A Catalyst for Change: Rich Bowden on the Food of Life.

First published in Orange City Life, 9 February 2017.

Blayney resident Rich Bowden is the first person I’ve interviewed who made me ponder putting down the sherbies and going for a run. Not because he’s some health nut desperately trying to convince me of the wonders of the latest diet trend. In fact, that depiction couldn’t stray any further from the truth.

Rich is the creator of a new wholefoods website with an Aussie twist, combining his love for thinking outside the square with organic practice and wholefoods. “Just for those who are interested,” he says. Given he’s turned his own health around drastically just by making simple lifestyle changes, he’s certainly the one to do it.

Rich and his wife Carol are still newcomers to the Central West area, having made their way to Blayney from Katoomba almost two years ago to be closer to their youngest son, Jack, while he attends Charles Sturt University in Bathurst.

“We’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people since we arrived in the Central West, they’ve made us feel very welcome. We’ve also discovered the food, coffee and wine culture in Orange as well as the farmers’ markets and many excellent coffee shops.”

Born in England, Rich moved to Australia with his family when he was six-years-old. He grew up in Tasmania, before making his way to Sydney in his early twenties and taking on a position with APRA, the Australasian Performing Rights Organisation. There, he had the fairly mundane job of making sure the Aussie bands who toured overseas received the correct amount in royalties.

APRA was also where he met Carol, who didn’t stick with the organisation for very long and left to work in childcare. She did, however, stick with Rich and the pair got married, had their first child and made a home for themselves in what was then the rather affordable area of Katoomba.

“We moved only a few months after Pat was born in 1994. Jack was born two years later. It was our first home purchase and we wanted a safe, enjoyable place for them to grow up. Carol loved the first place we saw and that was that! Prices were ridiculously low then.”

Rich continued with his APRA job in the city for quite a while, but the drive from Katoomba to the city on a daily basis made for some very long days, which certainly took their toll.

“The travel really started taking it out of me. Getting up so early. Getting back so late. I was a stranger to my kids because they were in bed by the time I got home, and on the weekends I’d just crash because I was so bloody tired. I was a family man, but at the same time I wasn’t sure what my kids did at school.”

Rich started thinking of ways he could spend more time with his family. “I’d written news articles for overseas publications previously as a side project, and thought writing was something I could do for a living that would be flexible.”

He underwent the career change cautiously, cutting back his APRA work to three days a week, but with little success. “It didn’t work. My mind was elsewhere and it wasn’t fair on my manager. I lasted a couple of months like that and then just left, no money behind me.”

I asked Rich how he built up the courage to just leave.

“Good question! I think I’d just decided that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. It wasn’t the job, the job was ordinary. It was the travel, the exhaustion, the pressure. I talked to Carol about it and she said ‘I’ll support you’. I went full time in the writing business from there.”

Rich started writing blogs and website content for small, ethical businesses who operate in areas that were of interest to him. “I always say we writers are like taxis, we have to go wherever. That said, if you write about things that interest you, it’s going to show in your writing.”

Right up the top of that list of topics which tickle his fancy, are wholefoods; “The stuff your grandmother used to cook,” he explains.

Rich inadvertently sighs when I ask him the obvious question: why wholefoods? While he’s happy to speak about his passion, the reason behind that passion is a story he seldom shares, since he doesn’t want to appear “preachy”. I assure him that since he’s not the preachy type, it’s unlikey he will come across as such. He tells the story quickly, so it doesn’t linger.

“I had a terrible diet. Really bad. I was diagnosed with diabetes and was told to take all these medications. I convinced my doctor that I could turn it around myself – I’d already been reading a bit about diet – she was unconvinced and told me that my triglyceride levels were among the worst she’d seen, but I kept on trying to persuade her. She eventually agreed to it, but stated ‘I hold no responsibility for this’.”

Rich seemed happy to end the story there but of course, I needed to know what happened next. Did he switch it around?

“Well, yes. I’ve still got work to do, but I was tested again six months after my diet change and I’m within the higher end of normal range and now considered a ‘controlled’ diabetic. All I did was common sense stuff – I switched to wholefoods and started exercising.”

Interestingly, he did all this without any outside assistance, although he did try to obtain some help at the beginning of his journey.

“I went to a nutritionist as part of the treatment for diabetes. She was a very nice lady and we got on famously – but only after I told her I wasn’t taking any of her advice! I wasn’t counting calories, eating lettuce leaves or any of the usual ‘diet’ instructions. I certainly wasn’t going to pay attention to the handout she gave me with a Coca-cola ad on it. My own research had convinced me of the benefit of eating real food.”

Most importantly, Rich’s simple methods were getting results, leading his nutritionist to eventually concede that “perhaps she would re-evaluate what she had been taught.” This is where Rich’s new project comes into play.

“I’m starting the online magazine with a friend of mine Jon [a Zen Druid] on food as medicine, particularly angled towards looking at how lower-income level people can buy or grow good quality organic food, and to provide the truth behind scientific studies.

“If there are one-hundred studies, companies will use the one that fits their agenda. It will be there for people who want the information, not to try and preach or convert anyone. I think people should live however they want.”

As for funding, Rich states he’s “not overly interested in money.” And it’s not because he’s rolling in dough, but more so that money just isn’t where he wants to focus.

“I would like to be able to pay contributors, so that is my main financial goal. But the driver behind the website is to help people, inform them and act as a catalyst for change in their own lives.”

You check out the Real Food Chain Facebook page at www.facebook.com/realfoodchain.

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