Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. A restaurant critic's diet is, for obvious reasons, somewhat extreme. Healthy eating is difficult and often impossible. I employ various methods to combat my profession's caloric surfeit, but many of those methods result in a schizophrenic seesaw of excess and deprivation, the multicourse meal followed by sparse salads after workouts. It's the way it has to be. But once a year, I try for a full-on cleanse, a diet of some sort that will completely reset my system.
In 2007, I attempted a fruit cleanse, where I ate fruit and little else for three days. It made me hate fruit, which seemed too high a price to pay. Last year, I drank a foul-tasting detox tonic every two hours for a few days, which did absolutely nothing but wreak havoc on my digestive system. This year, inspired by a colleague, I decided to try a raw food diet. For 10 days, I would eat only raw foods, and no meat or dairy.
As a cleanse, raw food appealed to me because it involved no crazy self-denial. A wide range of foods is allowed on such a diet, and there's no limit to how much you can eat, as long as nothing's cooked. While there's debate within the movement about alcohol, wine is generally considered raw, so drinking was allowed. I was also interested in the raw food movement, and liked the challenge of eating without the tools on which I typically rely. Often, such obstacles force us to look at food in a different way, and the science-experiment aspect of the exercise interested me.
The raw food movement dates as far back as the 1800s. While there are three types of raw foodists (and subsets within those three categories), I would be attempting raw veganism, as opposed to raw vegetarianism where raw dairy is allowed, and raw omnivorism, which allows raw meat. Raw veganism is the most common form, probably because it's a natural extension of vegansim: the next step once you've already given up meat and dairy.
But raw foodism's main philosophical stance relates to health. Proponents believe raw foods (also referred to as living foods) contain beneficial enzymes that disappear once foods are cooked, or heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I've read raw food texts that go so far as to assert that food is rendered "toxic" by the cooking process. The idea that the human body was built to eat raw vegetables, fruits and nuts, is central to raw eating, as is the notion that we've never fully adjusted to the change in diet brought about by the human innovation of cooking. I'm not sure how much I buy any of these claims – to me, the prospect of eating raw meant no processed foods, less fats, and a chance for my body to recover. I expected it to be difficult. I did not expect it to entirely change the way my body responded to food.
I began on a Saturday evening with a salad and a raw lasagna made by CL Editor Mara Shalhoup, who also undertook the diet. The lasagna, made of layered, thinly sliced zucchini, tomato, pine nut "ricotta" and pesto, was delicious – tangy, crunchy, nutty and satisfying. It was like a lasagna salad, but the nuts and ricotta (made with nutritional yeast) made it rich and hearty as well. I felt good. I felt healthy. It was going to be a great 10 days.
Atlanta has a number of resources for raw eaters. There's a 100 percent raw restaurant in East Point called Lov'n It Live. R. Thomas has two raw entrées on its menu, and sells raw salads and a raw breakfast cereal at Sevananda made of sprouted, dried buckwheat, dried coconut and fruits, which I ate every morning during the diet. There are raw food delivery services, lifting some of the burden of preparation (don't call it cooking -- semantics are important). Akil Amen, a chef who prepares exclusively raw food, hosts demonstrations every Monday afternoon at Sevananda.
Amen came to raw food through a series of jobs and learning experiences. He owned Turnover Time in Cabbagetown and although he served some meat at his restaurant, his vegan soups and vegetarian turnovers gave him "a reputation as a vegetarian chef," he says. After Turnover Time closed, Amen went to work at Dynamic Dish, the mainly vegetarian restaurant on Edgewood Avenue owned by David Sweeney. "David taught me the concept of slow food, of supporting local farms. When I had my own restaurant, I didn't really know anything about that."
From Dynamic Dish, Amen discovered and eventually worked for Living Foods Delight, a short-lived raw food restaurant in Grant Park. "It's been a natural progression over the last several years for me," Amen says. His own diet is now close to 100 percent raw.
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