Jane Phare meets the fashionable foodies changing the way we eat.

They're a little bit scary, these all-powerful foodie goddesses with their fresh-scrubbed faces and theories on how best to eat healthily. For many of us, they speak a different language - a world of green smoothies, cold-pressed juice, fermented vegetables, raw cakes, goji berries and quinoa. High-powered blenders have never worked harder, thrashing supergreens, nuts and organic fruit. The buzzword is wholefood - fresh food in its natural state: no preservatives, no processing, no shortcuts.

These health-food gurus expound their messages on social media, smiling faces demonstrating the latest delicious healthy concoction, styled and photographed to perfection on Instagram, Facebook, websites and blogs. Food so luscious it makes you want to lick your computer or phone screen ... almost.

Often startled by their following on social media, many go on to launch food businesses, open cafes and write cookbooks. In the case of the five women featured here, most have done all of the above and feature in the new book, Whole: Recipes For Simple Wholefood Eating by Bronwyn Kan (Beatnik Publishing $44.99).

But while the mashed-potato-and gravy brigade can poke fun at kale and walnut salads, the new foodies have a point. You are what you eat.


It's not a new message but one that is gaining traction with the help of social media, fuelled by an avid health-conscious following.

The sceptical might argue that wholefood and fashionable diets are the domain of the privileged - elite food served up in cafes in high-income suburbs. And there's no getting round the fact that a loaf of handmade gluten-free bread, bursting with seeds and nuts, can cost five times the price of a loaf from the supermarket.

In response, food bloggers argue it's worth investing in your health and, that by sourcing seasonal produce from community gardens or local farmers' markets, cutting down on expensive meat and takeaways, everyone can eat healthily.

Chef Simon Gault, MasterChef judge and the genius behind a string of top eateries, thinks bloggers have helped fuel a food revolution and created awareness about eating healthily.

"My experience with the food bloggers is that they're good. They're objective, they're careful about what they say and whether it's accurate." Gault, who started his career in an era when social media hadn't been invented, says it's a great tool if used "carefully and wisely".

Auckland nutritionist and food blogger Danijela Unkovich says with social media comes responsibility.

"It's very important to be mindful of where you're getting your information from and who you are following."

Sue Pollard, chief executive of the NZ Nutrition Foundation and a dietitian, agrees, warning that with benefits of social media comes a "huge amount of misinformation". But she acknowledges the place the internet plays in sharing information. To that end, the nutrition foundation now uses Snapchat, Facebook and its website to spread the word.

Her message is no-nonsense. Regarding wholefoods, Pollard says canned food has its place, while frozen vegetables are often fresher because they are snap-frozen immediately after picking.

She's amused at the popularity of kale, an age-old vegetable she suspects went out of vogue in the first place because it is difficult to prepare.

Spinach and silverbeet are just as good, she says, it's time to stop over-thinking the nutrients and concentrate on decent food.

"We need to get back to basic good food, and cooking."

DANIJELA UNKOVICH, 24, nutritionist and food blogger

Nutritionist Danijela Unkovich knows all about eating healthily on a budget. She spends her working week teaching under-privileged kids and their caregivers how to eat a healthy diet. And that includes growing vegetables and learning how to prepare them.

Working for the Dingwall Trust at a South Auckland children's care-and-protection facility, Unkovich soon figured out that changing some of the kids' eating habits wasn't going to happen overnight without engaging them.

"It's all very well to tell them to eat something healthy but they don't really get excited about that."

To that end she's helped establish an organic, edible garden on site, which the children help look after.

"They help in the garden and I run weekly garden lessons with them. We are going to be using the produce we grow in healthy meals to get them cooking too."

Unkovich, who graduated from Massey University this year with a Bachelor of Science, with a double major in human nutrition and physiology, is now studying horticulture to improve her gardening knowledge.

When not at work she runs her blog Health Always, launched this year after starting on Instagram three years ago. Back then, Unkovich found herself stressed while at university, suffering from New Daily Persistent Headache syndrome, an unremitting headache.

"I really struggled trying to do anything academic. It was a big wake-up call. It really made me slow down and re-evaluate all areas of my life, including what I was eating."

She started uploading photographs of healthy meals on Instagram to keep herself accountable in following a healthier lifestyle.

"It quickly became very therapeutic and I never really imagined it would gain a following like it did."

Unkovich takes a moderate line, nothing too faddish or strict. "I think that when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle it's all about just finding what works for you and your body," she says.

"It's not really about restricting yourself, just more about making better quality food choices. If I feel like a chocolate bar, I'll have one."

She'll even take "classically naughty" treats - peanut butter cups, icecream, fries - and give them a healthier twist.

Her nutrition training makes her pragmatic about food choices. She tries to use maple syrup or honey as sweetener, rather than refined sugar, for her recipes. "But these [maple syrup and honey] are still treats and do need to be used in moderation. Liquid sugar is still sugar at the end of the day."

Unkovich thinks the increased awareness of healthy eating and lifestyle through social media, and the offshoot cafes, is a good thing.

But, she says, food blogs can be subjective because they represent a personal view. "What works for someone might not work for you. Be mindful of that."

Favourite meal: "I love a traditional roast lamb with plenty of roast veges on the side and a big, green healthy salad. Followed by a chocolate avocado mousse, with some nice berries on top. I have such a sweet tooth."

KELLY GIBNEY, 34, food writer, stylist, photographer and food blogger

Food blogger Kelly Gibney with her daughter Bonnie, 3. Photo / Dean Purcell
Food blogger Kelly Gibney with her daughter Bonnie, 3. Photo / Dean Purcell

Kelly Gibney's parents aren't quite sure where she came from. The super-healthy eater was born in 1981, "very much the microwave era", she says, growing up in a busy household with a working mum who wasn't fond of cooking. More often than not, the family ate sausages or chops, mashed potato and peas.

But a young Gibney loved playing cooking shows in the kitchen at home with her sister while waiting for their mum to come home from work.

"If anything, I dragged my family along for the ride."

Now she writes a regular healthy food blog, Bonnie Delicious - named after her 3-year-old daughter, Bonnie - writes food columns for a food magazine and is writing a cookbook. During the year she runs wholefoods cooking classes at Kokako Cafe in Grey Lynn, teaching recipes that she makes for her own family every week. The emphasis is on useful and practical.

"Sometimes it can feel from the outside that healthy eating is all smoothies and raw treats. People can really struggle with what's for dinner or lunch." Gibney fed her interest in food while working in the hospitality industry in Melbourne and New York in her 20s, hanging around in the kitchens when she was supposed to be out serving. Now she's flat out in her own kitchen, experimenting with recipe ideas, styling and photographing the end result, and updating her blog, and Instagram and Facebook accounts.

There followers can read about Bonnie's third birthday party - the wholesome chocolate crackles, gluten-free pizza and a gluten-free birthday cake with pink frosting coloured with organic beetroot powder and flavoured with powdered freeze-dried strawberries. Her partner, Luke Williams, was initially nonplussed about food but Gibney has won him round.

"He's definitely into food now. He balances me out, stops me being too crunchy, nerdy."

Together they help run Little Red, a coffee bar made out of an old container in Waipu. Gibney, William's mother and some family friends came across an old 1940s engineering workshop for sale three years ago.

Since then they've transformed the dilapidated site, turning the old barn into Black Shed, a homewares and design store with a gallery space for local ceramicists and artists. Every few weekends Gibney and Williams drive up to Waipu to help run the cafe and they'll be there over Christmas and early January.

Gibney's struggle now is with life balance. While she wouldn't be where she is without social media, it can be hugely time-consuming she says.

"I'm conscious of being authentic. I don't want promote a whole-hearted lifestyle of good living and then be chained to the computer while my family are living their life."

Favourite meal: "Probably right now it would be a whole lot of beautiful, fresh seafood; gorgeous, ripe Northland tomatoes with olive oil and basil, fresh veges and avocados. That's all the stuff that I'm craving right now, being on the cusp of summer."

HANNAH HORTON, 29, food blogger and co-owner of Mondays wholefoods cafe in Kingsland

Hannah Horton isn't keen on diets or labels but if she had to describe herself, it would be a "wholefoods pescetarian".

She says it with laughter, while taking a break from Mondays - the cafe she and food blogger Eleanor Ozich opened in May last year - to talk.

Her philosophy extends to the cafe, an ivy-clad gem tucked away off Kingsland's main street. Healthy, yes, but not so strict as to frown on the cafe's popular banana chocolate fudge smoothie. "We're not purely raw or vegan or 100 per cent gluten-free. Our number one goal is wholefoods, so nothing processed, no refined sugars, nothing bad for you, nothing packaged."

Instead, the focus is on making yummy food.

"We're really trying to make it tasty, delicious, full of flavour, well-seasoned."

Horton describes herself as a typical Kiwi girl brought up on meat, three veg, toast and Milo. From the age of 12, she and her three sisters were encouraged to cook a meal each week. Now she doesn't follow any one diet but eats plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, beans, lentils, seeds, some fish and eggs from her chickens. And dark chocolate - "just because".

There's nothing wrong with the occasional fish and chips at the beach, or with a glass of wine, she says, or eating meat, sparingly. "A healthy lifestyle should be a joy, not a struggle."

Food wasn't always Horton's thing. She did a commerce degree at the University of Auckland, with post-graduate study in environmental management, then worked as a sustainability consultant. A job at Snapfresh Foods, which produces pre-packaged produce for supermarkets, started her thinking about food. It was then she started writing her blog, Health, Yeah!, eventually adding healthy recipes.

That led to linking up with Ozich, who owns My Petite Kitchen, and very quickly the two women decided to go into business together - starting the cafe, a catering business and supplying made-to-order food via the website.

Now, on busy weekends, people queue at the rustic cafe for treats like buckwheat cardamom and cinnamon waffles with yoghurt, balsamic berry chia jam, crushed macadamia nuts and maple syrup.

Horton admits it's "very hard work, long hours" but she wouldn't have it any other way. Social media has given food bloggers a huge presence, however, it's the behind-the-scenes effort that pays off, she says.

"I'm old school. I believe with cafes it is about your reputation, your locals and repeat customers and your relationships with them."

Favourite meal: "I love anything Mediterranean or Vietnamese. The quickest way to my heart is simple rice paper rolls with a miso dipping sauce, or a beautiful Tuscan platter full of beautiful olives, roasted veges and glorious dips."

OLIVIA SCOTT, 23, owner of The Raw Kitchen in Ponsonby, and food blogger

When Olivia Scott made a raw cacao, ginger and rhubarb cake, photographed and put it on Instagram two and half years ago, she had no idea it would lead to a full-blown career as a foodie.

Back then she was finishing a commerce degree at Victoria University, unsure of what she wanted to do.

Now, at 23, Scott has already made startling progress - a cafe in Ponsonby, an online business selling raw cakes, a blog and Facebook page, with time left over to help her partner at a new juice bar in the City Works Depot in Auckland. She's just opened a wellness centre next to the cafe, where she'll run workshops to teach people how to prepare her raw food recipes. And, if that's not enough, she's also writing a cookbook, The Raw Kitchen Cookbook, due out in April.

Making raw cakes wasn't really supposed to be a business, she says, just a creative outlet while she was studying. But after people started asking her to make cakes to order she thought, "Why not?"

Scott did a deal with the owners of a cafe in K Rd's St Kevin's Arcade, using their kitchen at night to make cakes in return for a weekly jar of her Bliss Balls, heavenly-but-healthy raw truffles. She launched her website, started selling cakes and the Raw Kitchen brand took off. Next came a move to a bigger kitchen in Ponsonby and a stall at Parnell's La Cigale market last year. Then, in January, The Raw Kitchen cafe opened its doors in Ponsonby. Scott acknowledges her timing couldn't be better, boosted by a surge of interest in raw foods from a clientele who follow their chosen diet with religious zeal.

"The cafe gets busier and busier every month that we are open," she says.

Scott's one concession to "cooked" food at the cafe is to use a dehydrator to dry raw crackers, bread, muesli, pizza and lasagne.

It was Scott's gran, Anne McCabe, who has been the strongest influence in her life. Born in an era when computers didn't exist, McCabe lived in a solar-powered house on Rakino Island, growing vegetables and fruit, fishing and keeping chooks. Young Scott spent school holidays there and, subconsciously, absorbed her grandmother's ways.

Scott's gone one step further, mounting an argument for her raw philosophy. Raw food, she says, gives the body a direct blast of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. Cooking, she argues, destroys some of that goodness. "I followed a strictly raw vegan diet for a couple of years. I felt happier, more alive."

These days Scott's not quite as strict. She's still mainly vegan but will eat cooked food and meat now and then.

"Raw is amazing but it's definitely a way of life. It's important to never say 'never' to anything because then you end up wanting it even more."

Favourite meal: "My partner, Joss, is a chef and I love anything Ottolenghi-style [Jerusalem-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi] with its North African Moroccan influences, food with lots of spices and eggplant, baba ghanoush, pomegranate seeds."

SOPHIE CAREW, 31, founder of Carew Kitchen

It was one of the worst moments of Sophie Carew's life that changed the way she led it.

Late one night on a dark road between Brisbane to Sydney, the van in which she was a passenger slammed into a truck which had jack-knifed across the road.

It took emergency rescue workers an hour to cut Carew free of the wreckage. Every limb was broken and she spent two weeks in ICU at Coffs Harbour, and several more months in hospital before being flown back to Auckland. Her career as a brand manager for Australian fashion labels was over. Carew needed to learn to walk again, learn to live with pain and undergo two years of physiotherapy.

Her mother, Sally, took over as her daughter's full-time carer and sister Jess left her job in Sydney to return to Auckland to help.

The Carew family are tight. Sally had been suddenly widowed at 28, leaving her with three little girls, aged 3, 6 and 7, to raise.

No surprises, then, that when Sophie decided to go into the almond nut milk business, the Carew crew rallied round. Sisters Jess, busy with a career at Ester Lauder, and Scarlet, mother of a new baby boy, Arlo, gave up weekends to help, while Sophie and their mother made the milk in a commercial kitchen at Matakana, near their home.

What started as a tentative experiment on Instagram soon became a cottage industry, with the Carew sisters selling the milk at the Grey Lynn markets.

It was the devastating after-effects of the accident that caused Carew to rethink her future. Living on morphine, valium and pain-killers, Carew felt miserable.

She consulted a naturopath and began following a wholefood, sugar-free, preservative-free diet. She was advised to avoid dairy and began making her own almond milk after realising supermarket versions had a very low almond content.

Using unpasturised almonds, the Carew mother-and-daughter team soak the nuts overnight before combining them with filtered water and dates (for sweetening) and blending. The mixture is strained several times to get a smooth consistency with a 15 per cent almond content.

What to do with the by-product - kilos of almond meal - is still a puzzle.

"We have so much of it we've been giving it away to family and friends," says Carew. "We also give some to a local animal sanctuary because it is high in protein, and to the buffaloes down the road." Her long-term aim is to appoint a contract manufacturer to produce the milk, and expand sales nationwide. She also hopes to increase the range to include flavours like cacao, cashew and hazelnut.

But right now, Carew and her mother spend long days making and bottling the milk, followed by a 4.30am start the next day to deliver it to more than 30 Auckland cafes, restaurants and retailers. Carew has had the almond milk tested by a laboratory and assessed by a nutritional panel and is proud of the high vitamin and mineral content.

"It's so good to see and to have that proof."

Favourite meal: "I would probably have to say roast chicken with roast vegetables. They're my favourite. There's something about that on a Sunday, it brings the family together. I think it's the memories and the food that go together."