THE RAW FACTS
The raw food movement has become a hot — uh, make that cool — form of vegetarianism that champions uncooked vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, beans and seaweed as the staples of a healthy diet.
In recent years, restaurants devoted to raw food have opened around the country. Vibe Cuisine (formerly Veggie Magic) in Sarasota is the closest one to Southwest Florida, but raw fare is cropping up around the area, appearing on restaurant menus, starring in (un)cooking classes and sparking the formation of groups in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples through which members share meals, recipes and information about the raw life.
Mr. Trotter, better known for his cooked cuisine, added some mainstream mojo to the movement with his how-to tome, "Raw" (Ten Speed Press).
Here's the basic premise of the raw, or living foods, diet: Enzymes found in food provide vital energy to the body. When food is heated to more than 106 degrees, those enzymes die, robbing food of nutrients and causing it to become toxic, forcing the body's immune system to fight against it. Eating raw, unprocessed food bolsters the immune system, allowing it to heal and protect the body.
At recent local raw food gatherings, participants dined on lime-agave margaritas, apple-jicama salad, kelp salad, spicy mango ginger soup, burritos, apple pie and chocolate-chili brownies, among other uncooked dishes.
More than salad, but not more work
"Raw food isn't just about plain salad," says Charles Marble, who runs Mangroves Health Institute in Naples. "It can be as gourmet as you can possibly imagine."
"It's wise to eat sensibly," Mr. Marble says. "We need more whole fresh foods in the American diet."
Many clients of Mangroves Health Institute are raw food enthusiasts, he says. "I try to encourage people to integrate these fresh, whole foods in their diet. You need to decide how much and how far you want to go with it. You should do it with pleasure, because it feels good."
There are some basic skills required to follow the diet. Raw foodists grow their own sprouts, employ powerful juicers to create nutritious vegetable and fruit blends, and rely on temperature controlled dehydrators to produce crisp crackers, nuts and seeds. They also use organic ingredients, which aren't as readily accessible in Southwest Florida as they are in some other places.
The most important tool, he says, is a good (un)cookbook, of which there are many. A juicer, a dehydrator and a mandoline (slicer) enhance the raw cook's ability to produce a broad range of recipes with relative ease. Variety is the spice
Doing it properly and in a way that doesn't create boredom takes practice.
"You need a lot of variety, different colors - reds, yellows, purples, those are powerful foods," Dr. Dyer says. "Sprouts are the most nutritious food on earth."
He advises anyone considering a raw food diet not to make the same few recipes all the time. Diversity is important to nutrition and to prevent boredom. Attending meetings of the local living food groups helps, too, because people share their recipes and knowledge.
She's a glowing example of the benefits of a raw food diet. She's been 100 percent raw for four years while her three teen-aged children and husband vary from 50 percent to 80 percent. She's fit, with healthy-looking skin and abundant energy. "I get mistaken for my (14-year-old) daughter a lot," she says. "We wear the same size clothes. A lot of people think we're twins, but we're 31 years apart."
Be a 'Rawkstar'
Alone or in groups, proponents say they reap great rewards in the form of improved health, a stronger immune system, increased energy and optimism.
Another champion of the uncooked is Bethany Tait of Naples.
So she prayed. And not long afterward, she read a magazine article about raw food. She decided to try it and found that it made a remarkable difference in her health, her weight and, subsequently, her life.
Six years later, Ms. Tait takes no medications, never has to worry about her weight and feels great. She teaches classes on how to make quick and easy raw food recipes, and she plans what she calls "Rawkstar" events: raw foodbased parties she hopes will appeal to people her age. Among those are a May 22 ice cream social and as-yet-unscheduled "Eta Raw Pi" parties, which have the spirit of fraternity gatherings minus the smoking, drinking and drugs.
"I want to party and have a good time," she says, "but there were no activities that seemed healthy, so I decided to create them myself."
Brooke Wagenheim had much the same inspiration when she recently opened Chef Brooke's Natural Café on Boy Scout Drive in Fort Myers, where everything's organic and there are raw food options daily.
After she went raw about 15 years ago, Ms. Wagenheim says, she lost 30 pounds in less than a month and felt energized and healthy. She confesses to having neglected herself in the recent years and recommitted to raw food about three weeks ago.
"It makes me feel vibrant," she says. "I have 100 percent more energy and I'm losing weight."
Across the river in Cape Coral, Lynette Pritchard says a multitude of health issues cleared up when she went raw, resurfaced when she veered from the path and vanished again when she resumed a raw diet.
The owner of Back to Nature health food store and café, Ms. Pritchard teaches periodic classes, offers raw items on her café menu and hopes to hold raw dinners soon.
Ms. Wagenheim says it needn't be a choice between raw and cooked, but she believes people feel different when they increase the amount of raw food they eat. "You feel it in every cell of your body," she says.
Dr. Dyer counsels those looking to adopt a raw food diet to do so gradually.
"They should start increasing the amount of raw food they eat," he says. "Imagine a plate like a pie chart. Right now, the majority of people would have a diet that has a small sliver — about 10 percent — of raw food. They should focus on making that percentage greater." Not all raw or nothing
Ginger Patterson, a Fort Myersbased registered dietitian, says there are good and bad aspects to a raw food diet.
"There are so many vegetables that do not release all of their nutrients until they're cooked, like carrots and tomatoes," she says. "And, even when heated to 106 degrees, you won't necessarily kill any salmonella that may be present. (Salmonella) can be found on organic as well as non-organic food. It does not pick and choose."
Ms. Patterson believes the raw food diet is too limiting in terms of both nutrients and lifestyle. Most people don't want to forego eating at restaurants, she says, nor do they want to take their own food with them when they're invited to friends' houses, for example. "Most people aren't up to that."
However, on the positive side, she says, "More vegetables are always healthful. You're putting more antioxidants into your body, which means there are more anti-inflammatories so you're going to have fewer aches and pains.
"I don't care how people eat as long as it's healthy," she stresses. "Everybody should seek that out for themselves. It's a personal preference."
Shakti Barnhill has achieved what she believes is a happy medium. The Fort Myers yoga instructor was 99 percent raw for a while and "felt the best I've ever felt," she says. But she's recently cut back to about 75 percent raw, adding in steamed vegetables, cooked beans and eggs.
"Life makes it too restrictive to be 100 percent raw," she says. "You cheat yourself from having fun. I'm happy with life. It's not just about what you eat. It's who you are and what you feel."
Southwest Florida raw food events
>>Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.: Fort Myers Living Foods Group monthly potluck, Center to Self Reliance, 1939 Park Meadow Drive, Suite 9, Fort Myers. Cost: $3. Bring a raw food dish, preferably organic, to share plus recipe. Call David Dyer at 471-0255 to RSVP or online at www.wholefood. meetup.com/151/.
>>Monday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.: Bethany Tait gives a free lecture on weight loss and raw food for women, Mangroves Health Institute, 2335 Tamiami Trail, Naples. Call 403-0555.
>>Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.: Weekly Raw Simplicity class, with Bethany Tait demonstrating simple raw food recipes that can be made in the average home kitchen in 10 minutes or less. Participants get to eat the results. Cost: $20. Mangroves Health Institute, 2335 Tamiami Trail, Naples. Call 403-0555 to reserve a spot.
>>Wednesday, May 20, 6:30 p.m.: Weekly raw food class with Charles Marble demonstrating four recipes that make a meal. Participants sample each recipe. Cost: $25. Mangroves Health Institute, 2335 Tamiami Trail, Naples. Call 403-0555 so Marble can prepare enough food.
>>Friday, May 22, 5-7 p.m.: Raw ice cream social, featuring unlimited raw ice cream and a toppings bar, singing and music. Cost: $20. Mangroves Health Institute, 2335 Tamiami Trail, Naples. Call 403-0555.
>>Tuesday, May 26, 6 p.m.: Certified raw foods chef Debbie Greene conducts a monthly raw foods class showing how to prepare typical party food raw-style. Free. Whole Foods Market, 9101 Strada Place, Naples. Call 552-5100 to register.
>>Sunday, May 31, 6:30 p.m.: Naples Living Foods Group monthly potluck and screening of the movie "Eating." Cost: $5. Mangroves Health Institute, 2335 Tamiami Trail, Naples. Bring a raw vegan dish to share. Call 641-5559 to RSVP.
>>Cape Coral Living Foods Group: No meeting set, but information will be posted at www. wholefood.meetup.com/198/ when the next one is scheduled.
SPICY MANGO GINGER SOUP
1 large mango
1/2 cup chopped onion
½ cup water
1 chili pepper
Juice of 1 lime
½ tsp grated fresh ginger
Blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy. Garnish with fresh herbs of choice and serve. 1 serving: 81 calories, 20.7 gm carbohydrates, 2.5 gm fiber, .9 gm protein, 17 percent RDA vitamin A, 51 percent RDA vitamin C, 2 percent RDA calcium, 1 percent RDA iron
2 cups mango or papaya
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp raw apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs mustard powder
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp agave
1 bunch cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped bell pepper
¼ cup chopped red or green onion
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp salt
Combine all ingredients, mix well and serve
2 ripe avocados
½ hot pepper
2 TBS chopped yellow onion
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 ear fresh corn
2 tsp fresh lime juice
6-8 lettuce leaves
Mash avocado, mix in remaining ingredients and place into lettuce and wrap edges to form "burrito."
RAW COCONUT FUDGE
3 cups walnuts
½ cup carob powder or cacao
2 cups shredded coconut
5/8 cup agave
Grind walnuts in food processor until they have a buttery consistency. Combine carob powder with coconut and mix with ground walnuts. Add agave and continue to mix well. Press mixture about ¾ inch think in a glass dish. Place in freezer and chill until solid and firm.