Sprouting Sustainability: The Raw Food Diet
by Bruce Horowitz
Some people say that raw foodists are obsessed with pure food. I confess– what they say is true. Finding pristine sustenance in a world full of industrially-produced, adulterated “food,” can be an all-consuming affair. The newspapers have recently coined a term for it, “orthorexia,” an obsession with pure food. Funny, I don’t feel sick. In fact, I feel better than ever. In any case, the end result is worth the affliction: the best tasting food, the healthiest bodies, the most harmonious ecology.
Raw food is real food the way nature intended. The concept of eating all, or primarily, raw food (raw foodism) is based on the premise that this is the healthiest way to eat. Eating as nature intends means eating only the purest food: organic, bio-dynamically grown, unsprayed or wild. It means eating whole food. Therefore virtually all processed and packaged food is out of the picture. It means eating food as fresh as it can be– primarily local and seasonal. It means eating your food un-cooked. In a world of increasing ill-health, more and more people are choosing to eat all or primarily raw food.
Raw foodists choose not to eat cooked food because heating food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, (the “raw” definition of cooking), produces disease-causing compounds in food, makes the nutrition in food less assimilable, and destroys the enzymes in the food. When the naturally-occurring enzymes that all whole food contain are destroyed by cooking, the body has to produce the very same enzymes for digestion, thus diverting energy that would otherwise be used for healing and cleansing. All forms of cooking kill enzymes. The processing of food also destroys enzymes.
Raw food is also called “living” or “live” food. That’s because along with all the other detrimental effects that cooking produces, it is also believed that cooking “kills” the life-force of the food. Kirilian photography confirms that a more radiant aura, or energy emanation, surrounds a whole food that is uncooked than when it has been cooked. Try planting a cooked seed– it will not sprout. It can’t produce life. Only an uncooked seed, nut, or legume will sprout. Therein lies the essence of living food: it is life-giving. According to the raw food paradigm, “dead food” causes disease and pre-mature death.
Since industrial-style processing of food leaves the food less than whole and generally occurs at high temperatures, processed and packaged food are not living foods. That means raw foodists steer clear of supermarkets. When you see raw foodists at the healthfood store, you can recognize them by the fact that their shopping carts are over-flowing with fresh fruits and vegetables– and virtually nothing else. Another good clue is a kitchen that has been transformed into a sprout farm.
Sprouting is the key to preparing many food items that traditionally are thought to need cooking. In order to make them optimally digestible, a raw foodist will simply soak seeds, nuts, grains and legumes, causing them to germinate. Sprouting these now-activated little life forms makes them even more nutritious. What further processing raw foodists do perform is usually done at the most local of levels– at home! Ironically, here’s where those “labor saving” appliances earn their name. Raw foodists are famous for their state of the art blenders, food processors and juicers.
Transitioning to raw foods, however, does not mean switching to sprouts and salad exclusively. At a restaurant where I was a chef we served sushi, burritos, pizzas, pasta, pudding, pie, cakes, cookies– all raw and vegan! Talk about creative cuisine: our tortillas were cabbage leaves, our sprouted grain bread was “sun baked.” Ethnic raw foods could be considered the true “culturally creative” cuisine– you don’t have to give up the foods with which you culturally identify; you just have to get creative with them!
Or you can live off of wild berries, soursaps, sapotes, cherimoyas, and green zebra tomatoes. Going raw tunes you in to the delights of wild and heirloom fruits and veggies that do not hold up in transport or fit uniformly into a box. They don’t have to– freshness and taste are paramount to the raw foodist. After going raw, you may even become intimately acquainted with previously un-noticed fruit trees in your neighborhood. Going for the yummiest connects one to place.
Obtaining exclusively fresh, pure food from local sources can be expensive, however. This is because one is paying the real cost of the food. Shopping or foraging every day can be time consuming as well. Therefore, many raw foodists work on organic farms, get jobs at the farmer’s market or at raw restaurants, or barter for food. Economic imperatives become eco-opportunites. Frugally (guess where the word comes from: “fruit”) plugging into an un-subsidized alternative economy that has few externalities yields ecological benefits precisely because natural capital and social costs are factored into the equation.
Many informal exchange networks thrive amongst raw fooders. A good deal on a regional specialty becomes a valuable commodity to be directly traded for that of another region: Mendocino sea palm, (a delectable kind of seaweed), for example, for Ojai oranges. Since the food is fresh and the deals are done by individuals, the trade remains regional rather than global, and the benefits are tasted and felt by the community. When an exchange is incidental to already-planned travel, it becomes an ecological bonus, rather than onus!
Raw food can be prepared in radically sustainable ways too. You can make sprouted hummus the “new-fashioned” way by substituting pedal-power or elbow grease for electricity. At the National Rainbow Gathering, Sprout Kitchen prepares raw meals for hundreds by harvesting buckets of sprouted grains, seeds, beans and nuts and turning them into scrumptious sustenance with hand-cranked grinders. All the people at the gathering bring their own “blissware” (bowl and eating utensils). Summer 2000, we fed fifteen thousand people over two weeks and created less than two bags of trash!
A mobile raw classroom and concession that I facilitate, the Sun Kitchen, toured the western US last summer using solar dehydration, pedal-powered blenders, hand-cranked food processors, and solar-powered refrigeration. This year we are converting our vehicle to run on vegetable oil. Our motto is: “Sustainable Cuisine produced sustainably!” The newest raw restaurant on the scene, Roxanne’s, is a subversive chic affair that serves a gourmet prix-fixe menu. The whole place is powered by solar.
Within the context of eating raw foods, the composition of “eating as nature intends” is debated. (This debate reflects anthropological evidence indicating that while we descended from fruitarians, we may be either vegan or omnivores.) Exactly how a raw foodist eats is based on individual food choices. “Instinctive” eaters and those on “the primal diet” choose to consume raw meat and dairy. Raw vegans eschew animal products for health, ethical and ecological reasons. Natural Hygienists forgo anything you cannot consume a full plate of. That means that for them, all condiments and onions, garlic, ginger, hot chiles and most spices are out. Mono eaters eat only one type of whole food at a time. For them, dinner may be a half-dozen cucumbers! There are even raw foodists who refuse to use untensils or cut food with metal knives.
No matter how you slice it, most people initially “go raw” for health reasons. People on the live-food diet report increased energy, freedom from illness, clearer minds, and longer lives. It is documented that people have cured themselves from serious diseases including cancer by going on a strict raw food diet. From an ayurvedic perspective, a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is considered to be sattvic. It promotes consciousness and harmony! Jesus was a member of a community called the Essenes who preached that eating living foods and practicing proper bodily hygiene were the foundation of a life aligned with spirit. A friend of mine who lives according to the doctrine of “ahimsa,” or non-violence, eats only salad greens, and fruit that has already fallen to the ground.
It turns out that eating in a way that is beneficial for one’s health is also beneficial for the planet. Raw foodists reject industrial food. That means less packaging, less transportation of food, fewer chemicals added into the food chain. Processing of food is done at the most local of levels: at home or by regional small companies that produce small batches of high-quality products. Because raw foodists value the freshest produce, many visit the farmer’s market regularly or belong to a CSA (Consumer-Supported Agriculture). That way they are supporting local economies and sustainable agriculture. The vast majority are vegetarian or vegan. That means they don’t support the biggest polluters and wasters of resources: the meat and dairy industries. Raw foodists do, on the other hand, produce a lot of compost!
As they become more conscious of their food choices, many raw foodists crave contact with the land and supportive community. In that context, there is an emerging raw vegan permaculture movement that may just prove raw foods to be the missing ingredient in sustainable community. Members of the Rawganique homestead in British Columbia grow their own food and participate in the complete food cycle by embracing the practice of humanure, (safely composting human excrement). Their “Raw, Vegan, Unique” lifestyle extends to wearing only natural fibers. They have a website site that promotes raw food, publishes an e-zine on simple sustainable living, and sells natural products.
For those who choose to remain in an urban setting, almost every metropolitan area in the US has a raw support group that host monthly potlucks open to the public. A lively virtual community thrives on the web as well. The Portland Living Food Group hosts an annual raw food festival every summer. There are also plenty of retreats, a handful of raw resorts and rejuvenation centers, more and more raw restaurants, and plenty of raw foods preparation classes out there. To find out what is going on in your area, look for notices at your local health food store or search on-line.
Raw foods offer a model of eating that is the opposite of the fast-food consumerism being pushed on the rest of the world. Yet, you may be wondering: if it’s that simple, why does 99.99 percent of the world eat diets heavy in cooked food? Anthropological evidence indicates that as humans spread to colder regions of the world, they employed fire for heat and to treat (rotting) meat that entered the diet at the same time. Fire also proved useful to detoxify many wild plants in these regions that had not co-evolved with humans. The raw-foods perspective begs the question whether or not these are still valid reasons for cooking. Refrigeration and greenhouses make sure that we can enjoy fresh food year round. For detoxifying wild foods, raw foodists prefer marination.
Some raw foodists view the habit of ingesting cooked food as an addiction. Just as we need to break our addictions to other harmful substances and ways of living, so do we need to dispense with the no-longer useful habit of cooking our food. I believe a forward-looking approach will prove that it is possible for humans all over the planet to sustain themselves on raw food. From an ecological perspective, it may turn out to be a necessity.
It has been said that an idea whose time has come is initially ridiculed, then violently opposed, and finally accepted as fact. As an avowed “orthorexic.” I am used to jokes about surviving on a diet of sprouted lentils. In response; I defer to nature as the ultimate teacher and healer. Observation of organisms interacting as positive participants in their feeding web affirms my dietary choice. Look around: every other animal on the planet eats a diet of entirely raw food. No other animals suffer from the debilitating diseases that we do or act as destructively as we do. I believe that getting back in touch with our wild nature would go a long way toward re-balancing our ecology. Raw foodism offers a delicious, life-affirming pathway back to our sustainable selves.
Bruce Horowitz, is a certified composting educator
and master raw foods chef dedicated to the global proliferation of sustainable
cuisine. Formerly head chef at Organica and executive chef at RAW in
San Francisco, he teaches un-cooking classes, caters and tours the
country with the SunKitchen.com