When Nicolette Richer was just getting her organic, whole food café, The Green Moustache, off the ground, she got a piece of advice that seemed ludicrous at the time.
"A friend encouraged me to get Chinese trademarks so we could get The Green Moustache into the Chinese market," Richer said. "I thought it was crazy."
Several years later, and that idea doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore.
Now with five locations—and two more slated to open in Port Moody and Edmonton this summer—The Green Moustache is looking to the other side of the globe for its next potential expansion.
That momentum is thanks to a new wellness and nutrition centre being built by the Chinese government north of Beijing that Richer and The Green Moustache have been tapped to consult on. The facility will incorporate the Gerson therapy model, a natural treatment that purports to treat—and in some cases reverse—certain degenerative diseases through a plant-based diet, raw juices, coffee enemas, and natural supplements.
Richer, a nutritionist and health educator, is a fierce advocate of Gerson therapy and founded The Green Moustache with its principles in mind. She said that China, where an estimated 140 million people suffer from some form of diabetes, are increasingly looking to diet to reverse the troubling trend. "What's happened in China over the last 10, 15 years is that KFC and McDonald's have been heavily marketed there and (they have) won the hearts of so many people—but literally (they are killing) the hearts of so many people as well," explained Richer. "They've seen it in such a short period of time when Western diseases have crept in where they never existed before."
Richer said that Chinese officials have fully bought into the Gerson model. On a trip to China last month, Richer met with everyone from mayors to health ministers to discuss the new wellness centre, and fielded several offers to bring The Green Moustache to market there.
"Right now we're just exploring what those opportunities look like," Richer said. "I like working in my own backyard and it made me realize there is more work that we need to do, because the ignorance that exists in Canada around plant-based, whole foods is actually criminal. It's completely unacceptable because the research is there."
The Gerson model, developed in the 1930s by Dr. Max Gerson, has polarized medical opinions in North America. Its proponents argue that the treatment boosts the body's own immune system to help heal everything from arthritis and allergies, to heart disease and even cancer. Meanwhile, health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and Cancer Research UK have said that Gerson therapy has not been scientifically proven to treat cancer.
Dr. Gerson's grandson Howard Straus, who has been advocating the therapy through books and his popular podcast for years, believes the Chinese government's commitment is a step towards more widespread acceptance of the Gerson model. "This is earth shattering for us," he said of the health centre in northern China. "I've seen this as my goal ever since my grandfather died. It was his wish to have his book (1958's A Cancer Therapy) translated into as many languages as he could and get it all over the world. He gave it away if he had to, because the mainstream medical press wouldn't go near it."
Straus said the internet has helped the Gerson model gain a foothold online, and its influence can now be felt around the world.
Construction on the health centre is expected for completion by next spring.