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Natural Awakenings Boston

Local Women Make Healthier Eating Happen

Nov 29, 2014 02:30PM ● By Nina Livingstone and Stacey Sacks

As eating for health becomes a greater concern for Boston-area shoppers and diners, two local women are doing their part to make it happen. In West Concord, Debra Stark is celebrating 25 years of operating Debra’s Natural Gourmet, an organic and natural foods café and market. In Cambridge, Heidi Feinstein is the proud owner of Life Alive, a café that honors vegan, vegetarian, raw, gluten-free and macrobiotic eaters, and all that appreciate tasty, healthy food.

Debra’s Natural Gourmet sells sustainably grown and organic produce, herbs, supplements, skin care products, homemade granola and a wide range of other healthy offerings and fair trade items. Stark’s customers may also shop for such cooking staples as bulk rice, exotic flours and spices. “If you want to flavor a dish with ground sumac, we’ve got it,” she says, “along with gluten-free vanilla and other hard-to-find ingredients. We also have delicious local cheese, and our kitchen prepares wonderful soups and coconut ghee bars.”

In September, Debra’s was named Retailer of the Year in the category of Community Engagement at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. Lace curtains make the store feel homey, as does a custom-made, carrot-shaped table where customers can enjoy homemade treats. “Over the years, I’ve gotten letters from customers, along with hugs and thanks for being a part of their lives here in West Concord,” says Stark. “Our success rests on the partnership between our staff, vendors and customers. It’s a three-legged stool.”

At home Stark eats only organic and grows her own vegetables, including endive, escarole, chicory and radicchio for salads and beets, carrots, potatoes and parsnips for roasting. Proud of her ability to supply healthy food to the community, Stark would like to see even more people made aware of the connection between food and health and hosts her own cooking show, Eat Well, Be Happy, on local television.

Over in the heart of Central Square, Cambridge, Life Alive serves unprocessed, organic wraps, salads, soups, smoothies, and hot entrées with such enticing names as Adventurer, Swami, The Goddess and Rebel. Feinstein says she created the café in order to give people real, unprocessed and organic sustenance that was convenient and uncomplicated.

“We sell simple, comfort food that doesn’t pretend to be anything else,” says Feinstein. “We are a whole foods, plant-based menu that fuses flavors from around the globe with a macrobiotic foundation. Our meals are satisfying and tasty to both health conscious people and those who are not.”

Feinstein says that the café’s offerings are designed and combined in such a way that the body does not have to work hard to digest them and gets everything it needs to thrive. “This reduces cravings for other, less healthy options and leaves people feeling more alive after eating our food,” she says.

Feinstein says her personal favorite ingredients are kale, beets, ginger, wheatgrass, kombucha and spirulina, all of which can benefit health. “I love that thousands of people are able to deliciously increase these healers in their diet,” she remarks. “We also just worked with a local herbalist to develop our own personal fire cider, a fantastic tonic that stimulates immunity, digestion and overall health.”

In addition to hot dishes, customers come in for juices and smoothies. Feinstein says she loves it when nonvegetarians arrive and, finding no meat on the menu, bravely try something new. “Then I see them come back again and again, and become part of our family,” she says. “Over the years we have spread love, pleasure, connection and vitality through delicious food and soulful service.”

The first Life Alive opened up in Lowell in 2004. The Cambridge and Salem locations came later as the team and menu grew organically and in line with Feinstein’s mission. “We are a social enterprise first and foremost, committed to our mission of revitalizing the planet one meal at a time,” she says. “Our team and management has been built around this purpose.”

Locations: Debra’s Natural Gourmet, 98 Commonwealth Ave., W. Concord; call 978-371-7573 or visit DebrasNaturalGourmet.com. Life Alive, 765 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; call 617-354-5433 or visit LifeAlive.com.

Nina Livingstone is a screenwriter, novelist and motivational speaker on topics including violence against women, surmounting disabilities, and the joy of life, healing and light. Contact her at [email protected].

Stacey Sacks is a researcher and writer, with experience in a wide range of industries including health care, financial services and consumer products. She can be reached at [email protected].