Expert Educates Consumers About Raw Foods

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Jennifer Mrkobrad is, in her words, “extremely passionate about the raw food lifestyle.”

However, the Columbus native knows not everyone in her hometown shares her enthusiasm− circumstances that have only clarified her mission.

“I knew that I had to not only bring the raw food message to our area, but I had to present everything in a way that was not intimidating or extreme,” she says.

So Mrkobrad founded Purely Simple Raw in 2009 to do just that.

“Teaching people that they can change the course of their health with a raw food diet is something that hasn’t been done before in our area and to make that message fun, entertaining, and taste amazing is, and always has been, a priority for me,” she says.

Read our interview with Mrkobrad to learn why she values raw foods, how she’s bringing her message to the masses, and what she wants Purely Simple Raw to accomplish over the next year.

Melanie McIntyre: You’ve said seeing friends and family through chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and various health crises affected your thoughts on nutrition. Can you explain that a bit?

Jennifer Mrkobrad: My husband is a five-year osteosarcoma survivor. He was diagnosed at age 25, his second year of law school. That rocks your world. You see what happens when you’re relegated to the hospital, your health is up in the air, and you’re being served terrible, acidic foods that are definitely not helping your situation. A situation like that forces you to open your eyes to the relationship between food and health.  It sounds obvious, but people don’t want to believe that you are, in fact, what you eat.

After he survived nine months of intense in-patient chemotherapy, we took a hard look at the types of foods we were eating. I had grown up a vegetarian, but began to realize that all of the processed foods that were present in my diet weren’t indicative of overall health. I was always looking to take that next step from a dietary standpoint, but veganism didn’t really resonate with me. I associated veganism, whether this is true or not, with a lot of “fake” foods trying to mimic meat or seafood and a lot of soy, which I try to stay away from.

I began eating raw foods and saw such a dramatic difference, almost immediately, that I became very passionate about the lifestyle and the diet. Just as I was becoming more and more immersed in the lifestyle, I received a call that my father had been diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of lymphoma. I felt the urge to not only make this a diet change, but a career, something that I had to bring to the attention of the mainstream. If you look around, there are very few truly healthy advocates out there and I felt compelled to bring the raw food message to those in our area.

MM: You refer to yourself as a certified raw food chef, nutritionist, and educator. What does that mean?

JM: This means that I am extensively trained and certified in the theory of, and science behind, raw vegan nutrition and food preparation, and am qualified to teach people about raw foods and how to prepare and integrate raw foods into their diets. I teach group classes, as well as provide personal consulting services that are catered toward helping real people with real schedules in the real world introduce raw foods into their diets.

Also, through personal consulting, I help people navigate the nutritional world of eating raw because it’s very different than your traditional nutritional ideals. We grow up and are taught that things like meat and dairy are healthy for our bodies, and that we shouldn’t go without them. This just isn’t true. There are plenty of easy ways to achieve optimal health with a raw food diet and I bring that knowledge and experience to my clients.

I am also a raw vegan chef. I do events, such as raw cocktail parties, dessert events, lunches, dinners, and private parties. I also do personalized meal preparation for people, many with specific health crises, to help them achieve their health goals with a raw food diet.

MM: A raw food diet includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and sprouted grains, correct?

JM: Yes, that’s right. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts are our primary food groups with other types of foods, including raw plant-based oils, sea vegetables, algaes, herbs, spices, and “superfoods.” Nothing in the raw food diet is processed or heated above 112 degrees. This is to preserve the natural enzymes in the food, as well as keep the nutrient content intact. When you cook your food, you’re cooking out roughly 80 percent of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes from your food.

MM: What’s the biggest misconception about raw foods and how does your business address that?

JM: One of the first replies I get when I tell someone I eat raw foods is “Oh, I could never do that!” A lot of people think that raw food is extreme or limiting in some way, or that they have to fully be 100 percent raw in order to reap the health benefits of raw food. It definitely doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Americans are severely deficient in the amount of raw foods in their diets, especially green leafy vegetables, so introducing any amount of raw food will be beneficial.

I teach people, through group classes and personal consulting, that it’s a transitioning process, not an overnight miracle. Introducing raw foods into your life can definitely take time, and recognizing and admitting where you’re coming from is half the battle.

If you’re someone who eats primarily a plant-based, cooked diet free of animal proteins, you will notice it’s easier to begin incorporating raw foods into your day. If you’re heavily reliant on processed convenience foods and meat or dairy products, you will notice it’s more difficult to begin to phase those foods out and raw foods in. It is all a process and it’s important not to get discouraged thinking it has to be a quick change.

I stress the importance of looking at raw foodism as a lifestyle, not a diet. Once it’s perceived as a diet, emotions get involved in your eating patterns. If we can separate and look at it as “Eating to Live,” not “Living to Eat,” you can begin to separate your emotions from your eating habits.

MM: Which of the Purely Simple Raw services makes up the bulk of your business?

JM: I do a lot of public group classes. I usually have about three per month. They are focused on bringing raw foods to the mainstream, so we do a lot of education, food demonstrations, and, of course, sampling. If the food doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter how healthy it is. People won’t eat it!

I teach in a very mainstream way, making raw food preparation fun and approachable, and easily translatable into peoples’ everyday lives, so they can introduce their friends and family to the benefits of raw foods as well. I have a great relationship with Whole Foods and they have been an amazing outlet for my business. I rent their culinary school and hold Purely Simple Raw classes there, allowing people to be in a great atmosphere conducive to learning about healthy, raw foods.

I also do a lot of “uncooking” sessions, which are private food preparation lessons one-on-one with a client in their residence. These sessions are amazing resources for my clients, allowing them to really get their hands dirty– preparing recipes, learning about raw food equipment and techniques, how to transition and reuse recipes, and overall personalized education on raw food recipe development and execution.

These are extremely useful for the person who wants to take their raw food intake from the occasional dish to a more substantial percentage of their diet. We focus on raw food preparation, of course, but also kitchen cleansing and organization, meal and menu planning, and budgeting and grocery store shopping tips. The one-on-one coaching really prepares clients to take the knowledge I’ve given them and run with it.

I would say the classes & personal consulting sessions have been the bulk of the business, simply because those are the best ways to introduce people to raw foods who maybe haven’t heard about eating raw before, but are curious or have heard about raw foods and want to learn more. The classes introduce them to concepts, help them understand why eating raw is important, and then, of course, they can see the food being prepared and taste it. Nowhere else in Columbus can you actually taste raw food!

MM: Are there other businesses here in Central Ohio offering services similar to Purely Simple Raw’s or services aligned with your company’s principles?

JM: Because I focus on raw vegan culinary, green practices, as well as health-conscious eating, there are quite a few businesses that align with Purely Simple Raw’s principles. We are really blessed in Central Ohio to have such amazing outlets like all of our local farmers markets, the North Market in downtown Columbus, and organizations such as Green Columbus and the Wellness Forum. Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Raisin Rack are amazing resources, as well as Clintonville Community Market.

While there are no local raw vegan restaurants, there is an amazing vegan place called Dragonfly Neo-V which serves beautiful plant-based vegan foods. I would love to see a raw vegan restaurant open up in Columbus!

Over the next 12 months it is a goal to introduce, expand and build relationships between Purely Simple Raw and local businesses that align with our principles.

MM: What are your other goals for Purely Simple Raw?

JM: To continue to bring raw foods to the mainstream. Currently, Purely Simple Raw classes are scheduled through July, with new classes being added all of the time. Over the next 12 months, I will also be focusing on expanding my market and executing initiatives that will make it all the more easy for any person to begin introducing raw foods into their lifestyles.

To learn more about Purely Simple Raw, visit PurelySimpleRaw.com.