10/27/97- Updated 01:04 AM ET
Stripping the diet raw
SAN FRANCISCO - Food fads come and go - Pan Asian, haute Southern, Pacific Rim fusion -
but the latest dining trend is actually the oldest: eating food raw.
Raw foodists, also known as living foodists, take their diets about two steps beyond
vegetarianism. And they're cooking up new ways to bring uncooked foods to health-conscious
"Out of every living thing on the planet, animals, plants, insects, none are
overweight or out of shape except for the ones that eat cooked foods," says Juliano
(who goes by only his first name), owner of the 2-year-old Raw Living Foods restaurant in
the trendy Sunset area. "By eating raw foods, you're doing a great service to the
planet but especially to yourself."
Lean, fit and virtually bounding with energy, 27-year-old Juliano, a raw foodist for
nearly five years, is a poster boy for the cause.
And it's a cause that's getting more attention. Celebrities including Woody Harrelson,
Demi Moore and Robin Williams have dropped by Raw restaurant. Several Web sites are
devoted to the raw food regimen, including All Raw Times (www.rawtimes.com), which
includes recipes, food suppliers and diet information. The American Living Foods Institute
near Glendale, Calif., disseminates information on raw foods and acts as a living-foods
health clinic. Living Nutrition is a year-old magazine out of Sebastopol, Calif.,
devoted to the raw-food lifestyle. And Raw restaurant's Juliano is writing one of the
first raw foods recipe books, called Raw, the Uncooked Book.
"Raw foodists hold that cooking destroys many vitamins and minerals and essential
food enzymes," says Barbara Haspel, co-author with her daughter Tamar of the New
York-based healthy eating newsletter Dreaded Broccoli. That means no grilled
eggplant. No marinara sauce. Not even stir-fried tofu cubes.
But it isn't all carrot sticks. Raw foods can also include pizzas and burritos. Sort
At Raw Living Foods restaurant, Juliano serves up pizzes, distant cousins of pizzas
that are served on a sprouted buckwheat and "baked" by sitting in the sun for
several hours. Raw's "sushi" isn't fish at all, but gussied-up carrot pulp that
tastes surprisingly like salmon. The rice isn't cooked, but soaked in water for 30 days
until it becomes soft and palatable. And the "chips" that come with the spicy
guacamole appetizer aren't fried triangles, but meaty slices of sweet potato, coconut and
"In most restaurants, tortillas are deep-fried. But I take a purple cabbage leaf,
pull it off, and it's automatically a tortilla. It's a neat color, there's no package to
become trash. It's better than a flour tortilla," Juliano says.
Instead of vegetable-flavored pasta, Juliano offers "zucchini linguine,"
julienned zucchini that "tastes just like al dente pasta with sauce."
A glass of vino with that raw pasta? No problem. Since wine goes through no heating
process, it gets the thumbs up from Juliano. Beer is a no-no since the hops are boiled,
and the distillation process knocks liquor out of the living-food diet.
A glass of wine and a plate of pasta. Sounds like standard California cuisine. But not
all diners will be spurning Spago. After a meal at Raw, Dreaded Broccoli's Tamar
Haspel concluded, "human beings have been cooking for thousands of years. This
restaurant does not give me compelling reason to stop."
Still, raw foodism seems to be growing. Next month, Juliano will move Raw to larger
quarters to meet customer demand. And two more living-food restaurants have opened
recently: Lovin' Life in Fairfax, Calif., and Raw Experience in Paia, Hawaii. And
living-food advocates cite the proliferation of juice bars as proof that their regimen is
entering the mainstream.
Although raw foodism seems to be on the rise, it's unlikely to become as big a culinary
trend as, say, nouvelle cuisine. "Vegetarians are a minority of the population, and
rawists are a very small minority of that," Barbara Haspel says. "Few people are
completely committed to it."
For those who are, health is a motivating factor. "The source of most health
problems is what we eat," says Ed Douglas, director of the American Living Foods
Institute, a raw foodist for more than 20 years. "Whoever started cooking food 40,000
years ago didn't realize that we are not designed to eat cooked food. We're designed like
other species to eat food in the raw form."
Why? Stephen Arlin, co-author of Nature's First Law: The Raw-Food Diet (Maul
Brothers Publishing, $14.95), puts it succinctly: "Cooked food is poison."
Strict believers think that cooking destroys foods' vitamins and minerals and that cooked
foods clog the intestines and colon, leading to ills from cancer to diabetes.
But food safety experts raise cautions about the raw food diet. "I can understand
the principle, but it's fraught with danger," says Nicols Fox, author of Spoiled:
The Dangerous Truth About a Food Chain Gone Haywire (HarperCollins, $25). "In
terms of pathogens, we're looking at a whole host of bugs we haven't seen on vegetables
before, including salmonella and cyclospora." Heat is one important way of removing
those threats, she says.
Understanding the dynamics of the raw food diet is essential, Arlin agrees. Living
foodists eat about 70% fruit. But, he says, that's using the botanical definition of
fruit, "so that means anything that contains within itself the seeds for regeneration
of the plant, like bell peppers, cucumbers and squash." He fills out his diet with
raw nuts and leafy greens. After years of eating cooked foods, the raw food diet can take
some getting used to, he admits. "But after a while," he says, "it will
feel perfectly natural."
For Juliano, the raw food diet is perfectly natural. "After all," he says,
"before there was fire, there was raw."
By Cathy Hainer, USA TODAY