Conversation with an Angel: Leslie Jones

Living Light Culinary Institute Kitchen Angel Leslie JonesLeslie Jones is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and currently lives in the woods in Central New York, near Ithaca.  Leslie recently completed Essentials of Raw Culinary Arts™, a five-day hands-on Living Light Culinary Institute course.  After her training, Leslie experienced what it is like to run a raw vegan kitchen when she became a Living Light Kitchen Angel during the Raw Culinary Arts Associate Chef and Instructor Training™ and Pastry Arts-Unbaked! ™ classes.

Chef Experience: How did you get interested in raw foods?
Leslie Jones: I became interested in live foods in late 2001 when I was introduced to the idea by a farmer friend. My husband supported the idea and helped me to research and purchase equipment and supplies by mid 2002. During this time, we were also transitioning from city life to living off the grid (relying predominantly on natural resources like solar power for electricity) in the woods. I was not able to take on two new lifestyle changes at once (while also changing jobs) so we put away our brand new equipment (the Green Life juicer, K-Tec blender, and our Excalibur 4-tray dehydrator still wrapped in its packaging) for another time.

In the Fall of 2010, my mother's serious medical diagnosis heightened my sense of urgency to become as self sufficient with my health (and that of my family) as I am with my living conditions. I was also experiencing increasing difficulties with my digestion of cooked food and other health challenges. For the next year I studied with Queen Afua, a holistic health practitioner in Brooklyn, and she offered me a transitional road map towards live foods.

CE: How long have you been eating raw food diet?
LJ: I have been eating high raw (90% - 100%) since December 2010.

CE: How has raw foods changed your life?
LJ: Eating live foods has connected me to all life on the planet, and it has been a life-changing experience. Even though I am in my 10th year living in the woods in almost full reliance (about 75%) on the natural world, before I committed to a raw diet I was still disconnected. Live foods allowed me to expand my consciousness and to connect with the truth of who I am and the reason why I am on the planet. I will be starting a sustainable farming certificate program in April when I return home, and I am looking forward to building an even stronger connection to the land as I learn how to grow more of my own food and appreciate/identify the natural "grocery store/pharmacy" that surrounds me in the woods.

CE: How did you find out about Living Light Culinary Institute?
LJ: I found Living Light while looking for raw recipes on the internet, and then two people I know entered the Hot Raw Chef contest in 2011. Another friend from high school I connected with on Facebook (who I did not even know was interested in raw food) mentioned the Kitchen Angel program to me in September last year.

CE: What made you decide to become a Kitchen Angel?
LJ: I want to learn as much as I can about live foods because I engage in community work regarding sustainable lifestyle choices. When I called Living Light International to ask about the program (following an e-Newsletter announcement) and share my overall vision for community transformation, Karen suggested that I do a combination of culinary study with the Kitchen Angel program. It was an excellent suggestion and I am blessed that it all worked out. The basic culinary and nutrition classes followed by the hands-on applications in the LLCI kitchen has been life changing!

CE: What is your typical day as a Kitchen Angel?
LJ: A typical day as a Kitchen Angel involves being ready and able to do what is necessary to support the kitchen staff and instructors in supporting the students. From helping to prep for breakfast or lunch, to putting away produce orders, to keeping the kitchen and studio towels clean and properly stored, to gathering the raw materials for mis en place, to watching culinary demos, to cleaning up the kitchen after a productive day of preparing tasty raw foods... each day is unique and offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.

CE: What do you like most about being an angel?
LJ: I liked the variety of each day offered (based on the diversity inside the culinary curriculum). I loved interacting with the kitchen staff, who were very supportive of my interest in learning and experiencing all that I could. I was encouraged to explore every opportunity available to me to build my skills in live foods preparation. I felt like a part of the team! I also enjoyed engaging with the students at lunch, during the culinary demos, and back at the Inn.

CE: What are your plans after you leave Living Light?
LJ: I am the co-founder/co-director of a nonprofit that has been implementing a constituency-led criminal/environmental justice initiative for under-served communities since 2004. Drawing from our experience using healthy food as a gateway to a larger conversation on social justice and sustainable living, we recently ended a 2-year, national biodiesel/veggie-oil bus tour which culminated in a solar-powered, vegan farm-to-fork dinner in Detroit with local foods, kids cooking, and culinary-related multi-media arts. Beginning in April 2012, we will be offering food demonstrations to youth/adults/seniors that will include the science behind plant-based nutrition; community cooking classes; farm/garden tours; recipes as remedies to encourage overall wellness and vitality; and, food shopping trips. Eventually, we want to collaborate with the local alternative/integrative medicine community, our regional food justice network and area restaurants, local/county drug courts, organic farmers around the state, and rural school districts. Our work supports raising the general public’s awareness of the causal connection between diet and disease to encourage connecting the dots between personal power, personal purpose, and planetary peace.

CE: You have an interesting way of reducing your carbon footprint, living off the grid. Can you share what that is?
LJ: My husband and I left city life for rural living off grid – solar power (for electricity), wood heat (for warmth), well water (for life), composting toilets (for health and wealth), family farming (for local/organic food), and waste vegetable oil/biodiesel (for fuel) – in 2002 to learn from the natural world how to develop practical strategies for manifesting abundance, clarity, and well-being in all aspects of our lives, and for community empowerment.

CE: What made you did you decide to live off the grid?
LJ: My husband and I wanted to experience a stronger bridge between the woods and our hoods through sustainable and self-determined lives in balance with the natural world when it comes to food, clothes, shelter, and community. Since moving off-grid, we have created a national network for people of color to promote living unplugged (renewable energy, permaculture, dry toilets, community food security, cooperative economics, rainwater collection, holistic medicine, composting and recycling, grey water systems, green building) while maintaining our cultural identities and power as people shifting our consciousness and renewing our spirits in honor of our ancestors and future generations.

CE: How long have you been living this way?
LJ: This September, we will celebrate 10 years living on the land. Living off grid does not mean that we live in total isolation. It just means that we have the unique opportunity to live more aligned with the natural world... and encourage others (through our example) to do the same!

CE: Is it easy eating raw and living off the grid?
LJ: It is easier in the warmer months, but still very doable even when it is cold. Eating in season makes eating raw on the East Coast interesting, and encourages creativity and flexibility. For example, being off grid means that my raw food preparation equipment (blender, dehydrator, food processor) is solar powered. In the Winter when there is less Sun, my ability to use these tools is dependent upon the amount of solar power available in balance with my other electrical needs. As a result, I dehydrate much less from November through February... but I find that during those months I am much more creative and open in thinking about my options to create tasty and healthy food.

CE: What advice can you offer those who would like to incorporate more raw foods into their life?
LJ: Start when you are ready; love yourself during your transition; and, add live foods to your menu planning in the amount (and with the regularity) that will support your success... and define success for yourself! We are all different and unique. No size fits all... so do what works for you and your lifestyle. Shifts are infinite, and health and wealth are lifetime journeys that support dynamic processes of growth and development in our lives. Be flexible and eat to live while you enjoy and savor every experience!

If you would like further information on attending Living Light classes or becoming a kitchen angel, please call an Enrollment Advisor at 707-964-2420

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