I grew up on an organic farm in New Zealand, at a time when there were very limited (and not-so-delicious…) gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free options. Growing up as a kiwi kid, and wanting to be ‘normal’ I would sneak over to the dairy at lunch and buy lollies, sausage rolls and milkshakes despite being allergic to gluten, dairy and sugar. As a 6-year-old it didn’t quite register that these moments of junk food bliss resulted in a large proportion of my childhood incredibly sick (it took mum a while to realise those whole foods lunches were ending up in the school rubbish bin).
While I didn’t appreciate my whole foods farmhouse lifestyle at the time, it really has been a wonderful gift long term – most importantly, it allowed me to experience where real food actually comes from and how much effort it takes to grow your own watermelons, or raise an animal for food. The effort and value in growing your food is something most of us take for granted, the status quo of mass manufacturing and ‘convenience’ food has left us largely disconnected from the process, and how our choices as consumers impact the world around us. While the pull of aeroplane lollies was strong, some of my earliest and fondest memories were not at the local dairy, but at home eating and picking strawberries, feijoas and passionfruit, or standing on a stool at the kitchen bench making pastry from scratch with my grandmother – and so the whole foods seed had been sown.
After getting a sensible degree at Auckland University and trying out my hand in sensible jobs, I decided whole foods was my thing, and so I set out to cut it as a chef. At the time, there were little to no opportunities in kitchens making whole foods, and if there were, they were way too hippie, so I ended up in a kitchen making regular food. Not too far into my goal of becoming the next greatest female chef, my health took a turn for the worst. Once again the consumption of gluten, dairy and sugar, coupled with the long hours and ongoing stress as I tried to prove myself in a harsh male dominated industry had left me incredibly ill.
After several unsuccessful visits to countless doctors and specialists over a year and a half, I decided it was time to take my health into my own hands. I spent countless hours researching natural remedies and home treatments and was drawn to a theory that seemed surprisingly simple and a little radical all at the same time – a mostly raw, organic whole foods diet, free of any gluten, dairy and refined sugars. Since food was my passion, I wasn’t going to give up everything and eat a diet of just crudités. So instead I got inventive in the kitchen, developing raw whole foods versions of my favourite things – including macaroons, crackers and granola. After a couple of months of eating a mostly raw plant-based diet and a lot of green smoothies, things really started to improve. I began to experience a new level of energy and vitality that I hadn’t before – and so almost by accident, Little Bird was born.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Megan May, founder of Little Bird Organics & The Unbakeries. Fast forward 8-years later from being my own living case study and developing whole foods products purely for myself, I now have a best-selling cookbook and App, two award-winning cafes, a successful products range stocked nationwide, and will be releasing my second cookbook ‘Little Bird Goodness’ (available in book stores nationwide from 1 September). It’s still hard to believe that I managed to take my childhood obsession with lollies and the resulting illness, coupled with an organic whole foods upbringing, and turn it into a multifaceted food business, that basically just sells veggies. For anyone that thinks they can’t live without their favourite processed foods, I can assure you that over time you truly won’t miss any of them once you experience the power of eating real whole foods, and how they can make you feel.
There are so many inspiring business women out there trying to make a difference in their communities, leading by example and challenging what health is through their own choices – choosing alternatives to what was conventionally believed to be “healthy” and “good for us”. It’s a tough sector to change as convenience foods have become so cheap and easy for people to access, and when you’re time poor and financially challenged, most people are going to choose cheap processed foods to fill them up. Broccoli and kale don’t have the advertising dollars or appeal that milk, sugar and chocolate do.
It’s so important as women that we take the initiative to help educate our communities with the truth behind where our food comes from, and how our choices impact on our health, health care dollars and the environment as a whole. We are one of the fattest nations in the world and have one of the highest rates of bowel cancer – when you look at our lifestyle disease statistics, you quickly realise we are essentially killing ourselves with the food and lifestyle choices we make.
Some incredible women in the wellbeing industry that I look up to are women who challenge the status quo of consumer choices for the greater good. Women like fellow kiwi Melanie Rands, co-founder of Ecostore, who challenged our use of conventional household cleaning products, and the impact they have on our health, our family’s health and the environment. Imelda Burke is another incredible kiwi woman who has lead the way in the organic beauty industry. Her book The Nature of Beauty, and UK based store Content Beauty and Wellbeing challenge us to think about how what we put on our skin has an impact on our health and the environment, as well as the entire notion of how we perceive and talk about beauty. Both of these women have chosen to follow these paths well before it was trendy or well accepted, leading by example and following their gut, to empower others to make more informed consumer choices.
With the release of my second cookbook later this year, my goal is to not only show people how easy and delicious it is to eat more plant-based meals but like Melanie and Imelda, I want to increase awareness surrounding how our food choices don’t just impact our own health, but the health of the environment too.
Eight years on from our beginning, the positive feedback from people discovering us for the first time still blows me away. There’s a much more diverse range of people coming into our cafes than there was in those first few years – we’re seeing a lot more men who no doubt have been influenced by some inspiring women (you’d be surprised to know how many All Blacks have come to the cafes), and now that I am a mum my heart melts, even more, seeing all the Little Bird kids that chow down on plant-based burgers, kale chips or chocolate avocado mousse, and thinking how much easier my childhood would have been if I could have eaten somewhere like Little Bird. It’s in these moments that I’m reminded why we’re doing all this – as at the end of the day, if we can make someone truly happy and inspire them to lead a healthier lifestyle for both their family’s health and the health of the planet then we are contributing something positive to this beautiful country.
You can find Megan on Facebook and Instagram