The Raw Deal(cont.)
LET THERE BE CHEESE
At a conference at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute last August, in a small room on the top floor, raw foods author and chiropractor Leslie van Romer shared a traumatic childhood memory. Her voice trembling with anger, the lanky van Romer spoke of being forced to eat roasted chicken and chocolate chip cookies at the family dinner table.
“Is it any wonder we’re physically addicted to sugar, salt, caffeine, oils, and flavors, and we’ve been physically addicted since birth?!” she spat. One must be “vigilant,” and stave off cravings, van Romer
Fifteen years ago, the idea of a raw foodist eating whipped cream might have been the opening line of a joke.
said. She advocated a diet of 10 kinds of fruits and 10 kinds of vegetables a day—what she calls her “10/10” diet. The philosophy is that procuring so many types of produce won’t leave you much time, head space, or stomach capacity to eat much else. “There are things being served here at Living Light,” van Romer said, conspiratorially, “that aren’t necessarily good for you.”
Yes, in fact a few rooms down, raw foods chef Nomi Shannon demonstrated how to make whipped cream out of blended cashews, dates, and agave nectar. The audience of about 50 raw foods enthusiasts scribbled notes, and when the grayish-white paste was passed around in Dixie Cups, the attendees greedily scraped the bottoms of the cups with their spoons. Downstairs, a couple of hippies were selling raw, “spiritual” chocolates, according to their sign.
Fifteen years ago, the idea of a raw foodist eating whipped cream might have been the opening line of a joke. The movement started in the second half of the 20th century, when a handful of raw food health activists emerged, the most prominent being Herbert Shelton and Ann Wigmore, an intense woman with giant glasses, a pageboy haircut, and shiny shirts.
The diet was hard-core. Cherie Soria attended a Wigmore retreat in the early 1990s, before starting the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, and found that the food was all blended into a
bland green soup. “Once a week we had a salad we could chew, but there was something like soup over it.” The point of the diet was optimum health, not enjoyment.
After being served a fermented sunflower pâté that seemed like a bad version of raw vegan cheese, Soria started experimenting to find out if she could make a really good version. Turned out that soaked, ground, fermented almonds had the same texture as feta. Cashew cheese “was so much like Philly Cream Cheese you could hardly tell the difference,” and she could make Parmesan from pine nuts in a dehydrator with salt.
Raw, the first (and now defunct) raw foods restaurant in the world, as far as anybody can remember, opened in San Francisco around that same time, in 1993. Juliano (one word, like Madonna) discovered how to make raw crackers, the base for gourmet raw mainstays like sandwiches and pizza, when a jar of buckwheat he’d been sprouting became “oversprouted, slimy, and gross.” Immobilized by a foot injury, he couldn’t attend to it and it became “totally dried out” into a kind of tasty crust.
By 1997, people had figured out how to make raw versions of things like enchiladas, pizza, and lasagne, and Soria had opened the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute. Today, the school has trained more than 2,000 chefs, including Roxanne Klein of the now-closed Roxanne’s restaurant in Marin County, California, and probably the most famous raw foods chef. Klein is friends with raw foodist and actor Woody Harrelson, and she coauthored a “cookbook,” Raw, with Chef Charlie Trotter. In large part thanks to her, raw foods broke free of their fringy-hippie vibe and became associated with Hollywood and celebrity. Eating raw no longer meant having to eat green mush served by somebody with a pageboy haircut. But it also meant you were no longer eating for optimum health.