Get Out and Give Back: Healing Foods at Smith Center

Smith Center for Healing and the Arts brings in a chef who serves up a raw, vegan, organic menu.
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Smith Center staff , , , , and at the Oct 2011 Make-a-Difference Gala. Photo courtesy of Washington Life/Tony Powell.

I was on my third handful of peanut M&Ms, just enough to qualify as lunch, when Smith Center emailed me with the ideal volunteer project. Would I assist their guest chef, during a cooking demonstration of raw, vegan, organic food?

I swallowed the rest of the M&Ms and chased it with a Diet Coke. Absolutely!

Fast food places tempted me all along the four block walk from the metro to Smith Center. Quizno’s waited at the top of the metro stairs, followed by Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway and of course McDonald’s, where I fought the urge to stop in and prep my insides with fat and empty carbs.

Smith Center, with its white walls, blond wood floors, open space and environ-friendly everything, once again enveloped me in a Zen hug as soon as I walked in. Photos, provocative and insightful from the U Street Portrait Project in the Joan Hisaoka Gallery, captured my attention. My shoulders relaxed and sank three inches.

Meredith Anderson, the program director, led me to the gorgeous, new kitchen in the back, where Elizabeth and her assistant were preparing for the demo. My duties, Meredith said, would be limited to dishwashing, which was fine by me.

Having worked in the food industry for 25 years, Elizabeth began her raw, vegan, organic lifestyle when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 2009. During treatment she spent three weeks at the Hippocrates Health Institute, where she found that eating raw was delicious and healthy. That encouraged her to open Elizabeth’s Gone Raw on Friday evenings in her venue,  Elizabeth’s on L.

Ares Romay and Elizabeth Petty at the Smith Center.

Twelve people showed up for the demonstration and from their questions or conversations I could tell that most of them were fighting their personal battle with cancer. Some of them were quite knowledgeable about nutritional yeast and reverse osmosis water, and I could only wish them courage and peace in their struggle with this hideous disease.

After tasting samples of dried kale chips with cayenne, truffle cream in almond and flaxseed shells and chocolate milk made with ground almonds and cocoa, I discovered that most of it was pretty good. I especially like not having that greasy aftertaste or bloated stomach that normally follows a meal. As stereotype as it sounds, it all tasted very clean.

Unless you limit yourself to salads, raw, vegan and organic cooking can be labor intensive and expensive. (Raw is defined as heating food to no more than 115 degrees, enabling the enzymes to perform free radical-killing duties once it enters your system). However, were I able to convince Elizabeth to be my private, full-time chef, I might give it a try.

However, an overnight switch from pizza and Popeye’s could shock anyone’s system, so Elizabeth offered a few baby steps to healthier eating:

1. Step up the green and leafy intake, as well as onions, garlic and broccoli (then back away from loved ones for 12 hours)
2. Reduce meat, dairy and refined sugar intake
3. Drinks loads of water

No surprises here. In other words, eat your vegetables.

Smith Center has quite the impressive array of holistic programs for the general public as well as cancer survivors, including retreats, yoga and creativity workshops. Contact them here to join in. Or, just walk into their tranquil space in the middle of DC to get away from it all.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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