Raw Curious – a primer for beginners

by Crystal on March 27, 2010

RawShop I grew up vegetarian in a time when vegetarianism was something very few people knew anything about.  Even my family were stumped what to feed me (I usually ended up with an extra serve of the 2-veg part of the meal).  You’d find one restaurant in 50 that had something edible on their menu, let alone suitable, and try explaining the difference between a vegan, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and a semi-vegetarian, and you were GUARANTEED blank looks.  I signed up once for a meal delivery program that promised me they had vegetarian dishes, but couldn’t promise they’d be a balanced diet, only to get the first week’s meals comprised of two meals of pasta napoletana, and the rest fish.  I had to send it back (and in those days I found it hard to say boo to a goose, so that’s saying something!)

These days, most places will have at least one vegetarian option on the menu, and it’s a bit rarer to find people who believe that serving fish and chicken are ok for vegetarians.  Unfortunately, now the world seems to be catching up with me, I seem to have wandered off into a whole new world with it’s own unique distinctions, and I’m getting those blank looks again.  It’s so new to me, I’m even giving a few of them myself!

I’ve entered the wonderland of vegan and raw food.

Yes, it does sometimes feel like I’ve slipped down the rabbit-hole.  Even so, it’s an exciting adventure.  From the time I did my 30 day trial last year, I’ve known I wanted to move this way, but wandering a new territory with signs you can’t decipher is always interesting.

In an attempt to clarify what I’ve picked up so far, here’s my primer on it.

What is a Vegetarian: This one I know well.  Someone who doesn’t eat meat or flesh from any type of living, breathing creature.  Ranges along the spectrum below.

  • Semi-vegetarian: mostly vegetarian, but will occasionally eat fish or chicken.  Usually also eats eggs & dairy.
  • Pesco-vegetarian: mostly vegetarian, but will also eat fish (often also eats eggs & dairy as well)
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: vegetarian who will eat eggs and dairy foods (there is a debate about eggs being suitable, which mostly hinges on whether they are all potentially living creatures, or whether they were unfertilised and would never have hatched)
  • Lacto vegetarian: vegetarian who will eat dairy foods (although there’s also a debate about cheese, since most cheeses aren’t actually vegetarian, requiring the lining from a cows stomach to produce them)
  • Strict vegetarian: consumes vegetables and plant products only

What is a Vegan: more than a diet, veganism is a lifestyle whose practitioners have nothing to do with any form of animal product or anything that has any animal involvement in production (eg animal testing).  They don’t have dairy in any form, avoid animal produced clothing/shoes eg leather, and often also wool or silk, and where vegetarians disagree over whether eggs are allowable, for vegans there’s an issue over honey.  There are degrees of veganism, just like vegetarianism, but I’m not too familiar with these.

What is a Raw Foodist: So far I’ve only explored the dietary aspects of this, but the critical aspect is that raw foodists eat foods that have not been heated above 46C/115F, so it retains all its enzymes and is still live (ie capable of reproducing or being propagated) as much as possible.  That implies unprocessed, but not always.  Most people identify themselves as the percentage of their diet they’ve converted to raw food – 20% raw, 50% raw, up to 100% raw.  I’m not going into the philosophy, or the amazing stories of how it works for healing, restoring or rejuvenating the body – google “raw food healing” or check out the “raw food before and after photos” for some of that.  I’m going to stick to the practical aspects here.  Again there’s a spectrum, from practitioners who:

  • Eat raw foods including meat (paleolithic diet or primal diet),
  • Eat raw vegetarian foods including unprocessed dairy,
  • Eat raw vegan foods, with subsections -
    • raw vegan gourmet – reproduce dishes similar in taste and texture to normal vegetarian, vegan or even meat-eating foods (check out therawchefblog.com for some amazing ones!)
    • purists (eat foods in their natural state as much as possible – see Frederic Patenaude , especially the ‘Instant Raw Sensations‘ book)
    • instinctos (eat natural foods based on your body’s responses to their smell & taste)
    • fruitarians (fruit only)
    • juicarians (juice only)

It seems apparent from everything I’ve read over the past year on the topic that your body will keep changing what it needs as you pursue a raw diet and start to see the physical results.  One book said that when starting out the most common mistake was not eating enough fruit & vegetables (that’ll make more sense as you read below) but as your body adapts you’ll need less and less calories.  My own experiences bear that out, not just from the 30 day trial, which started with a purist approach (although I didn’t know it at the time) then bringing more recipes in and moving back to the raw vegan gourmet level, but also as I’ve gradually worked on bringing a higher raw percentage into my normal daily life since.  Initially when my breakfasts went raw, I was very hungry and went through heaps.  Lately I’ve found myself feeling full on just a single banana!

The Raw Gourmet approach can sometimes put you off the raw food diet, since it does involve a lot of preparation and expensive equipment like the Excalibur dehydrator and Vitamix blender, but I can see how creating substitute recipes for old favourites helps with transitioning from one food lifestyle to another, and I have to admit I always did buy the vegetarian rashers and burgers from the supermarket for sheer convenience.  Now I’m finding myself fascinated over again by the purist approach, which was what drew me into raw food in the first place, and my preparation time has dropped heaps.  It doesn’t take long to chop up an apple or banana (if you even bother).  It fascinates me, it did wonders for me while I was on it (lost 10kg in 2 weeks) and lately my research has even found some claims that on a purist raw food diet you don’t even need to drink as much water as on a normal SAD diet.

(PS If you think this might be an approach that works for you, it’s also a lot less equipment – a blender will see you well started – and it fits nicely around a normal working life.  “Raw Food Made Easy For 1 or 2 People” has some great tips on minimalist raw food prep.  If you’re in an area without much of a raw community, or many resources, I do recommend it as a good starting point.)

Now I know more about it, those claims do make a bit more sense – cooked food is concentrated, both in flavour and in calories, that’s why it had survival value (there’s a review of the book “Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human” written from a Raw Food perspective here) and probably why it’s so easy to gain weight on it.  Recently I saw a video about raw recipes on another site (raw vegan gourmet), which described how salt was used to break down harder foods like broccoli, because it opens the cell walls and makes it release moisture, and I realised that it was the point where I brought salt and recipes into my raw food trial that I stopped losing weight, started eating less fruit & vegetables and started needing to drink more water.  The recipes were concentrated food again.

I’m exploring my way back towards a purist bent right now, but I’m still not even 50% raw, so the journey’s still going…  plus if you look at the photo above of the weeks shopping I did for the first week of my raw trial, you’ll see one of the other issues that I found difficult! I think I’d need to have a car (or live closer to some fresh food markets) to do this properly – my poor bf’s car was groaning after he took me to do my weekend shopping trip last time round!

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