At 70, Vegan Chef Babette Davis is Living Her Best Life

The athlete and restaurateur on practicing well-being, inside and out

Chef Babette in Los Angeles, December, 2020. Photo by Dino Mosley

interview by Julie Gueraseva
Thursday, February 18, 2021

She can run 900 steps in one afternoon, she gets up at the crack of dawn to run her vegan restaurant, and, oh yeah, she’s a grandmother. She’s 70-year-old Babette Davis, and she’s a force of nature. Davis recently went viral for a series of portraits showing off her athletic physique, which she’s been honing for three decades. It’s been an awe-inspiring journey for the Los Angeles-based chef. She became a self-described “health crusader” after meeting her husband in 1990, who introduced her to veganism (the book Fit For Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond became her “health bible.”) In 2008, at the height of the recession, she opened her vegan restaurant Stuff I Eat in the underserved community of Inglewood, CA, despite naysayers cautioning her that “the demographic is not right.” But the restaurant took off and continues to thrive, and so has Chef Babette. She’s made countless television and festival appearances over the years, has hosted a cooking show, and has amassed over 134 thousand followers on Instagram thanks to her uplifting and outspoken videos about everything from her impressive workouts to animal and human rights. Here, she shares powerful words with LAIKA about her positive outlook on life, her daily routine, and the importance of fighting for justice for all living beings.

LAIKA: What does that number “seventy” mean to you now? What is your energy level like?
Babette Davis: Check this out. I go to bed anywhere between 7 and 10pm. I usually awaken between 2 and 2:30 every morning. Then I do my 30 minute workout with FitOn [fitness app], get in the shower and get to work at Stuff I Eat anywhere between 4 and 5:00 AM. I do all the prep work. Like for Thanksgiving, [it was] peeling a box of yams or prepping four boxes of greens by parboiling (a method of semi boiling as the first step in cooking). I had a whole box of string beans that I had to pick and clean and break. I can do so much up until I [start having] issues with my hands due to overuse syndrome. I’m an over-doer. Massive amounts of energy. I don’t know how to be 70, you know what I mean? Because I never stopped. I did not stop.

How do you feel in your body now? What are some things that you’re amazed you can still do?
I have not done the Santa Monica stairs literally in years. I just went to the stairs in Agoura Hills [in Calabasas, CA], over 300 stairs straight up—I did it three times. [The only thing] sore on me was my calves. And the next day after the stairs, we did a hike. And the next morning, I got up and did a four mile walk because I wanted to keep it moving. So that gives me an idea of what kind of shape I’m in.

Now that you can take stock of the past 30 years, what are the most important lessons that you’ve gleaned from combining a vegan lifestyle and fitness?
What I’ve gained more than anything is appreciation for the incredible, human body. I appreciate it so much and I’ve gained a respect for it. I’m so grateful to be in this form right now, to experience being a human. I want to, whatever the Intelligence has for me to do, take this human vessel and inspire people to be their better selves. We can only be our better selves when we feel good. It’s very difficult for us to be at the top of our game when we’re sick and when we just don’t feel good. You need to be able to fuel yourself properly, [and] you got to have decent thoughts. I have to keep my thoughts pure.

“I’m so grateful to be in this form right now, to experience being a human.”

Images from Chef Babette's 70th birthday photo series. Photo by Dino Mosley
Photo by Dino Mosley

You’ve made a very important point—the mind aspect of health. How do you navigate yourself back to positivity, especially now?
It’s a weird time. [Positivity] is in knowing that I’ve only got each and every moment to experience this thing called life, period. That’s all that’s guaranteed to me. It serves no purpose for me to live in the past, and there’s not shit I can do about tomorrow. I understand that, to keep myself halfway sane. Because you can stress yourself out, worrying about the next six months. And people do — people have heart attacks over constant stress and worry. Instead of enjoying and experiencing each and every moment that is guaranteed to you, we spend most of our time outside of the moment. Spiritually, it never sat well with me because I knew that I could never change certain things by stressing over them. You gotta stay closer to the now, and not wear yourself out and beat your heart up. We are literally here one second, and gone the next. People always say, ‘Live like it’s your last day.’ No. Live it’s your last second. Cause that’s all you got. Our heart beats one second and stops [the next], and that’s when your time of death is.

And what about stress? How have you handled it during Covid in terms of your business?
Never stressed about Covid, and I’m going to tell you why. My husband said to me, “We’re never thinking about closing [Stuff I Eat], period. Done. We’re gonna have somebody come and pick this food up and take it to our customers. We’re going to reduce the number of days that we’re working, and we’re going to shorten the hours. And we’re going to keep everybody at work, and we’re going to keep our doors open. Because we can only depend on ourselves.” And that’s what we did. We never closed our doors, and nobody ever had to lose their job. We’ve still been hiring people. We don’t have as many hours. Of course we’re not making a lot of money, but we’re able to pay our bills. And we’re going to get through this. And we’re making arrangements to maybe do a little store in the front.

Babette Davis in the kitchen of her restaurant Stuff I Eat in Inglewood, CA, in May, 2014. Photo by Craig Stuart Eisenberg.

You’ve maintained a positive outlook despite this calamitous situation.
What’s more calamitous than the virus is the behavior of the human—that is so selfish, and so childish, and so ridiculous. And believing in some of the weirdest stuff [like] Q-Anon. What would make anyone think that somebody as stupid as Donald Trump is the person that is supposed to take care of everything. Not! We have exacerbated the problem. I don’t think [the pandemic] needed to do what it did. I think we could’ve gotten a handle on the virus, like some of the other countries have. Just put the mask on, or stay home. Come on, give back. We’re all in this together. 

Another facet to this is Covid being a zoonotic virus that was passed on to humans from animals, and how much this calls attention to our treatment of animals on this planet.
That’s another thing. What made [someone] think it was a good idea to put millions of chickens in a [factory farm]? Can you just imagine how disgusting the entire situation is? They’re pooping all over each other. They’re [given] growth hormones. These chickens are looking like turkeys, while they’re still babies. We don’t even have to eat them. Our food grows right out of the ground; you can pick it off a tree! And [humanity] creates this massive mess. We don’t have enough landmass to raise the cattle for everybody to eat cows. I don’t want no bloody cow! That’s flesh. That’s like eating you!

You summed it up in such a straightforward way!
You just found out little bit more about where Babette’s head is (laughs). There are some things that I really would love to say [on Instagram] that people would be upset with me about. So I always have to consider the whole. I’m not trying to hurt anybody because I have a point. I try to post [in a way that encourages] thinking about our actions [as though] we’re all on the same page. You know it’s not right for a police officer to put his knee on somebody’s neck and watch the life leave the person’s body. That’s not right. Anybody knows that that is not correct. And if you don’t know it, that means you’re just as mean as the officer that did it.

With COVID disproportionately affecting people of color, do you feel a sense of responsibility and awareness that you are playing an important role with your restaurant?
That is why we’re so serious. And [why the restaurant is called] Stuff I Eat. If I don’t eat it, I’m not going to sell it to you. And I know the reason why we’re so sick. Look at us, we have all those diseases—diabetes, heart disease, everything that is creating an issue for a person when it comes to contracting COVID. I often say we, [Black people], are the mamas and papas of civilization, and we lost our knowledge along the way. Slavery did not help us. The fact that [white slaveowners] decided that we were not going to learn, and we were just going to be what they wanted us to be—it damaged us. It damaged us greatly, and we’re still damaged. We’re still behind.
 That’s why I do what I can. I’m always trying to inspire us to move, to be the best that we can possibly be. It’s unfortunate. It really is. [Racism] is systemic. Back in the sixties, I wanted to be a Black Panther. I wouldn’t wear makeup, I wore an Afro. I knew all the Malcolm X speeches, every word. I knew them by heart. 

You would think that American society would have evolved beyond racism by now.
You would think that Humans would understand that we’re just of a species. The Intelligence did not make one kind of flower. I love people from other places. I love experiencing others’ culture. It’s the way it should be, and that is what America is all about. We open our arms to everybody. And we’re still all one in this, cause we’re still of the human species. [If you’re] tripping over the color of somebody’s skin, something is definitely wrong. Doesn’t even make sense. Diversity is beautiful.

It’s unimaginable to me that anyone could see diversity as anything other than joyful. We have to change course.
Don’t you think we’re malfunctioning? We can’t even think straight. We don’t even nourish ourselves properly. We don’t eat any of what we should be eating. Can you imagine how many people in this country eat four, five meals a day of complete and total death? They go to the supermarket, they buy meat; no veggies, none. And for the kids, we give them that cup of noodle stuff, refined sugar, some of that macaroni and cheese with the creamy sauce. And so, where is the life? When are you ever ingesting the live enzymes that keep you alive, that help you digest your food? You don’t, because you kill it before you eat it. A lot needs to be corrected, a lot.