Gena Hamshaw, Choosing Raw


Hamshaw credit Jeff SkeirikGena Hamshaw, CCN, a former book editor turned clinical nutritionist, has contributed to VegNews , O Magazine, Whole Living Daily, Food 52, and other publications. You can find her online at @choosingraw.


Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food, part two on August 5th, 2014. Oh gosh, I need to breathe deeply here because that was kind of exciting back and forth there a moment ago. Let me know what you think of that and anything else we talk about here. You can e-mail me at Right, now let’s relax shall we and start talking about my favorite subject—food—with Gena Hamshaw, CCN, a former book editor turned clinical nutritionist. She has contributed to Veg News, O Magazine, Whole Living, Daily, Food52 and other publications. Her website is Hi Gena.

Gena Hamshaw: Hi Caryn, how are you?

Caryn Hartglass: Good. Love your book!

Gena Hamshaw: Thank you so much.

Caryn Hartglass: Just perfect

Gena Hamshaw: Glad you like it.

Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t had a cookbook author on in awhile. I do love talking about food and I love talking about delicious food and people need to know, every day, how to make healthy delicious food. I’ve been concentrating on the uglier side of food for awhile now and let’s just talk about delicious healthy food.

Gena Hamshaw: Yeah, absolutely, let’s talk about it.

Caryn Hartglass: What’s your story?

Gena Hamshaw: Well, the food in my book is vegan food, obviously.

Caryn Hartglass: Yaah!

Gena Hamshaw: One hundred and twenty five vegan recipes. A lot of them are raw as the title suggests. I’m not 100% as some people are, so I’ll pretty much eat anything as long as it’s vegan. But I call myself a raw foods enthusiast which essentially means that I love raw food recipes and I get a big kick out of preparing them. So there’s a big emphasis on raw food in the book and the thing behind that is, it’s not to make anyone go raw or to encourage anyone to go raw and I’m not necessarily encouraging anyone to go vegan if that’s not what they’re hoping to do. It is an effort to encourage everyone to eat more vegetables, to consider plant-based food. If you’ve ever thought about doing meatless Monday or just cooking more vegetarian dinners but you kind of don’t know where to start, I really wanted to give people an accessible, fun, inspiring resource. Of course the emphasis is also on foods that are healthful, so whole foods, foods that are made with minimally prepared ingredients, lots of really healthful choices like quinoa, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and an emphasis on foods that are nourishing as well as really delicious and tasty.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, the challenge I think all of us know is that people need to find their kitchens.

Gena Hamshaw: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t said that in awhile but I need to say it because… You know I was talking to Matt Ball earlier about how do we work our activism to encourage people to go vegan and how many times have I heard people say “I can’t be like you”, “I can’t do that”. I think it’s just a fear of not knowing where their kitchen is.

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely. I think it’s simple, that part of it is. People are so out of touch with preparing their own food that they kind of don’t remember how. And to them the idea of cooking vegan food is so exotic and so out there. That’s part of what people are so scared of when they are afraid of going vegan—the idea that they’re going to have to be home making everything from scratch. So the question becomes: What do I do if I love restaurants? What do I do if I love to travel? What do I do if I have a really active social life and I don’t want to be home boiling quinoa all the time? I think one thing that’s really important to remind people is that veganism is now a lifestyle that is not only acceptable within the confines of your kitchen. It is becoming so much easier to carry veganism out there in the real world and enjoy vegan food in restaurants, find options on menus all over the place, find vegan grocery items at mainstream supermarkets. When I went vegan it was over seven years ago and it was much harder at the time to eat in restaurants or to find something like Earth Balance at any grocery store that wasn’t a health food store or Whole Foods. Now I can walk into any Safeway and find something like Earth Balance or soy milk or almond milk or anything like that. So I think what people also need to remember sure, it’s important to connect with food in the kitchen and in the home space but veganism also is not a request that you kiss your social life goodbye. You can be vegan out there, out and about and it doesn’t have to be a choice that makes you siphon yourself off from friends, co-workers, etc.

Caryn Hartglass: You know it’s funny you mention Safeway. I don’t know if you were listening to the program just before this but we were talking about how Safeway shareholders rejected an anti-GMO proposal so we’re glad for Safeway for having all the wonderful soy milks and faux meats and all the vegan alternatives, that’s really wonderful but not happy about the anti-GMO proposal that they rejected. But, oh well. Let’s move on. You mentioned that you had done a moment of eating all raw and I did it too for about two years.

Gena Hamshaw: Oh wow. That’s a good long raw scene.

Caryn Hartglass: It is and I really enjoyed it but I love the way I eat now and that’s a whole food plant-based vegan diet, lots of greens, cooked and raw food. In thumbing through your book I reminded myself of a couple of things that I used to make and I don’t make anymore and I really need to make them again and that is flaxseed crackers. So wonderful and not to difficult at all, especially since—I mentioned this awhile ago—but I had this gas oven at home and I didn’t know for ten years that it had a dehydrator option on it. I even had one of those Excalibur dehydrators during my raw period—right next to the oven that had a dehydrator option and I didn’t know it. So I can dehydrate. The other recipes—the buckwheaties…

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely, that’s sort of a staple. I feel like that’s like a raw foods staple dish. In my book I refer to fifteen essentials of vegan eating. I was trying to think of all the dishes that are like raw food essentials or greatest hits or what have you. Flax crackers was one of them, cashew peas was another one, the sort of basic green smoothie, zucchini pasta. I feel like these are the dishes that you’re going to eat very quickly if you start getting into raw food. Then there are some of the most foundational recipes of a raw food diet.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Buckwheaties was like a nut milk on top of it.

Gena Hamshaw: So delicious. Such a good breakfast.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m sorry, move over Captain Crunch and cow’s milk…blah.

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. As soon as you get used to something like the way Buckwheaties taste it’s amazing how you’ll go back to eating conventional cereal and it just tastes so terrible. It tastes so sugary and so not wholesome. One of the things I really like about raw food in particular is that I think it forces you to kind of connect with whole foods in this very intimate, powerful way. It can really train your taste buds to start appreciating the beauty of unadulterated food. And that was one thing I took away from raw food very strongly. And it’s one of the things that has really stayed with me.

Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s easiest to introduce more raw foods during the summer. It’s a good time to do it because the summer—when you’re in places like where I am in New York where it’s hot and you sweat and it’s important to stay hydrated—you can hydrate so well with raw foods that are filled with water.

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s great to drink water but it’s better to get it in your food.

Gena Hamshaw: It’s important to also get it in your food. Of course it’s important to hydrate with real water but, yeah, it’s true, a lot of folks eat very dehydrating diets. It’s a lot of refined grains and meats, salty foods, prepared foods, microwaved foods. If you think about that they’re all really dehydrating and raw foods are so rich in water which is great.

Caryn Hartglass: You have a section in your book on myths and misconceptions which is so important. In this world of the internet where people can find any bit of information and latch on to it, some of it’s good and some of it’s not so good. The myths, boy some of them just go on and on and on no matter what we do to combat them. You have a few good ones here. A lot of people think about detoxing and doing a detox. What do you think about detoxes?

Gena Hamshaw: I don’t think it is. I don’t really think there is such a thing. There is from a medical standpoint such a thing and that is detoxification from a very particular kind of drug. It is possible for people who are addicted to certain kinds of narcotics to go through detoxification process or who have been exposed to certain kinds of toxins but when it comes to the idea of our bodies are falling with every single particle of bad air we’ve ingested into our kids and remnants and sort of sludge from all these years of terrible diets and booze and caffeine and if we somehow eat green vegetables we will purge these terrible toxins from our bodies, that is really a myth. That is a myth that has been created in certain health circles and the idea that somehow detox is a part of the process of going vegan, which is something you hear all the time. You know “if you go vegan you’ll detox all the years of dairy out of your system and you’ll feel stuffy and get headaches”, that’s really not true. There’s no validated scientific evidence to support this. Of course a lot of people do feel differently as they adopt plant-based diets and that makes a lot of sense. For most people they’re getting a lot more hydration. They’re eating a lot more fiber so there can be some GI disruption at the beginning and some people might feel headachy or a little bit tired because they’re used to eating really sugary or stimulating foods. If they start to eat a healthier diet of course they’re not getting quite as much of the sugar and the stimulation. But there is no detoxification, you know sort of insidious toxins happening. As much as that’s sort of a fun idea, I don’t think there’s much to it.

Caryn Hartglass: Even if there are things we want to remove from our bodies it doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a long time. I know personally I went through a romp with advanced ovarian cancer and I had chemotherapy. It took a year to feel, to be, one hundred percent rid of all the side effects of chemotherapy.

Gena Hamshaw: Of course.

Caryn Hartglass: What was it that the toxins that were still in my body? I don’t know what it was but it took a year and that was a year on a super healthy whole foods plant-based vegan diet eating a lot of green foods. It takes time. So these one week, two week, whatever, detoxes…they’re a joke.

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely. And also the idea that it’s healthy to just drink juice for a week. It’s really not. Metabolically and in terms of nutrition, that’s not healthy for our bodies. We need a lot more nourishment than that. One thing I say to my nutrition clients all the time because I’m still a practicing nutritionist, is this: It’s actually really easy to just drink juice for a week. Typically it’s some package cleanse that you’ve bought from some provider and they deliver all the juices to you. All you have to do is put them in your frig and drink them when you want them and/or pre-prepared foods or whatever. That’s really easy. Someone is holding your hand and walking you through it. What’s really hard is teaching yourself how to eat everything in moderation but eat healthfully overall, day after day after day—how to prepare the food yourself, how to prep and cook and pay attention to your diet. That’s really hard and you’re not going to learn that from some sort of one week detox fad diet. It’s the kind of thing that you have to invest time and energy in teaching yourself.

Caryn Hartglass: Now you mentioned in the beginning of the book that you’re from a Greek background?

Gena Hamshaw: I am, indeed.

Caryn Hartglass: I can’t help but think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Gena Hamshaw: The funny thing about that is my Yiayia, my grandmother, actually said those very words to me when I told her that I was going to stop eating red meat. I stopped eating red meat as a child. I went veg…

Caryn Hartglass: “That’s ok I’ll make lamb”—did she say that?

Gena Hamshaw: She actually said, “you’ll still eat lamb, right?” While that movie abounds with stereotype a lot of them are very close to the truth.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s too funny. We say that a lot. We love the actress Andrea Martin. She was the one who said that in the movie when the future son-in-law…she was an aunt of the bride to be or something…he said “I’m a vegetarian” and she said “What no meat? That’s ok I’ll make lamb.”

Gena Hamshaw: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: We say that all the time and it’s true. She’s since learned the difference, I imagine?

Gena Hamshaw: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot of Greek foods that are vegetarian and raw.

Gena Hamshaw: I think it really depends on the kind of Greek food. In popular magazines, the Greek or Mediterranean diet is like cannellini beans and tomatoes and olive oil and greens and fish. That is certainly a huge part of Greek food. The Greek food that I was raised on was the sort of heavier home cooking side of Greek food. There was a ton of lamb and keftedes burgers and kasseri cheese and lots of pastry. Greek food can also be incredibly rich. I think if you’re looking at particular kinds of Greek food, yeah, of course there are wonderful salads, lots of delicious dips and spreads and mezze or appetizers. It’s really easy to eat at a Greek restaurant if you eat a plant-based diet that’s for sure.

Caryn Hartglass: Now you also mention early on in your book your story where you finally acknowledge you had an eating disorder.

Gena Hamshaw: Mmm hmmm.

Caryn Hartglass: And you’ve made peace with your food.

Gena Hamshaw: I have and it took a long time. My journey into plant-based eating was a huge part of it which is interesting because I think oftentimes it’s assumed that people with eating disorder history really shouldn’t be eating any kind of diet that’s selective, if you will, or excludes any foods because eating everything is supposedly an important part of the recovery process. For me actually connecting with the ethics and the meaning and the value of my food through veganism really invested food with a particular kind of beauty that I had never seen in the food I ate before. It was what helped me recover. I think that recognizing that my food choices went outside of just me and me alone—they impact the environment, animals and the food system at large. That helped me see eating as a way of making choices that could actually do active good in the world. The effect of all these things was to really shift my relationship with food away from being this kind of guilty, shameful thing that I had always felt about eating to being an act that I felt a lot of joy around. It was a long process. I had an eating disorder for a very long time and I relapsed a couple of times but really after I discovered a plant-based diet I was and I have remained relapse-free which is really wonderful.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s a beautiful story and I’m glad.

Gena Hamshaw: Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: The relapse thing is kind of the scary part.

Gena Hamshaw: Sure, it is and eating for recovery, as I always say to people, is a long winding road. We sort of want there to be a clear end point one day, a before and after. I was sick then, I’m recovered now. For most people it’s an ongoing process. Anyone with an eating disorder has to remember that relapse is always possible so we have to remain accountable and keep all of our tools that we use to support ourselves in place whether that’s therapy or having your friends, your partners, your family help keep you accountable. I am always very conscious and aware the fact that relapse can happen but that’s also part of why I pay so much attention to my relationship with food. I really work to take care of my body through food and I have a lot of tools in my life that I’ve created to help me stay healthy.

Caryn Hartglass: This is something that applies to everything. Everyone has their challenges. Everybody has their issues and the ones that thrive and succeed are the ones that have a toolbox and the ones that have a strategy and the ones that are mindful and recognize what is going on.

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely…people who are conscious of the problem. Because you know you’re right, an eating disorder or an addiction, some sort of tendency, whatever difficulty it is that you face in your life is having that set of tool system… I really appreciate what you say—it goes well beyond food.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m really into prevention when it comes to illnesses and we do see a lot more eating disorders especially amongst young women. Do you have any ideas on how we might prevent those from happening?

Gena Hamshaw: Absolutely…a couple of things. One thing that’s so important is we live in a culture where it’s just very ok to openly talk about body and appearance. I think there’s probably too much conversation surrounding this. What triggered my eating disorder was, you know, teasing as a kid…also the fact that people just felt it was ok. I had been a very healthy kid growing up. I gained a little bit of weight when I was just about ready to enter my teen years like a lot of pre-teens do. It probably would have come off with time but I was going through a phase where I was a little heavier. The commentary was what triggered it. One thing that I’ve noticed through recovery, through relapsing is that there is this ongoing commentary about the way people talk about the way other people look and I think that really needs to change. That sort of body commentary needs to be curtailed in a big way. I also think that encouraging young women to take pleasure in their food is so important. I hear from a lot of people who have eating disorders through my website because I write about mine so often and so many of them say what started their relationship with food on a bad track whether it was an eating disorder or binge eating, anorexia, whatever was at some point someone had made them feel bad about their appetite or bad about the fact they like to eat.

Caryn Hartglass: Well we end on a happy note. We’ve come to the end of the program Gena and I thank you for writing Choosing Raw. It’s beautiful with great pictures by Hannah Kaminsky and delicious, delicious recipes. I’m happy to hear about your journey. Thank you Gena.

Gena Hamshaw: Thank you.

Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly 10/21/2014

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