Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ani Phyo: Modern Day Warrior

ACROSS LOS ANGELES and Southern California a photo of Ani Phyo loomed over the cities on billboards and bus stops, establishing her as more than just a raw foods chef chef. This photo, in soft black and white, featured Phyo with a determined expression as a colorful feathered headdress sat atop her head. This was a part of Sambazon’s Warrior Up campaign, which drew attention to Warriors of Change: people like Phyo who are involved in positive changes in the world. In the everyday, Phyo is softer but no less determined than her photo would have you believe.

Phyo is a raw foods chef, which means that the only ingredients she uses are fruits, nuts, and vegetables: all of which are not cooked. At all. “There’s a lot of raw food in LA, but I give mine a high end presentation,” Phyo says without an ounce of vanity, though she describes the other raw foods found in LA as more “comfort-food” in their style. This is only part of the reason Phyo was given a billboard and a headdress. Her raw food lifestyle has led her to work with several organizations in Los Angeles.

“I just want to help people live life better,” Phyo says. She was involved with a group called the Pedal Patch Community, which works on building community gardens in what Phyo describes as “food deserts” - places with no grocery stores nearby. “I was able to bring in the component I was working with,” she says of her involvement. She worked with at risk youth and did food demos for them to show them how to create healthy and delicious raw food meals from the gardens.

The Pedal Patch community relocated to San Francisco, but Phyo decided to continue to put her talents to use here in Los Angeles. Going with the flow of things (she swears her raw diet has helped her relax and become more easygoing, but still focused) is one of Phyo’s strong points. She turned her attention to other organizations with similar initiatives. Community Services Unlimited is such an organization, working in the downtown area to build community gardens in community spaces. “They even have been able to build some in the schools,” Phyo says excitedly. “It’s really cool.”

This organization promotes healthier foods with the goal of helping communities become self-sustaining - something Phyo has a strong interest in seeing happen.

She’s lived in many big cities all over the world, but something is keeping her in Los Angeles for the time being, though even she may not be sure what it is. Her desire to spread the benefits of the lifestyle of raw foods began as a packaged foods company in Portland, Oregon and has translated into something much more, culminating in her time in this city.

Phyo leads a hectic life - currently she’s working on her fifth book in the midst of running a web show and fending off offers from the Food Network - but manages to make room for another organization: Project Angelfood.

“I work in the kitchen and help prepare the food,” says Phyo of the time she spends with the all volunteer organization, which makes food and delivers it to people suffering from HIV/AIDS. The giving and receiving of food is something this perpetually on-the-go woman understands as healing and deeply important. It is a way of forging human connections while at the same time providing nourishment for the body.

It is no wonder, then, that Phyo emphasizes that “I try to embody this lifestyle in everything I do.”

The one thing she won’t do is television. She prefers the internet, which can reach a global audience. “TV Networks keep coming to me,” she says, but she continues to say no. “They’ll see my food next to Mario Battalli or, what’s that southern chef’s name?” She pauses, a rare occurrence.

She finally thinks of the name. “Paula Dean.” And she’s off again.

“They’ll see me next to them and they won’t get my food, because its so different,” Phyo says. “Sure, sometime, if the time is right,” she may concede to do a television show.

Phyo began to understand the concept of a raw foods diet when she was young. She cites her dad as the source of her initiation into the lifestyle. “My dad taught me a lot,” she says of her father, who was terminally ill. “It kept him alive 10-15 years longer than expected.”

But it wasn’t until Phyo began living a hectic and busy lifestyle that she began to truly feel the benefits herself and make the connections between food and life that led her to this moment; a moment focused on helping others realize these same connections for themselves.

“People need to understand the concept of the raw food in order to embrace it,” she says.

-- Allie Flinn
image Ani Phyo by Jennifer Pickens via Flickr Creative Commons

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