Gwyn Whittaker is the owner of Herndon-based GreenFare Organic Cafe, a business that started as an educational hub for nutrition four years ago and has since become an operational restaurant too, offering local residents the resources needed to reach what she describes as “optimal human health.”
Through a variety of events such as cooking classes and book signings, as well as a 21-day Kickstart program consisting of live classes and 42 ready-to-heat meals (made possible by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine), Whittaker and her team showcase the benefits of consuming organic, plant-based food, something she’s been doing for the past seven years.
Like many people, Whittaker—a trained electrical engineer who once operated her very own management technology company—developed her passion for nutrition as a result of personal experience.
“I lost a partner to heart disease 10 years ago, suddenly. He was there in the morning and he was gone at night,” Whittaker explains. “I concluded this was a result of his genetic history, and a couple years later I watched a film Forks Over Knives—the film has been very influential to me—which basically showed me heart conditions tend to stem from dietary choices. It was like a lightbulb going off.”
Now through GreenFare, as well as the Fairfax Veg Fest, which she helped create last year, Whittaker teaches people to move toward an organic, plant-based diet using the most up-to-date research and science. According to Whittaker, many health conditions are impacted by diet and, in her experience, she’s seen dramatic results from her programs, such as reversal of autoimmune diseases like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“I’m a trained electrical engineer who used to work in the intelligence space, and the goal was to have a competitive advantage over other national security entities,” says Whittaker. “In everyday life, I think if you have optimal nutrition, that’s your competitive advantage.”
This month, Whittaker will help host the Fairfax Veg Fest via the Exam Room podcast, and also offer a modified version of her 21-day Kickstart program, making it easy for local residents to try the plant-based way of life during the coronavirus pandemic. Below, Whittaker tells us a bit more about it all.
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Why is it important for people to maintain healthy eating habits, specifically during a time of crisis like this?
Food has such an immediate impact. Anything with animal protein, cheese, eggs or chicken will be high in fat. Your body actually reacts to that and you can see the inflammation in data depicting the blood changes. From an engineering perspective, when I see the data, the impacts on the population’s health are huge. South Korea has had the best reaction to this virus and that’s because they’re population doesn’t have the same underlying health conditions we do, which is a result of the food we eat.
For me, I think I always thought I was on a healthy diet and once I started making the actual changes for myself I could see it so much clearer. I am 62 and I feel better, I sleep better, I have more energy than I had 10 years ago. It’s about aging gracefully. Whether it is mental or physical health … I had problems with anxiety and in seven years it has just completely gone away. In a time like this when you get struck with anxious feelings about things, what you eat can actually change that. I have a completely different outlook on life, even with what the restaurant industry is going through right now, I see it differently.
Tell me about the 21-day Kickstart program you’re offering right now.
We are doing the 21-day Kickstart by teleconference right now. Everyone can come pick up their meals. Dozens of doctors have gone through my program, and they usually do this after patients have asked to go off of medication as a result of my program. They usually are not educated in nutrition, so this gives them a new perspective. The meals are beans, rice and sweet potatoes—we call it the peasant diet in comparison to eating like a king. If you eat like a king, you get the same diseases as a king.
What will this year’s Fairfax Veg Fest look like?
It will be offered on Chuck Carroll’s Exam Room podcast where we will stream the event live, and also include some pre-recorded interviews. Chuck Carroll was in his 30s and over 300 pounds and he’s lost over 30% of his fat from just a diet-based change, he has quite the story.
We had maybe 5,000 people last year and we are going to do it in person in 2021. So far for this year speakers include health experts like T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger, Gene Baur, Nelson Campbell, Courtland Milloy of The Washington Post and myself. The goal is to not be a typical vegan festival, but to be an educational space where people can learn about diet and healthy eating.
The Fairfax Veg Fest will be streamed online on Sunday, April 19. When the details are finalized, you can find more information here.
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