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Coast Weekly: Monterey County

Eat it Raw 02/06/03


Raw Foodists won't let a cooked veggie past their lips.

By Kelle Walsh

Photo by: Randy Tunnell

Even in the rarefied world of dietary trends, where being a vegetarian is now almost passe, and where others eat bacon and chicken-fried steak to lose weight, raw foodists have been considered extremists.

There's just something unsettling, uncomfortable even, about the idea of eating only uncooked fruits and vegetables. Every day, regardless of the temperature outside, or whatever emotional void makes you crave Snackwell's cookies by the box.

And there's the rub, says Anna Masteller, a Pacific Grove raw foodist and co-owner of Food in the Nude, which produces and distributes raw food products locally. The misconception of "eating raw" is that you can only have salad.

"People think 'Raw food? Ah, she's just chewing on carrots.' No, we eat pasta and pizza and sandwiches and rolls," Masteller says.

Of course, these kinds of prepared foods in a raw food diet are made from live (growing) or raw (uncooked) organic fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which may or may not be dehydrated (the raw food version of cooking). There's no flour in sight. Grains, in fact, are sprouted, a lengthy process that involves soaking, rinsing, draining and exposing to sunlight just long enough for the seed to begin to grow.

But the result is fresh, nutrient-rich food with all of its enzymes and vitamins intact, food that hasn't harmed the environment via pesticides or wasteful packaging. And this, say raw foodists, is what it's all about. Eating vibrant, energizing food that feeds your body-and soul.

"My vision for the future is for people to understand how important nutrition is and how good raw food is as a lifestyle," says Food in the Nude's other half, Michael Genis.

Judging from the growing popularity of the raw-food trend, it seems that other people want this good mojo on their plates, as well.

In Los Angeles, raw food as a health trend ranks up there with Bikram yoga (a "cooked" version of yoga, done in a room heated to more than 100 degrees). Away from the bright lights of Hollywood, in Larkspur, the restaurant Roxanne's has drawn rave reviews (three-and-a-half stars out of four from the San Francisco Chronicle) and a months-long waiting list for its gourmet raw food. Owner Roxanne Klein is also collaborating on a raw food book with Chicago chef-celebre Charlie Trotter.

On the Central Coast, the raw food movement has grown mostly by word of mouth, with a few "un-cooking" demonstrations at natural foods stores or potluck dinners. But that seems to be changing.

"There's definitely a growing interest [in raw food]," says Jon Zobler, owner of Cornucopia Community Market in Carmel. "Michael and Anna's food sells out the moment they bring it in. I'm hoping that someone does a cafe right next to our store."

With offerings like Not-Pasta Marinara, made of angel-hair zucchini and a sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, pine nuts and sun-dried olives, it's not surprising that Food in the Nude is winning converts. There is also No-Grain Tabouli, made of cauliflower instead of bulgur wheat; nori rolls with raw vegetables; a variety of pates, and of course, salads. The biggest seller, though, is the red bell pepper and basil cracker with sunflower, sesame and flax seeds. They sell out-all 1,000 portions-every week.

Zobler says his customers are curious about raw food, but few have the time necessary to create the kind of recipes Masteller and Genis make. "It's so labor intensive," he says.

Masteller admits that being a creative raw foodist is not without challenges. First, there's the time factor. It can take up to 24 hours to sprout seeds, 48 hours for some nuts and grains. Dehydrating, which consists of slowly drying raw food at temperatures between 95-118 degrees, can take from eight to 36 hours.

Then there's the problem of cooked food, omnipresent with its warmth and wafting smells. Masteller calls these temptations "addictions," and says her downfall is a veggie burrito. But even falling off the wagon now and again, she says she eats between 80-100 percent raw on any given day.

Genis says he is between 70-80 percent raw after just over a year. "It's not my goal to become 100 percent raw," he says. "It's to do the right thing for my body at the time."

But both Genis and Masteller say that the more raw food they eat, the better they feel. It makes them more energized and clearheaded, and they even sleep better. They felt the difference so profoundly that they knew they had to promote the lifestyle. In addition to the products sold at Cornucopia, Food in the Nude offers catering, retreats and "un"-cooking classes. Genis and Masteller have also formed the Monterey County Raw Foods Network for "those interested in incorporating more raw food into their diet and those seeking and offering support on staying raw in a cooked world."

 


Few health professionals would argue the health benefits of a diet made up of low-cholesterol, low-fat, high fiber and nutrient-dense plant products. Nutritionists are wary, however, of endorsing all raw, all the time. They say you risk missing out on important nutrients when you only eat uncooked produce. For example, lycopene, a potent antioxidant commonly found in tomatoes, is more available to the body when heated. Lycopene is being studied for its use in preventing heart disease and prostate cancer.

"You really want a health professional to guide you through anything like a vegan or raw kind of diet. You won't get all the nutrients your body needs if you are not doing it conscientiously," says Gwen Porter, R.D., a certified nutritional support dietician at AdvantaCare Infusions in Monterey.

In general, Porter says, as long as you get enough protein, which is available in nuts and legumes, and take children's particular nutritional needs into consideration, more Americans could benefit from adding some green (and yellow, red, orange and purple) into their diets.

That's exactly what raw foodists want to share.

"Our goal is to make food that any carnivore would be thrilled to eat," says Masteller. "We are not out there to say 'Our diet is better than yours.' We want people to be their best and feel their best. And we happen to know that the more of this food you consume, the better you are going to feel."

The Monterey County Raw Foods Network will hold its first meeting Friday, Feb. 7 at 7pm, in the Carmel Crossroads Community Room. A second meeting is scheduled for March 7. Potluck contribution or donation requested. Call for information: 620-0520.


 

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