Over the past several days, I've begun to understand that raw foodism (or rawism) is much more than just a dietary choice — it is a lifestyle choice, complete with its own set of values and daily rituals (like blending and cutting vegetables). In accepting MNN's two-week challenge to undertake and document a significant personal change, I hope to encourage others to examine their lifestyles and choices. In the process, perhaps we all might come to a better understanding of the impact of our choices, both conscious and unconscious.
So to begin, it might be worthwhile to explore what exactly rawism means to those that practice it. The first thing to understand, of course, is what a raw food diet specifically entails.
The short and (relatively) simple answer is that a raw food diet is based primarily on uncooked, unprocessed food in as close to its natural state as possible. While there are many variations of this — raw veganism, raw vegetarianism, and even fruitarianism — the unifying belief is that heating food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit causes fundamental chemical changes that not only degrade vital enzyme activity and decrease the nutritional density of food, but also create harmful carcinogens and toxins. Though some foods, such as tomatoes, have been shown to release essential nutrients only when cooked, most foods are actually robbed of their nutritional value in the cooking process.
As I've been discovering, a raw food diet is heavy on fruits, vegetables, nuts and sprouts. Smoothies and fruit and vegetable juices are some of the raw foodist's essentials, as they are easy to make and very high in nutrients. A blender is more than handy — it's indispensable.
While more gourmet rawists often use a dehydrator to prepare food, I still have no idea what a dehydrator actually looks like. At least in the beginning stages of becoming a rawist, it's OK to keep it simple. Salads, coleslaw, fruit and vegetable smoothies and even a little gazpacho have all served me well so far. I find that I'm eating smaller meals, but snacking more frequently throughout the day on nuts, raisins and vegetables.
And while most rawists like to debunk the "myth" that a raw food diet is more expensive, I'm not totally convinced yet. At its simplest, yes — rawism can be very cheap, but not particularly exciting or balanced. But since most rawists (including myself) use mainly organic and local produce to get the most nutrients and account for the health of the earth as well, the grocery bill has been slightly higher this week. I'll attribute part of that to buying a couple so-called "superfoods" (a.k.a. super-expensive and super-exotic), such as raw cacao bits from the Amazon and goji berries from the Himalayas — delicious and extremely nutrient-dense, but not essential. I've definitely spent a lot of time at my local farmers markets, though, and eating local, seasonal produce can be a bargain.
An important clarification before my next update: rawism does not mean you need to eat a 100 percent raw diet. In fact, most people say you only need a 75 to 90 percent raw diet to really experience the health benefits, mental clarity, and natural detoxification of the raw lifestyle. Like most lifestyle decisions, it's a personal choice resulting from a variety of different motivations. For the purposes of this challenge, I will attempt to eat as raw as I can — but balance is key, especially in the transitional stage to rawism.