an interview with matt and janabai amsden

Los Angeles living food luminaries Matt and Janabai Amsden are world-renowned raw food chefs and co-founders of the Santa Monica health food oasis, Euphoria Loves RAWvolution. (now closed).

For more than a decade, Janabai has served as a natural health professional.

Matt is well known for authoring the inspiring cookbook and raw food guide, RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine (Harper Collins, 2006). Together, they also run a national raw meal delivery service that makes tasty raw meals easily accessible; patrons include celebrities such as Alicia Silverstone, Cher, and Susan Sarandon.

Their much anticipated new book, The RAWvolution Continues (Simon & Schuster, 2013), features more than 150 delicious recipes for appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts, as well as shakes, drinks, and elixirs.

As one of the most comprehensive raw recipe books available,The RAWvolution Continues is a valuable resource for raw food practitioners and health enthusiasts. Yogi Times editor Misha Bell talks with Matt and Janabai about raw food, community, and making an impact.

Misha Bell: You have been invited to join the Yogi Times Global Project “I AM DOING IT”. This project is about raising consciousness with your skills and passion in your community. How are you “doing it” locally?

Matt and Janabai Amsden: We are “doing it” and we are feeding people who are “doing it”! We serve high-vibration vegetarian food made with organic ingredients and packaged in recyclable or compostable packaging.

We buy our ingredients locally whenever possible. We recycle everything we can, including our food scraps, which we compost. Our furniture is either recycled or made from fast-growing wood.

We use only chemical-free paper products and our building is painted with non-toxic paint. We donate to social and environmental charities, we build community by hosting free events, and we spread the word about clean food and environmental awareness through our books.

MB: How did you get started on the path of raw food? Was there a pivotal person or event that inspired you to eat this way?

Matt and Janabai: For each of us it was a different process.

Janabai: My path to raw food was a gradual evolution. I became convinced of the benefits when eating raw foods helped me to heal from long-term chronic irritable bowl syndrome (IBS).

Matt: I was inspired by the teachings of author and lecturer David Wolfe, and I was motivated by the profound mental and physical leaps that Janabai and I both experienced upon adopting a raw vegetarian lifestyle.

MB: Tell us about the raw food dietary model. What makes raw food an excellent choice for yogis? 

Matt and Janabai: Yoga recognizes the importance of physical health, and raw food is incredibly healthy because it contains an abundance of live vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Raw foods are a perfect choice for health-conscious yogis. The raw foods we serve are also vegan, which dovetails with the yogic principle of ahmisa (non-injury).

MB: When people hear “raw food” they often imagine a restrictive diet of carrot and celery sticks. Help our readers to understand how raw foods can actually be incredibly tasty, satisfying, and even indulgent.

Matt and Janabai: A raw food diet is much more than uncooked vegetables. In addition to making incredible gourmet salads, we use blending, juicing, marinating, and low-temperature dehydration to create everything from raw soups, to raw sandwiches, to raw pastas. Raw onion bread is one of our most popular recipes.

We use this dehydrated flat bread for our raw sandwiches and raw pizza.

Imagine a piece of crispy onion bread slathered with blended heirloom tomato and sun-dried tomato marinara, topped with almond cheese, thinly sliced onions and bell peppers, and loads of fresh basil and oregano.

MB: What are some of your favorite meals?

Janabai: Truthfully, I am a big salad girl. Salads let me have all of my favorite foods in one bowl! I love salads with lots of ingredients and great textures, such as wild arugula and fresh dill topped with sauerkraut, walnuts, heirloom tomatoes, olives, dulse seaweed, pumpkin seeds, sprouts, and avocado. I go for simple dressings – usually just cold pressed olive oil and sea salt.

Matt: I also really enjoy a large well-put-together salad. One of my favorite salads combines fresh mixed greens, spinach, arugula, celery, heirloom tomatoes, avocado, hemp seeds, and dulse. I like to use either a simple homemade balsamic vinaigrette or a more gourmet salad dressing from our book,The RAWvolution Continues.

MB: Do you ever make any exceptions to eating raw foods?

Matt: For over a decade, l practiced a very strict raw food lifestyle where I exclusively ate raw plant foods. I have also lived according to a more flexible model, eating a mostly raw diet with occasional cooked plant foods.

Both approaches are incredibly cleansing and incredibly healing. It is not necessary to eat raw foods exclusively, but it can be great. In my view, it is more about eating fresh, whole foods that come from fields, not factories.

Janabai: Yes, at different times in my life I have eaten outside the raw food diet, whether for convenience, variety, or therapeutic purposes. I know that there is still a lot to discover about the human body.

Research on nutrition and wellness continues to reveal deeper and more complex relationships between our bodies and our food.

The raw vegan diet is incredibly healing and nourishing, but that does not mean that everything outside the diet is bad. There are many wholesome foods that are not raw. I wish I could say, “Eat this way and everything will be perfect!”, but it is not a black and white issue.

For me, eating raw food is about taking responsibility for my own health, which sometimes means navigating complex decisions about food.

MB: What motivated you to open your café, Euphoria Loves RAWvolution? 

Matt and Janabai: We recognized the healing power of raw foods and noticed that many people are intimidated by raw foods because they either lack equipment, or are unfamiliar with the ingredients and methods of preparation.

We wanted to make raw foods accessible. It also appealed to us to make our living in a way that both supports our lifestyle choices and affects positive change.

MB: How is RAWvolution more than just a place for delicious, healthy food?

Matt and Janabai: Everyone who steps through our door shares a desire for pure, powerful food. RAWvolution attracts like-minded folks because we serve fare that is made with the intention of healing.

RAWvolution has become a hub for the vibrant health food community in Los Angeles. We promote community by hosting events like our Wednesday night community dinner. By setting up one or two large tables and offering a lower-priced menu we encourage people to come together.

MB: What is “The Box” that RAWvolution offers? What inspired you to provide this service?

Matt and Janabai: Each week we create a box of prepared, organic, raw foods that includes two soups, four gourmet entrees, four side dishes and two desserts. The Box provides truly healthy meals that people can bring to work, or have waiting for them when they return from a long day.

The Box can be picked-up in Santa Monica, delivered anywhere in Los Angeles, or shipped to folks overnight anywhere in the country. Again, we just want to make it easy for people to get prepared raw meals.

MB: How do you see your work positively affecting the lives of people in your community?

Matt and Janabai: We see people healing physically. People are losing weight, as well as overcoming major and minor health crises.

We ride the cutting edge of nutritional awareness, and we adapt our menu to reflect that. People know that when they dine with us, they are getting some of the very best quality food available on the planet!

MB: What is the greatest challenge you have faced in “doing it”?

Matt and Janabai: The biggest challenge is finding balance. Running a raw food restaurant, raising children, and taking proper care of oneself are all full-time jobs.

We could easily spend all of our time doing any one of these things, but we are attempting them all simultaneously. It is tough at times, but it is worth it.

MB: What motivates you to keep “doing it?”

Matt and Janabai Amsden: We are motivated by seeing the positive change that comes from our work. It is rare to have a job where someone will walk into your workplace to thank you for what you do –  to say that you have helped change and improve his or her life. We are grateful to have that experience on a weekly basis. It makes it easier to keep “doing it” again every day.

MB: What has been your greatest lesson in life?

Matt: Patience. I certainly have not mastered it, but I am working on it.

Janabai: My mother always insisted in good posture. She felt that it was important for me to meet the world with my chin held up and my shoulders back. She believed that projecting confidence creates confidence.

When I was about 11 years old and starting to go through prepubescent awkwardness, suddenly and completely, in a flash of clear awareness, everything she said took firm root. I realized that if I believed in who I was and loved myself without any doubts, then those around me would too. It worked 100%.

The actions of holding my head high and walking with confidence informed my thoughts.

With repeated practice, I cultivated powerful and nurturing thought patterns that have supported and motivated me throughout my life, during both good and challenging times. It still amazes me that our thoughts and actions have such a powerful impact on our lives.

MB: What is your biggest dream?

Matt and Janabai: A world in which everyone has sufficient access to quality, sustainably produced organic food.

We believe we should endeavor to eat closer to the earth, become more aware of where our food comes from, and demand better. We can collectively effect change by voting with our dollars. When we buy only organic food, we support farmers and the environment.

MB: How do you see your work progressing over the next 5 years?

Matt and Janabai: We want to continue our work, but on a larger scale.

If we can feed a few people, our work is worthwhile, but if we can feed many people, our work is that much more rewarding.

MB: What advice would you give to someone who holds a dream of “doing it” in their community? 

Matt and Janabai: Goethe said it best: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

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