Compassion is what drives Murrieta ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon Dr. John McGuire to help local residents find solutions to better health and it is that same, deep-seated quality that inspires him to foster better nutrition in the homeless in North San Diego County.
A year ago, in addition to his busy medical practice, McGuire began developing Project Raw, a social venture that takes on the twin problems of food waste and food insecurity.
“Food insecure populations are those that do not have regular access to healthy meals,” explained McGuire, citing the homeless and recovering addicts as examples. “This is a social justice issue and it is fixable.”
Hoping to launch his idea into a large-scale effort, McGuire enlisted the help of his brother, entrepreneur and medical device distributor Brian McGuire, and friend and former Major League Baseball Player Cole Liniak.
During Project Raw’s one-year start-up phase, the trio “rescued” 6.5 tons of food and re-purposed it into 22,000 highly nutritional green smoothies served to homeless in area shelters.
“The food we use to produce the smoothies is from donations of fresh produce with a short remaining shelf life that have been given to local shelters; they can’t use them quickly enough and too much goes to waste,” said McGuire. “We rescue what can’t be used in time, clean it, freeze it, and save it to use in the smoothies.” Shelters that Project Raw works with in North San Diego County include Bread of Life, La Posada, Casa Rafael, Operation Hope, and soon – Brother Benno’s.
Before serving the smoothies at the shelters, McGuire said the trio educates the residents and explains the benefits of the nutrient-rich drinks.
“Some of this population is the ‘worst of the worst’ nutritionally; chronically homeless; they typically don’t like anything that is green,” said McGuire. But, after they listen to the information, they “buy in” to the idea, he said, and begin to look forward to [the smoothies] since they find them easier to enjoy than the produce in its original form.
Shelter residents have found talks by Liniak to be enlightening in an additional way as well.
“Because of his Major League Baseball background, the people at the shelters enjoy hearing him speak,” said McGuire. “Cole really engages them when he starts talking about the times he was homeless as a child.”
McGuire said many of the individuals Project Raw assists have battled drug addictions, with many actively in recovery programs. While addiction is a complex physical and mental disease, recent studies show distinct correlation between drug dependence and malnutrition.
“The data showing the relationship between nutrition and recovery is astounding; drug addictions in some cases can be related to food cravings,” he said. “Malnutrition in society is also connected in some aspects to crime.”
McGuire said because many of the homeless have openly expressed that they “want to get better and be rehabilitated” is inspiring to him.
One thing important to clarify is that Project Raw “blends,” versus “juices.”
“Blending retains more fiber, which has a cleansing effect,” said McGuire. “The fiber slows down the digestive system in a good way and gives a person a more satiated feeling.”
A typical blend prepared by Project Raw and served at the shelters would include bananas, kale, spinach, pears, apples and blueberries, since foods high in nutritional value help balance depleted bodies and minds.
“We also sometimes bring add-ins that were not part of the raw food rescued, such as coconut shavings, chia seeds, and almonds,” he said.
Reports published on advisable nutrition for recovering addicts have stated, “fruits and vegetables are the most important foods in recovery since they are high in vitamins and minerals and low in fat and calories.”
Understanding that society’s need in this area will be ongoing, McGuire and his partners in Project Raw are working to secure corporate sponsorships and other avenues to make the effort sustainable for the long term.
“We know we can’t change the world, but we can change a little bit,” said McGuire. “The return on investment in society is huge.”
An official Launch Party will be held for Project Raw on Wednesday evening, February 12, at 7 p.m. at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Open to the public, the evening will include a silent auction, raffle giveaway, keynote address by Dr. McGuire, and live music by the band Terraplane Sun with Sister Juanita. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this event will go to support Project Raw and its efforts. Tickets to the event ($14 general admission, $24 VIP) can be obtained by calling (858) 481-8140. For more information on the many aspects of this effort, visit www.projectraw.org.