recipes and meals with and so you feel like less of an outsider while the rest of the world goes in the opposite direction.
NK: How can someone incorporate eating raw on a budget?
KC: Learn to make your own food. Attend a few classes, buy books or search the internet for tips and recipes. Network with other people so that you can share recipes and information. I’ve gone through many periods in my life with little resources but have always managed to eat healthy. You can’t afford not to take care of your body.
NK: Any last comments that you may want to share with our readers, please do.
KC: It’s so important not to make food the whole focus of your life and to balance physical, emotional and spiritual aspects as well. Compassion for your fellow humans and service to your planet are more important than I can express. I end all things with, “If you don’t take care of your body the most magnificent machine you’ll ever be given, where will you live.”