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(Assessing Claims and Credibility in Raw and Alternative Diets--continued, Part G)

Skepticism in raw foods vs. the "golden cage" of dietary dogma

Credibility is a continuum

The discussion here has covered many issues and behaviors. It is appropriate to remember, therefore, that credibility is a continuum, and not a strictly binary classification (credible vs. incredible). Evaluation of potential extremist "gurus" must be done on an individual basis, as only some of the material here might apply to a particular advocate. Also, someone who is generally credible on most issues might be less credible on a few select issues, due to (differences in) personal philosophy, or ordinary individualism. Evaluation of credibility requires assessing a wide range of issues and behaviors, and making an evaluation based on an overall pattern. Basing an evaluation on only one point may be too narrow and inflexible. Of course, narrowness and inflexibility are trademarks of extremism, and traits to be avoided. So, get as much information as possible when evaluating potential "diet gurus." You probably don't want to trust your health and well-being to an extremist!

Skepticism can spark
personal liberation

Why so much skepticism here?

Most of the writers on this site generally follow mostly raw-food-type diets (paleo, instincto, raw lacto-vegetarian; none of us are 100% raw at present). At one stage or another, we were raw vegans, some of us 100% raw, for varying lengths of time. We even promoted raw diets, though not in the self-conscious "missionary" style that characterizes the current extremists. In other words, the writers on this site had much in common (in the past) with today's extremists. (Of course there were differences--we hopefully had much better manners than many of today's obnoxious and toxic extremists, at least we sure hope the perception by others was that we did! ;-) ).

What happened, then, to make the writers here so skeptical about the efficacy of raw vegan diets? Very simply: We had too many problems on the diets, and we saw too many problems in others following the diets, over the long term. Reality intervened, and showed us that raw vegan diets, especially 100% raw vegan diets, and their associated dogma, often do not work as advertised (in the long term). Further, recent scientific research, plus ordinary logic and common sense applied to raw and vegan dogma, debunk major parts of the raw vegan "party line." Because of this, we came to the awareness that portions of the philosophies that underlie rawism and veganism are intellectually bankrupt (and may be ethically bankrupt as well).

Seeing the whole picture brings wider options and more freedom.

This brings us to the motivations of this site: To communicate to you that dietary extremists, blinded by idealism, are not telling you the whole story. To discuss some of the problems that can occur on such diets. To examine the beliefs of rawism/veganism in an open, dogma-free manner. To document that the idea that (raw) veganism (or even vegetarianism) is your "natural" diet is not in accord with scientific evidence. (One can still be a vegetarian for spiritual reasons, of course. And vegetarian diets can certainly be healthier than the SAD as well, though contrary to popular perception within the vegan movement at large, vegetarian diets don't necessarily work well for everyone. [See Six Vegetarian Problem Scenarios for a discussion of the "failure to thrive" syndrome.])

Finally, the major objective of this site is to motivate you to do a thorough, critical re-examination of your diet and any dietary dogma that might accompany it. Regardless of whether or not you change your diet because of what you read here, if you begin to think critically about dietary idealism and the claims of the "experts" or "diet gurus," then we have accomplished a great deal--for then, you have transcended the stance of "follower" and are thinking for yourself. That is a major step forward and the first step toward freedom and liberation from (false) dogma.

Having to think for yourself frees you from the constricting mental prison of narrow dietary dogma.

Thinking for oneself on dietary matters may be frightening at first. It can be scary to go from the absolute certainty involved in being a follower of cult-like raw dietary extremists, whose aggressive and hostile style actively discourages individual thought, to ditching them and thinking for yourself. However, in that move, you can discover the seeds of freedom, independence, and enhanced self-respect. The "party line" of 100% raw vegan dogma does not "set you free"--instead it binds you to a set of strict rules and a narrow mindset that promotes food obsessions.

Thinking for yourself may be a challenge at first, but the rewards make it very worthwhile. Life is full of uncertainty--which is very different from the extremists who foolishly (and falsely) claim complete knowledge of nature and its laws (or of the only ones that they believe matter). Some decisions will be major challenges. However, that is the point--and, quite literally, the fun--of life. A life without challenge, lived according to narrow dietary dogmas, is no fun at all. Take that as advice from one who has personally "been there, done that, no thanks!"

We invite you to embark on the ongoing, individual effort to develop an open, honest relationship with nature and reality. The first step is to begin a critical examination of the dietary dogma that you may have been taught in the past.

A special message about,
and for, extremists

Extremism and black-and-white morality generate a destructive us/them mentality.

The vegan movement has been criticized for a tendency to divide the world into "us" (good vegans) vs. "them" (bad meat-eaters). This negative practice is, to a certain extent, also reflected in the raw community. The nature of this article is such that comparisons are necessary to convey the essential information. Although this writer has had many unpleasant experiences with hateful dietary extremists, it is not the goal here to condemn "them," i.e, extremists. Probably none of us are immune to the tendency to be overzealous at times, so the intent here is not to focus criticism on the person, but rather on the (pattern of) behavior.

Further, it should be noted that those who advocate views based in extremism do so of their own free choice. They can also review the extremism of their positions, and personally choose to change their behavior. As those of us contributing to this site have personally learned through hard experience of our own (experience that we occasionally have to re-learn :-) ), giving up one's extremist mindset can be a very liberating act that releases you from the "golden cage" of narrow, restrictive dietary dogma.

The "golden cage" of dietary dogma.

A life lived in the golden cage of dietary dogma is one of intense, life-controlling obsession with diet/food, a life in which one foolishly self-identifies with their diet. Ultimately, such a life degenerates into self-righteousness as well. The end result of this is often a serious mental imbalance, and the hostile actions of certain extremists simply confirm their unfortunate condition. Can you imagine two people with SAD diets, fighting over whether corn chips or potato chips are better? Wouldn't most people regard such an argument as truly insane? But that is exactly what extremists are doing when they make hostile attacks and threats against those who challenge their not-so-perfect diets. Is that kind of behavior mentally healthy, or unhealthy?

However, whether the individual in question is oneself, or another, there is hope--extremism can always be released in favor of tolerance, by the simple fact of loving and accepting oneself more fully, as one currently is, without insisting on instant change, or demanding that one comply with a (new/different) standard of perfectionism. Loving and accepting yourself as you are right now is the first step to loving and accepting others as they are (even if they eat meat or cooked foods). Also, note that lasting, positive changes come more easily and reliably from gentle, consistent efforts than from sudden, radical changes (e.g., demanding strict conformance to a new standard of behavior--like a new but difficult and narrow diet). Sudden changes often lead to burnout, whether physical or mental. In the long run, slow, gentle change is healthier for body and mind than is extremism. Extremism may show good short-term results, but at a high cost, and with negative side-effects (e.g., long-term physical and/or mental problems).

Note: The use of a golden cage as a metaphor above is deliberate. See the book The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa, by Hilde Bruch (1978, Harvard University Press, Boston) for the source of the metaphor.

Is your "ideal" dietary
dogma really a sandcastle?

Finally, a general observation. In figurative terms, following the false dogma promoted by dietary extremists can be characterized as being like living in a small sandcastle built right by the waves, at low tide, on the shoreline of the ocean of truth. But now things are changing in the dietary world. The recent scientific information (post-1970) that confirms that apes eat animal foods as part of their natural diets is becoming more generally known. Additionally, the fact that our evolutionary diet indicates that humans are--and always have been--natural omnivores/faunivores only began receiving wide attention in the scientific journals in 1985, with first dissemination to the public at large (via a popular book) in 1988. The vegetarian movement was very small in the U.S. prior to 1970, and it is only now that the varying potential long-term results of vegetarianism (depending on the individual) are becoming clear.

What this means, in figurative terms, is that high tide is now beginning in the ocean of truth. This high tide will ultimately sweep away the sandcastles of false dietary dogma, and redefine the shoreline of the ocean of truth. When such major changes occur, you have a choice--stay with the enchanting but dissolving sandcastle, or move to higher ground. Here, the higher ground refers to a place where there is no dogma, save truth and honest concern for your health. Ultimately, these two concerns--truth and your health--are the ones that matter the most, as you search for a diet that serves your body, mind, and spirit in the best way possible.

--Tom Billings

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Department of Health (U.K.) (1991) Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom, Report of the Panel on Dietary Reference Values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, HMSO, London.

National Research Council (NRC) (1989) Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th edition, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

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