An Ancient Greece figure that we know as the father of western medicine, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.” Since then, our world has evolved tremendously. Somewhere down the line we have forgotten this very powerful quote.
In today’s world, our concept of being healthy is completely backwards. We think that just because we don’t feel pain we are completely healthy. We look at all of our body parts as separate pieces and not as a whole system. We no longer focus on how to achieve optimum health, rather we spend tons of money on pharmaceutical medicines hoping to fix everything wrong with us very quickly. We spend less time in the kitchen cooking our own food and more time waiting in line at the drive thru. We consume unhealthy food for convenience and taste, but we disregard the toxins that come with those food. This backward paradigm has led us to think that what we eat does not affect our well being. And it’s also led us to be a very unhealthy society.
Thankfully we have people like Jenny Ross of Orange County. She is pioneering the raw foods movement and creating an express lane on the highway of healthy eating! Jenny is the owner of a very popular raw foods restaurant called 118 Degrees and she recently opened a juice bar called Lemon Drop. I had the pleasure of siting down with Jenny to talk about her passion for food as well as her inspirations and goals.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Chef Jenny Ross from 118 Degrees and I am a raw food missionary. My whole goal is to educate people about healthy food choices and the healing qualities in food.
Do you practice yoga or meditation? If so, how has that influenced your career?
I do practice yoga and meditation, mostly yoga. I have two small kids at home, so meditation usually has to be fast. Yoga has been a huge impact on my personal life. It actually led to my career choice. When I was starting to really experiment with raw food, I was dealing with a healing crisis in my body. I had moved to this really cute apartment in Laguna Beach. I didn’t know what I was about to embark on as far as my personal journey. I was just kind of there checking out the scene. I was at The Stand one day and I came across a flier of a Bikram Yoga studio that just opened nearby and I thought, “Ok, I’ll try yoga.” It was also two weeks free. After one week of doing Bikram Yoga, I was completely hooked! Through my yoga practice I realized how much I was connected to the food and how my physical body was directly affected by my food choices. Yoga really opened me up and right away and I knew the food I ate was killing me. It was a great awakening to have early in life because it allowed me to really start shifting my diet. So without yoga being the catalyst for driving this change, I don’t think I would be sitting here today serving raw food to Orange County and living a very vibrant lifestyle. I would probably still be very sick.
Tell us more about your journey to raw foods. How was your transition?
Around that same time I got into yoga, I got rid of the offending things that were very obvious. I stopped eating fried food, I noticed every time I ate a French baguette, I didn’t feel good and, I got rid of white flour and sugar. Sugar was a big one for me. I started experimenting with a vegetarian diet and it was incredible! But soon, I realized that I wasn’t getting the healing benefits that I had hoped for. Shortly after that, I started helping a friend that had celiac disease. It required that you cut all gluten from your diet and at that time, celiac disease was fairly new, so there wasn’t much resources available.I set out on a mission to help my friend by baking gluten free food for him and in that process of learning, I was googling recipes and came across a website by Dr. David Jubb. He is an incredible scientist that has helped educate the healing properties in raw food, how it works in the body and the science behind it. I ordered his book; Life Food Recipe and that was the time before amazon so it took 4-5 weeks to get it in the mail. That same day, someone hands me that same book that I just ordered on the Internet and said, “Uncle John said you should read this book.” I looked at the book and took it as a sign. That same day I read it cover to cover over night and I thought to myself, “ Wow the living body needs living food.” Without the energy and the enzymes in that food, you’re not going to feel energy! You’re not going to have the ability to break down your food and really absorb the nutrients that your body needs. That made so much sense, it was so compelling so overnight I was like, “ O.k. I’m going to try it, I can go back to eat meat and potatoes anytime” I changed my diet and within a week, I was feeling a lot better. Within two weeks all of my symptoms were gone. At that point, it was pretty easy for me to keep going on raw food. After a year of eating only raw food, I went back to my Dr.’s and they said, “We don’t know what you’ve done, but you completely healed your body.” It was a long time coming and it involved a lot of serendipitous events. I felt like my guides and angels were really helping me connect to what was going to be healing. That was my prayer everyday in yoga and meditation.
Tell us your personal experience with your health before / after a raw food diet?
Before learning about raw food, I was modeling and traveling a lot. There are a lot of fun elements to that, but everyday I had issues with digestion. I had a lot of pain and sometimes I wouldn’t eat at all. It was really hard to live with low-level pains from the time when I was sixteen on. You don’t realize it so you just kind of dull yourself down over and over again so you can deal with what’s going on in your body. For me, my life before raw food was like being in the old black and white movies and then when I stepped into this new lifestyle, it was like walking into a color picture.
I didn’t realize how much pain I was experiencing until the pain was gone and then it just felt like utter freedom. Honestly, I was running around telling everybody “ Don’t you know how good you can feel? “ “ Vibrant Health is your birthright, come on, come with me!” I was waving carrot sticks and celery scaring everyone! I soon realized I had to do it differently. I need to deliver the message in a way that people who are sick or maybe who don’t realize that they are sick, can start to wake up and experience something different.
I know you teach classes. Tell us more about that.
One of the things that 118 Degrees provide as a community outreach is teaching classes. When people hear about raw food, they don’t always know what that means, they don’t have a way to evaluate it so we love to teach people! We love to bring them in to have a four-course meal together and show them how simple it is to prepare a lot of this food. We teach them the science of how raw food supports their better health. We teach 2-4 classes in house every month and I probably teach 2-4 classes a week out in the community. It’s a really incredible way to share my own personal story of healing and help inspire other people to get healthy and well. You know 1 in 3 people now are dealing with heart disease, diabetes or cancer and these are all diseases that are positively impacted by healthy food choices. When you really start to see this, you realize how important it is to help people learn how to heal. Food has to be part of that. It’s such an incredible way to share plus it’s fun! Who doesn’t love making chocolate truffles or enjoy a great healthy organic kale salad? It’s really the interactive component of what we do here. I’ve been teaching for the last 15 years and now it has a global reach. I teach 4 times a year in Japan and starting in January, we’re bringing the international raw food association here in Orange County by opening a branch in Anaheim. We’ll be teaching certification courses providing basic raw food certifications all the way to a master chef programs and also health coaching. I’m super excited about that project. It’s an international project and it’s connecting people around the globe.
What do you think the students leave with after attending one of your classes?
One feedback we got was, “Thanks for the class, I thought I was coming for a just a culinary class but I left learning so much about how my body responds to food.” Just last week I got a call from someone who has diabetes. They said they didn’t really think they would ever live without their insulin. But through a raw foods diet they’ve been able to taper it down and eventually will move away from it. It was through the inspiration and motivation that they received in our class where they were able to make those steps for change.
I know you use eco-friendly material here in your restaurant. For example, your restaurant’s ceilings are made of recycled material can you tell what “sustainability” mean to you as a raw chef and why that is important to you?
To me, sustainability is all about how we interact with our earth, right here right now. It really starts with our everyday actions here at the restaurant. Then it transcends into the things that are yearly choices. For example during our build outs we only used low v.o.c paints. Which 8 years ago, there weren’t many options for that. Also, we only use material that are renewable.We have a kirei board bar top that is actually made of pressed sorghum plant and it’s beautiful! It’s a fun artistic element of the restaurant but what we do everyday is more important than that. The idea of sourcing stuff locally is really important to us. Scaling back on the packaging is a huge thing we do. We live in a world where we want everything to go right now so we work on packaging that can be recycled. There’s a lot of packaging out there that’s biodegradable but takes so long to bio degrade. it’s a concept of green washing. Things that we can recycled are things we really look for especially since we do so many meal programs in which all come in recyclable plastics. That might be hard for the general consumer to understand but that’s a decision that we’ve made because we know that it’s truly more sustainable than something that’s going to sit for years and years cluttering up the earth.
In a lot of ways it’s been about education because our technology and resources have been changing so much. I sit on panels and groups such as the OC Restaurant Associations to talk about initiatives and share resources. Overall we try to be that extension back to out to the community. When people come in, they might not understand all these pieces of sustainability that they’re getting but the food offering is the most sustainable offering on the planet. In raw foods, we use every part of the plant, nothing comes in a package, it comes in big crates of produce. We turn everything to fresh food from scratch. We don’t have bottles from salad dressings, we don’t have little wrappers from butter, and we also buy everything in bulk. Its little pieces of pebbles and sand that add up to a whole beach.
What does community mean to you?
That’s a beautiful question. To me, community is how we interact with each other. Being a business leader in Orange County, people are always surprise to see me in community events. “Oh we didn’t think you’d be here, we expected someone else to be here.” and it’s interesting to me because that’s the whole reason I’m here is to connect to the community of Orange County. The whole goal is for all of us to uplift each other and until we really start practicing that, the idea of collaboration, working together and finding people with similarly aligned ideas to uplift the community, we’re not going to get there. We don’t spend a lot of time advertising on billboards, we would rather go out in the community and allow people to enjoy the food and support a charity event and do our communication to the community that way. Project Hope has been a big one of us. We’re about to launch a lunchbox program with them. The premise for this is that you can enjoy one healthy meal once a week. Everyone can do that even if that’s your entry level to health and wellness. We’ll be delivering a healthy lunch box all over Orange County and you can choose it for Monday or for Thursday. 15% of proceeds of that program go to Project Hope. Project Hope is a local alliance that help kids get out of homelessness. These kids don’t get healthy food to eat. They get the leftovers, the canned stuff, the boxed stuff. So we’re trying to bring in apples, oranges, bananas and fresh foods that these kids can pick up each week and take home.Twice a year we have a huge detox. We call it the Countywide Detox. In January and in June, you can come as part of the group and be part of the detox program. We donate a whole meal package to a patient in need. We work with the Center for New Medicine, which is cancer treatment facility in Irvine. For example, we have a woman who is diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma and she needs raw food as part of her treatment so she’ll be a recipient of our patient in need program. She won’t have to pay for her food that has been donated by the participants of our group detoxes! It’s a really cool way to help people connect to heal themselves and heal each other. We’ve really had to fight to keep those programs over the years as the cost of business has gone up, but we’re really grateful that we get to keep those programs.
Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw. What are the differences?
(Laughs) It’s like cheer! So a lot of people like to find the fine line to clearly define what being vegetarian, vegan and raw is and really raw food is part of a vegetarian or a vegan diet. What raw food is, it’s living food, food that hasn’t been heated above 118 degrees. So a lot of people on a vegetarian and vegan diet don’t even realize they’re already enjoying a lot of raw foods in most of their meals. Maybe you had a kale salad last week and didn’t really think about it but all the ingredients on it just happen to be raw, maybe the dressing wasn’t. Raw food is really all about bringing the life to your food. The enzymes are the catalyst for breaking down everything that you can consume so your body can use it. Even on a vegetarian diet, people consume processed food because many vegetarian restaurants offer process food to mimic a standard American diet. In my mind, you either have good, better, or best. A vegetarian diet is healthier than the standard American dietary choices. Being a vegan, from a health perspective, is a little healthier than being vegetarian because you’re going to be eliminating things like cream and other dairy fillers. Vegan means you’re going to be all plant base where as being a vegetarian, you might have a little dairy or animal bi-products. On a vegan diet, there’s no animal bi-products. And then on a raw diet you’re not going to have anything heated above 118 degrees. It’s all about finding balance. For some people, doing a 100% raw might not make sense because the flow of their life, or the resources they have access to. But as long as you have a lot of great raw food on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’re going to notice the difference and benefits in having those enzymes and having those extra nutrient density. I think it’s good to look at it as an idea of you’re going to have fresh foods, fresh whole foods and that’s really the bottom-line. You might dance and play in some of these different categories each day and that’s fine. Your health and wellness will be directly associated with how much of those whole foods you get everyday.
How do you feel about eating meat and dairy?
One of the differences between 118 Degrees and other vegan restaurant is that we are about health and wellness. Sometimes you might see vegan restaurant concepts that might just be about “ being vegan” and so depending on where your health and wellness is at, you may need to integrate outside of what would be considered as vegan and it’s a sticky subject. On our planets right now, we don’t have a sustainable, very healthy sources of meat, dairy products etc. I personally maintain a raw vegan diet and for me that’s what kept me healthy and well. We work with a number of doctors and other medical professionals that think it’s absolutely necessary to have just a little bit of this and that sometimes they have science that supports that. Since we’re in the wellness community, it puts us in the middle of this ongoing controversy. The way I view it is in two prompts. One, health and wellness is individual for the person. So you can’t say what works for Sally Joe absolutely works for Billy Bob. I think everyone can be pretty healthy on a raw vegan diet, but the path it takes to get there could be totally different. To me the science supports health on a raw vegan diet. But if you go about it the wrong way and you only eat cucumbers for the next 20 days, you’re going to be lacking on a lot of protein and oils and things that the rest of your body needs to function.
You can really get out of balance on any great diet. On the other side of this conversation you have the sustainability question. And we know some of the ways we go about getting these other products is not good for our earth. It’s not good for our community and it’s leading to even more disease. So in my mind, the safest, healthiest thing for the planet is a raw, vegan diet. But I don’t want to say that we’re exclusive to that because we do have clients that enjoy a number of different things. I have clients that have chickens and raise their own animal products or bi-products and I never walked a mile in their shoes. All I can do is share from my perspectives and say, “ Look a mile in these shoes look like this, tell me what a mile in your shoes looks like.” I think right now, what’s happening in humanity, it’s really important we have more and more of those conversations that are about how we learn to understand each other and how we share what’s worked otherwise it becomes too exclusionary and you are divided and a community divided doesn’t work. You have to find the principles that uplift the whole community. That’s the most loving thing to do and pushing each other away that’s not going to solve the problem, but learning where we can integrate our views and help other people do the same thing, that’s what’s going to lift us up.
There are a lot of sick people out there. Like you mentioned, 1 in 3 people are dealing with heart disease, diabetes or some type of cancer. How do you feel about this and why do you think, people get sick?
This is a really good question. Thank you for asking this question. About 2 years ago, I finished a book called “Healing with Raw Food” which is coming out in January. To write that book, I interviewed several doctors. I interviewed Dr. Esselstyn from Forks Over Knives along with many other doctors across the board. and the one resounding concept that everyone shared in common, I mean every doctor had something to say about this is that the toxins we have from our environment, mostly from our food, in the air we breathe etc. compromises our immune system. Everybody’s sensitive in different ways, I might have a family history of cancer, you might have a family history of diabetes but as soon as our immune system is compromised we don’t really stand much of chance unless we do something from a preventive standpoint to help us stay strong in a modern world. For some of my friends, they’ve decided to move to island communities, raise their kids on a beach and they call it a day. But for most of us we’re not going to move to some pristine corner of the world and isolate ourselves. We have to live in this modern environment so what you have to do (and this is why I love raw food so much ) is you have to bring in nutrient dense rich foods that are going to re-mineralize your body and you have to hydrate your body with very healthy water. It’s almost like preparing a warrior right? It’s the same reason we do yoga and everything else, you have to get yourself ready for what you’re going to come in contact with everyday. Since I’ve been in a raw food diet, I don’t get sick every year, I don’t worry about having the flu and being out for 14 days. I can’t remember the last time I was sick. When I do get sick, it looks a lot different than the average person that gets sick. I haven’t taken any medication in 15 years. I also had both my kids naturally. What I learned is the human body is capable of a lot more then we give it. But most of us don’t feel that sort of strength because we’re not supporting ourselves everyday with the prevention side of things .And not just food. It starts with food because I think we eat so much everyday and that’s the first entry into our immune system. But yoga and meditation, even the way we think about things has the ability to mutate a cell from acid to alkaline or from alkaline to acidic. That’s the science behind what’s going on in the body. When you enjoy foods that are raw foods for the most part, like spinach and other green vegetables, those are alkalizing in the body and it creates an alkaline environment. But other things like white bread , heavier, denser proteins, all the stuff I was eating while I was sick, that’s acidifying in the body. All we need in the body to get sick is an acidifying condition. So if you alkalize your body, diseases cannot live in an alkaline environment. It reduces inflammation, it gets rid of all that compromises your immune system. It can’t survive there. But doing that is a commitment because everything including stress is acidic in the body. So we have to find ways to uplift our minds, uplift our bodies, and uplift who we are as a result.
How do you feel about Western Medicine?
Western medicine has its place. A really important place in our community. But I think what we need to start looking at is the integrative part of it. How do we integrate it with other things? I know a lot of people that go to the doctor’s and they are a bitter because all the doctor wants to do is prescribe them a medication. But that’s what doctors are trained to do! You’re not going to an acupuncturist, a kinesiologist or someone who is trained to work with the energy system of your body, you’re going to someone who is going to say, “You have a virus, here’s a medication that will kill your virus.” So you just have to know, and I think that’s where education is really important. If I have a broken arm, I’m going to go down to Hoag hospital, period. And hopefully they’ll fix my arm. But if I have a headache, I’ll drink some green juice and have some mineralized water and hopefully my headache will be gone. I’m not going to reach for a bottle of Advil. It’s the fact that I understand the energetic system of my body but that was a process of education for me. I think a lot of people are waking up right now so I think it’s a very cool time to have more of those conversations. The doctor I interviewed from my book, Dr. Esselstyn is a perfect example. He’s a western medicine doctor and before He learned that a plant base diet can reverse heart disease, he would do surgeries that involved removing a vein from the leg and putting it on the heart and sow patients back up. He says his whole medical community is doing that same procedure and is not spending any time on educating their patients on how they got their heart disease in the first place or how to keep it at bay once they have the operation. However, he’s slowly showing his medical community on healing their patients through alternate ways like having a vegan diet. I appreciate his work so much because in his particular field, the area of the heart, he really started that conversation and now there are so many more heart doctors that before they put patients on heart medications, they’ll first require them to have a vegan diet. A vegan diet is one of the fattest ways to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Maybe they don’t have to do it forever, but if they want to avoid an operation, or a heart attack, here’s your prescription; vegan diet! Our community is evolving right now very quickly, we came out of a time where we just listened to whoever was talking the loudest for years right? Package process food industry, western medicine and we all thought that this was the latest greatest thing because it was helping everyone live longer and now both parents can work and now we can have bigger houses etc. But we didn’t look at what that actually meant. It means we have no more land to grow fruits and vegetables on, it means we are buying everything out of a box, it means we’re trucking things in from hundred of miles away. We didn’t have all that conversation then but now, it’s starting to shift the other way. So hopefully for our kids, their community will be a lot more vibrant. And we’ll involve this integrative conversation on how we can use the best of both worlds. That’s what I pray for.
There’s been an uprising in our food culture. We’re seeing a lot more stores carry organic food, more food companies are coming out with healthier, sustainable items. How do you feel about the current state of our food industry?
I think it’s an exciting time with food right now. And I think it makes the decision on how you spend your money, more important. 15 years ago when I got into raw food, it was a time when all the other leaders in this community were starting to get together and have conversations. We use to joke like, “Imagine if one day, we can go to any grocery store and get some good raw food” or “That there will be a juice bar in every corner serving raw, cold, pressed juices.” We use to talk about that, visualize it, and as community collaborate and brainstorm on how we can be a part of making that change. And now when you go out to the community, there is a juice bar pretty much in every community and they are serving actual cold press juice! When I go to the grocery store, I can always get a wide selection of fruits and vegetables now. There’s actually a whole row of gluten-free options and in that row will be one or two raw foods cookies, crackers or more of the dehydrated stuff. So I think looking back 15 years ago on what we use to sit and talk about and looking at it now, it’s very exciting to see the shifts and changes that have happened. I just got back from Natural Food Expo in the east coast to see what’s up and coming in health food and there’s some beautiful new products coming out. Kale use to be the ornament on a salad bar, and now it’s the number one selling salad here at the restaurant. The fact that the education happened in such that people are actually requesting kale salad, it’s amazing! I think it’s because there’s so much more education and people are starting to understand. I do think that we still have long way to go. I think people need to get back to their own kitchen, buy in bulk, and reconnecting to food on that level. That’s really important because at the end of the day, it’s really hard to get a super clean product in a package.
What advice do you have for those having a hard time converting to plant base diet?
I think for people that are looking to do plant strong diets that might be new for them, I recommend you start with simple things like adding a smoothie for your breakfast, replacing your bacon and eggs with a super food smoothie. As long as it’s well balanced. Maybe you mix some almond butter in there for healthy fats, blend in some kale, some spinach, fresh fruits. Who doesn’t love a sweet tasting smoothie? That’s going to give you 30 percent fresh raw foods in your diet. It’s going to give you all your essential vitamins and minerals for the day, which is really important. It’s also going to align and calibrate you towards making better food choices through out the day. You’re 30 percent more likely to eat well through out the day if you start the day right. I usually say, show your intention first thing in the morning and then from there, focus on adding. Switch out at least one part of your plate for something that embraces this whole philosophy of fresh whole living foods. It usually it starts to trail around the plate and finally, they are there! Start by adding slow, that way you can start to see what works for you and what flavors and textures you like. When you transition to anything, you have to grieve what’s going away. It’s part of everything, even in positive change we still grieve. For me it was tortilla chips. I remember I gave up eating stuff like that for a year, then one day I was like “I’m going to have this brownie.” It was a brownie that I really wanted from this place in Laguna Beach. I went and got it and I’m telling you, I had one bite and it didn’t taste like food to me. I had a completely different experience of it, which was awesome because now I didn’t think about it anymore. And then I actually had a hard time because I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I didn’t want to give it to anybody because I knew it wouldn’t be good for them and then I didn’t want to waste it. We have to have our own process that we have to go through and it needs to be honoring on who you are. Because food is very nurturing part of who we are as humans and if don’t do our food in a nurturing way it can be detrimental to us. We’re trying to do something good and it ends up hurting us, we don’t want to do that.
Running a business takes a lot of work. How do you balance your schedule with your artistry, running a restaurant and most importantly having a family?
I eat raw chocolate for breakfast all the time! (Laughs) I think being an artist and loving to create that’s where my soul really lives. When I have dreams about a recipe, I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll make it and it’s perfect. That’s really who I am. And if I can do that everyday, It’ll be fun but I wouldn’t have much balance. I love the business aspect of what I do because it does provide me some balance. It also helps me connect even better with my clients because they’re going through that same balancing act in their life. So for me, it’s about keeping an open mind, and keeping a really strong connection with my spirituality. It’s a rough day sometimes! Last year when we opened up additional locations, I came to a point where I understood the value of a minute and not wasting your time. I was pushed to that point where I had to do five things at a short time. I had to be focused and I had to be ready for it. Having a raw foods diet meant I got a lot more energy in my day and I am naturally able to do more things. Allowing stress to roll off my back in a moment where I could have been easily stressed and freaked out is really the key. And because I have an alkaline environment in my body it’s a lot easier for me to deal with stress. So when it comes up, I say, “ Ok, one minute at a time.” One minute I’m here doing an interview with you, then next I’ll be preparing some food for a presentation, then after I’ll be on the phone with someone from the east coast talking about my new book. That an abundant life, it’s exciting and a huge blessing! I think framing how I look at is as a blessing, has also been an important part of being successful with many different things happening.
You have 5 stores in Orange County! This is where you’re from right? Why Orange County?
I’m in Orange County now because I truly am an Orange County girl. My family’s in Orange County and I just love all the incredible things Orange County has to offer. From the beach, all the way up to the mountains, and everything in between! What I really get about Orange County is that there’s so much opportunity and community is very diverse. It’s really fun to me because you really get to spread yourself out and you get to know people from different spaces. Orange County needs healthy options, it needs even more than what we’ve been able to provide. There’s so much work to do here in Orange County that I don’t think I even have time for other counties quite yet! It’s a been a joy to be here in Orange County and I’m grateful everyday that I get to share this.
What are you goals for the future?
The future for me is helping make what we’ve already created into an even bigger, brighter, bolder thing. And when we first wrote our mission statement for 118 Degrees, it was a global initiative and we wanted to empower a global community. I never had any idea how that was going to happen but since then, I’ve written 4 books and 3 of them are translated to over 8 languages. I had the opportunity to travel to other continents like Asia and teach people there about raw foods. We have a group from Korea coming in December to learn raw food for the first time! What I’m seeing is, what we’ve done here with our brothers and sisters of Orange County, is a template for sharing worldwide and helping other communities get healthy. For me it’s about helping connect those global pieces. I’m not really sure how it’s going to go, but what I’m learning is the world is a very small place. Helping to get this message out and helping other people learn how to uplift their communities that’s really my goals. I really want to teach the teachers and inspire the leaders that are going to move this forward in other places.