By Steven Sanchez | firstname.lastname@example.org – Photos by Janna Melkonian
The health craze has been escalating in popularity as of late. It seems now that anybody with access to social media has a resource to see first-hand what is being put into their food. Furthermore, anybody who’s in decent shape with a communication app feels they’re qualified to give health and workout tips. With this rise in health-conscious living and fitness, it’s no surprise that vegetarianism and veganism have become a go-to lifestyle choice. Now, a local young woman is turning her passion for veganism into a business.
Photographer Janna Melkonian, who’s been a vegetarian all her life, has created an independent business, Rappit Up, that specializes in providing the Central Valley with plant-based food. Her little empire was born from a happenstance occurrence while working as a receptionist at a hair salon where her signature wraps became high in demand amongst her co-workers. It was a way to make enough money to pay for a pricey professional camera to pursue her early photography endeavors.
“It all came together in a surprising way for me. Life put me in that exact spot and brought everything around me in that situation in order to start a business. I wasn’t like I wanted to do this or that with cooking at first…it was just something I wanted to share with everyone. I created my Instagram to do that then all of a sudden people were asking me to meal prep or asking for recipes and it eventually all came together for me. I felt it was my true calling,” elaborates Janna.
She does the cooking, the prepping, and distributes the products to five different establishments in the community such as Kuppa Joy in Old Town Clovis, Collect Coffee Bar, Rio Acai Bowls, Fitness Social, and ABC Christian Books & Health Foods. And while she may be the face of her brand, it’s actually a family affair. Janna and her brother, Solomon Melkonian work together every day, and he handles the distribution, packaging, labeling, and design of her upcoming website. The logo was drawn by her uncle, Aram Melkonian, and her father, Ara Melkonian, helped to come up with the name. And last but certainly not least, it was her grandmother, Janetta Sogomonian, that introduced the plant-based lifestyle to her family generations ago and imparted her wisdom onto a young Janna.
Years of healthy living and eating has paid off, literally. In just two years she’s come a long way, a product of her intense dedication. Along with her other responsibilities, she sets her prices, emails a menu to her meal prep clients every week, prepares the meals and delivers each individual order personally. This vegan Rachel Ray, who is referred to as “The Veggie Rabbit” professionally and “The Energizer Bunny” amongst her friends, offers a variety of options ranging from salads, burritos, tacos, wraps, sandwiches, and baked goods like brownies, bars, and cakes. She handcrafts her own hot sauces, spreads, and dressings.
She may be reaping the rewards now, but it wasn’t an easy process. Growing up, she was the one on the outside, while her young peers were eating sweets and drinking soda, she was consuming carrots, celery, and drinking water. It’s the stigma that she and a lot of vegans throughout the decades have faced. People who don’t consume meat, dairy, sugar, processed products, prefer soy and gluten-free food and drinks, are often labeled as dirty hippies, overly sensitive, pale, frail, and eat nothing but salads.
“It’s not a bad thing to be vegan. It’s not bad to eat salad every day, because if you do, you’ll be healthier mentally and physically than someone who eats a burger every day. The statistics show that,” Janna specifies. “That’s not all we eat though. They can make fun of it as much as they want, but the truth and the facts are there. Plant-based lifestyles, in the long run, cause far less damage not only to our bodies but to the environment and agriculture.”
The most significant stigma that Americans are facing is the obesity epidemic and the country’s unhealthy eating habits along with its side effects. According to the CDC’s Behavioral Risk, Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), nationally, 39.6 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children were considered obese in 2015-2016. The American Cancer Society found that cancers fueled by obesity are on the rise among young adults in the United States and appearing at increasingly younger ages. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) serves as the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, and they’ve classified meat and red meat as a carcinogen, a substance that can cause cancer.
“Meat is addictive, it’s been proven that anything that’s addictive usually isn’t good for you. Meat and dairy, people want it more, and companies produce it more, and it’s becoming a trend, and it’s still going. People can’t let go of that addiction,” Janna says with sadness in her voice.
And just recently there’s been the zombie deer disease outbreak, or millions of pounds of meat products being recalled for E. Coli, salmonella, listeria, and allergens, etc. We have a solution to the problem. The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded from research from scientists at the EAT-Lancet Commission that people who follow vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or semi-vegetarian diets actually had a 12% lower mortality risk than people who are omnivores.
Maybe that explains why fast food chains like Taco Bell, Carls Jr., and White Castle are hopping on the vegetarian/vegan train and cooking up healthy food to appeal to this market. And it’s just been revealed that even Panda Express will begin adding vegan and vegetarian dishes to its menu in 2,000 locations in the US. It can be an excellent way to shake off the dilemma that healthy living is only for the upper-class. If the restaurant industry has taken notice, then it’s time for customers to recognize it as well.
Janna Melkonian is an outspoken personality on the topic of her beliefs, and she feels the best way for her to express herself and contribute to a great cause for society is through her cooking. For her, it’s not just a job, it’s a movement. And yes, she’s a fan of her food, and she recommends the tofu scramble wrap because she feels that it best represents her business. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I ate first, and it was so delicious that I became an instant fan.
For more information about Rappit Up follow them on Facebook @RappitUpCA and Instagram @RappitUp