League City shop and co-op caters to the clean-eating crowd
In a quaint yellow house surrounded by majestic oak trees in League City, Lisa Piper and her staff of employees and volunteers are busy waiting on customers who arrive to pick up fresh produce, buy herbs, or grab a smoothie or lunch.
The small house is the home of Natural Living, a cafe and market where glass jars containing more than 100 varieties of wild-harvested dried herbs, spices, bottles of medicinal and essential oils, tinctures and packaged goods occupy the shelves made from shipping pallets and reclaimed wood.
Although there are many components that make up the concept of Natural Living, the most popular is the organic produce co-op, which allows members to stop by each Friday and Saturday to pick up their share orders. Although Piper has access to the store’s own organic garden just a few minutes away, most of the produce comes from area farmers.
“My participating farmers contact me on Sunday and notify me as to what they’ll have available for the shares the following Friday and Saturday,” Piper said.
Natural Living sells mostly certified organic foods that aren’t genetically modified. The cafe and co-op have developed quite the following.
“We’re all about sustainability and clean eating,” Piper said. “Our food storage containers are either glass or metal and our shelf items are either in glass or natural packaging. All to-go containers are 100 percent compostable, and we only use plastic bags that have been donated by customers, but we also have unbleached cloth bags for sale.”
A certified raw food chef and nutritional counselor, Piper has studied under certified herbalists for more than 30 years. Piper isn’t vegan and doesn’t always follow a raw diet. She sometimes eats grass-fed, free-range, local organic meat, which is available for sale at the shop.
“I tell people to eat intuitively,” Piper said.
The store and cafe are small and easy to navigate. All of the cafe items are vegan and most are raw, though there are some menu items the cafe serves heated. If you’ve never tasted burgers, enchiladas and tacos that are raw and vegan, you might be surprised about how much they taste like the real thing, Piper said.
The “meat” in the enchiladas is a blend of sunflower seeds, pecans, shredded carrots, cumin and other spices. The burgers also are made with a vegan blend.
“It may sound strange, but they’re all quite delicious,” Piper said. “Lots of the items are made with nuts, seeds and veggies. Sometimes a customer will ask, ‘Are you sure this isn’t cheese?’”
All smoothies are vegan and sweetened with dates instead of cane sugar. Natural Living also caters to people seeking gluten-free fare.
“We are mindful of the things on our shelves as well,” Piper said. “We don’t carry gluten items on the shelves, although members have access to them, because we don’t want to have cross-contamination. We have such a large clientele of people who have allergies and we want to be very careful.”
There is also a seed swap area at Natural Living, where customers can leave organic seeds and/or take them. It’s free to the community.
A League City resident for 22 years, Piper talks candidly about the health problems that plagued her most of her life until she starting doing research to find out what was making her sick. For 11 years, Piper sought answers from doctors until one savvy physician ran a series of intricate tests and discovered she had one of the worst cases of celiac disease he’d seen, she said.
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
Piper is passionate about helping others with their food journey, she said.
“We don’t judge here,” she said. “We don’t believe in ‘you should do this’ or ‘don’t do that.’ We just try to gently guide you.”