Annette Larkins (pictured) doesn’t look anywhere near 71 years old, and she knows it.
Looking more like her 80-year-old husband’s granddaughter and either of her children’s older sister, Annette credits her meatless diet of more than 40 years for her radiant youthfulness and her physical vitality. She doesn’t heat any of her food, preferring to eat all of it raw by making any number of meals out of nuts, beets, greens, or anything else she grows in her home garden in Miami.
Sure, some of you may balk at the idea of passing up your mother’s fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and all the other delicacies that make you yearn for a home-cooked meal, but Annette would be quick to bring up the classic movie “Soul Food” and remind you of something you may not have ever considered: “You know what killed ‘Big Mama,’ don’t you? Soul food.”
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But there was a time in her life when she would have never turned up her nose at a piece of meat. That changed one Saturday morning in 1963 when she suddenly began to abhor the smell, taste, and touch of it.
Annette and her family were at the dinner table eating a traditional Southern breakfast: ham, bacon, sausage, jam, toast, butter, grits, and eggs. After the family had eaten, she went to the kitchen to prepare some frozen pork chops for the evening meal. When she returned to check on the thawing chops, “it seemed like, all of a sudden, it was so different,” she recalled in an interview with NewsOne. “I looked at meat entirely different.”
Soon after that sudden emotional disdain for all things hog, she stopped eating any animal products altogether and became a vegetarian. She eventually moved on to eating only raw foods, which is ironic, given that her husband, Amos, was a butcher at the time.
Annette kept her drastic dietary transformation to herself for two weeks before saying a word to her husband and children. She simply prepared separate meals — one for herself and one for the rest of the family. She didn’t think it was fair to subject them to her change in eating habits. It worked out; no one noticed.
But when she told Amos, 80, about her decision to be a raw foodist, his face showed shock, then surprise, and eventually, concern.
“I thought she was ill,” he said. “I was going to take her to the doctor. I had never heard of nobody saying anything like that before. I asked her, Are you sick?”
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And because she takes care of her body, she rarely is.
But Annette wants everyone to age as well as she has — citing her raw-food-eating lifestyle of 27 years as the best example — so she began holding talks around town to explain how raw eating can lead to a longer life. Some of her raw meals include “Spicy Collard Greens,” “Wild Rice Superb,” and “Nut Patties” (pictured below).
In 1999, Annette said God told her it was time to write her first book on the subject, “I was lying on a slantboard at home and said, Lord, you made me do this, so you must make them listen. And so they did listen.”
While people of all races were seeking her advice, Annette remembers that Black people were the last to see the benefits of her lifestyle. “Our Black people weren’t ready for that at that time,” she says. But that changed over time, and now she says more Black people are seeking her advice than anyone else.
“I was taken aback [at the new response],” she said. “I was very pleasantly surprised. I said, Well, we got a Black president. Now we’ve got a sista here that people are proud of and they want to do something differently.”
(Annette was quick to clarify that the sista she was referring to was herself, not the other fit, health-conscience sista on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: First Lady Michelle Obama. Though, of course, First Lady deserves praise too, she joked.)
Annette recalls an African-American woman telling her that she is no longer afraid of aging after meeting her. Mothers have called her to say that their sons in college learned of her raw food lifestyle and were eating healthier. And while she almost never accepts speaking requests, she did make an exception for a young woman in Atlanta.
When her husband asked what motivated her to make the exception, she told him, “That girl is 14 years old. You think I’m going to refuse her. It was just so exciting to me. She is a raw chef. She is 14, so they [those interested] are getting younger.”
And the requests are becoming more frequent and global. Over the years, Annette has been invited to travel the world as a guest speaker on raw eating but has graciously declined all requests to do so. “I don’t want to do it as a job,” she said. A former receptionist at an airline, she says that her job empowered her and her family to see much of the world. She doesn’t want to travel for any other reason than that, she says, even though she has accepted the occasional television request.
During an appearance on “The Drs,” last year, one of the four co-hosts, Dr. Travis Stork, started off the segment by assuring viewers that Annette did not undergo Botox to achieve her looks. An image of her driver’s license appeared across the screen later in the segment to remove all doubt. Telling the audience that “health is wealth,” Annette discussed some of her raw-cooked meals that were displayed on-set. Next to one of the hosts was a dish full of Noni fruit, the juice of which she jokingly says she drinks “like a tequila shot.”
Co-host Dr. Lisa Masterson asked a question that was likely on the minds of many in the audience. “When you’re with your husband, he doesn’t mind [that] you look that much younger,” she asked.
“He doesn’t mind at all,” Annette replied. “He’s very proud of me. After 54 years of marriage come Sept. 5th, the man still treats me like a queen. What more can I ask for?
While that sounds nice, it takes a very strong man to have people marvel at your wife’s looks then take one look at you and wonder silently, “Well, what’s your problem?”
Amos knows people think that and admitted as much during an interview with NewsOne. Indeed, he credits his wife for his improved eating habits over the years, but wishes he had started sooner. And while his wife can easily walk flights of stairs without losing her breath, he has to take the elevator. He actually pokes fun at himself over his and his wife’s physical appearances.
Recalling an outing he and Annette made some time ago, Amos said they went to a museum where a man complemented his wife…sort of. When Annette along with other visitors wanted to explore the area outside the museum, Amos decided to stay behind. “They went out there and this old guy walked up to my wife and said,’ Ma’am, I have to tell you, I think it’s great you push your grandfather around and spend time with your grand daddy.'” Annette burst out laughing, telling the well-meaning gentleman “that grandfather in the wheelchair is my husband.”
And whenever they go shopping together, Amos says, “I don’t even walk with her. I fall back because we get better service that way. Everybody wants to wait on her.”
At 71 years old, everyone would surely like to look like her too, and such a goal is not out of reach, Annette says. She feels the food we put in to our bodies can help us live longer or shorter lives, depending on the choices we make. Annette believes God put her on Earth to help people make better choices, especially Black people.
“During slavery time, our people did the best that they could with what they had, so they are not to be blamed,” she said. “But that soul food has been killing so many of us. Now the shackles have been removed from our ankles and our wrists. Now it’s time to remove them from our minds.”