In an interview with Ani Phyo, author, teacher and celebrity proponent of gourmet raw food, EthicalFoods.com learns a thing or two about going raw.
There’s no doubt that in most cases, eating our food raw provides superior nutrition, since cooking food destroys nutrients and enzymes. Raw foodists embrace an alternative diet that is mostly, or in some cases, entirely raw. The anecdotal health benefits of a raw food diet range from curing cancer and weight loss to restoring grey hair to its natural color. While it’s obvious that we should all eat more vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits in their raw, unprocessed state, is going completely or even mostly raw practical? Does it hold to the principles of sustainability: local, organically cultivated, humanely raised, low waste?
After talking with Ani Phyo, it seems it can be. As with all food choices, you still need to keep in mind the guiding principles of sustainability when buying food. As Ani points out, eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods leaves your body and the local farming community nourished. Buying whole foods from local farmers also means less packaging. As with all food choices, there is the sustainable version, and the unsustainable version. The choice is up to you!
Can people who live in cold winter climates eat a raw food diet?
I do believe our environment should dictate our diet. I lived in Portland, Oregon for four years and was 100% raw vegan. I thought I could eat chili and ginger and add heat that way. But I don’t necessarily believe that any more. There are people who can do that, but now when it’s winter I’ve started incorporating sweet potatoes, quinoi and root vegetables.
There are hearty greens, like broccoli, dino kale and curly kale available in the winter. The theory is that if you eat that stuff in the winter, it has so much life force because it has to struggle to grow in the cold. Also, in colder climates people can gather harvests in the summer and fall, and preserve and pickle them to eat in the winter months. Raw fooders love sauerkraut and fermented foods.
Tell me about your latest book on how to eat a raw food diet.
I think in the past year, and with my newest book, I’m redefining the term raw food to really mean raw ingredients, straight from the earth. I’m really pushing a more unprocessed lifestyle, sourcing from whole ingredients in our environment. But if it’s wintertime and you want to heat it up a little bit, then so be it. You are still making your food from whole, local ingredients that are devoid of preservatives, pesticides, chemicals, artificial colors and flavors—all those toxins.
Using raw ingredients even helps you avoid the packaging and distribution. Your food didn’t sit in a warehouse in the midwest, sit in the store for two weeks, or whatever. Instead, I’m promoting whole unprocessed foods, and local as much as possible.
I’ve written four cookbooks over the years, and people are still saying to me, ‘I have your recipes, but I still am having trouble integrating. At home, I just don’t know what to do.’ And no matter how much I wrote these books, people still don’t quite get it. So my latest book, which has been positioned as a weight loss book, is actually a 15 day menu plan.
Its really a detox, and the goal of it is to hand-hold the reader, depending on what level they want to integrate healthier lifestyles. For instance, on day one eat this for your breakfast, eat this for your morning snack, eat this for lunch, and so on. So you can follow this menu plan for 15 days.
The first three days is a cleansing detox. For these three days, all of the meals are blended. I call it the squeaky cleaner. I want to dislodge all the caked on gunk on our engine. So I’m using ingredients like lemon and spices that will actually help to clean you. So that’s three days—and I’m not just juicing, I’m blending, so we’re getting all the fiber. We’re allowing the blender to chew the food for us, and we’re giving our digestive system a rest so it can cleanse and heal and detox. You’re just giving your body a break. But since you’re drinking smoothies and they’re full of fiber, you get really full. It’s not designed to leave you hungry or feeling deprived.
For the second phase, we’re adding in solids again. For lunch you’re having a green salad. For morning or afternoon snack, if you’re feeling like you need to chew something solid, then you can have a fruit salad or some other vegetable snack. What I’m really adding in are probiotics. I call probiotics the ‘bots’. They go into our digestive systems and balance our intestinal flora. They help us to break down our food, to absorb nutrients from the food we’re eating, and to eliminate properly. For detoxification, we need to be able to eliminate properly. So we start to introduce probiotics in this second phase.
The last week is just a raw food diet. That’s all it is. So I’m just outlining what to eat. And by day 15, you have fourteen days of recipes that you’ve made. By day 15, you are able to plan your own menus. I just want to show people how easy it is. Even if you are adding just a healthy smoothie or a healthy soup to any day, no matter what else you’re eating, that is doing the body good because you’re absorbing so many dense nutrients. And that just means you’re going to eat a little less that day of less beneficial foods, because having a green shake or a green soup is going to fill you up.
That’s how I look at it. The more healthy food we add in displaces the less healthy food we’d otherwise be eating. I never want anyone to feel deprived. You know how with diets, you feel deprived, and you think, ‘I can’t eat cake.’ So then you go eat an entire chocolate cake.
Why do you prefer locally grown foods?
Not everything I eat is local. I use superfoods, and one thing I love is spirulina, which comes from Hawaii. I love sea vegetables, too, and they come from the east coast. But what I love doing the most is I love doing a green vegetable juice every day, and I only buy my produce at the farmers’ market. When you go to the farmers’ market, that farmer probably picked that produce at four o’clock in the morning. He drove it to the farmers’ market. There are hardly any touch points. There are fewer opportunities for cross contamination.
The same produce found in a supermarket is probably picked by machines or people, then it goes to a factory where it gets packaged, it gets on distribution trucks where it gets handled even more, and then goes to a warehouse.
The fewer touchpoints the better. I don’t want that many machines and people touching my food. And the bagged greens you find in the supermarket, they fill them with nitrates to keep them fresher longer.
When I first discovered this gourmet raw food, I immediately noticed I wasn’t making garbage anymore. All I have now are recyclables and compost.
Is a raw food diet affordable? Let’s say I’m a student on a tight food budget, am I going to be able to afford this way of life?
I like to think so. Even though I love my superfoods, I don’t eat them every day. Every week my biggest outlay is at the farmers’ market. I buy fruit there too, and fruit is expensive. But I buy cabbage, kale and herbs. I buy chard, celery, radishes. Every week I get two humungous bags full of produce and it never comes to more than twenty five bucks. And I’m juicing!
But if you think about it, raw food is spacious. If you make a salad , greens go a long way because the fiber is still intact. When you cook that down—like you can cook down an entire head of chard—what starts out humungous ends up tiny.
I know nuts can be expensive, but as I was saying, I think people are not eating so many nuts anymore. And if I sprinkle some hemp seeds on a salad, it’s like a tablespoon, maybe once or twice a week. I think in the movement there is a trend away from using so many nuts. I personally don’t really eat many nuts. If you think about it, in nature, even if I lived under an almond tree, I’m not going to pick almonds by the handful, crack each and every one of them open and eat the whole handful of almonds. In nature, it wouldn’t really be like that, and I don’t think we are meant to eat so many nuts at once.
I have friends visiting from out of town right now, and we’re making food for 5 people. We’re making a giant bowl of salad, with all kinds of greens and herbs, throwing in some avocado and sauerkraut. We’re making food for five of us, and it doesn’t cost that much.
Tell me about your Raw Food Certification Course.
Level one is really for the home chef. It’s for all these things we’ve been talking about. For people who don’t want to have to eat out every meal, because it gets really expensive and it’s not necessarily healthy. If you’re eating just tons of nuts and agave, it may be raw but it’s not going to be healthy. So ultimately we all need to learn how to make our own food.
I’m teaching nutrition and eco-green living philosophy. I feel that wellness is composed of everything, it’s not just food. It’s also how we think. How we interact with everything on the planet. Moving our body every day. Avoiding toxic chemicals in our soaps, cosmetics and environment. If we want to raise our level of health, we need to be aware of everything that we come into contact with.
This first level comes with a home chef certification. I’m using only a blender and a food processor. I show people how to make super-fast, easy, blended meals. For example, you can blend a dressing, but if you dilute it, it becomes a soup. I want to show people it’s not that complicated.
Recipes don’t have to have a lot of ingredients to be sophisticated. A recipe could have three ingredients, but you could add two sauces. And the way that it’s plated can make it look very sophisticated. And actually, the fewer ingredients there are, the easier it is on the digestive system.
Thinking about going raw?
You can visit Ani’s website to learn more about her raw food recipes, tips, books, event calendar and her Raw Food Certification Courses.