Daniel Gerald for Parvati Magazine interviewed Jennifer Italiano of Live Organic Food, whose food and juice bars are a Toronto mainstay for healthy vegan fare and whose products are sold across Canada.
Parvati Magazine: Your menu is devoid of the very items that seem to power most of the fast food industry: animal products, gluten and refined sugars. Yet, your innovative food is only gaining in popularity. What is the secret to giving ultra-healthy food mass appeal?
Jennifer Italiano: My brother and I grew up in a household where food was very important. We are both big foodies and have always believed that although food can be made healthy, taste and ingredients should never be compromised. When we first began in 2002 creating these dishes, people assumed that this vegan, raw food would be just carrots and celery. They were astonished how creative it was and how great it tasted. I have always believed it is easy to make food taste good with ingredients like dairy, but to create food from the simplest, freshest ingredients is more challenging and yet more rewarding. We strive for food that appeals to everyone, not just for people who live this lifestyle. It is food for the health-curious and health-conscious.
PMAG: What do your customers gain by eating food that is organic, non-GMO and minimally processed?
JI: This food not only benefits the environment, but benefits your health and well-being. When eating such high quality, nutrient-dense food, your energy levels are much higher. You can look healthier and get the ‘glow’. You feel better overall physically and mentally. When you eat well you feel well. Life is all about balance and finding what works for you. Happy inside, happy outside!
PMAG: What are some of the foods, tastes and textures that currently inspire you in the kitchen?
JI: I am a huge foodie and have a love for all cuisines. I find inspiration from everything. This past winter I found a lot of inspiration from Korean food because I love kimchi and fermented foods. I also love spicy food and find true comfort from stews. I have always been a fan of playing around with young coconuts because they are so versatile, from making sauces to creating fun dishes that can be savoury and sweet. Not to mention, they are very good for you! I never develop a dish where there is no texture involved. I cannot have a dish that is just one texture. I would find it too boring and not palatable!
PMAG: Many people seem to crave carbohydrate-rich foods. Do you have any tips or favourite dishes that help people indulge in a healthy way?
JI: I think people should not be afraid of carbohydrate foods–especially the healthy ones. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens are a great way to have your carbs and feel good about them. I am a huge fan of our burdock and black bean burritos because we use a crispy brown rice tortilla that fills that comfort spot, while being healthy. I am also a fan of our Pad Thai that uses sweet potato noodles instead of a regular noodles. It is my go-to comfort meal.
Jennifer Italiano is the co-founder, along with her brother Chris, of Live Organic Food, which started out as a food bar in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood in 2002 and now creates healthy and vibrant food for the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.