Going Green

 House of Leaf & Bean Employee Blossoms into a Green Life

Jacksonville vegan

When Chelsea McElfresh began working at House of Leaf and Bean, she had no idea how her life was about to change. Her busy schedule had her feeding her body with convenient foods with not so convenient effects on her health. Learning about health and food from Wen Raiti, owner of House of Leaf and Bean, helped start her journey to nourishment, and led her to getting involved in women’s groups in Jacksonville like the Women’s Food Alliance and Girls Gone Green. Chelsea recently received the Blossom Award from the Women’s Food Alliance, which showcases her growth into healthy foods and leadership. We sat down with Chelsea to discuss where she started, how she got here and what now fuels her.

Describe the journey that led you to “blossom” into your new lifestyle?

My journey started with my employment at Leaf & Bean. It was my first real full-time job, as well as my first job in the food industry. As far as I knew, my life was going to be the same and I was just going to become a barista. But Leaf & Bean opened my eyes to so many truths about lifestyle: how your diet, mental state and daily habits all connect to your internal being.

I went plant-based around April of 2018, and started my job in September. I was off to a good start but was starting to feel the need for a better understanding of what is means to eat, live, think and therefore be healthy. From studying the menu to observing the events held in the café, I started to encounter many enlightened, educated and healthy people. This health was not just evident in their appearance, but in their demeanor, the words they chose to say, and the spirit they gave off. I realized that this job was way more than a paycheck to me. Before long, I noticed my own persona was beginning to morph into a calmer, collected, dynamic, and resilient presence: the woman I dreamed of being. So, in short, Leaf & Bean was the catalyst that took me from a diamond in the rough to a passionate, plant eating, people loving activist.

What first inspired you to create changes in your life to lead you where you are now?

house of leaf and bean

The main idea that sparked the awareness for change in myself would be the comparison of myself to the individuals I was meeting. I felt like I harbored a lot of frustration, aggressiveness and negative energy inside myself often, so it would come out in odd and unfitting times, as opposed to these meditation leaders, diet experts and tea ceremony guides who seemed to glide through their days, radiating positivity and tranquility.

I noticed that who I thought I was certainly was not who I really was every minute and second of the day. In other words, there was a deep awareness that my real self was not my ideal self. It was heavily a mental shift, and soon after I realized that once my mindset changed, everything else about me did, too. This transition was home to a lot of exposing and embarrassing realizations about how ugly I could be sometimes. These uncomfortable moments led to the “blossoming” of my true spirit. I had to accept those parts of me as willingly as I would with any good part of myself, like my extroverted and charismatic personality in social situations or my pretty blue eyes. My being is not just limited to my desirable parts, in fact I would not even be me if it were not for those “ugly” parts.

Before long, I noticed my own persona was beginning to morph into a calmer, collected, dynamic, and resilient presence: the woman I dreamed of being.

What was your greatest challenge you faced on your journey to health?

The greatest challenge I faced was the mental schema I had about healthy foods. As a kid, vegetables were conditioned in my brain to be “yucky, bland, not filling,” and certainly not as good as pizza and ice cream. Once I began to eat a vegan diet, I realized how wrong I had been with these assumptions. Through research, Pinterest recipes, Youtube videos and many documentaries, I began to see through the misconceptions that the typical American has towards veganism.


I became aware of the fact that vegetables are far more filling than meats and high calorie-low satiety foods, and the flavors meats contain originate from marinades, seasonings and sauces, which meant that those tastes could be put on any food, not just meat. I also noticed that your body becomes conditioned to what you give it; once I cut off sugary sodas, sweets and junk foods, my taste buds literally changed. I enjoy a cabbage soup as much as I used to chow down on an 8-piece chicken nugget from Chick-Fila. We are creatures of habit, it is so ironic how we fail to realize this in something as regular as diet.


What aspects of the community are you now involved in where you are able to spread education on the “green path” of health?

Leaf & Bean gives me so much opportunity to share my story and passion with daily customers. Also, with being part of the Women’s Food Alliance as an honorary member, I will be able to attend social networking events in which I can share with others the beauty of going green. I am very interested in taking a more active part in green education; I have been talking with Heather Borders about accompanying her on dieting 101’s in hopes of pursuing a more targeted audience in search of answers about being healthy through dieting. 


Girls Gone Green initiated “No Meat March,” which continues this year. Can you talk about this campaign and how members of the public can participate? 

girls gone green

The Girls Gone Green is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 2007 and devoted to heightening people's awareness about how to improve the quality of our lives by improving the world around us. The Girls Gone Green's mission is to explore environmental, animal and health issues impacting us today. They try to bring many of these matters to light by producing videos, hosting events, fronting campaigns and staying involved.

The House of Leaf & Bean will be hosting a Vegan Sushi Class partnered with “No Meat March.” It will be held in the café on Saturday, March 9th, from 4:30-5:30pm. Wine and beer will also be served. (Learn more!)


What keeps you motivated? 

Looking the mirror is such a motivator. Seeing what I have turned my body into pushes me to continue this journey I began just 10 months ago. But what has more intrinsic value to me than what I look like is how I touch others. Leigh Court, leader of the Women’s Food Alliance, felt it was necessary to bless me with the Blossom Award due to the sincerity and hospitality I display. Sometimes, even customers will pull me aside, grab my hands, and look into my eyes with such passion and admiration, telling me how glad they are that I am who I am, telling to continue my journey, and asking me to never lose my passion. Touching moments like this certainly are rewards that hit home for me. To share the love and happiness I feel is good enough, but to get such feedback is even more reinforcing to be beautiful inside and out.

I enjoy a cabbage soup as much as I used to chow down on an 8-piece chicken nugget from Chick-Fila.

Any final thoughts or advice for our readers?

Pursue your real self! It is okay to have undesirable parts of you, but that is how you know where you could use a little work. Always remember to be humble in your pursuits and daily encounters with people, you never know whose life you might touch. And lastly, eat your veggies! Your body will certainly thank you, both in how you feel and how you look: it is always in more ways than one.