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Selected Myths of Raw Foods
Not a mere debunking piece, here's a plea for honesty and
accuracy rather than myth-mongering in promoting alternative diets,
and for putting practical results before dogma.

by Tom Billings
Copyright © 1997 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

Special note to readers. This article was written in 1997, before the Beyond Veg site was even a concept, and has changed very little since then. It is not up to current site standards, and we advise readers (below) that scientific discussions can be found in other site articles. This article remains on the site because it does provide a concise introduction to some of the numerous myths that are prevalent in rawism.

Something else you should know is that this article was written shortly after an acrimonious conflict with some quite hateful/dishonest fanatics. Because of this, the tone of the article is considerably sharper than other site articles (an apparent side-effect of the dispute). Please keep this in mind if you find that the tone is not pleasing, and do check out other site articles for a better view of the site's overall style.

Also, if some of the "myths" here seem extreme or bizarre to you, be aware that one can indeed find rawists preaching a number of the myths here as "eternal health truths" or as "true" science. A complete rewrite of this article is planned, but it may be some time before that is accomplished, as other articles have higher priority. Finally, for a discussion of just how negative the behavior of some extremists can be, see Raw Vegan Extremist Behavior Patterns: The Darker Side of Rawism for actual examples of certain raw vegan diet guru behaviors.

What & Why
This article briefly lists, and briefly debunks, some of the more common myths found in the raw-foods movement. The presentation here is a summary; much more could be said regarding each myth. (Scientific documentation for much of the information covered here can be found in other articles on Beyond Veg. This introductory treatment is intended to be a brief capsule presentation only.) Indeed, for each myth, one can find raw-fooders who are emotionally attached to the myth, who will defend the myth long after it has been discredited. Readers are thus warned that they may find portions of this to be challenging, or even disturbing.

The reasons for doing this can be illustrated with an analogy. You have been given an old field, in which you want to plant crops. The field is full of pernicious weeds. In order to plant your crops, you must dig out and dispose of the weeds. The field is your mind and lifestyle, the weeds are the myths that cloud your perception and make your experience in raw foods less desirable and less successful. The crops to be planted are the honest approach to raw foods, and your life, that we here seek to promote.

In the following, Myth is abbreviated as M, Reality is R.

M: A raw-foods diet will give you perfect health.
M: A raw-foods diet will give you a perfect body.

R: The term "perfect health" cannot even be defined. Health has many aspects, and we cannot make it well-ordered in an objective way. That is, we cannot objectively say who is healthier: someone with a SAD diet, poor physical health but good mental health, or a fruitarian zealot with good physical health but who is hostile/mentally ill. We can only be subjective about such things, and I would say that a peaceful meat-eater is healthier than a hostile fruitarian zealot! (Why? Because it is easy to detox the body, hard to detox the mind.)

Of course, we cannot tell what a "perfect body" is, because no such body exists on the planet. Perfection is a theoretical construct, an unknown ideal. Personally, I would ignore anyone promoting the idea that rawism will make anything about you "perfect." (See also the section for the next myth.)

M: A raw-foods diet will cure any/all diseases, and/or prevent any/all diseases.
M: Animals in the wild never get sick because they eat a natural, raw diet.

R: Let us consider the latter myth first. That myth will be addressed further later; however, it was mentioned repeatedly in a recently published rawist book. For the record: Animals can and do succumb to disease; it is a major cause of mortality. Studying animal diseases is a major specialty area in biology. One can go to a good university library and find numerous books on the subject. Additionally, there is the simple fact that there is such a thing as "veterinary science," which would not exist if animals never got sick. The people who repeat this myth ad nauseum, in my opinion, are simply trying to get you to believe a lie by repeating it often enough.

Some quick examples of animal diseases: hoof and mouth disease killing bison in the U.S., and wildebeest in Africa; bubonic plague in rodents; tick fever and lyme disease in deer/antelope, and so on.

Now to the former myth: If animals living in the wild eating a natural diet die of disease, why should human rawists be any different? Our diet, even if raw, is "less natural" than the animals (as they eat wild food, we eat cultivated foods). Also, there is the reality that raw-fooders can and do get sick. I have seen many rawists suffer from illness, and cases can be read in the Natural Health Many-to-Many and in some issues of the Health & Beyond newsletter.

M: You will live longer on a raw-foods diet.

R: Well, we certainly hope so! On a more serious note, where are the many (thousands) of long-time raw fooders above the age of 100 who would be evidence that the claim might have some truth in it? They literally don't exist. The longest-lived societies on this planet are not raw-fooders; in fact the longest-lived societies are not even vegan. There is a lesson here for the raw-foods and vegan egos, if we are open to receive it.

Also, we have the example of some long-time raw-fooders passing away "before their time"--T.C. Fry and Herbert Shelton.

One factor that is more relevant than longevity (assuming some minimum longevity, i.e. that one survives to adulthood) is the quality of life. It is in improving the quality of one's life that raw diets can be very helpful.

M: A raw-foods diet will improve your mental health.

R: In the short run, improvements in mental health (or attitude) are sometimes noted. However, it is my opinion/observation that the 100% raw diet is correlated with serious mental problems in the long run. There are a few (very few) long-time 100% raw people who are mentally healthy. However, it is my opinion/experience that in the 100% raw category one finds: full-scale eating disorders and/or extensive eating-disorder behavior, unbelievably hateful zealots, lunatics, and people who appear to display lesser mental impairments such as: emotional fragility--just challenge their diet and you may see this first-hand; juvenile behavior (denial of aging); extreme environmental views; turning their diet--or 100% raw--into a pseudo-religion; and so on.

The topic of why so few 100% raw people are mentally balanced has been discussed on the Raw-Food email list. It is my opinion/conclusion, based on personal experience and observation, that a raw-foods diet does not improve mental health by itself; rather it simply brings your emotional/mental problems to the surface, where all the world can see them and you can work on them. This is a difficult (and unpleasant) experience for some.

The bottom line here: If you follow 100% raw for a long time (years), I suggest that you take active steps to preserve your mental health.

M: Natural hygiene always works!

R: Sarcastic reply: Yes, and you also believe in the Easter bunny and Santa Claus? Seriously, those who believe this need a reality check. No system is perfect, on this planet. Nature itself is imperfect--a source of considerable irritation for raw dogmatists, who try to explain nature in simplistic/idealistic ways. I would ask those who believe this myth to make up their minds: Is natural hygiene a science, or a religion? The proof that natural hygiene doesn't always work can be found in the pages of the Natural Health Many-to-Many, in the Health & Beyond newsletter (6/94 and 1/97 issues), and in the case of Herbert Shelton, who suffered from Parkinson's disease for 10 years before he passed away.

Note also that most other health systems are humble enough to admit that some patients are incurable (often due to their attitudes).

M: Apes are fruitarians (or peaceful vegans).
M: Fruitarianism (or veganism) is our natural diet.

R: The above myths were debunked by Ward Nicholson in a superbly researched interview in Health & Beyond (the 10/96, 12/96, 1/97 issues, now available on this site), which should be essential reading for all rawists. Also, there are two email lists on Internet that address this topic--the Paleodiet and Paleofood lists. The reality is that all the large primates are omnivores, as they all eat insects and some eat flesh. The chimpanzee society is marked by violence: war, incest, murder, cannibalism. So much for "peaceful vegan" chimps! (A more accurate description would be "occasionally violent, omnivore chimps.")

The fossil record clearly shows that our prehistoric ancestors were omnivores; they ate both plant and animal foods. They were not vegans, fruitarians, or even vegetarians.

P.S. (1) Some fruitarians are in denial regarding the above. Some fruitarians try to counter the above with misinformation. Be skeptical of counter-arguments, and look up/check all references cited in counter-arguments! (2) Some conventional vegans have integrity and admit that, biologically, humans are natural omnivores. See anatomist John McArdle, Ph.D.'s article "Humans are Omnivores," in The Vegan Handbook for more info.

M: But mountain gorillas are vegans!

R: Not really; they have been observed deliberately eating driver ants, and they also consume considerable insects on the leaves that are the major part of their diet. Given that many vegans reject honey, avoid foods colored with cochineal (a dye made of ground insects), and get all grossed-out by descriptions of humans consuming insects (common in many hunter-gatherer societies), it is reasonable to say that an ape that deliberately eats ants is not a vegan, even if ants are a small part of their diet.

Reference: Watts, D.P. (1989) "Ant-eating behavior of mountain gorillas." Primates, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 121-126.

M: The apes that eat meat are perverted.

R: Perversion is a human concept; nature simply IS, and wild animal behavior simply IS. We can accept reality, or live in denial of it. So, I would say that apes eating insects or meat are simply following their instincts. What is perverted here, in my opinion, is the obvious denial of reality practiced by certain fruitarians (but the apes are not perverted).

M: The apes that eat meat are acting in error; it is a mistake.

R: Applying human preconceptions to evaluate the actions of animals can be a tricky matter. There are many things in nature that one might consider an error. What criteria makes an action by an animal an error? The only readily apparent criteria is the primal urge of animals: survival. That is, an action that interferes with survival of the subject animal is an error. In this light, we see that when an animal accidentally dies, say, in mating, it may be an error. However, apes eating insects, bird's eggs, or animal flesh are simply eating food--without which they might not survive. Hence, apes eating animal foods are not acting in error.

M: The only reason that chimps eat flesh is because of habitat loss.

R: Given that much of the primate research is done in remote, undeveloped wilderness areas, there is no evidence to support such a claim. Indeed, the evidence from remote wildernesses directly contradicts the claim (as the claim suggests animal food consumption would occur only in habitats near humans--which is not the case), and shows that consumption of animal foods by chimps is natural. This is yet another example of denial of reality.

M: Only one "tribe" of chimps in the whole world eats meat.

R: False, as even a quick glance at the primate research literature will show. Are those who make this claim desperate?

M: Flesh-eating by our prehistoric ancestors was the exception rather than the rule.

R: Is there no limit to the denial of reality? Recent posts on the Raw-Food and Paleodiet email lists (complete with full reference sources from a prominent researcher on the latter) have cited evidence from modern hunter-gatherer societies showing that animal food consumption ranged from 20-90% of diet, with an average of around 50%. So the evidence of modern hunter-gatherers does not support the view that flesh-eating was an exception. (See also Weston Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.)

The same data on modern hunter-gatherers, when combined with optimal foraging theory, yields a best estimate that the diet of our ancestors in prehistoric times was roughly 50% animal foods (wild game). Clearly, 50% of the diet is hardly an exception.

Side note: My objective here is to present reality, so that you are not misled by those who are in denial of reality. I personally do not advocate, or practice meat-eating. One can accept reality and still be a veggie! I want you to openly, honestly accept reality, and not be misled by phony models of nature or phony versions of "nature's laws." Also, a reminder to vegans: compassion without integrity (honesty) is false and hypocritical; it is not real compassion.

M: Mucus is toxic.
M: All disease is due to accumulation of toxemia/mucus, caused by eating the "wrong" foods.

R: Here mucus is made into a demon, without justification. Mucus is an essential bodily fluid; without mucus, your stomach acid would dissolve your stomach, and without mucus, your eyes would not function--you could not see. Of course, one can have too much mucus. However, what is happening here is that some people think that all mucus is toxic--a delusion.

Mucus is not the only bodily "toxin"; for example the system of Ayurveda takes a broader view of toxins, which are known as ama. Ama can take different forms, e.g., vata--the toxic gases of flatulence in your colon (said gases can go into solution in your bloodstream and lymph); pitta--excess liver bile which, believe it or not, can escape your intestines and cause problems; and kapha--excess mucus, cholesterol, and similar "sludge." So claiming that all mucus is toxic, or that mucus is the only toxin, is a narrow/inaccurate view.

Two examples that disprove that all diseases are due to toxins are: any/all deficiencies, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency in raw-food vegans; and anorexia nervosa, the illness of excessive fasting. Additionally, most genuine holistic systems say that diseases are often caused by mental and spiritual factors. From that view, raw-foods diets that only remove the physical toxins are, like Western medicine, an allopathic system (i.e., the physical toxins are a symptom of the underlying mental/physical causes). Raw-food diet = allopathic system. Interesting!

M: All health problems you experience on a raw foods diet are due to detox of stored poisons.

R: This is a dangerous delusion, one that guides some people to real harm. If a disorder is caused by the side-effects of detoxification, then the disorder should get somewhat better as time goes by, as your detox process continues. If that does not happen, then the disorder is not connected with detox, and may be a deficiency or a real disease. Also, I would strongly advise anyone with serious health problems (especially acute problems) to consult (as soon as possible) a qualified health professional. Don't assume it is detox, and don't sacrifice your health/well-being on the altar of rawist dogma!

M: Fasting can cure any/all diseases.

R: Fasting can be a very powerful healing and cleansing tool. That said, it is not a cure-all. Fasting cannot cure anorexia nervosa, the disease of excessive fasting. Though fasting may be able to initially normalize metabolic imbalances or aid in improving nutrient assimilation after a fast, it cannot cure chronic or long-term diseases of deficiency. (Some individuals with long experience in the vegan community--see natural hygiene practitioner Stanley Bass's interview in Health & Beyond, 6/94 issue--believe deficiencies may constitute up to half the problems some individuals experience.)

Fasting can cause a psychological sense of deprivation, which can cause one to grossly overeat after a fast. This can lead one to a cycle of fast-overeat, or starve-binge. If that becomes habitual, it is a form of bulimia. Fasting can also aggravate other eating disorders.

Moderate fasting can increase your digestive fire--a blessing for some and a serious problem for others. Improper fasting can loosen body toxins, then drive them deeper into the tissues--a lose-lose situation.

Fasting is a powerful medicine, to be taken in the right dose, as needed. However, please note that most (not all) people can do short fasts (one day) without any problems.

M: Fasting will make you spiritually purer.

R: Many world religions use fasting as a tool for spiritual advancement. The primary motivation of fasting for spiritual goals is that it clears the mind somewhat and may motivate or inspire people to do other spiritual practices. However, many spiritual leaders warn that the "spiritual" feelings one gets from fasting are temporary and illusory, and should not distract one from the real, serious spiritual practices. Real progress comes from other spiritual practices, not fasting. You cannot fast--or eat--your way into heaven or enlightenment!

Further, the religions that use fasting also warn against excessive fasting. Excessive fasting is considered "mortification of the flesh," and regarded as inappropriate behavior.


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