Hesse’s journey toward sustainability started a few years ago when she was studying interior design at The Art Institute of California in San Diego.

Hesse was drawn to residential sustainability—which, she explains, can influence human behavior and lifestyle.

When tasked with designing a kitchen, she mulled ways to improve her concept and came up with an unusual solution: go vegan for one year.

“I think food is such a catalyst for so many issues with our health and issues in our environment and how they relate to each other,” she explains. “To be immersed in that [vegan] environment was a life-changing experience.”

“I was conventional before [the vegan diet]. I considered healthy eating to be SlimFast, yogurt and Diet Coke. Once I removed manufactured foods from my diet, I really noticed a positive effect on my health. I just felt so much better!” she says, gratefully. Even more gratifying, Hesse noticed beneficial changes in her son, a 10-year-old with autism. “As soon as I cleaned up his diet and removed manufactured foods, I saw a big change in him,” she says.

Despite her enthusiasm for this new healthful way of eating, Hesse did the unthinkable: She reverted (for herself only) to what she calls “a standard American diet for about a year” to compare her experiences. The upshot? “I just didn’t feel good when I was eating manufactured foods,” she says.

Her two-year experiment ignited her career as a personal chef specializing in meal planning for people with food restrictions and sensitivities. Although Hesse concedes she’s not a certified nutritionist, she does offer dietary consultations upon request to “help people examine what they’re eating [because] food is such an emotionally charged thing in our lives.”

For both her clients and herself, Hesse adheres to few cooking rules: Use the least-processed foods available, and use organic, locally sourced produce whenever possible. Eat lots of vegetables; use high-quality oils such as avocado, coconut and olive; unrefined sugars or sweeteners; and pink salts that contain essential minerals. If you eat meat, then make it sustainably sourced and organic whenever possible.

Hesse acknowledges that cooking has been a venue for her to educate and engage people about sustainable lifestyle choices. But she’s ready to broaden her approach.

“I’m a lifestyle designer, so I really want to influence change and help people understand the impact of the environment on our health,” she says. That’s why she volunteers for the La Mesa Environmental Sustainability Commission helping remove glyphosate herbicides from the environment and has begun tapping the real estate market.

“We have a housing crisis in this city,” she says. “I’d like to see properties that are more affordable and sustainable for people who actually need them.”

She adds, “One day I’d like to develop a merchandise lifestyle brand that would reflect my philosophy.”

Watch out, Martha.

For more information or to contact Hesse, visit About.me/maria.hesse

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