(Raw) Food for Thought

Uncooked diets are going mainstream

| May 17, 2007

Wake up and smell the rawvioli. The raw food movement is going mainstream. What used to be an outlandish proposition -- subsisting on a diet with no cooked food -- is slowly catching on with the general public. 'Raw food used to be an exotic diet and lifestyle,' says author David Wolfe, quoted by Becca Campbell and Ritzy Ryciak in Conscious Choice. 'Now it has opened up and is more accessible.'

The biggest change in uncooked culture has been in the perception of raw food as an all-or-nothing lifestyle choice. Raw food advocates now look at diets in terms of percentages. Wolfe believes that a person can reap most of the benefits of the unprocessed diet -- from better nutrient absorption to increased energy -- from eating a diet that's only 70 to 80 percent raw food. For their own part, Campbell and Ryciak identify themselves as 'weekend rawriors,' who devote a mere 50 percent of their diet to uncooked food.

Many of the cookbooks, diet plans, and restaurants recently appearing on the raw food scene are catering to the raw food curious, rather than the hard core. 'They get into juices,' says Wolfe, 'then boom, the whole thing starts rolling.' And tastier recipes for more interesting foods -- including raw ravioli and pizza -- have helped overcome a reluctance to go raw. Yet Campbell and Ryciak write that reactions to raw food still range from 'bemused skepticism' to borderline 'hostility.'

Part of that stigma may be due to the American propensity to 'demonize' foods. Writing for Grist, Tom Philpott suggests that Americans have been fooled into thinking that processed food is healthier than plain old fruits and vegetables. Food processing giants have convinced Americans, according to Philpot, that they 'could actually improve the raw food that grows from the dirt.'

Raw food advocates will point out that this belief is simply not true, and many believe that people are finally realizing it. 'We have recognized that raw foods are something that our customers want,' Justin Jackson, executive coordinator of purchasing for Whole Foods in Northern California, tells Campbell and Ryciak. The supermarket has plans to stock 'raw food concepts,' broadening the choices for raw foods beyond the produce isles and into refrigerated and room temperature products. Says Jackson: 'We don't think [the demand] is going to go away.'

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