Written by Melody Cao
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by RāwASF, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “There are very few ‘comfort foods’ in plant-based diets. We want to provide people with healthy and satisfying choices.”
At three in the morning, Quan Nguyen woke with an uncomfortable feeling in his heart, scarcely able to breathe, and his wife quickly called an ambulance. Quan made it to the hospital in time, however, the doctor explained that he has high blood pressure and arthritis, and is likely to suffer from a life-threatening heart attack at any time.
“For me, it was a moment of awakening,” said Quan. As a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Quan earns a stable income, but also experiences quite a bit of stress from work. He and his wife have also always strived to be health-conscious, and buy organic foods. When they purchased steak, for example, they paid attention to the quality of the grass-fed beef. “What we had in mind was that nutrition comes from meat. Almost all of what we ate were expensive healthy foods. So why are our bodies getting worse?” That’s when Quan and his wife, Catherine, began their journey to find answers.
Taking Care of One’s Body
Because of his health conditions, Quan decided to let go of his well-paying yet high-stress job and put a pause on working for some time. He also looked for ways to improve his physical condition. “The doctor gave me three treatment options: a lifelong medication plan, a surgery to implant a pacemaker, or a cardiogenic shock treatment.” A great many people face the same decisions as Quan. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing approximately 1 in 4 deaths. “The solution provided by the doctor was an awakening for me that I must change.” Quan, who thought he was already eating healthily, realized that his careful eating habits were not enough — he understood that he must transform the way he thinks about food.
Shortly after, the opportunity Quan had been waiting for arrived. He learned that Herman Siu — a 6th generation Shaolin Temple Descendent who resides in Los Angeles — would be attending a community health event in Santa Monica. Quan and his wife, Catherine, went together to meet Herman Siu. During their conversation, Quan spoke about his heart problems and mentioned that Catherine, who was pregnant at the time, also suffered from hypotension and hyperthyroidism. Herman Siu recommended they change their eating habits. He encouraged them to stop eating animal products and foods that are acidic, which are prone to causing inflammation, and instead eat more leafy greens and hot meals. Quan and Catherine deeply appreciated the help and made up their minds to start eating a plant-based diet. After only a few weeks, they were surprised to find that their health conditions improved significantly.
“I lost the unhealthy weight and I felt my body was a lot lighter,” said Quan. He also told us that many indicators from his blood test results have also become more normal, and the numbers for his calcium and beneficial protein have improved as well. Catherine’s blood pressure is now likewise under control, and she’s happy to have delivered a healthy baby.
“Because of the way we are changing our eating habits, we can regain our health. This is certainly worthwhile, but the whole process is not easy,” Quan shared. Previously, he and his wife seldom cooked at home, and regularly enjoyed their favorite comfort foods at local restaurants. When they began to change their eating habits, however, they found it difficult to proceed with such outings due to there being so few restaurants that offered foods that suited their plant-based diet. They started cooking more at home, devoting time to not only studying what types of foods were beneficial for one’s health, but how to make them delicious, too.
Good Health Starts in the Kitchen
At the beginning of 2018, Quan and Catherine’s café, RāwASF (Raw and Super Foods Café), had officially opened in Milpitas, California. As referenced by the name of the café, superfoods are nutrient-rich foods that support good health, such as blueberries, chia seeds, bananas, and other plant-based picks. Quan and Catherine also initially intended to open an ice cream shop alongside RāwASF. However, Quan told us that ice cream shops need a lot of milk as the main ingredient. The couple quickly discovered that the fumes from the milk seemed to contaminate everything. “The smell is really unbearable,” said Quan, “And with our own health conditions, we felt we must make healthier food choices.”
When RāwASF first opened its doors, they only served milkshakes: “There are seven to ten flavors of milkshakes. At first, the response was not that great. Many customers walked in and out of the store without a purchase.” Quan recalled the challenges from when the store had just opened and promoted the concept of healthy eating, saying “People didn’t understand what we were doing. ‘Why were the prices of our milkshakes higher than the milkshakes in other places,’ and ‘the taste is not as good as the milkshakes in the juicing stores,’ and ‘There are no smoothies and it’s not sweet enough.’” Quan shared that after almost a year and a half, however, RāwASF’s business had begun to improve. Many people became regular customers, having fallen in love with the particular sweetness of their healthier milkshakes, and more people began to transform their diets.
RāwASF also introduced more items to their menu. “We now offer three types of healthy food choices, including smoothies, acai bowls, and plant-based foods.” Carefully harmonized in terms of taste and nutrition, the foods are vibrant in color, delicious, and healthy.
The most popular item from RāwASF is their scrumptious blueberry nice cream made with blueberries, strawberries, acai, coconut oil, hemp granola, flaxseed, vanilla, and sweet red cherries. The tasty treat skillfully balances sweetness and tartness, and carries a delicate coconut flavor. With the addition of grains, the texture is uniquely satisfying. “My wife and I love ‘The Beautiful’ milkshake. There’s a variety of delicious berries and banana. Many people think that bananas are too sweet, but bananas are actually a fruit that helps with regulating one’s blood sugar level,” Quan shared.
The acai bowl is also a popular item at RāwASF, delightfully arranged and refreshingly tasty. “The most popular one should be our Sunset Bowl, which is mainly made of organic acai, pink dragon fruit (pitaya), and mango. It’s a tropical flavor. The dragon fruit contains antioxidants and prebiotics, which are foods that feed the healthy bacteria called probiotics in your gut. It’s naturally fat-free and high in fiber. And it can strengthen your immune system. The toppings include bananas, strawberries, coconut flakes, etcetera.”
RāwASF’s plant-based food items include burgers, pizzas, and an all-day breakfast menu. “Our specialty sauces are custom made. Especially the delicious avocado truffle burger — a whole avocado, plus truffle oil with our special avocado pesto sauce paired with freshly baked burger buns.” Quan said the white truffle pizza and the Mexican-style chipotle mushroom burger have also received excellent positive feedback. “We’ve done lots of research, including the selection of meat alternatives, although there’s doubts and controversies about meat alternatives. But compared to critter protein, meat alternatives don’t contain hormones and antibiotics, and its nutritional value is good.”
Available Healthy Food Choices
In March of 2020, even as the COVID-19 pandemic slammed into the nation and severely affected the restaurant business, sales at RāwASF only seemed to increase. “It’s amazing that we thought the pandemic would affect us. But in fact, many restaurants have closed and many people realized that their eating habits should change. Our business has actually grown during the pandemic.” Quan said that with the health crisis seemed to come a greater awareness for both public and individual health. And as a result, many became more willing to try plant-based diets and healthier food choices. “We don’t emphasize our food choices are vegan since 90% of our customers are not vegetarians. They just want to try a healthier diet and experience the changes that healthy food brings. So, we just want to provide an alternative choice for everyone who’s willing to try a healthier diet.”
Quan said he’s also very happy to join the Very Veggie Movement, and talked about how he knew Tzu Chi. “I used to work in the same building where Tzu Chi’s office is, so I knew Tzu Chi very early.” Upon discovering RāwASF, Tzu Chi volunteers loved the healthy plant-based food choices and became regulars. “Annie, a Tzu Chi volunteer, is our regular customer and she always helps us promote our superfoods, we appreciate her effort.” With Annie’s referral, Quan was pleased to join the Very Veggie Movement and jointly promote greater availability of healthful vegetarian alternatives to more people.
Last year, Quan and Cathrine opened a burger restaurant called “Indigo Burger” with the concept of using meat alternatives, saying, “We want to serve those who love fast food. There are very few ‘comfort foods’ in plant-based diets. We want to provide people with healthy and satisfying choices.” Quan said he is still planning to open a bubble tea shop with ‘Super Coffee’ and tea, bringing the concept of superfoods to beverages, too. “Many people like bubble milk tea, but it’s high in sugar and it contains milk, which may be hard for some people’s digestive system. We want to make bubble tea that’s good for the body and comfortable to consume.” Quan and Cathrine have many new ideas and concepts they want to share with others, and they hope to continue making healthy alternatives more widely available.
Learn more about the Very Veggie movement and join us by transforming your diet into a vegetarian one, or take part as a partner of the movement!