RawFresno: A healthy and delicious diet alternative
Dec 08, 2015 07:36PM
After Naomi Hendrix’s son passed away nine years ago, she went on a mission that has transformed not only her life but the lives of countless foodies across Fresno.
Ian Zachary Smith died on Aug. 27, 2006 at the age of 21. He had suffocated in his sleep after experiencing a major seizure. Prior to his death, doctors had no idea what was causing the seizures. Just this year Hendrix discovered what had been ailing her son: gluten intolerance.
Hendrix always suspected it was his diet. As a single mother, she said, she made macaroni and cheese out of a box just like everybody else who couldn’t afford to make more expensive meals.
“Ian died, which killed me, but it saved my life and now it’s given me the platform so that I can help others save their own sons, daughters and grandchildren,” Hendrix said of her decision to focus on educating others about the benefits of eating healthy.
Less than a month after her son died, Hendrix was diagnosed with dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance in the gut or intestines caused by many things, including an imbalanced diet.
“According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 60-70 million people suffer from some type of gastrointestinal disease,” said Dr. Lisa Herzig, director of the dietetics and food administration program at Fresno State, noting that depriving the body of important nutrients can exact tolls both physically and mentally.
For Hendrix, the diagnosis had far-reaching implications.
“My doctors said I had to go gluten, sugar, dairy, soy, yeast and vinegar-free,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘What’s left?’”
Hendrix was at a standstill, unable to eat processed food and forced to plan and make every meal at home on her own. That’s when she started RawFresno.
Hendrix took her experiences with veganism and vegetarianism and decided to do her own research by taking an 18-month online course through Immune Nutrition, an online healthy living school based out of New York. She learned that cooking vegetables can decrease some of the vital enzymes necessary for maximum nutritional benefit.
“The amount of time that the vegetables are exposed to the heat will dictate the amount of nutrients lost,” Herzig explained. “The shorter the time, the more nutrients retained.”
Hendrix began offering a class at Whole Foods to show others many of the recipes she had learned, soon moving from the patio to the kitchen. This success helped to bring awareness to Fresno about raw foods, and her clientele slowly started growing. In time, she began delivering her own green smoothie mixes to customers on a daily basis.
Hendrix’s mission statement for RawFresno is simple: to share knowledge of health and healing and make a difference through education and “great food.”
Four years ago, the Kaiser Permanente Farmer’s Market contacted Hendrix about being one of its vendors. She’s had a presence there ever since.
“It helped raise awareness about plant-based food – clean food – [that can] be purchased as a ‘grab-and-go’ just like [with] any of the other food trucks,” she said of her presence at the weekly market, adding that RawFresno’s offerings are healthy, too.
Two years after Kaiser’s invitation, Hendrix found one of the great loves of her life: Minerva The RawMeister, a utility truck she saw on craigslist. Named in honor of her grandmother who passed away a few months shy of her 100th birthday (Hendrix’s 10-year-old grandson contributed “RawMeister”), the truck cost $35,000 to renovate.
“It’s been my second summer on the road now, and I’ve just loved it,” she said.
Hendrix focuses on preparing prepackaged, organic, locally grown food. These gourmet plant-based meals, appetizers, entrees, desserts, fresh juice and smoothies use sustainable practices, honoring what she calls a constant connection to the earth.
Hendrix’s wife, Rio Waller, has lost 85 pounds on her journey to better health through raw foods. She says she and Hendrix did it together.
“I was overweight for what felt like my entire life,” Waller said. “So I had kind of resigned myself to that’s just how life was supposed to be for me.
“When we found raw food, we had this moment where I realized what was happening.”
What was happening, Waller said, was that she had not been eating enough nutrient dense food. All her body had been craving the entire time was more nutrients.
Waller said that Hendrix inspires her and that it’s hurtful when skeptics pass Minerva the RawMeister without giving the food truck a second glance.
Those that do look twice and stop are pleasantly surprised.
“What I’ve seen is once they try it, they’re like, “Shit that’s good.’ And I tell people, ‘Trust me, if it didn’t taste good, I wouldn’t eat it,’” the self-proclaimed foodie said.
RawFresno’s menu is vast, ranging from breakfast pudding and Caribbean tacos to stuffed mushrooms and what Hendrix called “Happy Tummy” cheesecake – all raw, all organic, and all affordable and filling, she said.
Green vegetables figure prominently in almost every dish on the menu and is a key reason why the fare is so healthy, Hendrix said. She used the analogy of a silverback gorilla, who eats only leafy greens as its diet yet can grow to weigh more than humans.
But humans are the priority, and RawFresno appears to be making an important difference in the lives of many.
“In the nine years I have been doing this, I can’t even tell you how many people have come to me and said I’ve saved their life. I’ve had a couple of young women that were seriously on their deathbed,” Hendrix said. “I’m just thrilled that God has put me in this position, open to receiving the knowledge … that this is my passion and purpose in life.”
“I was born and raised in Fresno and I want to help my community,” she added. “And that’s why I decided I needed to share what other people seem to be looking for.” •
For more information about RawFresno, call (559) 250-5292 or visit rawfresno.com
Written by Megan Ginise, who will be graduating from Fresno State in spring 2016 with a degree in mass communication and journalism and honors from the Smittcamp Family Honors College. She works as a public relations specialist for several Fresno non-profits.