Much like how vegetarians and vegans are often berated with questions about their protein intake, if you go raw, prepare to explain why you made that choice, a lot. For me, it’s just not as clear cut at the protein ordeal is. That can be cast aside by respectfully laying out the science and just being a generally healthy person. If you look like you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not really in a great position to justify unorthodox health practices to others. Going from cooked to raw is just so uncommon and unfamiliar that most people don’t know why anyone would do it because they don’t understand the concept, whereas with going vegan, the motives are pretty well understood to others without much explanation.
I don’t have a short answer for the question of why I’m raw and my answer will have a wide variance depending on who I’m talking to. I’m going to cover most of the ins and outs of why I’m raw here to provide some history beyond what I included in my story and to further articulate the beauty of raw living foods.
When I first heard about raw foods, I had a lot of assumptions. The word raw was already in my vocabulary so I thought I understood the gist of it fairly well but quickly learned there was more to it than uncooked food. Raw foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that have not been heated about 118 degrees. This preserves the enzymes and refrains from destroying many other essential components of the plants. By having the foods at their maximum vibrancy, we in turn take in that living water, light and energy.
I love experimenting. So, for most of 2016 I was trying out all kinds of different dietary lifestyles for various lengths of time. I’d been incorporating more raw foods into my diet over the past year and had done a few days or a week where I’d be all raw. I didn’t do for long enough to really feel the difference though. Mostly just long enough to understand that it’s tough, and I had some work to do before making that leap. I knew from going vegetarian, and then gluten free, that while there are some pronounced effects over the first couple days, after several weeks the deeper understanding sets in as the short term withdrawals pass. So I planned to do 30 days in a row all raw. I was mostly raw at this point, smoothes all day and a cooked dinner in the evening. I didn’t think that it’d be a big change really. I was so close to being raw. Could 1 meal a day really make a big difference?
By this point I’d already let go of alcohol but there were other, less apparent crutches that came to light. I was using some processed foods, all organic, but still, they were little time savers or just helpful for the budget. Those had to go, meaning I would need to allocate more forethought and time into preparing my meals if I wanted to eat things besides banana smoothies. This is what excited me about raw foods.
I love learning and like most of us I learn especially well through personal experience. I knew if I jumped into the swimming pool of raw foods, I wouldn’t sink. I put as much energy as I could into becoming knowledgeable about raw foods while using every meal as an opportunity to learn more techniques and refine my capabilities. I didn’t want to just get by on basic meals. I knew that ship would run out of steam real quick. I decided to educate myself faster than I could even put the new knowledge into practice so I would always have ideas in the bank.
There’s basically a vegan version of everything these days. Whether it’s homemade or prepackaged and processed, it’s a pretty easy time to go plant based. Raw on the other hand, doesn’t have that net of info, recipes and products behind it to the extent that cooked vegan food does. Much like going plant based in Peoria, a city devoid of meatless restaurant options, this worked to my benefit because I wanted to create original versions of the the cooked foods I loved while also seeing what sort of content these new parameters would foster without relying on others through the process. While creativity is undoubtedly boundless, working within some confines can help produce something with it’s own unique flair. When I made a raw dish it just felt so different. That’s one of the aspects that kept me excited.
Next was the exuberant shift in my energy. I can’t honestly say I had any type of spiritual revelations in the beginning, though there was certainly a change, those aspects would develop as more time passed. It was the physical side that provided the strongest contrast in the beginning. By eliminating any processed foods and swapping my heavier cooked meal at night for a lighter, raw option, a new level of energy was unlocked. I used to eat dinner and wind down. With raw foods, I ate dinner and it was like rocket fuel. I’d stay up late getting work done on personal projects like I’d taken some sort of stimulant. My roommate at the time was having similar experiences. He makes electronic music and would always be down to try what I was whipping up in the kitchen. The day after a raw meal it was common for him to say that he’d been up until the wee a.m. hours working on beats, just flying off the raw foods. That’s one of the major reasons I stay with raw foods. It’s a high I just don’t want to come down from. With the experiment being so controlled, I knew it was the raw foods taking my energy to new heights. Sometimes when people make a change, they may also change their exercise regimen, reduce their calorie intake, or another type of health improvement at the same time. I didn’t want to wonder if it was a combination of things leading to my increased wellness so I kept as much about my routine the same as I could to maintain the control of my personal experiment. So why am I telling you this? Because that feeling of increased energy hasn’t subsided, it’s continued to grow.
After finishing 30 days raw I went back to a diet of mostly raw foods and sometimes a cooked dinner, thinking maybe the energy would be comparable. Maybe being mostly raw could be the same as being fully raw. It’s not even close. It may have felt so different because I had just been all raw, but at night after dinner I felt as if I’d shifted down a gear and in the mornings I could feel a distinct difference. I stuck with the cooked dinners for awhile to insure it wasn’t just an initial variance but low and behold those feelings stayed and after a few weeks I knew going raw was the path for me, all I had to do was commit to taking the plunge.
There’s a lot of reasons to not go completely raw. From the social aspects, to the relentless self reliance. It meant when I’m traveling I have to be well prepared. It means unless I’m in a city with a raw restaurant, if I want to have a meal with someone, it’s going to be at home. That was one of the biggest challenges for me. My dating history at this time was brief to say the least and adding this social limitation to the mix felt like I was moving in a direction that drastically limited the potential for new connections. After I stopped drinking alcohol I realized just how much happens over drinks in settings that blur the line between work and socializing. From networking for business, to romance, it all seemed to revolve around drinking. With alcohol out of the picture, now cooked foods and by proxy, restaurants, I felt like I was creating a decidedly lonely path. I grappled with this for awhile because I felt that going back and forth negated the type of progress I was looking for. I wasn’t going raw for a cleanse, or a restart, I wanted to continually go deeper and I felt that going all in on a raw living food diet was the true path for me.
I wanted to live, eat and feel a certain way regardless of what the current food landscape looked like. In the beginning it was easier for me to see the challenges than the benefits but as things balanced out over time it was continually reaffirmed to me through personal experience that this was the wavelength I wanted to ride. I got into a plant based lifestyle because it’s what felt right for me, not because of my surroundings, and though it felt like I was gambling with my own potential happiness, I knew I was following my inner compass. That direction supersedes any momentary or social impulse for me. However, listening to that voice is the real challenge. Sometimes we get answers that parts of ourselves don’t want to hear. We can generate excuses. Form logic to persuade ourselves backwards by justifying the highlights and ignoring the downsides. If we take some time to relax, focus and let the mental chatter dissipate, the answer usually becomes clear.
On October 1st 2016 I had my last my cooked meal at a vegan food festival in Chicago. It was bittersweet in a lot of ways. I’d been raw for about 2 months going into the festival and anticipated more raw options but after enjoying a small mango smoothie, it was clear that was the only raw dish offered. I’d planned this trip to Chicago with friends months in advance and quickly realized that not eating would be a disservice to what was supposed to be a celebration of plant based foods with two dear friends how had recently gone plant based. I figured if I’m going to be raw for the foreseeable future, one last hurrah with my friends would be a good send off for cooked foods. It was great to indulge in 2 different cooked dishes but they also exemplified why I was going raw. They were labeled organic but still had some things in there that weren’t so great. When I saw the ingredients I couldn’t help but see them through a new lens. I knew the roasted cashews would promote the formation of long chain trans fatty acids. The flatbread was made with some good ingredients and some not so good ones. The vegetable stock used in a curry dish had so much sodium that the salty taste was overpowering. I just couldn’t relax and enjoy the dishes without examining their ingredients. I knew that going raw wasn’t only a fantastic means of quality control for my body, but never having to wonder would bring peace of mind as well.
On my blog I share lots of recipes of my own creation as well as others from sources I trust and I include both raw and cooked recipes. I do this because it would have taken a lot of convincing for me to go from a diet that’s pretty standard in America over to raw vegan. Cooked plant based foods can be a vital step in the journey. There’s no need to rush your transition if you aren’t needing something helped immediately. I recommend going slow and utilizing all the beautiful whole foods nature has to offer whether you cook them or enjoy them raw. That’s how I learned to work with plant foods and I’m much more capable in the kitchen because of my cooked food days even though some of what I learned may not directly apply to raw foods. While cooked whole foods on a plant based diet certainly have their place, I don’t honestly believe they’re what we’re meant to be consuming. Cooking food ruins their living water that’s so vital for our bodies. We are comprised of living cells that use enzymes for just about every function in our body. When food is cooked, those enzymes are destroyed so we use up our our reserves to digest the food. Over time if we’re not replenishing our own enzymes we become depleted. This is what happens to most people around age 30. They’ve had years of withdrawing their own enzymes without making enough deposits back into their bank. While there’s still lots of nutrients in cooked food, it’s the raw, living foods that truly nourish and regenerate our bodies on a cellular level. That higher energy level from raw foods I mentioned is what I believe we’re meant to feel like all the time, it’s just not a feeling that’s nurtured by our current world. We’re all radiant beings filled with the light of life, it’s up to us to decide how much we want to diffuse that light. As I chip away at the build up of my own habits and the societal programming instilled within most of us, more light and love are able emanate from me and outwards to others.
The stereotype of the preachy vegan been around for years and I often think back to an old joke, “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you”. I make conscious efforts to be the opposite of that because pretension can be a slippery slope for those interested in plant based lifestyles. It’s easy to come off sounding high and mighty when passionately describing newfound ways of living. This is multiplied exponentially with raw foods. When so much of my reasoning for being raw in centered around nonphysical aspects, it can be hard to communicate what I’m thinking and feeling to someone who may not understand. It’s sort of like trying to describe a color. As time flows and I take my detoxification further, my love and understanding of raw foods and their impact on me continues to deepen. I so wish I could feel what it will be like 30 years from now, after decades of progress.
Though there’s ups and downs, overall it’s a steady incline upwards in terms of energy, peace and connection. When I say raw foods make me happy I’m not referring to the stimulation from the food. Moving away from foods that do not serve me and only bringing in foods of the upmost vibrancy allows me to be my truest self. As old layers fall away I’m getting to the core of my being. This brings a deeply profound joy into my life which at this stage in my days I can’t imagine living without.
I grew up in Catholic schools but after my mom passed away when I was 9 I lost whatever scraps of faith I may have established so far in my short life. A whole school full of kids praying for one mom’s cancer to subside, and no answer from God. I didn’t just lose my faith, over time, I became angry with God. I said awful things about Him. I laughed at the lessons being shared in my religion classes and was quick to admonish anything religious. After high school, when I started to attain some real independence, I began to understand the world around me through my own perspective, rather than in relation to any sort of dogmas. I felt like there was an energy binding the world together. A presence that was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. However I still couldn’t bring myself to use the word “God” for it. As I left adolescence, I started having esoteric experiences, mostly through the use of psychedelics, which were integral in opening my mind to altered understandings of the world around me. This seems to be a common trend with raw foodists. We explore the bounds of consciousness. We seek adventures of the mind and spirit. We know there’s another layer to this world beyond the physical and we want to experience it. There are wavelengths beyond the cerebral. We can corroborate with the seemingly intangible or divine energies when we open ourselves up to them through detoxification, prayer and other types of focus work. I started feeling closer to God as I proceeded to edulcorate my diet because that in turn shifted my focus. It’s not about eating a mango instead of a pastry, it’s about the mindset that goes along with it. Weeks and months passed of loving raw foods and it was an experience in South America that firmly built the bridge between what I was doing with my dietary lifestyle and the direct connection it had to my spiritual life. After that experience, I was comfortable using the term God for the higher power I’d been feeling. Not only did a raw food lifestyle help to establish my connection to God, it was necessary motivation to start working on that relationship, bringing a meaning to life I’d never felt before.
So when I’m asked why I’m raw, I hesitate. I feel out how much or how little I should divulge. The challenge is that the aspects that take more time and understanding to effectively communicate are also the stronger reasonings. Circumstances may not always lend themselves towards offering complete explanations and with something as close to my heart as raw foods, I felt like explaining my motives all in one place for anyone who may be interested. The frame of mind enabled by raw foods is the catalyst for so much in my life. It took about 3 years of cooked plant based food from the time I started my dietary changes before I went raw. Those 3 years were some of the most important of my life. Without the rock solid foundation they provided, I wouldn’t be able to walk this path as surefooted as I’m able to now. I thank God every day for allowing me the strength to get to where I am and for my drive to keep learning, not solely for my own gain, but so I can better serve Him and those around me.