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In the Raw: Forgetting the oven with Central Oregon's raw foodists 

Cooling out with the raw food gang. There is a group of people scattered around the globe that believe raw food is the key to

click to enlarge Cooling out with the raw food gang.
  • Cooling out with the raw food gang.
Cooling out with the raw food gang. There is a group of people scattered around the globe that believe raw food is the key to their health. Over the last five years, celebrities like Woody Harrelson and Donna Karan have helped the "Raw Food" movement (as it is now being called) giving rise to a host of restaurants that specialize in "raw" menus.

Many of these folks are the followers of the "mother of raw foods," Ann Wigmore, a holistic health practitioner, nutritionist, whole foods advocate, and a doctor of Divinity. Also at the forefront of the movement is fellow holistic health practitioner Viktoras Kulvinskas, who brought raw foods into prominence in the early 1990s.

A big part of their teaching is that food loses much of its nutrition once it reaches the chemical reaction most of us call cooking. That happens at approximately 110 degrees for many foods, which is why this has become the magic number among raw foodists. Raw food is defined as anything not heated over 110 degrees.

Here in Central Oregon, a group called the Raw Foodists have recently organized to come together each month for an informal potluck. Groups ranging from five or six to a big gathering of 40 or more, bring creatively prepared raw food dishes to share with their fellow raw foodists. The dishes range from entrees to desserts with plenty of salads thrown into the mix. Dehydrating foods is used extensively given that when many foods are dehydrated, their consistency resembles cooked food. Soaked whole grains, raw uncooked dairy products, nuts, fruits, and lots of vegetables constitute much of what is consumed although some eat raw meat and raw fish.

There is as much variety in how people approach their raw food diets as there is in what they choose to eat. Mieke Benton, a native of Belgium and one of the organizers of the monthly potlucks, describes it as much more than a diet, but more of a lifestyle adventure. She says that everything is better when she sticks to raw food, which she has been doing on and off for five years. Sometimes it's 70 percent and sometimes it's 95 percent, which seems to be a common fluctuation among raw foodists. "It's not an all or nothing thing. It's a quest for health and clarity, but not an ultimatum," Benton says about raw food philosophy.

Another raw food proponent, Thia Ward, says that about four years ago she had a case of candidiasis, a type of yeast infection, so badly that her skin hurt. Getting little to no help from conventional doctors, she turned to an alternative nutritionist who put her on a four-month-long diet of about 70 percent raw food. She's been a believer ever since. Recently, she has added cooked meat back to her diet. But for the most part, she keeps to araw diet, which she says has improved everything from her complexion to her digestion.

Raw foodists often hear the question: How does one get enough protein without eating meat? Shelly Shoops, another Central Oregon raw foodist and the co-organizer of the monthly potlucks says that eating nuts can satisfy a healthy person's protein needs. Many raw foodists, like Shoops, eat a primarily raw diet, but add cooked meat to supplement their diets. But not everyone sticks to salads and nuts. In those cases, Shoops said that meat from clean, local sources drastically reduces the chance of infection. There is ample criticism directed at raw food dieting, but talk to some of these Central Oregon raw foodists and you'll find that - rather than a trend or diet fad - this is a flexible lifestyle designed by personal choice. Also, they all look really healthy.

For more information on the Central Oregon Raw Food potlucks email Mieke Benton at


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