Jack Norris is a vegan Registered Dietician who is a cofounder of Vegan Outreach ( http://www.veganoutreadch.org
) he maintains a health site dedicated to vegan healh:http://www.veganhealth.org
History of Cooking and Thoughts on Raw Foodism
by Jack Norris, RD
Response To This Article From a Reader (Below)
The vegan diet is often used as a health gimmick for preventing various diseases. I would prefer not to see this because:
* There is often not enough evidence for it (such as for preventing osteoporosis)
* It dilutes the message of compassion to animals
* It can create a complacency that keeps us from addressing real health concerns
And as I read more and more raw foodist propaganda in vegetarian circles, I have to wonder if even more dietary dogma helps the cause of animal advocacy.
Raw foodism is, after all, an ism. It's a belief system based on the idea that people should eat like our prehistoric ancestors (or other animals), with assumptions made about how our prehistoric ancestors actually ate, how healthy they were, how long they lived, and how relevant other animals' diets are to our own.
I Was a Twenty-Something Raw Foodist
From 1993 to 1995 I ate about 90% of my foods raw. I also read any and every book and article on raw foodism that I could get my hands on. The diet simply made sense. After all, humans are the only animals who cook their food. We'd have to be better off eating a more natural diet of raw foods...Wouldn't we?
On the raw foods diet, I lost significant weight. As a regular weightlifter, I noticed my strength decline considerably. I got frequent colds (some say this is the body "detoxifying"). I thought about how much I wanted to eat cooked food almost constantly.
One day, I finally had to admit that it wasn't working. So, I slowly weaned myself back onto cooked foods to curb my cravings while still eating "as much raw foods as I could." It became less all the time. By early 1997, I was still struggling to prevent myself from eating too much cooked food. One day I decided to eat as much cooked food as I wanted. I came to believe that the hunger signals and cravings for cooked food were more "true" than any theory of raw foodism or natural eating.
This experience turned me to science. Raw foodism made so much sense, how could it be wrong (for me)? It made me question how anything can really be known about nutrition, and I came to the conlusion that the scientific method was the only sure way.
Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, the scientific method is neither quick nor easy. Truths emerge very slowly only after many years of research. Still, some things are known. And as I read more and more scientific research, it became clear that many of the claims made by raw foodists are not in sync with the science of food, cooking, and the human body.
History of Cooked Foods
In September 2003, an article was published in the journal, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology called Cooking as a Biological Trait. It was written by Richard Wrangham and NancyLou Conklin-Brittain from the Department of Anthropology at Harvard.
The main thing in this article that peaked my interest was their compilation of information about how long humans have been cooking foods. If you read many books promoting raw foodism, you would get the idea that humans have only cooked foods for a relatively short period. Wrangham and Conklin-Brittain cite much research to indicate that, in their words, "Cooking is therefore widely accepted back to at least 250,000 years ago." Some evidence points to 1.6 million years. They also argue that it takes only 5,000 years or less for the human body to adapt to different methods of eating. The implication is that humans have been cooking long enough to have adapted to a diet of cooked foods, and that in a normal state of nature there may be no turning back. This could explain why so many people who try raw foodism fail to thrive.
My point is not to say that people should not be raw foodists, but rather that the idea that cooking is a relatively new method of food preparation to which the human body has not had time to evolve is likely untrue.
Of course, people no longer live in a state of nature and it may be, and apparently is, possible for people to live a long time as raw foodists in the modern world by concentrating on eating raw foods that are relatively high in calories and/or by living a sedentary lifestyle compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Another point along the same lines is that there are theories in scientific circles that meat-eating was the key to the human brain becoming larger. There are also competing theories that cooking food is what allowed humans' brains to develop. By cooking food, we were able to make it more digestible (by breaking down plant fiber and muscle tissue) and therefore eat more calories with less digestive effort. This allowed our bodies to have more energy for developing our brain. It also allowed us to decrease the size of our digestive tract, diverting energy away from digestion and to brain development.
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive look at raw diets, but rather to report on this one study that I found interesting. For more information, BeyondVeg.com (a site providing a critique of raw food vegan diets - and to a lesser extent other vegetarian diets) has created a list of peer-reviewed studies and abstracts relating to raw foods diets here. Note on BeyondVeg.com.
Below is a modified article I wrote about raw foods for VegNews.
( seen Part II in the next thread or go to the url above for the full article )