Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Raw Food is All About

I started this post by doing my homework; that is, procrastinating. For me to write any amount of information that someone else might possibly read on the subject seems utterly ridiculous and it's daunting. There are so many books out there and so many lifetimes devoted to it, there's really no way I can tell you anything of importance.

But I realize that as we move more in the Raw Food direction, it would be helpful for any readers who visit to have a baseline of what we mean when we describe something as "Raw." I'll try to keep it interesting.

Your cj was brought up in a good Dutchy family. Mom and Dad quickly quashed any early inclination I had toward becoming a vegetarian-- "You need that protein! Don't you look at your pork chop like that, you ungrateful little shit, and eat your (boiled to oblivion) potatoes and vegetables!" I was permitted to conscientiously object to veal, but no more. I say this only to reassure you that I was not raised to become a "food weirdo." It is something that I happily chose, because it was finally the right time to do it. And it really doesn't seem all that weird now.

The Raw Food movement has been around for a long time. I won't tell you when it started because historically, it's more accurately described by when we humans started cooking our food, rather than when the crazy-crunchy-hippie-probably-communists-conspiracy-theorizing whack jobs started not cooking it. Throughout history, meat and other foods which require cooking were often prohibitively expensive luxuries for the general population. Fuel was also expensive, so diets included a lot more simple, uncooked and unmessed-with foods. Such as-- GASP!-- unpasteurized, hormone-free dairy products. Can you believe that free-range was once the norm? Or what about non-irradiated vegetables? Do you know which ones in your grocery stores are picked unripe and then "gassed" to produce a ripe-like appearance? Did you know that your "raw" almonds are probably cooked to temperatures of over 150 degrees? It's hard to find a non-biased article about the almonds, but just try googling it for a start. You practically have to go on the black market for food that hasn't been somehow altered-- usually for "safety" reasons.

Raw food enjoys sporadic resurgences as people following the diet go in and out of the media. Right now Sarma Melngailis (who is, incidentally, the most radiantly beautiful woman I've ever seen-- for a blonde) holds the limelight with the cookbook Raw Food Real World, co-authored by her then-partner, Matthew Kenny. You can see these two beautiful people here.

But really, what do we mean when we refer to something as "raw"? The most simple answer is that the food is as close as possible to its natural state, and has not been heated at any point beyond a temperature of 118 degrees F. This is why we protest our almonds being pasteurized. Now, why would we worry about that? Common raw-foodie belief is that cooking food destroys a large amount of the nutrients available when at its natural state. "They" also say that it kills the enzymes that aid digestion and keep your colon happy. Happy colon = good!

If you want to read the health benefits, as well as the cautions (there are some), there is plenty out there. I will not bore you with a bunch of links for that, just go to google and type in "raw food", and you'll have a wealth of information. Read some articles, both pro and con, if that interests you. What I will bore you with is some of the personal experiences I've had.

A few weeks back I posted here that I wanted to start eating one (just one, I felt it was a reasonable goal) raw food meal per day. It's been much easier than I thought. Since then, I have felt much lighter, and my jeans are starting to look just-right again. I don't weigh myself, but I can tell you that my stomach looks firmer and I feel, overall, much less flubby. The stairs at work don't leave me gasping anymore. I'd estimate I've dropped five pounds.

Another effect is on my skin. For years I've had trouble skin. Back when I went to a dermatologist, he insisted that it had nothing to do with diet. All the literature I could find reiterated what he said. I remember one of the last times I showed up in his office; in tears because I was eating better than I ever had in my whole life (in my opinion, that meant more vegetarian, including a lot of organic breads and pasta), and my skin was worse than ever! He was kind about it, but reminded me that it had nothing to do with diet. The trouble is, I knew it did. For example, when I would have the flu and could keep nothing down for a week, miraculously everything cleared up beautifully. If I went camping for a weekend and we just brought certain items, again, clear skin. There was a pattern to it, but I just couldn't figure it out.

Finally I traced the problem to dairy. Eliminating dairy has been so very hard (Brie, feta, parmesan, smoked gouda, come on!!) but eating raw food has been paying off there, too. My skin is smoother and not feeling icky halfway through the work day. Every time I eat dairy, it reinforces the fact that it's been the major culprit all along. Recently I read that a high glycemic-index diet (read, typical Merkan highly-processed, refined-grain diet) is another contributing factor.

When it comes down to it, I like to think of Raw Food as a way to increase our creativity in how we look at meals. It's not about a list of things we can't have. If we want something, we eat it. We're just more aware of when we really want something, rather than when we're just eating it out of habit. Does the crunchy, nutty element in tabouli have to be cracked wheat? No, it doesn't. But does a sandwich sometimes just cry out for fresh crusty french bread? Yes, it does. Do I need American cheese on a burger? No, I don't. But do I really, really want a tablespoon of fresh sheep-milk feta cheese on my salad? Yes, I do. And I feel better about those choices when I make them.

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