New York Spirit
Oct. & Nov. 2005
THE BIG (RAW) APPLE
Rawfoodism in New York City
by Angela Starks
When it comes to the direction of trends, it seems that most roads begin in California. All roads, however, then head directly to New York City. Fresh approaches to healthy eating are no exception to this general rule, thus New York has caught up with – and in many respects overtaken – California’s love affair with raw foods.
Of course, eating foods in their raw state is a habit that is older than fire and so it is undoubtedly the original, natural way that all humans once ate in all corners of the globe, including right here on American terrain. Rynn Berry, who is an expert on the history of vegetarianism and is soon to publish a new book about the history of raw foods, wrote the following in the June 2003 issue of Satya magazine: “According to my research, many Native American tribes in the U.S. consumed their food in its unfired state.” He says that there were many tribes in the southwestern states who ate a diet of wild fruits, acorns, and greens with little or no meat.
So, clearly, modern Californians did not exactly invent the raw food diet – or, as it’s often called, the live food diet. Even its arrival in California can be credited to European immigrants: Eating raw foods in an attempt to ‘recreate the Garden of Eden’ became popular with certain religious sects in Germany in the nineteenth century, and it may have been the German settlers who first introduced this diet to the U.S. Among the second wave of immigrants were Vera and John Richter, who opened America’s first raw food restaurant in Los Angeles in 1917. They called it Eutropheon, which is Greek for “good nourishment,” and it lasted for 25 years. So, don’t imagine that the likes of Juliano’s Raw and Roxanne’s – though highly celebrated- were the first on the Californian map.
New York’s Raw History
There is a similar tendency to imagine that the raw food scene in New York is a very recent phenomenon. Certainly, a new generation of enthusiasts have brought this way of eating into the limelight, and thanks in part to celebrity endorsement and media exposure it is no longer a fringe habit. But what of the original raw New Yorkers, some of whom just quietly munched on their almonds and apples, and others who became evangelists for the cause? Some are still in our midst, while others are a bygone but influential footnote in history.
If we go as far back as far as the 1920s, we find Bernard MacFadden, the entrepreneur who sat atop one of the largest publishing empires in the U.S. while flaunting his raw food diet. He owned a popular newspaper in New York called the New York evening Graphic, and he hired Herbert Shelton as a health columnist. Shelton was the founder of the American Natural Hygiene Society and is regarded as one of the most important spirits behind modern rawfoodism.
In the late 1970s, Aris La Tham debuted his raw creations with SunFire Foods, a live foods company in New York City. Before moving to Jamaica in 2001, Latham conducted food preparation classes in New York for two decades. Rynn Berry describes LaTham as “The father of gourmet ethical vegetarian raw foods cuisine in the U.S.”
Berry credits the most recent wave of rawfoodism in New York, which started in pockets between the late ’80s and mid ’90s, in part to the arrival of Dr. David Jubb, who has been giving public lectures for well over a decade and who now runs a thriving rawfoods deli and workshop space in the East Village called Jubb’s Longevity. And let’s not forget Bob Dagger, who opened the first store of its kind in the U.S. called High Vibe, selling products to the raw community and providing dietary counseling. High Vibe started out in a small basement in 1993 and its growth in popularity necessitated a move to a bright, spacious premises on East Third Street. Later came the raw food restaurant Quintessence which generated much excitement, and then the raw store and support center called Live Live – both in the artsy East Village, which has become the hub of New York’s raw community. Interestingly, Live Live, just like High Vibe, started out in a humble space (actually, one man’s apartment) in the mid ’90s, and then, fueled by demand, grew into a store three years ago.
As for the now famous Quintessence, Rynn Berry reminds us that “although people tend to think that Quintessence was New York’s first rawfoods restaurant, there was one in Tribeca called Ozone that was in business for about a year from 1998 to 1999, and the aforementioned Aris LaTham operated a restaurant-cum-deli on Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street in Brooklyn from 1998 until 2001.”
Around the same time, Paul Nison, Donna Perrone, and Matthew Grace started the first rawfood support groups and potlucks in Brooklyn and Manhattan. These groups are still going strong, and a number of others have been sprouting up all over New York. The mother of today’s raw food activism and education in New York, who goes by the sole name of Rhio, says, “I remember the first raw potluck that I ever did; only about 15 people showed up. Now when I host an event, 125-150 people show up.” Rhio, founder of the informative web site: www.rawfoodinfo.com and author of the book Hooked on Raw, got into raw foods in 1987 and has witnessed its growth first hand. “Judging by the mail that I receive and calls that I get, I would say that the raw food movement is growing by leaps and bounds,” she says. “I get more mail and calls than I can answer now and it just keeps coming.”
Growing out of the roots of the tiny potlucks and corner delis of the ’80s and ’90s, we now have the thriving raw food scene of the new millennium: Supply stores, juice bars, gourmet restaurants and a plethora of New York-based web sites and self-styled raw food educators. Indeed, this supports the opinion of raw food guru David Wolfe, who says that “New York has the largest raw food community in the world.” (See accompanying sidebar for an abbreviated list of resources in this raw community. For a more comprehensive listing including potluck groups, follow the Directories link at www.rawfoodinfo.com).
Rawfoodism is…yes an ism, and many rawfoodists like to define exactly what is and is not acceptable in this diet, but of course opinions do vary. Most readers of New York Spirit magazine have likely heard of and even dallied in the raw food diet, so you will be familiar with what it means – at least to you. The main precept is that no food may be heated above 118 degrees (though some set the standard lower, and some higher) so that preciousnutrients and enzymes are not destroyed and so that toxins are not formed in the cooking process. Most rawfoodists will agree that veganism is the way to go, in other words, raw meat and dairy are no-no’s for both health and ethical reasons. In modern day health circles rawfoodism is defined as basically a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and is organic whenever possible. Caffeine, refined sugar, table salt, and alcohol are usually eschewed, although because wine is technically raw (beer is not; it is brewed) you will find quality organic wine in some of the city’s raw establishments such as the restaurant that goes by the descriptive name of Pure Food and Wine.
Some rawfoodists like to include live, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and rejuvelac in order to maximize their intake of enzymes and populate their intestines with friendly bacterial other categories of rawfoodism include fruitarianism, which is not as limited as it sounds, since it includes non-sweet fruits such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and fatty fruits such as olives and avocados. Obviously, most of us eat some raw foods from time to time, although if you describe yourself as a rawfoodist it will usually be presumed that 70 to 100 percent of your food is raw (although 100 percent is a rare achievement if we are honest about the temperatures that even dried fruits, some pre-shelled nuts, and various condiments are subjected to).
If you are thinking to yourself, “I couldn’t possibly exist on that kind of regime,” then you’re right, you couldn’t. Thriving on solely raw foods is as much about psychological attitude and social adaptation as it is about physical nourishment. And if you’re thinking that rawfoodism could be unhealthy, you’re right about that too, because this diet – like any diet – can backfire. For a few individuals it may be just another obsession to sink their teeth into, or a recipe for nutritional deficiencies. However, accompanied by even a modicum of education and awareness, it remains the most exciting, diverse, delicious, and healthy diet there is.
If we have managed to pique your healthy curiosity, be sure to see part two of this article in the December/January issue of New York Spirit magazine in which we explore some of the benefits of the raw food diet and the associated reasons for its popularity in New York. In addition, we shall be featuring a mouth-watering description of Pure Food and Wine’s offerings in a special restaurant review, together with a recipe for a rawsome dessert.
For Raw Resources see Directories section of this website.