The Raw Food Movement

Many Americans spend this week roasting a Turkey and caramelizing onions for sausage stuffing, but there is a growing number of people who won't cook anything at all. They are known as "raw foodists." Alison Bryce has a report on the raw food community in Los Angeles.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, Tom Stoppard takes a run at war and peace.

But first, most Americans, or at least many, spent Thanksgiving roasting a turkey and caramelizing onions for sausage stuffing. There's a group of people who didn't cook anything at all. They eat only raw food. They are known collectively as raw foodists. Reporter Alison Bryce spent some time with raw foodists in Los Angeles.

ALISON BRYCE: Raw foodists eat by the theory that when food is cooked over 112 degrees, it loses its living enzymes. Most people who eat raw fit into two groups. One that includes raw meat, eggs and dairy, and the other that eats only raw vegetables, fruits and nuts, called vegan raw.

Rawsome is a co-op in Venice Beach, California that sells only raw food. And it's only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Vegetables piled high in crates line the outside of the co-op, and 25 pounds jars of raw honey sit on the shelves inside. Towards the back is a walk-in freezer.

Bison inside a round roast. Colostrum, some bison heart. Whoa...

You can also find flaxseeds, raw olives, chia and raw chocolate. James Stewart runs the raw food co-op and says that the farmers who supply his store know people won't be cooking their food. At the store, there's raw dairy, organic vegetables and extra-clean meat.

Stewart opened the co-op for raw foodists years ago because he couldn't find raw dairy products in Los Angeles. Dairy is the one food product that most American health departments prohibit selling raw. Stewart has a ruddy complexion and a full head of brown hair that stands up in a cowlick around his forehead.

With a jolly smile, he welcomes hundreds of raw foodists a week, who come to get food not sold in average grocery stores. Over a raw fish lunch in the heart of bustling Venice, Stewart says his life changed dramatically when he went raw.

Mr. JAMES STEWART (Owner of Rawsome): When you start eating raw protein and whatnot, you actually can feel it within minutes or hours. It's that quick. Energetically, your body feels clean. You don't feel challenged or bogged down, you don't get tired.

BRYCE: It may sound simple to eat raw - munching on carrots or drinking raw cream. But for raw foodists who want something a big more tasty, the diet becomes extremely time consuming. Linda Goldman was a gourmet raw vegan. One thing she made was raw pizza.

Imagine a crust that is dense and crunchy. It's often made from dehydrated bean sprouts and vegetables. The tomato sauce on top is much like you would find on a regular pizza. But the cheese? It's not cheese. Sometimes it's made from blended nuts and called macadamia mozzarella. The consistency is like a creamy paste. Raw veggies sit on top, and it is not piping hot.

Goldman describes the elaborate sprouting process for making the pizza crust.

Ms. LINDA GOLDMAN (Gourmet Raw Vegan): I was sprouting peas, legumes, I think there was some millet in there as well, maybe some quinoa. I don't know. It was a lot. I had jars everywhere. The whole kitchen was just jars upside down filled with things to sprout.

BRYCE: Goldman says to maintain a hundred percent raw diet, she felt like she couldn't do it alone.

Ms. GOLDMAN: It takes so much effort. You know, three days, four days, to make a meal. You know, you want someone else to just give you those damn crackers. You know, you just don't want to sit there and have to work for four days to get your crackers. It's like let me just get somebody who made them. So it became this connection, like a little drug connection.

BRYCE: Some raw foodists say they can tell when someone around them is raw. Matt Amsden owns a raw food store with his wife called Euphoria Loves RAWvolution in Santa Monica, California.

Mr. MATT AMSDEN (Owner, Euphoria Loves RAWvolution): I've often been in supermarkets and I've heard other people say this, that they'll walk up to somebody and they're like, you're a raw fooder? And they're like, yeah, yeah. 'Cause you can somehow tell.

BRYCE: Raw foodists believe they feel better on the diet because they are consuming food that is more alive or has more nutrients than cooked food. But nutritionist Mary-Jon Ludy of the Massachusetts General Hospital disagrees.

Ms. MARY-JON LUDY (Nutritionist): We think in the nutrition field that the difference between vitamin and mineral content of raw food versus cooked food is actually pretty trivial.

BRYCE: Craig Ng(ph) has been a raw foodist for more than six years and says he feels better when he eats this way and pities those who eat and feel lethargic afterwards. He is 52 but looks decades younger. He has taut sinewy limbs and wears his straight black hair to his shoulders. Ng loves this diet, but says the isolation that comes with the raw food lifestyle is hard if you're not prepared.

Mr. CRAIG NG (Raw Foodist): Yeah. I wouldn't recommended it. I think one of the things that you have to go through is the disconnection from mass consciousness. The disconnection from this - this is what everybody does and it's accepted.

BRYCE: In turning away from the consciousness of the masses, Ng turns towards people who share his excitement about raw living. He not only shops at Rawsome, he lingers among the shelves of raw cheeses, dehydrated figs, raw macadamia nuts and bee pollen.

Mr. NG: I am like everybody there, totally jazzed about a form and way of eating that finally has served them. You're so jazzed about it that you look like you're a little bit of a nut, you know.

BRYCE: And in case you're looking, you just may be able to find a raw food potluck near you.

For NPR News, I'm Alison Bryce.

Unidentified Woman: Cocoa nut cream, aloe vera juice...

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