Teaching Preparation of Plant-Based Living Foods for Healthier People and a Happier Planet
by Anna Levy
Almost before he introduces himself, James Sant hands over a slice of dehydrated zucchini. It’s delicious: crisp, translucent, and thin as a piece of paper, like a healthy alternative to a potato chip, and perhaps just as addictive.
This should not come as a surprise. As Creative & Culinary Programs Director for the Living Light Culinary Institute—the Fort Bragg school that has, for 20 years, taught people how to build a plant-based diet—James is deeply invested in the school’s mission to empower others to enjoy plant-based living foods. “This is the first school that took raw food and made it into gourmet cuisine,” he says.
It is, in fact, the healing aspect of raw food that brought James to this work. Following an accident several years ago, he started looking into natural ways to support his recovery. Though his doctors insisted that he wouldn’t ever be fully healed, James says that his desire to live a full, active life led him to research alternatives to surgery and prescriptions. Though he’d been a vegetarian for decades by that point, his investigation into raw food led him to change his lifestyle, a move that resulted in complete healing. “Within a little over a year after the one surgery I did have, I was at a yoga teacher training in Mexico. They told me [it would be] five years before I was healed, with probably limited usage for the rest of my life.”
That experience of finding his own path towards healing through raw food also led James to Living Light. “I got to the point where I thought, ‘I want to share this.’” In short order, he worked through the entire Living Light curriculum. He was driving home to Bend, Oregon after completing course of study when he got a call asking him to return as an instructor. It was a great fit for him and the school.
In his current role, James has overseen several changes, and there are more to come. Founded by Cherie Soria in 1998, Living Light is currently owned by a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit called Communities Moving Forward. The organization is in the process of expanding, renovating the other half of the top floor of the Company Store building to include a vegan kitchen and event space. In addition to cooking and nutrition classes, Living Light owns the Living Light Inn, which often hosts students who travel from around the world to attend classes, and recently purchased the Gray Whale Inn, which will continue to host visitors to the coast while offering workshop and garden space.
To James, though, some of the most exciting changes include the expansion of their program to include shorter classes to complement their chef training program, which takes place over a six week intensive. “Our new mission,” he says, “is to show that the shortest distance between the dirt and the plate is the most optimal nutrition.”
By using the gardens at the two inns and working with local resources, the possibilities for weekend workshops seem endless: mushroom hunting, seaweed harvesting, and farm-to-table experiences that emphasize the food’s journey from dirt to plate. Living Light is also looking towards involving local wineries, breweries, and farms, rooting the institute even more into the local food system by partnering with places such as Nye Ranch, Fortunate Farms, and the Fog Eater Café.
The new energy expands to include Fort Bragg and the larger Mendocino Coast, as Living Light envisions playing a role in the area’s renaissance. “The outreach we have from right here in Fort Bragg is amazing on the world stage of raw food,” James explains, noting that graduates have gone on to work in countries all over the world. As a larger online presence, including classes, continues to grow, that broad reach will only increase. Moreover, Living Light wants to “go on the road.” Following an initial sojourn to the south of France last summer, they plan to include more classes abroad in order to highlight the possibilities for a plant-based diet in any culture. They also want to increase the institute’s presence at festivals and events throughout the United States.
All these ambitions are rooted in their core idea—that people can experience optimum health through beautifully prepared, plant-based meals. “We’re not trying to create something that’s hard,” James says. “It’s very simple. It’s going to the farmer’s market and bringing back a basket of stuff and not getting on the stove too much,” even as the school moves to what James calls “raw-cooked fusion.”
As he talks about plans for community involvement, movie nights, and more, he gestures towards the headlands with one hand and, with the other, towards the gardens that are under development at the Gray Whale. “Let’s make the most of it.”
Living Light Culinary Institute, 301-C N Main St, Fort Bragg.
Open Mo-Fr 8:30am-5pm. rawfoodchef.com (707) 964-2420
Photos provided by Steve Richie for Living Light Institute.
Anna Levy writes, cooks, and plans travel of all sorts whenever she can. She lives on the Mendocino Coast with her husband and two dogs.