For two-and-a-half years, I was lucky enough to spend all but three of the third Saturday nights of every month at the raw vegan café Arnold’s Way in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, with my “raw food community.” These potlucks are gatherings for the curious and transitioning and seasoned raw fooders to connect with others, tune in to an inspiring story about how a raw food diet has transformed someone’s life and enjoy a smorgasbord of raw fare, from colorful fruit dishes to lively salads and creative raw tacos.
At the center of it all is raw food pioneer Arnold Kauffman, a man who turned back the clock on his life after adopting a raw vegan diet in 1998, years after suffering episodes with a racing heart. Arnold’s lightning-bolt energy is the proof that these magical fruits and greens work wonders, and this 66-year-young dynamo can hang with just about anyone in their 20s in an athletic contest. He’s hosted these potlucks since the early 2000s, making everyone feel welcome.
At my first monthly potluck, in May 2011, Megan Elizabeth shined as the evening’s speaker, wearing an enviable glow and earnest smile that made me realize I wanted to succeed on this diet more than anything in the world, seemingly to enjoy a glimpse of Megan’s level of happiness. That night, I met a friend, Desarae Jeter, and we’d bounce raw food information we’d read off each other at potlucks and as produce buddies early Saturday mornings at a discount wholesaler.
About this time, former Arnold’s Way employee Shaie Dively had just gone raw vegan, and her energy was contagious. During one potluck’s version of “roll call,” in which everyone sums up why he or she came to Arnold’s Way that night, Arnold described Shaie as having “the energy of a 5-year-old.” I fed off Shaie’s energy and also got to make fast friends with Tim and Leslie Arnold, folks close to my parents’ age but were running as if their lives depended on it—because, really, this is the truth, as Tim put it one night.
With Megan and her boyfriend spending much of their time out West, Shaie, Tim and Leslie were what I called the “100 percenters,” the only potluck regulars who were wholly raw. Throughout 2011, three vegan burritos a week kept me from this so-called promised land—and it is a promised land!—but I always felt renewed vigor to achieve this goal while driving back to my Philadelphia home these late Saturday nights. I finally got there myself in February 2012 and wonder from time to time how others get there without having an Arnold’s Way to visit for in-person inspiration and information.
You could call Arnold’s Way the “Cheers bar” for raw vegans living in Greater Philadelphia—and some folks come from around the country and world and wind up staying a while. This is our place amid a sea of establishments serving beer, coffee, cheeseburgers and ice cream down all the streets, and we come to commune without having to look across the table and see the flesh of a dead fellow creature, coated in sauces you know are highly toxic and addictive. A cast of regulars can be found just about every month, and this group picks up talking right where they left off at the previous potluck.
Some favorite potluck memories include meeting and listening to talks by Harley “Durianrider” Johnstone and Freelee, co-operators of 30BananasADay.com, in July 2011 at what turned out to be a packed house. I was just a few months into a low-fat raw food diet, and Harley and Freelee exuded sheer humbleness and appreciation when I explained to them how much their work had helped me. Harley’s eyes lighted up as they darted around the room, and he told me there’s not one place like Arnold’s Way in his native Australia. In April 2012, I was captivated by Jennifer Thompson’s story about her 40-day water fast and the steps she took to create the life she lives. Meeting Megan Sherow and her mother, Maria, and learning about the teen’s remarkable triumph over brain cancer during the Thanksgiving 2012 potluck is a highlight. There are many more special times and cherished memories—far too many to list.
I was honored when Arnold asked me to host two potlucks for him, in April and August 2013, so he could enjoy some rare nights off. I met another friend, Jason Young, the first time. I talked to Arnold by phone the afternoon before the potluck, and he told me the scheduled speaker couldn’t make it. Jason walked into the café for the first time shortly afterward, and Arnold learned about Jason’s 65-day juice fast, which spun into a wholly raw food diet. Arnold immediately recruited him. “You’re tomorrow night’s potluck speaker,” he told Jason. I, too, was moved by Jason’s incredibly revealing story, and he told me he had never met a raw vegan before coming to Arnold’s Way. I was stunned by this statement and, in this moment, realized even more how special Arnold’s Way is.
Right about this time, I began calling Arnold’s Way my favorite place on earth outside nature. Ultimately, it isn’t all the books or even world-famous Banana Whips in Arnold’s Way that makes The Raw Food Capital of the World so special; it’s the people, the community. This, of course, includes Arnold, a guy whose heart is so big he gives away hundreds to thousands of dollars of food—not to mention much of his time—every month to help Arnold’s Way achieve its mission of creating a disease-free Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on the way to transforming the world. He’s succeeding and influencing countless more via his YouTube channel, to which he just posted his 1,000th video. Moreover, between Arnold and his closest “students,” if you will, the Arnold’s Way community has launched an extraordinary 10 books in just three years!
I share these reflections on Arnold’s Way potlucks and broader experiences from Chiang Mai, Thailand, a destination for many raw fooders and where I’m setting up camp these days. I took a moment the evening of October 19 to think about my raw family and how they got to enjoy one another’s company and listen to Joshua Duncan share insight from his latest adventure. I thought about the person who might’ve set foot into Arnold’s Way for the very first time that night and the possibilities that exist for this person, having this dynamic support network and information resource within driving distance. There very likely is not another place in the world that offers so much for raw fooders: potlucks, monthly programs, weekly classes, film nights, speaker engagements, special events such as Raw Experience, green smoothie giveaways during First Fridays in Lansdale and more.
I had the joy of meeting the delightful Paul and Yulia Tarbath of RawsomeHealthy.com in person this week after enjoying an opportunity to speak to them via Skype in June. They relayed to me several helpful tips for living in Chiang Mai and mentioned one raw fooder, Conor McMillen, is setting up a weeklong raw food celebration in the city.
“What a fantastic idea!” I thought. When we don’t have a regular raw family or Arnold’s Way to call our own, we have to create it ourselves and be the light in our community, for our community, just as Arnold has since 1992.
If you’re new to raw food and want to succeed on your health journey, I highly recommend starting a monthly potluck at your home or in a park or another place and utilizing websites such as 30BananasADay.com, Facebook.com and Meetup.com as well as old-fashioned bulletin boards in places of business to find heath seekers. Surely, not everyone is looking to go 100 percent raw vegan overnight, but many Americans are looking to slim down and eat with health in mind. These healthful changes tend to snowball quickly, and before long, the idea of enjoying oranges, watermelons, bananas and satisfying salads each day starts to sounds appealing and just right for our bodies.
The health movement is growing—tap into the energy a community can create and watch your life and the lives of others around you flourish!