I was listening to "Science Friday" on NPR a couple of weeks ago and they were interviewing Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human. The premise is that digesting raw foods requires more energy from the body, so the discovery of cooking led to greater caloric intake, and somehow bigger brains, humanity, yada yada.
Naturally, my thoughts turned to the raw food crowd, a group I have privately mocked even though what other people eat isn't really any of my business. Still, I sat there feeling smug and wondered if the raw foodies were gradually degenerating into neanderthals and wouldn't it be hilarious if the crowd that shops at Whole Foods developed sloping foreheads and knee-grazing knuckles. Of course, the very first caller asked Mr. Wrangham about the raw foods diet. I expected Wrangham to pooh-pooh raw food, but instead he explained that while eating raw isn't so great if you're a cave man and have to forage and hunt for everything you eat, in this day of abundance, it might be better since so many people are overweight. The caller said she'd lost weight since incorporating more raw foods into her diet, and I was all ears.
At the library, I selected two books: The Raw Food Gourmet: Going Raw for Total Well-Being by Gabrielle Chavez, and Celebrating our Raw Nature: Plant-Based Living Cuisine. (No author credited for that one, but it is described as being "with" Dorit.) I figured if I ate one entirely raw meal each day, I'd have the body of a model in about six weeks. The secrets of weight loss revealed to me at last! I could hardly wait to get started.
Unfortunately, it took about ten seconds of browsing these books to kill my enthusiasm. Did I really want to try a recipe that ends with the instruction, "Remove from the dehydrator and serve." Or one that speaks of creating a "slurry" or which has as its main ingredient the pulp left over from making your own nut milk. My urge to mock came roaring back to life like a hurricane traveling over open ocean.
And there is so much to mock. A raw food diet is the 21st century equivalent of wearing a hair shirt. You'd think it would be easy--just eat a bunch of fruits, vegetables and nuts, maybe some sushi and raw milk, and you're set, but no. You have to make your own milk out of your own raw almonds. Everything needs to be soaked, usually overnight, before it can be eaten. You need a dehydrator and a juicer and a food processor. Celebrating Our Raw Nature insists that you must use ceramic knives, but, irritatingly, doesn't tell you why they are superior to ordinary knives. You need to sprout things, such as your raw nuts. (When I told my friend that you're supposed to eat sprouted nuts, she screamed, "WHY?" aghast.) The books caution you that nuts labeled "raw" at the store are not really raw, so you need to buy them from a special provider. You need to buy preposterously hard-to-find foods like "Incan berries" and "kuzu root." You need to buy supplements, such as E3AFA, or "invisible flower of the water," which is "...the Refractance-Window dried crystal flake form of the AFA." I confess I am not up to speed on refractance-window technology.
My two raw food books each used a different approach to introducing this diet. Celebrating Our Raw Nature plays up the advantages: you won't feel the heat, you won't feel the cold, you appreciate what nature has in store for you. And yet, it hints at difficult times: "If there are times while practicing the art of raw that we find ourselves eating a slice of whole grain bread or cooked soup in the depths of a chilly winter frost, we refrain from condemning ourselves or others." (Gee, how magnanimous.) "Instead, we practice acceptance and gratitude, and eat the cooked food mindfully and with enjoyment, perhaps adding some raw sprouts, green leaves, or E3Live to the dish."
The Raw Food Gourmet tries to be realistic about the challenges of the raw diet, namely, you'll be starving all the time and you won't have any friends. The author suggests that the way to combat this last problem is to preach the raw lifestyle to all your friends and make them to convert. Good luck with that.
Then there are the recipes themselves, many of them tortuous manipulations of raw food masquerading as cooked food: Ume-Kuzu Digestive Drink, a "cake" made of dehydrated fruit and nuts, Avocado cake frosting, "living" fudge, a drink called the "morning mover" which is "known to assist in moving the bowels." I realized I couldn't last a day, an hour on this diet. And yet, I was tempted to try. I was dying to see what the Avocado Cake Frosting tasted like. So I made a couple of raw smoothies, not that you need a special raw cookbook to puree almond milk and fruit. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. The Avocado Frosting is supposed to be a mix of avocado, raw honey, and carob. I have three words to say about carob: No Effing Way, so I substituted cocoa. The finished frosting looks like chocolate pudding, but tastes like brown avocado. Drama Queen said it tasted like "sour cream meat sauce." I couldn't resist displaying it to Mr. McP and telling him it was chocolate pudding. He tasted it and was not amused. I do like to have my little prank, now and then.