By Chris Gerbasi
Karen Trawick’s kitchen is cooking up a plant-based movement.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
Karen Trawick doesn’t have anything against “conventional” medicine—open-heart surgery saved her husband’s life. But she needed a different form of medicine to save her own life.
After she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 54 in February 2016, Karen decided against chemotherapy and radiation and instead researched holistic treatments. She switched to an organic, plant-based diet, and took supplements and IV treatments to boost her immune system. Within two months, she was taken off all medications for her various ailments. Within nine to 11 months, she lost 50 pounds and her cancer was in remission.
A plant-based diet is considered “stricter” than veganism, because vegans eat carbs, sugars, and oils, Karen says. After her diagnosis, she felt she had to go all in with plant-based foods.
“Was it too extreme? Cancer’s pretty extreme. That’s about as extreme as you can get,” Karen says. “I did think I needed to go extreme. It was my life.”
Karen didn’t stop at her diet. She wanted to help other people who were going through similar health challenges. While she was fighting cancer, the longtime chef gained certification as an integrative nutrition health coach. Last year, she and some partners opened a kitchen and meal planning service.
They recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of Get Back 2 Basics, 205 W. Washington St., Suite B, Minneola. Customers can dine in or carry out from 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday (352.348.1893). The business is so popular, she expects to open another location in March at the new Montrose Street Market in downtown Clermont.
To Karen’s knowledge, Get Back 2 Basics is the only 100-percent plant-based, organic restaurant in South Lake County. She creates all of the menu items from vegetables and fruits with no animal, dairy, soy, sugar, or processed products, and limited use of oils. She uses fresh organic produce from Bountiful Farms in Okahumpka and other local sources. Organic means the food has been certified by the government as free of chemicals and pesticides.
Customer favorites include raw salads, quesadillas (spinach and mushroom), the Tex-Mex bowl (black beans, mushrooms, peppers, brown rice), the Buddha bowl (quinoa, chickpeas, greens), and the Beast Burger, a beets, veggies, and pea protein patty that customers say tastes just like a beef burger. And the portabella burger is a juicy burger-size mushroom cap with toppings that include a big tuft of sprouts.
The chili is chunky and tastes very good, even to a meat lover, maybe because “people swear there’s meat in my chili,” Karen says. “It’s amazing. You can’t tell the difference.”
She also makes non-dairy versions of “cheese” and even “bacon” bits from dehydrated pinto beans. Her queso, which has a roasted garlic flavor, was perfected over eight months and can be used on burgers or as a dip for organic chips.
“It just tastes good, so if it tastes good and it’s giving you more benefits, why wouldn’t you try it and eat it?” she says of her dishes.
Karen also customizes orders based on dietary needs. Many customers are patients with cancer or other illnesses—such as fibromyalgia, celiac disease, and kidney, liver, and autoimmune issues—who have been referred to Karen’s kitchen by their doctors.
But the biggest clientele is people who simply want to eat healthier. The veganism trend is exploding because people are starting to question where their food comes from, she says.
“My rule is, if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” Karen says. “If it has more than five ingredients, don’t eat it. If it’s made in a plant, like a manufacturing plant, don’t eat it. If it comes from a plant, eat it.”
Karen’s husband, David, is about 90 percent on board with plant-based foods following his heart surgery scare. Her menu also is enjoyed by staff members, including Marie Howd, who is one of Karen’s success stories.
They became fast friends when Karen received a grant from the Greater Clermont Cancer Foundation, where Marie serves as event coordinator. The foundation is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that assists cancer patients and their families with expenses. Karen needed financial aid because insurance doesn’t cover most holistic medicine options.
Marie says she always had weight issues and her doctor had urged her to try plant-based foods for years. She gradually changed her diet as she learned more from Karen and lost 40 pounds.
“I started to like more and more of the plant-based (food) because I realized it doesn’t just have cardboard flavor,” Marie says. “Then the weight just started dropping off.”
She says her health has taken a 180-degree turn for the better: she’s been able to drop medications for blood pressure, prediabetes, and fibromyalgia. She attributes that directly to the plant-based lifestyle because she had tried many other diets and workouts over the years.
Get Back 2 Basics has been a “godsend.”
“I can come here and I can have anything I want on the menu and it’s not going to harm me,” Marie says. “It makes me feel better. I eat and I feel like I ate a good meal without feeling heavy.”
Karen wants to spread the word about the foundation (gccf.us or 352.435.3202) because many people are in need and may not be aware assistance is available.
“When you’re diagnosed, you don’t know what to do. You’re scared, you’re confused, you don’t know where to turn,” she says.
She also credits an “amazing” holistic practitioner, Dr. Jeffrey Mueller, of Whole Family Healthcare in Winter Park, who guided her toward appropriate treatments. At the time of her diagnosis, Karen also had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep problems, anxiety, and heart palpitations. Today, all of her test numbers indicate she’s healthy, and her cancer remains in remission.
“I’ve never felt better in my life,” she says. “My body’s healed, and I keep it that way by eating this way.”
Karen’s mission statement is to educate, motivate, and inspire people in her community to live a healthier, happier lifestyle. To that end, she tells her story to cancer support groups, conducts health workshops, and teaches cooking classes at her kitchen.
“That’s why we opened, to show people that there is another way, that you don’t have to do things that harm your body,” Karen says. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
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