Girls Gone Raw
It’s actually pretty simple. My hope in life and work is to be inspired and to inspire. Luckily, I live in Mt. Pleasant, DC’s eclectic community of artists, activists, foodists and savers-of-the-world. We live amongst quite a few attorneys, too, many of whom fall into the aforementioned categories. It’s DC, after all. Inspiration lives right around the corner and just down the block. Whether I’m hanging around our Saturday farmers’ market or skulking about a coffee shop trying to fit in with the tragic hipsters, I am amazed at the creative and original work emanating from this community of passionate and talented citizens. I’d like to start bringing their stories to you one by one.
This week, I sat down with Tessa Hale, a co-owner of the raw vegan foods company Ape Man Foods. Wait, don’t close your browser just yet. I know the words “raw” and “vegan” used together sound extreme and rigid. But you’d be surprised at how flavorful and creative raw vegan foods can be. I was!
Tessa and her business partner, Valerie Grissom (formerly a Mt. Pleasant resident), started the company to bring nutritionally powerful and delicious ready-to-eat raw vegan foods to health-conscious citizens of the DC area. I can admit to having approached this idea with caution. How do you make lasagna without pasta? Or a sandwich without bread? I sampled Ape Man’s portobello caprese sandwich (pictured above, photo courtesy of Ape Man Foods) for lunch to find out. Not only was the sandwich extremely tasty and fresh, I was full for hours thanks to the good fats and protein offered by the “mozzarella” made from macadamia nuts and cashews. I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying this relatively small-looking meal was – yet another reminder that we Americans have become accustomed to portion sizes that are too large!
So what do strawberries, dates and avocados, as pictured at the top, have in common? Read my Q&A with Tessa to find out.
What does “raw vegan” mean?
We use organic plants and no animal products. Foods are never heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills essential enzymes and destroys nutritional value. We use a lot of nuts, so the fat content in a raw vegan diet is high in healthy fats. Very few ingredients are processed. We use tamari (100% whole soy sauce processed without gluten) for flavor, but little else is processed.
Tell me about your decision to become first vegetarian, and then vegan.
My dad was raised on a ranch in Colorado and the meat-at-every-meal tradition continued. My mom is Finnish, a culture that consumes a lot of meat. I grew up on the traditional American diet. When I was 10 years old, I made the realization that hamburgers came from cows. I like animals. I don’t want to eat them. I stopped eating meat, which worried my mother. When I left for college in the early 90s, there were few options available for vegetarians. If I ordered a sandwich, I’d find a thick layer of cheese where the meat was supposed to be. These days, there are decent vegetarian options even at Safeway and Target.
I went vegan seven years ago. I had a healthy vegan pregnancy with my youngest child. My daughters, now 7 and 4, are also vegetarian though I would never tell them they can’t eat meat. Like most moms, I just want my girls to eat healthy. My husband eats chicken and fish when out, but vegetarian at home.
How do you handle kids’ birthday parties, which tend to be a parade of unhealthy foods?
I don’t worry too much about what my kids are eating at parties and celebrations. I’ve learned to stop trying to manage the situation! I’m mostly concerned that they’re eating healthy foods at home. I also try to make the important connection between the foods we eat and how it makes our bodies feel, something even a young child can tune into at an early age. I say things like “This makes you big and strong.”
What are the biggest challenges of living a vegan lifestyle?
It’s not the food choices. It’s explaining my lifestyle to people in a socially graceful way. When we are invited to parties, I typically bring food. I check in with the hosts to see what they’re preparing and offer to supplement the menu with a vegan creation from my own kitchen.
Who are Ape Man’s customers?
Our products are sold at Puree Juice Bar in Bethesda, MD. We will also be selling our products at Whole Foods in Friendship Heights, DC starting on May 10. Generally speaking, the customer is health conscious and interested in eating more whole, nutritious foods. Some customers have health issues, such as cancer or lupus. Some are yoga moms who are trying to eat better. Some customers are just curious people who are experimenting with different types of foods.
Tell me how being vegan has changed your restaurant dining experiences.
Restaurants have come a long way. Surprisingly, steak houses have some of the best offerings for vegans! In DC, there are a number of places that have a good selections of vegetarian options, like Rasika, Ripple and Cork, and some even have a separate vegetarian/vegan menu, like Estadio.
What would you like people to better understand about a vegan diet?
I want to open people’s minds to vegan eating. It’s possible to have familiar, comfort foods in a totally new form that are appealing on every level. I also want to open people’s minds to vegan nutrition, bringing together my background in integrative nutrition (Tessa holds a degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition). It’s an exciting time because people are becoming more aware thanks to the farm-to-table movement, the locavore movement, etc.
What recipe would you share to demonstrate that a raw vegan diet can include deeply satisfying comfort foods?
Ape Man makes a delicious dessert using avocados, berries, cacao and coconut butter. I’ll be eager to see what you think!
You can get Ape Man’s cacao pudding with strawberry puree recipe right here. All of my boys thought the pudding was delicious. I waited until we had finished to tell them what was in it. They were pleasantly shocked! Try it and see what you think. You may be surprised, too.
Thanks, Tessa, for the inspiration.