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(Selected Myths of Raw Foods--continued, Part B)

M: You should only eat those foods which you can gather with your bare hands, while naked.

R: With apologies to author Desmond Morris, I will refer to this as the "naked ape" hypothesis. The above myth is often repeated, with religious fervor, by some raw-fooders.

Problem: This myth is a denial of reality, and a denial of our real nature. The very definition of human beings that evolutionary scientists use specifies, among other things, that we are intelligent tool-users. Those who promote this myth are denying the use of tools, and they are denying our intelligence; hence they are literally in denial of their real nature. To deny tool use is to make us lower than the chimpanzees (who have been observed using sticks as tools to collect and eat termites, a common food for them). It lowers modern humans to below the level of Australopithecus, one of our prehistoric ancestors who was very ape-like.

Note that some may object to the above on the grounds that humans have taken tool usage too far. However, the use of simple tools for obtaining and processing food (such as stone tools), is well within the evolutionary definition. So this myth can be seen as an insult to humanity, or a denial of our humanity, in a sense.

Additional problems:

P.S. Those who state the above myth as some kind of revealed truth intend for it to suggest that you should eat only fruits and/or leaves (with a few nuts/seeds on occasion). However, stop and think critically about the statement. What can you gather, besides the above, with bare hands? It turns out that you can obtain a wide selection of animal foods that way, as follows.

M: Herbs are toxic and don't cure anything.

R: This is promoted by the "self-healing is the ONLY healing" folks; that myth will be discussed later. If herbs are toxic, why then do many animals use them when they are sick? A large variety of animals have been observed using herbs as medicines, including: chimpanzees, elephants, many types of carnivores, omnivores, and others. It is interesting to note that some raw-fooders promote wheatgrass juice while condemning the use of herbs. That is quite surprising, for wheatgrass juice is a potent medicinal herb.

Additionally, note the medicinal use of herbs by nearly all of the holistic health systems, and the historical use (thousands of years of use) by virtually all indigenous medical systems. Are the raw-fooders who condemn herbs really onto something, or do they simply fail to see the evidence in front of them?

M: The ONLY healing is self-healing.

R: This is a theological/philosophical question. One can argue that self-healing has inherent advantages that make it preferable in many cases. However, to claim it is the only method is to be narrow-minded, and to deny reality. For example, I am critical of fruitarian diets, but I acknowledge reality and agree that a fruitarian diet, in the short run (only), may assist healing from some ailments (but it is dangerous for some other ailments). [That such a diet can be healing (in the short run) is not the question--the question is the long-term problems of such a diet.]

The point here is that there are many healing modalities, and they all have merits, and also negative points. For example, many rawists reject supplements, yet the supplement manufacturers have reams of testimonial letters, saying how their product assisted healing. So if you favor self-healing, go ahead and promote it. However, don't insult others by claiming that your way is the only kind of healing.

M: Healing is a biological process.

R: This is promoted by the American Natural Hygiene Society (ANHS), and is not a myth--it is true on the physical level. I would like to point out, though, that true healing means that the whole person--the body, mind, and spirit--have healed. So, to be truly healthy, one cannot obsess on the body (as most rawists do), but must take steps to achieve mental and spiritual health as well. (The steps will vary somewhat according to your spiritual inclinations.)

An example will illustrate this. I have encountered fruitarian zealots who loudly proclaim themselves as healthy, while actively promoting hate and fear--which are negative, UNhealthy emotions (i.e., the zealots are mentally/spiritually ill, in my opinion). What good is it to achieve excellent physical health, if it comes at the expense of your mental health? So, keep in mind that you need to pay attention to mental and spiritual health as well.

P.S. I respect the ANHS, and admire their efforts to update natural hygiene to reflect new knowledge.

M: Cooked food is poison.

R: It is true that some types of cooked food are not very good for you when consumed over a long period of time--fried foods, heavily salted food, etc. However, cooked food does not merit the term poison in its normal usage. Even if we expand poison to a less rigorous definition such as "those items one cannot digest," we still cannot say that (all) cooked food is poison.

Another complication: Raw rhubarb and raw kidney beans are poisonous by any definition, and are more poisonous than any cooked food. If one argues that "cooked food is poison" simply means that some cooked foods, but not all, are poison, then by citing the example of rhubarb and kidney beans, one can say that "raw food is poison" using the same logic.

The facts are that some starch foods, and some other foods, are easier to digest when cooked (discussed later). Additionally, some cooked foods, such as steamed vegetables, are not harmful. This may upset some rawists who seek to promote false, idealistic models of nature, but it is reality.

Additionally, one must wonder about the mental effect of such slogans. If one believes them and repeats them often enough, one may develop (irrational) fear of cooked foods. As eating is a major part of life, it can infuse your eating--and your life--with fear. That is a slow but certain path to mental and emotional problems. I would encourage rawists to ignore such bogus slogans.

P.S. Apply simple common sense: if cooked food really is toxic, then we would all have died long ago.

M: Raw is law.

R: A cute, but false and meaningless slogan. The idea that animals never eat cooked food is false:

Additionally, an interesting scientific argument can be made (see Part 2 of the Paleolithic vs. Vegetarianism interviews, Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution, on this site for details) that we and our prehistoric ancestors have been using fire (for cooking foods) long enough that our genes have evolved to allow us to consume some cooked food. In other words, consumption of some cooked food may be natural, according to a powerful definition of natural: those foods you have evolved to eat. This point is controversial; some disagree. However, the serious debate on this point occurs at a scientific level that is far above the usual rawist dogma.

Note: Some rawists misinterpret the fossil record and claim that it shows that we evolved as natural frugivores/vegans. However, as the fossil record does not support their viewpoint, such claims are not part of the serious scientific debate on this topic. Please note also that this is not a reference to, or criticism of, those who hold a traditional Christian view of creation.

P.S. Slogans are usually a poor basis for a diet.

M: A 100% raw vegan diet is the most natural, the best, diet for everyone.

R: Everyone is different, and diet must be individualized. There is no one single diet that is "best" for everyone. Some people will do best on raw, others on macrobiotic, and so on. Those who promote the "one true diet" are promoting dogma rather than fact. Also, 100% raw diets are very problematic--100% raw can be a good healing diet, but it has problems as a long-term maintenance diet. (See the Troubleshooting Problems article for more info on this subject.) Quite frankly, I would question any "expert" who tells you that one specific diet is the best diet for everyone on this planet!

Also, the claim to being natural is somewhat questionable, per the discussion of the myths preceding this one.

M: Cooking makes organic minerals inorganic.

R: This is, in general, false, and simply nonsense. It was promoted by Herbert Shelton and T.C. Fry.

M: You should be a mono-eater (of fruit) because two different types of fruit never grow next to each other in nature.

R: There are reasons why a person might want to consider/experiment with mono-eating: easier on the digestion, may help you eat less, and may help acclimate you to raw foods. Instinctive eaters typically practice sequential mono-eating. However, the myth above is bogus; one wonders whether those promoting such nonsense have ever been in the woods? I grew up in Florida, and can attest that one can find multiple fruit trees growing adjacent to each other, all in fruit at once. Example: a wild mulberry, next to a wild guava, next to a naturalized (wild) lime tree. All three were in fruit simultaneously. Also, growing in the trees were wild grapes, and under the trees nearby, wild deadly nightshade (Solanum nigrum: edible when fully ripe) and wild bitter melon (Momordica charantia). In my opinion, those who promote such nonsense are simply demonstrating their ignorance of nature.

M: Fruit has a nutritional profile similar to mother's milk.

R: False. The protein content for both is low, but they do not match in other important areas:

(For an extensively documented look at the many differences between fruit and mother's milk, plus the logical problems in equating the two, see the in-depth discussion, Fruit Is Not Like Mother's Milk.)

M: All protein foods, including raw protein foods, are toxic.

R: According to the above, even sunflower seeds are toxic. Those who actually believe the delusion of this myth advocate a diet of fruit, with occasional vegetables. This myth is sometimes promoted with "proof"--detailed nutritional theories that are impressive to the layperson, but utterly bogus and logically invalid when examined closely.

A key part of the "proof" offered by those promoting such theories is that they went on a 100% fruit diet for months, then ate some seeds or nuts and could not digest them. They blame the protein in the seeds. As a former long-time fruitarian who experienced the same thing, I can attest that what really happens is that following a fruit diet for a long time can weaken the digestive system. Then you eat protein food, which is relatively harder to digest than other foods. The obvious result: an upset stomach, maybe even the production of a small amount of mucus, which a few fruitarians see as "proof" that protein is an evil demon and toxic. Silly fruitarians! It's just a weakened digestion--I went through this very same delusion myself, back in the 1970s.

Note that if one goes on a mono-diet of one type of food, the body becomes habituated to it. Then, when one adds a new type of food, it will take the body time to readjust to the new food--e.g., the secretion of additional digestive fluids (stomach acid, liver bile) for the digestion of protein foods. One may also experience this effect after a long fast. Finally, experiencing the "new food" effect only once--because one immediately gives up the "toxic, mucus-producing" food--proves nothing.

P.S. If protein really is toxic, we would have all been dead long ago.

M: All raw foods are easier to digest than cooked foods, as the raw foods contain enzymes which are destroyed by cooking.
M: Starch is toxic.

R: Some cooked foods are easier to digest than raw foods. The starch foods are prime examples of this: potatoes, rice. Heat degrades the crystalline structure of starch, making it more accessible to the enzyme action in your digestive system. Raw starch is hard to digest, but probably won't harm you unless you consume such foods in gross excess (difficult to do). Starch, whether cooked or raw, is not toxic. At least 70% of the world population has a diet based on starch--cooked starch, no less. If it were truly toxic, there would be a lot fewer people on this planet!

Some foods contain antinutrient properties, toxins, and/or taste awful when raw, but are digestible/edible when cooked: large beans, especially kidney beans. Other raw foods have negative side-effects, such as severe flatulence (e.g., raw cabbage, lentil sprouts). Cooking such foods is one way to reduce/avoid side effects. (Other ways to avoid side effects include using spices, and fermentation.)

So while many foods are best eaten raw, there are some that are difficult or impossible to eat raw. (P.S. Some types of rice can be sprouted and eaten raw, but it is often very bitter and unpalatable.)

M: Spices are toxic.

R: Is everything toxic to the rawist? It is a shame that many rawists refuse to consider spices because of their ideology. Spices, used properly, can assist/strengthen weak digestion, and can help you to digest the heavy, cold, rough, high-water-content foods that we rawists often eat. Spices also have real medicinal properties and uses. Used improperly, spices can cause problems: they can over-stimulate the digestion, and/or overheat the body. (If that happens to you, you will be the first to know.) If used in small amounts, properly (per your body condition), spices may be beneficial and assist healing. The problem is how to use them properly--for that you can refer to Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, or other genuine holistic systems for guidance.

M: Don't drink juices--they are not a whole food.

R: True, juices are not a whole food. Also, one must be careful with juices as it is easy to overconsume them due to their strong taste. For example, 1 kg. of carrots will give you a liter or so of carrot juice. It is easy to drink a liter of juice, very hard to eat a full kg. of raw carrots.

However, juices have important therapeutic properties, and are used extensively in Ayurveda, in the Hippocrates diet, in the Gerson diet, and many other diets. Wheatgrass juice is famous and is the best, easiest way to consume wheatgrass.

Also, wild chimpanzees practice a crude type of juicing, known as wadging. (Wadging consists of crushing foods with the palate, sucking the juices, then spitting out the used wadge.) So juices are "natural" after all, even if we use an electric juicer (instead of wadging) to extract them.

To summarize: Juices, in moderation, can be a beneficial part of a good raw diet. One should not be afraid of juices.

M: Don't drink water. Your food should contain all the water you need.

R: What were the people who dreamed this up drinking? Our close primate relative, the chimpanzees, drink water. Most land mammals drink water; those that do not are the exception, rather than the rule. Refusing to drink water may be the reason some long-time rawists look so dehydrated.

P.S. Some rawists, due to the water content of their diet, may get by on less water than someone on a conventional diet. Still, some water is advisable.

As this article may be controversial, let me briefly address some likely criticisms:

In closing, let me make a few comments:

I hope some of the above was interesting to you. I wish you good health, and good luck with your diet!

--Tom Billings

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