By Nicole Berrie
Photography by Vanessa Packer and Libby Gray
“DON’T DRINK THROUGH A STRAW!” Jamie Graber admonished us as we sat down at Gingersnap’s Organic, her juice shop-cum-raw food eatery in New York’s East Village. We quickly dislodged the tubes of her pressed “Kick” green juices from our mouths like naughty pets who had just misbehaved on the rug. “Digestion primarily happens in your mouth so when you drink through a straw, you skip all that,” explained Graber. (Note to self: stop drinking through straws.) The next hour continued in such fashion from learning why cashews are terrible (They’re toxic and as poisonous) to how to snack healthy (Air pop popcorn, then drizzle with Macadamian nut oil and add sea salt.)
The raw foodie lifestyle has always attracted certain misgivings. First, that it mainly consists of dry leaves, carrot sticks and celery. Another, that it’s simply imitation lasagna or sushi laden with seeds and nuts. And finally, that it’s just not good. Still, none of the aforementioned misnomers apply to Gingersnap’s, which quietly opened its doors last year and has been luring insider health nuts who prefer quality fare over hype marketing. “The whole way we designed our menu was to be a gourmet version of what was out there,” said Graber over aloe water on a Wednesday afternoon at her Seventh Street shop. To wit, Graber eschews ubiquitous raw foodie fare (nut spreads, nutloafs and the like) for light and bright dishes including savory kelp noodles akin to a bowl of ramen, a lemony ceaser salad and even too-good-to-be-raw donut holes made of almond flour and coconut. Graber, who has been raw for five years (two of which were vegan) amassed knowledge by logging in turns at Rawvolution in LA and Live Live in New York before embarking on her own enterprise. Here, she sat down with bonberi to debunk raw foodie myths and what cleanse she suggests for even the most green beginner.
How did you discover raw food as a healing source?
In college, I fell into the eating disorder where I wasn’t eating anything at all. Raw food is what changed my relationship towards food. I was 5’7, 85 pounds. When I started going into raw food, I got the connection that food isn’t anything to be scared of, it’s what fuels you. Raw is so great for people with eating issues because you can eat, and you’re eating good, healthy things. You’re not having Sweet N Low or trying to find ways to cut things out of your diet.
Still, that must have been a challenge getting to the point of peace with food?
It took my body a moment to feel it, but I just evolved. I used to go to supermarkets and be terrified. After becoming raw, I was totally turned on by the fact that you would see this gorgeous tomato at the Co-op in Santa Monica.
What are the benefits to a mostly raw food lifestyle?
If you are doing organic raw, you’re leaving out pesticides, processing, dairy, gluten, soy. When your food is alive and in the raw form, it has digestive enzymes still intact and your body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest, so it stays younger, saves you energy and you stay more alert.
We find that raw foodists can get pretty dogmatic. How “strict” do you advise your customers to be?
We’re not asking anyone to be perfect. We’re saying go do your thing, have fun, but you remember what you can feel like and it’s hard to stay off this path for too long.
Currently you are not 100% raw. How has the mostly raw diet worked for you?
Each person’s body is different in the way you react to certain foods. For me, being vegan didn’t work. I lost my period, I lost my hair, I couldn’t get muscle, it just wasn’t working. I went to an Ayurvedic doctor and he said you need to eat meat. I started with fish and two days later I got my period. It’s about conscious eating, instead of one blind diet for everyone.
Are their issues with being completely raw?
People that are all raw will go to One Lucky Duck and eat the ice cream and the mallomar. Mind you, that place is genius, but if you eat that everyday, you will not feel good. The biggest misconception is that raw foodists believe you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and that’s going to be healthier than if you put something cooked in your diet. It depends on what you’re cooking.
What things do you omit in your diet?
I don’t eat meat and I barely eat dairy. Also no gluten. I probably have gluten five times a year maximum. There are times where I do juice until dinner and that’s without a doubt when I feel best.
What is the most important principle for people new to the raw good diet?
Eating organic and mostly plant-based. Seeds and nuts but it shouldn’t be the majority of your diet. It should be plants and it should be fruits. Juice too, but not juice all day long.
We notice at most raw food restaurants, they go heavy on the nuts, seeds and avocado. Is all that fat ok?
If you’re going to go to a fully raw diet, you have a lot more freedom to eat nuts and seeds but when you start to incorporate both, you have to be mindful because fat is fat and your liver can only manage so much. There was a time when I was raw I was eating five avocados a day, not really great for me, but because I was all raw, it wasn’t a huge issue. If I was doing that balanced with some cooked foods, I don’t think that would be a recipe for success. It’s great for your skin and to have bowel movements but your liver doesn’t want to digest that much fat.
What is your ideal diet?
For me, I’m doing best when I’m all raw five days a week and then I have two days with my husband. During those five days, I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself so I don’t need to go crazy and binge. Knowing that my five days are clean, I think you can have two “dirty” days but just make sure that your those five days are clean.
What are your thoughts on juice cleanses?
Juice cleanses are an amazing tool when used correctly. They’re great to clean your palette and reset but they can become incredibly addictive. The point of the juice cleanse is so that your body can rest from digestion altogether and so when you’re doing that your body can function on everything else. You could sustain living on that way, you’d have enough nutrients in your day but you want to socialize so it’s not something super sustainable. When people use it and abuse it, they’ll eat really dirty and juice for 3 days and keep going into that cycle. It’s not a healthy relationship with food. I think juicing one day a week is a really nice way to let your body rest. And it doesn’t get you into that mindset of “Really good, bad. Really good, bad relationship with food.”
What cleanse would you recommend for the “beginner”?
Our Go Cleanse has you eating all day long. It’s all raw, all organic, all unprocessed, gluten free, and for the standard American person, that is an incredible diet. It’s great because it teaches people a good relationship with food and how you’re supposed to feel. It really teaches you portion control. People often come in here and are like, I didn’t realize how often I was eating when I wasn’t hungry and how often when I was snacking just to do it when I didn’t really need it.
Where do you source your ingredients?
We are 100% organic. When we can’t get it from our distributer, we go to Commodoties and buy it at retail. We’ll change ingredients before we put a non-organic thing on the menu because I think that’s the most important thing at the end of the day. We also were very mindful of not being super nut-heavy. We never use agave, we always use coconut palm sugar. We’re working on a sugar-free cleanse that is candida friendly.
So no tofu?
Tofu is one of the worst forms of soy that you can have because it’s so processed and soybeans are usually GMO. Unless you’re getting it from the family who is doing in the back.
What is a day in the life diet-wise look like?
I do black coffee every morning but it must be organic. It’s the most sprayed crop out of anything out there, it’s super toxic. We serve Crop to Cup, which is an incredible company. Then I’m going to do a green juice. Then I do my green soup, which I’m obsessed with, which is basically a savory smoothie. Then I’ll do one of my salads. For dinner, I’ll order from another raw restaurant from home, Quintessence or I’ll do sushi. I do sashimi and a lot of the restaurants do the Naruto roll, but I make sure they skin the cucumber. Anything with a skin that you eat, you want it to be mindful of it not being organic. For dessert, my addiction is a pint of frozen pineapple or a pint of frozen mango or frozen banana. One time I had quarts of it delivered to me.
Your husband is a fine dining chef. How do you guys do meals?
In the beginning, I stayed raw so we didn’t eat together, we just hung out. Then we went to Morocco and that’s where we fell in love. Food is beautiful. You can really bond through food. When we got back, we were going to Le Bernardin and all these places. That’s when I played with dairy a lot. The middle ground is kind of the hardest. I always say that I will feel a thousand times better in my skin and in my body the more raw I am but I married a chef who likes really nice restaurants. So sometimes you have to make some choices.