Real Life: Raw material girls
They say you are what you eat, and one small and dedicated group of people is spreading the word that by eating uncooked, 'living' foods you will completely revamp your health
Fed up with cooking? Want to improve your health? Then maybe you should try a raw food diet, which is popular in the States -- where raw food restaurants are common -- and is steadily gaining momentum here.
A raw food diet focuses on fresh, local, 'living' produce and, as the name suggests, encompasses all raw fruit and vegetables. In addition it includes any food that is not heated above 46C degrees and is therefore still 'living'.
This ensures precious enzymes are not destroyed, and keeping these enzymes intact provides optimum nourishment for the body.
The raw food diet is generally vegan -- meaning no animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs or honey. Dehydration is popular, as this process enables raw food to mimic the texture and taste of cooked food.
Dehydrators slowly heat the foods to remove all of their moisture, so vegetable crisps, crackers and burgers can be made with it.
Deirdre McCafferty is proprietor of Cornucopia Restaurant, which she opened with her late husband Neil in 1986 on Dublin's Wicklow St. She is also one of the founding members of Alive, the Irish Living Foods Association, set up in 2003.
Back in the 1980s, Deirdre worked at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston, where the concept of raw food first originated in 1968. Its philosophy is founded on the belief that "a vegan, living, enzyme-rich diet is integral to optimum health".
At Hippocrates, clients are put on a raw food diet, including daily drinks of wheatgrass juice, in order to purge the body of toxins and encourage cell renewal. Many clients credit it with greatly improving their health.
At Cornucopia, they offer three living salads: sprouted bean, sprouted grain and sprouted greens. The first sprouted salad was introduced in 2002 and as demand soared, more was added.
"They feel good after eating them," says Deirdre of her customers. "People are becoming more conscious and for a lot of people it's because they are ill." She credits the internet with helping the spread of information. "It's a revolution that is happening," she says.
There are plans for Cornucopia to expand its raw food options in the near future.
Cafe Fresh, in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin, also sells living food meals. There is an Irish-based online raw foods meet-up group, and Alive holds monthly seminars and potlucks.
Servants of Love is a religious community based in Quarantine Hill in Co Wicklow. They also run Ireland's only raw cafe, Healthy Habits.
Member Gabrielle Kirby became a raw foodist in 1998. "I developed interstitial cystitis. I tried conventional medicine and it got worse so I tried something else.
"I went to California and did a fast to see if it helped and it did. So I did seven fasts over five years. Through that, I discovered raw foods," explains Gabrielle.
The cafe uses organic vegetables from local farms. "People come from all over to visit -- Cork, Roscommon, Sligo, Galway. A lot of people have been sick, or are sick, so they would have gone to the Hippocrates Institute and they recommend our cafe."
Gabrielle says she has seen the interest in raw foods growing in recent years. "It's sort of exploding now, there are so many interested in it. In the beginning there weren't that many."
Why does she think it's so beneficial?
"The raw diet supplies a lot of nutrients that processed food wouldn't. It gives you a lovely light feeling; you don't feel like falling asleep after having a meal. It's nutrient-dense so you don't have to eat so much. Some days I would eat 100pc raw, other days I might have a slice of wholemeal bread or some steamed vegetables."
Raw food can be cheap -- such as locally grown fruit and vegetables -- but it can also be expensive if you're going to indulge in pre-prepared raw food bars, cakes and crackers. Many raw foodists ensure their diet is mainly or totally organic, pushing the cost up further.
If a person is juicing or blending smoothies daily, plus eating a large salad and dehydrated snacks, this can amount to three, four, or even five times the amount of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds than some might usually eat.
"If you were eating out all the time then it would be expensive," says Gabrielle, "but if you're making your own stuff it's only expensive for the initial outlay. You might have to buy a dehydrator, then you could prepare food and that would do you for a week."
What do raw foodists eat? "In the morning we would have wheatgrass juice and a pint of juice for our breakfast," says Gabrielle. "We'd have a salad or a raw burger for lunch. We would eat a whole range of vegetables. Burgers are usually based on nuts.
"In the evening, we might have food such as cooked lentils."
Another staple of raw food diets are juices, usually including green leafy vegetables, carrots, cucumber, celery, apples, lemons and ginger root.
Sprouts play a huge role too. These are pulses and seeds that are soaked in water, then left to germinate. Raw foodists eat sprouts because they contain bioavailable (easily absorbed) vitamins, minerals and amino acids, as well as protein and fibre.
Raw foodists all have similar ways of describing the benefits of this way of life. The say they feel lighter, more energetic, have better skin, brighter eyes and lose weight. They all speak of the youthfulness they feel and how eating raw not only improves their body, but mind and spirit.
"You don't have all this heavy food weighing you down," says Natasha Czopor, of Natasha's Living Food.
She grew up in a vegetarian household and moved onto a raw food diet 20 years ago, at the age of 20. Eating living foods, she says, keeps her feeling "glowing and energetic".
Another benefit, she has found, is that she's rarely sick and hasn't visited a doctor in years.
"It's not just the food, it's emotional wellbeing, taking care of yourself on different levels -- it's about being open to life in a much broader way.
"I feel living foods brighten up your being. It's about embodying your life more, not stuffing food in because you're hungry or because you're overeating. It's bringing consciousness to your food. I'm a human being, I am not a perfect person, and I wouldn't put myself up for being that kind of perfect person."
Natasha's Living Food products are a range of raw, dehydrated and sprouted goodies.
"There is a big need for people to have food that's not full of cheap ingredients and fillers that have no nutritional value."
Bernadette Bohan is the best-selling author of 'The Choice', which tells of her successful battles against cancer.
"The more I started to educate myself the more I was beginning to realise that if you cook the food you are destroying it.
"I went to a lecture by Brian Clements from Hippocrates and it made complete sense to me. If you boil something or even if you lightly steam it, you are destroying the nutrients. I gradually began to introduce more raw foods and I lost the arthritis I had in my arm and shoulder," Bernadette says.
"It made me realise, once you give the body what it requires, everything else falls into place," she explains.
Bernadette runs a three-day wellness programme at the Grove Health Spa in Mallow, Co Cork, which is based on the Hippocrates ethos.
Darren Maguire is a Dublin-based raw chef. He became interested in living foods three-and-a-half years ago, and would like to open a raw food restaurant. He hosts 10-course gourmet raw food dinners in Greystones, Co Wicklow, which cost €30 a head.
"When I came across the raw food movement in America I realised the philosophy really sat with me," explains Darren. "I try not to do salads. I'm making a point of doing fine dining. The majority of people have no exposure to this type of food. What people don't realise is that, if you colour or season a vegetable a certain way, it has the texture of cooked food."
Darren is co-organising a raw food and therapy retreat called Whole Person Healing, planned for Drogheda, from Aug 16-22.
"I think it can grow very fast," says Darren of Ireland's raw-food movement. "All it needs is to put a restaurant in there and that catches on. I know so many people who would do it if the food was available to them."
Bernadette agrees: "There is a movement towards it that you can see. The mere fact our programme is full, the seminars I give around the country are packed, is a huge indication that people are becoming more aware of their health."
for more information:
- Alive (The Irish Living Foods Association) -- www.irishlivingfoods.com
- American-based raw food website with simple raw recipes -- www.choosingraw.com
- Raw Food Ireland -- www.rawfoodireland.wikidot.com