NORTH ADAMS -- Renee Tassone has opened Eat To Total Health on Ashland Street, where she has been selling healthy food and smoothies since late last month.
Tassone, who says she has no culinary or medical background or nutritional certification, said her decision to set up shop as a health consultant came not from professional knowledge, but rather from personal experience.
"Two years ago I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which means gluten is toxic to your body," Tassone said. "I was ill for eight years and no doctor could figure it out, but they finally figured it out two years ago, and that's what started this whole journey.
"When they diagnosed me, I didn't believe my illnesses were due to food. But they convinced me to go gluten-free. I thought he was off his rocker, but I decided to try it for a week. I presumed I'd be back, but after day four, I had transformed into a totally different person. I couldn't believe that it was all food-related, that all my problems were related to one thing. So, I decided that I would be gluten-free forever."
However, four months later, Tassone was sick again. She couldn't figure out what was going on, and wondered if she was getting gluten somewhere accidentally.
"I'd been doing research on celiac disease and started a support group in Berkshire County, but after getting sick again, I decided to do a cleanse, because I felt like I needed to cleanse my body," said Tassone. "So I went to the library, did some research on different cleanses, combined three or four different ones, and customized my own. I did one for 28 days, and I felt fantastic. So that was my switch: Once I did the cleanse, I realized I would never eat anything but a plant-based diet. No more animal food, no more processed food. And through that cleanse, I realized I was allergic to soy and nuts."
From there, Tassone decided that if the cleanse worked for her, it might work for others as well. She talked a friend with thyroid issues into doing the same cleanse.
"I didn't know if it would help, but I thought it couldn't hurt," she said. "She had wonderful results, and managed to get off her thyroid medicine. I tried with other friends, and they had wonderful results. So it just kept snowballing. Now I customize these cleanse plans for people based on their health issues and goals. I'm up to 412 people I've led through the cleanse in the past few months. I consult with people to find out what their health issues and goals are, customize the cleanse plan for them, and lead them through the whole process.
"A few months ago, I was doing this and saw people are busy and don't have time to cook all the healthy food. So I thought, what if I started cooking all this healthy food for people so they don't have to? I do all the cooking out of my home -- plant-based vegan gluten-free healthy food -- and deliver to people."
Once she had started down the cooking path, Tassone noticed an open space at 14 Ashland St., and thought it might be useful to have a smoothie shop and healthy meal cafe. After over a decade in the newspaper industry, Tassone opened Eat To Total Health in late December.
"I have six tables, people can eat in, take it to go, or I deliver," said Tassone. "And in the shop is where I do my consultations. So people can come in and get healthy meals, healthy smoothies. I also have a line of products -- protein shakes, gluten-free products, organic pet treats, books and movies based on nutrition. The menu changes all the time, so people come in and never know what they're going to find. I have different soups and casseroles. People with any kind of allergy don't have to worry, there are no allergens in any of these meals I make. [They're] nut-free, dairy-free, soy-free, all plant-based, vegan, allergy-free."
For North County consumers, Tassone now offers a healthy lunch for those on the go.
"For people working all day long who need to grab a quick lunch, the only option they have is to get a salad, now they have other options," Tassone said.
She also says that one of her goals is to get people to eat healthy.
"I want to show people the connection between health and what food they eat. I do personal cooking for people where I do all the cooking for them five days a week and provide them with all of their meals. And if people are having a party and one of the guests has a food allergy or is vegan, and the host doesn't want to deal with it, I can come up with a menu and cook that meal."
So far, Tassone says she is enjoying a steady clientele.
"Based on the last few months, the demand is huge," Tassone said. "The most common client that I have is women from 20 to 50, but there's a huge need. I always tell people, if someone told me five years ago I'd be opening this kind of shop in North Adams, I'd have laughed. I wouldn't think this is the location. But North Adams and North County has been huge. If I hadn't been doing it out of my home first, I might have been nervous, but I'd built it up out of my home first to test it, and people will pay for healthy food and convenience. They can stop on the way home from work, not worry about dinner, and people will pay for that. Their health comes first. So far, no worries."
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tassone's new venture is that it bears no relation to her previous career and background.
"I feel like I'm standing still and it's all just fallen in, happening in front of me," said Tassone. "I sat on boards for BFAIR and newspaper associations, but this is not at all related -- my life has taken a complete, total turn. I have no professional background in cooking or medical. I'm not certified in any way, not as a nutritionist. I've just done a lot of research with my nose in books. I've researched all kinds of illnesses, plant-based diets ... people have been sick of being on so many medications. I have a lot of people where basically I'm their last resort. People are just tired of not feeling well; people know what they're doing to our food isn't healthy. My meals are all whole ingredients."
Tassone also makes some extraordinary claims about her experiences so far.
"I have patients that have cancer, and I've seen their cancer reversed," said Tassone. "I've seen diabetes reversed. Of the 412 people I've worked with, everyone has met success. People get off of their medicine. I coach the whole way through."