For foodies, uncooked is the right raw deal

Advocates say ditching animal fats and processed foods makes them feel better and lose weight.

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      Aleesha Stephenson jokes that she used to be the only “raw foodie” in Agassiz, a place that’s known better for lying somewhere between Hope and Mission than for its food activism.

      Her raw vegan diet is a bit of a local anomaly, but the 47-year-old raw-food and fasting coach tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that she is always willing to help, at a minimal cost, those who are curious about the health benefits of such a regime.

      Stephenson says her story began in 2007, when she weighed 300 pounds and decided she had to do something.

      “I was so sick,” she says. “Getting off the couch to go to the bathroom was too much of an effort for me. A friend suggested that I [juice] fast for 10 days and that maybe that would help. And I felt fabulous. Then I went back to eating and felt like crap.”

      It was at this point, she says, that the epiphany came: stick with raw food and ditch the Standard American Diet (SAD) for good.

      “It is interesting how many people eat raw foods and then they eat a Standard American Diet meal [high in processed foods and animal fats; low in plant-based foods and fibre] and they get really depressed afterwards,” Stephenson said. “SAD food makes you sad.”

      Raw food is beneficial, she explains, because its living enzymes are intact, not having been exposed to high cooking temperatures. Hence, the raw food retains its full nutritional potency, and “your food digests itself”. She says your body can then use the energy saved from digestion to heal itself. Stephenson’s current weight of 132 pounds is a physical manifestation of her success.

      “Juice fasting, such as I do, is very empowering,” Stephenson adds. “Making it through Thanksgiving dinner this year—cooking for my family all day long, and serving the food and sitting at the table with them—I was water fasting. So I sat with my glass of water and watched them all eat.”

      However, not everyone is thrilled with a raw-food diet. Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, writes in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books, 2009) that humans retain more energy in their bodies when they eat cooked food. Absorbing nutrients expends a great deal of energy—even more so when the food is raw. After humans started consuming cooked food, Wrangham argues that natural selection favoured those with small guts, which are more energy-efficient. “Humans do not eat cooked food because we have the right kind of teeth and guts; rather, we have small teeth and short guts as a result of adapting to a cooked diet,” he writes.

      Meanwhile, effervescent 62-year-old yoga instructor Clive Langton told the Straight that he credits both his yoga practice and raw-food diet for his good health. Langton is a director with the Raw Food Society of B.C. The group’s website, www.rawbc.org/, contains a raft of information and advice on what to do to get involved with the raw-food movement.

      Langton estimates that the amount of people in Metro Vancouver—and Agassiz—currently eating raw food numbers “in the thousands” and is increasing.

      “I want to qualify that statement,” Langton says. “If you look at our [Raw B.C.] mission statement, it’s not about people swearing an oath, doomed to die if they ever have a morsel of cooked food in their mouth. It’s moving in the direction of eating more fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. There are a lot of people realizing that they want to eat more simple on the food chain, more healthily.”

      This is partly why Stephenson is now a coach, as she wants others to benefit from her own discipline and willpower. The message must be resonating, as she says she has clients all across North America, and even as far away as Morocco. Langton, for his part, says that Raw B.C. is upgrading its website and is hearing from other raw-food groups worldwide that are inspired by what it is doing to get society on a raw footing.

      “When you go to a restaurant, you get a pile of rice or you get noodles or you get potatoes or french fries, and it’s all just filler,” Langton says, by way of a parting shot at SAD. “You don’t want to be eating that if you had a choice, really, because it’s not nutrition. It’s sludge that’s just going to fill up those cells and make your body feel more tired and exhausted and craving more food because you’re not getting fed, really.”

      Langton then adds, diplomatically: “I don’t want to put you off your lunch.”

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      6 Comments

      lynn marie

      Oct 21, 2010 at 9:53pm

      great article and I can tell you from know her - aleesha makes an incredible coach - so contact her and change your life.

      R U Kiddingme

      Oct 22, 2010 at 11:39am

      Awesome idea, Ben Franklin advocated fasting and I certainly have no problem with the idea of more people eating more plants.

      But sitting at the table watching people eat the food you cooked? The food would have turned to ashes of guilt in my mouth. Horrendous evening!!!

      thingsRlookingUP

      Nov 1, 2010 at 9:47am

      It's pretty exciting when not only are more people going vegetarian but even one step healthier - vegan and now raw vegan!! There's a new restaurant in town called Loving Hut that serves vegan fare and some of it is raw. This chain of vegan cuisine has gone global which is amazing but not all that surprising given the times with the Animal Rghts movement gaining momentum. Yes, things are looking up!!!! Thanks for your article. .

      V Grimes

      Nov 1, 2010 at 8:10pm

      Oh please! Years back, radio interview with researcher said the eminence of man started with cooking vegetables, which releases nutrients for the body and brain to use, rather than going-right-through the gut as unusable material causing it to be necessary to eat ALL the time. Society, civilization, that's where it began.
      A strict raw diet is obsessive. Dangerous, as an idea for vulnerable young people to embrace for a sense of control, against adolescent fears about limited sense-of-control in life. Ms Stephenson says fears are real and for a fee you can fight fear with fear. And this article, right beside an ad for "Mental Health Symposia 2010," sessions on "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders."
      Stephenson claims, restaurant food "it's not nutrition," "it's sludge," "to fill up those cells and make your body feel more tired," all reckless opinion.
      I prefer Langton's view, "moving in the direction of eating more fruits, vegetables, seeds," "more healthily." That's thinking that sounds more balanced. Avoid being all-or-nothing, shrill, alarmist, and you've got my ear.
      Not long ago Stephenson experienced obsessive behaviour toward food, now she's ditched that to commit to raw. It might be "at minimal cost" that she's willing to advise those curious--but please indicate these are "alleged" health benefits in her regime and I'll find the whole notion easier to swallow.
      PS I agree--Loving Hut (raw/vegan) restaurant is very yummy!

      Raw Vegan

      Nov 2, 2010 at 8:44pm

      Just googled Ms. Stephenson and found a few pix of her looking much heavier than she is now. Good for her!!!! This new raw diet is obviously working for her and she looks pretty awesome these days. I'm all for trying this new raw vegan cuisine. I'm already vegan so if I find it's not working, I'll drop the raw but intend on staying vegan regardless.

      Deborah Tobin

      Nov 17, 2010 at 10:28am

      In june i took a 15 day raw chefs course and it has changed my life...i am now teaching others how to prepare raw foods....i am offering this in their homes and i am excited to share my knowledge.......i think little by little we can move in a big way....one step at a time...people are very interested they just need a little help to get started.......i love hearing these stories like yours........happy Rawing