The Death of the Raw Food Diet

Tuesday Oct 15, 2013 | BY |
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“The Raw Food Diet Craze – R.I.P. 1998-2013”

“Cooked Food is Not a Sin” Uncle Jethro Raw

The raw food diet, as a massive craze that took over the world for over ten years and convinced hundreds of thousands of people — possibly millions — to give up cooking and eat only fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — is dead, my friends.

It died a peaceful death this year. While it’s hard to say when the raw food diet craze officially expired, a good guess would be on April 23rd, 2013, at around 9:30 p.m. Eastern time.

At that time, the last remaining raw food guru who claimed to eat a 100% raw food diet without lying about it decided it was time to live a little. So he baked a sweet potato, cooked some vegetables, and dipped everything in store-bought hummus. He spent the rest of the evening in a cooked cooked-food bliss, without realizing that along with his 100%-rawness was expiring an entire movement that took things to the extreme and told everybody, for a decade: eat raw or suffer terrible consequences.

The History of the Raw Food Movement

The concept of eating raw food is not new.

If we go back to the Ancient world, we’ll find that the Greeks and Romans were ahead of their time in that regard. They innovated in many areas of health, including bathing, sanitation and frugality in eating. Ancient Romans only had a glass of water in the morning, cold meat and fruit for lunch, and a main meal for dinner. Ancient Greeks practiced fasting for health, and apparently even Pythagoras was a vegetarian who fasted for 40 days, and lived on a mainly raw food diet of figs and olives, with other fruits and vegetables.

Throughout the ages, the word “vegetarian” was practically synonymous with “high raw diet.”

In ancient times, there was no tofu, noodles or other vegetarian-labeled fares. When someone became a vegetarian, it meant that they essentially became a raw foodist eating mostly fruits and vegetables, with perhaps some bread and milk products. So for the most part, a vegetarian WAS a raw foodist.

In ancient times, although some men and women were concerned with various methods of physical and mental purification, the idea of raw foodism would have been quite a luxury to most people, except perhaps to the elite of society, such as kings and queens, who could afford getting tropical fruits “imported” from faraway lands. However, royalty usually tended towards excess rather than extreme self-discipline.

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As a concept, however, the “raw food diet” started around 150 years ago. At some point, it was almost bigger and more influential than it is today. Even though it started mainly in Europe, the main instigators were American diet and health “reformists.” Here are a few of the figures that were the most important at the time:

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)

Graham was one of the most influential early health advocates. He was one of the first public figures to advocate vegetarianism and what he called “temperance.” We may remember him as the inventor of the graham cracker, but his contribution was much greater. His followers practiced the brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, sobriety, and eating whole foods (such as whole wheat bread instead of white flour), all practices that we take for granted today, but were very controversial at the time.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943)

You may remember this guy for inventing the “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.” His initial recipe did not contain all the sugar that the current version has! He was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who advocated a strict, sober, healthy life and fasting, which was called “water cure” at the time.

Dr. Emmet Densmore (Main Work Published in 1890)

The concept of a “fruit-based diet” probably came from Dr. Emmet Densmore, an English doctor who published in 1890 a book called “The Natural Food of Man.”

Densmore was a sick man, and could not find relief to his lingering lumbago problems in a pure vegetarian diet. So he adopted a diet of fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, and cheese.

His book mostly contains rather anecdotal evidence on the harm of grain products, and the benefits of a fruit-based, mainly raw diet.

Herbert Shelton (1895-1985)

Shelton became, in his youth, a passionate student of the writings of early health reformists, and proceeded to consolidate all their theories into a unified philosophy he called “Natural Hygiene.” In his thirties, he wrote his giant book “Human Life, Its Philosophy and Laws.”

He then operated a health center in Texas where he practiced fasting and a clean, mostly raw food diet.

All of the modern Natural Hygiene movement stems from Shelton, although it gained even more popularity when T.C. Fry came along and later, when the book “Fit For for Life” was released in the 1980s. All serious promoters of Natural Hygiene today are students of Shelton, who wrote more than 50 books.

The Early Raw Food Movement

Between 1920 and 1940, there was a huge boom in the raw food movement. A lot of books were published during that time, including many recipe books. The press of the time even considered raw foods to be “the latest fad.” However, like many other frivolous pursuits, the movement took a took a huge blow during WWII, when many leaders were sent to the front line and killed in the war.

The 70’s saw a renaissance of all health health-related information, including raw foods, through the work of Ann Wigmore, Dr. Shelton, T.C. Fry, Viktoras Kulvinskas, and many others.

Ann Wigmore was particularly influential in spreading new ideas such as sprouting, wheatgrass juice and the concept of “living foods.”

When the book Fit for Life was published and became a best-seller in the ‘80s, the concept of raw food became available to a mass of people who would never have heard about it otherwise. Most leaders of the current raw food movement were influenced from that book, which in turn came almost entirely from the writings of T.C. Fry, which was the mysterious mentor that Harvey Diamond (one of the co-authors of Fit for Life) talked about in the book.

What started in the late ‘90s was not a brand new raw food movement, but simply the continuation of something that started long, long before. With the spread of the Internet, the raw food diet reached every corner of the world.

The Hype of the Late ‘90s and 2000s

At some point or another in the last 15 years, almost everyone with an interest in health tried a raw food diet, a juice fast, a green smoothie cleanse, or something along those lines. More raw food restaurants opened and closed during that time than during any other time in history.

At some point, when I was publishing my magazine “Just Eat An Apple,” I simply could not keep up with the number of raw food restaurants that were opening and closing across the USA and Canada every month! Now, only a few of those restaurants have survived.

“Hype” and “immaturity”  are what characterized those last 15 years of raw food diet excitement. When I joined the movement in California in the late ‘90s, everyone was talking that you had to eat 100% raw to get the benefits. If you had been a 100% raw foodist for a few years, you had accomplished something. If you could claim to have done it for a decade or longer, you were viewed with a godlike aura.

All the gurus were claiming to eat a 100% raw food diet, and were encouraging their followers to do so.

If you were strong enough to eat a 100% raw food diet, you would convince as many people as possible to do the same. You would hang out with other raw foodists almost exclusively, and try to “spread the word” in a way that dangerously resembled a cult. Ex-raw foodists that who went back to cooked foods or, God forbid — meat — were ostracized from the raw food club and gossiped about.

More people tried a 100% raw food diet during that time than any other time in history, but more people gave it up too, because it simply wasn’t working for them.

Back to Reality: The Party is Over

I will make a claim here, and you can correct me if you think that I’m wrong. I claim that I’m the first raw foodist to have published a book about the “dangers” and “mistakes” of a raw food diet done incorrectly. In 2002, I published my book “The Raw Secrets. When I first published it, “The Raw Secrets” became very popular within raw food circles because it was the only book available that told its readers that the raw food diet, when done incorrectly, could lead to health problems.

I told my story of eating 100% raw (incorrectly) for nearly three years, my health decline while following the “best diet in the world,” and what I did after to find a more balanced and healthy diet and lifestyle.

Later, my trademark within the raw food movement was to criticize and question the gurus, even though many people viewed me as one. Years later, I felt that my story hadn’t been fully told, so I wrote my books “Raw Food Controversies” and “Raw Freedom” as my the final nails in my raw food coffin.

I was a lone voice in 2002 talking about the “mistakes” of raw foodists, but since then, hundreds of people have openly discussed their own experience with a 100% raw food diet.

All the Raw Food Gurus Eat Cooked Foods

I will go out on a limb and say that I think that most raw food gurus and advocates eat cooked foods. And I think that most of the remaining gurus who still claim to eat 100% food raw also secretly eat cooked foods, at least occasionally. That leaves very few raw food gods who haven’t touched a bite of cooked food since 1998!

For example, let me tell you a story:

A couple of months ago I met with a friend I hadn’t seen for many years. His name is Jay, and he was part of the raw food scene in Montreal about 8 or 9 years ago, when I was quite active there in this underground movement. We talked at length about the raw food scene and how it’s changed. And at some point, we talked about the fact that pretty much ALL of the people who were seriously doing raw foods 10 or 15 years ago now eat some cooked foods.

Jay said, “I’m grateful for this raw food experience. Raw foods are still the backbone of my diet. But I also eat other things now.”

This is the case with almost all of the raw food authors, gurus, and serious raw foodists that I knew 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, they were eating 100% raw foods. Now, they all eat cooked foods.

This includes almost ALL of the authors that who have written books on the topic.

I’m willing to entertain the possibility that there could be some exceptions. Some people have maintained a raw food diet for all those years, and say they have never deviated from it. But upon closer look, most of these people were not as 100% as they claimed for all those years. But to their credit, they did stick with it for the most part.

People Don’t Follow Raw Food Diets Long Term

Yet, some of these people, the 100%-ers, will often look down upon people who are no longer eating a 100% raw diet, claiming they didn’t do the diet properly, or didn’t have enough motivation on or discipline to do it.

Yet, if I went to a raw food conference, organized by a 100%-er, and surveyed everybody, I’m almost certain that if we were to follow the attendees who eat a 100% raw diet now for the next 10 years, you’d we’d discover that more than 90% of these people would no longer follow the diet.

Eventually… they all eat cooked foods.

A recent article published in Psychology Today suggested that around 75% of people who follow a vegetarian diet eventually go back to eating animal products. The average time a person will stay vegetarian is 9 years.

For raw foodists, my experience leads me to think the percentage of “failures” is much higher, and the time people stay on the diet much shorter. About 95% of the people I knew 15 years ago who were eating a 100% raw food diet back then are eating some cooked foods today.

Ex-Raw Foodists Speak Out

Since I published the Raw Secrets, I just can’t count the number of “ex-raw foodists” that who have come out to share their stories. Now, there are even entire websites dedicated to let ex-raw foodists “come out of the closet,” and leave the raw food “cult” once and for all.

Here’s a small sample of former raw foodists you may know:

Kevin Gianni — Co-founder of Renegade Health and a modern figure in the movement.  It’s no secret that Kevin is no longer eating a raw food diet, after finding out that his health markers were out of balance on raw.

Victoria Boutenko — The biggest advocate for green smoothies in the world. Wrote a book on overcoming raw food “addiction,” but now allows herself to eat some cooked foods. Same for her children, who wrote raw food recipe books.

Harley (Durianrider) & Freelea from 30BananasaDay — The loudest advocates of a fruit-based diet in the world said for years that it was 100% raw or nothing. Now Harley unapologetically uses some cooked foods strategically to increase his performance.

Swayze Foster — Author of the great blog www.fitonraw.com. No longer eats 100% raw.

Chard Sarno — Amazing raw food chef. In a recent book, he talked about discovering that his cholesterol was high and that his triglycerides were off the charts on a raw food diet. He decided to go on a 100% whole food diet, with no agave, no maple syrup, no coconut oil, no olive oil. He focused on greens, beans and grains. In four mouths, his cholesterol dropped by 100 points and his triglycerides went back to normal. Chad was eating a typical raw food diet with some gourmet dishes.

I could, of course, list dozens and dozens of testimonials from people who previously ate a 100% raw food diet but gave it up for one reason or another. But that’s not the point of this article. My goal is not to “bash” the raw food diet, but simply to state that it is dead, as a craze that took over the health world for over a decade.

The Raw Food Diet Can can Work, But but It’s Not For for Everybody

In spite of everything I said, I actually think that the raw food diet can be a super-healthy diet that can accomplish a lot of great things for a lot of people. In most cases, however, it’s a great cleansing diet, but not one that most people will want to follow for the rest of their lives without cheating on it at all.

One could claim that most raw food diets are not sustainable, and you need a particular kind of raw food diet to succeed. – for example, a low-fat raw food diet.
But the truth is that even the low-fat raw food dieters eventually go back to cooked foods.

Plus, the low-fat raw food diet, mainly promoted by Dr. Doug Graham with the 80-10-10 Diet, hasn’t been popular for many years. It’s certainly much more sustainable than other kinds of raw food diets, and the type I would recommend for someone considering a 100% raw food lifestyle.

But from the many 80-10-10 dieters I’ve met… many of them eventually went back to cooked foods.

Is it that the addiction to cooked food is so strong that eventually, even under the best circumstances, most people eventually can’t resist the urge?

Some famous raw food promoters, who ate 100% raw at the time and had been for many years, told me that they still had dreams about eating cooked foods. And those were people following a perfect kind of low-fat raw food diet. (By the way, all of those people now eat cooked foods).

Is it that 95% of people have no true discipline and can’t stick with anything? Is it that the addiction to cooked food is too strong?

The addiction to cigarettes is one that is recognized as very difficult to break. Yet most people who quit smoking don’t go back to it, once they’ve made a definite move.

Cooked food is not an addiction.

It’s not a drug… it’s not “poison”… Cooked food is just… food!

Some cooked foods, of course, are unhealthy. But so are some raw foods.

Most people can’t stick with a 100% raw food diet because it’s a very difficult, inconvenient, expensive, restrictive, unsatisfying and unsustainable diet for most people. And the key word here is “most people.” As in everything, there are exceptions. Some people do quite well on 100% raw for life. But they are the exception, not the rule.

For the vast majority of people, eating 100% raw is something that should be done as a temporary diet. A “cleanse.” Something you do for a few weeks, a few months maybe. It’s a great reset button. It’s a great detox tool. But it’s not a diet most people can realistically follow for the rest of their lives. It’s also not a diet that’s been proven to work in all phases of life: pregnancy, childhood, and so on. In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that a 100% raw vegan diet is not appropriate in some of those situations.

And if you don’t believe me, I would reply that the proof is in the pudding. Even under the best circumstances, most people don’t stick to 100% raw for a long period of time. Even the best gurus can’t prevent their disciplines from going back to the evil world of cooked foods…

Now… does that mean that the choice is between eating ALL raw and ALL cooked? Of course not.

There are nuances. It’s not black and white.

The key in life is balance. It’s about finding a sustainable balance for you, between raw food and cooked foods, but also between “rules” and “exceptions.”

If you’re currently happy with a raw food diet, then maybe there’s no need to change. Keep doing what you’re doing if it works for you.

But if you’ve struggled, gone back and forth and failed… then maybe it’s time to stop blaming yourself and stop being so hard on yourself. Maybe you can come to the conclusion that the diet you’re holding as an “ideal” is just too darn difficult to follow… and simply does not work. You need to find a balance again to make it work.

So let’s celebrate the death of the raw food diet today. The craze is over!

Go have a raw green smoothie, and then later cook something! I know I will…

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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