Irradiated by LabRat
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.