HISTORY OF THE RAW FOOD DIET: a “fad” that’s been around longer than cooking

POST #993

 Despite what you have been told by certain “authorities”, the raw vegan diet is no fad.  It has been going on since time immemorial, and has been written about and taught (just in America) for almost 200 years.

Before fire, all food was raw. Yes, it’s true; the cavemen followed, for want of a better term, a Paleolithic diet. 

The first real food fad was probably “fired food,” that burned in fire; i.e., once humans figured out how to control fire, and found out that fire changed the taste of food, and/or made some of it easier to chew, people started working out cooked food recipes and sharing them with friends, who might have been wary at first of this new food fad.  Once people found out that cooked food could be held a bit longer without spoilage than raw food could, the new fashion of putting food into, or above, or under a fire took off like, well, wildfire.

 At some point, people also learned how to intentionally grow vegetables, rather than just looking for wild-growing vegetables.

 Somewhere along the line, people discovered that, if they covered foodstuffs with salt, they could preserve them.

 People just started getting more and more clever about what to do with the food they could get their hands on, and started developing their own recipes, often with secret ingredients which they refused to share with those who admired their recipes (This is one tradition which has lasted into modern times).

Refrigeration was a great boon to mankind.  Our forefathers could rarely lay their hands on fresh meat or fresh raw vegetables simply because such things went bad very quickly.  Initially, most people hunted fowl, deer, squirrels, rabbits,  and other game for fresh meat.  Once farm animals were domesticated,  farmers might raise an extra cow or two for meat, but, after they had slaughtered a cow, they had to work fast to use that meat before it putrified.  Hence the early prohibitions, in religious texts, against eating the flesh of certain beasts – the meat from those animals was simply too difficult to preserve for any amount of time, and the propagators of those religions saw an advantage in preserving the lives of believers.

 Most people ate a primarily vegetarian diet simply because it was easier to get their hands on fresh or preserved (pickled/fermented/cultured) vegetables, fruit, and grains than on fresh or reliably preserved meat.

Many believe that, in what is now Israel, the Essene community, a Hebrew sect, observed a vegetarian diet.  This diet has been deduced from information in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are said to date to over 2000 years ago (This idea was popularized by Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, in his cult-favorite book, “The Essene Gospels of Peace”).

It has been said that, in the 4th Century BC, Pythagoras requested that his followers eschew meat, as he believed that following a diet of raw vegetables and fruit was the best way to maintain a healthy body and develop and maintain mental acuity.

It is also said Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, recommended a live vegan diet for healing purposes.  

Fast forward to America in the 19th Century. 

In the 1820s, Sylvester Graham , the very same fellow who developed graham bread, the precursor of the modern graham cracker, as a health food,  firmly advocated a high raw vegan diet.  Under his tutelage, “grahamites” opened boarding houses where those who wished to follow Graham’s  nutritional recommendations could live among others of like mind, and be served meals which followed Graham’s nutritional dictates. Graham was an early proponent of concepts which were later incorporated into the idea of food-combining, or Natural Hygiene.

 In the early 1900s, in California, Arnold Ehret, a German immigrant to the U.S. began espousing his Mucusless Diet System, recommending a transition from cooked foods to a raw fruitarian diet.

The first American raw vegan restaurant was opened in Los Angeles, California, in 1917.  Its owners, John and Vera Richter, named it “The Eutropheon”, after the Greek word for “good nutrition”.  The Richters held weekly lectures on raw veganism, and Vera Richter wrote “Mrs. Richter’s Cook-Less Book (possibly the first raw vegan recipe book in America, published in 1925).  Among the Richters’ followers were the Hollywood actress, Greta Garbo, and, also, Paul Bragg, who went on to become a natural health advocate, and provider of natural raw vegan products. (The restaurant remained popular into the 1940s).

Herbert Shelton, an early 20th Century chiropractor and naturopath became interested in the 19th Century works of Sylvester Graham.  His first book, An Introduction to Natural Hygiene, published in the 1920s, revived interest in Sylvester Graham’s earlier work.  Shelton became known as the father of the modern natural hygiene movement.

 In 1945,  Kristine Nolfi, a Danish physician, after curing herself of cancer by observing a raw vegan diet,  opened Humlegaarden, a sanatorium for the treatment of cancer through raw food diet.

 In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, John Martin Reinecke, a California horticulturist, lectured on the benefits of a 100% raw food diet, and published “Adventures in Raw Food”, a monthly magazine column.

In the 1960s, A.T. Hovanessian published his Raw Eating (it has been alleged that Stephen Arlin, David Wolfe, and Fouad Dini,  in their book Nature’s First Law broadly plagiarized material from this book. Hovanessian also claims that Reinecke plagiarized his work in a 1965 article for Live Life magazine.)

 Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian immigrant to America, whose name has become synonymous with the “modern” raw vegan movement, experimented with natural healing ideas in the 1950s to rid herself of various health concerns.  In 1956, she opened a small sanatorium on her farm. Initially, Wigmore espoused a vegetarian diet, but she eventually graduated to the raw vegan diet she is best known for. She was also a proponent of proper food combining, aka Natural Hygiene. In 1961, she teamed with another Lithuanian immigrant, Viktoras Kulvinskas, to open Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston.  After Brian Clement acquired the rights to the name Hippocrates Health Institute in the 1980s, Wigmore continued her clinic under the name Ann Wigmore Foundation.

In 1967, George and Doris Fathman published Live Foods, based on their exposure to Arnold Ehret’s Natural Hygiene ideas, as well as J.M. Reinecke’s teachings.

In 1969, John Tobe published the No-Cook Book.

In 1970, TC Fry became interested in Natural Hygiene, developed a series of lessons, and began lecturing on Natural Hygiene.

 In 1975, Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival into the 21st Century, which helped popularize Ann Wigmore’s ideas, and introduced to a large market the concepts of food combining and raw foods.

Brian Clement became involved with the Hippocrates Health Institute in the 1970s.  In the late 1970s, he worked at Humlegaarden in Denmark. He returned to the Hippocrates Health Institute, where he became the director in 1980. After Clement acquired the rights to the name Hippocrates Health Institute, he moved his operation to Florida.

In 1985, Harvey and Marilyn Diamond’s book, Fit for Life was released by a major publisher, bringing the ideas of Natural Hygiene and raw food to a larger audience than ever before.

The raw food movement has been growing ever since.  With the Internet’s ease of communication, the idea has spread world-wide.  The availability of more modern appliances has encouraged folks to become very creative, indeed, with raw vegan recipes. 

Of course, with such widespread information sharing, it is just as easy to find folks who have become disenchanted with the raw vegan diet. Among those who have made big names for themselves in raw vegan marketing, a number do seem to be renouncing, and even denouncing, raw food, or a 100% raw diet, possibly as a way to move their marketing in some other direction.  A few years back, I heard Brenda Cobb announce that a summit of raw food leaders had met and decided that  100% raw was no longer  a logical goal, and to only recommend 50-75% raw.  I was a bit surprised, since there has never been any requirement anywhere for anyone to be 100% raw.  Still, to hear such a pronouncement, and, lately, to hear such “raw food names” as Kevin Gianni and Frederic Patenaude boldly announce that “raw food is dead”, and that the “raw food fad” is over and done with seems a bit strange to me.

 I went raw in 1974, and I don’t see any reason to stop now.

NEW ACQUISITION: Richter’s Nature the Healer

After I had acquired Vera Richter’s Mrs. Richter’s Cook-Less Book, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Nature-The Healer, a 1936 book written by John and Vera Ricther, for a very reasonable price on Amazon. You may recall that John and Vera Richter operated a raw food restaurant from the 1920s to the 1940s.
This book is probably not anything you need. Written in a question/answer format, it addressed a number of health issues and dietary concerns, with an eye to how they might be healed via nutritional methods. It is, essentially, the precursor of such books as Linda Page’s Healthy Healing and Phyllis Balch’s Prescription for Dietary Wellness. As I am very interested in raw vegan nutrition, this book is interesting to me because it is quite possibly the first such book written in America, and, very likely, the rest of the world, as well. Furthermore, it may well be the first known book on nutritional healing – my copy was originally owned by an MD in Los Angeles, who was, apparently, interested in nutritional healing (I am not usually privy to the names of previous owners of the books I collect, however this MD’s name and office address are stamped in several places in the book).
I am looking forward to studying this wonderful book, which Dr. Richter wrote in 1936, when he was 84, just 2 years before he transitioned.

EAT IT RAW: what’s it all about? an introduction


Why are people talking about eating more raw food, or even “going totally raw”? What’s up with that?

Raw food enthusiasts claim that raw food will do just about everything for you, healthwise, from reversing such illnesses as asthma, heart disease, arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and even cancer, to helping you lose weight.

The concept behind raw food is that, when fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds have not been heated beyond 115 degrees Fahrenheit, they retain all of their enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Heating beyond 115 degrees Fahrenheit is believed to cause the enzymes to break down, and so, the food loses valuable nutrients.

Most serious raw foodists are vegan, i.e. , they eschew all animal products of any sort, although there are those, such as former model Carol Alt, who allow raw meat, as well. (Needless to say, the raw vegans are disturbed by the suggestion that raw meat may be included in a raw diet. Raw vegans hold that any kind of animal products are difficult for humans to digest. (Indeed, it has been shown that milk products can cause excess mucus in the human system, and this may lead to a number of ill health conditions.)

What’s up with the weight benefits? That is actually the easiest part to understand. If you eat only natural raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, it is going to be quite difficult to eat too many calories. There also going to be no “bad” fats (such as trans-fats) in your diet. Any fats in your diet will only be those naturally found in the raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds you eat, only natural, unprocessed essential fatty acids. Your diet will naturally be low in starches and sugars, as well, because there will be no processed wheat products (bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, etc.), and no added sugars. Any way you figure it, whether your diet style is low-calorie, low-fat, or low carbohydrate, a raw food approach will fit in and make it much easier to achieve your target weight without feeling deprived.

What else do raw food enthusiasts eat besides salads? With the increased popularity of the raw food diet, a plethora of raw food “cook” books have come out in the last ten years. Recipe options range from the quick and simple to complex gourmet productions which closely mimic cooked dishes. Many books open with the dessert section, to assure those new to raw food that there are many sweet options available to raw foodists. There are numerous recipes for cakes, cookies, candy, “ice cream”, and more, available in raw food books or on raw food websites on the Internet. Everything is guilt-free, made only from raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds You can even have raw food tacos and pizza, if you so choose. Burgers, tuna salad, “pasta”, you name it, someone has figured out a way to produce a dish made only with raw food to satisfy a longing.

Raw foodism is not a new concept. In the early 1900s, Arnold Ehret cured himself of a number of ills by following what he called a mucusless diet. He later traveled around the world teaching people the benefit of his diet healing system. In the 1920s, Dr. Herbert Shelton began publishing books on healing through natural hygiene, or proper food combining, and encouraging people to eat more raw food to improve their health and well-being. Around the same time, Dr. Norman W. Walker began promoting the value of drinking raw food juices and eating a live food diet. Dr. Walker, too, published numerous books to bring his concepts to the public. In the 1960s, Dr. Ann Wigmore founded the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston, MA, where she promoted eating raw food and drinking raw juices as a way for people to recover their health and remain disease-free. Many of the current raw food “gurus” have taken cues from Wigmore’s teachings.

Today, there are numerous raw food “experts” or “gurus”, and a number of different raw food diet theories. All agree on one point: it is best to include as much raw food in one’s diet as possible. Many natural, alternative, or holistic therapies recommend following a diet composed of at least 75% raw food, to enhance the benefits of the treatment and hasten a return to full health.

A superb book to start with, if you are interesting in learning more about raw food theory and the health benefits of raw foodism, and would like to get some raw food recipes in the bargain, is Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine, by Gabriel Cousens, MD., a classically trained physician who practices alternative medicine and runs a holistic retreat center and raw food restaurant in Arizona.

Raw food restaurants are not exactly on every street corner in New York City, but we do have a few very good ones. In order of expense and atmosphere, from the most affordable:
Raw Soul, $, a small, friendly, cafe-atmosphere spot with short but delicious menu, 745 St. Nicholas Ave. (between 147 & 148th Streets.), 212-875-7112. (They also give raw food lifestyle classes)
Quintessence, $$, a tiny, charming, mellow East Village spot with a delicious menu of surprising variety. 263 E. 10th St. (between 1st Ave. & Ave. A), 646-654-1823.
Pure Food & Wine, $$$$$, an elegant restaurant with a lovely outdoor garden. The pricey menu has the most amazing and wonderful dishes. 54 Irving Pl. 212-477-1010.