Through the Eyes of Esther Suarez
By Doris Kiambati
The BCC Voice sat down with part-time faculty member Esther Suarez, who is currently assisting in facilitating the UMOJA village space, to find out more about her chosen diet. Suarez shares how her diet has greatly improved her health.
What is your diet? How would you classify it? What does it entail?
I tell people that I am a high-fruit raw vegan. That means I predominantly eat seasonal, organic, fresh and sometimes dried fruits throughout the day. In the early evening, I typically have a very large salad or other raw vegan dishes. I love my greens too! My diet includes smaller portions of seeds and nuts. I also like a lot of sprouts. During the winter months, I occasionally have a little cooked vegan foods such as yams, quinoa, etc. And I like seaweeds. For drinks, I make plenty of fresh juices and smoothies daily. Finally, I take vitamin supplements for extra nutrient support since store-bought produce is not grown in remineralized soils. Variety is important and I get plenty of it by eating the colors of the rainbow daily. Fruit is my main source of fuel and since having done this for so long now, I know it’s working for me. My blood tests prove it.
How long have you practiced raw veganism? And what were your initial reasons?
I have been experimenting with the raw vegan diet (predominantly raw, 100 percent vegan) for approximately 14 years now. (I’m not experimenting with being vegan. I’m committed to veganism for the rest of my life.) I went vegetarian in my mid-teens because my mother became one. I was really happy about making the change with her. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with it 100 percent throughout my young adult years and wound up becoming ill in my mid-thirties as a result. My mother was vegan by then and just told me, “You’re sick because you’re toxic.” When I finally stopped taking what she told me personally, I became a raw vegan. I didn’t know I was raw at the time, I was just following my instinct for needing fresh foods. Eating this way also aligns with my personal ethics — trying to do the least harm, being kind, animal welfare, raising awareness around making changes within systems in which food insecurities and injustice still exist, ending environmental racism, and caring for the environment.
While speaking to Suarez about how being a raw vegan has affected her health as a woman, she also shed some light on her menopausal journey.
Do you think that menopausal symptoms are intensified for women due to mainstream diets or is that change just an individual one?
I’ve observed other women who eat similarly and who are in the same age group (50+). They don’t tend to experience challenging menopausal symptoms the way many women eating mainstream diets do, so it seems that there is a strong correlation there. Of course diet is not the only indicator for achieving optimal health. I believe exercise and following the principles of natural hygiene (getting fresh air, lots of sun, clean water, sleep etc.) are critical too. Also, hormonal changes happen whether we like it or not, simply because we are aging. How hormones affect each individual can vary due to a host of other factors. I see this change in life as a rites of passage into my senior years, so I welcome the change and am glad it’s largely been a breeze thus far. It would be cool to see more people experiment with adding fresh vegan foods into their diets to see how it affects their health in general. I know many young women who have tried this approach and have noted that they no longer have painful and long/heavy menstrual cycles.
Did you face any conflict in your personal relationships as a result of transitioning into a raw vegan? What are ways to alleviate this conflict?
It depends on the type of connection you’re trying to make with someone, because food is extremely personal to us. Eating is instinctively connected to survival which begins with connecting to our mothers via nursing. Even if we didn’t have the opportunity to nurse (like me), that feeling, that instinct to put something in your mouth when you need/want it, is real for people. If you try and tell someone that what they are eating is bad for them when they love it, they won’t want to listen to you. So, you have to be very careful about what you say, when you’re speaking to them about food. And yes, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, since I too have had conflicts in personal relationships about my food choices. My ex-husband once told me, “This raw food will be the end of us!” He was right. I’m not perfect. I’ve eaten meat in my lifetime too, so I can’t sit in negative judgment about that. I prefer the inclusive approach rather than the exclusive approach. I like to share fresh foods with folks to assist in turning their palates on, and helping them to think about ways to eat more fresh foods. I also like ask them questions such as: “What do you think about your diet is working for you? What do you think you need to change? How were you raised with food? How do you define what food is?” Getting folks to think critically about food isn’t easy. And people that come to making changes on their own terms usually have greater success with sticking with it. Even though I think it’s critical that everyone knows about the horrors of factory farming, and the effects it’s having on animals, the environment and our health, I believe people listen best when they don’t feel attacked and judged negatively. Engaging in a respectful dialogue that employs the principles of non-violent communication and kindness first is how I avoid conflict around the subject.
What are additional benefits that you have experienced since going vegan?
Outside of the health benefits, I’ve found numerous other perks. I’ve met amazing people (fruitarians are a hoot!) and traveled to places I never expected I would see, once I opened the doors to this health journey. It’s also helped to transform my work life completely. Everything for me just got better after going raw vegan.
According to Suarez, Berkeley has a lot to offer in terms of finding great produce. Visit Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, and the Berkeley Farmer’s Market (her three favorite spots) to take advantage of Berkeley’s amazing produce. She is also big proponent of growing your own food using veganic compost and rock dust to remineralize the soil.
If fresh produce is tough on your budget, our campus offers free produce every Monday from 12-3 p.m. in the atrium. Make sure to bring your own bag. Together, we can influence Berkeley City College to be a healthier place. Feel free to ask Suarez for more resources in the Umoja Village office Monday-Thursday in the afternoon.
At the top – Photo: Alexander Coates