Melinda Archer's Story
Melinda Archer is a certifies Community Health Educator who is passionate about empowering people to live longer and stronger through diet and lifestyle choices. She has been a ‘Plant-based Ambassador’ for 10+ years, spreading the word on healthy- eating through Plant-based Cooking Classes, Grocery Store Tours, Kitchen Workshops and Vegan Cafe Nights. Initially trained as a teacher, she enjoyed teaching nutrition and simple cooking skills to teenagers. Melinda conducts regular plant-based cooking classes in her local community, in a volunteer capacity, and oversees the menu development and execution of boutique pop-up health retreats. She shares through her own health experiences and is currently studying to become a certified vegan chef. In this insightful interview, she reveals how being diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory disease helped her decide to take charge of her own health, and inspired her to help others on the same journey.
How did you become passionate about helping people with their health?
As a little girl, I remember helping my mother run vegetarian cooking classes in Papua New Guinea. It was a unique experience, sometimes using ground ovens and ingredients unknown to many Australians. My mother, Diane Butcher, had become a vegetarian at the age of 19 when she became a Seventh-day Adventist. She has been a great example of healthy living and cooking from my earliest memories. In 2008 a friend invited me to join her in doing a Community Health Education Presenter’s Course and this helped ground what I’d learned from experience, through scientific evidence. With a small group of friends in Toowoomba, Queensland, I eagerly started running my own vegetarian cooking classes. After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I became quite disheartened with what I perceived was my own ‘healthy lifestyle’. My specialists put me on serious drugs - steroids and immune suppressants - to bring my painful condition under control. I was determined that I would one day be drug-free and began the journey of trial- and-error diet and lifestyle research to finally discover my own drug-free path to wellness and vitality. The book, ‘Ministry of Healing’ provided a lot of great answers. I look back over this difficult and painful experience with gratefulness, I actually thank God for the experience of getting Crohn’s disease, as strange as that sounds! I am a much better health educator since being diagnosed with this auto-immune disease. I used to be so judgemental of people with poor health, thinking to myself: “If they would just do some exercise and eat healthfully they’d be ok!” Experience has taught me otherwise. I find I am much more empathetic now. I understand how hard it is to be sick and the difficulties of changing dietary and lifestyle habits.
I recently relocated from rural Queensland to the Newcastle area with my husband Julian, and we are loving long beach walks and exercising on the Fernleigh Track. I’m enjoying working with local health-enthusiasts to share the message of healthful living with my new community.
What does the life of a community health presenter look like?
My kitchen is my office. I spend at least four hours every day there, researching, testing, photographing and developing new recipes. I share my discoveries with a group of friends online. Most lunchtimes I have local friends around my table to give me feedback on the food I’ve created. It gives me so much joy to share recipes that help people
to live more vibrant, healthy lives. I feel that God has put this talent and knowledge into my hands, and I have to share it. We are told, after all, that “we are blessed to be a blessing”. I’ve been running cooking classes, grocery store tours, in-home Kitchen Workshops and Complete Health Improvement Programs for over 11 years now. It’s become part of my identity. I’m addicted to seeing that ‘aha!’ moment when people realise that they can be in charge of their own health.
What can people expect at one of your workshops?
It’s pretty simple, really. Usually between 5 to 7 recipes in each program, demonstrated and served in three courses: entree, main and dessert. Recipes are 100% plant-based and almost always gluten-free, and refined sugar free. I use as much fresh produce as I can because that’s the way I eat now. It’s a big part of how I manage to stay symptom-free even though I still have Crohn’s disease, in theory. I like to share from my own experience, of what has brought healing to my own body.
Do you have a philosophy around food, health and wellbeing?
My favourite philosophies are all borrowed from the experts. Here are my top picks:
• Australian Nutritionist Sue Radd, “Every meal is an opportunity to either heal or harm”.
•Author and whole-food advocate, Professor Michael Pollan, “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”
What is the one thing you wish everybody knew that would help them take charge of their health?
You really can bring healing to your body by just giving it the right environment. God created our cells to self-heal when given the right conditions. I know that’s an oversimplification and some diseases are too far along to be cured by this philosophy, but I have found through my own experience that this is true, and I thank God for helping me make the necessary discoveries that have given me the vibrant life I now enjoy. I try to ask myself at every meal, “Is this real food? Will it heal me or harm me?” It’s a good habit to get into.
What is your favourite ingredient? Why? How do you like to use it?
That’s a really tough question! I have so many favourite ingredients, and it takes a blend of flavours to create something amazing. But if you’ll humour me, I’ll give you a savoury favourite and a sweet favourite. Going on frequency of use, I’d have to go with green leafy vegetables or lentils in the savoury category. And for sweet, berries; fresh or frozen, in smoothies or desserts. You can’t go past a good berry!
Tell us a little about the two recipes you have decided to make for us.
Curried Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is a faithful old recipe that I keep coming back to. It’s a tasty, affordable, comfort food, packed with protein and fibre. Soy Bircher Muesli is my all-time favourite breakfast. And when you load it with fresh papaya, kiwi fruit, berries, coconut yoghurt and toasted almonds, well (apart from prayer), I can’t think of a better way to start my day!