Feeding in the Raw

Raw food—vegan by definition—takes the no-meat menu to new heights. Are you prepared to make the climb?

The idea of eating foods in their natural state can be traced to the Natural Hygenics movement of the late 1950s. Dr. Ann Wigmore, the founder of Natural Hygenics, taught that there are enzymes in uncooked and unprocessed foods that have extraordinary health benefits—and that cooking and processing destroys many of the enzymes. Dr. Wigmore felt that any temperature over 118°F rendered natural food enzymes ineffective, negating the possibility of obtaining health from the foods we eat.

Today’s raw foodists also point out the ecological basis for their lifestyle. By eating only unprocessed, organically grown foods, which are all completely recyclable, they are living in harmony with the Earth and helping to preserve the environment (since plant-based agriculture requires less land and water, and non-cooking requires less fossil fuels).

Enzymes are the basis for the raw foods movement. Raw foodists believe that naturally occurring enzymes present in food aid in the digesting and utilization of foods. Utilizing natural enzymes from raw foods is thought to improve health, increase energy and to cleanse the body of toxins. It is also felt that when cooked food is eaten, the body has to produce enzymes for digestion, diverting energy away from other enzymes, which cleanse, heal and build up the body.

Very vegan: The raw foods lifestyle does allow for minor variations, but all raw foods diets are vegan. Some raw foodists use a dehydrator (which reaches temperatures of only 105°F) while others won’t, accepting only sun-dried foods. Live foodists are raw foodists who prefer to use food ingredients that are sprouted (such as seeds, nuts, grains or legumes), organic, fermented or cultured (such as seeds and vegetables). As with any group there are many variations according to personal beliefs and philosophies.

In general, people following a raw foods lifestyle don’t eat red meat, poultry, fish or seafood, dairy products, pasta, rice, or cooked or processed foods (such as coffee, soda, cold cereal, bread, etc.). If ingredients are dried, they are never heated near the 118°F-mark, which would inactive enzymes.

Raw kitchen: Forget about microwaves, ovens, toasters and ranges; raw kitchens do not require any hot-cooking equipment. If your staff has lots of time and are fairly good with a knife, a good set of knives, a cutting board and a blender will suffice.

To save time, a food processor, seed or nut mill (looks like a coffee or spice grinder), a juicer and a food dehydrator can be added to your list of equipment. In addition, keep your eye out for both manual and electric cutting equipment (kitchen supply and Asian markets are good sources), that can cut fruit and vegetables into interesting shapes—for example, a hand-cranked slicing instrument with different blades that lets you cut fruit and veggies into ribbons, shoestrings and confetti.

Food dehydrators are used to remove the moisture from ingredients at very low temperatures. Of course, if you have the time and the climate, you can allow you foods to sun-dry. If not, ensure that your dehydrator does not go above 118°F. You can use your dehydrator to make raw breads, burgers, cookies, fruit leather, brownies and crackers. Look for food dehydrators at kitchen supply, health and natural food, and camping outfitter stores. Remember to follow HACCP guidelines as to time and proper storage.

Have lots of containers on hand (and labeling material) so you can chop, blend or puree ingredients ahead of time and store until ready to use.

Raw pantry: Be sure to stock your kitchen with lots of interesting ingredients to create flavorful menus.

Fresh fruit and vegetables should be organic and can be used whole or in juice. Ripe bananas are very useful in a raw foods kitchen. Over-ripe bananas can be peeled, pureed and frozen, then used later as a snack or ingredient. Take advantage of seasonal fruit and vegetable prices by over-purchasing and dehydrating the produce you won’t eat right away. Dried fruit and vegetables can be eaten as is or used in recipes.

Lentils, peas, beans and peanuts are legumes that provide protein, iron and some B vitamins. Think dried lentils, mung beans, garbanzo beans, black beans and whole dried peas. Experiment with different varieties of dried beans (such as black and white beans, cranberry beans, aduki beans and pink beans) for flavor and texture, as well.

Grains that are sprouted can be used for dehydrated raw breads, cookies, crusts and crackers or eaten as is for a chewy snack. Purchase wheat berries, dried barley, rye berries, millet and oats. Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, unsaturated fat, calcium, iron, potassium and B vitamins. They can be used in making raw milks, butters, yogurt, sauces and snacks. Have walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkinseeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds on hand. 

Get to know sea vegetables, available fresh or dried. Sea vegetables, such as nori, arame, agar and wakame, are packed with nutrients and can be used to flavor, wrap or thicken foods.

Some raw foodists use vegetable oils, syrups, juice concentrates, miso and nutritional yeast to flavor foods. Try to purchase cold-pressed, organic oils and store them in dark bottles so they do not oxidize. When purchasing syrups, such as date, rice, maple and barley, read the labels to be sure that there is no sugar or honey (which is considered  an animal-based product) added or hot production methods used.