WHY FOOD IS MEDICINE … FOR US AND OUR PLANET

Ysanne Spevack learned early in life that food is medicine. But we must also consider how our food choices impact the wellbeing of our planet …

Portrait: Clara Bensen

When I was 22 I went backpacking around India for three months. I visited the river Ganges and saw the burning bodies and the dolphins and Shiva temples in Varanassi. I went deep into my own process and traveled far off the grid. To prepare for my return to London, I went to Delhi for my last week. To see some other Westerners. Check that I was still myself.

In 1993 there was one German café in Delhi, where they had coffee and croissants. It was a big deal, all the travelers went there. And that’s where I got sick. I’d been eating street food for months, lots of deep fried lentils and rice, all very safe because the deep-frying killed any bugs, and I was actually quite plump. But on the plane on the way home I got intense diarrhea. The decline in my health was very quick, very intense. It continued this way for months.

I was really, really sick. Super skinny, with no energy and a distended belly, like a famine victim, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. They gave me round after round of antibiotics. But I was getting worse. Skinnier and skinnier, no energy at all. Finally someone recommended I go to see an herbalist. At first, I was like, “the doctors can’t fix it, what are herbal remedies going to do?” But I decided I had nothing to lose.

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I found myself at the London Clinic of Phytotherapy, an extraordinary teaching hospital. I was seen by a doctor and his ten students. It turns out I had something called Shigella, a bacterium related to E. Coli, and the remedies they prescribed were a herbal tincture, a serious boiled herbs tea, and a bottle of pure undiluted garlic juice. Just pure, squashed garlic, and very, very strong. I remember knocking back the first round. As I felt it going down, there was a sensation of relief. I could literally feel it healing my esophagus as it went down. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that feeling since.

It was this experience that taught me the healing power of food—a philosophy that has informed my life and my work ever since. But in our current climate, adopting a healthy diet is as much about healing our planet as it is our bodies. I believe the term “mindful eating” is absolutely meaningless if this is not also considered.

We tend to focus on diet as it relates to our own health and happiness. Our digestion, and how our skin looks. But I believe we should be experiencing these benefits almost as a bi-product of caring for the Earth. Which also means caring for the people far away who actually produce our food. People who are often exploited by our desire to have beautiful bodies and lots of energy, and to live high-performance lives.

Ysanne delivering her TEDx Talk, “Open Your Senses With Music and Food”

There’s currently lots of focus on a plant-based diet as the least harmful to the planet. But it’s more complex than that. It’s true that a vegetarian driving a Hummer has less environmental impact than a meat-eater riding a bicycle. Beef is so impactful to the planet, it’s the most harmful single ingredient.

But a coconut, for example, comes from very far away. It comes from a place where workers are exposed to pesticides, and paid a pittance. I see these issues the same way some vegetarians see meat. It’s about looking at the whole story, not just the ingredient, but how it gets to you, and where it comes from. It’s about seeing the reality. That’s my main thing really. Increasing people’s perceptiveness, supporting them to see the truth about food, and about how everything else is connected from there.

You could say I promote a macrobiotic diet—which basically means seasonal and local. People think of macrobiotic as Japanese, because the diet and the word were coined in Japan. But there it just means eating stuff that’s grown locally, and which resonates with where your body is at.

So, if you live in New York for example, rather than like hitting the coconut oil really heavy, it might mean choosing local sunflower oil, since sunflowers are grown here. Olives grow in California, so olive oil is the way to go there. When you begin to really research it, it’s also creatively much more exciting when you can eat truly local.

For example, come January there’s no fresh food in New York City. The fruit and vegetables are all imported from miles away. But if you’ve got some sprouted alfafas seeds that you’ve been growing in a canister on your windowsill, you’ve always got fresh food in New York, whatever the weather.

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I take this very seriously because I know food is medicine. And with the healthcare situation in the US the way it is, eating to prevent illness is another important conversation to be having, especially for lower income people. Another reason to eat local, too, because it’s less pollution. Yes, it’s all these fashionable little potions and powders. But it’s also the main ingredients of your dinner.

There’s a lot of perceived elitism in the healthy eating scene, but the poorest people can also have a really solid diet—like I did when I was 17 and living in a squat in London, making nutritious meals for no money out of lentils. There’s also only so high of a price point you can put on locally grown plants. Cabbages are amazing!

While I’m not a fan of some of their ideas, I’m quite protective of the women who are attacked for talking about how food is medicine, Gwyneth Paltrow and Amanda Chantal Bacon of Moon Juice being the two most often assaulted. It’s massively gendered. Because we’re not seeing Alex Jones of Info Wars being attacked. We’re not seeing Tim Ferriss being attacked. And they’re all recommending similar stuff, but aren’t attacked at all.

It’s important we separate the conversation on food and localness from elitism and medicine, and take it out of the context of gender.

And anyway, when you look at it, it’s often people who are broke who are eating the processed food, which is the expensive stuff. From my perspective, they’re eating meals that have been prepared by servants in factories. Not to mention paying a premium for the truck that brought it to the store, the marketing campaign, and the shiny box it comes in.

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Ysanne Spevack is a composer, private chef, and the author of 13 books. Ysanne is available for talks, cooking classes, personal chef and consultancy projects, and to create private dinners and mocktail events. Discover more about Ysanne and her work HERE and watch her recent TEDx Talk HERE.

WHY AYURVEDA IS HAVING A MOMENT: AN INTERVIEW WITH DIVYA ALTER

Ruby Warrington sits down with Divya Alter, chef and author of the brand new What To Eat For How You Feelto discuss why the timeless science behind Ayurveda is the perfect food philosophy for the Now Age…

William & Susan Brinson for Divya’s What to Eat for How You Feel from Rizzoli.

“Eating the right foods in the right way makes the light of our soul shine—you experience a tangible connection with the divine energies.”- Divya Alter 

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RW: First up, what would you like everybody to know about Ayurveda?

Divya Alter: That Ayurveda can work for you today! Although written thousands of years ago by ancient Vedic sages, Ayurveda is a universal manual that helps us integrate and balance ourselves on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. This timeless science helps us determine what to favor or avoid in terms of diet, routine, and environment by considering our individual needs, and what choices we can make to be healthy.

And if we face health challenges, an authentic Ayurvedic treatment goes much deeper than suppressing the symptoms; it addresses the root cause. An Ayurvedic healer’s goal is to assist in restoring the intelligence of one’s body to heal itself.

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RW: So why is Ayurveda having a moment? What makes this the perfect wellness system for the “Now Age”?

Divya: Ayurveda has had many moments through history; it is a divine universal science and its principles are always true. But I think that by experiencing the benefits of practicing yoga, lately many people have begun to explore and embrace its sister science, Ayurveda. It’s also encouraging to see how modern science is doing more research on Ayurvedic herbs, proving the ancient wisdom that was there all along. We know so much about turmeric now!

It is the perfect wellness system because it is highly customized to one’s individual needs. It is the most comprehensive preventative medicine—something we need today especially, as so many of our modern health challenges can be eliminated or minimized through preventative care.

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RW: What has your own journey with Ayurveda taught you about our relationship with plants?

Divya: Ayurveda helped me look at plants—fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, etc.—as my friends. I really want to get to know them! And the more I “hang out” with them, the more I appreciate them and understand when and how to use them in creating delicious, healing meals.

An aspect of every relationship is compatibility. Just like some people really don’t click together, sometimes eating two good foods together may result in them fighting in your stomach. Ayurveda taught me how to enjoy a healthy relationship with food by mixing and matching it properly. This goes beyond matching ingredients to layer friendly flavors and create stunning presentation; my goal is to make delicious food that can always be digested without any problem.

Another fascinating lesson I received from Ayurveda is that herbs and spices, like humans, are composed of the five elements (space, air, fire, water, earth). Dr. David Frawley explains in The Yoga of Herbs that each of the plant’s tissues affects a corresponding tissue in the human body: the watery liquid of the plant works on liquid plasma; the sap works on blood; the soft part of the wood on muscle; the gum of the tree on fat; the bark on bone; the leaves on nerve tissue and bone marrow; and the flowers and fruits on the reproductive fluids. Seeds, which contain all parts of the plant in an un-manifest form, work on the body as a whole.

William & Susan Brinson for Divya’s What to Eat for How You Feel from Rizzoli.

RW: How can eating this way heal the mind and soul, as well as the body?

Divya: Ayurveda recommends that we eat invigorating, “intelligent” foods—the way God or nature designed it in the first place. Fresh, locally grown, seasonal, organic, wholesome (unprocessed), energizing—properly combining such quality ingredients will support your body in doing all the intelligent things it is designed to do.

Eating Ayurvedic clears the body and mind from blockages and helps us feel happiness and bliss. You experience a clear communication between your body, mind, and senses, and you can easily control them. On a soul level, eating the right foods in the right way makes the light of our soul shine—you experience a tangible connection with the divine energies.

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RW: Are any foods “banned” in Ayurveda? Why?

Divya: According to Ayurveda, there is no good or bad food in and of itself. A food or herb can be good for someone or bad for someone—it depends on one’s individual needs at that time.

However nowadays, for the sake of convenience, manufacturers have created a lot of corrupted foods that make our cells act less intelligently (for example foods that are canned, homogenized, or genetically modified). These are bad for everyone. Why let such denatured foods clutter your pantry, and then your body and your mind?

Additionally, the Shaka Vansiya (SV) Ayurveda lineage that I am trained in recommends that we limit or avoid foods that are predominantly clogging, inflammatory, or overly heating to the liver: leftovers, soy, nightshades, onions and garlic, and flax seeds.

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RW: When would be a good time in life to experience Panchakarma?

Divya: Panchakarma is the traditional Ayurvedic practice of purification and nourishment. It is a practice of being open to letting go of physical, mental, energetic sludge, and to receiving nourishment and rejuvenation. It is a time-tested and efficient way to address imbalances resulting from daily wear and tear, as well as seasonal changes and energetic accumulations.

To really experience the benefits of Panchakarma, you have to give yourself the full 30 days for the practice and to do it at an Ayurvedic clinic located in a natural setting. I’ve seen quite a few victims of modern day Panchakarma that is practiced without a personalized protocol. That’s why I have to caution you: don’t do it unless your body is ready and unless an experienced Ayurvedic doctor is on hand to constantly supervise you.

A good time in life would be when you are in relatively strong health, you’re able to afford taking a month (or more) off, when the channels of your body are open to release toxins, and you are at a good clinic under close supervision. The weather should be not too hot or cold (spring temperatures). Such a Panchakarma experience can be truly life changing!

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RW: What is the overall philosophy of Divya’s Kitchen? What’s your message for the world?

Divya: At Divya’s Kitchen we believe that food can heal. That’s why we are devoted to serving you delicious food that your body and mind say YES to!

Our fresh, balanced meals are prepared with love, and deeply rooted in the authentic tradition of Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda that meets us where we are today. Ayurveda teaches us how food can restore the natural healing intelligence of the body.

Divya’s brand new book, What To Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen- 100 Seasonal Recipes, is now available from Rizzoli! 

Divya Alter is a certified nutritional consultant and educator in the Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda tradition. She is the co-founder of Bhagavat Life, the only Ayurvedic culinary school in New York. She and her husband launched North America’s first Ayurvedic chef certification program and Divya’s Kitchen, an authentic Ayurvedic restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village.

MY MYSTICAL LIFE: AN INVITATION TO CHOOSE PEACE, EVERY DAY

Our #TuneInPeaceOut initiative is an invitation to choose peace, every day and in every way…

:: MONDAY ::
Got to see Deepak “the don” Chopra speak live for the first time, at the launch of his Radical Beauty book with nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. TOTALLY get why he is who he is. The charisma! The effortless way with a deeply spiritual insight! A fave takeaway were his quotes about our relationship to our bodies: “Your body is an activity, not a thing. It’s not a sculpture it’s a river.” And how, since our cells are in a continual process of rejuvenation: “I’ve had this jacket longer than the body I’m wearing today.”

:: TUESDAY ::
Another day, another book about feeding our body right with Nicole Centeno’s Soup Cleanse Cookbook. Nicole is the founder of Splendid Spoon, one of our sponsors at Club SÖDA NYC, and she’s all about the healing power of soup. As Nicole tells it, souping changed her life (a low-calorie way to stay fuller for longer, the mindfulness of making soup, AND a totally practical way to cook and eat big batches of seasonal veg). All I really need to know is, my body just sort of gives me a big, cozy hug from the inside just looking at some of her recipes—which feels like an intuitive “yes” to a lot more souping this fall to me.

With Juquille, Eddie, Jaytaun, Tyrell and Raheem of the Urban Yogis, and Erica and Prince of Life Camp.

:: WEDNESDAY :: (Lots to say here, you might want to go make a cup of tea first…)
So roughly three weeks ago, I had the idea for #TuneInPeaceOut—an initiative to celebrate the UN’s International Day of Peace. This following some work I did with my coach Cherie Healey, when I was thinking about the big, underlying message of The Numinous. “If I gave you the loudest megaphone in the world, and put you on top of the highest mountain, what would you say to the world?” she asked. The words came immediately: “Can everybody just stop fighting. We’re all human. We all have the same needs, and the same fears. Please can we remember that we’re here to help each other work it out?”

Because essentially (besides me just being a massive pacifist), all the practices, philosophies, and ways of healing that we cover on The Numinous are about forging a deeper connection to our true nature—and therefore a deeper sense of connection to ourselves, and to each other. Two things I believe are fundamental to any conversation about creating more peace in our (inner and outer) world. This since a) connection to self is what fosters the resilience needed to respond to life’s trials in a calm, non-reactive way; and b) it becomes pretty much impossible to want to harm somebody once you recognize that we are all part of one big human family!

And then “Summer 2016” happened. Week after week we were slammed with reminders of the rampant divisiveness, hatred and violence in our world right now, and often stemming from a place of separation, of “us” v. “them.” Which is not exactly anything new. Bombings, shootings, rape, hate crimes, and other acts of terrorism are happening all over the world, every day. But what struck me was the emotional charge in the way we responded to the events of this summer. How personally we all took each heart-wrenching episode of violence and injustice.

I think this is because we’ve reached a tipping point in how we consume our news. It used to be that we first heard of such inhumane acts as mass shootings and racist police brutality from people in suits, reading from scripts, in newsrooms far away. Now, this information first reaches us via our social media feeds—the same place we connect with our family and friends, and share our own lives with those we love. As a result, it has become impossible not to empathize with the people being violated against as we would our own brothers and sisters, parents, friends, and colleagues. The veil of separation dissolves…and we are reminded that we are all part of one big human family.

And with this, comes the remembrance that it is all of our responsibility to look out for one another. To speak up. Literally. Like, “WTF, that’s not how we do things in THIS family!!” No matter how scary, or how uncomfortable this might feel. And to take whatever (non-violent!) action we can to change up the status quo.

The above is pretty much how I introduced my event in NYC for #TuneInPeaceOut, which ended up being one of 20 or so IRL gatherings held by the Numinous tribe globally. Earlier in the day I also hosted a live webinar with Bri Luna from The Hoodwitch and my dear friend and collaborator Alexandra Roxo (you can listen to the recording here), in which we spelled out what this initiative is really all about—empowering all of us to use our voice and take action to choose peace, and help create more peaceful communities from the ground up.

After all, as a friend in the UK pointed out on one of my posts about #TuneInPeaceOut, since it was inaugurated in 1981, it would not appear that the UN’s International Day of Peace has actually done much to end—or even lessen—violence. Since September 21 was subsequently declared a day of of ceasefire and non-violence in 2001, US military spending has increased dramatically—rising from under $400 billion to almost $800 billion in 2011 (there has been a slight drop during Obama’s presidency, but spending is projected to increase again in 2017). I see this as yet another reminder that it is actually on YOU AND ME to demand a different way of resolving conflict. That the power, truly, must be claimed by the people.

This message is why I partnered with the amazing Urban Yogis for my event tonight, since here are some people who are walking the freaking talk. Based in Jamaica, Queens, a neighborhood where violent street crime fueled by prejudice and lack of opportunity is a way of life, the courageous and progressive human beings behind this initiative are bringing the tools of yoga and meditation into their local community. The results? Less reactivity. Less violence. More listening. Increased feelings of self-worth, leading to more empowered and empowering lifestyle choices.

And, most importantly, the slow chipping away of stereotypes (about the “kind of people” who do yoga, for example—or who perpetrate violent crimes) that are the sick, Monsanto seed of so much separation, fear, and hate.

“Real change needs all year round effort, not just a day,” my friend noted. And I could not agree more. Which is why it is my sincere hope that the conversations sparked by #TuneInPeaceOut will continue today, tomorrow, and every day going forward. That we will continue to choose peace every step of the way. On our webinar, we asked people to share what this looked like in their lives, and what they do to bring more peace to their communities, so we could all be inspired by each others efforts. I’ve created a post with the transcript from our chat. Check it out here—and add your feedback in the comments, so we can keep the conversation alive.

:: THURSDAY ::
Pulled the above card in a mini meeting oracle deck reading with my girl Lisa Barner. Thanks for listening, angels.

:: FRIDAY ::
And all that said, with the Moon in Cancer today, sign of nurture and self-care, I shall be mainly tuning in…and peace’ing out.

COMFORTABLY NUMB: EAT THE PAIN AWAY

Is our obsession with healthy food just another way to eat the pain away, asks Kate Atkinson? Images: Instagram.com/dishpigs

“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard! “

Lionel Bart, Oliver – Food, Glorious Food Lyrics, 1968.

Cut to the twenty first century: “I’ll have the burger please. Only I won’t have the bun. Or do you have gluten free bread? Wheat gives me hives. Does it have seeds in it too? Where was the meat farmed? Were the cows happy, like REALLY happy? I mean, ecstatic. Oh and can you make sure there isn’t any cheese on there? I’m allergic to dairy. My whole face turns bright yellow when I eat it. Actually I’ll just have some lettuce, thanks.”

To quote the Miranda July film title, this has begun to sound just a little like me and you and everyone we know. And apologies in advance to all my vegan, gluten-free friends out there, but can we just take a step back from obsessing over every morsel that goes in our mouth for a moment?

I’ll preface this by admitting I ate gluten-free bread the other morning (and full disclosure, it was really not as good as sourdough). Why? Because I’d travelled from the NY winter (read: seven layers of clothes + one extra layer of fat) to my home town of sunny Sydney, and found I was suddenly hyper aware of what I ate. But how many of us actually have a serious intolerance to gluten i.e. celiac? Why not just say we feel fat, and are convinced for some reason that “gluten-free” also means less calories?

Here’s some food for thought: are we depriving ourselves of the snacks we know and have always loved, inventing all sorts of conditions, because we’re ashamed to admit that actually we just really want to be perfect? Ashamed of looking stupid and being so susceptible to the unattainable ideals we’re pushed, since we all know perfection is impossible.

As ballet coach Thomas Leroy says to an emaciated Natalie Portman in Black Swan: “Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them.” And when it comes food, I think we should do likewise.

Back in high school, the pursuit of body-perfection meant doing star jumps in the toilet cubicles and puking when we thought no one is looking. Not me personally, but many girls I knew.

Now we’re all grown up, its our addiction to false nutrition bullshit that’s feeding the same appetite for fear. See the modern malaise of Orthorexia nervosa – literally translating as “proper appetite”, and a pathological fixation with eating only “healthy food,” that has aptly been described as “a disease disguised as a virtue”.

A condition in its infancy, Orthorexia is not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder – but I see focussing so thoroughly on virtuous eating as just another way of distracting ourselves from our reality, and numbing what’s really going on.

I believe perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order – and deprivation just another means of exercising control in a world of imperfect unknowns. On a parallel with OCD, it’s a way of ignoring our pain and conforming to perceived societal norms…but what for exactly? To maintain the body of a 12-year-old who’s never even menstruated, or, come to think of it, slept with a man who told them they had a great ass?

A friend of mine, Georgia Ashdown, has recently started a blog in Australia called Dish-Pig as a way of exploring women’s relationship with food. Her crowd are foodies, but they aren’t obsessive, and while they’re all about sustainability and conscious eating, they also champion the enjoyment of food in a progressive way. Think hot babes (US Vogue are fans) eating ACTUAL food, not cotton wool!

I think it’s time for a new language around food. Most women (myself included) have a long way to go in learning to truly love  our own bodies. With so much social conditioning about we should look under our clothes, how can we not feel terrible when we see ourselves in the mirror naked?

By realizing none of this shit actually matters, because it really, really doesn’t. By remembering we are not the women being forced to marry suicide bombers in ISIS. By taking the time to tell each other how great our asses look. By realizing that it is totally normal and acceptable to pig out sometimes and not rush to justify it to others and ourselves. By no more comparing ourselves to celebrities or impossibly thin friends. By reading up properly on food, not just jumping on the latest fad diet when it comes along. By realizing that the people you want to look good for really DON’t care – they just want you to be happy in your own skin.

There are so many things in the world we can’t control. A talking head that no one can quite believe has been given an international stage. Gun laws that mean your four-year-old is able to shoot you. Climate change. Terrorism. Police brutality.

Can’t we just enjoy and be grateful for the simple pleasures we have?

To quote political activist and author Anne Lamott:

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is you will die anyway, and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

We are all enough. More than enough. So isn’t it time we ate enough, too, and stopped picking toppings off our pizza? It’s getting really, really boring.

MATERIAL GIRL, MYSTICAL WORLD: AMANDA MOON JUICE

Her juices have a cult following on the West Coast…and she’s basically a total babe. This week’s Material Girl is Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, here’s a peek into her Mystical and super stylish World…

Amanda Chantal Bacon shot by Tasya van Ree

What was your entry point into healthy food and juicing?
Healthy and body specific eating began around age five with a divine intervention by an ayruvedic doctor. The gateway to serious juice drinking was an apple lemon ginger green juice.

What’s been the most transformational part of your own foodie journey to date?
It really dates back to that doctor, who pulled me aside and had me stop eating sugar, wheat and cow’s milk when I was five years old. It turned out to be life defining. This has all been enhanced by working as a fine dining chef, traveling the world’s farmers markets, and experiencing peasant traditions.

How does this tie into your path as a spiritual being?
My meditative practice and life experiences are directly affected by the foods I eat. When I’m juicing and eating light sattvic foods, I can tune in and slip out to other dimensions within seconds. I don’t drink any more for this reason, but even eating heavier, cooked foods and meat just adds some time and pranic work to getting the cosmic high. I would have to say that there was a real shift in my spiritual perception when I made a deep commitment to clean eating and drinking.

What’s in your fantasy juice?
Love this question…It would be white peaches pressed into fig leaves drunk on a dock in the summertime on Lake Como.

:: M A T E R I A L   G I R L ::

My label
Black Crane

Black Crane AW14

My shoes
Celine

Celine SS15

My fragrance
Rose oil from India

Roll on fragrance oil by Jurlique

My jewels
Pink opals

Pink Opal ring, $115 by Max and Chloe

My pampering
Colonics

My food
Raw chocolate

Fine & Raw chocolate truffles, $28

My home

Earthy mid century modern

:: M Y S T I C A L   W O R L D ::

My awakening 
Breath of Fire

My sign
Aries sun, Aquarius moon, Scorpio rising

My mantra
Sat Nam

My healer
My son, Rohan

My reading
Pema Chodron is who I turn to when I need some grounded advice and a good strong shoulder

The wisdom of Pema Chodron…

My mission
Bringing love and beauty to us all with plants

My transformation
Is a daily process, and I’m on a particularly ripe and juicy part of the ride…

Shop the full selection of juices and cosmic provisions at Moonjuiceshop.com, and follow Amanda @moonjuiceshop