Kate ‘08 – changing a life, one day at a time

I’ve so been looking forward to writing this posting. It’s number 500. And somewhere in the first few paragraphs it’ll topple over into 200,000 words. I started writing here on 1 August 2005 – it’s literally been a life changing experience. One of the life changes started in March 2006 – Marica and I worked to run Blog Hui – New Zealand’s first international weblog conference. One of the speakers at the conference was Kate Quinn (then Rodgers). Kate grabbed her Mum, and they flew out from Perth, Australia, and into our hearts. We’ve stayed in touch, Kate’s writing is a regular stop off point for my daily reading. Kate’s life changed when she and Chris got married and they changed house, and everything seemed pretty much on the go.

Not everything, however. Kate had been struggling with her weight, and in January of this year (2008) Kate wrote of how, about a year ago, things reached an absolute crisis point. Kate found herself, in hospital, in pain, and wondering what had happened to her that amongst other things, she was now 147.5 kg (23 stone or 322 pounds).

I was left in the hospital overnight, and Chris went to sleep at his Mum’s house. I had plenty of time to reflect on what had brought me to this point. What made a happy child turn into a depressed adult carrying years of fear and pain in a pile of lard on her skeleton? Was it the years of bullying for being fat (I was a stocky tomboy, not fat at all in reality), holding in my emotions to put others first, having been called a selfish bitch for years no matter how much I put others needs before my own, being emotionally abused by drunken loved ones. Bottling it all up, and the bottle had to expand to contain it all.

I was gutted for Kate and her painful admission, and yet heartened by her courage – that aspect of her character wasn’t a surprise at all – after all, she had jumped on a plane to come and talk with us – if that doesn’t take guts I don’t know what does. At Blog Hui we wanted to (and did) cater for the widest range of food preferences possible, and Kate had requested vegan/vegetarian. After the crisis, Kate and Chris decided to make a transition from vegetarianism to raw veganism. Raw!

Now, that really got my attention. Raw. “What does that mean?”, I wondered. I thought about a character in the movie Notting Hill, who was a ‘fruitopian – I only eat fruit that has dropped from the tree’, and I had a vague memory of characters in Samuel Butler’s ‘Erewhon’ that only ate cabbages that had died of natural causes. That’s just stupid. Time went by. Recently, Kate posted a picture of herself and I was completely stunned by how great she looked, and in light of the crisis posting, I was more than a little intrigued by how Kate had made this change in her life. Inquiring minds want to know, so I flicked Kate a note, and she’s graciously agreed to the following interview:

Lynsey: I have friends who’re vegetarian – they work on a ‘no faces’ principle – pretty much anything else is up for grabs. Talk me through the continuum vegetarian > vegan > raw – what are your definitions – what meanings do you work to? Can raw include yoghurts and the like? How about honey?

Kate: Many people who eat chicken and fish but not red meat call themselves vegetarian, resulting in confusion over the meaning of vegetarian. To say it loudly and clearly: a vegetarian will never eat chicken or fish, and anyone who eats those and calls themselves vegetarian is merely damaging the reputations of genuine vegetarians. Don’t do it!

Sorry, but it is one of my pet peeves 🙂

I became a vegetarian when I was 10 years old, when it occurred to me that the meat on my plate came from the animals I saw when travelling through rural areas. I clearly remember making the announcement to my school friends; they laughed and said I wouldn’t last a week!

As a vegetarian I consumed dairy products including milk and yoghurt, cheese, eggs and honey. I was not concerned with processed foods that contained these however I would never eat anything with gelatine. The only leather I wore were Doc Martens boots and I rarely used wool or feather products. As a teenager and young adult, if I went to restaurants that noted “vegetarian” beside a fish or chicken dish, I’d challenge them! I remember calling up one restaurant after being very pissed off about a junk mail flyer/menu I received in the menu, and the owner being annoyed that “us vegetarians” wouldn’t make up our minds about what we would eat! Quite simply, vegetarians don’t eat flesh products – and fish is flesh – and will eat either or both dairy and eggs, or neither. Protein is not as important as people are led to believe, but I’ll answer the ubiquitous “Where do you get your protein” question anyway – from greens, tofu, tempeh, pulses and other plant based sources.

At the beginning of 2007 I had been transitioning to a vegan lifestyle for a few months, which involved reducing processed products that contained animal products from my diet. Vegans do not eat anything that is made from animal products or by-products from the slaughter industry, and I personally do my best to ensure products I use do not contain animal products (eg. glue). Honey and bee products are included in this.

As yoghurt is a dairy product and often contains gelatine, it is not vegan however there are plenty of soy yoghurts available and quite a few are preferable over dairy yoghurts.

Raw foodists are not necessarily vegan, but those who are create “cheezes”, yoghurt and “mylk” using nuts and seeds. Almond milk is my absolute favourite!

Lynsey: Where did you get the raw idea?

Kate: In my 20s, I naturally started going off cheese, milk and eggs. Cheese was a very hard addiction, primarily the culture of Cheese n’ Wine nights that I would have with my friends. I would only ever drink milk in tea or use it in baking, and about 5 years ago I went completely off eggs (I find it very anti-femininist eating the ovum of a female from another species) so I’d use egg replacements in baking. However, I started to react to cheese and milk with really bad reflux and nausea anytime I had anything that contained them. So at the beginning of 2007, I started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.

Rolling back a bit, my hubby Chris attended the FotoFreo conference in March 2006 (coincidentally while I was at Blog Hui!) and the keynote speakers discussed raw food, spirituality and photography. Chris got chatting to them afterwards, talking nothing about photography and all about raw foods! When I returned from NZ he was very hyped about it and wanted to go down that path rather than just be vegan (I don’t know why, ask him). That Christmas, I bought him an EziDri Dehydrator and we… put it on a shelf and forgot about it to prepare for our wedding 🙂

Looking back to the time when we were planning our wedding, I honestly don’t know how I’m still alive. Living 56kms from my work, and with roadworks the entire way, I spent at least 3 hours a day in the car. We would leave running late for work in the morning and pull into the service/petrol station and buy breakfast – usually a chocolate muffin, Snickers and 2-3 cans of V or Red Bull. And that was just me. On top of this was extreme stress from work, the wedding, family, money, trying to sell our house etc. We slept only a few hours each night, ate crap all day, and ran on auto-pilot.

We had never ever been that bad in our lives, only a couple of years before we were eating 100% organic (except the weekly pizza and Cheese N’ Wine nights) and actually exercising. I was still fat though as being vegetarian does not mean you’re lean and healthy – there’s plenty of vegetarian (and vegan) junk food out there that can keep you fat!

We had a three-day honeymoon “down south” in WA, and in a small country town wandered into a kitchen wares shop – and there was a book on Raw foods. We picked it up immediately and back at our bush cottage decided that raw was the way we’d go.

Amazing synchronicities occurred after that. We found a rental house 5kms from my work after fruitless searching for months, after I had a dream where the front of the house was vivid in my mind. I probably saw it online but my intuition/subconscious was clearly telling me this was the place. 2 minutes down the road is a wholefoods store and cafe selling raw food (salads mainly) and 7 minutes away is a raw food specialty store (Perth is very privileged as a store like this doesn’t exist anywhere in Australia to my knowledge).

We finally made the plunge in June 2007 after signing up for a 3-day raw food retreat that was advertised in Nova Magazine, which I only happened upon by chance. I cleaned absolutely everything out of our cupboards, giving away long life products like flour to family members and eating up anything else in the weeks prior. On returning from the retreat, we stopped by a farmers market and bought the biggest load of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds I’d ever bought (even after regularly getting organic fruit and veg boxes years ago) – and within a week we had eaten the lot!

Lynsey: Did you consult a doctor before going raw? What about ongoing medical monitoring?

Kate: I didn’t consult a doctor. I don’t have a family physician and as we had moved / been busy I hadn’t really bothered with any specific doctor for years. We did consult a naturopath however who advised us on the best ways to get all our nutrients, vitamins etc. I am seeing a doctor this weekend and will be asking to have all my vitamins and minerals tested.

However, apart from an ongoing health issue that being raw hasn’t affected positively or negatively, I feel absolutely fantastic!

Lynsey: Some one word questions. Wine? Beer? Coffee? Tea? Infusions? Hotchocolate?

Kate: I occasionally have alcohol, drinking wine that is not refined using egg or isinglass as long as I’m sober enough to make that judgment.

When I went raw, I went cold turkey off caffeine – after all the energy drinks I was consuming, I wanted to be off it entirely. I still love the smell of coffee but have absolutely no desire to drink it. On about 2 or 3 occasions I’ve had a black tea at work but I don’t like the taste and so I have a few sips and give up. I keep a selection of herbal teas and herbal elixirs at work, drinking them maybe once or twice per week. I don’t make tea at home because we only have a stove top kettle and the dehydrator sits on top of the stove 🙂

Hot Chocolate – it can’t be replicated as such but it is easy-peasy to make a chocolate drink with Almond Mylk (Mylk because it’s not “Milk”…) and raw Cacao power (pure chocolate and a superfood). Add a hint of spices and cayenne, and you get a pretty fiery drink that will warm you up in winter.

Lynsey: At work I’m a munchie kind of guy – I have this macaw thing (here and here) going on – bean sprouts, carrots, bananas, nectarines, oranges, grapes, mandarins; dried fruit: dates, pawpaw, apricots, mangoes. Brazil nuts, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds. Lunch is usually a salad-y thing, or, if I’m working through, miso soup. I’m kind of snacking all day – nibble of this, bite of that. It’s not that I’m really hungry, it’s more about if I don’t I get bored and chew up the phone, mouse and/or keyboard. How does all the dried fruit, nuts, and seeds fit into the raw world?

Kate: It sounds like you’re on route to being raw, Lynsey! The only changes you’d make is to dry some of the fruits yourself or ensure they have been dried at about 40 degrees celsius to keep the enzymes intact, and that the nuts are raw – unsalted and not treated with heat to get them out of their shells. Although with both things I’m pretty easy going and I don’t usually worried about dried fruits but I don’t have salted, heated nuts (they now taste pretty gross to me actually).

I nibble all day too – I like your Macaw analogy 🙂 When I first went raw I’d take in quite a lot of these things but then started just eating fruit throughout the day. I’m now starting to think of bring in a lunchbox of miscellaneous dried fruit and nuts now that its getting colder and I’m getting hungrier.

I dry my own apples and they are absolutely delicious, but don’t really bother with other fruit because you need such a huge quantity to make it last. I sometimes eat dried apricots, peaches, figs, and sultanas. I also eat Goji berries, which are a superfood (apparently) but past the marketing hype that’s currently going on, they just have a really nice taste and are pretty to add to raw desserts.

I have miso paste which I rarely use, but have since being raw had one or two bowls of miso soup. It is one without bonito, which is a tuna product.

Lynsey: Salted peanuts are a key that really fits the lock for me. They have everything going on – portability, salt, fat, flavour, texture, repeatability, the ease (convenient) factor and you can always eat ‘just one more’ – there’s always room. I can’t afford to eat a single one or I’d eat them by the kilogram until they’re gone, with the corresponding weight gain. Mind you, I’m not much better with baby carrots – they’re the same but without the salt/fat 😉 … Do you think this is a kind of food ‘allergy’ or food ‘orgy’ i.e. just a sign of no will power on my part?

Kate: An alternative to salted peanuts – in one word, Edamame.

Edamame is not raw, but it’s healthier than salted peanuts. It is the soya bean in the pod, and has had the shell cleaned with a bit of salt in a mortar and pestle then is lightly blanched. They are so incredibly yummy and give the same salt rush as the peanuts do. Check out your local Japanese restaurant or Asian grocer and see if they have any, it is worth trying.

Peanuts aren’t raw anyway, even “raw” ones have had some heat-based processing. I had a couple recently in a mixed nuts bag I bought and didn’t like the taste even though I used to love them (especially with beer, which hubby has discovered goes very well with Edamame!).

You can caramelise nuts, or make savory nuts, by mixing nuts (esp almonds and pecans) in a seasoning and dehydrating them. I haven’t been enticed to do this yet!

Lynsey: What’d your folks/friends say when they found out?

Kate: Generally, saying that you’re a raw foodist comes with a positive and curious response. I’m often asked how I can eat cold food all the time, as many people associate raw with cold and out of the fridge. That’s not the case. I eat “Lasagne” straight of the dehydrator and it’s deliciously warm, and using spices in dishes brings out a heat that warms you up even in winter. Mind you, I am in Perth and our winters are usually about 16 degrees celsius.

My mum Helen was all for me living a raw vegan lifestyle and has since become raw herself, greatly alleviating her chronic asthma and lessening heartburn/reflux she had experienced for years.

Chris’ parents think its another of our “fruity” ideas and are happy to go along with it but won’t eat any of our food (they’re fussy, traditional English food eaters).

The rest of our family are just fascinated, and are loving seeing the results. I don’t know if any of them would go so far to follow in our footsteps, but I’d love them too as quite a few are also overweight (genetic, probably not – I’d say we’ve all inherited emotional eating habits) and I worry a lot about their health. But I’m no preacher either so I don’t try to force anyone and simply lead by example.

My boss at work, an ex-chef now IT manager, on overhearing me telling a friend said monotonously – “I knew people like that once, they were weeeeird” 🙂

Lynsey: Our family traditions are tightly woven in and around food – as an example we want to know what you ate for dinner long before who was the celebrity you dined with. Did going raw mean you have to tweak any food cultural practices and protocols? What – no Easter eggs?

Kate: Oh, we had Easter eggs – they were vegan but not raw! I’ve never been one for Easter eggs anyway, the chocolate is always crap and would always give me migraines (true! I was always miserable at Easter).

Being only children, family do’s are generally woven around our parents with us doing the cooking. We haven’t had a raw family get together yet, as we were away at Christmas and this past Easter we just chilled out in Kings Park, each with their own picnic.

Previously, we’d entertained with a vegetarian lunch and fish as a main for everyone except Chris and I. Growing up, myself and a few cousins were vegetarian so there were always plenty of options.

Our wedding menu was completely vegan, with the menu designed by me and superbly catered by our friend Nigel at Big Belly Bus Catering in Perth. I was so scared of the reaction and only told our parents (who were also scared that family would be insulted) but everyone raved about it and even wanted the recipes.

Lynsey: Your hubby – Chris – what’s his take on raw?

Kate: As I said above, it was pretty much his idea. He has lost alot of weight and looks great now, but is worried about maintaining it so is eating cooked vegan products outside of our home e.g. falafel at work or going out to dinner.

Lynsey: What happens when you travel – can airlines cope with vegan as a fall back, or are they ok with raw?

Kate: Airlines are great with vegan food – even if you’re a meat eater you should order it because it smells and looks a lot tastier than the meat ones but they assume you’re healthy and give you an apple instead of chocolate or candy!

We’ve travelled twice now being raw, the first time last September and I was so sick with a virus that I ate the vegan meal (after not having anything cooked or high-starch since June) and it just made me much worse. Then Chris and his colleague travelling with us caught it, and the conference attended barely had anything vegetarian let alone raw vegan so we survived on tropical fruit, fruit salads and green salads from the hotel. By the end of the week, we were so hungry for something solid that we bought a falafel at a nearby supermarket. It tasted so bland and boring but it filled me up.

After that, I started thinking that eating a bit of cooked food here and there wasn’t so bad, and would do it occasionally. However, it was bad and it made me feel rotten. It just showed how easy it is to have bad habits over good habits, and because of this complacency I have now been struggling to have a day where I only eat raw foods.

We made better choices when travelling to Melbourne for Christmas. I made a little book for raw recipes that didn’t require anything other than a fork, we purchased a great little hand blender, and we stayed in self-contained accommodation the whole time. I did eat cooked foods during this time, how could I not as Melbourne is the haven for vegan eateries and I was like a kid at a fruit counter! (ok, kid at a candy store, just trying to be healthy funny).

It worked out great though, check out what we had for Christmas dinner.

Lynsey: How easy from a practical logistics perspective is it to be raw?

Kate: What’s for dinner tonight?

You can’t get easier than raw food – honestly. For dinner, I might have some fruit and if I want to be fancy I’ll actually cut it up and garnish it with mint. Or I’ll make a salad. Sometimes we will make a pate, patties or soup: all very quick to prepare as you just roughly chop the ingredients and put it in the food processor.

If we want more gourmet raw food, we will have pre-prepared some patties, onion bread, cookies, cereal, or crackers on the dehydrator usually giving them about 18 hours drying time (average). Any of those though we make to eat during the week. Cereal is created by sprouting buckwheat (about 1.5 days) and then drying it. Top with almond milk, sultanas and fruit and you’ve got a breakfast that’s better than corn flakes.

Almond Milk is quick and easy once you get the hang of it. Blend 1 cup of almonds to approx. 2 cups of water in a high speed blender such as the Vita-Mix. Then pour into a nut milk bag over a bowl and squeeze the Mylk out. It is kinda like milking a cow, without the cow attached 🙂 What I mean is that it has the same kind of milking action. You don’t have to strain it through, it just means your milk is thicker and nuttier. Once strained though it has the consistency of a Low Fat Milk but is very creamy and flavorsome. To make the chocolate drink, you pour this back into the blender and mix in some carob or cacao powder. Easy peasy!

Tonight, I have a couple of patties on the dehydrator (which I’ve been snacking on all day) so we’ll probably finish them off with some salad. I should make up a raw Brownie or we’ll go easy and have Raspberry Sorbet. All that talk of Almond Milk now has me wanting some, so I think I might make that too.

I’ve bought a tonne of books too for ideas and recipes, but now have the select few that I love regularly and I now feel confident with the ingredients and textures that I’m making up my own recipes.

Lynsey: I’m frighted about the vibe – you know, whole earth sackcloth, macrobiotic sandals and socks, and unshaven – and just wait ’til you see the guys! How has your day-to-day life changed being raw?

Kate: Some raw vegans have that vibe (some now-meat-eating-leftover-hippies are like that too!) but the people I have met in Perth’s raw community are all down to earth, normal people. There’s a few IT professionals, multimedia people, students, retirees, natural therapy practitioners. These are only the people who come to our picnics too. Online I’ve met people from all walks of life and very few are anything like the stereotype you’ve described. However quite a few, including Chris and I, are into organic fibres like hemp and you can get some gorgeous hemp clothing now. Chris has a couple of business shirts, one which he wears to photography jobs because its breathe-ability means he doesn’t get so hot. I’m waiting to lose enough weight to buy some hemp clothes – as it’s assumed only skinny people want to wear it! But then again all fashion generally assumes anyone over size 14 wants to wear a bedsheet anyway.

Lynsey: I guess if you changed your mind about ‘raw’ you could always sneak out for a burger. It’s about what you eat, rather than a permanent, get a tattoo thing, right? Have you ever snuck out for a burger? Ever wanted to? Anything you miss? Have you got a tattoo?

Kate: I’d never want a burger, I’ve been away from that so long that it just doesn’t even occur to me as being food. However, I seriously miss tofu and tempeh! I love both of those and since I haven’t been eating all raw each day, I’ve been getting teriyaki tofu at the local Japanese place. Of the non-raw foods that I’ve been eating recently, it’s been water crackers and hummus (convenience food), Japanese because the local Japanese place is just so yummy (wish I hadn’t discovered them) and then steamed veggies if we happen by Chris’ parents place on our way to our 2nd, night job.

I remember reading in a Fiona Horne book years ago, about how she got her tattoos to mark a significant change in her life, and that tattoos were culturally applied in this way too – to signify the passing from one phase into another. That has always stuck with me, and so getting a tattoo is something I really want to do. There are some specifically vegan tattoo artists, but alas not in Oz. I have no idea what I’d get yet but it would be very personal and special. I don’t think many raw foodies would agree with this either because it contradicts some principles of natural hygiene. However, I prefer to go with my intuition and I like the idea (for now, at least).

Lynsey: So help me, I have to ask. With all the raw talk, I initially thought it was about – you know – *that* kind of raw. So, ah, is it true that, um, raw – you know – puts lead in your pencil?

Kate: I named my blog “In The Raw” because of the double innuendo, naked food/naked body, but also because I’m blogging so personally that I’m really putting myself on the line. But the title is used by some other bloggers and in a book, so I’ve been wondering if I should change the title. What do you think?

As for libido, well at first we both certainly had more energy and stamina that the bedroom really did spark up. However, it’s been rather boring lately as we’ve been busy working etc. We more often go to bed snuggled up to our laptops than each other… and we’ve been married for less than 1 year! (Together for 9 years tho).

Lynsey: How can someone get raw?

Kate: Start by unbuttoning your shirt….

Seriously, if you want to go raw or do a 30-day trial e.g. this one at Steve Pavlina. I recommend doing your research first and take it slowly. Make sure that you have a plan of how you will do it, and that you are doing so for the right reasons otherwise you will just go back to the way you went before. Breaking bad habits is hard and without the conviction you will fail. I’ve been floundering but I still consider myself a Raw Vegan and I’m still committed to eating primarily this way because I know – now from experience – that it is better for me, and I know it is the only thing that has worked for me in regards to weight loss.

Lynsey: Thanks, Kate, you’re an inspiration. Readers will be interested to note that, as of publishing, Kate notes she has progressed 25% of her weight loss goal. Changing her life, one day at a time.

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