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03.30.09

A Healing Journey with my Chicago Mama

Profiles in Food: Interviews


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Karyn Calabrese is like the grandmother I wish I had. Albeit, with the humor and energy of a twenty-something, she’s a smokin’ dynamo of a grandmother. In fact, if she didn’t proudly publicize her age (62), based on her vibrant youthful appearance, I might even be able to call her my Chicago mama.

Sitting at Karyn’s Raw juice bar amidst a flurry of pricy faux tuna salads and wheatgrass shakes before meeting Chicago’s grand dame of raw vegan cuisine, I was a little terrified that she might be preachy and intimidating. As she would later confirm, raw foodists are some of the most judgmental people around, condemning others from a perch of superiority. But what I got instead was a boisterous and warm handshake and a very pleasant interview with one pleasant woman.

Relaxing in Karyn’s zen den of an office studio, as her fuzzy dog pawed for attention, she did not scoff at me for my meat-eating ways. She praised me for being an individual and for being apart of the active world. While discussing her process of instruction and encouragement for others, she says, “Education, not judgment, is the best answer.” She adds, “When I teach, I just believe it’s about where you are at that point in your life.” The examples she provides are of newbies who might, after some Karyn time, elect to switch from fast food burgers to organic burgers. Or go from turkey burgers to veggie burgers.

The emergence of her raw food diet, just like the one she tries to nurture in others, didn’t happen overnight and it’s a process that needs some elasticity in order to succeed. Karyn was vegetarian long before she plunged into raw veganism, saying ,“It wasn’t like I went from fried chicken to raw food”.

The inner journey that her patrons go on in their quest for raw nirvana also includes an essential detoxification to cleanse oneself of negative or anti-life foods. The procedure she follows for those new to the detoxification cleanse transpires over 30 days. Realizing that the thought of giving up certain foods and habits cold-turkey is legitimately frightening, her approach eases folks in. “We get the body ready, and we go on a journey,” she says, starting to sound more and more like the Dali Llama. “We use certain beneficial foods and herbs, and at least raise consciousness towards the animals they’re eating.”

Throughout our friendly chat, it was all too easy to become smitten with Karyn. The warm smile she has plastered on her face as she describes her “food vibration” philosophy, (“I do believe in positive vibrations within our food. In the kitchens, we hold hands and put love into the food.”) and her OCD habits, like her addiction to her “crave-buster salad,” makes her an endearing woman of health and comfort.

Let it be known too that Karyn is a true foodie. Refusing to live inside a bubble, she lives her life and enjoys it by eating at other restaurants and creating foods that fit her own cravings for tastes and colors. She says, “I could have never eaten this way if my only options were steamed vegetables and boiled rice.”

Calabrese is a maternal warrior. She lost her son six months ago and hasn’t visited a doctor in 36 years, opting instead to heal holistically. She’s also a fountain of youth. At 62 , she has the same body she had when she was 16.

Rather than ending our meeting with a handshake, she insisted we depart on a hug. Before departing, she reminds me of an important personal philosophy: “If you don’t take care of your body, the most magnificent machine you’ll ever be given, where will you live?” This is the type of woman I want to learn from, and this is certainly the type of maternal figure I would be honored to call my “Chicago Mama.”

Karyn’s is at 1901 N. Halsted, 312.255.1590.

One Comment on "A Healing Journey with my Chicago Mama"

Iron Stef

Lovely read. :)



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