Experience Life Greener Goddess

by Laine Bergeson

When Renée Loux became vegan for ethical reasons at age 17, she quickly realized two things: She would have to learn about nutrition, and lest she spend her days subsiting on "chalky soy milk" and other tasteless fare, she had better learn how to cook. So she did.

"What we eat has such a big influence on our health and happiness," says Loux, now a celebrated chef and sustainable-living advocate. "And it doesn't have to be a choice between healthy and delicious. It can be both."

Loux has always been drawn to clean, seasonal eating that eschews animal products and celebrates freshness and flavor. "I'm most attracted to food in its natural state," says the 31-year-old East Coast native. "There is magic in it. It awakens something deep inside of me and puts a sparkle in my life."

She strongly believes that eating a diet that consists primarily of whole, natural foods does not (and should not) mean an exercise in duty and blandness. She encourages people to seek out the whole, natural foods they love rather than foods they hate but think they should eat because they're "good for us".

"Pleasure in an inherant part of health," says Loux. And while science backs up the the idea that enjoying our food is healthy for us- for example, studies have shown that when we are relaxed, eating slowly and enjoying our food, we tend to eat less- Loux maintains that sometimes all we need to do is rely on our own intuition. The natural foods we crave are often the ones that can do our bodies the most good. "Intuitive science," she says, "can be just as telling."

Loux studied nutrition in college, but what she considers her true education in healthy cooking and eating began after her studies. "I was dissatisfied with my college nutrition classes," says Loux, who felt there was a "huge disconnect" between what was taught about nutrition and what was truly healthy. So she set out on her own independent study of the culinary arts. In Loux's words: "I just started experimenting."

Experimanting led her to the island of Maui in 1995, at age 20, to become a chef at a 55-acre resort and, just one year later, with a business partner, to open The Raw Experience, a raw-food restaurant on the north shore of Maui. "It was a bit ahead of its time," says Loux, who ate primarily raw food for nearly 8 years. "Raw food is more commonly known today - and the health benefits are phenomenal."

Today, Loux balances her diet with other whole-foods traditions, including Ayurveds and macrobiotics- and she strives generally to eat and live in a balanced way, one that is nurturing to her body, and also kind to the earth. The idea of eating and living in harmony with nature is also the subject of her most recent book, The Balanced Plate: The Essential Elements of Whole Foods and Good Health (Rodale 2006).

"The Balanced Plate is about keeping all things in balance," says Loux - a balance that is as much about eating for pleasure as it is about nutirion; about connecting ancient food traditions to modern-day eating habits; and about connecting sustainable, green living to our own health and well-being.__"Health and happiness are not based on isolated things," says Loux, who has been dubbed "the Green Martha Stewart." The Balanced Plate includes a section on nontoxic cleaning products and another on "superhero plants" (plants that help improve indoor-air quality). Why? Because, she says, "Without the health of our planet, we have nothing; just like without our physical health, we have nothing."__As Loux sees it, living and eating with an eye to personal health and the health of the environment doesn't require a dramatic, overnight transformation. It can start with enjoying some organic or sustainably grown fruits or vegetables, switching to nontoxic cleaning products or getting a few hard-working houseplants. "A few simple changes really add up," she says.__What's important, says Loux, is to start somewhere and make changes in the spirit of exploration. Some changes you may decide to stick with. Others may not be your cup of tea. Just keep trying new and healthy things until you find the ones that are right for you.

There's another welcome message Loux wants us to take away from her book: Once in a while, you should have your cake - and eat it too. Small indulgences are an important part of a balanced plate. "I eat well almost all of the time...so I can indulge without guilt some of the time," says the long-time chocolate devotee. "I figure a bit of naughtiness flanked by plenty of good habits keeps me resilient and free from being a complete social derelict."

For more information about Renée Loux and her recommendations for healthy living, visit www.euphoricorganics.com. She has also begun filming video segments for the LIME network, which promotes healthy living with a twist." For more information, visit www.lime.com.