Eight days of raw food

For Passover this year, I ate only raw foods. For quite some time, I had wanted to experiment with raw foods, and Passover seemed to be a good opportunity. To me, the abstraction of the point of Passover is to spend some time thinking about what we eat, and to eat differently from the way we eat the rest of the year. I don’t need any encouragement to think about food, but eating differently from use is occasionally appealing. Also, I had a few questions about a raw diet that I wished to explore.

The idea behind raw foods is that enzymes begin to break down at 118 degrees Fahrenheit, and so we derive the maximal possible amount of nutrition by not heating our food above that point. If this claim is true, then we should experience greater health by eating more raw foods. And that should make us feel better.

Raw foodists frequently claim that they have greater energy when eating exclusively raw foods. Some have found that they require less sleep. Some experience greater mental clarity and superior concentration. Given that I am struggling to understand deep secrets in number theory, I would be sure to make good use of better powers of concentration and mental clarity.

There are several reasons that I would find it helpful to know more about raw foods. From time to time, I find myself in situations in which finding cooked meals that seem appealing can be a bit tricky. Most often, this happens at chess tournaments. Sometimes, the only restaurants near a tournament hall are "fast food" places that have nothing on the menu. The time between rounds may also be short: sometimes as little as half an hour. This prevents me from being able to walk 6 miles, as I sometimes do, to find an appropriate meal. And, tournaments are certainly not well set up for meal times: rounds from 4:30 to 9:30 PM are common. So, I improvise. Sometimes, I take a lunchbox with some packaged foods from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. It would be much more convenient, though, to be able to take only raw, unprepared foods with me, if only I could be confident that they would make a satisfying meal.

Another one of my goals that inspired my raw trial was to gain a greater understanding of what makes a meal. While I eat a wide range of foods on a regular basis, I have a meal template from which I rarely stray. In particular, my lunches and dinners almost always consist of some type of grain or pseudo-grain (such as amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, millet, polenta, quinoa, or rice), together with some bean or vegetable dish, so paired to guarantee maximal deliciousness. Generally, the grain is the most filling part of the meal. But, the grains are always cooked. Could I make something seem like a meal without any grains?

When I became vegetarian, and again when I became vegan, I felt that I was cutting out a small number of things from my diet while exploring a wider class of new foods I had not eaten before, or at least not frequently. Thus, these changes made for at least an equal trade. I didn’t have to reshape my understanding of food very much in order to incorporate these changes to my diet; a few relatively minor tweaks here and there were sufficient. Raw foods, on the other hand, seemed very different. To become a raw foodist, one would essentially need to start again, forgetting most of eir prior food knowledge and rebuilding it again from the ground up. Seeing what that entails could be interesting.

I was also hoping that raw foods could be compatible with my laziness. I’m usually pretty good about making sure that I have pre-cooked food in the fridge so that I am not tempted to eat junk food (processed meals) when I’m hungry. Still, it happens every now and then that I find myself without any leftovers when I return home from school, and I don’t want to cook. One could imagine that raw foods would be a solution to this problem: spend a few minutes throwing together some vegetables and nuts and turn them into a delectable feast. Unfortunately, my past research on the subject caused me to believe that this is not the way that things are done. Typically, making gourmet raw foods involves great foresight: grains must be sprouted, nuts must be soaked, ingredients must be artfully assembled, and finally the entire dish must be dehydrated for eight hours. So, the actual food preparation takes very little hands-on time, but one must prepare a meal far in advance. I’m not good at that. Could it be done some other way?

Before I discuss what I ate during my raw foods trial, I should point out that I ordinarily eat a lot of fruits throughout the day. My goal is to eat 10 servings of fruits every day; I think I meet or exceed this goal most days, at least on weekdays, although I haven’t verified this. So, I ordinarily eat quite a lot of raw foods; probably the majority of my food by weight (although definitely not by calories) on a typical day is raw fruit. Thus, one might suspect that my diet wouldn’t change much were I to eat exclusively raw foods. However, this is not the case.

I started my raw trial at the first Passover seder. I ate a salad of raw grated beets and carrots, a cucumber salad, some horseradish and charoset, some homemade grape juice, two avocados, a guava, and a tangerine. There might have been another salad too, but I don’t remember. Not exactly a traditional Passover meal, but at least there were some recognizable elements. I didn’t leave hungry.

For breakfast the following day, and every other day during my raw trial except one, I ate the same things: sprouted buckwheat with homemade almond milk, flax seeds, raisins, coconut, and agave nectar, a grapefruit, and an orange. I almost always eat the same thing for breakfast: oats with some sort of homemade nut milk, flax seeds, raisins, coconut, and demerara sugar, and an orange. So, this wasn’t too big of a change. I only had to remember to sprout the buckwheat the night before; I added the grapefruits just for fun.

For the next few lunches and dinners, I ate prepared raw foods. I had some raw soups (which just means that I threw a bunch of vegetables and nuts and other tasty things in the blender), and some spiralized zucchini "pasta" with pesto. They made highly satisfactory meals, and they were quick to prepare. So far so good.

After a few days of these meals, I realized that making prepared meals isn’t really the point. Could one eat unprepared meals that are still satisfactory? I was moderately surprised to find that the answer is indeed a resounding "yes." In fact, even if I were to handicap myself still further and restrict myself to foods beginning with the letter "A," I could still make myself a perfectly reasonable meal of arugula, avocados, almonds, and apples. (Were I to have run this experiment a few weeks later, I could have improved this meal still further by including apriums.) And I still wouldn’t be hungry after finishing. I had several meals very much like that one.

For the rest of the trial, I ate several unprepared meals and several prepared ones. Most of them were good, although I made a few mistakes along the way. Due to my inexperience with raw meals, I was not always able to predict accurately whether a particular meal would be filling enough, so on one or two occasions, I was left feeling very hungry without much of an opportunity to do anything about it. Presumably, more practice would allow me to avoid such mistakes in the future.

I have rather conspicuously neglected to mention any desserts so far. But fear not; I had more than my fair share of desserts. Fortunately, I already knew how to make raw cheesecakes. I had made several before, so I knew that I would be happy eating one for most of my dessert needs for the week. I also made a raw berry cobbler; this and a cucumber soup were the best new foods I tried while eating raw, and both will become frequent guests in my kitchen in the future and will be added to my cookbook at the next update.

I was able to make a good deal of progress toward answering my aforementioned questions. My first question was about feeling better and more energetic. That didn’t happen. In fact, if anything I felt a bit worse than usual physically, although that was primarily due to a slight sore throat that was likely entirely independent of my diet. So, let’s call it "no change." (But that counts as a failure anyway.) Do I have to try for longer before noticing anything? If so, it’s definitely not going to be a viable strategy for the future. It’s very unlikely that I’m going to feel inspired to make longer raw trials, so being temporarily raw for crunch times when I really need to focus is not likely to be helpful. Too bad.

The next question was about eating unprepared meals when prepared meals are not available. This is entirely possible, and I am likely to make use of this possibility in the future. This one counts as a success.

Then, I wondered if I could better understand what makes a meal. No, I’m probably more confused than before. I no longer feel that grains are necessary to make a meal (although they are still a very, very good idea). Somehow, two avocados and a few handfuls of almonds qualifies as a meal, whereas an apple and a tangerine is clearly just a snack, less than I eat during a typical 75-minute class. I have no idea where the line should be drawn between those two. Given the lack of specifics in this goal, I’ll call it neutral.

How about compatibility with laziness? Making a quick raw meal from scratch after returning from school is entirely doable if I have a bunch of quality ingredients. Definitely a success. So, +2=1-1. Not a bad result.

One unfortunate observation I made is that raw food doesn’t keep. Leftovers from Tuesday’s meal is no longer likely to be tasty on Thursday. Raw foods must be eaten in a timely manner. It is a pity that that time is so short.

Also, since most raw foods have very low caloric content, it’s easiest for a raw foodist to try to get most of one’s calories from fats. I did that too, eating lots of nuts, avocados, and coconuts. In the long run, I doubt that this would have been healthy. Without eating enormous quantities, it’s unclear how to eat a relatively low-fat raw diet while still avoiding starvation.

I surprised myself by quite enjoying myself on a raw diet. It wasn’t particularly hard. Still, I’m happy to be back to my usual way of eating, with lots of cooked foods; I prefer it that way. But, I’m glad I tried it, as I increased my knowledge and was inspired to experiment with something new.


About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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One Response to Eight days of raw food

  1. My understanding with regards to dietary fat is that the studies indicating a health risk from with fat consumption were focused on animal fat. It’s hard to say how that would extrapolate to avocados, nuts, etc.
    A lower-fat raw food diet seems like it would require one to “graze” constantly throughout the day. Perhaps this is why so many raw foodists experienced an increase in energy – instead of large grain-heavy meals with many hours between, they’re eating calorically smaller amounts, more often. You, on the other hand, were already snacking regularly.
    Thanks for posting your experiment results here. It’s interesting to see how it went, and I’ve picked up a few tips for my own no-prep lunches…

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