The Raw Vegan Lifestyle: Is It Right for You?
BOYT: When did your passion for raw food cooking and lifestyle began?
Cherie Soria: Well, I started teaching about vegetarian cuisine when I was in my early 20s (I'm 63 now), and so that's been about 40 years, and I've been teaching people about a healthy lifestyle. When I first started as a vegetarian, I shared that with people, and then I evolved—I say evolved because for me, it was an evolution to a vegan diet, and then a low-fat vegan diet, and then I studied with a woman named Dr. Ann Wigmore. I've been a health quester all my life. I'm always looking for the ultimate healthiest lifestyle, and when I read books by Dr. Ann Wigmore, I thought, "Well, this is the next step." So I went to study with her, and I saw some amazing, miraculous healings at her clinic when people were put on a raw food diet; I just decided then and there that I had to now teach people about making raw food delicious, and not teach cooking anymore.
I found in my personal life that I had a leak in the amount of vitality that I'd experienced from a raw vegan diet, as opposed to a low-fat vegan diet. I was already a very healthy, very athletic person, so it was pretty miraculous for me to see that I could improve that much more. And that also gave me the impetus to teach this to others. I also recognized when I was at the clinic that, even though people would go there and their cancers would disappear, and their rheumatoid arthritis would disappear, and they would feel so much better, they'd go back home and they would go back to their old way of living, and their problems would resurface. So, I recognized that people needed to make the food taste delicious; otherwise, they weren't going to stay on the program. So, at the time, I felt that my mission would be to make the food taste great, so that people wouldn't feel that they had to make any sacrifices in order to eat this way. There was no such thing as gourmet raw food at the time--raw food was just sprouts, salads.
BOYT: And raw vegetables and fruits.
Cherie Soria: Dr. Ann gave us blended soups that did taste good—vitality soup and salads and smoothies—and it has to be more than that. There has to be a variety. People have to be able to have pizza and burgers and lasagna, the food that they really love. So that was my mission, to make it taste great.
BOYT: And so came about the Living Light Culinary Institute.
Cherie Soria: Yes. Actually, I first started just teaching classes. I was already teaching for different vegetarian organizations and so forth, so I switched from cooked vegan foods to raw vegan foods; they were popular right from the beginning. It was really a surprise to me. I thought it would be a hard sell, but it really wasn't. And then I published my book, Angel Foods. In the meantime, Dr. Ann died, and Viktoras Kulvinskas, who was the co-founder of the Living Food Lifestyle came to me and said that I really should be teaching chefs how to make this cuisine, because I was teaching at the time, just home chefs and individuals. He really felt it was important to teach chefs and that that would be the rule, that it would really multiply quickly—and he just motivated me to do that. When I was with Dr. Ann when she was still alive, she told me I would be a beacon of light for her teachings. So, between Viktoras and Dr. Ann, Living Light was born, and that was 12 years ago.
BOYT: I'd like to know if your Institute is it suitable for all levels of cooking, or do you ever have people that have a carnivorous Western diet come in, and then they've completely shifted and adopt a raw food lifestyle?
Cherie Soria: The demographics, the ages, the backgrounds, and even the countries of origin of people here are so mixed. Right now, we have a class of 30 people, and half of them are from other countries; they're all different ages. We've had students as young as 14, and as old as 85 take our training. Many people who come to our school do eat meat, and are not planning on being 100% raw or vegan. We don't make any judgments about where they are when they come here. We're grateful to be a part of their journey; they want to learn how to make more raw fruits and vegetables and add those to their diets, and quite often, by the time they leave here, depending on how long they stay, they make a major transformation in the way they eat. Many of them don't go back to eating meat, and many of them don't go back to eating mostly cooked foods; and in fact, they find themselves that they really are more attracted to the kinds of foods that they learn to make while they're here.
We don't expect people to be 100% raw 100% of the time; and in fact, we encourage people who come here who are not all raw—and very few people are, honestly—to notice that they're not feeling well, they may be experiencing cleansing challenges as a result of eating an all-raw diet. In our cafe, we do serve a cooked vegan soup every day, and we suggest if they want to slow down the cleansing a little bit, have a little cup of soup, so that they can enjoy their experience here. This isn't a cleansing clinic; it's an opportunity for them to learn to make great tasting food. Only about a third of the people who come to our school come because they either are a chef or want to become a chef. Most people just want to learn how to make really great food for themselves and their families, to feel empowered in the kitchen, to really have great nice feel of understanding of how to put great flavors together, understand how to use the different kinds of equipment in the kitchen, and just feel like they know their way around the kitchen and can make great tasting food.
We also have another segment of students who come because they want to share this information with others. Many of them have had transformation-like experiences in their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, as a result of changing to a raw food diet, and they want to share this information with others. So, in our flagship course, which is Associate Chef and Instructor training. They learn how to teach others, they learn how to be a teacher and they're certified as an Associate Chef and Instructor to actually do a demo. They learn how to create menus, everything—it's really quite a phenomenal intensive three weeks—and they go home really feeling empowered about, not only their ability to make food, but to also teach others how to do it.
BOYT: Is there anyone that should avoid a raw food diet due to any health complications or restrictions or would you say anyone should be able to adopt a raw food lifestyle?
Cherie Soria: Well, first of all, I have to always defer to somebody's physician, because I'm not a physician, and no, I can't make recommendations. However, that said, humans are the only ones that cook their food, we're certainly not designed to have to eat cooked food; and many of the foods that we do have to cook, are foods that would not be edible if we didn't cook them. Now, if I were in a situation where that was all I had and I had to cook to survive, of course I would do it; but the reality is that a lot of the nutrients that are in food when they're in their raw state are destroyed by cooking. Some of the problems that we have so rampant, especially in our Western world, are a result of the fact that we don't have the nutrients that we need. Or that we are over-eating, and part of that is because our body is yelling out for more food because it's not getting the nutrients that it needs. So it says, I'm still hungry, I want more food, when really what it's meaning is, I want more nutrients, I need more nutrients.
BOYT: Now, for someone who is new to a raw food diet or aspiring raw food home chef, what are some basic tools you would recommend that would make the transition a bit of an easier one?
Cherie Soria: Well, I would say the most popular piece of equipment for a raw food kitchen is a blender—a good blender. You don't have to have an expensive, high-powered blender, although once you have one, you never go back. But at least having a good blender is important; and a good knife is important. Those are pretty basic things. If you can, you could buy an inexpensive food processor that can help you to make things like cookies and pie crusts and pâtés. A juicer, so you can have a really great nutrient-dense juices. And if you want crispy, crunchy snacks, like crackers, a dehydrator; a dehydrator can also be used to warm food, so you don't have to eat cold foods.
A lot of people think that a raw food diet can't be maintained in winter months because it's cold, but you don't have to serve cold food. It can be warmed in a dehydrator. Foods, before you prepare them, can be washed in warm water. You don't have to eat chilled food that chills body.
BOYT: Okay. And in terms of protein, what are your favorite raw food sources of protein?
Cherie Soria: My number one source of protein is dark, leafy green vegetables, and a lot of them. I get them in every possible way—I juice them, I put them in my breakfast smoothies, I make soups with them, I make salads, marinated kale salads. So that's my main source of protein.
BOYT: Wow, that's wonderful. I mean, green veggies and really leafy dark green veggies are fantastic. I read that you eat limited amounts of nuts and seeds and things.
Cherie Soria: That is true. I find nuts and seeds are harder for me to digest. They just kind of—I don't have as much energy when I eat them. I'm a pretty busy person. My husband and I own four businesses. We produce, along with our team of course; we have a team of 40 people here that we manage, and we produce at least one pretty large event every year, and I write for different magazines, so we're pretty busy, and we've got to keep our energy up. So I find that a diet high in greens and lower in fats (and particularly harder-to-digest nuts and seeds) keeps my energy level up. Now, if I take those nuts and seeds and make a pâté and ferment them using probiotics to form a cheese-like pâté, then the proteins are broken down and easier to digest. I'm better off eating my nuts and seeds that way. Seeds are a little easier to digest than nuts, so I do often have seeds that have been soaked and sprouted, and then perhaps dehydrated or not, and sprinkle them on my salad. That gives me a little extra protein, some other kinds of nutrients, and aren't as high in fat or as hard to digest as nuts.
BOYT: It's been so informative speaking with you, I really appreciate it. What are your thoughts about children on a raw food diet; do you find many parents where their children are very healthy when adopting a raw food lifestyle, or the families are very healthy? Kids probably have a tremendous amount of energy on a raw food lifestyle or diet, would you agree?
Cherie Soria: I know that many people who have raised children on a raw food diet; again, it's really a natural diet if you look at nature. But in nature, a woman would nurse her child until it was probably two years old, and we don't necessarily do that. We don't necessarily set our children up for eating the right kinds of foods, because we start them out too young eating regular solid food. So it's going to depend on the child and the way they matured physiologically, based on how they were brought up, just like adults, and again, they don't do as well with simulating foods. Just like adults, when they eat, how they eat, what mental frame of mind they're in when they're eating, whether they're stressed out, all those things have a big effect on us. Health isn't all about food; food is one very important component, but there are a whole lot of other levels of things that are important as well.
Many scientists don't understand the raw food diet, and there have been some problems with authorities coming and taking away people's children.
You know, it's beyond belief that they would do that, if it's okay to serve children fast food, but not healthy raw food. But there are many people who have been feeding their children raw food, who gestated on raw foods and nurse their children at a young age, and were able to keep them on a raw food diet without any problem at all. Where the problem comes is when they go to school, and then they are influenced by other children, and it's pretty hard to tell kids that they can't go and have a birthday cake with other children; then they start to have more problems, I think, because of the social aspect of it.
BOYT: Is there an author currently that you really appreciate, or maybe a raw food chef?
Cherie Soria: You know, I do admire a co-author, my two co-authors from my most recent book, The Raw Food Revolution Diet. Brenda Davis, in particular, is about 80% raw now. It was very challenging for both Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis when I first approached them about helping me write my book, because they were very well-known vegan authors, very prolific, and they had worked with many great well-known doctors, like Drs. Chico and Campbell, and had written many books, like Becoming Vegetarian andBecoming Vegan, and they were a little bit skeptical about the raw vegan diet when I first approached them. And then, after a couple of years of researching and finding studies that could support it, they actually switched to a raw diet themselves, and have recently come out with, Becoming Raw. I have to honor them, because to do that, they had to say,” well, some of the information that we put out before was not complete” and they have a following all over the world. So I really have a lot of respect for them for really finding the information and living it. They had to really stick to their principles; they would not print anything or collaborate on the book unless they could find the information that could support it. I have a lot of great respect for that.
BOYT: Are there tickets for sale, or do you have to be an actual student at the Living Light Institute to attend the showcase?
Cherie Soria: No, it is absolutely open to the public. We have pared it down; last year, we had a limit of 400 people; this year, we're limiting it to 75. That’s because we are focused on the live broadcast, the live streaming as a virtual event. With gas prices and travel difficulties and everything, it just seems to make sense to bring it to the people, instead of telling the people that they have to come to us.
BOYT: Can people visit your website to get the link to view the chef showcase on August 12?
Cherie Soria: As a matter of fact, we have lots of fun things going on on our website right now, besides the chef showcase, which they can access through our website, rawfoodchef.com. They can also go and see—we've got, I think, the nearly 30 videos posted there from a lot of different chefs all over the country, and they can vote for their favorite one, because we have a hot raw chef contest going on. One of the things that the winner will win is the ability to join our list of esteemed hot chefs at the showcase in August, and be one of the chefs—that's one of the things that they'll win. So the public can go to our website and they'll see the hot raw chef contest, and they can hit the link and go and see all these different demos from different chefs all over. That's a really fun thing that's going on right now, and I think they still have another week to vote, so there's plenty of time to do that.
About Cherie Soria
Cherie Soria is founder and director of Living Light Culinary Arts Institute and author of Angel Foods: Healthy Recipes for Heavenly Bodies and The Raw Food Revolution Diet: Feast, Lose Weight, Gain Energy, Feel Younger! Cherie has trained many of the top raw food chefs today, which is why people often refer to her as the mother of raw gourmet cuisine.