Entrepreneur Akin Olokun grew up on a farm in Poland, where the notion of food as a natural product of the earth was assumed. Since moving to the US at the age of 16, Olokun has maintained an appreciation of fresh, wholesome foods. He established Earth's Healing Cafe in 2011 after spending time living in California where he was surrounded by juice bars and raw, living food cafes. He identified a niche in Chicago's dining scene and opened up shop in Ravenswood, one of the few organic cafes in the city at the time.
In a recent conversation, which has been condensed and edited, Okolun shared his ideas on food as means for optimal nutrition and wellbeing.
What, in your opinion, makes good food?
It’s important that the food is grown in soil with as little contamination as possible. Whole foods, unprocessed foods in raw form tend to be the easiest on the digestive system.
Why is it important to eat foods high in nutrients and easy to digest?
Whole foods contain important minerals and enzymes. All foods that grow from the ground are considered whole foods and are easy on digestion because they have enzymes. When food contains enzymes, the body’s digestive enzymes work with the food enzymes to break everything down nicely. Raw, living foods makes people feel alive because of the magnetic energy in the food. In different parts of the world this energy is called different things like life force, prana, or chi. Once you put the food through a process, that life force starts to diminish.
What role does taste play in the raw, living foods?
It’s easier for people accustomed to the Standard American Diet to eat raw, living foods that are flavorful. Raw meat has no flavor on its own so you use spices to flavor it. The same thing can be done for plants. Combining spices and herbs can make vegetables taste really good. The right seasoning can allow people to transition into this lifestyle and stick to it.
What advice can you give to people transitioning into the living food diet?
The easiest thing to do is to eliminate foods that are harmful to the body and replace them with the good stuff: plants. Meat, dairy and anything that has gluten are the first things to eliminate for the body to start performing the best. Get a juicer, a blender, and a food processor which will make the transition much easier. It takes 5 minutes to make a smoothie. Start introducing healthy foods and automatically things will start changing; you crave less the things that don’t serve you.
What are some examples of food or beverages of living food that also tastes good?
I always recommend eating simple meals. You can make a good salad by purchasing pre-washed salad greens. If you have a food processor or blender you can make a simple dressing of a tomato, an avocado, fresh herbs like basil or dill, garlic, and Himalayan salt. With raw, living foods you can eat as much as you want and it won’t put that much stress on the body. For a smoothie, you can make in a blender with a base like fresh apple juice, orange juice, nut milk, or hemp milk. To that you can add a frozen banana, or any type of fruit like oranges, peaches, pineapples, mangos. Add dates, or maple syrup if you want it sweeter then blend everything up. Experiment, because you can’t really go wrong making juices, smoothies or even a salad.
When did you start transitioning?
I grew up on a farm in Poland so I was always familiar with these ideas about food. In 2007, 2008 I one day decided to just stop eating dairy and meat. People like me like to jump into things. Once I gave up dairy my asthma went away.
What advice do you have for people concerned about eating raw foods during a cold winter?
Everybody should listen to their bodies. If your body wants warm soup, don’t force your body go through some really extreme difficulties. You can make a raw soup by combining celery, cucumber, avocado, tomato, herbs and spices in a high speed blender. Just blend the soup for a few minutes and you’ll have a warm soup that is still considered raw. Dehydrators can be used to warm foods up. Foods are considered raw if they’re below 115 degrees. If you want to really stick to a raw diet during the winter you can use warming herbs like cayenne, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon; they will enhance circulation and warm up the body. But listen to the body, that’s the ultimate advice I can give to everyone.
It seems like there is a learning curve with transitioning into this diet.
There’s no particular diet that is best for everyone. We all live in different places, we are different ethnicities, which play a role in how different foods affect us. But from my experience, raw, living foods are the best foods to consume for most people. Diet is but one part of this holistic lifestyle. A big part of it is getting in tune with the body. We have to really listen to our intuition.
What can people do to cultivate their own intuition?
The main thing would be to quiet the mind because it is so overactive. We live in this age of information and we are bombarded with things that are so stimulating to our minds. There are a lot of practices people can follow like meditation, yoga, that can help people cultivate their intuition and really, reconnect with themselves. Sitting in quietness too, meditating, contemplating, or just sitting.
What are your thoughts on yoga, meditation, and plant-based diets gaining popularity?
Raw living foods is not new and is one of the aspects of getting back to our roots. People were already writing about raw foods from the 50s. But technology has made us more aware about this lifestyle and made it even bigger. There is so much information online, even within the raw food community. Don’t get caught up in that. Just eat whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that grow from the earth. You will crave less and less of the man made, processed, packaged foods. This is not a movement but a lifestyle. Just follow your intuition. Live simply, and eat simple.
Earth's Healing Cafe, 1942 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, 773-728-0598
Akin and business/partner Samantha Salmon will be relocating to the West Coast though Earth's Healing Cafe undergo new ownership.
Sera Jeong hails from Auckland, New Zealand by way of Seoul, Philadelphia, Boston. With a background in Sociology-Anthropology, she is interested in people, cultures, and of course, food. Grocery shopping is an event, never a chore. She enjoys cooking at home and sharing her meals on Instagram @seraseraeraser, though she loves discovering and eating her way around Chicago!