Monika Kozdrowiecka is late. She’s running behind schedule for the same reason that thousands of Los Angeles natives do every day: traffic. My phone rang as I sat on the staircase to the Virgin Raw Foods penthouse, minutes after our scheduled meeting time:
“I’ve just parked. I’ll be there in a nanosecond.”
And she was. A petite, clear eyed blonde woman appeared a short time later, casually dressed in a button down blouse, jeans and ballet flats. A smile revealed the finest character lines around her eyes and mouth, and she extended a hand.
“Hello! I’m Monika.”
The co-founder of Virgin Raw Foods began her journey to conscious health and wellness 14 years ago. She was already used to eating foods grown locally and organically in her home country of Poland. But it was more habit than anything else. Monika and her family lived in the simplest conditions, with no running hot water and an outdoor bathroom, for most of her young adult life. When she decided to take the trip to the United States, her father told her to have fun. But he also sent her with a stern warning: Don’t eat the meat.
“I could smell the chemicals in the chicken.” She says. “At the time I didn’t realize it was hormones and antibiotics and all the stuff they put in meat. But I could smell it.”
That awareness of food sourcing, preparation and consumption became the seed from which Virgin Raw foods, and eventually Bee Panacea, was born. Monika had always been aware of the benefits of certain foods. “My Mother would tell me, eat your parsley for Vitamin C, eat your carrots for Vitamin A. We grew everything from the earth. I knew it was good food. I thought everyone ate like we did.”
Monika soon realized that things were very different on this side of the Atlantic. Curiosity let her to San Francisco’s Bay Area, where she visited several raw food colonies. “I was surprised by how clear everyone’s eyes were.” Monika says. “These people who didn’t cook their food were laughing and dancing and everyone seemed so clear and happy.” Her curiosity grew.
In 2008, she became deathly ill. “I don’t like to talk about it.” But Monika insists that it was bad. So bad in fact, that Western Medicine did nothing to help. “The doctors couldn’t do anything. So I decided to help myself.”
Monika travelled extensively to Thailand (“I’ve been back dozens of times”), South America, China, and back to San Francisco to the raw foodists. By the time she decided to start Virgin Raw Foods in 2009 with the help of her sister Gosia, Monika was armed with more than enough knowledge about the power of raw food and homeopathic medicine.
At first, Virgin Raw Foods operated as a sort of depot for natural herbs and remedies. “We didn’t make much money.” She says.
It was actually Gosia who put together the very first batch of what is now Bee Panacea. Through trial and error (“We used to use Coconut Oil, but it didn’t work. So we took it out”), they perfected the formula. They made an initial batch of six jars and took them to a local store. The jars sold. Then they made 12. They sold. And so it goes.
Their big break came when former Spice Girl turned Fashion Designer Victoria Beckham discovered Bee Panacea at a juice bar in Venice. She tried it, fell in love, and tweeted about it. Business soared.
“I wasn’t really sure what to do at first.” Says Monika. “I didn’t know that Twitter could do so much. I was so thankful. I wanted to say thank you but I had no idea how to reach Victoria.” But that didn’t stop her. “I made up a gift box and took it to the juicer.” One stroke of good luck lead to another, and Monika met husband David (Beckham), who took her to Victoria. To this day, Mrs. Beckham swears by Virgin Raw Foods Bee Panacea.
Monika and Gosia run Virgin Raw Foods without any outside help. “We invest completely in the company.” She says. “If you saw my little apartment you would think I was a struggling student.” She laughs it off. “Everything goes to Virgin Raw Foods. I don’t need fancy things to live. I am comfortable and I am grateful.” Monika doesn’t even pay for gas. Her Tesla Model S runs completely on electricity. “It was a gift.” She says. “I would never pay for such an expensive car.”
It’s apparent that Bee Panacea is Monika’s baby. She believes completely in everything about the blend. The formula is sourced with strict organic standards.
(“We require certification from all of our suppliers.”) The company works with nature to blend the ingredients. That means that no two jars of Bee Panacea are identical. “Honey changes with the seasons so if your Panacea is stiff, it’s because of Avocado Honey. If it’s loose, it’s because of Orange Blossom Honey.”
The Honey is key to the blend. Without it, Monika says the formula would not be nearly as effective. “Honey contains glucose (sugar) and fructose (stabilizer). It delivers the Panacea straight to the bloodstream.” It also helps to stabilize the blend. “You can keep it for up to 2 years.”
Honey is the only thing that changes with the blend. Bee Panacea has been made with the same 20 ingredients since Monika and Gosia perfected the recipe and sent it to market. It continues to come together in small batches in a commercial kitchen in Orange County. Monika is very proud of the operation. “We are inspected by the Orange County Authority regularly.” She says. “Our kitchen is so spotless that they tell us we raised the bar!”
Monika’s noticeably clear eyes sparkle as she tells the story of how Virgin Raw Foods began. From the first word to the last, she constantly reminds me of how truly grateful, blessed and happy she is to try to make the smallest difference in the health and well being of others. Even as she hugged me goodbye and sent me on my way with a jar of Bee Panacea in tow, I am aware of how much she cares about her contribution and legacy. For Monika, life… and everything in it… is a gift.