Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or a durian shell), you’ve probably heard the news that some raw leaders—including Paul Nison and Victoria Boutenko—are no longer 100% raw vegan. And if you’re like many raw foodists, this information is shocking, alarming, troubling, angering, saddening, confusing, and a bunch of other adjectives I’d list if I had a thesaurus handy.
The impact of this news on the raw food movement has been both fascinating and diverse. Some folks have reacted like this:
How dare they abandon raw! They’ve betrayed the community, they’ve broken their pledge of raw-ness, and they’ve crossed over to the dark side! Off with their heads!
Others have reacted like this:
Does this mean a 100% raw vegan diet isn’t possible to sustain? Should I go back to cooked food? Should I go back to meat? McDonalds, are you calling my name, my sweet former lover?
And still others have reacted like this:
What a relief to know I’m not the only one who can’t make 100% raw work! Phew. Now I can eat this steamed spinach leaf in peace.
So what’s really going on here? Why are raw food leaders not only coming clean about their divergences from raw, but actually promoting those divergences as okay (and maybe even healthy)? How should the raw community be responding? And how can we use this news to expose—and improve—some of the problems in the raw food movement?
Raw isn’t a religion
It’s common, maybe even expected, for “fringe” groups to become somewhat insular. And let’s face it: as raw foodists, we’re pretty dang fringe. We abandon our tasty potato chips and Alfredo sauce and blueberry scones like crazy masochists, running helter-skelter towards a field of lettuce and bananas. The general population thinks we’re nuts. Even the people who envy our dietary convictions secretly believe we’re bonkers. According to the rest of the world, we all have a health-food eating disorder called “orthorexia” and need to be in rehab, STAT, pumped up with a steady stream of doughnuts and Pepsi.
It’s tough for us raw foodies. We’re alone, and far too peaceable to wield an army. The only solution is to band together and eventually outnumber our dissenters (which shouldn’t be hard, if they’re all dropping like flies from bacon overdose).
Unfortunately, the sharp division between raw dietary beliefs and those of just about everyone else breeds an “us versus them” mentality. You’re either raw or you’re not. You’re either a supporter or a heretic. You’re either on our team or you’re a rival. So goes the black-and-white attitude.
That’s why things get tricky when raw gurus—the folks who’ve been navigating this path the longest, who’ve given us books and lectures and other culminations of their expertise—backtrack on their beliefs. These are the experts we’ve come to know and love. They have our attention, our respect, and most importantly, our trust.
At least, they had those things when they were telling us the message we wanted to hear: that 100% raw vegan is the most reliable path to health. So when their own certainty about the diet wavers, the rest of the raw community has a decision to make: should we continue listening to their ideas and learning from their knowledge, or should we shun them for straying from the truth?
The fact that the “coming out” of raw leaders has been so upsetting speaks volumes about the raw movement itself. It seems many of us—consciously or not—value the pursuit of raw more than the pursuit of health.
Really, there’s nothing logically threatening about Paul adding some raw dairy to his diet or Victoria eating a bowl of steamed kale once in a while. If these choices bring them well-being, shouldn’t we be supportive of their quest to be healthy—rather than ruthlessly critical of their less-than-total rawness?
The reason so many raw foodists find the recent news distressing is because of what it symbolizes: a blemish on the invincibility of the raw diet, and an indication that 100% raw isn’t the same as 100% healthy. Many of us, through the books we’ve read and the speakers we’ve heard, have come to think of raw veganism as a panacea for all the ills of the mind and body—and maybe even world. We adopt this belief with religion-like adherence. And learning that raw veganism isn’t necessarily perfect is kind of like finding out Santa isn’t real. (Remember that awful day? Oh, the horror.)
Why are people abandoning raw?
As best I can tell, the choice to renounce 100% raw veganism has two causes: the first is a legitimate nutritional reason, such as Paul’s choice to include dairy after seeing the off-kilter results of his blood test and bone density scan. The other is the yearning for psychological health and freedom. Although a completely raw food diet is liberating for many people, it can feel like entrapment or fanaticism for others. In the long run, an occasional cooked or partially cooked meal—assuming it’s nothing atrocious like fast food—is going to have little impact on the development of disease or other degenerative conditions. For raw leaders and other raw foodists who sincerely feel 100% raw veganism cages their freedom, allowing occasional cooked food to enter their menus can benefit the social and mental spheres of life without truly harming the physical one.
Who do we follow?
The “outing” of no-longer-raw leaders dredges up another issue as well. These are the people who’ve convinced us, by walking their talks, that a raw vegan diet is optimal for humankind. They’re our case studies, our guinea pigs—the only real evidence we have regarding the diet’s success. So when they retract their commitment to complete raw veganism, we lose our trail blazers. We’re left to—gasp!—find our way through the deep, dense jungle of raw foods on our own. In discovering that the raw leaders are fallible and human, allowed to change their mind and make mistakes, we’re forced to rely on ourselves when discerning what’s “right” and “wrong” in terms of diet choices.
As strange as it may seem, this is actually a wonderful thing. As I’ll talk about in the next blog post, there is no single raw diet that works equally well for all people. Everybody has a unique heath history, a unique ancestry, a unique scroll of physical strengths and weaknesses, a unique lifestyle—on and on. We aren’t all monkeys living in a climate-controlled zoo, playing in the exact same environment in the exact same way. We’re the weirdest, most behaviorally diverse creatures on the planet.
And health, as these no-longer-raw leaders are showing us, is about more than adhering unwaveringly to a diet regimen. Health requires balance on all fronts—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational—and 100% raw veganism doesn’t automatically deliver that.
What we can learn
Any time we start treating diet like a religion, we’re heading towards trouble. As a community of health-seekers, we should be applauding and supporting each other for each step we take towards becoming better, happier, more fulfilled individuals—not demanding a cult-like worship of a diet that, in essence, is more theoretical than proven. Attacking the leaders for diverging from raw only reveals the irrational pedestal we’ve placed raw foods on.
For many folks, the raw path and the health path run parallel. But the experience of “some” can’t be projected as the experience of “all,” and sometimes cooked foods or animal products can support health on a more holistic level than merely the physical. Let’s thank our raw leaders, 100% or otherwise, for being transparent about their journey so the rest of us can benefit.
“It seems many of us—consciously or not—value the pursuit of raw more than the pursuit of health.”
This is genius. thank you, thank you, thank you. Wonderful blog post & I’m sending it to a few friends who could really benefit from reading it…..keep up the great blog.
Thanks for reading, JC. I honestly think there will be a transformation in the raw food movement sometime soon, where we start reconnecting with our original reasons for eating this way (obtaining stellar health, feeling amazing, etc.). The changing opinions of some raw food leaders is the first stage of this.
agree completely!!! Balance is SO important.
I just followed you here from 30bad and all I can say is wow wow wow. So much to learn here. Thank you for providing this resource. I’ve been attempting 811 after avoiding fruit for the past year, and so far I am feeling much better than previously, but some days are better than others. Quick question- what is your opinion on fasting?
Thank you Karen. I definitely think a fruit-filled diet is a lot more fun than one that avoids it 🙂
As for fasting — that really depends on the circumstances and a person’s health history. For someone who’s in reasonably good health and has no chronic conditions, extended fasting (more than a few days with no food or juices) really isn’t necessary and may even be harmful if done too frequently. Intermittent fasting — such as eating your last meal at 3 pm one day and eating your first meal at noon the next day — may have some value in terms of longevity, at least if you trust the results of lab mice.
Fasting is never a good idea if your sole intention is permanent weight loss, as the lean mass you lose while fasting only lowers your metabolism. Once you start eating again, it’s harder to keep off the pounds and very easy to gain back more than you lost.
Fasting does seem to have some benefit for chronic conditions and terminal illnesses. But in those cases, it’s definitely better to undergo a supervised fast at a clinic rather than attempting one on your own (which can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing).
Mental/spiritual/emotional reasons for fasting are another story, though, and really up to the individual.
In Victoria Boutenko’s 12 Steps to Raw book she really talks about how important it is to listen to your body and give it what it wants. I think that many people who go raw and then start to incorporate some other (non-raw) food into their diets are doing just that – nourishing their bodies as they need to.
Any time we get dogmatic, about anything in life, we set ourselves up for trouble. I think the dedication to being 100% raw is super important if that’s your goal, but it should stand only as long as it serves you.
My choice to be raw vegan is not based on anyone besides myself , so whomever falls off the wagon so to speak is of no consequence to the greatness raw veganism offers me !
I love the fact that the leaders are not a 100% raw. Raw is great but I think a bit of cooked food has a place in our healthy temple.
Looking forward to reading more.
Thanks for reading, Casey. Indeed, raw foods have so many benefits, but eating a 100% raw diet isn’t the only way to reap them.
i have a little experience with intermitent fasting, i havent done it long enough to know the results with weight loss , and concidering that im eating more and more raw each day (your blog is a great help there) i might not need it at all for weight loss, considering that a raw diet and exercise keeps your bodyfat % to an idea level (or so i understand)
but in my short time doing it i had a very plesent surprise , it gave me a lot more control on cravings and hunger.
because of my very bad diet for such a long time, when i started to eat a heathier diet i was always hungry, but the inttemitent fasting helped me there, i dont know why.
about slowing your metabolism, i think the people that defend I.f. say that you wont lose musle mass if you do resistence training , with weights or bodyweight exersise a couple times per week
oh i fogot to say that if you do inttermitent fasing your metabolism is not supposed to slow down, you need to fast for more than 24 hours to do that, so as long as you fast 24 hours or less you wont have problems with that
The number I have read is actually 72hours for men. Lab mice although reduce in 16hours.
That said, it should not be done very frequently, as then we don’t have sufficient time in between to get rid of the deficit that we have created in the 72 hours. I wouldn’t think that it should be done more than once a month.
Yes there will be some muscle loss during these 72 hours, but the body will it back up better than before, if we are using those muscles.
Great post. As I’ve said before, I think a raw vegan diet is a great cleansing diet, but nutritionally, it doesn’t supply us with all the nutrients necessary to thrive LONG-TERM. I know people who balk at that, but they’ve only been 100% raw vegan for a year or two. The problems really start to mount after maybe the 3-year mark. And the people who say they’re 100% raw, 10, 20, 30+ years? Liars trying to make a living off of those lies.
As a reformed raw vegan, I knew this was coming, and I also know that a number of other raw vegan leaders are also “sneaking cooked or even sneaking animal or insect protien” but still “selling the raw vegan lifestyle”.
I got out for health reasons and found the weston price foundation information that totally changed my life. I still lean towards vegetarianism, but there simply is NO vegan culture in existence to support the idea that raw vegan EVER existed in the world as a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. The closest culture is the south indian hindus who live the shortest lives of all cultural groups.
As a short term cleansing program in the warm summer months raw vegan is excellent, but long term the health issues just continue to creep in making it a ridiculous effort to maintain when HEALTH is what you are looking for.
Andrew,how crazy is it when people feel like they need to ‘sneak’ food,that they are feeling guilty about eating.geez,i remember that mind set,even though i never was sneaking forbidden foods(when i ate 100% raw vegan),when i broke the mould of that conditioned thinking,that was destroying my health,the guilt was opressiveit weighed me down,and if i hadn’t had a great support system bringing me constant reality checks,i wouldn’t have persisted and seen the affects the a good wholefoods non vegan diet can bring to my health,mind body and spirit!
We must know when to walk away from an ‘ideal’ before it makes us really ill and unable to reverse the damage that can and so often does,occur eating raw vegan.Thank god i did,and you did Andrew before we suffered anymore than we needed to!
Geez i am so silly,Alex!!! i called you Andrew that’s what happens when i speed read,so sorry,LOL 😉
I’ve been trying to find an answer to this question but my google skills are not up to the task – this forum seems as good a place as any to ask –
does vacuum kill meat borne parasites and bacteria?
If it does you could prepare completely raw food (never raised above room temperature) easily – get a vacuum pump & a big steel container, dump your food in, apply vacuum and wait 2 days.
The water boils off, then the more volatile organic compounds evaporate off, then (hopefully) the germs & tapeworms & trichinosis die, and voila, safe food that’s never been heated above 30 degrees C.
Unlike food drying this will not stink up your apartment for a month every time you do a batch of the more fragrant beef or pork.
An ‘ideal’ can lead someone up a garden path,i was headed for the compost heap firmly hanging onto my ideal of being raw vegan.Yes it helped me to a certain point,and whether i wanted to admit it or not,i couldn’t deny that my health was declining rapidly,i pushed the envelope and my body pushed back,hard! change or suffer….
It was tough initially to change,but now i embrace the changes i have made,because my body mind and spirit is responding so positively and quite quickly!
Great post Denise 🙂
I remember doing the raw & vegan food thing very religiously for a while. That was UNsustainable to say the least – you could have hooked a pipeline up to my butt and powered a small city.
My stomach was even less happy with raw and vegan than it was with just plain vegan.
Ironically, on my current, animal based diet, no gas, no allergies, no eczema, no acne…
I am so, so grateful for this post!! I have been high raw organic vegan since 01.01.2010, and truly struggling. I’ve gained 13 pounds since this date. Yes, GAINED! I wasn’t underweight before – I was on the high end of the “normal” range for my height. Now I’m heavier than I’ve been in years. And while I’m stronger due to weight training, a good bit of it is just pure and simple body fat! I didn’t have any cellulute before – now I have some!! I have low energy, I’m hungry all the time – meanwhile my once speedy metabolism seems to have slowed dramatically, my skin has NOT cleared up at all, and now every social event is a source of stress. But I’m tenacious and know that any healing takes time, AND the leaders of the Raw Movement are so convinced/convincing, so I’ve stuck with it.
What a blessing to finally find others who have been there, done that, and come full circle. I’ve been fruitlessly googling the words “gained weight on raw” for months. Now how do I come back?
Hello there, Im an open minded raw of about 7 months (2 years high raw before that) I am on it to get rid of mild chronic fatigue and have had glandular fever twice ( and it has worked brilliantly). I am studying to be a naturopath and currently researching to make sure my diet gives me the necessary calories, protein and other nutrients. Should I find that it doesnt, I will hapily add some cooked legumes and grains to my diet. So far I have found that I can meet caloric and protein needs from raw food, but I wasnt until I did this research.
I know what you mean, Ashley, when you talk about weight loss, weakness, lightheadedness. I had that for the first 5 months or so. My weight, normally 56 kg and skinny, was dropping and I said that if it reached 50 I would go on high raw. Then, with a bit of help from Dr Douglas Grayams book 80 10 10, (which alothough I think he takes the food quantities to extreme I highly recommend that you get a copy of) I turned things around and am back to my usual weight and even have a small amount of fat to grab on my stomach. I work 12 hour industrial cleaning shifts in coal mining.
Here are a few facts that may help you. 1 medium-large bananna=1slice of whole wheat bread, the best part of 1 cup of pasta, or 1 cup of rolled outs porridge. 1 apple or pear is about 70 calories – more than one weetbix (56 Cal). Energy is not hard to get on raw food it you know where it is and what quantities to eat. To find out how many calories you need go to http://www.nutritionadata.com. Do not listen to people who say there is a lot of energy in dark greens. Dark greens have hardly any calories. They are an excellent sorce of protein and iron and you should have plenty of them in your diet. They make you feel energetic but the energy is not actually coming from them.
After a few months on raw my appetite was getting less and less, and I thought “well my body knows whats best” and followed it. After a while of loosing weight and feeling bad, I said to my body “Ok, you have had your turn, now you listen to me” I aimed for first 2000, then 2500 cal per day. I felt better immediately and my weight went up back to what it was before.
Typically I eat a veggie meal in the morning including 50g nuts and 100g sprouted lentils. often I have raw potato salad (incredibly better than it sounds) and a cob of sweet corn. 5 hours later I eat 1 litre of green smothie containing about 6 bananas and half an avocado a 150gm bag of spinach and some pineapple or other fruit, four hours later I might have six oranges or a pineapple or a couple of rock,honeydw melons, and for tea another 4 or more bananas an avocado and some other fruit like half a large pineapple or pawpaw. I am a studying naturopath and just learned from medical sorces that the typical stomach can hold about 1.5 Litres of food before any pressure changes occur. I find that 1 litre is not a problem, you have to build up to this over a few weeks though if your not used to it. If your worried about the glycaemic indications of such a large amount of fruit, fruit fibre tends to hold back the sugar and prevent it from spiking your blood sugar. This is not true of fruit juices so avoid large quantities of them.
I have just been working on my protein needs and found that I was consistently eating below RDI. http://www.nutritiondata has helped me sort that one out. What I found is that some nuts are very poor protein and others are good protein. Cashews, pepitas, sunflowerseeds and linseed all provide complete or close to complete protein. with many of the other nuts you can close to halve the protein they contain as the amino acid balance is not there. Some are even less than this. Dark greens contain about 3g/100gm good quality protein, and broccoli and many other veggies about 2 grams per 100. Do not listen to any claims that sprouts or dark greens contain more protein than meat. That is absolute rubbish as they are 80 or more percent water and cannot possibly contain more than 20% protein.
I try and vary my diet as widely as possible. If you want some of my raw food recipies or to read more of my experience please feel free to find me on facebook as Amos Thiel. In my notes you will find some of my experiences and recipies which I have started posting. Wait about a week and I will put quite a few more up.
Good luck and remember that its not a sin to eat cooked food, but eating lots and lots of raw will always be brilliant for health. As a note on high raw though, my Chronic fatigue did not yeild to 70% raw, but has gone on 100%
In this post, you could also talk about people who have stuck with the raw food diet 100%. although this group is very small. Douglas Graham does it, and shouldn’t you talk about his example as well, as he makes it work compared to the other gurus out there?
I’ve tried 100% and my blood sugar goes way low. I find the best for me is green smoothies and/or fresh fruit all morning, steamed or lightly sauteed veggies in the middle of the afternoon and depending on how hungry I am I do salads, steamed veggies (maybe with brown rice) or just fruit a couple of hrs before bed. I’m still
losing weight slowly on a mixed diet and I feel better that way. No dairy at all except maybe some non dairy creamer for coffee if I run out of soy milk. Most of the time I
stick to a 70% raw diet but sometimes it slips to 50%. No meat except once I had tilapia
when there wasn’t any veggie plates in a restaurant. Didn’t have a choice. I’m going on
3 months and I feel great!
Really love your blog! Just wanted to say that. You’re an excellent writer.
Love this post! Been wondering about the same thing recently. I am at least 80% raw vegan but when permanently traveling, it is not always easy.
“how important it is to listen to your body and give it what it wants.” – haha!
You never ate chocolate or some other junk food when you had stress?
When your mind is poisoned, your body is asking for junk food. If you don’t give to it, sometimes you will feel like you will go insane, so nobody can resist it.
The real solution is to reduce stress, not to fight your desire, so the psychological factor stops twisting the body. Then your body won’t ask for junk food anymore.
But most of the raw foodists (including the raw food “superstars”) can’t be bothered to reduce stress and/or to give enough meaning to their life in order to be able to keep a raw food diet.
Also it’s important to know that avocado is the only vegetable with a lot of fat and it’s important to eat it every day, the fat keeps you running for 4-8 hours easily. Without it, you will be hungry all day
I really enjoyed this post – thank you! You put to words many thoughts in my own head about a 100% raw diet – which I’ve been doing on and off. I’ve added added a few cooked things here and there but would have moments where I’d feel like I’d fallen off the band wagon (and then would talk myself out of that guilty feeling by focusing on eating for “health” and pleasure. 🙂
“According to the rest of the world, we all have a health-food eating disorder called “orthorexia” and need to be in rehab, STAT, pumped up with a steady stream of doughnuts and Pepsi.”
When you misrepresent everyone who is concerned about you as just another American fatty-fat who’s never touched a vegetable in their life, your arguments lose any credibility. You’ve convinced me all the more of your disordered eating.
Some cooked food does seem to bring comfort at certain seasons of the year! 90/95% is still very good for me and I suffer no ill affects from it! I’m not a fanatical and I ‘m good with it
What’s more concerning…is the way in which some raw fooders preached their gospel…and maybe at the time, given where they were at, it even made sense. But looking back on it now, I realize people do what’s best for them with the tools they’ve got. I just resent the Evangelical tone of some of these people…so, when one of them tweak and make adjustments to their diet, after making certain claims, I just nod my head and think, “Extremism cannot be sustained.”