NOV/DEC 2009: ISSUE 08
Alicia Silverstone is one of those very special celebrities. To start with, she was that girl in the Aerosmith videos, that every teenage girl wanted to be, and every red-blooded male wanted to sleep with. Then came "Clueless," "Batman and Robin," "Excess Baggage," "Love’s Labour’s Lost," "Beauty Shop," and "Storm Breaker." But more interesting than her career path is the fact that she seems very much a reluctant celebrity. She doesn’t overly promote herself, choosing the projects she attaches to very carefully, and you learn upon meeting her that this girl is all about what’s best. What’s best for herself, her body, and the planet!
When you know you’re going to be interviewing Alicia, you might be inclined to get a little apprehensive. After all, she is the original celeb animal activist, a strict Vegan, having swum nude in a PETA video (which was subsequently banned in the US), and therefore someone who might make the most eco-inclined girl feel a little like an under-achiever!
However, when she arrives for our Nov/Dec cover shoot, casually dressed in sweats, it is immediately apparent that whilst fully committed to and passionate about her lifestyle, she is not in the least bit judgmental or patronizing of others who aren’t. She is sweet, gentle, and open. And very busy. On a beautiful October afternoon, whilst in the middle of a whirlwind tour for her new book, "The Kind Diet", and on the verge of leaving for rehearsals for her new Broadway play, Time Stands Still, she graciously sat down to catch up with us.
CEM: Tell me about The Kind Diet.
AS: I wanted to redefine the word “diet” as most people think of depravation and calorie counting, and sacrifice, and all kinds of horrible things, and the word “diet” in the mid-1600’s was described as a day’s journey, a way of being, which is really beautiful. "The Kind Diet" is about being kind to yourself first, and by being kind to yourself, truly, that is also being kind to the planet and to all creatures at the same time, so it’s a win-win for everyone. By being kind to yourself, it’s putting yourself first. I do deserve to feel my best, and look my best, and by making the right choices, really healthy choices that nourish you, so that when you get older, you’re not slowly falling apart but instead getting stronger and more healthier, feeling more vital than you have before. I feel younger now than I did at 19 and I think that’s pretty awesome. The kindness part of it is also that we don’t put ourselves first, and I know I used to always be putting everybody first before me, and I until started realizing that if I didn’t feel good and if I wasn’t taken care of, nothing would go right. You want to be operating from your truth, and when you’re gunked up, and have all of these bad things inside of you, and you don’t know because you’re used to it, and it’s normal. You can’t hear your heart, or your gut, or your instincts, they’re all just mucked up, so once you’re free of all that, and you start to peel away all of those layers of gunk, your heart and your body starts telling you what is right, and what’s your next move, and you realize that unless you take care of yourself, we’re useless to anyone else. We’re all running around trying to do so much, and believe me I’m guilty of it too, and used to be really guilty of it, but now I know how to go “Wait a second. Stop!” Like the second I start to feel like that, I feel more concerned that I need to stop because I am not going to do as well. You have so much more energy, and you are so much more productive, and your brain works so much better when you are taking care of yourself first. You may think, “Well I don’t have time to take care of myself. I’m too busy.” It’s always the thing that goes out the window first, when you’re busy is you, but really if you put you first, everything else gets done much easier, so that’s really what the book is about.
We’re also so dependent on coffee and Tums and anti-biotics. We think it’s normal to take these pills, to need coffee to get up in the morning, and I’m not trying to say you can’t have coffee, but I am saying that you shouldn’t need it. It’s a sign of in-balance. There are all these things like sugar that are throwing us off, and it’s really about restoring balance and nourishment to your body, so food is nourishing so you are balanced and vital, and you don’t need things. You want things for either pleasure’s sake, or to heal yourself, and you’re using food as more of a healing tool, but still being delicious. That’s what "The Kind Diet" is all about. Never sacrificing taste or beauty and fun, and all that.
CEM: It’s interesting because societally that is not what we’ve been led to believe. We’ve been raised with milk and meat as part of our diets, and if you get sick you take anti-biotics. It’s a re-education, a new lifestyle.
AS: A lot of it is that we’ve just become such slaves to the financial thing, like doctors are the end-all be-all. We look to doctors for everything, and have removed our responsibility from everything. When you get sick you never think, “What did I do that made me sick?” You think that someone has to heal you and that’s just continuing the problem. I know that if I start to get run-down, I know exactly what I did to cause it, and can look back and say “Okay, here’s what happened. Of course!” And the good thing about identifying it, it’s not so I can beat myself up, it’s not like a punishment. It’s just simply acknowledging, and then knowing here’s how I counter that. Here’s how I balance that out. These foods will heal that. For me, it’s really about having my own medicine cabinet in my home, which are my refrigerator and my shelves of good food. It’s using food as your medicine.
In Eastern medicine, you would go to your doctor to keep you well. They didn’t give you pills, or drugs. They would just do all kinds of alternative therapies, just to keep you well, and if you got sick, you would fire your doctor. It’s the opposite in our culture. We go to our doctors when we’re sick, and get fed pills, and cut up. Unfortunately nutrition is an optional course in medical school, which is really insane. There are some really good doctors out there but most of them do not know, and you’re probably healthier than they are. If you’re reading this book, you’re a step ahead!
CEM: How does a girl like me take this on? I’m probably two-thirds of the way there, but I’m always on the run, so what do I put in my fridge? What about us girls that don’t have time to cook?
AS: Why I really want people to read the book and digest the whole experience is because we all think we have no time, and I can promise you I am busier than probably any person I have ever met. I really am. With that said, because I am so busy, I’ve figured out that if I can’t cook it today, someone has too, so who’s that going to be? Is it going to Real Food Daily, or is it going to be my husband, or my friend? Like, who’s going to help, do you know what I mean?
What I’ve figured out personally is that if I sacrifice my food, which sometimes I do, believe me, it’s the first thing you forget, yourself, when you get on that hamster wheel, and you’re just so busy, and believe me, this time right now for me just is, so when I am on the road, I start to get a little bit “Oh screw it. It’s too complicated,” immediately everything changes. Immediately I start to feel less good, and I start to get really grumpy, and wonder why the world seemed so doomed, and the second I get home and eat properly again, the whole world is beautiful again. It’s that magical. It’s that true. The “busy” factor is this: first of all there are many, many convenience foods that are better choices. If you’re talking about milk or cheese, you can get really good nut milks or soy or rice milks that will do the same thing for you. You’ll find replacements and in the book we give you full transition lists. There’s all kinds of transitions but ultimately what I really want you to get to the point of doing is realizing that you are more important than all your schedule, and that whatever you do, once you take care of yourself, that will all become easier. You have time for everything you want to make time for, it’s just that when do you matter most? It’s just about adjusting your priorities and if your health isn’t your priority, I don’t know what is. Once you start to realize that feeling good is not in an alcoholic beverage and not in pills, or spending a lot of money. All of those things are not where the true joy comes from. True joy comes from just breathing and being sustained, and feeling your heart, and feeling connected to the Universe, and all of that comes from food.
CEM: When did you begin your eco-conscious journey?
AS: I started to meet all of these really amazing people. Woody Harrelson and his wife were really inspirational to me about the green movement, because at the time it was more about animals for me, and then I started to learn about the health stuff. When I made these changes, all of these incredible things started to happen to me. My skin started to glow, my nails got really strong, my eyes got really white, my hair was growing like crazy, and my body slimmed down. I had so much energy, and was like, “What is this? Is this just good Karma? What is happening?”
I started looking into it and found there were all these good doctors who are curing cancer, heart disease and diabetes on a daily basis from this diet, and people like Bruce Lee and all these amazing athletes like Carl Lewis who didn’t become veggie because they cared about animals. They wanted better performance; they wanted to have more energy. That’s where my focus was because I was fascinated by it. When Woody and I started spending time together he would talk to me about products, and how things were loaded with chemicals, and I was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t want to waste it. Somebody gave it to me!” and he explained that first there was all these chemicals I couldn’t even read, and where did I think it was all going? Your skin is your largest organ and it’s going right inside of you. Where is it going in the planet, and how did it get here, and how was it made. When it’s natural, it’s so much easier, and the good news is that no-one’s testing lavender on bunnies! It’s all-good. That was my introduction to the green movement. I used not to think about the environment being our home, and needing clean air and clean food. Who thinks about those things when they’re 21? Well I think kids are now, thank God, but I wasn’t unfortunately.
CEM: Well, better late than never! What was your defining moment from veggie to Veganism?
AS: I went straight Vegan although I flirted. In my book I define it as Flirts, Vegans, and Superheroes, so that gives you an entry point. If you’re a person who just wants to feel healthier, or wants to look your best, or you care about the planet, but you think you don’t want to be a Vegan, that’s fine. This book is still for you, it’s actually especially for you because it gives you all the baby steps to get there. I want to stop this idea that it’s all or nothing, that if you think you can’t do it, then you do nothing. We get nowhere that way, but if you take one step at a time, and you have the truth and the information, then you can make an educated decision. We’re all walking around so uninformed so we don’t know what this product is doing to our body. In the book I outline the nasty foods; they’re nasty to you and here’s why; what’s nasty to the planet; and then what’s good for you. You are armed with information so when you’re out in the world you remember what’s not good and try and eat less of it.
CEM: It’s one thing to adopt a specific lifestyle, but to write a book? What was your inspiration?
AS: I’d been collecting information for about 8 years and had this very large file, but it just seemed like such an epic project and I didn’t really believe that I could do it. For many years I’ve been helping friends, and I would give them great pamphlets of information. I also wanted to make sure it had the most delicious food in the world because I really love food, so not just have a book that had a few good recipes, but a book that had all good recipes, and when you opened it up, you knew what you were getting into. Finally, I was pushed by one particular person who convinced me the time was now, and set me up on a meeting. Once I met with the Publisher, I felt like I had a ticking clock. You have a deadline and you have to do this now. It took a long time and it was a really big project.
CEM: Do you grow any of your own food?
AS: Yes, at different times I have grown a lot of my own food, and right now I’ve got minimal. I’ve got my avocados, lemons, chives, oregano, oranges and strawberries, things that are easy and basic. I’ve had at times a full working garden with corn, lima beans, and sweet peas. Instead of planting flowers, I plant food, and I think it looks really beautiful. I love Sweetpeas – they are so beautiful. They’re usually in wedding bouquets, but then it’s almost like a stoner moment where you’re like, “There’s peas growing in there.” They’re so beautiful and taste so good, and it’s really fun.
CEM: Living Vegan as a way of life, beyond just your diet, how easy is it?
AS: All I can say is this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life, and it continues to reward me. Any effort that’s involved is so ridiculous in comparison to how beautiful it’s made my life, and it’s the easiest thing in the world. I’m a Libra so I guess not brilliant at making decisions, so it sort of narrows the playing field. If I am going to choose a material to cover a couch, I don’t have a million choices. It’s as simple as what’s good for the planet, and what’s good for my health, and then what’s the most beautiful option within that. The great news is that you don’t ever have to compromise style so I think it is very easy to live this way, and then the rewards you get back for being compassionate and caring I think it would be really horrible to not be awake to this. It feels really gluttonous to me to live any other way. I could not do it ever again. I could never not care about every single thing, where it came from, where’s it going. When I came here and saw the cups I was like “Oh no,” but I saw that they were compostable, and I’m really happy, but I would think about those things and I would probably not have taken the cup. Sometimes I have to be “Okay Alicia. You have to drink water so let’s not be crazy here.” It’s always making those conscious choices. It’s not effort. It’s gracefully my responsibility for being lucky enough to live on this planet. Putting things in the compost is fun. It always gets me thinking about children and how they fit in. How beautiful to share what this life really was, how our families taught us. Our families before that actually did things this way, and we’ve just gone all backwards in this convenience mode. We’ve made things so convenient that they’re no longer convenient, and we’re suffocating ourselves.
CEM: How would you advise women that are still eating and wearing animal products to get started?
AS: I would just say read the book because there’s no judgment on that. It’s just perhaps they don’t have the information and this book is a really great way to get great information, and to really give them a reason because they probably don’t know. If you consider yourself an Environmentalist yet continue to eat meat, you probably just don’t know that it is the biggest contributor to Global Warming. I think the key thing is do you want to feel your best? Do you want to stop looking for that perfect cream that’s going to make your skin glow, or that perfect mascara, and not need any of it because you just look so gorgeous because you’re naturally glowing? Your organs are happy and you’re sleeping and rested because you’re not trying to digest all these horrible things. It’s about getting informed, and I think this is a good book for the mainstream, the how’s and why’s.
CEM: Do you have any eco-sins?
AS: Well I just don’t like that we have a pool. It bothers me, but it’s there now so what are we going to do about it? What I do is make it open to the community, so in our neighborhood, people come over and swim. That makes me feel a little bit better about it because it really bothers me.
CEM: What is your greatest inspiration?
AS: I’m actually inspired by trees, and the sky, and the ocean and sun, and children, and whenever I see anyone who’s making any kind conscious choice, I am very inspired by that.
CEM: What are your greatest peeves?
AS: Unkindness. When people are unkind, it kills me. And unconsciousness. But you know what? We were all unconscious at some point, and I’m sure I was too. I guess the thing is, when people’s hearts aren’t open, it’s hard. I’m always searching for an open heart.
CEM: If you could change one thing, what would it be?
AS: That no one would eat animals anymore.
CEM: Love it! Now before you go, let’s chat about Time Stands Still?
AS: It’s on Broadway from January. I first did it in LA with Donald Margulies and Daniel Sullivan, that’s the Director and the Playwright. It’s about a journalist that comes back from somewhere like Iraq, a war zone, and her partner who is also a journalist has had it with the whole thing, and wants to lead a comfortable life, and she doesn’t. My character questions, “Does your work do anything?” She asks truthful questions, like, “Are you even happy?” and “What are you doing to contribute?” And it’s funny because I would be like “Yes,” but she just doesn’t get it although she asks really important questions like is it okay to put a camera in front of a person who is dying, and what good does that do? It’s about a lot more than that, but that’s the quick answer!
CEM: Changing the subject, I really like your new ecoTools brush and cosmetic bag line.
AS: Oh good, good. It’s really pretty. I am so excited. It’s a really beautiful, affordable, good quality product that just happens to be green, and I think that’s fantastic. We’re already starting to develop our next line. It’s this tricky thing for me though because the truth is, I don’t want to ever encourage people to buy things. That’s one of my pet peeves, is that everyone wants things, and more things, and then there are things everywhere, we don’t need more. But the good thing is if you’re in Target and you need make up brushes, or you need a cosmetic bag, instead of buying the vinyl one, the one that was made with nothing but trash, and hurt the planet, you can make this choice. It’s there, it’s beautiful, and it’s good for you and good for the planet. I’m not trying to say, “Go buy my product,” but if you need it, it’s there and it’s good.
CEM: Finally, any plans to ever open a restaurant? It seems like a really natural fit for you.
AS: We were just talking about a restaurant this morning! Yes, we always fantasize about opening a restaurant, but it was epic just getting the book done, and it’s epic when and how, and all of that, but maybe one day. Maybe when I am really old? Maybe when things aren’t so crazy in my life and I have lots of kids or something, there’ll be a place that people just come and be, and there’s great food all the time. That would be amazing!
After reading "The Kind Diet, and spending the day with Alicia, I leave our shoot excited by the possibility that going the whole hog (excuse the pun!) and becoming Vegan is in fact possible, and am truly inspired by the thought that it’s easier (and sexier) than even I had ever imagined!**