The madness is spreading.

September 7, 2007 - 3:51 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
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Over on the blogroll I’ve got Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple bookmarked. It’s a site devoted to fitness and nutrition from an evolutionary standpoint. I’m not exactly an adherent- life is too damn short for highly restrictive diets, no matter how many years they might add to that span- but they very often post links to interesting research, and also have links to a ton of recipes that are both very good for you and actually tasty- so I keep coming back on a daily basis. Mark Sisson owns the site and does most of the posting (and I rarely find myself disagreeing with him, except philosophically), but he also has a small army of other folks with the keys to the kingdom.

Well, today one of them posted this interview with someone burbling the glories of “raw foodism”. There’s a disclaimer at the top that the site does not advocate the raw diet, but the interview is a completely uncritical invitation to “Chef Dan” to thump the stump for “raw, living” food. Which, fine. If you want to let someone have their say and let the audience decide how much merit it has, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Allow me to examine the merit.

The interviewee declines to elaborate on the benefits of the enzymes in raw foods that are not destroyed by cooking, instead pointing the interested to a book, but I’ve encountered the premise elsewhere. Supposedly, raw food (or enzyme supplementation) is best because the “living” enzymes in it help you digest your food. This is bunk. YOUR enzymes help you digest your food, and there’s no such thing as an “enzyme deficiency” unless you have a genetic disorder that prevents you from manufacturing certain ones- which becomes apparent shortly after birth, not after reading a book*. Even if you are getting big doses of “food enzymes” from all the raw fruits and veg you eat, they don’t do much of anything, as they are treated like the body treats every other protein: they are chopped apart and digested for their amino acids.

“Pesticides, bleaches, coloring, flavorings, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, homogenizers, fillers, starches, dairy, genetically engineered food, processed and refined sugars and salts… are all poison and will kill you; sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. But in the end nearly every illness and discomfort we suffer from, be it a common cold or terminal cancer, is caused by what we put into are mouth. Why eat poison?”

If you are eating nothing but raw fruits and vegetables and nuts, you’re eating plenty of poison. Despite the Gaia-loves-us-all approach to food, which seems to embrace the belief that everything on this Earth was put there to be used by man in the form originally set down, plants don’t actually want to be eaten. It’s counterproductive to doing what living things do, which is do their damndest to survive long enough to reproduce. Plants are seen as totally passive creatures because they don’t move under their own power, but they’re not; they’re natural chemical factories, and in that respect they engage in a lot of warfare against competitors and predators. The process of domestication (i.e. genetically modifying organisms) and the function of cooking were originally in part an effort to detoxify food. Modern domestic food plants are now only mostly nonpoisonous; we were never able to get ALL the neurotoxins, carcinogens, digestive blockers, cyanide, or other delightful substances out of our food. One domestic plant, the cassava (also called yuca or manioc), is part of the basic diet of many millions of people in third-world warm climates; it is also very poisonous when raw. Konzo, the neurological disease improperly processed cassava causes, is a perennial public health problem in very poor areas of Africa. Anyone who tells you meat is poison and that’s why you should go vegetarian has not got the slightest idea what they’re eating.

“Elephants, whales, giraffes, silver back guerillas (sic), in fact the largest and strongest animals on the planet, are all vegetarian. How much friggin protein do you need for Christ’s sake?”

Elephants, giraffes, and gorillas (are the ones without silver backs weak carnivores?) are all herbivores. As such, they have far longer and larger intestines than we do- it’s necessary to keep all that plant matter in the body long enough to extract enough nutrients to thrive on. They also manufacture more of their own amino acids than we do; that’s why vegetarians who want to stay healthy must be very mindful that they vary their diet enough to get all the amino acids that need to be consumed rather than manufactured in the body. Large herbivores also spend the vast majority of their time eating and pooping in order to get all the nutrition they need; horses don’t spend as much time as they do cropping grass because it’s fun. So far as I know, there are no vegetarian whales- krill are animals, albeit very small ones.

“And most every illness we suffer from as humans is rooted in an ill digestive system.”

For those who are keeping a life list of quack dietary/medical fads, one of the easiest field markers is the assertion that all illnesses are actually caused by one root problem, be it “toxins”, a dirty colon, or a misaligned spine. When your only tool is a hammer, the only problems had better be nails.

“The real questions here are:”

Oooooh, Q and A time! I love that.

“What about acid and alkaline balance?”

What about it? Your body regulates pH tightly, the same way it does your temperature. The only way to overcome this is to massively overwhelm your system with enough alcohol, which will make you alkaline, or enough ketones from a severe diabetic crisis, which will make you acid. By that point you’ve got a lot more problems than a question of what to eat for dinner.

“What about nutrient dense foods?”

What about them? Raw fruits and vegetables typically aren’t, although nuts are. There’s a reason Arctic explorers and Iditarod competitors pack lots of butter, lard, preserved meat, and fish; they NEED nutrient density not to die of hypothermia. Raw fruits and vegetables are mostly water and fiber- pound for pound, they’re among the least nutrient-dense foods on the planet.

“What about quality of foods? What about quality water? What about sunlight and clean air? What about reducing stress? What about not distorting the planet we need to survive? What about the truth for a change?”

When did I wander out of an interview about raw food and into a Bob Dylan song?

“Everything that is still living has one or all of these characteristics: active livings seeds, roots, enzymes or friendly cultures. Raw/living food is more about how the foods are prepared and the nutrient/energy potential it offers. We eat about ten times the variety of foods that a non-raw foodist eats.”

Friendly cultures are a good idea. Whether or not a plant is still alive when you eat it makes no difference, unless it’s one of the varieties of plant that sounds an internal alarm to massively increase its production of toxins when it senses injury. The last sentence is just pure defiance of mathematics, unless he thinks that everyone who is not a raw-foodist lives exclusively on McDonald’s.

And, at last, we come to the real crux of the matter:

“How can you tell if someone is a raw/living foodist?

They are not overweight. They don’t have offensive body odors/breath. They glow from the inside. They are happy. They have a ton of energy. They have a positive outlook on life. They are caring and loving. They are on a path of self development and higher consciousness. Women don’t suffer during their periods, men don’t suffer from impotence. They are real, whole, living, functioning, aware, grounded human beings that don’t need pharmaceuticals or even doctors for a consistently steady state of well-being. Living, loving, joyous, beautiful people the way it was meant to be”

If you eat raw, you will instantly become a better, smarter person and all your problems will go away. Folks, this ain’t nutrition, it’s religion- and a cultlike one at that. Eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables is a great way to get lots of fiber, minerals, and anti-oxidants, and if they do have some toxins in them, that’s what your liver’s for; but they will absolutely NOT make you magically whole and spiritually pure. And I have no idea why a site devoted to intelligent, scientific approaches to food and exercise is having truck with it- this is the sort of thing they normally debunk.

*Except for lactose intolerance. Interestingly, lactase is one of the few enzymes you can consume that will actually work after you’ve swallowed it- if you take a big enough dose that it will take enough time to digest that some of it will have a chance to work.

No Responses to “The madness is spreading.”

  1. Craig Cooper Says:

    I very much enjoyed this post, I wanted to leave a similar rant on Mark’s blog after reading the Raw Food post. You seem particularly informed in the area of human physiology, what’s your background/experience?

  2. LabRat Says:

    Not human physiology so much as physiology in general; my formal education is in biology. Most of what I know about human physiology is built on general vertebrate morphology, comparative anatomy, and biochemistry.

    Things more human-specific, especially food science, are hobby reading for me (I highly recommend “On Food And Cooking” by Harold McGee), but I try to keep up. :)

  3. daddyquatro Says:

    “They don’t have offensive body odors/breath.”
    I’ve found it to be a wise policy to always avoid people who claim their sh*t don’t stink.

  4. LabRat Says:

    …..Succintly, and accurately, put. XD

  5. daddyquatro Says:

    um… thanks?
    -the commenter formerly known as D4

  6. GeorgeH Says:

    Raw Food?
    There are oysters with mignonette sauce, there is celery in a bloody mary, there is a nice salad before the steak, there is even gazpacho in season.
    What more could there be?

  7. daddyquatro Says:

    GeorgeH,
    Well, I do like carrot and celery sticks with my hot wings and you can’t have barbecue without some raw onion to accompany the pickles and jalapeños.

  8. LabRat Says:

    Plus an entire galaxy of sashimi. I now consider it tantamount to a crime to cook really high-quality tuna at all.

  9. Mark’s Daily Apple » Blog Archive » Raw Food Gets Served Says:

    […] temperature, while other food is “dead” and therefore poison? Another blogger posted a brutal assessment of raw food in response to Friday’s post, and I couldn’t have said it better. Go read […]

  10. darkleafy Says:

    For the most part I agree with you, or rather, don’t exactly disagree. But on one point you are incorrect: fruits and vegetables–especially vegetables–ARE some of the most nutrient-dense things we can eat. They’re just not CALORIE dense. 10 ounces of spinach has ridiculous amounts of vitamins and macronutrients and all that good crap, but is really low in calories for all of that good stuff.

    So the more veggies the better. Cram ‘em down. Unlimited amounts.

    On the other hand, equally tasty things like meat and nuts are fat- and calorie-dense, which though not necessarily a bad thing, means we need to express more moderation in the amounts we eat.

    As someone who loves veggies both cooked and raw but who also loves meat (I like beef warmed up just enough to kill the e. coli, salmon and tuna raw when safe/possible, but pork and chicken definitely thoroughly done through) and has a serious nut addiction, I’ve no agenda or axe to grind. Just tryin’ to stick up for the veggies. They’re our pals.

  11. LabRat Says:

    Well, I don’t disagree with you either; when I say “nutrients”, I mean “macronutrients”, which until just now I’d always thought only meant protein, fat, and carbohydrates when used in this context. I usually say “minerals” or “vitamins” seperately. I stand corrected.

    I haven’t always been the biggest fan of veggies flavorwise, but I’ve been reforming. My grindy-axe is with vegetarians who insist that meat isn’t nutritious, not with vegetables in and of themselves.

  12. Red Says:

    So raw-foodists eat sushi or sashimi and consider it alive? Funny, considering that all raw fish in the US must be frozen — to kill off parasites — before it is legal to serve. Most of the raw fish served in Japan is also frozen before it is served. Doesn’t seem very “alive” to me.

  13. LabRat Says:

    Red: I don’t know, we were just riffing on the “raw is holy” concept in general. From what I’ve heard from raw foodists, they barely agree with each other on what’s good.

    I did know a fisherman from Louisiana, though, who would take his share of sashimi straight off the tuna while it was still flopping. He was definitely not a raw-foodist, just hardcore about his fish.

  14. Kate Pond Says:

    Thanks for the stinging coment on acid/alkaline balances. You could also try not breathing, or, hyperventilation. One gives you acidosis and the other gives you alkolosis. And you don’t know what feeling good is until you’ve had a good case of alkalosis.

  15. m Says:

    Try reading in Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything, the chapter on Salad the Silent Killer. This blog seems to have reprinted it.

    http://leni.wordpress.com/2006/09/24/salad-the-silent-killer/

  16. Stingray Says:

    We’ve not only read it and loved it, but “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate” should be arriving on our doorstep from Amazon in a few days. Jeffery is well loved in this house.

  17. Cedric Says:

    Coming from a former 100% raw foodist, everyone is a raw foodist. Enjoy Remarkable benefits from both raw/cooked foods. Plain and simple, Veggies,fruit,fat,meat are all good for you. Find your own balance and everything else will follow.
    -Cedric

  18. Mr you know who Says:

    Great to hear this side of the story.
    I have some friends and acquaintances who are into Raw (and a couple of them I would describe as Raw Food Nazis). I think it’s more accurate to say they are enslaved to their diets.

    I had a raw food friend stay over recently and she ate like a horse – continously! She admitted to me her diet has become a problem: it drains all of her spare money – which means as a student she’s in debt and living in poverty. The search for suitable raw organic food is a constant pursuit which occupies a large part of her time and money. She experiences great anxiety at the thought of eating anything cooked because she has swallowed the big lie that “cooked food is toxic.”

    With some people I have met who are into Raw it is I believe a massive ego trip. It’s ALL they talk about, it occupies their time and their life and they want to ram it down not just your throat – but everyone elses too. Yes, like you say, it’s more like a religion.

    Me, I enjoy the best of both worlds – I think it’s great to eat clean, raw food as well as having the great pleasure to eat Granmas delicious and nutritious home baked lasagne I had the other night!

  19. Randomique Says:

    Brilliant!