In the catastrophic climate change movie "The Day After Tomorrow," the action centered in New York City, with the main characters trapped in the New York City Library. As irony and synchronicity would have it, right in that very neighborhood--in the real world--is Organic Avenue, a sort of crossroads for those seeking all things organic, sustainable, socially responsible and fashionable. In fact, Organic Avenue hosts the very sorts of things that could prevent the disastrous consequences of climate change depicted in "The Day After Tomorrow
Organic Avenue is the brainchild of Denise Mari, a life-long advocate of vegetarianism, raw-foodism, and socio-ecological responsibility. "Organic Avenue was a vision that came to me as I was going raw," says Denise. "It was to make things more convenient for people. People had different excuses for why they couldn't sustain the organic or vegan lifestyle. It was either they couldn't afford it, they didn't know about, or where to get organic clothing, and it wasn't fashionable or stylish enough. That's what we created here: a place where people can come in and know that the standard is very high--raw-vegan, and they can feel comfortable about the social responsibility that we're taking--a step we've figured out before they even get here." So Denise set out to create a gateway to a new lifestyle.
One of the misconceptions about an organic lifestyle, is that in the transition to it, there is the illusion that a lot of things are being given up. Feelings of deprivation can set in and sometimes discouragement can overtake the initial enthusiasm. That's where Organic Avenue shines. Besides having organic produce shipped in weekly, says Denise, "We have hemp and organic clothing, and organic lifestyle products. We have fresh, raw, prepared food done by different chefs a couple of times a week, or we can deliver it directly to our customers on request. We also have a free movie night where we show spiritual or inspirational movies. We have a couple of classes every week, either on raw foods or awakening the inner light, and meditation classes. And, on occasion, a conscious party. We also do nutritional counseling here. We do holistic retreats out at Eden Hot Springs (Safford, AZ), where we do yoga, the raw food lifestyle, and transformational healing."
Organic Avenue's counseling services are headed up by Mary Trimble, a nutritional counselor and Reiki master. "She does incredible workshops," raves Denise, "We do individual programs as well. Instead of just giving them some out-of-the-box thing, we say, Who are you? And then really match it up with the right counseling here--anything from individual lessons on how to prepare raw food, to just general counseling."
"I find that people are really searching," says Denise. "And raw foods is so close to spirituality that it just really starts to propel people forward--really opens them up where anything can be done now. They're youthening, they're becoming more alive, they're forming their goals, and I see it, because I know that I did it. And I see people all the time that say, 'Oh, you're such an inspiration to me,' so they see me doing it, so they know they can do it. That further inspires me to keep focused on the ideal--the lion and the lamb laying down together--the peaceful universe that I envision I feel is really, truly coming into our daily lives. It's my desire that we are happy and healthy, have fashionable things, be the example, and just really shine! Not being some outcast part of society that's being deprived of certain things."
Denise began her journey to veganism at the tender age of five when she found out that fish sticks were made out of fish. "That totally repulsed me," says Denise. "My parents got in arguments about it, and I wouldn't eat it." It hit her particularly hard because she had an inborn empathy for animals. "I was a real animal lover. I loved animals. I had such compassion," says Denise. "If I saw an animal was hurt, it'd hurt me."
Fast forward to college, and Denise met a kindred soul in the cafeteria. "I had a friend who didn't eat red meat. I thought about it for a second: 'I don't need to eat red meat,' and I gave it up."
"I went home for Thanksgiving. I had just given up red meat, and I wasn't eating fish, but I was still eating chicken and turkey, and kind of taking my time with my transition," says Denise. "But my mom was already starting to call me a vegetarian, 'I don't know what to make for Denise, because she's a vegetarian.' I was actually considering becoming a vegetarian for my New Year's resolution, but she's there beating me up. I said, 'Okay, I'm a vegetarian.' That was good, but the hypocrisy began there, too, because I was still wearing leather shoes, leather boots, leather coat."
Denise continued to transition toward veganism (nothing but fruits, vegetables and grains) in her college years. Her research into the lifestyle led her to a meeting sponsored by the Big Apple Vegetarian Society [INFO]. They talked about macrobiotic and Ayurvedic diets, the genetic engineering of Franken-foods, but it all seemed to point to the raw food diet as being ideal. "At the time I didn't think it was something I could do," confesses Denise. "But I started playing with it more and more. I had a passion for food preparation at that time with cooking, and it turned out there was so much more that could be done with raw food preparation. So it became a real hobby of mine."
That was five years ago, and now Denise has reached a good, workable balance for herself. "I went for three-and-a-half years 100% raw food, and then started eating some cooked vegan food. I now find myself mostly raw most of the time, but not attaching any rules, other than my own, which is to maintain veganism. I now use raw fooding as a tool to get to optimum levels of health, energy, clarity."
Denise is far from being any kind of "Raw Food Nazi." She has compassion and a realistic view of the process of integrating the lifestyle. "I don't by any means say that raw is the best and only way. I think that there's a combination of things over the thousands and thousands of years, like Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and then whole unadulterated food, close to its raw state most of the time. But some things cooked are probably even more nutritious on occasion. Raw is such a tool, because once you understand it, you can heal yourself. People can take responsibility for their health. They know that they can stop doing what they're doing, they can start juicing, they can eat only raw foods, and that's going to give them some real healing time--give their bodies a rest."
Denise puts high value in "walking the talk" when it comes to being an example of the organic vegan lifestyle. "For me, it's a constant refinement coming into alignment with my ideals--everything, from the food, the non-toxic cleaning products, and the clothing, to just incorporating a different way of life. When I find myself being super-busy, or stressed, or creating business in a way that things have been done in the past, I stop and say, 'This can be something different. Let's make this something different'--Outside-the-box thinking. It's a process, it really is. I tell people, 'You don't have to dump everything and buy everything now for this new lifestyle. You have your whole life to learn more and more.' They get very excited, but I want that excitement to last for people and not have them crash."
As Denise continued to incorporate socially responsible products into Organic Avenue, she became a strong advocate for the ecological benefits of hemp. "Hemp is a plant that can save the planet," declares Denise. "Everything from helping to clean our air, heal the soil and give back to the soil, and make everything from clothing to plastics, paper...and, it's a complete protein. You can't find something that this plant doesn't do medicinally. It just truly amazes me. So I thought that was a strong one to start with that could use some support behind it. I traveled to Europe, went to Switzerland and Germany, went to hemp clothing trade shows. I've just really been in the market, and had my eye open for anything that's fashionable as well as ecologically sound."
Most of the community support for Organic Avenue has come from the local raw food sector, and the store's new website has created a new level of interest in Denise's work. Open for just a year and a half, Organic Avenue has quickly grown to over 300 members. "Organic Avenue is serving as a crossroads for people to meet each other, and get what they need depending on their lifestyle. Then they go back out and create bigger and bigger webs. And all on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where it needs it the most." And, says Denise, "It's really just growing organically!"