Me & Darren Making Kombucha

THE ORIGINS OF OUR KOMBUCHA JOURNEY

Facilitating the cycle of the SCOBY, or making kombucha, has been a monthly ritual of ours for many years.  I am not sure what originally prompted our interest in this probiotic beverage. I know my father-in-law had dabbled with it way back, and we remembered his stories of friends that had touted the benefits of this “fermented mushroom” elixir.  We had tried a few times in earlier years to get a routine going with it, making a batch or two, but never with any consistency. Then, as kombucha became more mainstream and began appearing in regular grocery stores, we started buying it fairly regularly, as a healthier beverage treat.  After awhile, the cost of our regular consumption encouraged us to give making our own another go.

DOWN TO A SCIENCE

We experimented a bit in the beginning with different teas and sweeteners, but we quickly got it down to a science, just using an organic mix of green and black teas and organic sugar.  Our favorite tea is the Sun, Moon & Stars mix from Davidson’s Tea, which we’ve used fairly exclusively for years.  And, as with many things, once you find a system that works, it’s easier to keep it going.  We did have a few experimental batches in the beginning, but we soon streamlined the process, and with a little teamwork, we bottle the previous month’s batch, start a new one, and, clean up the aftermath in under an hour.

Our monthly kombucha process.
Our monthly kombucha process.

HEALTHFUL ELIXIR OR TOXIC TEA?

Just because we have the process of making kombucha down to a science, does not mean there is a lot, if any, scientific data to back-up any benefits to regular consumption of kombucha.  There is an abundance of anecdotal accounts of its healing effects, as well as, stories claiming its toxic impact on health. My husband and I have consumed, maybe 4 to 10 ounces each, most days of the week, for years, without incident.  While there may be health benefits, or even some level of toxicity, I guess it is minimal, because we have not noticed significant impact to our health, for better or for worse. We just enjoy the process and the taste, and allow ourselves to believe there are some probiotic benefits to the brew.

Nonetheless, when taking on your own kombucha brewing project, do your research, always ensure good sanitation, and make note of how you feel when you drink it regularly.  Your own experience will likely be the most useful information you will get, with regards to its health benefits. But, with its popularity these days, I suspect more studies and research will be done on the topic.  So, be sure to do an occasional Google search to stay up to date with the latest information and adjust your opinion of kombucha’s healthfulness accordingly.

Leftover SCOBY & starter liquid to pass on to a friend.
Leftover SCOBY & starter liquid to pass on to a friend.

SCOBY SEARCH

If you are brewing your first batch, you will need to get a SCOBY in some starter (just some unflavored kombucha from someone else’s previous batch).  Chances are, if you ask your on-line friends, you’ll be able to track one down with no problem. But, if your friend pool does not include kombucha enthusiasts and you cannot locate a nearby SCOBY, just head on out to your local health food store, or even grocery store, and get yourself a good quality bottle of UNFLAVORED kombucha to use as your starter.  It will take a little longer to grow a good-sized SCOBY, but it will usually do the job. Make sure the commercial brew is, in fact, real kombucha, and not some flavored fizzy beverage with added flavoring and sugar.

Our original starting batch in 2014, using Oolong tea bags, a SCOBY we bought online & a bottle of plain GTS kombucha for the starter liquid.
Our original batch in 2014, using Oolong tea bags, a SCOBY we bought online & a bottle of plain GTS kombucha for the starter.

We started our kombucha monthly ritual with a SCOBY we bought online years ago, like this one, as well as, one bottle of GTS organic and raw original flavor kombucha for extra starter liquid.  Since then, we have produced a surplus of SCOBY every month, saving some to pass on occasionally.  I have heard of people dehydrating the surplus SCOBY to make dog treats, but I think it makes good food for the garden, so we just put it in the compost pile to nourish whatever random things grow out there in our neglected garden patch.

Big SCOBY for Kombucha... plenty to share!
Big SCOBY… plenty to share from our 2 gallon jars!

CONTAINING THE BREW

We explored all the options for housing our symbiotic cultured concoction.  At one point, we tried the continuous brew method, using the bottom porcelain part of a water dispenser.  This method has its perks, with never really having to remove the SCOBY and just pouring fresh tea in every month, after using the spigot to fill bottles, draining the last batch down to just the SCOBY and a bit of starter liquid left in the container.  However, since we let our batches brew a full month, I found, from a sanitary standpoint, I just feel better washing the jars each month and starting fresh. Plus, the spigot at the bottom ended up being more messy than it was worth. Not to mention, we enjoy brewing in clear jars, so we can easily peek in and see what’s going on in there!

Continuous brew container for kombucha.
Continuous brew container for kombucha.
Continuous brew container for kombucha.
Continuous brew container for kombucha.

Next, we thought multiple half gallon mason jars would be easier to replace, store and move around.  However, we found that, accounting for evaporation, displacement by the SCOBY, and saving a cup as the starter for the next batch, doing two half gallon jars per month yielded less than a gallon of finished kombucha.  This did not seem like enough for our efforts. We could have simply done six or eight half gallon mason jars, but it seemed easier to just upgrade to larger containers.  If you are only brewing for yourself, these might be fine for you.  You really have to just get started, decide on how long your brew cycle is going to be, and how much you end up consuming each cycle.  That will help you gauge the best size containers for long-term use.

Two gallon glass jars for brewing kombucha.
Two gallon glass jars for brewing kombucha.

Eventually, based on our needs, we settled into some simple 2 gallon jars that have been a good fit for our routine.  We drink kombucha, at least, four to five times per week, our kids drink a little here and there, and we love to share it with friends and at potlucks.  So, brewing two, 2 gallon jars per months allows us to always have a bit of a surplus on hand.  These jars, also, allow the SCOBY to grow quite large, as well as, make it easier to remove the SCOBY, as unlike the mason jars, the top of the 2 gallon jars is not tapered.  We have had these jars for almost four years, and they are holding up great.  They are a little more awkward to carry or move around when they are full, but, I have no problem carefully carrying them a few feet to set in their monthly resting spot.   

 

The Sun, Moon & Stars tea from Davidson's Teas, is the perfect mix for kombucha.
The Sun, Moon & Stars tea from Davidson’s Teas, is the perfect mix for kombucha.

TEA TIME

Now that you have obtained your SCOBY, it’s time to make your tea!  Herbal tea will not work for kombucha.  The SCOBY feeds on the caffeine and sugar to grow.  And, you want a tea with no additional additives or flavors.  We like Sun, Moon & Stars mix from Davidson’s Tea, which we subscribe to bi-monthly on Amazon.com.   We use two 2 gallon jars, which requires about 3 and a half gallons of tea to fill, leaving room for the SCOBY and starter liquid.  Therefore, I need to brew a large amount of tea.

However, since I do not have a pot that holds almost four gallons of liquid, I simply brew a big pot (probably around 1.5 gallons) of very strong tea, and I add water to the concentrated tea in the final stage.  Since I am using loose leaf tea, I never exactly measure my amounts. But, I estimate I use around 3 cups of dried tea to make my concentrate, which is diluted when added to the jars. If you are using bagged tea, I believe the ration is around 8 bags of tea per gallon of water.  Again, the types of teas and quantities is something you have to play around with to find your preference. But, these are good guidelines to get you started.

After our tea is brewed, I boil another small pot of water, in which I dissolve the organic sugar (1 cup per gallon), that I add to the tea after.  For smaller batches, making one pot of tea, and dissolving your sugar right in that pot, while the tea is hot, works fine, too.  But, I have just got my own system going and it works well for the amount of tea we use.

Tea prepared in big bowl, ready to pour into 2 gallon jars to start new batch of kombucha.
Tea prepared in big bowl, ready to pour into 2 gallon jars to start new batch of kombucha.

When we first started making kombucha, I hated using plain organic sugar, as I avoid it in my diet wherever possible.  I thought maybe we could use more “natural” sweeteners like coconut sugar, or even, reduce the amount of sugar we used. These attempts never went well, producing funky mold or just a weird taste. Henceforth, I never skimped on sugar, but I am, also, careful not to add more than the necessary one cup per gallon.  Because we let our kombucha brew up to 30 days, starting with a little stronger tea and adequate sugar seems to produce a balanced flavor over that time, with most of the sugar being consumed by the SCOBY.  We have tried less sugar before, but usually would end up with a stronger, more vinegary taste at the 30 day mark. So, we stick with 1 cup of organic sugar per gallon of tea.

Finally, remember to let your tea cool to room temperature before adding the SCOBY.  High heat will damage the culture, or render it unusable. So, don’t get impatient. I make my tea several hours before we plan to start our batch, and go busy myself with something in the meantime.  

FINDING YOUR CYCLE

Kombucha can be brewed anywhere from 7 to 30 days before it generally starts getting a wee-bit too tart and vinegary for most people’s taste.  This is general knowledge we originally acquired from the Internet. But, we have, also, proven this to be true in our own experimentation. Going beyond 30 days starts crossing over into the vinegary realm.  The longer your brew it, within the 7 to 30 day window, the more sugar and caffeine the SCOBY gobbles up. At least, that’s how it been explained to us. Many of the commercial kombuchas are brewed for 7 to 10 days for the first round, then another few days after it is bottled and flavorings are added.  This results in a more mild and sweeter taste.

Temperature will impact the brewing process, too.  We’ve been told that between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, and that higher temperatures will yield a stronger kombucha more quickly.  Our home’s artificially induced climate is generally set around 75 degrees, but we also use a kombucha heater strip to ensure consistency of temperature.

We like to brew right up to 30 days, bottle and flavor, then let sit for another 5 to 7 days before refrigerating.  When adding our flavorings (usually fresh or dried fruit, we throw in a pinch of dried stevia leaf, to offset the tartness, while keeping the sugar lower).  Most people that like kombucha and try ours enjoy it. But, we have had a few newbies to the kombucha experience say they feel like it was too strong or sour for their tastes.  And, of course, if given the choice, our kids would generally choose a bottle of store-bought, sweeter kombucha over our home brew. So, you really have to experiment with your preferred taste and adjust your cycle accordingly.  You can do this by sampling it after 10 days to test its sweetness, and every few days after, until you reach your desired balance of sweet and tart.

 

Bottling kombucha with flavorings
Bottling kombucha with flavorings

FLAVORFUL ADDITIONS

Since we always have a batch brewing, every month we start by bottling up the last month’s batch into 64-Ounce/Half Gallon Clear Glass Kombucha Growler Jugs, adding whatever flavoring suits our fancy that month.  You do not have to flavor it. We just like experimenting with different fruits and herbs, and enjoy the creativity and variety of flavors we end up with.  Our most common flavorings include:

  • Fresh, organic chopped ginger
  • Frozen organic fruit (whatever is left in the fridge from the smoothie stash… strawberry, pineapple and mango make good additions, as well as, mixed berries and cherries).
  • Dried organic fruit – we often use dried goji berries and dried mulberries as a quick and easy addition.
  • Dried organic stevia leaf (this is better for longer brew cycles, to offset tartness; we use about a tbsp per half gallon jug)

Once you’ve bottled your kombucha with your chosen flavorings, it’s time to set it aside on the counter, or less-trafficked area of your home, to do its work for a few more days.  At this stage, we leave our to “gather fizz” for another five to ten days. It usually depends on when we remember to stick it in the fridge, so it chills up to drink.

The Power of the Fizz - kombucha becomes naturally effervescent in the brewing process.
The Power of the Fizz – kombucha becomes naturally effervescent in the brewing process.

THE POWER OF THE FIZZ

While sitting, bottled with its flavorful additions, the kombucha will become naturally fizzy.  Many things seem to impact the degree to which it gets more bubbly, none of which we’ve been able to deduce with any clear logic of consistency.  So, the magnitude of force that can come from the lid can vary greatly, regardless of how long you leave it or what you add to it. We have had a couple volcanic explosions.  We’ll paint the ceiling to hide the stain someday. Accordingly, we learned, early in, to keep a firm hand on the lid when opening the final product, and to “burp” it a bit to test whether it is going to be a big “fizzer” or not.  So, be forewarned, and temper your excitement to try your new creation with caution when you open that first lid!

Kombucha makes a great gift or potluck contribution!
Kombucha makes a great gift or potluck contribution!

KOMBUCHA WISDOM

Kombucha is not just a beverage, or a potentially healthful addition to your lifestyle.  There is some ritual that becomes attached the process when you make it yourself regularly.  It becomes a thoughtful pause in busy routines, the catalyst for conversation at gatherings, and a unique gift for the holidays.  And, whether its long-term consumption will prove to be beneficial or not, the act of making it reminds us to be mindful of the moment, patient with the process, and reverent towards our natural environment that facilitates the transformation of tea and sugar into a probiotic-rich beverage.  Hmm… Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast… maybe in the SCOBY, there is a metaphor for the relationship between people and our environment. However, I’ll leave that for you to ponder while you gather your kombucha supplies.

Kombucha makes a great gift or potluck contribution!
Kombucha makes a great gift or potluck contribution!

DISCLAIMER

Despite many years of experience brewing it for our family, I do not claim to be an expert on kombucha, and my advice should be taken with a grain of salt (or a chunk of SCOBY).  I cannot be held responsible if you create a noxious brew of moldy or contaminated kombucha and proceed to make yourself and friends and family ill consuming it. Please do your research, ensure proper supplies and sanitation, and be smart with your experimentation.   Enjoy!

Kombucha in wine glasses
Kombucha in wine glasses makes a nice addition to a meal.

VIDEO:  HOW WE MAKE KOMBUCHA

A couple years ago, my husband and I grabbed the camera during one of our monthly kombucha-making rituals, and documented our evolving process.  If you would like a visual to put with my written kombucha story, feel free to head on over to YouTube and watch it.

 

Just a Recap of What You’ll Need to Get Started:

  • 1 to 2 gallon glass jar (We use these 2 gallon jars)
  • Breathable tightly woven cloth & rubber bands to cover the top of your jar(s)
  • Organic black and/or green tea (We like Sun, Moon & Stars mix from Davidson’s Tea)
  • Organic sugar
  • Water, preferably filtered
  • SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast)
  • A cup of plain kombucha from a previous batch (or someone else’s) for the “starter’
  • Flavorings (when it’s time to bottle your brew, you can add things like ginger, fruit or herbs)

My Raw Food Reality 2018

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Challenge?

In 2009, at thirty-six years old and a little over four years into my “health journey,” I guess I was primed for a challenge.  I had already released over 100 pounds and maintained good habits for quite a few years. My “good habits” consisted of eating a fairly balanced vegan diet, being mindful of calories and not overeating, and getting in some moderate exercise everyday.  This would have been a perfectly reasonable approach with which to continue on. But, I still ate some processed vegan foods, salty restaurant meals and plenty of decaf coffee, so I felt there was some room for improvement. Thus, when I happened upon a website promoting a 100 day raw food challenge, I was excited to participate.  

Why Raw Vegan?

To preface my recount of my raw food experience, for those of you not privy to what constitutes a raw vegan diet, I will explain.  Though a “regular” vegan diet, including cooked food, is often chosen for ethical reasons, a raw vegan diet takes it a step further for the health benefits.  It is loosely defined as consisting of whole plant-foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all of which are not heated over around 118 degrees. Simple enough, right?  Advocates of a raw food lifestyle generally hold the belief that consuming primarily natural, unprocessed food is ideal for human health, as foods have more “life force” when their enzymes and nutrients have not been denatured by high temperatures.  Not to mention, eating a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables displaces a lot of the crap that we eat on a standard American diet.  

For the most part, those who follow a raw food diet are plant-based or vegan, as I am, though some raw foodist may consume milk, eggs and meat in their raw form.  The way in which foods are prepared on a raw vegan diet include juicing, blending, dehydrating, fermenting, soaking & sprouting, as compared to the usual cooking methods of baking, grilling, frying, steaming, etc.  There is definitely an adjustment period, but there are plenty of enjoyable and satisfying options on a raw food diet.   For some, it is a sustainable lifestyle all the time, whereas, for others, it feels too restrictive to adhere to 100 percent, but can serve as a baseline for good nutrition.

Gourmet Raw Food from Khepra's Raw Food Juice Bar @ DC VegFest 2011

Gourmet Raw Food from Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar @ DC VegFest 2011

Those that have followed an exclusively raw food diet long-term often report many health benefits.  I certainly learned to connect more with my body and gained clarity about the impact food has on mood, physical pain, and digestion.  I saw some health improvements in the beginning, though, aging, sleep-deprivation and stress probably account for the plateau I eventually reached on my heath path.  There is little science to validate the effectiveness of an exclusively raw vegan diet, as a life-long approach to disease prevention, as compared to a “clean” whole food diet, combined with other healthful lifestyle choices.  Of course, there are plenty of anecdotal accounts, both positive and negative, that you can find on the Internet, if is a topic that interest you.  Keep in mind that the length of time and resources each individual had when attempting a raw food diet will greatly impact their experience.  Overall, I found my experience to be positive.

Following the Momentum

Incidentally, the 100 day raw food challenge experience was fairly easy for me.  The days went by without too much angst or resistance to change. This was probably because I already ate a fair amount of fresh fruits and veggies and was used to making a lot of my food myself. My excitement about this new found dietary path inspired me to acquire the protocol of standard raw food kitchen gadgets, including a Greenstar juicer,ceramic knife, newer Vitamix Blender,Excalibur dehydrator and aspiralizer!  I was excited! After the challenge completed, I was feeling so good, and was so inspired by the community of raw food enthusiasts with whom I had connected online, that I just kept going! Fueled, partly by curiosity as to how it would feel to do this long-term, it became a fairly effortless lifestyle.

 

Vitamix Blender & Smoothie
Vitamix Blender & Smoothie
Excalibur Dehydrator
Excalibur Dehydrator
Spiralizer
Spiralizer
Kyocera Ceramic Knives
Kyocera Ceramic Knives

Seeking Out Support & Inspiration

In the subsequent years, to stay connected and purposefully remain on my chosen dietary path, I attended a few raw food events, lots of potlucks and made the pilgrimage to Arnold’s Raw Food Cafe in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, which was always a treat.  I, also, attended the Woodstock Fruit Festival three times, which provided “real life” community and inspiring examples of people of all ages that were thriving on varying degrees of a raw vegan diet. Whenever finances and schedules allow, this festival will likely continue to rank at the top of my preferred vacation destinations.  It is so nice to go spend a week with a supportive and diverse group of health-seekers, share experiences and enjoy some of the best raw food around.

 

Arnold's Way
Arnold’s Way Trip 2010

 

The Woodstock Fruit Festival 2016
The Woodstock Fruit Festival 2016

And to support my food values, I even I organized a natural foods buying club out of my garage. This gave me great access to a variety of produce.  I continued this for many years, and still do some orders these days, which has been a community-building experience and made me love natural foods even more!  

 

Produce Buying Club in my Garage 2012
Produce Buying Club in my Garage 2012

Further, I frequented raw vegan potlucks to connect with other raw food enthusiasts locally.  I have always had a passion for potlucks, regardless of the precise dietary focus.  I find them to be such a great way to bring people together.  So, these activities, coupled with online connections, really helped me feel motivated to continue on with the raw food lifestyle, just to see how it evolved for me.

 

Raw Vegan Potluck 2015
Raw Vegan Potluck 2015

As such, somehow, eight years went by, just living my life on my divergent dietary path.  The experience taught me a lot about myself, my body, nutrition, food culture and what constitutes “health.”  But, that is not to say there were no obstacles along the way, some of which may have related directly to my dietary choices, and some may have been more correlated to emotions and life experience.  Nonetheless, there was some learning and new self-awareness, especially in the first few years.

The Reemergence of My Gremlin

I came from a past of disordered eating, including compulsive overeating and binge eating, starting in my late mid-teens, up until 2005, when I was 31 years old.  At this point, I had had enough of the self-abuse and made some big shifts in my lifestyle and diet.  So, for four years prior to commencing my raw vegan experience, I had been focusing on weight loss, mindful eating and food journaling, as a means of staying present with food. I had lost over 100 pounds, found a sense of peace with food, and thought I had “tamed my gremlin.”  After spending most of my young life tormented by dietary ups and downs, I finally felt hopeful that I was on the right track to maintaining balance, physically and emotionally, and was proud of myself for changing the trajectory I had been on and providing my, then, young children with a more balanced mom and role model.

Then, I decided to “upgrade” my diet and go all in with the raw vegan lifestyle.  I was feeling great for the first few months, with my simple fruit and veggie meals, homemade salad dressings and smoothies.  Things were feeling much the same as they always had. But, then I discovered raw vegan “gourmet” foods. I started creating more elaborate recipes, with nut and seed spreads, concocting raw cacao desserts and drizzling olive oil on zucchini noodles.  I discovered the whole world of raw vegan packaged foods, which felt like it made this lifestyle even better! But, amidst of these expanded “raw food” options, something unexpected happened. All of a sudden, I found myself struggling with the compulsion to overeat or binge on dense, fatty raw foods like raw granolas, cashew cheezecake, lasagnas, cookies, crackers, raw chocolates, or sometimes, even just fruit or banana ice cream.  Something had been triggered, and there I was again, dealing with some of the old feelings and cycles of behavior that I thought I had overcome years prior.  In retrospect, this experience just offered more data about myself and nutrition.  But, at the time, I felt scared that I would never feel balance with food again.

Raw Vegan Packaged Foods

Raw Vegan Packaged Foods

Raw Vegan Packaged Goodies
Raw Vegan Packaged Goodies

Raw Foods Learning Curve

There is a learning curve and adjustment period, when switching to a raw vegan diet.  Whole, uncooked fruits and veggies have to be consumed in greater quantities to reach the same degree of satiation that we are used to feeling on more condensed, cooked foods.  I really was not privy to this information in the beginning, but I quickly realized that my digestion felt a bit different and to remain comfortably full, I had to eat sizable quantities of fruits and veggies at my meals.  But, when I incorporated more gourmet meals, or packaged raw foods into the mix, suddenly that equilibrium was thrown off again, due to the higher fat content and greater caloric density. It actually took me a few years to feel like I really worked out the kinks and found balance again with my food routines.  I don’t know why I persevered, but, I felt like I was growing and learning more about myself on this path, and I wasn’t yet ready to abandon it. So, that found me around the 4 year mark, on my 8 year raw food journey. At this point, I had found my groove and was sure I was in it for life.

 

Raw Vegan Chocolates
Raw Vegan Chocolates

Still, there were times, in my day to day life, that I did not feel like I had the support I needed, or just felt like I was inconveniencing others with my choices, being a “food freak.”  I have had friends and family members tell me they couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, eat “as perfect” as I do. When I would hear that, I felt that maybe I had set my own dietary bar too high and not given ample consideration to the social and emotional role food plays in our life.  But, I was consuming the things I truly craved and wanted, not forcing myself to isolate myself from the world, trying to live up to some vision of perfection. 

Of course, contemplating these things was interesting, and would likely not have happened had I not taken on the task of revising my diet and been willing to question my beliefs surrounding food, including traditions, emotionally charged memories related to food, social constructs, my consumer habits, and existing scientific nutritional research. Actually, in 2014, it inspired me to enroll in a graduate program in health & wellness coaching, where I had ample opportunity to examine a holistic perspective of health and expand my understanding of nutrition. So, overall, the obstacles I experienced were few, were accompanied by useful lessons and new insights about myself, and never deterred me from my focus to see how life evolved eating primarily produce.

 

Fruit Bowl
Fruit Bowl

Revising My Raw Food Rituals

However, towards the end of 2017, after consuming almost 100 percent raw foods for over 8 years, suddenly, adhering to an “all raw” diet started to feel like more of a an arbitrary choice than a purposeful endeavor, given the context of my life as a mid-life mom, living in Western Maryland.  I know food is integral to my sense of well-being and the first line of defense against many ills and diseases. But, the energetics of food go beyond their nutrient profile and filter into the psyche. I had began to feel intuitively drawn to dabble with some cooked whole foods, with the same sense of curiosity that enticed me to follow the raw vegan path in the first place.  Also, it came at a time when mid-life had been forcing me to really acknowledge that the “nourishment” I get from movement, relaxation, relationships and time for creative pursuits was of equal importance as the food I consumed.

And, thus, a transition started in my mind before it quite took hold in the physical realm.  Drawing the line in the dietary sand, between raw vegan and whole foods vegan did take me awhile to do.  Making the shift felt like kind of a big deal, after having invested 8 years into this dietary experiment and lifestyle.  I kept waiting until I had a little space in my life to reflect and consciously play around with my routines.  I did not hold the belief that eating 100 percent raw diet was a guarantee of health and longevity.  It is easy enough to look around at other humans and see that health and longevity have no prescription, but rather some very loose guidelines. So, there was no fear that I would be “poisoning” myself with cooked vegetables, as some raw food gurus have touted.  I had just hoped for a little more ceremony surrounding my first cooked food in years.

 

Kale Chips
Kale Chips

The Return of the Sweet Potato

Yet, time restraints often make eating much more of a practical endeavor these days, driven by the need for efficiency, cost-effectiveness and nutrient-density.  And, though I will always have a passion for a good salad, admittedly, I had gotten in a bit of raw food rut with busy schedules and waning energy. Brad’s raw chips had become a staple in my routine and I had become a bit of a kale chip junkie, getting a little over excited when I would travel and find a new local brand with exotic flavors.  But, as life would have it, amongst my kale chip adventures and salad-making festivities, life afforded me little time for reflection. I knew if I waited for a time when I could create space for some idyllic, meaningful, transitional moment to mindfully prepare and consume some cooked food, I would likely be waiting until the “empty nest” years of life, and that just felt ridiculous.

So, on a dull October afternoon in 2017, I took the gustatory leap and cooked sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot.  There, alone in my kitchen, hovering over the island counter, as I often do at mealtimes, I ate these practical root veggies with my usual dinner salad.   There, that was done. No fanfare ensued. And, for awhile, I enjoyed a monogamous love affair with sweet potatoes. But, eventually, we opened the relationship and shared the love with other cooked veggies, and even an occasional “grain,” like oats, quinoa and wild rice.  It was all very anticlimactic, and happened with ease.

 

Sweet Potatoes & Salad
Sweet Potatoes & Salad w/ Cashew Dressing

Raw Food Reflections

Having traversed the raw to cooked food spectrum, it does feel nice to have a few other foods “on the table” when the raw options are less than ideal, not good quality or expensive, but I do not feel like much else has changed.  As I moved forward with a few tweaks to my long-standing routines, over the next year, some new insights did arise, but, no significant changes in digestion, skin or energy have been apparent.  My raw food experience changed my palate significantly, for which I am thankful. I have continued to prefer and prioritize a “clean,” whole foods vegan diet and quite enjoy simplicity. In my best efforts to feel balanced, stay off medications, and, keep my weight, fitness and emotional health on an even keel as I get older, I hope my food choices, at least, mediate some of the crap my environment throws at me.

That about sums up my “raw reality.”  To many people, I am sure my dietary path seems impractical or “extreme.”  In fact, early on, when occasionally sharing about my dietary choices, I quickly realized that most people didn’t understand what a raw vegan lifestyle entailed, nor did they care to learn more.  Thankfully, I had no need to convince anyone that they should be doing exactly what I was doing. I didn’t even know if I should. For me, my food choices have always evolved organically and I have never forced myself to adhere to any guidelines or rules (for too long, though I often give things a thorough trial-run).  When trying new things, it is important to be mindful of their value and usefulness to your unique life, not simply their theoretical applications.

Side Note About Kids & “Restrictive” Diets

Being vegan has never felt overly restrictive to our family, barring the occasional “hangry” moment out and about, or a kids birthday party devoid of vegan options.  Because it is a conscious choice, based on compassion, once the kids had an awareness of animal agriculture and such, they were generally advocating for themselves with regards to checking if things were vegan.  For the most part, they had plenty of options, and the availability of vegan packaged foods has increased immeasurably, even in their lifetime.

Woodstock Fruit Festial 2016
Woodstock Fruit Festival 2016

Nonetheless, I was especially mindful to try to model a balanced relationship with food for my kids, even though I had some internal struggles along the way.   I recognized, that as they grew and expanded their own understanding, my food ideals were not something I should impose, but rather just share, despite my desire to keep them healthy and on a “clean diet” for as long as I could, before social pressures crept in.  So, though they tried many of the raw vegan dishes I made, I never considered trying to make them adhere to an “all raw” diet. It was my thing and not practical for them.

That is not to say that I am not an avid label reader, nor do I miss any opportunity to educate my kids (or any unfortunate bystanders) about what’s in their food and the health benefits of a “clean,” whole foods diet.  And, I definitely make food purchasing decisions based on my own ethics and values.  But, ultimately, they will have to navigate the environment of abundance (and excess) that we live in on their own.  I just hope that I have given them some things to think about as they venture out more into the world and take on the task of nourishing themselves.

My Advice to Dietary Adventurers

Thus, to those of you looking to improve your health, or interested in testing the boundaries of your social and emotional programming surrounding food, I challenge you to experiment with the variations of a whole foods, plant-based diet.  It makes space for new awareness to arise and can be very healing. On the flip side of that, food is just a tiny part of our whole selves, and forcing any dietary dogma that does not feel purposeful, align with your values, or brings up a lot of resistance, can do more harm than good.  So, before embarking on any dramatic shift in your dietary patterns, know yourself, your motivations, and find yourself a supportive tribe. Make it a creative endeavor, not a set of rules imposed upon you by unrealistic ideals or the experience of others.

If there is one thing the raw food lifestyle taught me, beyond the fact that food really is our medicine,  is that no matter which foods you are eating, or not eating, you will bring your habits and beliefs with you.  We have to continually question those habits and beliefs and align ourselves with what feels right in the moment, expecting that what feels right might change over time.   Meanwhile, nourish all the areas of your life, so you are well-rested, physically and emotionally balanced, creatively content and connected with others that support your growth, even if that includes crazy dietary experiments.  Food is a tool to fuel your creativity in this world, impact the environment around you, connect you to others and bring you greater self-awareness. Use this tool wisely.