As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. In this series, we talk with some of the world’s most soulful, dedicated (and often funny) individuals. We get to hear their stories of suffering, transformation, and service — and we learn how food is an essential part of their journey.
We’re thrilled to talk today with Frank Ferrante, author, speaker on personal transformation and weight loss, documentary star, coach, and proud plant-based eater.
Frank didn’t start out anywhere near a plant-based diet. Born in New York in 1951, his life was tumultuous from the get-go, including violence, promiscuity, drug and alcohol addiction, family trauma, and more.
Frank Ferrante Before His Plant-Based Journey
But Frank’s life had more in store than that. One day, when he was 54, suffering from Hepatitis C, depression, suicidal tendencies, obesity, chronic pain, family estrangement, and misery, he wandered into Cafe Gratitude, a raw food restaurant in San Francisco.
In true hero’s journey fashion, he soon crossed the threshold into the unknown. For the next 42 days, he underwent an intense personal transformation in diet, lifestyle, self-care, self-talk, and more. All the while, documentary cameras rolled.
That story became the film “May I Be Frank,” released to acclaim in 2010. And yet deeper lows and higher peaks were still ahead.
What’s clear now is that his path of reinvention, and really resurrection, brought him to a life of service. He currently tours the country as a storyteller, coach, and leader for those seeking to transform their lives — mind, body, and soul.
Frank Ferrante is a generous, funny, tough guy with a heart of gold.
What You’ll Learn
- The restaurant that changed Frank’s life
- How Frank ended up starring in a documentary (and eating a plant-based diet)
- What Frank most appreciates about the film “May I Be Frank”
- The opiate addiction that nearly killed him
- How a plant-based diet, meditation, exercise, and Robin Williams supported Frank’s full recovery
- Frank’s spirituality in 11 words
- Why Frank sees human connection as an essential healing force
- How Frank understands and shares his gifts today
The restaurant that changed Frank’s life
I was in San Francisco [visiting] my cousin Michelangelo, who wasn’t feeling well.. I went to this place to rent some Italian films. I normally didn't go to this part of the San Francisco, but this one place specializes in foreign titles so I went there. And in the distance was a sign that said Cafe Gratitude.
Now in the 12-step world, gratitude is essentially a virtue. I thought somebody from AA was pretty clever, went and opened up a cafe named Cafe Gratitude. So, I went there, thinking I'm going to find a bunch of ex-dope fiends and alcoholics drinking coffee when it's a little bit too late to do so.
Instead, I go to this place and it happens to be a raw food restaurant. And when I walked in, I looked around, and the owner's son was standing there.
I walked up, I said, “Hey man, I had to have a cup of coffee at Cafe Gratitude. I figured somebody here is in recovery.” And he looks at me, and smiles, and says, “We’re all recovering from something, aren't we?” And so I immediately knew he wasn't in the 12-step world. I just figured he smoked pot.
Frank from the documentary film "May I Be Frank"
So I notice there's no coffee pot, there's no stove. In a very sort of reticent way, he looks at me and says, “Well, we're a raw food vegan restaurant.”
“Raw food, how do you cook that?!”
I kept going to this place. I really didn't care much about the food, but they were very warm, and there was something other than my body that was looking for nourishment. These people were very shiny, they were optimistic, everything that was the opposite of where I was at that time. More than anything they were idealistic, a thing that was all but dead inside of me.
So I started going there, you know, and as I said, the food didn't sway me. I would often leave there, after eating there, I would go to the nearest all-you-can-eat Indian buffet or barbecue place because 300 pounds, which is what I was at the time, needs more than leaves to walk around — or so I thought.
Frank Ferrante Begins His Plant-Based Journey
How Frank ended up starring in a documentary (and eating a plant-based diet)
So these three young guys [Cary Mosier, Ryan Engelhart, and Conor Gaffney] come to my table and they said, "Frankie, you know that movie ‘Super Size Me’?"
I said, "Yeah, that's where that healthy guy eats fast food for a month? Yeah, yeah.”
So they say, "Well, we want to do something similar. We want to take a guy who's not well” — a rather generous description of my condition at the time — "and feed him this [plant-based] food and do these practices and colonics" — another learning curve — "and we want you to be the guy."
And I thought nothing of it. These guys, they were so young, they could have shared a razor for six months and it would still be sharp. Yeah, whatever, is what my attitude was.
They didn't have a camera. Nobody ever made a film before. I had the most film experience because I had seen the most movies. This movie is a testament to idealism because we didn't have these things. We didn't even really have a clear vision. And little by little, we just started putting this thing together. We went to Home Depot to get PVC pipe for a boom mike!
We had no idea, you know, what was coming. I figured it would be the infomercial for Cafe Gratitude, that's what I thought we were going to come up with.
What Frank most appreciates about the film “May I Be Frank”
I’m really grateful to be in this film because it's affected my life in ways I can't even begin to tell you.
[But I really like] that it delves into the inner work. Because other folks got the scientific part of [healing and transformation] down, but then there’s what happens inside. That’s the other component. It's mind-body-spirit, right? The three-legged stool. You take one of those legs away, you got nothing.
I like to deal with the journey part. Like, what does it feel like to go into the gym when you're a hundred pounds overweight and how do you get through that day? And how do you go back and what's going on inside of your heart and your mind?
The opiate addiction that nearly killed Frank
Well, after the film, [the young men who had been my coaches] just disappeared. As I understood it was an experiment, they were very young, none of us really knew what we were doing, and it was an experiment. Therapists tend to be appalled, you know, that that just happened but, you know, they were not therapists, they were kids and well-meaning and loving kids but you know, they were kids.
And what happened was, I got addicted to opiates. Real bad. It was because, you know, partly because it was prescribed. I told the doctor that it wasn't a good idea to prescribe these. He said you have to take this protocol or else find yourself another guy. I was in the frame of mind that I could not deal with getting another [general practitioner] and whatever the process was with our “wonderful” sick care system.
So I started taking Vicodin, and within a short period of time, I was taking, rather than Vicodin, 150 milligrams of Narco, 100 milligrams of OxyContin, 100 milligrams of morphine sulfate, and benzos every day.
I did that for nine months.
The day before I went into rehab, the paramedics found me in a hotel room turning blue, because of a friend of mine that found me. It was literally divine intervention because I was useless. I was completely incoherent, I had nothing to do with anything.
Coming back from that was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. People don't realize the magnitude of the suffering that's involved in withdrawing from opiates on a number of levels.
How a plant-based diet, meditation, exercise, and Robin Williams supported Frank’s full recovery
After nine months and almost dying, and gaining the weight back and all that, I started eating an essentially plant-based diet and I started exercising and meditating. Within a year and a half, I dropped about 125 pounds.
[But the turning point] was when I was in the ICU for medical rehab. I wanted to kill myself every day and for two weeks. And I was freezing all the time, I couldn't sleep, my GI system was a mess, my biochemistry was a mess, my neurochemistry was a mess and all I could see was the end of life and I just didn't want to live another day.
I'm lying in my bed, just staring at the ceiling thinking, this is how it is, this is how it played out, this is it. This is it, it's over.
And my roommate said to me, you know, “Oh two weeks ago, Robin Williams was here, he just left”. And for some reason that had me thinking. Well, this guy could have gone anywhere in the world that he wanted to go to, you know, as a rehab but he came here. And I thought, Well, if it worked for him, maybe it could work from me.
I slowly started to surrender to the process of recovery. When I got out of rehab, I went to my first [12-step] meeting, still shaking, with agoraphobia, and the speaker was Robin Williams.
After the meeting...I went up to him and told him the story. Every time I saw him, he made a point of going out of his way to saying hello to me. Going out of his way to, you know, just to say something nice, and he always remembered my name.
At that place, I was so fragile, and somebody that I admired, so much, was giving me attention — that was just that extra little bit of B12 I needed just to get by another day. Just, okay, one more day, one more day, one more day, here we are. But that was it. I didn't do it by myself. I'm not a spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger. And even he doesn't do that stuff by himself either.
Frank’s spirituality in 11 words
When people ask, Where are you at spiritually? I tell them,
"I'm less of an asshole for a shorter period of time."
It’s not much more complicated than that!
Why Frank sees human connection as an essential healing force
One of the reasons I like going to meetings is the connection. That's why I drank; I was a bar guy. I loved going to bars because you know that whole Cheers thing. I got to tell you, the first time I walked into my bar Arturo's in Manhattan, I remember the day that finally happened. I walked into the bar, as soon as I opened the door, the bartender saw me, without saying a word, put my drink on the bar, and I thought, I have arrived. It doesn't get any better than this.
[Today], relationally, I'm one of the wealthiest people I know. I just have these incredible people in my life. You know, I'm here in Sedona and one of my favorite restaurants on Earth is a place called The Chalk Tree, which is a vegetarian restaurant. It's my Cheers. I walk in there all the servers know me. I love that feeling, I thrive on that feeling of connecting with people, and human interaction.
"I’m a big believer in the saying that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection."
[Joseph] Campbell said the search for meaning is a fruitless enterprise because what people really want is to feel alive. Right. How do you feel alive? You eat properly, you speak with compassion and humor and as much joy as you can, and you connect with other people.
How Frank understands and shares his gifts today
I do film screening and events, and I’m writing and coaching. I actually just got back from the Bali Vegan Film Festival, which was amazing! I got flown out there. And I was the keynote speaker for the International Association of Hydrocolon Therapists, so that was wild.
[But at the core] I'm a storyteller. My stories are medicine to people. I’ve come to realize that's what they are, but they're medicine for me too because I actively participate in my own redemption.
"Through some brilliant elegant decision of the Creator to make it that way, to imagine the universe in its elegance, that created a situation where my redemption is predicated on telling a story to somebody who's suffering, to help relieve their suffering. Because that story came from a place of grief, usually, and some kind of pain, and then the story and the storytelling transform it."
My stories are medicine.
We couldn't agree more Frank.
For more information about Frank