This article was originally published in April 2013
It’s often been said that eating a raw, organic, and vegan (or at least plant-based and mostly organic) lifestyle is the recipe for energy and youth, and author Mimi Kirk is living proof.
A past winner of the title of “Sexiest Vegetarian over 50,” Kirk, now well into her 70s, has been a vegetarian and/or vegan for the better part of 40 years, but only recently began eating exclusively raw food, which she says has helped to give her both boundless energy and the inspiration to create new ways to push the envelope of raw cuisine.
Many of her favorite recipes can be found in her popular book, ‘Live Raw: Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty.’
Mimi joined AltHealthWorks for a chat about her recent adventures traveling in search of new ways to enjoy raw food, her latest book, what it’s like to be mistaken for someone decades younger, and much more.
AHW: Thanks so much for joining us Mimi, and of course you are the author of the top-selling book ‘Live Raw,’ what have you been up to lately?
MK: Yes well of course ‘Live Raw: Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty’ is the book and that came out in 2011, and the new book coming out this June is ‘Live Raw Around the World,’ we traveled all this past summer gathering information from seven countries for that book.
We went to Barcelona, Spain and then on to France in Aix-en-Provence, to Germany, and Italy and Greece, and then came back and worked on the book and left for India and Thailand. That was really quite amazing, the whole trip what I learned amazed me (so much). I was able to promote my book and do speaking engagements, and what surprised me is how many raw people there are all around the world, in Germany it’s hugely popular for example, there’s lot of vegans and raw foodists.
In Barcelona I did a raw food demo with a chef, so it’s very spread out all over the world and it’s exciting, there are raw foodists in every country, even Italy.
AHW: So where are you living now and how did the idea for the book come about? Also, your youthful appearance has been a major source of curiosity among many health enthusiasts, how old are you now?
MK: For my ‘Live Around the World’ book, they came to me and said, “choose the subject,” well, my boyfriend said, “What if we make it a travel log and a raw food book all in one and go all around the world and check out every country’s spices and foods, et cetera?” We stayed at peoples’ places and had a blast, and we were gone for quite a long time.
About the book, what we found is that food is food everywhere in the world (the base) is the same food; you’ll find rare things here and there but basic foods such as carrots and others are the same everywhere, although you can certainly make them taste differently using the local spices. I did have a lot of international food in my first book so I already knew about that, but the spices make it really fun to change the tastes of the food you choose.
Right now I’m living in San Diego and I’m 74; I’ll be 75 in September. It’s beautiful here, especially today, I’m sitting in a garden and everything is blooming, lemon trees, orange trees, and it’s just really, really nice. There are so many incredible things you can grow but of course, people do eat healthy in any weather.
AHW: That’s what makes sprouting, a raw food cuisine staple, so helpful, right?
MK: We were just talking about that actually, they’re great when you can’t find anything green because they’re not only so much fun to grow but they’re so healthy. You can make little microgreens, too.
Take some radishes or peas and once they grow a little tail, clean out the bed of soil, put them in a clean bed of soil just in a pan, and evenly spread the seeds out and cover them with soil and water it, you’ll have microgreens that you can grow anywhere without much sun.
AHW: Tell us about the raw life style and what it takes to make it your own.
MK: It’s all about commitment. It does take a little learning but it seems that if you’re committed, it goes smoothly; if you’re not totally committed there will be bumps in the road. Some people have a hard time sticking with it but when you’re totally committed they’ll do really well eating primarily raw food.
I just started eating raw almost six years ago now, I actually went to the doctor for a checkup and my blood pressure and cholesterol were high; I also had arthritic pain. I went off my vegetarian diet for about two years while I was cooking for my boyfriend and my body started to show wear and tear. I gained 22 pounds from the American diet and then the problems showed up, so I wanted to do something right away.
I searched the Internet for books and raw food kept coming up, right in my face, I was like, ‘Oh no!” I like to cook so much, I don’t know if I can do that. I really didn’t realize back then how fabulous it can be and what a wide variety of foods you can have. I trained myself, bought a lot of books, practiced and altered the recipes to fit my taste buds and the next thing you know, I’m hooked on these foods.
It was fun figuring out how to make cheeses and delicious creamy things out of nuts and other items; it’s really alarming what you can do out of raw foods.
I recently was working on a scene for a movie and I made the crew members raw lasagna and they were blown away. I made it right in front of their eyes with zucchini turned into noodles, which is gluten free of course. I had zucchini noodles, fresh vegetables and tomatoes and they were shocked by how good the cheeses were. I’m now training as a raw food chef; I actually didn’t do that until this year.
AHW: In terms of obtaining that youthful appearance everyone seems to be talking about, how much of a change did you experience after beginning to eat raw foods?
MK: I think I’ve always looked a little younger than my age but as you age you will start to look older no matter how well you eat. When I first started eating raw the first thing I noticed was my energy, it shifted up another notch and I started to look younger, I said to myself, ‘I’m in my 70s and I feel like I’m getting younger.’ I think the younger you start, the more of a chance you have to avoid any wrinkles. But I’m not worried about wrinkles on my face, I’m mostly working on how I feel. The looks are like a treat you get from
But really, I truthfully feel like I’m in my 20s, and then I wake up and realize I’m not (laughing). The only thing I do these days is color my hair, I like being blonde and not grey and that’s my little way of spoiling myself. I haven’t had any work done or anything, I just intend to age as healthily as I can.
AHW: What percentage of eating raw do you typically recommend to people you consult with, and/or in your book?
MK: I don’t really like the whole percentage situation but I eat 95 to 98 percent, and 100 percent would be my choice unless I’m stuck on a trip.
I really felt it in Italy after I ate some pasta, my hands were swollen overnight (from a reaction to gluten). I cook vegan food for my boyfriend and I love the taste, so I do have a slow-roasted sweet potato or an artichoke every now and then. When I do go off of the raw diet it’s always something healthy.
If you’re new you can go about 80 percent to 75 percent raw, it’s easy to start out that way. You’ll start noticing how good you feel compared to a cooked meakl, even a vegan meal; you’ll notice a difference right away.
I know for me I don’t have time to mess around, I have to do 100 percent (whenever possible) and stay focused. It’s always vegan, and my choice is to eat raw. The desserts are amazing too and the food just satisfies me, I feel great and I sleep great too.
AHW: Speaking of sleeping, we’ve all heard stories from raw vegan people who have great diets and say they only need 5-6 hours of sleep to function well. Is that true for you too?
MK: Not me (laughing), give me eight, that’s good for me, even though I don’t always get that. I am busy now, for my raw chef class I get up at six. I sleep as much as I can though, I do like a good night’s sleep. A lot of people say they sleep just 5-6 but that doesn’t seem to work for me. I like my sleep, I really like it.
AHW: What are some of the misconceptions people have about the raw food lifestyle?
MK: Many people are under the impression that you can’t have anything warm and that’s not true. I use a dehydrator and a cook in the pan but I always keep things under 118 degrees (to keep more nutrient content intact). I make soups all the time; that’s a great detox, soups and salads; just consume those for seven days. I include that detox plan in my book.
I also juice, and make my own dressings with orange as a base or apples; you can make great dressings. You can have all kinds of food on this diet, all the colors of the rainbow.
A lot of people I know have green juice in the morning and fruit at breakfast, a big salad around lunch time then a cooked vegan dinner so you have a little something different to look forward to. But one thing they’ve found over time is that not all vegetarian food and vegan food is healthy, for example it can be very easy to eat pasta as a vegan but that’s not necessarily healthy because of the gluten in there.
AHW: I’ve heard that it may be better to eat mostly soups and steamed vegetables for example while transitioning to a raw diet. How important is it to do some sort of transition like this from cooked to raw?
MK: Some can do it fast, others need transition time but no matter what you should eat fresh foods and cut out meats and dairy if you don’t want hormones, steroids and chemicals in your food. I think it’s very dangerous, so many diseases including autism are on the rise and these foods and substances wreak havoc with peoples’ weights. You need to read the labels, nowadays it’s more like a science project than food, I mean we’ve got carrot-less carrot cake and blueberry cereals with no real blueberries in it. So you really have to watch what you consume first and then slowly move into juices and salads and you’ll start to feel good. The body will start acting the way you’d like it to; and of course if you’d like to go further you can check out my book.
AHW: So what type of equipment do you need most to get started on a raw food diet?
MK: You can start with a juicer and a blender, those are important on the raw food diet so I’d work toward getting a good one. It’s also good to have a nice refrigerator and a nice stove, good equipment to make raw food is also really a place. I tell people to move at their own pace and make a commitment, to do something they can stick with. If not you’ll make a lot of reasons not to do it. Whatever you do, just do your own research and do it well, and see what your body is telling you.
Whatever I crave, I can find a way to make it in the raw food world. You can make raw lasagna, creamy things like chocolate pudding, so many things that are actually good for you; you can learn to make new things that will knock your guests’ socks off when they visit.
AHW: Excellent, so if you had to pick three appliances for becoming a raw foodist, what would they be?
MK: The first is a good blender, I use the Vitamix because it wears well and doesn’t burn out like the smaller, cheaper ones will and it works really well in general. A juicer is also very good but if you only can choose one appliance I’d go with the blender (because of its versatility).
With the blender you can put a little water in there and make smoothies, I do both (along with juicing). This morning I had an almond milk, berry and spinach smoothie. I love juice don’t get me wrong, and I feel that I can drink more as opposed to from a blender, but a lot of people just use the blender.
You also want to get a nice dehydrator. If you’re a person who needs carbs and a little warm food, using a dehydrator can be very helpful.
The other is a food processor, I had put mine away in a cupboard for years and I didn’t even use it. But now I make nut butter, I chop things up with it, I’m a big fan and I use it several times a day.
I can attest for myself, my own experience in life how you can be healthy and have a high quality of life while living long. I’m speaking for myself and each person has their own experience with raw foods, but this is the most natural way, eating your food from the ground of a tree or bush. All of the vitamins remain intact and alive and once you cook you lose all that color. That’s what you’re putting in your body and it’s harder to digest and clean your system out. But when you eat raw, you just feel healthy, it just gives you energy.
There are a lot of good starter dishes you can make quick and a lot of things that take longer.
One good quick dish is spaghetti using a spiralizer, spiralizers are very cheap, you can get them on my website www.youngonrawfood.com, and Amazon ships it. I buy the spiralizer and just use that or a potato peeler to make strips and keep doing it until I make fettucine-like strips in a big bowl.
You can take fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and spices and put them into a blender to make sauce, or buy red sauce that doesn’t have any bad stuff in it. You can make the noodles with zucchini (organic to avoid GMOs) , and add fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, capers, cherry tomatoes, a pinch of salt; that makes it soft. Then drain the water off and chop up the tomatoes and put that on top of spaghetti; it only takes minutes.
You can also fix yourself a Caesar salad with romaine lettuce leaves that has only five ingredients, so it’s another example of a recipe that’s very easy to make and can be found in my book. A lot of people make smoothies, juices and soups all day, that’s what they’re living on, and salads, and you can even add superfoods like goji berries, maca, and more into your smoothies for people who may be a little lazy and don’t want to cook anything.
Whatever you make, it’s important to prepare real food and have a real connection to our land, environment and everything else.
There’s also a difference between cooking for yourself, you never really know until you start doing it for someone else. When you feed someone you love it makes you feel so good when you know the food is good for them, and you’re not including things like oil, gluten, refined salt et cetera.
I’m the youngest of seven and (my family has a history of disease). They’ve had so many diseases and medications, but I avoided everything my family got.
All of these raw food recipes are so exciting because you’re not taking anything away from it, you’re adding to it. You’re fixing raw organic food and eating that, and (hopefully) making a choice not to eat meat or kill animals, harm them et cetera. I believe something really happens, a huge transition of energy that draws a lot of people to you when you eat vegan. Raw food is just so clean, it’s like a lightbulb goes on, of course everyone has to find what fits them best, but it’s a beautiful way to live; this is what makes you feel good.
AHW: I agree with a lot of what you said but I have a question in regards to a book I’ve been reading about the longest living cultures in the world. A lot of them do some cooking of their food and are mostly vegetarian. But do you know of cultures that eat entirely raw that are thriving?
MK: No one I know of is raw, but the longest living cultures are those that are mostly plant based with clean environments, a friendly atmosphere among neighbors and church groups, a simple, positive outlook on life and cultures where they get a lot of exercise and do a lot of walking; also places where the older residents are taken care of.
These people cook for themselves still, they take care of themselves. In Loma Linda, California for example there are a lot of 7th Day Adventists and they follow a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle and eat lots of raw plant foods. Their markets are like health food stores and their hospitals even have healthier food. I’ve known a woman who’s 102 and she still chops wood; I met another man who’s 110 years old, he’s pretty amazing and as lively as can be. He had a green drink with powdered stuff like spirulina, drinks green tea throughout the day and walks barefoot every day as well. He rubs olive oil all over his body too. He looks quite amazing; he says he doesn’t look any older than he did when he was 90.
In addition to eating good, raw food, it’s also important to keep away from chemicals. People clean their house with all these chemicals when vinegar and orange peel in a jar can do everything and clean everything you want from glass to wood; you can use it for everything.
Sometimes I slow roast vegetables, and that’s good for people who live in cold weather because sometimes the body likes hot food. Every once in a while I’d do sweet potatoes, parsnip or carrots with quinoa and a little salt. I’ll also make warm drinks every now and then with chai and some homemade almond milk. You can put almond in along with pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger and warm it to body temperature. Put it on very low, whip it up, then let it sit and cover it and put it in a jar in the refrigerator. You warm it a little bit all of the flavors come into it.
This is just one of many great recipes you can make (at low heat to supplement a raw diet). I also roast vegetables in the dehydrator and sprout wild rice. There’s so much you can do. If you don’t want to eat all raw you can still eat healthy.
Me, I’m a big salad person so luckily where I live you get kinds of things all year round (to add to salads).
AHW: What are your 2-3 go-to foods as part of the raw food diet?
MK: I like a salad with dark leafy greens such as spinach, and parsley with lemon, olive oil and some salt. I have a parmesan cashew nut cheese that makes people go, ‘Woohoo!’ A big fresh spinach salad from the farmer’s garden right down the street makes me feel amazing. Kale, I love kale, salads take two minutes to fix and they’re just so delicious and satisfying, you can make a healthy dressing with lemon, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lots of amazing dressings and you can chop a lot of stuff up in there to make you feel good.
This isn’t about going to the gym and just making the outside look good, you might not be truly healthy; this is about taking care of the inside, all of your organs and your cells.
It’s also very important to be in a good frame of mind, thinking that everything is a challenge and not a problem, not stressing over small things in life and passing on judgments. That’s one of the secrets to living a long life along with no overeating. That’s one of the problems a lot of people have, they’re eating a lot of cooked food and not getting satisfied yet they just keep eating until they’re literally groaning.
AHW: You can eat a lot of raw plant-based foods without feeling like that.
MK: That’s right, you can eat quite a bit of it. I can have a big salad even have a raw dessert and still be really satisfied. In the other world people are eating three candy bars and still aren’t satiated! I really do believe it’s the ultimate diet.
AHW: You’ve gotten a lot of extra attention because of your youthful appearance, do people realize what your true age is?
MK: No one ever guesses my age, but of course they only see pictures online where I look really young. I guess I just photograph good! That’s all I have to say, everyone thinks I’m probably in my early thirties and if people think you look 20 years younger than you really do that’s pretty good.
I’ll tell some people my age and they’ll be completely shocked, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, I thought you were in your 40s!’ A lot of people in my age bracket especially women are starting to look younger all the time!
I don’t agree with things like Botox though, I don’t think it’s good for you.
But yes, people are always surprised at my age and no one would ever guess it. They think I’m younger because of my blonde hair and my energy, that has something to do with it. It makes me laugh, the popularity, it’s all so unbelievable but I feel good and I’m happy to inspire other people to eat healthy and to see that eating this way is a good thing especially when they get older.
I see people my age at the senior home using walkers, they’re very unhealthy, overweight; they have this attitude where they’ve bought into the whole “being old” thing. I don’t think that I will ever buy into it; I think I can live to 120. You have to live how you’re supposed to and be fresh and open to what life has to offer, that’s really important.
I also stay busy, I speak all the time, my book is in its fourth printing and I’ve been asked to write another one. I have my business that I’ve run or kind of run since 1998. I invented the board game, ‘Cowgirls Ride the Trail of Truth,’ and I have a host of vintage cowgirl products, spa and kitchen products (a friend runs the business). I’m also very active in consulting and I have a great time with that, to help people get on the right track, encourage them in the things they need to change to get healthier, that’s fun.
Back to the raw chef class, there are 19-year-olds, 30 and 40-year-olds and I’ve kept up with everybody. This is a grueling class, you’re rushing around like it’s a mainstream restaurant but the chef teacher is surprised by how much energy I have.
The biggest surprise for everyone is that I’m (almost) 75 and feel as healthy as I do. That is a surprise, people walking around my age don’t look as healthy but you could say the proof is looking at me and how I feel and all the energy I have.
AHW: You certainly sound like you have a lot of energy! Thanks for joining us.
MK: Thank you for having for me!
For more info on Mimi Kirk and her raw food philosophy, visit her website at www.youngonrawfood.com.