Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So, Is Raw Food Insane?

What would it take to learn to love a raw food lifestyle?

Granted, this isn't a new thought.  I've been puzzling over this since finding Natalia Rose's Detox 4 Women in Barnes & Noble about thirteen months ago.  It's a truly fascinating lifestyle, incorporating everything from food to food sources to compassion to supporting local organic farmers and, occasionally, to fanaticism.  But what is it all about?  And, more importantly, can I do it?

I truly love to cook.  Veganism was a stretch, but thankfully I tried it just as I was starting work at an amazing Thai bistro, which opened up hundreds of possibilities.  But--raw food?  I couldn't imagine denying myself the joy of being in the kitchen; like a cute little housewife, I happily slave over dinner, chopping up mirepoix for soup, kneading bread, inventing new marinades, and reading recipe books for fun.

Natalia Rose caught my interest about a year ago, and since then, I keep drifting back to this intriguing possibility of living on raw food.  It's not as extreme as it sounds; prehistoric man didn't have a microwave and even meat was originally eaten raw.  No other species feels the need to cook its food.  Why should we?

Are there any raw foods you're completely in love with?  Mine was (and is) guacamole.  It's not that hard to eat more vegetables and fruits if you adore them and then slowly expand--and I will guarantee that there is much more to the vegetable and fruit arena than you can even guess.  Look up daikons, for example--it's a fruit that looks like a huge, spiky boulder all ready for the catapult!  Just look at the picture above--edible flowers?  They're delicious, velvety, and oh-so-pretty!  Rose petals on salad are delicately unbelievable.  Grated beets are an earthy, magenta nirvana, ripe tomatoes smell and taste like heaven, and avocado halves sprinkled with lime juice and sea salt are almost (almost!) better than ice cream sprinkled with seven million dollars.  Spanish gazpacho (without the breadcrumbs, of course) is like an internal air conditioner on 95-degree Georgia afternoons.  Walnut oil and lemon juice make a mesclun salad cry with joy.  Cold Thai coconut curry soup is decadence flavored with cilantro.

I'll have to take some pictures of the brilliant salad I've been addicted to for the past few days--short julienned carrots, chopped vine-ripe blazing red tomatoes, sweet yellow raw corn off the cob, half a chopped Vidalia onion--that's one thing Georgia gave me I can't live without!--minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, a dash of cumin, some walnut oil, and a heaping chopped handful of basil, Italian flat-leaf-parsley, and dill, all of it drizzled with a whole seriously juicy, tangy lime.  The color combination of red/orange/yellow mixed with the green herbs is to die for, and since the flavors haven't been blended by heat, it's like exploding vegetable fireworks in your mouth.  With lime.

But when I first started looking at raw food, it looked gross, tasteless, and terrifying.  Not to mention seriously expensive.  I wasn't about to sell my stove on a whim that might easily not last for three weeks so I could afford all this extra mechanical stuff.  And if you're like me, and you get distracted very easily in the kitchen, a nice, sensible,  French woman's approach isn't going to help you if you suddenly learn to make baguettes, rolls, multigrain bread, sesame bread, Laugenbroetchen, croissants, ciabatta, foccacia, and God knows what else because you cannot stop experimenting.  (And ravioli, which fell apart in the pot and made squishy doughy soup!  Ew.)

Natalia Rose wrote books directed specifically at the magic of fruits and vegetables.  For the first time, there wasn't anything for me to zero in on but the main message.  It's a bit hard to read her books and miss the overall point:  that you have got to make fruits and vegetables the mainstay of your diet or you are doomed into a Hell made of fat, candida, and gyms.  I like her.

So what would it take, according to her, to start being healthy?

1.  Willpower.  Clearly.  I could live without chocolate, but multigrain bread and pasta are my lovers--and she recommends staying away from grains.
2.  A juicer.  Dear God.  Breville juicers are murderously expensive.
3.  A blender.  Like a $400-$500 VitaMix.  AAAH.
4.  A trampoline/rebounder.  Over $100.
5.  A messload of organic juicing produce.
6.  Seriously expensive condiments and spices.  Stevia.  Nama Shoyu.  Raw almond butter.  Raw honey.
7.  Wild organic seafood.  (And I was doing so well as a vegan.)
8.  Raw cheddar-style goat cheese.  (Not so sure about this one.  I like Parmesan and mozzarella, but not cheddar.)
9.  Young coconuts
10.  Vegetables.  Fruit.  Pasta sauce.  And a whole lotta lemons and avocados.
11.  Colonic/enema procedures, oh, my.

But, see, however scary and expensive (!) this list was, my interest was suddenly caught.  I wanted to be slim and slender and lean and gorgeous without trying (much).  I wanted to have better skin and feel happy all the time.  I wanted the perfect, magical, awesome life experience that she promises, that most raw food devotees promise.

Guess what?

Done slowly, it's addictive.

I started with a few more salads each week, and some fruit each morning.  I won't say I felt any kind of physical high or anything, but avocados and tomatoes are heaven.  Eventually, I found a $55 juicier at Target, and annexed my boyfriend's blender.  Then he and I went away to work at a summer nerd camp, and all the vegan food they had was usually the extensive salad bar, because they murdered all their vegetables with way too much heat and butter.  Then we rented a new apartment and I got to stock my own kitchen with all the stuff I wanted for the first time ever.  It was Georgia and blazing hot--salads look waaaaaaay better than 400-degree lasagna.

I won't say I'm a raw foodist.  I resent labeling myself, because I'll want to rebel against it anyway and it'll make other people equate me with every crazy person claiming that label, too.  But with the advent of summer, craving raw food has become a normal state of being.  I've stuck mostly to fruits, vegetables, and tea, although I do go through weeks of fanatically trying to make a perfect croissant.  But I feel nauseated when I eat chips or fries; I can actually feel the grease sliding through the pores on my face, and it's horrid.  Pay attention to what you're eating, really zero in on it, and you can't miss your body's reactions.

Raw food, despite the initial assumptions, turns out to be far more delicious and gratifying than anything I could pick up at a fast-food restaurant.

Next goal:  begin juicing regularly!  (Note:  if you don't have a composter or another use for the fiber, don't throw it down the sink!  My complex's maintenance men left me a nice little note asking me to stop putting strange food down the drain.)