Tell us a little about your path. When did you realize that plant food, cooking and health were your calling?
I became a vegetarian at a very young age. It was something that I was always drawn to, but growing up in South Carolina in the 80s and 90s I didn’t have many (or any) resources or places to eat so I looked to cookbooks. This was also pre internet food culture and exploring cookbooks was really a beautiful form of escapism. I’ve learned so much from them. Some of my favorites were Moosewood, Vegetarian Epicure, the Linda McCartney cookbook and Madhur Jaffery. I honestly get excited just thinking about it. Although it has never been my focus, the animal rights piece for me was just further conviction that I was on the right path.
It wasn’t until I started working in restaurants in college that I fully realized that I loved the industry. I became very passionate about this idea that healthy food should be able to be enjoyed with friends in beautiful ambiance along with great wine and service. Just like everything else. It seems like a pretty common concept now (or at least in LA it is), but at the time it was pretty novel.
When I finally went to study raw foods right after college I was able to start bringing it all together. I think from following my passion my life opened up in a way that it never would have. The last decade has felt like a lifetime of hard work and different adventures.
I’m sure you’ve gone through various stages of experimenting with different diets and ways of eating. How would you categorize yourself at this point? And what cues do you use to know you’re on the right path.
Intuitive eating is how I would best describe my diet now, and even more so after pregnancy. One thing that is really nice about being in my 30s is just having lost some of that 20’s neuroticism. I think that a healthy diet ultimately is a hybrid between control and going with the flow. I feel very fortunate that my base level of knowledge around food is high, and that I live in an area where the standard of quality is so good, but sometimes you end up eating things to be polite or because your in an area that might not have your ideal offering. I don’t have the energy, nor do I think it is particularly healthy to ‘stress’ out about it all the time.
I’ve started making my food choices more not just from a place of health, but also from a place of sustainability and minimizing waste. They end up working together, but I try to remember it isn’t just about me.
I eat a primarily plant based diet with lots of raw foods included. I cook at home most nights, but still love to go out to eat for exploration and to be waited on.
I know I’m on the right path when I have energy and feel good and when my digestion is working well!
How did your background in food bring you to develop Nucifera? Were you surprised at all about the challenges of formulating a product?
I started getting severely dry skin in my mid twenties and started experimenting with natural skincare then. I developed the formula for Nucifera while writing my book Coconut Kitchen. I’ve always used coconut oil, but during the process of the book I was literally covered in coconut from head to toe. I started to see that coconut oil did much more than just moisturize – it helped even skin tone, lighten dark spots and just give your skin a general ‘glow’. That being said coconut oil has never worked for me as a solo moisturizer so I started combining it with other plant based oils and butters to develop a formula that worked for me.
I actually make The Balm in the same way as chocolate. It’s a tempered product that is more complicated than just blending things all together. Temperature and humidity can all effect the results. Making a product without stabilizers that is 100% natural and non synthetic IS complicated. There’s a reason that all the chemicals exist in skincare and part of that is for consistency. Although we have a solid formula, The Balm is like food in that it is hand made and each batch can vary slightly. I hope people see this as part of the quality! (It also melts over 95°F. All you need to do is refrigerate it to set it back up, but some people don’t know this!)
You obviously have a great love for the coconut. For the uninitiated, tell us why.
Coconut is so versatile, sustainable, and it is the greatest vegan source of healthy fat. When my fat lightbulb went on, I was drawn to coconut. Green juice and all these cooling foods are just not enough- especially for women. Fat is really what helps your brain function optimally, and nourish your skin internally. Healthy fat also increases the solubility of so many of the vitamins that we think we are getting when we eat vegetables.
Plus it also tastes really good, and in vegan cooking it is literally one of the single best ingredients.
What are some of your other favorite ingredients?
Oh I love so much, and it fluctuates but I’d have to say avocado, sauerkraut, seaweed, all greens, tahini and sun dried olives. If I just had those things around I could pretty much feed myself forever. Plus some plums or whatever fruit is in season.
Has becoming a mother changed your approach to health and wellness?
So far… yes and no, but I think that becoming a mother has just affirmed the path that I’ve been on for a few years which is to relax more and take a more holistic approach. I’ve been in the heath and wellness mix for so long, I see that there is this obsessive culture that often comes with it that isn’t healthy. I really don’t want to pass that along to my daughter. I want her to thrive on life, curiosity, education, art and healthy relationships.
Food is only part of the picture.
Aside from food and beauty products what are some of your most important practices for staying well? Any new discoveries? Any you’ve decided to let fall away?
Staying hydrated, walking and bathing are numbers 1, 2 and 3. I’ve actually always been very athletic and worked out quite a bit although I’ve never identified with fitness culture. But now with a child it’s been really hard to get in a fitness routine. I’m definitely craving a good sweat, but I’ve been really happy with how my body has adapted to a less strenuous regime.
I also feel very fortunate to have found Kundalini yoga. I live close to Ra Ma Institute and try to go at least once a week. Whenever I go the takeaway is exactly what I needed to hear.
And Allison Oswald of Plumbline Studios did wonders for my back postpartum. One thing you don’t think about as a new mother is adjusting to the posture of carrying a child. Essentially deadlifting a 15lb baby night and day really wore my back out. She is brilliant in helping you plug into your pelvic floor and staying alined.
Who are your personal heroes and greatest teachers? (These could be teachers you’ve known in person or even your most influential books or philosophies.)
I’ve got to give my mom number one on this list. She raised us as a single mother, worked full time as a attorney and managed to breastfeed both my sister and I until we were 3, which now, being a breastfeeding mom who works from home, blows my mind. She’s also probably the smartest person I know and has always valued brains and education over everything.
Any amount of female neurosis I have definitely didn’t come from her. She’s one of the most stable people I’ve ever met.
I also love M.F.K. Fisher. For someone who loves food I think she is one of the greatest philosophers of our time.
And Judith Jones. Who was one of the greatest editors and has shaped my life experience through her work.
What are some of your most indispensable books for health, wellness or food?
Absolute Beauty by Pratima Raichur is a classic Ayurvedic manual that I refer to often.
The Science and Art of Fasting and Food Combining by Herb Shelton are two books that I was recently reminded of and they’re great. His ideas were out there at the time, but there is a lot of value in his work.
Living Cuisine by Renne Loux is still one of the best raw food books.
Omnivores Dilema. I can’t skip over Michael Pollan who is probably the most brilliant food writer of the 21st century.
What do you love the most about living in Los Angeles?
So many things! The weather and the culture. I love that no matter what you are in to you can find a community in LA.
What are some of your favorite LA destinations?
Top 5 product picks from CAP:
I’ll stay on CAP because I pretty much love all the other brands you curate, but I think your own brand is pretty amazing!
The Coconut Butter. Seriously the best I’ve tried.
The CAPtivator. Love it.
The Daily Hit. Great ingredients, but I’m actually obsessed with the flavor. It has this mushroom earthy quality that I love.
The Genmaicha. I’m a coffee drinker, but love genmaicha in the afternoon.
And I just saw you are carrying Glass Dharma! I love their straws!