Growing up in East Texas, Pat Greer ate her greens—they were fresh from the family garden out back. But her housekeeper always doused the veggies in a healthy dose of sugar. For dinner it was fried chicken and fried okra. And every dish at the Greer house had just a little bit of bacon fat in it.
“I didn’t know what fresh spinach tasted like until I was in my twenties,” says Greer, the owner of Pat Greer’s Kitchen. In her Montrose kitchen, one of Houston’s top spots for raw, vegan food, Greer prepares to-go dishes and snacks made from organic fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. She also caters events. For the last two years, she’s cooked meals for the Houston Dynamo, the city’s professional soccer team.
When she’s not in the kitchen, Greer creates purses and bags from upcycled T-shirts, and she co-hosts a weekly radio show on Houston’s 90.1 called Eco-Ology. She started Houston’s oldest organic co-cop, Central City Co-op, 15 years ago. That’s when a health issue led her to make drastic changes to the way she ate. Greer cleaned up her diet to focus on plants and cut down on sugar, gluten and dairy.
Does she miss the rich country home cooking from her youth? Well, a little. To this day, she’ll flag collard greens, corn bread and black eyed peas as her favorite foods. But she’s learned to adapt. No more bacon fat, and she makes her corn bread gluten free. She’s a big believer in eating local and organic foods. She’s distraught that the U.S. diet contains so many highly processed foods.
“As a society, we have so many illnesses now that can only really be addressed through whole foods—heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders. We’ll be forced to eat better. We’ll have to grow local. It’s unfortunate that we have to have a health crisis to make a real change.”
MARSHMALLOWS ON THE STOVE
Greer was a latchkey kid. As an elementary school student, she’d arrive home each day to an empty house. Her parents were still at work. “I got into trouble,” she says. “I roasted marshmallows over the gas burner. I always liked to experiment with food, to create things, and I loved recipes, they were the first thing I’d flip to in the paper.”
It’s Monday morning and Greer is sitting in the back office of her kitchen, on the ground floor of a Montrose cottage. She’s surrounded by buckets of fermenting kombucha. They’re covered with upcycled towels held in place by bungee cords.
The boyfriendof one of Greer’s cookshas been experimenting in the kitchen. He pops his head into the office and holds out his hand, offering a corn chip topped with a creamy orange salsa. “Try this.” Greer takes a bite.
“Bob!” Greer grabs a mason jar from her desk, releases a spigot on the closest kombucha bucket. Red liquid pours out. She chugs it, laughs, then reaches her hand behind her cherry red eyeglasses to wipe away a tear.
“Yup,” says Bob.
VEGGIES ON THE PORCH
In her twenties and thirties, Greer worked for a company that sold navigational equipment for jets and helicopters, and then owned candy and popcorn stores. In her forties, she started teaching cooking classes. When she was 45, she went to her doctor for her annual pap smear, a test used to help prevent cervical cancer. Results were abnormal. Her doctor repeated the test. It was worse.
“It was a wake-up call,” Greer says. She started eating mostly vegetables, swimming and walking. A year later, the doctor repeated the test and results were normal.
Soon after, Greer was in Dallas teaching a cooking class for a chiropractor who was only eating raw foods and was seeing results. Greer decided to try it for herself. “I felt incredible,” she says. “Like I never felt before.”
At the time, Whole Foods was the go-to store for organic produce, and it didn’t come cheap. One day, Greer stood in her kitchen holding a bunch of parsley in her fist and noticed the label was printed with “County Fresh Products,” a local produce distributor that had several co-ops outside of the city. She called them up.
“They said ‘why don’t you start one in Montrose?’ So I did,” she says. “We started it on my daughter’s front porch.” Central City Co-Op now operates out of Kindred Grace Lutheran Church and serves dozens of members.
Once the co-op was open, Greer started experimenting more with food. One day she made crackers from leftover spinach. They were a hit. She started mass producing and selling her raw food crackers on the east and west coasts. She got into brewing kombucha—her unique brew has chunks of fruit in it—and creating interesting salads. And in 2004, she opened Pat Greer’s Kitchen.
WHO’S YOUR FARMER?
Greer’s shop has a garden out front. Inside, it’s stocked with fresh salads, vegan burgers, soup mixes, granolas, cookies. Greer’s favorites are the gluten- and dairy-free chocolate peanut butter fudge, the ginger granola, and the Buddha bowl, with kale, quinoa and curried garbanzo beans.
Lately, Greer has been thinking a lot about clothing—how it’s made and from what, how we buy it, what happens to old clothing that no one wants. Greer’s mother came from a poor family, and her father a rich one, but they both grew up during the Great Depression. Greer sewed her own clothes as a kid, and made her daughter’s clothes.
“I learned thrift at a very early age,” she says. She has a fuzzy idea of her business eventually evolving into a place that can help tackle the issue of how our clothing can be friendlier to the earth.
These days, Greer still aims to keep gluten, soy and dairy free. She’s also sugar free, though occasionally, dairy-free chocolate chips call out to her, and she’ll grab a few morsels. For people looking to transition to a more plant-based style of eating, Greer says to start slow, plan out a cheat each week and buy local and organic.
“You have to be real nice to yourself,” she says. “And you should know your farmer. When you know where your food is coming from, and you can pronounce all the ingredients, that’s the best way to be eating.”