I first met Patricia Bragg years ago at Natural Products Expo West, the annual Southern California trade show that attracts nearly 60,000 people each March. Dressed in head-to-toe pink and donning her signature straw hat adorned with faux flowers, the 4-foot-10 powerhouse had dozens of people waiting in line to meet her. Her father, Paul C. Bragg, founder of Bragg Live Foods, opened the country’s first health food store in 1912 and is credited with starting the natural food movement in America. Patricia, who worked alongside her father until he passed away 36 years ago, now heads up the company, is a best-selling author (9 million copies of Apple Cider Vinegar—Miracle Health System have sold worldwide), and runs a 120-acre organic farm (which also doubles as the Bragg headquarters) just outside of Santa Barbara, CA. A lifelong vegetarian, the influence of Patricia and her family—on everyone from Cloris Leachman, Dick Gregory, and the Beach Boys to Katy Perry, George Clooney, and Donald Trump—continues to reach nearly every corner of the world.
VegNews: Congratulations on the 100-year anniversary of Bragg Foods. What an amazing accomplishment. How has the business lasted 100 years?
Patricia Bragg: What motivates us most is changing people’s lives. We’re thrilled when people go from sickness to healthy living after learning about the power of fresh food. Our goal has always been to be health crusaders, which is something my father said from the very beginning.
VN: What was your household like growing up?
PB: People knew he was the boss, of the business and the family. We had our principles we lived by: There was no smoking, no swearing, no bad words, no white sugar, no white bread. Only healthy food, and we grew everything we possibly could ourselves on our little farm in Walnut Creek, CA. We lived in peace and never locked our house.
VN: Were you raised vegetarian?
PB: Yes, since birth. The thought of eating dead flesh—what a terrible thought.
VN: How did your father start on his health food crusade?
PB: They say necessity is the mother of invention. When my father was in boarding school, he received a scholarship to a very expensive military school after saving a wealthy man from drowning in the ocean. He probably wasn’t thrilled about the military part, but he thought it was a great honor. Well, many boys at the school got tuberculosis, including my dad. After being moved to a third sanatorium, where he was getting sicker and sicker, he met a Swiss exchange nurse who saved his life and taught him how to get healthy. You see, in the old days, they forced bed rest on you, closed the windows, and your body would just shrivel up. You didn’t get proper food. And they wondered why so many people were dying of TB. So this Swiss nurse told him that in Switzerland, people were being cured from tuberculosis with sunshine, fresh food, massage, and water therapy. After getting better, my father made a pact that he’d spend the rest of his life being a health crusader.
VN: These principles make so much sense, but why are we still having such a hard time convincing America of what it takes to be healthy?
PB: Unfortunately, there’s a lot of commercial things that bring people down. The drug industry, the commercial food industry, the sugar industry, the flour industry—they’ve all gotten a stranglehold on America’s food habits. I think they make things so complicated that it confuses people. Keep your life simple, and remember you are what you eat. It’s as simple as that. What you’re eating and drinking can bring you health or sickness.
VN: Your dad opened the first health food store in Los Angeles in 1912 and later traveled for eight to 10 months per year promoting the benefits of juicing, fasting, and healthy food. What was it like to travel around the country with your family?
PB: We went all over America. We scheduled free lectures and then ask people, “Who wants to open the first health food store?” We would supply them with Bragg health foods (herbal teas, seven grain cereals, etc.) on consignment. And we would never ask for a dime until everything was sold. I remember that people were so loving and kind, and I loved it.
VN: Your father was also quite the media mogul, as he hosted popular programs on TV and the radio. Tell us about those.
PB: Dad pioneered radio (in the 1920s, he was on three times a day). He pioneered television with a program called Health and Happiness, where we had celebrities on, five days a week, half hour each. We would feature an exercise, a recipe, and a different guest each day. One day, we heard from the president of the American Medical Association because he wanted to be on the show. Our producer didn’t want him, but my dad said, “no problem.” So he came on and said, “Thank you for promoting health in America!”
VN: When did you get involved with the family business?
PB: I was ready to go off to Africa to be a missionary and was washing the dishes one night at home in Burbank. We lived right near Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Warner Brothers. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table. He said, “Patricia, would you mind giving me one year at Bragg Health Crusader? Just one year, and then go to Africa?” I said, “Just one year?” I went over to him and gave him a big hug and said, “Of course I will.” One year became a lifetime, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
VN: What is some of the best advice your father gave you?
PB: “Think, plot, follow-through.” He applied this to business, his personal life, and his financial life.
VN: In recent years, natural food stores have become flooded with packaged foods. How do feel about that?
PB: It’s very confusing. I’d like people to try to grow everything they can themselves. My father used to call them “victory gardens,” now I call them survival or health gardens. Take half your lawn and put in a garden. Take all your fences and walls of your home and have climbing squash, sugar peas, cherry tomatoes, and green beans, as they can all go up vines. During the Depression, families that did the best grew their own food. Now, we’ve gotten lazy.
VN: What are the worst offenders of the Standard American Diet?
PB: People are killing themselves with their knives and forks. If you’re going to eat dead, chemicalized, pesticized foods, I’m sorry, you’re going to get sick. My top offenders: dairy, coffee, sugar, refined foods, fat, fast foods, processed foods, and sugary drinks.
VN: Why do you think fasting is essential to good health?
PB: It cleanses and detoxes. It’s the miracle doctor within your body. All of a sudden, your body is not digesting, eliminating, and assimilating food. And the body workers can get in and clean house. That’s why it’s so vitally important that you learn to fast. Every religion has a period of fasting, and it’s been used for centuries to heal the sick. When you use it correctly, fasting can help reverse the aging process. I fast every Monday and the first three days of every month. My weight has never gone over 105 pounds, my cholesterol level is normal, and I’ve never had high blood pressure.
VN: I’ve heard about the virtues of apple cider vinegar for years and know it’s your top-selling product. What is so great about it?
PB: In 400 BC, Hippocrates treated his patients with apple cider vinegar because it was a powerful cleanser that heals. It’s a naturally occurring antibiotic and anticeptic, and it fights germs and bacteria in your body. It also lowers the glycemic index of a meal when taken with the meal or before it, so it’s very beneficial for diabetics.
VN: What are some of your own health secrets?
PB: I brush my body every day, fast every week, drink eight glasses of water a day, three with apple cider vinegar. After showering, I pour some diluted vinegar all over my body and dry myself with a Turkish towel. I then put a little organic olive oil on my face and gently rub it in. Three times a week, I give myself an olive oil massage.
VN: With your wealth of knowledge of maintaing good health, what do you eat on a typical day?
PB: Every morning, I drink a fruit smoothie. My father started smoothies, so I’m big on that. It’s filled with fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, spirulina powder, dates, almond butter, bananas, and purified water. For lunch, I’ll have a beautiful garden salad with raw beets, raw turnips, one or two radishes, two celery stalks, sugar snap peas, tender string beans, red cabbage, and cucumbers. I’ll have this with a little Bragg dressing. I used to make my own, but now this is so much more convenient. For dinner, I’ll have a fresh artichoke that I cut myself and steam in a steamer basket. I open the little leaves and stuff fresh garlic in there and a pinch of Bragg sprinkles. I’ll also have a baked yam with a little lecithin granules, which I use like butter. I don’t eat late at night and try to have dinner by 5:30pm.
VN: I’ve read for years your philosophy on age. Can you share it with our readers?
PB: I don’t believe in age. I feel ageless and believe in eternity. In my heart, I feel 18, so why should I give you an age? If I said “18,” you would think that was ridiculous. I don’t have an ache or pain, and I have no stiffness. Age is just in our head.
VN: I don’t know a single vegetarian who doesn’t have a bottle of Bragg Liquid Aminos in their pantry. Why is it unique?
PB: It’s a much healthier version of soy sauce. A lot of the ones on the market use preservatives, artificial color, caramel color, alcohol, and added salt. Bragg Liquid Aminos is non-fermented and lower in sodium than many brands. And we’re the only company using non-GMO soy beans. Even the Dalai Lama travels with a bottle everywhere he goes!
VN: How involved are you today with the day-to-day business?
PB: I live it, love it, and sleep it. I love my outreach and am very involved. I’ve been in the business for more than 55 years and am now president and CEO. And dad is with me on every decision.
Food for Thought from Patricia Bragg:
1. “Live food makes live people.”
2. “Fast regularly and help the body heal itself and stay well.”
3. “When you’re down, you have to get up and move on.”
4. “Your body carries you throughout life, so take care of it.”
5. “If you’re going to eat dead, chemicalized, pesticized foods, you’re going to get sick.”
Want to eat like Patricia? Check out her go-to morning smoothie recipe! Follow VegNews’ co-founder Colleen Holland on Facebook here.