After some deliberation, as an educated and typically polite person, I decided to keep the “raw food… minus the bullshit” tagline I introduced in 2012. Why? Well, I could say that the raw food media contains some misinformation, logical fallacies, false advertising and quackery, but calling it bullshit delivers the message in a succinct form.
Last month I was invited to give a talk at a raw vegan lunch organized by vegan chef Alan Whykes, at the annual Taste of the World Festival in Hobart. I participated in various informal raw picnics many times before, but avoided involvement in formal events thus far, and so this was my first raw presentation ever! Critical thinking just had to be the key part of my presentation. I realize that many raw food promoters would focus primarily on how wonderful raw foods are, but to me being real and grounded is crucial, and so this was my key focus. Below are my thoughts on some of the topics I covered.
It is good to see raw and vegan becoming more and more a part of the mainstream. I am grateful to be able to observe this within my life. My experiences and some study of the literature have convinced me that there is a considerable difference between cooked, even vegan, and raw vegan, in terms of health. Also, I aim at staying raw, because I feel a lot better on raw. I have been keen on finding some science that would explain my experience, which has not been easy, as the literature on raw is quite limited. Still, I have found some quite interesting studies, for example those validating my observation of losing the arthritic pains, from which I suffered before raw. See a small selection below. I have more to say on these, but no space for this here, so I will let you ponder on these quotes yourself. Let me just say that I do believe that what we put inside our body has a remarkable effect on our health, which science only begins to unravel.
(1) “Tropical and subtropical fruits contain a broad range of phytochemicals, which are reported to protect against several chronic diseases viz., cardiovascular diseases and cancer.”
“Research suggests that phytochemicals, working together with nutrients found in fruits, may help slow the aging process, reduce cell damage, stimulate the immune system and reduce the risk of many diseases.”
Acta Horticulturae, Volume 1024, 12 March 2014, Pages 39-48, Mitra, S.K., Devi, H.L., Debnath, S.
(2) “Bacteria, gut organisms linked to health, autism, schizophrenia, depression, diabetes, allergies and obesity.”
ABC News Oct 2014
(3) “We studied the effect on fecal hydrolytic activities of adopting an uncooked extreme vegan diet and readopting a conventional diet.”
“Results suggest that this uncooked extreme vegan diet causes a decrease in bacterial enzymes and certain toxic products that have been implicated in colon cancer risk.”
J Nutr 1992 Apr;122(4):924-30. Shifting from a conventional diet to an uncooked vegan diet reversibly alters fecal hydrolytic activities in humans. Ling WH, Hanninen O. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland.
(4) “The rheumatoid arthritis patients eating the LF diet reported amelioration of their pain, swelling of joints and morning stiffness which all got worse after finishing LF diet. The composite indices of objective measures showed also improvement of the rheumatoid arthritis patients during the intervention. The fibromyalgic subjects eating LF lost weight compared to their omnivorous controls. The results on their joint stiffness and pain (visual analogue scale), on their quality of sleep, on health assessment questionnaire and on general health questionnaire all improved.”
“It appears that the adoption of vegan diet exemplified by the living food leads to a lessening of several health risk factors to cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Rheumatoid patients subjectively benefited from the vegan diet which was also seen in serum parameters and fecal analyses.”
Acta Physiol Hung 1999;86(3-4):171-80. Vegan diet in physiological health promotion. Hanninen O, Rauma AL,
Kaartinen K, Nenonen M. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland.
(5) “Approximately 200 studies that examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancers of the lung, colon, breast, cervix, esophagus, oral cavity, stomach, bladder, pancreas, and ovary are reviewed.”
“For most cancer sites, persons with low fruit and vegetable intake (at least the lower one-fourth of the population) experience about twice the risk of cancer compared with those with high intake, even after control for potentially confounding factors.”
“It would appear that major public health benefits could be achieved by substantially increasing consumption of these foods.”
Block G., Patterson B., Subar A. Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: A review of the epidemiological evidence (1992) Nutrition and Cancer, 18 (1) , pp. 1-29.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN
I have covered this topic a number of times before (eg ref1, ref2), but it never ceases to be relevant. Put it simply, not all that is written on the internet is true! So it is really important to be discerning. The popularity of raw means that there are many pages on raw these days online. Unfortunately, a lot of information is incorrect, and could even potentially hurt. When someone has legions of social medial followers, this does not mean that their health advice is sound or even safe. The gullibility of masses and the denial of what’s obvious to the eye can be astounding at times, but this phenomenon is not limited to raw. It seems that through the history of the human kind, people have trusted and mindlessly followed different gurus or leaders, with some disastrous consequences, and I do not have to give you the examples, as you would be well familiar with those. Here is a recent little example though that I found quite handy:
Also, I would like to mention another example, which I think is a colorful illustration of human gullibility and the phenomenon of denial. There is this woman in India known as a Hugging Saint, or Amma. She has legions of followers who treat her as her guru, and see as the embodiment of love. Now, a book “Holy Hell” recently came out written by Gail Tredwell, an Australian woman who had been Amma’s personal assistant for roughly 20 years, and left (escaped from) Amma’s ashram in the end. The book exposes, amongst other issues, the physical abuse (beatings) and mental abuse of servants by Amma, donations and goods being syphoned by Amma to her family, her sexual relationships with her swamis, and bullying of anyone who seems a threat to her position. These issues have been exposed by others at different places before, but the uniqueness of the book is that it is the first-hand account written by someone who had the most intimate access to the “guru”, and knew her most personal secrets. The amount of denial by Amma’s followers and the lengths they would go to cover up the issues or validate her behavior as acceptable, despite these being presented to them in their full view, is astounding. Amongst the denialists are even Amma’s close staff, that is, people who have witnessed the abuse, yet continue to believe that she is god.
How can people be such complete bonkers? The underlying psychology that explains this, is actually quite simple. In rather crude words, one is more likely to become an idiot, and ignore the truth staring them in the face, when they are in a group of idiots that all say the same thing (and yes, there is some serious science behind this). Sometimes it can take one person pointing out that the emperor is naked, to awaken the crowd of idiots. Sometimes it can take a small trigger to awaken the sleeping mind. Do not let yours go to sleep. Do not become a mindless crowd member. Have courage to be different.
An interesting question is, how to find the sweet spot between the two extremes, the mindless obedience to the status quo, and the mindless trust in quackery? I think that in order to achieve a healthy balance, one needs to by really careful and critical of the information, and be weary of the over-simplification trap.
For instance, one needs to realize that when a raw healing miracle happens to someone, this does not mean that it will happen to everyone, and so one person’s experience cannot be treated as the validation of a general pattern. This is why it is important to look at the whole spectrum of stories, not just those that glorify raw. For example, although cancer healing stories on raw exist, there are also stories of those that did not heal from cancer on raw. Such as a story someone told me about their friend who died of cancer, despite living hygienically since young age, eating a raw diet for about 10 years, and being pro-hygiene and pro-raw foods/anti-medicine for many years. On top of that, there are stories of those who claimed to have healed from cancer but later died from it (ref), and those who have claimed they had cancer but never had it at all (ref1, ref2).
So does raw heal cancer or not? Well, the scientific literature, the quotes of which I provided above, clearly suggests that a diet full of fresh fruit and veggies decreases the chances of getting cancer, amongst other diseases. Surely, the chances of healing on raw would have been higher too. Note that the key word here is chances. That is, your chances of staying healthy, or healing from various diseases, may be higher on raw, but raw is not the guarantee of it. Raw is not some miraculous panacea. There are so many other factors beyond raw, and some of those may be even outside our control or awareness. Still, the best strategy would be to adopt a diet that increases your chances of the best possible health outcome, wouldn’t it?
GROW YOUR HEART
Raw foodists seem to focus a lot on the diet. However, emotional and psychological health has a lot more impact on our overall well-being than we realize or are prepared to admit. It is not a pure coincidence that centenarians tend to be happy people with a positive attitude to life. I would like to suggest that THE key aspect of our health is how we treat other beings.
Central to the vegan philosophy is the elimination or reducing the animals exploitation and suffering. This is a beautiful and well justified idea.
“Nonhuman animal farming, by its fundamental nature, involves a greater or lesser degree of ill treatment and oppression. (…) Worldwide, approximately 55,000,000,000 land-based nonhumans are killed every year in the farming industry (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2010).” Ref: Mitchell L. Moral disengagement and support for nonhuman animal farming, (2011) Society and Animals, 19 (1), pp. 38-58.
I think that being kind to animals is the step in the right direction. Being kind to the planet, and so caring about one’s footprint, is an even higher level of ethical awareness. But the ultimate level of human existence is practicing kindness to all beings.
Veganism certainly is a crucial part of raw food philosophy. Ahimsa which is embedded in the fruitarian philosophy, forms a large part of raw foodism too. So why do we see so much hatred amongst the raw vegan crowds? Why so much conflict and drama? And, what most worrying of all, why do we see mobs of haters that go after individuals and bully them? This is really really sad. Us humans are fragile creatures, which seem to be vulnerable to our drives of imperfection. Still, surely it is not too hard to find in our heart of hearts that there is a better way of being.
I would like to suggest here that being a raw foodist has to involve growing your heart. Otherwise, we are just empty shells that fill our bodies with healthy foods, but our hearts are diseased and dying.
There exists science that indicates that we are all related to a common female ancestor, referred to as a mitochondrial Eve. So if you want to keep your heart of hearts alive, think of others as your brothers and sisters. Thread more gently.