Alternative eating in the raw
By: Kayla Kreutzberg
Natural sunlight lit up the large rectangular table in the medium-sized kitchen in Woodbridge, Ontario. The sun had highlighted an assortment of containers and different coloured plastic bags spread across the surface.
Inside the containers and bags contained powders, liquids and vitamins. Many of the containers had unfamiliar names sketched in marker across them such as, E3live, matcha powder, chia seeds and organic cacao nibs.
The kitchen was messy, disorganized and resembled a science experiment that had gone wrong.
Owner of the kitchen, Francesco Comito, 24, is a raw food chef who has been providing his original raw cuisine creations to health food stores such as The Big Carrot in Toronto, as well as to local organic markets.
Not only is Comito a raw food chef, but he has also been eating 100 per cent raw for over six years. He says the raw food trend is a growing alternative lifestyle.
“It’s becoming popular right now in these past years in California, it started in Hollywood, a lot of the stars, a lot of the singers started it,” he said, as his long brown hair grazed his face. “[It] became public through them and it got more of this weight loss idea, keeping in shape, beautification and rejuvenation.”
Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore are just a handful of A-listers who follow the raw-food diet.
Eating a raw-food diet means no meat or dairy, and the food is not cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning their enzymes remain intact, along with all their vitamins and minerals, explained Joy McCarthy, a Toronto registered holistic nutritionist.
“People have been eating raw foods forever, but the notion that it’s a diet, that has only become trendy in the last few years,” McCarthy said.
Comito also believes the raw-food diet is a growing trend because “people have got sick and they’re tired of taking medications, so they look at it is an alternative to that.”
The main reason Comito switched to eating raw was because he too was constantly getting sick and nothing ever helped. He said that once he began eating raw, he stopped taking medication after three months for chronic sinus, liver problems, and colitis.
McMcarthy’s clients note that when they eat more raw foods they report that they have more energy and vitality, better digestion and improved sleeping patterns.
For Yafa Sakkejha, 26, it was depressive feelings that got her to switch three years ago to consuming 80 per cent of raw-food in her diet.
While Sakkejha only wanted to try the raw-food cleanse for a week, “A week turned into a month and after the month it was the first time I didn’t feel depressed for a year,” she said, as her clear skin glowed in the dim lights, at the Organic Oven Bakery and Café.
Sakkajha is the main organizer of Raw Toronto, which is a meet up group for raw and vegan foodies all over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). When she is not organizing raw-food potlucks, she works for the House of Verona, a health retreat in Blue Mountain, Ontario.
In 2006, Sakkejha said Raw Toronto had 500 members, today they are now around 750 members.
Toronto just recently held its first annual Toronto Raw/Vegan Festival, in June 2011. “There were at least 4,000 people in attendance there over the couple days in June,” she said. The next one to take place will be on Dec. 3, 2011.
Sakkejha agreed that the raw-food trend has definitely grown in the past 10 years.
“There was one raw-food restaurant in Toronto, now there’s six in the GTA,” she said.
Compare this to Los Angeles, which supports 20 raw-food restaurants, and New York that can support up to 10. This leaves Toronto almost reaching the level where New York sits.
Joanne Kates, the Globe and Mail’s food critic since 1975, recently wrote a restaurant review on Mar. 21, 2011 on Rawlicious, a raw-food restaurant.
“It’s interesting how scared we all are (and I include myself here) of that kind of food,” wrote Kates, referring to raw-food. “And shocking to me how much I enjoyed the food there. It sounds strange, but pretty much everything I ate was delicious.”
In a recent interview, Kates said people are attracted to the raw-food diet because, “It’s healthy, people want to eat healthy.”
Kates ranked Live Food Bar, an all raw-food restaurant, at number 87 in her list of 100 top restaurants in 2010.
“If you look at Live Food Bar, which is the first raw-food restaurant in Toronto, they’ve been around for over 10 years which is a legacy in restaurant history,” Sakkejha said, as she sipped her extra large Jamaican red rooibos tea.
Sakkejha explained that if you were to ask the owner of Live Food Bar, Jennifer Italiano, if raw-food eaters are what keeps her business afloat, she would disagree.
Italiano would say it’s more people wanting to try raw-food in the nieghbourhood, and celebrities that come into town to shoot that keep her business alive.
“For example, when Woody Harrelson comes into town to do a movie he gets Live Food Bar to cater his entire stay.
Besides Live Food Bar and Rawlicious, diners can also enjoy raw and vegan cuisine at Papaya Island, Super Sprouts and Fressen.
It may be expensive to go out and eat every meal at these raw-food restaurants, but both Comito and Sakkejha say it’s not that expensive to eat raw at home.
One of the reasons it’s not expensive is because produce is a lot cheaper now than it was five to six years ago, Comito said, dressed in a cobalt blue, long-sleeved shirt and tight dark-washed jeans.
Eating raw also requires no oven. To make a variety of raw food at home you would need a blender, food processor and a dehydrator, which he claims would not even come close to the fraction of a price of an oven.
For Sakkajha, her health is more important then how much she can save on her grocery bill.
“I stopped eating meats, so that’s a big portion that I substituted out [of my grocery bill], but I also look at it like, ‘Over your life how much are you going to spend on health when you get older,’ it’s almost like health insurance,” she said.
There are some negatives to the growing trend.
For example, if someone has an inflammatory digestive system such as, irritable bowel syndrome, she would not recommend a raw-food diet because it would contain too much dietary fiber that could be irritating to the intestinal lining.
Another negative, is if you do a very sweet raw-food diet consisting of mainly fruit, the fructose can affect your pH balance.
Many people also don’t want to try raw because they are afraid of the word “raw,” which is exactly what Kates was feeling at Rawlicious before she tasted the food.
However, experts like McCarthy say the most common raw-food myth is circled around that it’s too ‘”cooling,” meaning people would not want to eat raw-food in the winter.
“I disagree to an extent, so long as you are including warming foods such as ginger, cinnamon, and sprouted grains into your diet, then it won’t feel cold,” McCarthy said.
After sampling Comito’s raw Nanaimo bar, made from cashew butter, crushed almonds and macadamia nuts, I could not spot a taste difference between his and a non-raw one. All the flavours complimented each other, wanting me to sample more.