IT STARTED with a shared vision. Jennifer Richmond and her business partner, Joel Odhner, wanted to change Philadelphia's palate and make healthy eating sexy.
The duo, both in their mid-40s, met two years ago at a Landmark Forum education seminar. Richmond stood up in the audience and said, "I want to change Philadelphia's food options and open a raw vegetarian restaurant."
Odhner had the same idea.
"We were like soul spirits on the same path," Richmond said recently. Odhner agreed. "It was really a divine experience. God put us together. Who starts off a business like that?"
For years, Odhner owned a standard American restaurant - steak, seafood and bar - called Arugula, in Huntingdon Valley. (His dad, Bryon, runs it now as Oh'Bryon's Saloon.)
"But then I found myself partying more than working, so I decided to shift the way I was living," Odhner recalled. "During that shift, I was introduced to raw food around 2000."
Odhner, of Bryn Athyn, lost 35 pounds. He also became a consultant on healthy eating who has worked with Oprah Winfrey pal and TV-show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. Oz's wife, Lisa, is a friend from Odhner's childhood.
From their chance encounter, Richmond and Odhner created Catalyst Cleanse, a local juice cleanse and raw-foods company. They plan to open a restaurant, JAR Bar on 12th Street between Chestnut and Walnut in June. The restaurant, mostly takeout but with a small dine-in area, will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Odhner said.
Richmond, who got into raw eating about four years ago, and Odhner agreed that the more raw food they eat, the better they feel and the more consciously they live. These days, both their diets are about 80 percent raw foods.
I met Richmond in April when I did a juice cleanse as part of my efforts to get back to my pre-baby shape. I lost several pounds and found the diet very energizing, once I got past the first day. Since then, though I still eat cooked food, I've been increasing the raw food in my meals - such as using a raw collard green instead of a tortilla for a wrap sandwich.
I recently spoke with Richmond about the raw food journey that she and Odhner have begun.
Q: Jennifer, tell me about yourself and what inspired you to follow your current path and passion.
A: I'm a Philly girl. My inspiration comes from my experience when I had my son [five years ago]. By my due date I weighed 215 pounds, up from 135. After the delivery I was 195 pounds and it just wouldn't come off. There were years when I got down to about 170, then back up to 190. I was yo-yoing.
[The weight gain] was a combination of in vitro [fertilization], my age, environmental stuff and food. It was like a perfect storm. I was 39 at the time and went through two rounds of in vitro. Of course, I ate whatever I wanted during the entire pregnancy and [then] had a C-section.
My body was crying out for help. [A chiropractor] recommended that I remove wheat and dairy from my diet. I was desperate and did everything he recommended. Nine months later, without wheat in my diet, life just looked different. I had more spring in my step.
That's when I really began to explore raw foods. I'm a foodie, and when you take dairy and wheat out, it's challenging. Raw food offered a whole new world of exciting recipes, smoothies, drinks and crackers.
I didn't go to raw for any other reason except boredom.
Q: Define "raw food." What are the distinctions between raw vegan, raw vegetarian and vegetarian?
A: Raw means anything that is not cooked above 115 degrees, which could mean vegetables as well as animal products like raw goat or raw cow milk. Anything pasteurized is not raw. A true raw vegan eats no animal products and no foods cooked above 115 degrees. The difference between vegetarianism and raw food [eaters] is that most vegetarians cook conventionally.
Q: What are you?
A: I consider myself 80 percent raw with some cooked and some fish. I don't pretend to be 100 percent. I've tried it, but I like to eat fish once a month. I also eat [cooked] lentils and quinoa and some cooked vegetables.
Q: Did you get special training or go to a cooking school?
A: No, I'm a self-taught raw foodist. I've been a lifelong learner about nutrition, and I studied biology in college.
Q: What are the benefits of a raw-food diet?
A: For whatever reason, the push in our culture has been processed foods. When we eat cooked foods like rice, meat and vegetables, our bodies have to make the enzymes [to digest the food]. With raw juice or a raw meal, your body does not have to produce those enzymes. With the raw juice, it's like a vacation for the body. The [digestive] enzymes are present in the juice, so the body does not have to do all that work.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions people have about raw eating?
A: That's it's weird, hard, crunchy, and boring and bland. That they need to have animal protein to live. They don't.
Q: Food is fuel, and we need to be more consciously aware of what we put into our bodies. Most of us give better care to our cars than ourselves. Let's face it, most people are motivated by vanity and sex, not disease prevention and quality of life. How can we make eating healthy fun and sexy?
A: If you saw me before, and the journey I went on, you could see the difference. If you could see some of the 30- and 40-year practicing raw vegans who are now in their 60s and 70s - they're rocking it, all because of their diet!
Q: Let's talk about sugar. How bad is it?
A: It's probably the most evil thing. You are probably better off taking cocaine everyday, that's how bad it is for you. I'm not kidding - and of course, I don't condone drug use. To get yourself off sugar is one of the best things you could do for yourself.
Now don't get me wrong, I love it! But, it's really the worst thing for our health.
Q: What can you do if you are trying to wean yourself off of the white stuff?
A: Try agave and or stevia [natural sweeteners].
Q: What are your thoughts about the farm-to-table movement, encouraging people to eat more locally produced and naturally and organically farmed products? How do we change the "Walmart state of mind" when it comes to our food supply? Everyone thinks about quantity over quality.
A: I would buy farm-raised dairy products and meats a thousand times over conventional. I say just eat a little less but better quality. The antibiotics and hormones that they [many large commercial operations] put in chicken, fish and meat to make them grow is some really scary stuff.
Q: Is there an unbelievable, surprisingly delicious raw recipe you can share with me?
A: I'd probably have to say the Chocolate Mousse Pie that Joel makes [see recipe]. You would not know there was no butter or eggs in this.