Why I’m not a raw foodist

Tropical FruitThe short version is, I’m not into raw foods because I live in Michigan, and raw foods are not available in Michigan year-round. This is not just a locavorian soapbox; I’m not just rooting for the home-grown team, as it were. Here’s my chain of logic:

  • Many people – scientists, sociologists, nutritionists, travelers – have noted that cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic “Western” conditions are essentially nonexistent in traditional cultures that eat the way their ancestors have eaten for thousands of years. The Masai who eat blood, milk, and meat; the Inuit who eat seal blubber and lichen; the Indians who eat dal, greens, and ghee; the SE Asians who eat vegetables, tropical fruits, and rice – all are healthy despite widely varied diets.
  • Traditional foodways are based on the foods that grow in the climate where that culture exists.
  • Shipping foods – especially foods that were bred to stand up well to shipping – reduces their nutritional value.
  • Therefore, local foods are the ideal foods for people living in that climate.

This though first came to me when I noticed several people who eat a strict raw food diet – based largely on summer-harvested foods (zucchini, tomatoes) and a lot of tropical fruits and nuts – say they can’t handle cold winters anymore. Is it any surprise that people who eat a tropical diet develop tropically-adapted bodies? Just in terms of calories, could you imagine eating enough mangoes to keep your body functioning in the Arctic? Not a chance. Up north, you eat blubber because because you’re a mammal, and it takes a huge number of calories just to keep your core body temperature up, and blubber is the most concentrated food you can get. (And ok, you’re probably eating that blubber raw…hmmm…)

If you look at what is available on the landlocked 45th parallel this time of year, it’s a lot of root vegetables, hard squash, grains, meat, and dried and pickled foods. These things store well all winter, and many need to be cooked to be eaten. (Certainly they need to be cooked to be enjoyed, and some foods yield more – or different – nutrition when eaten cooked.) So, while raw foods certainly have their place in my diet, I’m not going to knock myself out trying to eat only raw foods, especially in the winter. I’m certainly not going to base my diet on noni fruit and zucchini.

I know I’m speculating here, but it rings true to me. Eat what you find in your habitat, and you’ll be equipped to survive in that habitat. This also helps me answer the question, “What food tradition should I try to follow?” Do I go with that of my blood ancestors, or that of the people who used to live where I now live? How long ago…a hundred years ago, or a thousand?

I think if I look at the foods that grow – and store – naturally here are the foods to eat, and for preparation, I can look to the way different cultures prepare those foods. So, corn grows well here. Does it matter if I eat it as tortillas or polenta or hominy or straight off the cob?



  1. El said,

    January 15, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Hi Emily
    Hmm. I’m no raw foodist either. However, I do think there’s “something there there.” My small understanding of the raw food folks is that there are some beneficial enzymes present in uncooked foods that are processed out in the heating of those foods. Most traditional diets featured one small bit of raw something with every meal. It may not have been a whole chunk of raw blubber, but it might have been some fish that was allowed to air dry. It might have been (in other cultures) that small bite of kimchi you had mentioned earlier: it was a condiment, not a full-blown dish. It might have been presprouted grains that were ground up for the day’s bread (because, face it, before the advent of mechanical harvesting, some grains did sprout in the field or in storage before they were consumed). They might have used a homemade starter to make that bread. Or it could have been that people were drinking raw milk.

    When I look at MY local diet, I know the one thing that is missing at this time of year is access to raw foods. So I do have plenty of cabbage and apples and pears in the root cellar, and we do eat these raw. I also make sauerkraut. I also make sprouts (grains and seeds), and use a homemade starter for my sourdough bread. Then I go to the extreme example of having a greenhouse to keep us in salads. With the exception of the last thing, I believe a Michigander a century ago would have been eating the same things. They would also have had a source of raw milk, too; it’s something I lack now, but not for a lack of trying.

    So what tradition should you follow? Beats me. I just know that, traditionally, the things people had easiest access to were the things that were the freshest. That’s no longer the case. What’s most convenient to you now is probably the least fresh and most processed!

  2. espringf said,

    January 15, 2008 at 11:32 am

    *grin* Yep, El, we’re definitely on the same wavelength. SOME raw (I’d go so far as to say “living”) food seems critical – but the slavish insistence on “no foods heated over 105” seems misguided to me.

    I’m pretty sure there’s raw milk in your area…see http://realmilk.com/where3.html#mi or e-mail me from my website at http://www.drgndrop.com/ and I’ll share my other source… 😉

  3. farm mom said,

    January 16, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Great post Emily, I wholeheartedly agree.

  4. Starr said,

    January 16, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    This is a really insightful post. I dig it!

    I think people should eat what’s local to them as well. (Though, admittedly, I don’t as I usually take the quick and lazy route.. I’m working on it though).

    I would think, especially using your example with eating mangoes and not being able to handle cold harsh winters, that one should eat what is located where they currently live rather than eat what their blood ancestors ate 100+ years back.

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