Friday, October 19, 2012
Interview with Chef AJ, author of Unprocessed
I recently reviewed Chef AJ's book, Unprocessed, and followed up with her to ask some questions. Her book consists of two parts: a cookbook with 100 recipes and the story of her own journey to veganism. The enthusiasm she exudes is encouraging and the support she provides in the book is amazing. Chef AJ's past experiences have uniquely positioned her to lead others to success by proving that no matter what, anyone is capable of make a lifestyle change.
LRJ: Your story really struck me as inspiring with all that you've been through. I'm a big believer in experiencing certain situations that bring you to a fork in the road. Once you embraced a plant-based diet, how did it affect your life?
Chef AJ: Well, in the area of my physical health, it did not improve until I switched from a junk food vegan diet to an SOS-free (Sugar/Oil/Salt-free) whole food, pant-based diet. But my spiritual and emotional health improved instantly when I stopped consuming dead, decaying rotten animal flesh and their secretions. I never felt it was right, or even necessary, to wear or eat animals and I just felt so much better that no living creature had to suffer or die so I could satisfy my addictions. And meat and dairy are highly addictive.
LRJ: I'm always interested in why people have changed their diets. You and I both made the switch to a plant-based diet for health reasons. You also referenced in your book that some people may not be ready to make the switch until a serious problem occurs. What do you say to the people that are curious and may have a looming issue that is lurking in the shadows?
Chef AJ: I can't do anything until they are ready and they come to me. I can only lead by example.
LRJ: I know you mentioned your parents were severely ill, specifically your dad and his daily slice of kosher salami. What do you say to people who aren't seeing the connection between food and illnesses?
Chef AJ: There are none so blind as he who will not see. You really can't say anything to people who are in denial about the impact their food choices have on their health. Doctors are not taught nutrition in medical school and most people put doctors on pedestals when they should be putting their health destiny in their own hands. You can suggest they read The China Study or watch Forks Over Knives but you can't stop them from digging their own graves with their knives and forks. In my 36 years as a vegan, I have led many horses to the water. Very few are willing to drink.
LRJ: The adoption of plant-based diets are starting to spread around the country. You've packed some major points about the way most people eat and how to change our habits in a no-fuss guide and cookbook. What do you hope the readers will take away from Unprocessed?
Chef AJ: That whether or not they continue to eat animal products, they still need to eat fruits and vegetables. Americans eat less than 10% of their calories from fruits and vegetables and over 50% of Americans eat NO VEGETABLES! (Unless you count french fires and ketchup as a vegetable!). The other take home message is that processed food is not food and we should not be eating it and certainly not feeding to our children, period!
LRJ: I consider myself lucky to have discovered eating plant-based while in my 20s. It's tough to stay on track, but well worth it. Do you hope to reach a younger audience (my generation) as a means of preventing the diseases that our parents are facing?
Chef AJ: As Linda Creed said in her song The Greatest Love of All, "I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way". These food addictions to sugar, fat, salt, dairy and animal products start very early in life. I need to reach people before they have kids. It is so much easier to avoid these food addictions and diseases of lifestyle than treat them once they occur.
LRJ: Your recipes are simple and easy. What was the goal behind these recipes and who did you have in mind when writing them?
Chef AJ: Blind people! I was a volunteer culinary instructor at the Braille Institute for three years and all the recipes in my book were made by my blind students. I figured if a blind person could make them they would be a cinch for someone who could see. With just a few exceptions, I try to use very few ingredients that can be put together in minutes.
LRJ: You mentioned that Darren La Croix, Ed Tate and Craig Valentine taught you the six words that you needed to hear to finally write Unprocessed. What were those words and what prompted you to sit down and pen this book?
Chef AJ: DONE IS MORE PROFITABLE THAN PERFECT. One of my students said she couldn't eat healthfully because she had mental problems. It got me thinking about all of the excuses people give as to why they can't possibly do this. I truly believe it all comes down to one thing: food addiction.
LRJ: I love how you end Chapter 5 of the book with a lending hand. You've invited your readers to contact you for support and I admire that! I've noticed that when people go plant-based they either have tons of support or face harsh criticism. What sort of support do you offer to your fellow readers?
Chef AJ: I kid you not that I get a minimum of 200 emails per day. Some days, double that. Many people have recipe or cooking questions. Some want support or coaching. Next year I will be bringing my program, The UNPROCESSED 30 day challenge, online so I can help more people at once.
LRJ: Any upcoming projects, cookbooks, etc.?
Chef AJ: Yes! Healthy Taste of LA, an annual event I co-produce, is coming up on November 4th. Dr. [Caldwell] Esselstyn is our keynote speaker this year. Tickets can be purchased at www.HealthyTasteofLA.com. If the event sells out again this year, we will live stream it for free. I will be teaching a class on October 23rd at 7:00 pm Pacific Time that you can watch for free at www.southbaychurch.net.
Kelsey is a passionate vegan living in Houston, Texas, spreading the word about the benefits of eating a healthy, plant-based diet. She's also a minimalist enthusiast, a self-proclaimed financial guru of her household, and founder of The Little Red Journal.