If I had to name one thing that has been bugging me lately about the vegan movement, it would have to be rawfoodism*. It should go without saying that this is health veganism taken to unnecessary extremes, born out of pseudo-science, perfectionism, and mythology. Not only does it do nothing to help animals, it does nothing to help improve the health of rawfoodists themselves or anyone for that matter.
Some rawfoodists I’ve met believe they’ve finally found the holy grail of healthy eating and they are not letting go. So fanatical are some of them, they believe any vegan who eats any amount of cooked foods are “poisoning” themselves, and deserve to be mocked as the vegan lepers that they truly are. If you get into an argument with one, expect a torrent of pithy slogans like “cooked food is poison!” in lieu of anything of substance. The foundation of almost all rawfoodist dogma is the naturalistic fallacy, which basically means anything natural is “good”, and anything unnatural is “bad”.
Truth be told, there is virtually no science to support the idea that 100% vegan rawfoodism is the healthiest diet. With science offering no support, vegan rawfoodist gurus and super-athletes have created a powerful mythos of seemingly compelling anecdotes for the proponents of the rawfood cult. While very few rawfoodists are as holy, uh, I mean as healthy as the high priests they emulate, they believe if they “detoxify” and “revitalize” their body’s cells long enough by eating raw foods, they too can achieve super health.
Never mind all those pesky plant toxins that are largely destroyed by cooking, or the fact that many foods are more digestible when cooked, that’s all corporate propaganda to the rawfoodist. To the rawfoodist, perfect health isn’t a fantasy, it is something that can be attained if you eat 100% raw 100% of the time.
The reality is that perfect health is a chimera, and there is no such thing as a “perfect” diet. Anyone trying to sell you a “perfect” diet is a charlatan. Rawfoodism is a fad, and one that is potentially harmful to veganism. It is also harmful to people with serious diseases who choose going raw vegan to treat their condition and end up dying due to lack of proper medical treatment. Veganism, raw or cooked, doesn’t necessarily make you super-healthy, and shouldn’t be promoted as such. That’s not what veganism is truly about in the first place. Its essence is about compassion for all life, and extreme, overly strict, overly complicated, pseudo-scientific approaches to vegan dieting can only hurt our efforts at helping animals. Veganism should be informed by science, not pseudo-science.
I realize this post may puzzle some people. My only aim with this blog and my joggling is to show that a well-balanced vegan diet is adequate for just about anyone, including athletes. The idea that a vegan or vegan rawfood diet can take you to a level of health and super-athleticism that is only attainable by vegans or vegan rawfoodists is preposterous, and not something I believe in. If there is one thing the vegan movement needs a lot more of, it’s critical thinking.
* I realize that not all rawfoodists are vegan; some drink raw milk, consume honey or other animal products. This post concerns both rawfoodism in general, and vegan rawfoodism in particular since the health claims and motivations are very similar. Many rawfoodists started out as vegans, and saw raw veganism as the next logical step in making their diet healthier.
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Your posts are always so enlightening and I always feel that I learn a ton when I come here. I’m not a vegan myself but I support the concept and lean towards a veg-based diet on most days and only eat meat that is ethically raised. It’s kind of uunfortunate that there’s this separation within the vegan community. There are so many benefits to cooked food that I really don’t understand the rawfoodism opinion.
Thanks for your input, Kristin. Part of the problem with the “vegan” movement is that it is really two very different movements using the same name, one that is concerned with animal rights(ethical veganism), and the other with health. While there is a good degree of overlap these days, due to many people embracing veganism for more than one reason, it’s not uncommon to meet people who go vegan purely for health reasons. I regularly meet vegans who say they just don’t care about animals, and it seems they are into veganism due to health-nuttery.
So rawfoodism is basically an outgrowth out of the health vegan camp, and basically does nothing to help further the cause of ethical veganism. Sure there are some vegan rawfoodist who are also big supporters of animal rights, but it’s not like their rawfoodism gives them an edge in their activism. On the contrary, having such an extreme diet can be a major turnoff for non-vegans. I tried rawfoodism for a few months and it did nothing for me.
Like you, I just don’t understand this idea that cooking food is bad, with all the benefits that come from cooking. I went vegan for ethical reasons, but I am also health-conscious.
Interesting post – I’ve been toying around with this a bit this year and I have yet to experience a real benefit. I read this book, http://www.amazon.com/80-10-Diet/dp/1893831248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426612892&sr=8-1&keywords=80%2F10%2F10 and while some sections are interesting, I’m quite skeptical of others. The author regularly uses the “poison” or “toxic” argument and I’m not buying it. Thanks for the post!
I appreciate your input, Jason, especially since you decided to be a guinea pig for the 80/10/10 diet, and to top it off, you’re a very accomplished runner. Douglas Graham is someone whose health advice I don’t particularly care for.
I’m not surprised you didn’t benefit. I didn’t either when I tried a similar diet several years ago, and almost all the runners and athletes I know who have tried it also haven’t experienced any benefits. To my knowledge, there’s a very tiny number of accomplished runners on this raw/fruitarian diet who claim it helped improve their speed and endurance. Thing is, they were fast even before they went on it and I suspect their training had more to do with their improvements than their diet. Once a diet is healthy enough, it’s the training that makes all the difference, in my experience. In other words, they would have gotten faster anyway.
Like you, I’m skeptical, and I became increasingly skeptical after trying and failing the diet. I would like to see peer-reviewed research done on this diet, or at least some plausible mechanism for why it supposedly boosts health and improves athletic ability, before I can take it seriously. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Thanks for dropping by!
Great post. I totally agree. Raw-foodists are sometimes too fanatic about what they are doing. Besides, their main argument for their diet is health. The reason why I don’t eat anything related to animals is because I care about the animals. Well, of course, I care about eating healthy too but that’ s secondary to me being vegan. And to be honest, when I first read about the benefits of rawfood, I tried to start a rawfood diet for a couple of months but during the time I was eating 100% raw I got digestion problems… Now I try eating 50/50 to get some more vitamins and that works great for me 🙂
Thanks for your input, Carmen. It’s always great hearing from people who have tried this diet, which almost always means tried and failed. To some of the rawfood fanatics I know, it’s just not possible that this “perfect” diet could have failed them; they failed the diet. They didn’t do it long enough, or they didn’t do it right, or their “addiction” to cooked food just made it difficult for them to adjust.
Nothing wrong with a half raw diet(I eat like this sometimes) if that is what works for you. Raw food can be great, it’s excluding all cooked food that I take issue with. Health conscious is good; health obsessed can be problematic especially if leads one to believe that healthy enough isn’t healthy enough. There’s always something they can do to improve their health further to make themselves super healthy, then super-ultra healthy, then super-ultra-mega healthy. There’s diminishing returns beyond a certain point of eating healthy where more isn’t necessarily better.
I hope you have a lot of fun in Barcelona.
Thanks for giving your perspective on rawfoodism. I do hear from lots of proponents of raw food in vegan circles, so it’s good to put all this hype into perspective. I don’t see quite such a dichotomy as you seem to between ethical veganism and health veganism, though. I was initially drawn to veganism out of an interest in health, which then gave me exposure to all the ethical reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle, and those soon became my primary reasons for becoming vegan. So I think being health conscious is great if it draws more people into the movement, but I agree that some people get too fanatical and obsessed about their own health.
Thank you for your comments, Wendy. I think it depends on where you live when it comes to how much of a dichotomy there is between health vegans and ethical vegans. I run into a lot of health vegans who don’t care about animals. Of course, for a lot of them it’s just a fad and they are(surprise surprise) no longer vegan after 6 months. I am not a health vegan; I am interested in health but that’s not why I am vegan or why I became vegan. Healthy living and veganism are separate things to me.
There’s so much overlap these days between ethical and health veganism, so you’re right, there isn’t that much of a dichotomy most of the time. It is because of this overlap that raw veganism disturbs me, since I’m concerned it may interfere with animal rights activism. Take care!