On Fourth Street in Royal Oak sits the Cacao Tree, a diminutive diner that serves up a diet of raw and vegan foods. Amber Poupore, the owner, a former carnivore herself, now dedicates her energies to enlightening as many folks as she can about the benefits of eating raw, unprocessed foods. Poupore — an 11-year veteran of Inn Season Cafe, a longstanding bastion of vegetarian cuisine in this area — and head chef Zach Lang do their best to enlighten us.
Metro Times: Why eat raw foods?
Zach Lang: We're the only species on the planet that cooks our food, a process that kills the enzymes and vital nutrients in the food, causing health problems.
Amber Poupore: In my opinion, we've devolved in this country, moving away from actual food. And with the use of genetically modified foods, we're at risk of being completely unable to reproduce as human beings, doing God only knows what to our genetic makeup. Within the next year there will be unlabeled lab-grown meat sitting on the shelf in supermarkets. The average American doesn't even eat real food. How much of a fast-food hamburger is soy? Research indicates that some hamburger contains up to 65 per cent genetically modified soy that we're stripping rain forests in Brazil for, that will give people all kinds of diseases. We don't understand how the body reacts to genetic modification. There are people who are thirsty for information. They want the tools. They want to feel empowered to make educated decisions. If I'm at the restaurant, I talk to people to try to educate them. I talk to cancer patients who don't want chemo or radiation. We're here to provide a product that will provide healing that can absolutely help reverse cancer and other diseases.
MT: What are some of the foods that you consider important elements of a raw diet?
Lang: "Superfoods" — those containing 15 or more essential nutrients — are coming from Ecuador. Maca, a Peruvian root that grows in the Andes Mountains, helps the body adapt to stress and build stamina. Raw cacao, which is chocolate bean, contains a lot of vitamin C and a lot of magnesium, which are burned off in the cooking process. It's typically mixed with milk and some kind of wax and some kind of soy product, but ours is 100 percent raw, organic cacao paste. Sometimes I'll cut it with a little coconut oil or coconut butter and a sweetener and maybe some herbs or superfoods. Some of these foods go back to ancient Chinese herbalism or the Indian Ayurvedic medicine, a system of traditional medicine native to India. Goji berries are one of the top ten of, I think, 5,000 Chinese herbs. It's said to bring longevity and to bring youthfulness back into the body.
MT: What are the environmental advantages of eating raw foods?
Lang: Whenever possible, we source our foods locally to provide freshness and to avoid the impact of shipping food long distances. In the winter, we get what we can locally. Off-season we are sometimes able to find potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, wheat grass and sprouts. In the summer, we buy at the Royal Oak Farmers' Market, Maple Creek Farm and from other organic farmers.
MT: Do most of your customers at Cacao Tree eat only raw foods?
Lang: Some people come every day, some more than once a day. Mostly no, but most are vegetarians.
MT: Where can people learn more about raw foods and how to prepare them?
Poupore: I'm currently teaching at the Birmingham Community House, doing raw food demonstration classes and food education. It started with parent-child classes at the Detroit Waldorf. I like to bring in the educational aspects. There's a ton of things that people don't realize. They don't realize that processed foods are not real food because of manipulation behind marketing. People think that they're consuming something that is actual food, but if you're not diligent about looking into things you can easily be manipulated. I'm just not OK with that. I'm not OK with the FDA. I'm not OK with what the government has allowed. I just want to get education out to people and give them the tools so that they make informed choices about what they're putting in their bodies, especially what they're feeding their children. When we look at kids now and see swollen retention in their faces ... why does a 5- or 6-year-old have swollen retention in their face? It's because they're eating processed foods. To me it's absolute insanity. We live in a world that's completely insane and backwards. We can deny it all we want, but the underlying premise is miseducation, that people have been lied to by our government. People don't question it. They question what we do, that we're charging $9 for smoothie, but spend $13 for a mixed drink, leave a dollar tip and do not even think about it. Everything in our system is backwards, the way we perceive food, where it comes from to the point of being on our plate. There's absolute disconnection.
For me, being at Inn Season, the biggest thing is knowing where your food comes from. Know who's growing your food, where the source of your food is. If you don't know the source of it, why aren't you questioning it? Seek out quality. It's not about being vegetarian, vegan, raw, all these labels. It's about the quality of the food you're putting in your body. If you're going to eat meat, fine, but source good-quality meat. Meat might be good for you. It might not be good for me, but knowing at least the quality of the food, the way that the animals have been treated — if it's going to be sacrificed to put into your body, wouldn't you want to know that it's one piece of steak rather than one piece that has a thousand pieces of cow in it?
MT: You used to be a carnivore. What caused the change in your diet?
Poupore: My personal health. When I was a teenager, I had 42 sick days. I was raised on processed foods. Fast food and frozen food were convenient. Once I understood the premise of eating fresh food, eating salads, learning that there was more than white bread and white rice, I took steps to educate myself, asking a lot of questions, seeking other alternatives. That led me down a path of good nutrition, wheat grass and sprouts and what greens can do to promote healing of the body.
MT: Is everything you serve organic?
Poupore: About 85 or 90 percent. Most of the stuff we use is for a reason if it's not organic. We have a specific organic produce company that delivers weekly. They try to get as many regional products as they can. Most everything is vegan. Everything is non-dairy. The only thing we have that some vegans won't eat is raw honey.
MT: Where is the raw food movement most prevalent?
Lang: Mostly in the UK and the U.S. It started in California where they have a long growing season. The 1 percent of us that are experimenting with raw foods are finding that they taste good and make you feel better.
Jeff Broder interviews food folks for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.