Summer Rayne Oakes loves to move. When we meet for a coffee in Union Square, Manhattan, she has just run over the Williamsburg Bridge and is planning a short gym session to do a bit of strength training before she makes her way back to the greenhouse that is her home. She grew up with a mother who was extremely athletic. “She did tap, ballet, aerobics…” But given her healthy and active lifestyle, her mother was self-conscious about her body. At a young age, Summer decided that she never wanted to have that relationship with her own body and made the decision to view having an active lifestyle through a different lens than her mother did. “I developed the disposition of being joyful that my body could actually do things. I loved being able to move. It’s a slight shift in your mind, but you end up being less focused on trimming inches off of your waist and you are more about getting up and dancing one day or going on a run another, to focus on movement and the joy of moving.”

Growing up, Summer was exposed to healthy eating and fresh ingredients. “My mom was a massive health nut. She fed us sunflower burgers, those Wheaties with no sugar on top, you know the ones that look like giant loofahs.” She recalls laughing. “We always had fresh food when we were growing up. We had a garden, we had an orchard, we had fresh chicken eggs, and we had a goat, so we had fresh goats milk…” With such a healthy diet, Summer developed a bit of an attraction to the forbidden- sugar. “Whenever I saw sugar I would completely hoard it.”

 

This “sugar reliance” has carried over to adulthood for the model and sustainability consultant who once ran her own sustainable fashion company and now consults for Good Eggs, the San Francisco and Brooklyn based startup which brings local groceries from farmers and local food makers right to your door. Summer recently was at the Good Eggs office where she had a sugary epiphany. She recounts, “ I was at the Good Eggs office and a giant red velvet cake came down the stairs. I had this feeling like oh my god I have to eat that, and if there weren’t 30 other people around I would eat the whole thing. I thought, ‘I really need to do something about this.’“

So she embarked on a three month “sugar detox” to get rid of, or at least tame her reliance. “I started to read a lot of books and watch a lot of videos and learned about how sugar really changes the bio chemical pathways in our brain and it kind of made me mad! I thought, this is terrible that this is all in our food and it is ubiquitous. It felt really empowering for me to make the decision to take control.”

In addition to consulting for Good Eggs, Summer is a subscriber and realized what a great resource she had in the ingredients she was constantly sent through the service. “I have access to really wonderful ingredients and its super convenient. So I said to myself, ‘alright I am going to take advantage of this and learn how to cook and experiment with different ingredients without using sugars.’ I reached out to my friends and had dinners for 4-6 people and would make all these new dishes for them.”

 

I feel like I can do anything with an avocado now!

Bringing people into her home is something Summer loves to do, and the detox gave her yet another reason to invite people over. It gave her the opportunity to test her new dishes. Additionally, it provided her with the support she needed to get through the three month process.  The meals ended up yielding even more than just company and support. One of her meals inspired a new friend to invite her on an impromptu trip to Burning Man. “When you invite people into your home and you make a home cooked meal for them it just changes the whole dynamic. One of my friends who I hadn’t hung out with that much, I invited him over for one of these dinners and shortly after I got a phone call at 2am from him saying ‘I’m on a private jet, I’m going to burning man, and I got you a ticket – let’s go!’ Of course I didn’t pick up at 2am, but I don’t think that would have happened unless I welcomed him and made him feel a little more like family. That is what food does – it really connects us. You look at humor, food, clothing, and music. Those are all things that connect us. If we use those wisely, we will be able to feel more connected to our fellow human beings.”

 

Being with friends ended up evolving Summer’s personal detox into a shareable and social activity.  “It allowed me to be more successful in my own sugar detox. My friends were not only supportive but they actually took the journey with me. I also started putting up the recipes to make them available to everyone and started to hear from others about how they felt shackled down by the food they eat and the sugar that they feel burdened by. So it became a really great way to interact with people I knew and even people I had never met.”

Through it all Summer never let sugar become an enemy. “It was July 4th and I was at my uncle’s house and I told them I was going on a sugar detox. But that didn’t mean they didn’t have a bunch of dessert there. They had these amazing fudge bars and I said ‘I am going to take a few of these home for after my detox.’ My uncle made the comment of ‘you are doing so well, why would you want to take those home and tempt yourself?’ I said ‘I don’t want to feel guilty anytime I reach for something. I would like to consider possibly eating them afterwards!’”

With such an inspiring and fun first round, Summer is excited to embark on a second, Winter edition detox. “I want to do it through the winter months. It’s easier to do in the summer months because you are outside more, running around, working out. In the winter you are inside, you don’t go out, you find yourself eating potatoes every week. It’s more of a challenge!”

This time around, she hopes to gain even more knowledge about cooking without sugars. Becoming more inventive and resourceful with healthy ingredients was her ultimate takeaway. “I feel like I can do anything with an avocado now!”

 

** Interested in your own Sugar Detox? Check out Summer’s 30 day diary here: http://www.sugardetox.me/ for inspiration & recipes!

THE FOOD LIFE Q&A

  • Occupation

    Model at NEXT Model Management / Community Engagement with Good Eggs

  • Born

    Northeastern Pennsylvania

  • Current Location

    Brooklyn, New York

  • Last Thing you Ate

    A grilled cheese with fresh sliced apples and buttered sage along with some baked cauliflower with toasted pine nuts and parsley and a red cabbage and watermelon radish salad.

  • Tastiest thing you have ever made

    I love my chilled avocado soup—but people tell me that my roasted chicken is the best ever! I usually marinate the chicken the night before and cook it in a clay pot, so by the time it’s done, it just falls off the bone.

  • Cookbooks & recipes? Or improvisation

    Recipes for inspiration. Improvisation in reality. As a child I was never able to follow paint-by-numbers so following someone else’s recipe isn’t really my thing either.

  • Soundtrack in your kitchen

    I can go a couple different ways when I cook. My home is so zen that I can go with a Tranquil Landscapes soundtrack—or more often than not I listen to audio books on Audible or a favorite podcast like RadioLab or Joe Rogan.

  • Favorite food city

    Well, I may have a tendency to overlook NYC. We have so much GREAT food right here at our fingertips—Italian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian. Though I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Sydney. They have excellent Punjabi cuisine, which I feel as if we lack around here.

  • I always have ________ in my Kitchen

    Honey

  • Go-to condiment

    Olive Oil

  • What is your kitchen "uniform"

    I’m always armed with a sense of humor — and patience.

  • What is your food "kryptonite"

    Honey. I collect different honeys from all parts of the globe that I have a tendency to put it with everything.

  • If you could eat a meal prepared by anyone in the world who would it be

    Ferran adriià. I’m fascinated by his work and love how he combines the worlds of art, science and taste.

  • Weirdest/most adventurous thing you have ever eaten

    I’ve eaten probably close to a dozen different types of insects—mealworms, cockroaches, termites and crickets just to name a few. And I thought it was pretty novel at the time to have eaten smut soup, which is a delicacy in some cultures—like Mexico where it’s known as huitlacoche

  • If you had to be the spokesperson for a food or beverage what would it be

    That’s easy. San Pellegrino. I drink so much of that stuff!

  • Are there any family recipes or food traditions that have been handed down to you?

    Both of my parents are gardeners—so they’ve passed on some good stir fry, grilled veggie recipes…My mom LOVES making pineapple-zucchini bread, but I’m not a big bread eater—but agree the recipe was delicious!

  • If it's true 'you are what you eat' - what are you

    55% San P; 35% veggie & fruits; and 10% other fine foods.

  • What is the "recipe" for success according to you

    Having a purpose in life, a love for the journey, and really awesome, supportive friends whom you also love and support.

  • Last Meal

    Something really comforting…probably something like BBQ pulled pork, a giant kale salad and a chocolate lava cake…God that sounds so decadent!

  • What's Your Food Philosphy

    Know thy food.

  • What’s your comfort food

    Have you had those Hail Merry chocolate tarts? The chocolate ganaches have very little sugar and are to die for!

  • Favorite Childhood Snack

    My grandmother’s rice krispie treats. I think she used double the amount of butter in those. And my mom was a health nut—so anytime I could get my hands on those, I was smitten.

  • Favorite Part of Your Job

    Not to sound too Miss America, but lnowing that it contributes to something much greater than myself.

  • Favorite plants in your home & why

    My ivy plants are a fave; they grow like gangbusters. And I particularly love red marantas. The upper portions of their leaves unfurl and look hand-painted and at night they close up and show off their deep aubergine undersides.

  • Tell us a bit more about your pets!

    I raise exotic insects in my home—and no! not for food! But I’ve been raising insects since I was 9 years old, so just continued with it year after year.