Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with Donna Prizgintas
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

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Donna Prizgintas
Biz background: Prizgintas started in the natural foods industry cooking in a restaurant in Philadelphia in 1972. She was the founding chef for the Painted Turtle Camp, the first of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps to serve organic food. In addition to cooking for celebrities, she coordinates culinary events for environmental organizations, including The Environmental Media Institute and The Land Institute.
Claim to fame: “There are two events of which I am very proud: cooking for the annual [Natural Products Expo West] fund-raiser for Organic Farming Research Foundation and introducing the Environmental Media Association to the concept that ‘eating is an environmental activity.’ We created its annual organic star-studded event feeding 1,000 Hollywood industry members organic food prepared by the most creative chefs in Los Angeles.”

Culinary director and private chef Donna Prizgintas cooks for Hollywood clients and organic food and wine events, including the Environmental Media Association and the Organic Farming Research Foundation. She believes strongly in preserving the family meal tradition she knew growing up in Galesburg, Illinois, and she encourages her clients to eat healthy meals created in an environmentally sound way. She's working on her first cookbook.

Donna Prizgintas is a renowned chef and advocate of natural foods. She has catered such large and prominent events as the Environmental Media Association (EMA) Awards and the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s annual Natural Products Expo. She has also served as personal chef to Paul Newman and other discriminating celebrities. Donna’s focus is on delicious, simple fare, healthy lifestyles, and fresh, organic foods. She has contributed to such magazines as Delicious Living and is currently compiling her first cookbook.

We asked Donna how she came to be known as the “Organic Chef to the Stars.” According to Donna, “I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. I was always very interested in food and agriculture and consciousness; I practically grew up with the organic food industry. This is how I eat. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research into things I wanted for my family. Then I’ve leveraged that in my professional life. My clients are celebrities, but they’re also families with young children. So their issues are really the same.

“When I moved to Los Angeles sixteen years ago, I was a single mom and my best skill was cooking. Although I have many fabulous friends who are restaurant chefs, I’m not a restaurant chef, and I don’t want to be a restaurant chef. Instead of cooking a plate of food, I like to cook for a person or a set of people. So I just went to a domestic agency, and the first job I got was with Sally Fields.”

We asked if her clients have typically been seeking an organic chef, or if she has had to convert them to the benefits of organic foods. Donna replied, “I always tell my clients, ‘I will cook you anything you want. But I use organic product.’ Generally, their response has been, ‘As long as it tastes good, buy whatever you want, Donna.’ With these clients, cost is not really an issue. They just want what they want. If they want carrot soup, they get organic carrot soup. The best I can find.

“My true specialty is sourcing. I know enough about agriculture to understand what the differences are say between grass-fed beef, natural beef, and organic beef. I’m a very conscientious shopper, and I spend a lot of time learning and understanding and keeping current with agricultural as well as nutritional information. A lot of times these are separate fields. Agriculture environmentalists are doing one thing. Nutritionists are doing another thing. Chefs are doing something else. I’ve put myself in all three worlds because – holistically – this is all one package.

“Everybody has a different concept about what’s healthy. And generally, after I’ve had a client for a certain time, there is a shift. I’m not heavy on education until the client asks questions. They see the products that I bring in. They see the labels. They certainly see their food bill, and they know where I’m shopping. But I don’t try to convert them into vegetarians or anything. I give them what they want.”

Is this also true of your corporate clients? “I’ve had to sell some of them. When Debbie Levine became executive director of EMA, she attended an Organic Farming Research Foundation luncheon that I did in L.A. I told her, ‘I think EMA should be doing this, too,’ and she agreed. So, we did this big event. Earthbound Farms came, and we decorated the entire thing like a farmer’s market. They brought a whole semi of produce and it was gorgeous. We had really good chefs with really good organic product, and we made that part of the EMA presentation. It has been very successful for them. They’ve earned a reputation for having the best food of any fundraiser in town—and it’s all organic.”

Does healthy eating imply vegetarianism? Debbie reflected, “One of the advantages of becoming a vegetarian is that it gets you out of the meat-and-potato, mainstream mindset. It introduces you to grains and other products that are rarely included in the American diet. So, in that sense, it can be a remarkable life change.

“The term ‘healthy eating’ often evokes some mix of organic, vegetarian and ‘local grown.’ Unfortunately, the practical reality is that it’s almost impossible to do all three in today’s world. There is a couple up in Seattle writing a column called ‘The Hundred Mile Diet.’ They try to eat only produce grown within a one hundred mile radius. They had been vegans, but they soon discovered that you can’t really be a vegan and do that. Where is your tofu coming from? Where are the soybeans coming from? In most areas, the combination of ‘buy local’ and veganism is not sustainable. Not with the current state of food production and distribution.

“Organic agriculture is becoming big business. For the last several years, it has experienced a twenty-percent plus growth rate, whereas conventional agriculture has pretty much flat-lined. Everybody in the food business is looking at those numbers and licking their chops. That’s good news and bad. It has been a hard thing for the founders of organic agriculture to deal with, because now there are huge organic agricultural interests like Earthbound Farm and Tao Organics. These guys are really big mono-crop farmers, applying organic techniques to industrial agriculture. In some respects, that’s a marvelous thing. They are raising awareness and greatly increasing the availability of organic products. Plus every acre in organic production is that much less pesticide finding its way into the earth and into our food and water supplies. But a lot of smaller organic producers are very unhappy with the federalization of the organic standards. When larger producers get into the business, it tends to drive down the organic premium that keeps small farmers in business. That worries the Farm Aid people; their whole focus is on preserving small family farms and local diversity.

“People need to realize that ‘organic’ is an agricultural production methodology. ‘Buy local’ is a distribution philosophy. You’ve got two issues here. It is easy to confuse them, though, because initially only small farmers produced organically.

“I guess I should say ‘farmers and ranchers.’ Organic techniques are a way to make all foods – and food production – healthier. It’s not just about fruits, vegetables and grains. Take beef, for example. We’ve only been grain-feeding cattle for about the last one hundred years, as a way to put extra poundage on them. That’s not good for the cattle, and it’s not good for humans. It adds unhealthy saturated fats to the meat that we then ingest. Cattle are meant to eat grass. Grass-fed beef has a different fatty acid profile. It is actually much healthier for us and doesn’t present the same cholesterol problem.

“Grass-feeding is also much healthier for the cows and the land. There are many spectacular examples of old mining sites being reclaimed simply by rotational grazing of cattle. The cattle’s hooves break the topsoil, allowing moisture to penetrate better. And they’re also grinding in their dung, which is fertilizer. Environmentally speaking, these lands can be best managed with cattle on them and should never be put into grain production.

“Milk is another example. I suspect that a lot of what we label ‘lactose intolerance’ these days is not true lactose intolerance. Clearly, a certain percent of the population has a genuine milk allergy. But the pasteurization and homogenization of almost all dairy products today causes them to be very un-natural products. I would not be surprised if many people who have allergic reactions to processed dairy could safely eat a less processed form.

“Homogenization changes the fat structure in the milk, making the fat molecules smaller so that they remain evenly dispersed throughout the milk. It’s a process that was created to address distribution problems – a sanitation issue that was handled one way, and could be handled a different way if we changed the paradigm. As is often the case in the food industry, homogenization and pasteurizing mostly benefit the producer. They certainly do not benefit the consumer nutritionally. Any really fabulous cheese-maker will tell you that the natural enzymes in raw milk make better cheeses. Yet raw milk is illegal in most states. There are currently quite a few groups trying to get those laws changed.”

We asked if Donna sees organic becoming ‘hip,’ and whether the phenomenon appears to be global or local. She laughed, “Although people think L.A. is so fabulously hip, hip and conscious are two different things. Fortunately, sometimes there’s an overlap. At the global level, people are waking up to the problems in our environment. They’re realizing that we can’t continue to deplete or contaminate the resources in one area and just move on to another. We don’t have any places left to move on to, so we’re either going to solve this problem or we’re not.

“What I love about dealing with food is it’s a non-expendable thing. If we all had to, we could live without VCRs. But we all require water, air, and food. Wendell Barry says that eating is an agricultural activity. I like to say, ‘Eating is an environmental activity.’ The most effective, immediately personal way that we can be good environmentalists is to change our food buying habits. Even if we’re just going to Whole Foods or Safeway and buying organic carrots – not only is that better for us, it’s better for the environment.”



The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

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