The San Francisco Bay Guardian
November 12, 2003
Some like it raw
By Miriam Wolf
WELL, I’M not psychic yet. Inspired by the popularity of raw living food and raw food diets (cultural signifiers include the upscale raw food palace Roxanne’s in Larkspur, the appearance of more and more packaged raw foods at places like Rainbow Grocery, and a great recent issue of VegNews completely devoted to raw foods), I decided to put myself on a vegan living-food diet. I’ve been eating only raw foods for two weeks now, and despite promises by my friend Susan that I would achieve supernatural powers, I still can’t see into the future. Still, I feel pretty good. Maybe a little more energetic, definitely a bit thinner. And, oddly, my sense of smell has improved quite a bit (maybe that isn’t so odd, since, according to my 1967 edition of George and Doris Fathman’s Live Foods: Nature’s Perfect System of Human Nutrition, eating only raw is described as a “mucusless diet”).
But there’s so much more to raw and living foods than the mere absence of mucus. The raw diet is based on vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, various sprouts, and some dehydrated foods. Nothing can be heated to more than 115 degrees. Living-food enthusiasts believe raw foods contain enzymes that are destroyed at temperatures between 102 and 126 degrees. According to the Living and Raw Foods Web site (www.living-foods.com), “All cooked food is devoid of enzymes, furthermore cooking food changes the molecular structure of the food and renders it toxic.” These enzymes are the “life force” of the food. Skeptics point out that food enzymes are broken down in the mouth and stomach, before they reach a point in your body where they are absorbed.
But life force or not, a raw food diet does feel like the healthiest one going. That is, I think, because a 100 percent raw food diet is, at its core, a 100 percent whole food diet and a 0 percent junk food diet. Think about it: almost every packaged or processed food you can find has been cooked, or at least heated, to pasteurization temperature. For me, keeping it raw meant keeping it basic, with only a couple of forays into already-prepared food (like Blessings Alive and Radiant Foods’ Raweos, a cookie made from soaked nuts, coconut, honey, and spices. It didn’t much remind me of an Oreo – but that’s a good thing).
Besides the lack of processed foods, another great thing about eating raw is that you can – are even encouraged to – eat at the top of the vegetarian food chain. Produce with a high-calorie density is just what you want to be consuming when you’re trying to get your nutrient and satiety needs met on a raw food program. I’ve been eating at least half an avocado every day. Medjool dates are in heavy rotation. What else has been on my table? Happily, it’s almond season, and the raw almonds available are fresh and delectable. During the day, I eat mostly fruit and nuts; in the evening I have a huge salad along with other chopped-up vegetables.
My experiences with preparing raw food produced mixed results – raw samosas made with pureed walnuts, cauliflower, sweet potato, and spices and dehydrated in a very low oven were strange but sort of tasty. Much better was a robust “hummus” of pureed zucchini, sesame seeds, tahini, and lemon juice punctuated by a heavy dose of garlic. Both recipes came from the Living and Raw Foods site, a great resource to know about if you’re thinking about taking up this diet.
After a couple of weeks of buying, washing, chopping, and otherwise prepping tons of vegetables, it was a nice change to head for the Lower Haight’s Urban Forage, a café that features juices, infused teas, and live food. The storefront is only a sliver, but after ordering at the counter, you can head upstairs to a funky-serene dining room that features tables crafted from sealed slabs of log, pillow-strewn banquettes, and various art exhibits.
The Thai wrap was a bracing mix of carrots, daikon, kimchee, sprouts, and peanut sauce wrapped up in a sturdy collard leaf. The creamy peanut sauce and piquant kimchee were perfect foils for the crunchy veggies. A sweet, dense dessert made of carob, peppermint oil, honey, and sunflower seeds was a nice way to end the meal.
My partner wimped out and ordered the brown rice, which came topped with more of the delicious peanut sauce and a pile of shredded carrots. While chowing down on his dead, cooked food, he noted that “you know you’re on a restrictive diet when brown rice is considered an indulgence.”
Which brings us back to the question of whether a 100 percent living-food diet is the optimal eating plan. I love the energetic, pure feeling I have gotten from eating raw these last couple of weeks, and I know I’ll be integrating more whole food and raw components into my diet in the future. But not being able to eat cooked grains, beans, tofu, or even steamed kale or chard – all cornerstones of what I think of as a healthy diet – means I probably won’t become a true raw foodist in the foreseeable future.
Urban Forage. 254 Fillmore (at Haight), S.F. (415) 255-6701.
Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol.
Takeout available. American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
E-mail Miriam Wolf at: email@example.com