Raw Food Nachos at Crudessence, Montreal

So the nice folks here asked me to pen a Pull Up a Chair post for today, and I said sure. It’s been a while since I’ve posted here but I’m very glad to have the time to spend in the company of such excellent folk. I thought I’d tell a story, and see what you all think of my conclusion. The story is about weight loss, food and a lifestyle change on my part.

So a while back I picked up a client who is a wonderfully sweet man living with ALS, or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” As you probably know, it’s a horrible curse to suffer, and something like 90% of people diagnosed with it die within 5 years. After the diagnosed suffer a torturous reduction in bodily function and weakening of the immune system that eventually leads to little or no motor control/functionality. My former client is spoken of by his friends as a “Little Bodhisattva” because unlike most people with the disease, he faces every day with a smile and looks forward to continuing his non-profit work educating people about his passions, one of them being: raw food.

The really amazing part of his story is that he actually had deteriorated so much at one point after his diagnosis that he was placed in hospice. As he told me, “they asked me to name the song I wanted to hear as I passed on” and put him on a breathing machine because it was so difficult for him to draw breath. But through a combination of will and his deep faith, he was able to recover enough that they “kicked him out,” as he’ll joke, and regain a degree of control over his body that allows him to live a rich life, despite the fact that he cannot walk on his own. With assistance, he lifts weights three times a week, and spends 10-12 hours a day on his computer, sharing information about all manner of “alternative” or holistic medical therapies and diets. You can read more about him here: www.healingwithdrcraig.com

Anyway, when I started working with him, he was just developing a redesigned site and gathering up a whole mess of “integrative/non-traditional” medical professionals for his advisory board, which include a number of television personalities and bestselling authors. I was in a poor space personally; my father had recently died and I was depressed enough that I’d let myself put on 15 pounds I really didn’t need.  I know, you’re thinking, Finally! She’s getting to the food part! :-)

I was intrigued by a guy who was such a hardworking individual despite his disease and really enjoyed getting to know him. I asked him about his remarkable life, and what he thought was responsible for his constant energy and enthusiasm despite such a depressing condition. Among other things including his faith and the support of many friends and family, he credited his remarkable persistence for life (he’s lived with ALS for 18 years) to his diet, which he had developed over a period of years to include the most nutrient dense, high energy, raw organic ingredients. I said to myself, “well, this guy is proof there’s got to be something to it, I’ll give it a try.”

It’s really quite simple, and not really a “diet” so much as a lifestyle change that anyone can easily make. And before you go shouting “it’s too expensive for poor people to buy high quality organics!” I will point out that Dr. Craig is not a wealthy man and receives food aid as the primary purse buying his ingredients. You really can do this on SNAP.

But the bottom line is: just don’t cook it. Now, obviously there are exceptions, certain ingredients that make life worth living are going to be cooked or processed. But my rule is this: 85% raw, 15% not. Try to make every meal according to that formula and you will be so happy with the results. I sure was; within a month I had shed most of the excess flab I had gained, I was sleeping better, and feeling happier. My skin, always acne prone, began to clear up, and my hair felt softer and had more shine. Not that a dyke wants them, but my nails also started growing in faster and stronger.

You’re probably wondering how in the hell a person can live off of mostly uncooked vegetables and fish. The answer is: really well! Cheaply, too! You may have come across some of my gardening posts or seen me post a flower pic and know that I’m a bigtime organic, heirloom seed grower. That is an important step I recommend for everyone, one that will make transitioning to this lifestyle much easier, not to mention better for the environment and energy consumption. But if you can (and pot gardens work fine for most of the foods I’m talking about) start a garden in your living space today. If you have to wait for outdoor growing, OK, but seriously consider growing some of the superfoods indoors if you can. Make your food an intimate part of your life by being personally responsible for as much of it as you have time to grow.

This is something BigAgra and BigPharma don’t want you to know, an open secret they spend billions every year to disguise: the nutrient content of uncooked food, especially green foods, is incredibly high and will keep you in health without drugs or expensive palliatives for a long lifetime. It is, indeed, what you as a mammal and primate evolved to eat. Although there is disagreement in the scientific community about exactly what is “natural” for the human body’s nutritional needs, there is no disagreement that superfoods with a high nutrient and vitamin content are better for you and help control disease. The real wonder of a raw food diet, and you really have to try it yourself to understand what I’m talking about, is that when you eat this way, you are less hungry, more frequently, and get by on much less food matter. Dr. Craig jokes that there are days when he has to ‘force himself to eat breakfast’ because his meals are so nourishing and nutrient rich, and he has no appetite.

So what are “superfoods?” Mostly, they are green vegetables, some root crops, rich fishes, nuts and a selection of fruits. Spinach, broccoli, kale, collards, onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, grapefruit, parsley, cilantro, all the “Italian” herbs like oregano and basil, chives, almonds (which some cultures believe can prevent cancers if eaten regularly), raw honey, bananas, apricots, apples, oranges, many varieties of lettuce, bok choi, cabbage, carrots, avocado (Boo-yah!), “fatty” tuna, sesame seeds, leeks… the list goes on an on and those are only a few that people like Dr. Craig and I manage to work into our diets. Google will provide you with an even longer list, I’m sure.

OK, you’re probably thinking, “but what am I gonna do with all that? I don’t want to eat salad all day every day.” What you’ll find after about a week on this program is that you really do, and variations make eating a pleasure. Here are a couple of things I really like to do:

mix up in a juicer (a slow juicer is best) a handful of spinach, a red pepper, a little kale, a cucumber, an apple and a kiwi. have that for breakfast. eat a couple handfuls of almonds if you’re really hungry.

chop up some “exotic” lettuces, take a hunk of tuna, brush it with sesame oil and coat it with sesame seeds and flash-sear or grill it at a very high temperature, leaving the majority of the meat uncooked but with a tasty char on the outside. Slice up an avocado and some chives and toss all them together, serve with a miso or ginger dressing.

fry a chopped white onion in BBQ sauce and a little butter. Get your favorite flat wrap or pita (whole grain) and stuff it with finely chopped carrots, broccoli, yellow peppers, spinach, garlic cloves, pear and if you’re feeling meaty, a little grilled-to-rare, organic, grass fed buffalo or beef. Stuff the wrap with the mix of all of the above while the onions and meat are still warm and the veggies still cool from the fridge. MMM!

Make a “garbage salad” with as many raw ingredients, fruit and veggie, as you can stuff into a bowl. For accent, toss in some of those designer olives and maybe a little chopped pan fried in garlic EVOO eggplant or hard boiled egg. Raspberries + olives + tomato are a surprisingly good combo, especially in a  garbage salad served with hand made white balsamic vinegar dressing with EVOO, chopped fresh herbs, cumin and freshly ground pepper, which if you want to thicken is great with a blended-in avocado.

make a cold soup. There are so many good ones! Gazpacho, or my personal favorite, which satisfies my occasional need for dairy: avocado, buttermilk, vegetable stock (onions, garlic, celery, carrots, fresh squeezed lemon juice, chopped fresh herbs boiled for  around 5-12hrs, remove liquid & save mashed vegetables for gravy thickeners), cumin, celery seeds, sea salt and pepper to taste, chilled.  There also this awesome apricot soup; I’m sorry I can’t remember it as I lost that recipe book a while back.

– a glacé of blueberry, raspberry, pear, apple, kiwi (or a citrus one of oranges, lemon, lime, strawberry and kiwi) after those fruits that have been blended, and strained if you prefer no pulp, frozen into little cups and perhaps topped with a stevia-sweetened heavy creme whip. Also: you can grow stevia, it’s easy. 1000x more sweet than its weight in sugar, none of the evil side effects.

– pretty much all Mexican food will conform easily to this program. Cook your skirt steak or beans or whatever, but pile on the fresh tomato, avocado, onion, cilantro, raw shrimp, corn (which is friggin outstanding raw), sweet and/or hot peppers, tomatillos, and a little organic cheese or sour creme. There are also many South Asian dishes which work well with these guidelines; I am not an expert cooking that style so I’ll leave suggestions to those who know better. But: Gado Gado rocks, is all I’m sayin.

The Raw Food “movement” is a growing one, and there are lots of websites out there these days where you can find more information, other perspectives, and better recipes than I can come up with. But I know a lot of you out there are like I was, dissatisfied with your weight, depressed, feeling low energy, struggling with skin issues, needing to save money, wanting to make a more healthful change, etc. This practice will help you, I swear.

And you can probably see what I did there. A pita here, a cooked vegetable there, heated meats with raw centers, a little dairy and some oil/butter. That’s the 15% part of “85% raw 15% not.”  So don’t beat yourself up! If the lover of your choice wants to take you out on the first of every month for a well done steak and potatoes and totally overcooked string beans at Outback, go ahead! I am not a food nun, I am not trying to convert you to utter purity of consumption. Add a little feta cheese to your salad if you like, have some  free range chicken in your pita now and again, grab that holiday slice of cheesecake your MIL made from scratch and enjoy it.

But I will say, and my sister, who recently got with this program agrees: after you’ve done this for a little while, if you eat crap food, you’ll pay the price. She’s a busy mom, and after “cooking” her family’s meals according to these principles for a month, she had to break down one day between ferrying the kids all over town and eat some fast food. She told me, “man, it was like I had a stomach hangover the next day. Not doing that again.” Love your body, give it the pure food it was meant to consume.  But remember that it feels good to feel good.

Give this plan a week. That’s all I ask. If you don’t feel better after that, less hungry more often, well, you’re an alien. Just kidding. Still, I promise you, you really will.

It’s also a great program if you’re trying to do something hard, like quit smoking or drinking or give up some pill BigPharma has you on. The cleansing effects of raw, organic foods are powerful and noticeable almost instantly.

Eeek, was this too long? Sorry, when I rant I rant Olympic. Bon appetite!

Photo by firepile under Creative Commons license