An African City’s Esosa E On Her Raw Vegan Lifestyle
Raw Girl in A Toxic World
Award-winning actress, writer, filmmaker and model Esosa Edosomwan, also known as Raw Girl on her popular blog, is a raw vegan lifestyle expert. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and completing business studies at Columbia University, her personal health crises and battle with acne led her to change her lifestyle and begin avid studies on holistic health in 2007. In this interview, Ayiba‘s Eyitemi Popo talks to her about the inspiration behind the character many of you know her for (Ngozi on the hit web series An African City) and delves into her raw vegan lifestyle.
When did you decide to go vegan? Why?
Esosa: I think I was around fourteen or fifteen years old when I finally went all in on the vegan lifestyle. I was vegetarian for a little while because I loved yogurt and then eventually cut that out, too. When I was a kid I was lactose intolerant. Milk used to make me pretty sick so I avoided it, and then I can’t remember exactly what prompted it—I just decided no more meat!
How did your family and friends respond to your decision? Did you convert any of them?
Esosa: My family and friends mostly thought I was a little crazy. But I’ve always been stubborn enough, even when I was a teenager, to stick to my convictions even when they were not popular. The word convert is funny to me! But yes, I have inspired friends and family to change their diets. What I dislike the most about many healthy-living enthusiasts, and this includes vegan or any other lifestyle, is this need to treat their diet like a religion. I have always strived to follow my bliss and inspire others by my example rather than preaching to a choir that doesn’t understand my song. Over the years because of my example in our family it went from continuous teasing about what I was eating, to coming home and finding almond milk and tofu in the fridge, to now serving as the family health guru. Everybody calls me for my opinion and advice whenever there are health concerns.
What has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in your body since you changed your lifestyle?
Esosa: The biggest change for me initially was that my skin got incredibly clear. I was struggling with acne for years and within one month of going raw my skin was glowing. My energy increased, my creativity increased, and my yearning for spiritual evolution increased. I also don’t age rapidly. I’ve sort of looked exactly the same for the past five years, and the cool thing is science does support that plant-based diets, especially high raw diets, turn on a “youthing gene.”
Tell us about your raw diet. What inspired you to make that shift?
Esosa: My first source of inspiration was my cousin. She was thirty-something the first time I visited her, and I was eighteen. I was amazed that everyone thought she was still in college because of her youthful glow. She ate completely raw back then and showed me how to prepare raw nut milks, salads, and simple dishes. I didn’t go raw until a few years later, but she lit the spark. I went on with my life, kept eating vegan, and forgot about raw until I developed problem skin. After trying all of the well-advertised acne zapping treatments, I finally realized that I had to deal with the problem from the inside out. So I enrolled in a class to learn more about raw food prep, gave my diet a complete overhaul, and within a month my skin was clear.
How do you stay on course? Do you ever feel the urge to step outside your raw vegan diet?
Esosa: Now I live with the motto of adaptability. When I first went raw, I felt immense pressure to stay 100% everywhere I went at all times. Now that is not the case. I’ve learned that I love eating as high raw as possible, but I also prefer to allow myself the flexibility to eat more vegan cooked food if I’m overseas in Africa, out with family, or in a really cold climate. That openness allows me to stay the course without guilt or pressure. Whenever I need inspiration I look to people like Karyn Calabrese, Annette Larkins, Mimi Kirk—these incredible women all over sixty—who are flawless, energetic, creative, powerful healers and raw foodists. I want to be them when I grow up.
What inspired you to start a blog, do a radio show, and write books about vegan living?
Esosa: The inspiration for Raw Girl in a Toxic World came when I made the decision to leave New York City. I lived in New York for five years and was unhappy there. I started to realize that although I was juicing, doing yoga, meditating, along with all of the other things vegan hippies do, my environment was toxic for me personally. I wanted to live in a place that was in harmony with my lifestyle. So I moved down to Virginia at the time (I now live in California which is a vegan utopia) and the funny thing was after about a week of the silence bothering me, I started to feel very clear. I could finally hear my thoughts and I started writing a lot. One day out of the blue my intuition told me to start a blog. I didn’t even really know what a blog was so I had to look it up. People would stop and ask me all the time why I was purchasing something at the health food store or how my skin stayed so clear, so I decided to write articles about things I was learning and exploring and it took off from there. As far as the books, I always had a desire to write and share my knowledge in that form. Shortly after I started the blog I decided to stop talking about wanting to write a book and actually wrote one. After the first one, it got easier. The radio show was sort of an experiment. I was working for a radio company at the time to keep myself afloat between acting gigs and was afforded the opportunity to use my passion for health to create a show. Who knows if I’ll ever get back to that, but it was an incredible experience to be able to interview a bunch of experts I greatly admire and to learn how to produce radio.
Your character on An African City was also vegan. Did you inspire that character?
Esosa: I did inspire that aspect of Ngozi. The creator of An African City, Nicole Amarteifio, and I were at lunch catching up and I was putting in my usual long-winded order without meat or cheese, etc. She decided right then to make Ngozi a plant-eater. She thought vegan was a little too extreme for African audiences to handle, so she settled on vegetarian. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and for me made sense for my character because Ngozi lives a pretty controlled life and needs to live by rules. Being vegetarian is one of them.
While shooting An African City in Accra, what was your experience eating out?
Esosa: It was a mix of horrible and saved by grace! I made friends with the chef where we stayed and he was sweet enough to make me wonderful vegan dishes for me. When he was gone I suffered because some of the staff had no idea what I meant by vegan, or if they did understand the food was tasteless because they didn’t know how to season the dishes without using meat stock. One amazing thing that happened was meeting some members of a vegetarian society in Ghana. One of the leaders of the organization hosted me in her home and made me amazing raw dishes. I was in heaven that day. I also started to explore and found a few places to get really awesome salads and even vegan desserts. But by the end of the trip I was so tired of eating so much cooked food I ate less and less. All I wanted when I reached the U.S. was a giant bowl of kale and a green juice.
Tell us about your new book Got Veg? How to Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet.
Esosa: My new book, Got Veg? How to Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet, is the resource I wish I had when I started going vegan. After many years of blogging, my readers seemed to continuously ask me the same questions. People wanted to know what the differences were between raw, vegan, and vegetarian. They wanted to know what to eat each day, how to transition, and why the whole plant-eating thing may be a good idea for their health. I’m excited about my new book Got Veg? because it covers all of those basics, in addition to how to set up your kitchen, foods and spices to use as substitutes so you can create delicious meals, and a bunch of recipes so you can get started immediately.
Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about vegan living?
Esosa: Living vegan is definitely a choice. Whether or not you decide to jump on the vegan bandwagon because of beauty, living ageless, healing a disease, the environment, animals, or other reasons, it’s really important to be in tune with your body and make sure you are above all committed to eating in whatever way supports your optimal health. No matter what label you choose, you still have to put in the work to make sure your body gets the fuel it needs. However, I don’t think anyone should be so attached to a label that they cannot adapt if their body needs something different. What I hope is to inspire people to, even if they can’t make it all the way to vegan, to at the very least live consciously. You should know where your food comes from, what chemicals are in it, whether or not it’s been pumped with hormones or genetically altered, and what effect eating that food has on your body, the environment, and other people on our planet. We are living in a time where we can’t afford to be ignorant. It’s so much better to develop healthy habits now, rather than pay for ignorance with medical bills later.
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