Raw foodists are hardly a unified bunch. They differ on whether we should eat primarily fruit (thereby getting our calories primarily from sugar) or fattier foods like avocados (which, admittedly are fruits themselves), nuts and seeds (thereby getting our calories primarily from fat). They differ on whether we need to be 100% raw, or only 80%, or 60%. And they differ on whether they’ll eat foods like cashews that are supposedly “raw” but that are heated in the process of removing their shells.
But there’s surprising unity on one aspect of the raw diet: eating organic. Now, not every raw foodist eats 100% organic. (I’d imagine that, in practice, few do.) And no remotely 100% will insist that it’s the only way to go. But in terms of ideals, organic food is fundamental to the raw food diet.
This seems funny; whether something is organic has nothing to do with whether it’s raw, and using pesticides (which organic growing prohibits) seems like a very different “evil” than heating food (which is the raw foodists’ other fundamental no-no).
So why do raw foodists care? Is it just a general concern for the environment, for their bodies, or for the purity and honesty of the fruits and vegetables that make up the vast bulk of their diets?
In short, no. What drives raw foodists to organics is that one of raw food’s purported benefits is “detoxification.” According to the theory, cooking food denatures it in some way and causes you to bring into your bodies toxins created by high (over between 105 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit) heat. Your body stores these toxins in fat cells, so that once introduced into your body, they don’t go away.
What raw food does is to purge your body of these toxins. The toxic fat melts away, and is replaced by clean fat. (If at all; raw foodists are known to lose significant weight once transitioning to the diet, and to keep it off for as long as they maintain the diet.) Toxic muscle cells may also be eliminated and replaced with clean ones.
(This is all according to raw food doctrine, in any event. I have yet to do enough research to know whether I believe these claims, and I don’t know whether anyone’s proven them to be true. But this is a major theory behind the diet.)
So, if a fundamental premise of the raw food diet is to cleanse the body of toxins, then we don’t want to go reintroducing them. And while leaving food raw prevents the toxins cooking would create from entering our bodies, it can still allow pesticides to find their way in. If we’re eating conventional produce. But if we replace that with organic produce, then we’re not ingesting those pesticides, and we’re keeping our new fat and muscle cells clean from any such toxins.
Of course, toxins these days are everywhere. They’re in our drinking water (raw foodists advise filtering, though that’s one step I’ve yet to take). They’re all over fragranced shampoos, soaps and household cleaning supplies. They’re in our laundry detergents, in our plastic and aluminum containers, grocery store receipts, you name it. It’s extremely hard to avoid them altogether.
But eating organic is one way to reduce them as much as we can. (Studies of children eating conventional produce show remarkably high concentrations of pesticides in their bodies; once they go organic these pesticide residues drop to undetectable levels.) And so, even though we are all better off eating organic, it may make particular sense for raw foodists to make that change because they’re otherwise cleaning away toxins with the one hand while putting them back in their bodies with the other.
In the meantime, I love to see one more group pressing the importance of going organic. While going organic is better for our individual bodies, making the change also promotes the greater good by cleaning up our environment. And we each have less personal incentive to do that (why should we make the change to help the environment when everyone else just goes and destroys it anyway?). So it’s nice to have another group (raw foodists) in the organic corner. Maybe raw foodism will expand and help to expand organics as well.