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The Wellness Warrior Leading a Cheese Revolution

The vegan world is going nuts for well-being advocate Julie Piatt’s dairy-free cheese SriMu. Here she shares the story of food and healing behind the brand.

Words by Pete Samson
Photography by Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt is an inspirational yogi, healer, musician, entrepreneur, mom and more. And she is fast becoming known as ‘the doyenne of vegan cheese’, as the author of the cookbook ‘This Cheese is Nuts!’, and now as the founder of artisanal plant-based ‘cheese’ brand SriMu.

She is also the wife of Rich Roll, the vegan endurance athlete, podcaster and one of our favorite ever profile subjects here at Mr Feelgood, and helped inspire his midlife transformation from burned-out lawyer to plant-based food and wellness advocate. Together they have penned cookbooks ‘The Plantpower Way’ and ‘The Plantpower Way: Italia.’

And she has inspired thousands of others through her week-long retreats and counseling work, as well as via her acclaimed podcast, ‘For The Life of Me.’

Here, Julie explains her path to discovering the power of food to nourish, heal and connect. And she offers guidance to those looking to make healthier choices in their lives.

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


Could you tell us about your path to discovering the power of food for medicine and healing?

I was raised in Alaska, and my dad was a hunter, bush pilot, civil engineer – he was an outdoorsman. You actually could call him a veritable Indiana Jones. He’d lived in the Amazon and was a Navy pilot, he’d crashed his plane and survived the sharks.

My dad would go out hunting, and we would eat a moose or a caribou for the winter, or he would come back from fishing and he would have loads of salmon. So I grew up in a hunting family and I remember the blood and what that smelled like.

It was later in my life, probably in my late 20s, when I started practicing yoga that I started to get in touch with my sensitivity. It wasn’t an intellectual decision, I didn’t do it for the animals. But the more I became sensitized to life, I stopped eating meat. It was just no longer in alignment. I would say the meat dropped me.

The more I practiced yoga, I stopped even having a glass of wine, I stopped drinking coffee. I didn’t want anything in my body that was a denser vibration, or something of violence. I had a lot of respect for my dad because he hunted his meat and was very clear where it came from, but I couldn’t do that.

SriMu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

SriMu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

And then, aged about 42, I got a really amazing gift in my life. I noticed I had this large lump in my neck, a cyst that came on very quickly. I’d had some experience with Western medicine, when I had had a tonsillectomy as an adult, and something went wrong in the surgery and I had severe pain for about eight weeks, couldn’t eat and lost 20lbs. So when they suggested surgery I said, ‘No, you are not going into my throat!’

So against everyone’s advice, I sought out the existence of an Ayurvedic physician, an eastern Indian science of medicine that is passed down from guru to teacher and connected with nature. The tenet of Ayurveda is that you balance the body so the body can then heal itself. So I considered this moment as an opportunity. I started speaking to this doctor, a beautiful, simple man, and he wrote on one single sheet of paper, a plant-based diet. Ayurveda is very specific. It’s vegetarian, not vegan, because it uses medicated ghee. But it’s predominantly plant-based, and it’s whole foods, not processed.

So I basically started on this path, and it took about a year and a half, and much to everybody’s shock, I fully healed myself. And that gave me my introduction to food as medicine.

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


You and Rich are both now leading plant-based diet advocates, so tell us about that journey to sharing your knowledge and experiences with others?

Rich and I married in a spiritual ceremony on our land, and we made this vow that we were going to support each other to fulfil our greatest heart’s desire.

So in order to fully become who we were going to be individually, and together, we had to go through this process of spiritualization, which meant that in our case, we went through a nine-year financial collapse with four kids.

Rich was a lawyer because he’d become a lawyer, and he was well educated and smart and his dad was a lawyer. But he didn’t want to be a lawyer, he is a very sensitive being that hates confrontation. He was a recovering alcoholic. He was suffering. Eating In-N-Out burgers, and drinking venti Starbucks with three added shots.

He loved sports, he had swam for Stanford, so I encouraged him to train. And I was trying to help him with what he had been struggling with energetically, saying try to eat this way or try this book or this meditation. But then after seven years, I went to study with an Indian master who named me SriMati, and he talked to me about the concept of divine love. He said human love is a business arrangement that says, ‘If you treat me this way, or provide for me in this way, then I will love you.’ Divine love loves you always, in every circumstance, in every time space.

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

It was like that moment you take the ski lesson from the 15th ski instructor, they give you the point and you get it. For some reason, I was just ready for it, and I got it. The more that I’d wanted Rich to transform, the more paralyzed he became. The more that I was in his space, the more recoil I got. So I decided to release him to his life, and he’ll tell you that he felt the shift. All of a sudden, rather than push back against me, he had to look at his own energy, and say, ‘This is what I’m not fulfilling.’

And that act catalyzed us both into becoming wellness advocates for plant-based living. He came to me shortly after and said, ‘I want to do this Ironman race.’ He went plant-based after some experimentation, and then he had this day in the mountains where he ran a marathon with no water, and he didn’t even realize that he’d done it, so plants were really good for him.

He would train for eight hours and come home and take care of the kids and I would go to the studio to make music. And I decided every time he came home, I would have a huge spread of plant-based food. By that time I had created 50 plant-based recipes that were good and the kids had vetted. But we had no money. So we made our first cookbook and sold it for under $10, and we made $100, then $400, then $1000 then $2000, and that cookbook actually fed us when we had no food.

Then Sanjay Gupta, the medical correspondent for CNN, picked up Rich’s story. And it was light in this darkness. I was still Ayurveda, so I went vegan that day, just as a show of support for Rich, and then we released ‘The Plantpower Way.’

SriMu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

SriMu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


And how did this lead to you launching SriMu?

That cookbook had a few basic cheese recipes in it. But when I was making those recipes, I wouldn’t even get the nachos out of the kitchen and they would be gone because the kids would devour it.

So I decided to do a cheese book and I started this exploration of making plant-based cheeses. I’m an artist, not a trained chef, so mostly what I do in my life is some sort of artistic expression, and I just kept exploring. I was blown away by the quality of the product I was able to formulate. I’d be at a wedding or event, and see Italians from New York inhaling my mozzarella.

What I have learned after publishing three cookbooks and creating almost 500 vegan recipes, is that food is a huge portal into people’s lives. And so for me, it is a global mission of awakening. SriMu about providing options. It’s for everyone. It’s paleo, it’s keto, it’s gluten free, it’s vegan, it’s plant based, it’s dairy free. It’s for all of us. I call it the next evolution of cheese because it hits all the notes that we love and cherish about cheese, but it’s elevated to a completely higher level because it nourishes our bodies, the planet, our beautiful animals and our children. We’re a subscription-based company because I believe our time on this planet is about building community. It’s very pleasing to have created something that is bringing so much joy to so many people.

 

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


What advice would you give people who like the idea of a plant-based diet and healthier life, but find it hard to make that leap?

First of all, I would just start with adding more plants into your life. Like a big steaming plate of sauteed greens, in addition to whatever it is you’re eating. And the other first thing is to start getting some green juices in your system. We can all benefit by getting more vital greens into our life. And I would really also advise you to return to whole foods. So just eat an apple or an orange or a big squash or a sweet potato. There are so many delicious things, but we get trained to eat this process s***. And the next thing that I would say is master the sauce section of my book. They can go on anything and liven the taste.

But eating a plant-based diet is not going to solve your whole evolutionary quest. You have to move your body. Are you active? Do you meditate? Part of the Ayurvedic program was going to bed early and not inviting stress on the weekends.

I would say the single most powerful thing anybody can do is start a yoga practice. If you’re not the master of your own body then someone else will be. And this begins with connecting with your breath.

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Julie Piatt // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


Hair & makeup by Jo Strettell using Tom Ford Makeup

Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the world’s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring leaders in their field.

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