Vive la Rawvolution

Photo by James Watkins
Photo by James Watkins / Sadhana Kitchen

Yen Magazine, November 2013

The resistance is strong out there, but there’s no reason we can’t hear the raw food movement out. Please, everyone, let’s give peas a chance. By Anna Greer

Since early humans discovered fire, culinary culture has grown around food that’s cooked. However, a new generation of foodies are eschewing the heat of a flame for blenders, food processors and dehydrators to prepare raw food. Raw food is produce that hasn’t been cooked above 45°C. The goal is to preserve the nutrient value of the food, which decreases when heat is applied.

According to Maz Valcorza, owner of Sydney-based raw food cafe Sadhana, it is what a raw food diet eliminates that makes it so healthy. All of those processed foods with unrecognisable ingredients are out of the equation. Also animal-based products generally don’t make the cut and sugar and refined grains are shunned. “These are the foods that are so detrimental to your health but have just become part of what the mainstream consumes on a daily basis because it’s convenient and cheap. It is never because it is what’s good for you or what is going to nourish your body.”

Raw food diets are packed with fruits, vegetables, nuts, sprouts, seeds and so-called ‘super foods’. The converted attribute all sorts of benefits to this lifestyle: Increased energy and stamina, clearer skin, weight loss, slowing the aging process and reducing inflammation.

“When I started drinking green smoothies regularly and including more raw foods in my diet, I didn’t need anything to wake me up. I don’t need an alarm,” Maz says. “It was easier for me to get to sleep. And then there was all the other superficial things people tend to go on these lifestyles for, which was improved skin, shinier hair, losing excess body fat.”

To throw another opinion into the mix, Clare Collins, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle, says that on the whole, someone who eats a mostly raw diet of fruits and vegetables, compared to someone who eats a mostly cooked diet high in fruits and vegetables, will have a higher nutrient intake. However, she also says that although cooking vegetables does reduce their nutrient content, cooked food is still good for you and just getting more fresh produce in our diets is the most important thing. “For the average Australian arguing about whether [vegetables are] raw or cooked actually isn’t the right argument – it’s about how are you going to get them in your diet any way you can,” she explains.

Valcorza’s new identity as a raw food expert contrasts quite markedly with her past life. She says she was brought up on a diet of spam, eggs and canned food. She didn’t know what a potato was until she moved out of home at 17. Maz’s background is Filipino so roast suckling pig, known as lechón, is a common presence at family gatherings and it took a while for her parent’s to come to grips with Valcorza’s transformation to a raw and vegan lifestyle. When she first switched to a vegan diet, forgoing all animal products, which preceded her leap to consuming mostly raw food, her mum thought she was being thoughtful when at a family celebration she removed the pig’s head and replaced it with an iceberg lettuce that had cherry tomatoes for eyes, a creepy smile made from sultanas, carrot ears and a cucumber nose.

“She didn’t stop there,” Valcorza recounts. “She did it with all the fish, all the baked fish had little triangle heads that she’d meticulously arranged with julienned carrots and celery and sultana eyes. They all had really big creepy smiles. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Valcorza says.“She was so proud of it.” Her family is now on board with her new life as a Wellness Warrior and have even asked her to educate friends and family about nutrition and living foods.

The raw curious can begin by increasing raw fruits and vegetables and consuming only raw before midday. “Start off your day with a green smoothie,” Valcorza says. “If you have that first thing in the morning then it’s a really nice foundation for the rest of your day because it makes you feel really good and psychologically you know you’ve done something positive for yourself.”

Professor Collins does advise anyone who is curious about this way of eating to do the research and work in order to do it well. Studies have found that raw foodists have lower total cholesterol, and lower triglycerides – both risk factors for heart disease. However, B12 deficiency is common among adherents. When giving up animal products people need to supplement this essential vitamin or consume products that are fortified with it. Additionally, she says that consuming animal products, such as eggs and milk, in their raw form puts consumers at higher risk of salmonella poisoning.

Not all vegetables are suitable to consume raw. Some vegies, such as those from the root family, become more easily digestible when cooked. And for others, such as tomatoes, cooking increases the bioavailability of certain nutrients.

“The rule of thumb that generally works for me,” Valcorza says, “is try to have 80 per cent of your diet organic, gluten free produce and the rest of the time you can let your intuition guide you.”

Raw food diets don’t necessarily mean eating salad for breakfast lunch and dinner. It requires creativity, research and practice but fruits, vegetables, sprouts, seeds and nuts can be prepared in many different ways. Although doing it with flare may require an appliance binge and a new way of relating to your kitchen. The implements common to raw food pros are often expensive. For example the high-speed blender preferred by raw foodies, the Vitamix, costs around $800. Then there’s the food processor, cold-press juicer and – to truly kick it up a notch – a dehydrator comes in handy.

“Recipes are all about textures, flavours, sights and smell. So to get all the variances within that spectrum you need different equipment,” Valcorza says. “But at the same time you can still get enough variants by just paying attention to what’s in season, eating in season, because mother nature kind of does everything for you in that respect anyway. So you don’t need all of that stuff but they’re nice to have.”

With the above tools Maz makes some incredible creations. Her cakes – most commonly made with a cashew nut base or almond flour – are decadent, her smoothies are truly smooth and she makes anything from raw versions of lasagne to tacos to quiche to pizza. If you can’t stand the heat, you don’t necessarily need to get out of the kitchen.