Raw food is a diet consisting of foods that have not been heated over 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit). The most popular version is based on fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains and weeds, while others also make room for animal products. Common preparation methods include fermenting, soaking, blending, juicing and dehydrating. Emphasis is also placed upon local and organic produce.
Why not? Proclaimed benefits of the diet include improved health (especially digestion, skin and certain chronic diseases), increased energy, weight loss and detoxification.
Eating more fruit and veg is a sure route to healthy living and buying local, organic and unprocessed foods shouldn’t hurt either, but the scientific basis for the raw diet stutters on other points. The raw diet is built on the idea that beneficial enzymes are killed if food is cooked, but according to mainstream science the gastric acid in our very own bellies kills the poor things anyway and cooking often improves digestibility. Some vegetables have even been shown to suit us better cooked and some are downright poisonous when eaten raw.
The diet has also picked up a touch of sheer insanity, with movement leaders who aspire to breatharianism (living off thin air) and over-enthusiastic advocates who share dramatic true stories and shocking photos.
On the other hand, going back to more natural foods and taking care of our environment and ourselves are megatrends-by 2040 raw foodists may be just as common as vegans and vegetarians are now.
With 75% of food consumed raw earning one the right to be called ‘raw foodist’, there are a few dozen Icelanders just shy of the label reaching up to around 50% rawness. Pure, 100% raw eaters are a rare breed on our rock.
It is a sunny August afternoon in the kitchen garden of the Nordic house in Reykjavik:
“Yes please, but perhaps not too hot, please,” answers Alex Somers politely to my less than smooth offer of a nicely steaming cup of tea.
Along with his boyfriend Jón Þór ‘Jónsi’ Birgisson (of Sigur Rós), Alex recently released the album “Riceboy Sleeps”, mixed on a solar-powered laptop at a raw food commune in Hawaii.
Somers claims to have eaten almost nothing that has gone above 47 degrees Celsius in the last 36 months. Is he insane?
“I am eating raw food because I love it. It makes me feel good,” says the courteous musician.
After going vegetarian 6 years ago and vegan shortly after, Somers started to experiment with raw food, gradually incorporating more and more raw ingredients in the diet.
“It went so gradually. Whenever I ate raw food I would feel really good and when I ate cooked food I wouldn’t, so you gradually just stop wanting the cooked food.”
Somers went completely raw in 2007.
“That’s when I really noticed the big change. Two weeks into eating only raw, I started feeling amazing. When I’d wake up, instead of feeling druggy for half an hour, you feel really good right away and there are no energy crashes during the day. My skin improved, my taste buds and senses got stronger. I felt stronger and more balanced. Basically everything got better,” he explains, looking so fresh that I can almost feel the dark circles around my eyes growing blacker as we speak.
Such miracle stories are ten a penny in the raw food community, but Alex is quick to distance himself from the nut jobs I found online:
“I am weary of the raw food movement, just because it is full of weirdoes. It is probably the same with vegetarians in the 1970s – weird hippies that were insane and really extreme. Maybe in a couple of decades there will be more normal people eating raw food.”
The raw food diet questions the traditional ideas of and relation that we have to food. Alex has gone from the typical kid on the all-American obesity diet to an enthusiastic food nerd. Food now inspires him, a source of joy that brings him closer to nature:
“I think it is amazing! Sometimes I get a little bit too excited and I have to calm down.”
But when it comes to what nature has to offer, Iceland is surely no Garden of Eden.
“Eating raw food in Iceland is as easy as anywhere else,” Alex claims, “If you believe in it, you can do it.”
The biggest challenge in the diet is often not what to eat, but how to eat and let eat, he explains:
“It’s not really the social norm, like if you are walking around and have avocados in your pocket – and I always have stuff like that‚” he smiles and explains his troubles at dinner parties. “I don’t want to be rude and say no thank you to people all the time”.
Alex and Jónsi recently published their recipe book, originally made as a present for friends and family. They hope to inspire people to experiment and, as the foreword of the book says, to “have fun making treats for everyone you meet.” The cookbook is not the only gift that the family has recently received thanks to the diet:
“We gave our oven to Jónsi’s sister, we don’t need it anymore,” Alex laughs.
The Good Heart Cookbook