By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Eight years ago, Leslie Gates made a decision to change her life. After years of carrying extra weight and an ongoing battle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the Sacramentan had made up her mind.
It was time to get healthy.
“I’d come to grips with the fact that it was time to make a change,” said Gates, now 60. “I’d felt bad for too long and it was the right time for me to change my fitness, health, and wellness.”
Today, Gates is 30 pounds lighter and said a “plant-heavy” diet has mitigated her IBS symptoms and improved her overall health. To spread the message of health and wellness, Gates and her husband Jeffery Gates in 2017 founded their company My Flexitarian Life, which makes healthy food products.
What started out as a “silly diet” became a lifestyle when she discovered “flexitarianism.” The term, a combination of “flexible” and “vegetarian,” describes a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.
“Being a Flexitarian allows me to focus on eating healthy, but doesn’t trap me in a box – no one likes to be trapped in a box,” Gates said. “We really want to widen our community’s knowledge of how we can eat well and give them a healthier choice.”
Her flagship product is her cauliflower pizza crusts, dubbed “Cali’Crusts.”
“What sets us apart is that we use five fresh ingredients,” Gates said. “A whole head of cauliflower, eggs, herbs, spices and lactose-free goat cheese, which really heightens the flavor profile.”
The crusts are a healthy substitute, replacing the standard refined flour crusts that increase the risk of visceral abdominal fat. According to Harvard Medical School, visceral fat leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
“It’s so flavorful that you don’t need to put much on it – I just bake it and eat it,” said Gates’ friend Helena Ayo, 66. The two became friends when Gates moved to Sacramento in 1990, forming a sisterhood as single mothers raising daughters.
Gates and her gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, and “keto-friendly” cauliflower pizza crusts have been a staple at local farmers markets the past five years.
At the Midtown Farmers Market in Sacramento on July 9, Cali’Crust caught the eye of retired Oakland fire lieutenant and personal trainer Gregory Bell.
“Y’all are lowering insulin levels over here,” he said as he approached the green tent near L and 20th streets.
“What they’re doing with Cali’Crust is a major step in the right direction,” said Bell. “Our community is number one in all of the worst categories and last in all of the [healthy] categories.”
As reported by The OBSERVER, four of five African American women either are overweight or suffering from obesity and Blacks are 60% more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.
Gates said she wants to be “a part of the solution. My mom was single at one point and she couldn’t afford certain things.”
For Gates, growing fresh foods is in her blood. As a child, her parents taught her the basics of farming food in their family vegetable garden. She plans to expand her business to teach others how to grow fruits and vegetables.
While Gates said “the biggest mistake people make is failing to realize that getting healthy requires a change in mind-set,” she admitted being healthy is not about perfection.
“With COVID and the social injustice we had two years ago, I probably gained 12 pounds,” she said. “That was a hard time for everyone, especially for me as a Black woman who had to watch that played out right before my very eyes. It was very painful and hurtful.”
My Flexitarian Life is a part of Gates’ Christian ministry. “I just thank God because God is the cornerstone of everything that I do,” said Gates, who says she tithes 10% of her profits.
When asked what advice she has for Black business owners, Gates said being of service should be the main goal.
“You’re never too old to start something that you’re passionate about,” Gates said. “My advice to other Black business owners is to do what’s in your heart and be of service to one another.”