By Vanessa Packer
Photography Sasha Israel

“It was really hard to find fresh food that we liked eating and was accessible. It was near impossible. ”

THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE in the health world that are curators, and as much as we are curators, we are the provider as well, so its the answer at your door. Do this, eat this, and these are the results” says Whitney Tingle, co-founder of Sakara Life, a nutritionally wholesome vegan meal delivery service. Whitney and childhood friend Danielle DuBoise started Sakara Life out of their own difficulty in finding convenient well-balanced vegan meals while working full time. “As a busy person in New York City, I’m looking to take care of my body and work long term, stay young, stay healthy, have energy to live life to the fullest,” describes Tingle over the Sakara Youth and Beauty Salad. They don’t market themselves as a cleanse, but rather a lifestyle program. “We think if this can be your home base then when you go out to dinner, you do whatever you want, but you always come back to the cleanest food possible. It’s a good way to feel your best,” explains Tingle. Growing up in Sedona, Arizona, Tingle and DuBoise were educated on many of the food principles that guide Sakara Life today. Nothing is processed, there are no animal products and they work greens into as many meals as possible to hydrate cells in the body. As an alternative to juice cleansing, which more and more people are saying is not sustainable for lasting change, Sakara Life offers a platform to train your body to crave what it needs, not always what it wants. The founders of Sakara Life sat down with bonberi to delve into nutritional healing, the inspiration behind their seasonal menu, as well as what keeps them zen and balanced.

How did the concept for Sakara Life come about?
DANIELLE: We grew up together in Sedona, which is a really spiritual town on the forefront of the mind, body and food connection. As early as four years old, we learned what chlorella tablets were as well as how to read a nutrition label and what hydrogenated oils were. We were beginning to understand what’s good for you and not good for you. When we went out into the world, we thought everyone had that information, but they don’t and when they realize you have that information, they start asking for it. We got to New York, Whitney was working on Wall Street and I was still in school. We were basically trying to solve our own problem. It was really hard to find fresh food that we liked eating and was accessible. It was near impossible. If we wanted to cook ourselves, we lived in Soho, we had to walk to and from Tribeca to Whole Foods to get our groceries, walk up five flights of stairs, and cook in our kitchen that was no bigger then this small table. It would probably go bad because it was hard to make enough for just one or two, and we thought people must have the problem everywhere and there was no solution to fix it.

“All the people doing juice cleanses would have it for three days, come off the cleanse and have no idea what to do. So our solution was that we didn’t want to be a liquid crash diet, we wanted it to be a lifestyle.”

WHITNEY: Working on Wall Street, I saw people that were highly educated and knew what to eat and what not to eat, but they didn’t have the time and it wasn’t available. Working at the World Financial Center, it was like a food desert and you would have ten minutes for your lunch break. It was difficult trying to figure out what to eat that was nutritionally balanced and was going to give you the energy you need for the day. We would do the, eat a lot of different things and then juice cleanse. We would try that system thinking that would make us healthy. We did a master cleanse for 5-10 days and finally said, “Enough! There has to be a better way!” This was about four years ago. It was all about turning back to our roots. Convenience was a big factor and all the people doing juice cleanses were paying a premium wanting to feel cleansed and a healthy restart. They would have it for three days, come off the cleanse and have no idea what to do. So our solution was that we didn’t want to be a liquid crash diet, we wanted it to be a lifestyle so we were solving the convenience and the nutrition problem. The meals are all nutritionally designed so if you do the whole week or the whole month, you get all the nutrients you need from our meals. It’s not like you are just getting a salad, you are getting a thought out well balanced meal, which is even harder to find. We make sure you are getting the proteins, minerals and vitamins, it is all here for you. Also, stocking your pantry in New York City will cost you so much money. We stock our kitchen with all these amazing super foods and it starts to add up. We have a vast array of ingredients and amino acids.

What does Sakara mean?
WHITNEY: It’s Sanskrit. It means “with form,” as well as, “the manifestation of thoughts.” All those things floating out there, it’s the physical manifestation of that.

Is it cleanse?
DANIELLE: It has really manifested into a lifestyle. We struggle whether to call it a cleanse, it’s more a lifestyle program.

WHITNEY: We learned that you have to educate your consumer. We have one day, five days, 20 days, or three month programs, and some people do it for a year straight. We deliver a few times during the week and encourage people to go to farmers markets and cook for themselves as well. Some people do Sakara up until dinner.

“Our biggest client are women who work like men, but want to look like women.”

Who is the Sakara Life customer?
DANIELLE: Our biggest client are women who work like men, but want to look like women. I want to have something show up at my door that I fully trust. I won’t walk into a deli and just order anything. It’s important to know where the food comes from. It doesn’t have to be vegan, or be perfect, but I want to know. I don’t want frozen, processed or pesticide-riddled food. It was important with Sakara Life that people trust that as soon as they get their delivery they don’t have to worry about what they eat. We always joke that if we didn’t have this business, we don’t know what we would eat.

WHITNEY: I would eat like shit, and Danielle would starve to death. It’s really solving our own problems. Our client is us.

How often do you eat Sakara?
DANIELLE: Everyday. It’s all we eat, but for dinner maybe we’ll go out. It’s really important for us to try the food and maintain the quality. We taste and monitor everything everyday.

Where do you do source your ingredients?
WHITNEY: We source from as many local farms as possible. Many in the Hudson Valley, some Long Island and New Jersey farms. Superfoods come from all over the world.

DANIELLE: We try to source from places that are conscious of their employees and their environment.

Is it always organic or local?
DANIELLE: Some local farms can’t support the organic label because it’s expensive, but they have organic practices. Now it’s better to get local rather then organic, if you are going for one over the other.

WHITNEY: Organic is something overblown, unless you really know where the food is coming from, its iffy. We really do our homework and make sure we know where we are sourcing from.

What are the people that sign up for Sakara Life looking to achieve?
WHITNEY: A lot of them come because they don’t have time to worry about making and preparing food. Part of our society is moving towards deferring to experts, and outsourcing to the expert. If you know that someone is a better designer then you are, you pay the designer to do the amazing job they can do, and you just get it done. We think people are realizing that when it comes to nutrition and cooking. They need to find their experts because they don’t have time to do the research on their own, and it’s a lot.

DANIELLE: A huge amount of people come to us looking to heal over diet. Sometimes it’s both because people may have a certain disease due to excess weight. Something that is very personal and important to us is nutrition to heal. We talk a lot about moving into hospitals and working with cancer patients and people going through chemo therapy. People that couldn’t keep food down or use their hands due to an ailment or illness eat our food, and its been amazing to work with these people and see them improve. They didn’t know where to turn, they didn’t want to live on medications all their life and now with our food they are off their meds and able to walk again. Really dramatic stuff. It’s amazing.

WHITNEY: We’ve been called food doctors.

“It’s really easy to be a junk food vegan, sit there and eat cashew butter and apples all day. It’s convenient, but not necessarily healthy. ”

What are the guiding principles behind the food and Sakara?
WHITNEY: We have a lot. Organic, local, plant based protein, no animal sources in there. We don’t count calories or carbs, it’s about healthy ingredients and getting an array of colors and nutrients into your meal. It’s a vegan program and we have to make sure we are creating complete nutrition with complete proteins, nuts and legumes.

DANIELLE: It’s also about green, we don’t call many of our items salads, but we put a lot of hydrating greens. Whether its a wrap in greens or a bed of greens under more filling meals. Making sure you are getting hydrating foods is the biggest difference in your skin, your mental function, everything.

What are the benefits to eating hydrating plant based foods?
WHITNEY: A lot of times people think that eight glasses of water is enough hydration, but what we are finding out in food science is that a lot of your hydration comes from the food you eat. Drinking water is about flushing the system, but what hydrates the cells is the hydrating the foods you eat. The synergy between the vitamins, minerals and cellulose with the water content helps your cells absorb it. It’s about how it interacts within a whole food that nature creates in order for your body to process it perfectly. People must remember too, it’s really easy to be a junk food vegan, sit there and eat cashew butter and apples all day. It’s convenient, but not necessarily healthy. We are not necessarily advocates of being vegan, we think if this can be your home base then when you go out to dinner you do whatever you want, but you always come back to the cleanest food possible. It’s a good way to feel your best.

DANIELLE: As a culture we tend to single out vitamins, like Vitamin A, we need it so they put it in a pill, and its not necessarily good by itself and you won’t necessarily absorb it. You take the vitamin and absorb 2% but you eat a carrot and you absorb so much more.

How do you eat on a daily basis?
WHITNEY: We eat meat when we want to. It’s 80% vegetarian and 20% brunching and dinners out. It’s a balance. We do not eat packaged or processed foods. We don’t eat too much salt, sodium and bread. Nothing too dense that will dehydrate.

How often do you change the menu?
WHITNEY: Seasonally but we are always updating it too. We have about 60-70 menu items and we tailor the meals to the customer.

DANIELLE: You’re allowed up to three allergies. We had to limit it because we had people that would send us lists with 40 allergies and the kitchen would want to kill us. We had to put in boundaries.

What is a typical Sakara day like?
DANIELLE: This morning I had one of our pumpkin seed persimmon bars. Usually breakfast has a lot of protein and some sort of fruit. It’s a nice smooth easy wake up.

WHITNEY: We started incorporating one green breakfast into the weekly meal delivery. We don’t do juices yet, but we are going to start to offer it as a supplement soon. One green breakfast we have is a banana chard wrap. It’s banana, almond butter and wildflower honey wrapped in a chard wrap, so you are getting some green with your protein and fruits.

DANIELLE: We make a chlorella drizzle to that we put over granola, and we also have spirulina bars.

WHITNEY: Lunch varies, it could be a type of salad, like the youth and beauty salad, or our no bun beet burger over a bed of greens. Dinner is usually a little more hefty with beans or grains, but not too many grains because a lot of people have been moving toward Paleo, so we’ve been giving people the option.

DANIELLE: We’re a vegan Paleo though, if people want to eat meat they can incorporate that into their diet on their own. Getting balanced vegetarian meals is hard to find.

We noticed one of your dishes has a Ayurvedic teaching on it, do Ayurvedic principles influence the menu?
WHITNEY: We incorporate a lot of principles and try to educate our customer. Maybe it inspires them to learn more or get involved.

DANIELLE: We like to put little messages on top of the food that tells them more about the meal they are going to have, so they can take that moment to read it before eating. On our labels we talk about the inspiration, or the ingredients and why they are good for you, not just that carrots have Vitamin A but what does that mean, what do they do on the inside of your body, and how does that translate in your life. How will you notice it? Glowing skin and better eyesight.

Is there anything you do not use?
DANIELLE: No animal products, no soy unless its unprocessed, no gluten, no processed food ever. It’s naturally though, we use rice flour and flax meal a lot of times so it’s gluten free. It’s the base for people, anyone can do it.

WHITNEY: With our meals, you don’t need to supplement anything, but if you want to you can. Everyone gets a cleansing guide, and we offer detox tea in the program. It’s an African Rooibos tea with linden flower and rose petals. It promotes the pulling out and flushing toxins out of your body. It has good antioxidants as well.

What is your fitness routine?
DANIELLE: We are big fans of Physique 57.

WHITNEY: We try to make it as fun as possible, and we’ll try any class just to experience it. Jivamukti has live music on Friday nights which is fun, even going to the gym and trying every machine.

DANIELLE: Sometimes I’ll work out from home, because if I don’t do it before I leave the house, it will never happen. Even just an abdominal set, push ups and breathing. We like to go to a class every once and a while though, and get our asses kicked.

Do you have a spiritual practice?
DANIELLE: Yes and it’s really scary how easy you can slip away from it. The busier we get I can see how you can just go off a cliff, loose your way be like, “Oh I’m going to start that back up next week.” But then you don’t, and that’s much more work to do on yourself. I like to do something everyday that is just about focusing on me, and taking care of myself, if I don’t I’ll have too much to catch up on. Taking a breath, little workouts in the morning and baths.

WHITNEY: We have a nice circle of women and we get together and do women circles sometimes. Sometimes it takes a whole community to remind you to take a moment. To check in, find the time to ask whats going on and let’s talk about it, but internally. Everyone listens to the free flow of your mind, and then we do an activity, some sort of creative activity towards manifesting more of what you want, and releasing what you don’t want.

Are there any books you like or guides you follow?
WHITNEY: When I was in college I sat in traffic for 45 minutes everyday and I had The Secret on audiobook. It’s nice to hear that stuff sometimes, like Alan Watts talking about zen, or Eckhart Tolle. You can get really into the macro world when you deal with people and transactions, money and finance. It’s easy to forget the magic of it all, and why you are doing it and how powerful you are. These circles remind you that you have more control then you realize and remind you to give yourself credit. I recommend putting it on your phone and listening to it on the subway before going into the office. Even if it’s five minutes. You may hear something you didn’t hear before.