Sunniva Holt is a mother of one, and an inspiration to 135,000.

That's how many - in just 18 months - have signed up to follow her Instagram and Facebook pages, and helped to launch her brand new raw food app onto the New Zealand best-seller list.

Prolonged and severe morning sickness during her pregnancy with the now-almost-two Lily, as well as a case of gestational diabetes, was the catalyst for Holt's radical life-change, where she went from a standard omnivorous diet to a strictly vegan and raw food regime.

"I was hospitalised by my morning sickness, and at times I was coughing up blood. I tried everything, but nothing worked - none of the traditional cures. It was only when I was on holiday and started to eat lots of tropical fruit that I noticed an immediate change in my symptoms."

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The dramatic changes to her health motivated her to continue the diet after her daughter was born and share her lifestyle on social media. Holt began posting Instagram pictures of the beautiful food she was making for herself and her family, snapped with an iPhone, alongside the recipe - something which her audience greatly appreciated. Her popularity grew until it morphed into Raw Till 4, a brand that now encompasses an online network of recipes and conscious eating.

When Holt began her plant-based, raw food diet, it was initially purely for her own health. As she learned more, her motivations changed, and she now focuses on ethical and environmental concerns rather than just the health benefits.

When asked if more people adopting vegan lifestyles would impact the health and sustainability of the environment, Holt is unequivocal: "My response is f*** yes!"

Holt is particularly concerned about the rate that meat consumption is increasing worldwide. "People used to eat meat once a week. Now it's up to three times a day for some people. It's not sustainable. It's not good for us."

In fact, global meat consumption has increased 20 per cent in the past 10 years and has tripled in the past four decades, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

Yet, in New Zealand meat consumption has decreased from 130kg to 91kg per person per year from the 1930s to the early 2000s. New Zealand is one of four out of the world's top 30 producers of meat to decrease production from 2001-2011, according to the iFAB 2013 Meat Review.

Holt hopes this trend will continue in New Zealand and worldwide as people become more conscious of their consumption.

"[Veganism is] might be the only way we can save the planet. We're screwed otherwise," says Holt. "We can't continue on the way we're going."

The largest portion of Holt's audience is from the United States followed by New Zealand and Australia. Americans ate more meat per capita in 2012 than all countries except Luxemburg, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Despite Holt's passion for raw eating, she is at pains to avoid food "extremism" which is sometimes common in online vegan communities. When she first started Raw Till 4, she avoided labelling herself as vegan altogether.

Holt has begun to accept the label, but she still avoids strictness within her diet. She occasionally eats cooked foods before the prescribed 4pm time that her brand suggests, and avoids policing her daughter's diet when she visits family.

"I'm quite strongly opposed to the rules and regulations for food. People shouldn't get hung up on eating raw food until this certain time. You need to have some flexibility," Holt says.

Holt focuses on creating simple, quick recipes to change the common perception that vegan food is difficult to make, expensive, or bland. Holt says that it's not vital that her audience follows a strict vegan lifestyle.

"It's not that everybody should turn vegan, but everyone should be reducing their [environmental] impact," Holt said. "Hopefully I can influence some people to go vegan without being too pushy about it."

In June Holt launched an iPhone app, "Sunniva's Raw Till 4," which has received over 2000 downloads. The app features over 70 recipes, from green smoothies to cooked dinners, which follow the Raw Till 4 diet.

Growing up on a farm, Holt's mum encouraged her family to eat healthily since she was a child, so making food from scratch was not a new concept for her.

"We used to make our own bread and grow our own vegetables," Holt said. "I just turned around and did the same thing."

In the future, Holt hopes to expand her brand and continue to promote healthy, sustainable eating.

Holt says that by stopping consuming meat she felt a lot lighter, both physically and mentally. "I felt a huge sense of relief not doing that anymore."

Sunniva's Green Smoothie

One frozen banana (frozen fruits give a creamy texture, and make the smoothie cold)
Two teaspoons sunflower seed butter
Large handful spinach
One cup coconut water
Half teaspoon cinnamon
Blend. Drink.


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