By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan
Not so long ago, I went hiking with friends in Santa Fe. It was a Wednesday dawn patrol, and the night’s moon was still cloaked in darkness. On the way up, we walked at our own pace in silence, but when we crested the ridge, we regrouped for the descent, and started talking. It was early, we hadn’t had breakfast, and we were hungry. The conversation naturally went to food—specifically how eating fruits and veggies makes us feel more energized and vibrant.
“When my family takes the time to juice in the morning before we head out there is a conscious vibrational shift in the air,” I told my hiking companions. These women are longtime Santa Feans who have been known to lament astrological abnormalities and are comfortable using juice as a verb, so they perked up their ears. I explained that we feel calmer, happier, and more alert, almost like a buzz on days when we drink fresh-squeezed juice for breakfast. It’s the effect of good food in your body producing good effects outside of your body. We crave processed food less. We get sick less often. Our energy lasts longer. And it’s not just me. It’s all of us: my husband and my four young sons, including the baby, who’s 20 months old.
I’ve been juicing regularly for almost a year, but I was a reluctant convert. In the beginning, juice machines scared me. I assumed juicing was expensive and a big hassle. Why not eat the fruit and vegetables whole? Then I began to lose my hair.
It was 2009 and we lived in Annisquam, Massachusetts, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and I’d had three babies in three and a half years. I would sit up late at night in the yellow-checkered armchair nursing my youngest. When sleep eluded me, I would succumb to Friends reruns, interspersed with late-night infomercials. There was a recurring one of Jack LaLanne, whose physique made him look more like an ultra athlete of 50 than someone in his nineties. There he was like a recurring dream every night, urging me to juice. I was eating a lot of meat and potatoes and knew I needed more fruits and vegetables in my diet.
I didn’t crave spinach and sweet potatoes, but I knew I needed more of them—much more—if I was going to keep my alopecia at bay. I wasn’t sure juicing would cure my unexplained hair loss, but each time my gaze met Jack’s, I heard my inner voice say, Why not try it?
During this time we moved nine times in two years, several times clear across the country. Our four boys were born in four different states. It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and by the time we landed in New Mexico, in 2009, with a new four-month-old, my locks were coming out by the handful. Bald spots were starting to emerge. So, when I went to a housewares store and found myself face to face with none other than Jack LaLanne’s juicer, I succumbed and bought it for $100.
Petrified by my purchase, I went home, where my husband, Peter, mocked the idea that we would purchase bags of oranges just to squeeze out a glass of orange juice. I was dubious, too. Jack sat on top of our washer collecting dust still boxed. It stayed that way for all of our time in New Mexico, it moved that way with us to Minnesota in 2010, and remained boxed in our basement for another year. At one point, Peter asked, “Should we give this away?” But something inside me said no.
Finally, a friend of mine went on a wild raw eating and juicing kick. I was skeptical, yet intrigued. By now my diet had drastically improved, but I craved more and more veggies and fruits, and couldn’t seem to get enough. I noticed the more I ate, the less I was tempted by carbohydrates and meat. I rarely get knocked down by colds, but I got a nasty one that winter, and my friend delivered me two juices on my doorstep after a week of trying to fight it with vitamin water and other electrolyte drinks. Lo and behold, her juices helped me kick the cold and heal. That’s when I confessed to having a juicer in the bellows of my basement that scared me. It had too many parts, I wasn’t sure how to mix the ingredients, and I was afraid what Jack out of the box would do to me or for me.
A few weeks later she came over, took it out of the box, and plugged it in. It would not turn on. I packed it back up, drove to the nearest housewares shop, and with my two-year-old receipt in hand, they exchanged it no questions asked. I returned home with my new boxed Jack, my friend came over, and we tried again. To my amazement, within minutes, I made a juice worthy of drinking:
GREEN LEMONADE [from The Raw Food Diet by Natalia Rose]:
1 head of romaine lettuce or celery
5 to 6 stalks of kale (any type)
1 to 2 apples as needed for sweetness
1 whole organic lemon (you don’t have to peel it)
1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger (optional)
CARROT GRAPEFRUIT [an easy, delicious juice that helped kick my cold]:
5 to 6 carrots
1 to 2 grapefruits (not peeled—ads intensity, best to use organic if using peels)
1 to 2 oranges (not peeled—ads intensity, best to use organic if using peels)
1 lemon or lime (you don’t have to peel it)
1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger (optional)
In both recipes, the fruit and vegetables went in whole and within seconds came out as liquid. This machine was like magic, creating juice from sweet potatoes, spinach, beets, apples, and citrus fruits of any kind. Within minutes my boys were swarming, wanting turns putting the fruit into the neck of the juicer and asking to taste their concoctions. Beet juice so vibrant and red, mixed with apples and a lime, went down with ease, and rainbow chard mixed with oranges better yet. Kids seem to love the colors fruits and vegetables mixed together make, but really, if it tastes good no matter the shade, they’ll clamor for more.
Before long, my entire family was concocting and drinking fresh juice. Now we make juices four times a week and it has become a game of guessing what’s in it— training our taste buds to recognize ginger and kale and lemon and celery. Three-year-old Kiki thrives on the guessing, but Finn, seven, might be the best juicer in our family. Here’s one of his favorites:
2 apples whole or, depending on size, you can cut in half; no need to take seeds out
4 oranges, peeled
1 pear whole or cut in half; no need to take seeds out
Your choice: 2-4 leaves of rainbow chard or 1 beet—greens and all (the former adds a green color to it, the latter a jewel red color)
Finish by running a tablespoon of water through the juicer to catch any last nutrients in your juice
The Jack LaLanne is simple to use, not a hassle to clean, and it doesn’t take up an obscene amount of counter space. It gives you nutrients, but takes out the fiber, and makes reliable juices every time. It also encourages you to try different kinds of fruits and vegetables you may not otherwise eat. But I figured it was time to step up my game and try the Vitamix, a multitalented blender-to-the-stars that makes smoothies, soups, sauces, dough, dressings, and desserts—hot or cold—within minutes.
The Vitamix may be the Rolls Royce of blenders, but the Classic 5200 is the its entry-level model made for mere mortals like me. The first thing you need to know about any Vitamix is that it’s not a juicer per se. Instead, it uses all the fiber and pulp that a juicer separates out to produce thick, creamy smoothies. (Our dog, Henry Oso, loves the fruit and veggie refuse and gobbles the “leftovers” up like a pig does his slop. Other neighbors use it to feed their chickens.) While some recipes ask you to cut and seed a fruit, others call for all of it. The only restrictions seem to be to make sure you put the ingredients in the order they are listed, or, if you are making up your own recipes, the liquids go in first, then softer ingredients, then juicier fruits, then firmer fruits and vegetables, then frozen ingredients, and finally ice and powders. You can improvise, like Finn does:
THE BERRY SANDERS GREEN MACHINE [named by Finn for his favorite running back]:
Place in Vitamix in the following order:
1 cup yogurt
1 banana, peeled
1-2 oranges, peeled
1/2 lime or lemon, peeled
1/2 cup choice of greens (kale de-stemmed, spinach, rainbow chard)
1-2 apples, chopped
1 cup of frozen berries
1-2 tablespoons of flax seed (optional)
Blend for 30-45 seconds
And the Vitamix also makes so much more, like the deliciously simple acorn squash soup we made for Thanksgiving.
ACORN SQUASH SOUP [adapted from the Vitamix Whole Food Recipe Book]:
1 cup milk, cream, almond milk, or coconut milk
1 acorn squash, baked, seeded, and peeled
A pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
A dash of salt and pepper
Blend for five minutes
After a year of juicing and trying scores of Western and Eastern methods to treat alopecia, my hair is slowly growing back. While I'm not sure I can attribute it all to drinking my vegetables, I know that consuming more whole foods, exercising regularly, and getting more sleep are integral to health and healing.
And as for the “expense of all those fruits and vegetables,” we do buy more fruits and veggies, but we buy fewer processed treats and snacks, and because of this we spend less on groceries. In summer, we buy produce that's in season. In the fall, we use up our summer CSA bounty making smoothies or juices. Come winter, we buy frozen fruit, which works well for smoothies. And we shop at local farmer’s markets whenever we can.
The Jack LaLanne and the Vitamix found a home in our kitchen. Even Finn has suited them to his preferences, making concoctions for the whole neighborhood gang. Juicing and smoothies are the new slurpees of yore, and if you are lucky your family just might join you for the ride.
Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, a frequent contributor to Raising Rippers, is a writer in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and four sons.