Raw foods are in a strange place in our culture today. The invention of pasteurization and the subsequent ‘bacteria-free’ food, along with Lysol commercials and such, have created a near-phobia of bacteria in our culture, and ‘raw’ seems synonymous with ‘baceria-filled’ in most people’s minds.
In truth “raw food” is a misnomer, because labeling food as raw suggests that it’s natural state is it’s cooked state – and that’s just not true. In actuality, study after study of bacterial infection outbreaks in the US have shown that cooked foods are responsible for 97% or more of food-borne bacterial infections. The unspoken truth about raw foods is that raw foods do, in fact, have gazillions of bacteria on them – but not the kind that hurts us eaters.
Think about it evolutionarily. Humans ate mostly-raw food for hundreds of thousands of years before we mastered fire and invented cooking. In evolutionary terms, we had to have evolved a defense against the bacteria that exist naturally in the animals we ate. So, sensibly, since evolution doesn’t progress at human speeds, it’s nearly 100% likely that we still have those defenses.
Moreover, the animals and plants we’re eating have to have had defenses of their own against dangerous bacteria, most of which were chemical defenses. Scientific examination of healthy, freshly-killed meat reveals exactly that: enzymes in most animal flesh prevent bacteria from growing for hours or even days after the animal dies. Putting such meat into a refrigerator extends this protection for weeks.
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The bacteria we don’t have a defense against, however, are the bacteria that grow on cooked food that it’s properly handled after it’s cooked. Thus, the e. coli scares that crop up on foods from Jack in the Box hamburgers to spinach and almonds. Here’s the thing — e. coli doesn’t grow naturally on any of those foods. It grows in raw sewage. The solution is not to start cooking everything we eat – it’s to examine how shelled almonds and washed spinach managed to get raw sewage on them after they had been processed.
Hundreds of diet books out there suggest removing junk food and highly-processed foods from your diet. You’ve heard it a hundred times. What you might not have heard is that eating food that hasn’t been cooked is not only safer than eating mass-processed cooked food (because the more mass the process, the more likely some human decided to cut corners and thus the more likely something somewhere is allowing infections into the cooked fod), but it’s healthier for you, too – because processing destroys nutrients like vitamins, cofactors, and some minerals.
For example, clean, ‘raw’ milk from grass-fed cows was legitimately used as a medicine as late as the end of the 19th century. Such milk is a complete and balanced food, and a man could actually live on an adequate amount for several weeks if he needed to. In fact, the Masai people of middle Africa exist almost exclusively on a diet of milk, beef, and occasionally glasses of freshly-collected cow blood, and they have some of the healthiest bodies on the planet.
If you’re interested in learning more about the healthy effects of raw food, read more here. And the next time someone mentions raw food to you, don’t get squeamish — get excited!
Raw food soup at Crudessence
Image by firepile
Wendy & Jillian's New Year raw food and yoga retreat
Image by danasmith www.olgalavrukhina.com
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