The Raw and the Cooked: Getting Fresh

I’m coming around again. In more ways than one.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my recent transplant from ‘upcountry’ Maui to urban O’ahu, trying to adapt to city life after many years of living in rural, semi-wild places. In this transition period there are good days and not so good days for me. On better days the deep waters are calm, the wind is at my back, I feel open and trust that this change is mysteriously for the best. Undreamed of opportunities are secretly germinating in the sweet, fertile dark, a new life gestating slowly in the womb of Creation. On my not so good days the waters are turbulent, the wind is in my face and my head is down. I feel closed and withdrawn, sad and blue. I still trust in the Mystery but my soul is a low chant composed of minor key notes and melancholy voices.

My wild, elemental soul doesn’t do well in domestic captivity… which is pretty much how suburban/urban life feels to me. Our society is very disconnected from natural rhythms and cycles, from Nature, from earth. A widespread soul loss is rampant in our materialistic culture, along with an absence of the sacred; an existential problem that lurks at the very root of most of our turmoil. The modern world is terribly convenient but I find very little of it nourishing, and I yearn for my tranquil connection to a quieter, deliberate (rather than rushed, chaotic and distracted) way of life.

I know that as the terraces below the house are cleared and Operation Soul Project: Garden Phase gets underway, I’ll turn a corner for the better. We all need a soul project—an extended, visible/tangible endeavor to which we are committed and that feeds the soul in some way—to weld us into the core creativity of our authentic being. And planting a garden is as good a soul project as many… better, in fact, than some because of the level of physical nourishment it offers to the body as well as the soul. (More on ‘soul projects’ in the next post).

There is perfect timing and strange grace at work here, as always. After a week on Kaua’i and eating directly from my friend’s garden every day, my body feels lighter and more energized. (Part of that lightness and positive energy arises from spending an entire week barefoot, walking the property, gardens and nearby beach in near constant ‘earthing’; that’s another post, too. As I shared in a recent Riverspeak podcast, ‘Eating from the Source’, not only was my bodysoul nourished by my environment but I found myself swinging back to an über-fresh, raw and living foods diet.

About ten years ago, back when ‘raw’ was first making a mainstream appearance as a diet/lifestyle, I spent two years on a health Olympian’s diet: 100% raw and living foods. I really hadn’t intended to ‘go raw’; it began initially as a response to nearly two years of eating a diet seriously high in animal protein in order to manage some extreme blood sugar issues I had been suffering. My blood sugar did stabilize while consuming primarily meat but my bodymind also felt heavy, dense, sluggish and, well, toxic. (Let’s not discuss the constipation.)

One day I was browsing through my favorite ‘alternative’ bookstore in Northwest Portland, Oregon, where in the food section (as a chef I always end up in cookbooks) I happened across a hefty book called Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, M.D.. As I thumbed through the pages, I noticed that it had a lengthy and well written section on Ayurveda and its approach to food. As an Ayurvedic educator, I was impressed with the chapter’s depth and clarity; the book also seemed to contain a massive amount of other information relating to food and healing.

It was only after purchasing the book and beginning to read that I realized the author was not only incredibly knowledgable but espoused a raw and living foods lifestyle. This was new to me but the information Cousens presented was so compelling that I decided to follow his lead and change my diet completely. As a purely plant-based diet, being ‘raw’ is strongly alkalizing for the body (the blood should have a slightly alkaline pH, most people’s bodies are highly acidic due to unhealthy diet) as well being anti-inflammatory (inflammation is now linked to all sorts of degenerative diseases and disorders). The effects in my bodymind were compelling and rapid—a noticeable change within a week, feeling lighter, clearer, more energized—thus I plunged ahead towards fully embracing a living foods diet. In just a few weeks, I was completely ‘raw’. (Note: I would NOT suggest this for most people because the detoxification the body undergoes can be extreme… mine was. A slower, gradual approach would be easier and more prudent. For better or worse, I am an indomitable force of will, and I was both willing and ready to tough out a detox crisis in order to get healthy. Fast.)

As an Ayurvedic educator, I had long believed in food as medicine; years before, I came around to Ayurveda (the ancient healing system of India) because of the significant changes I observed in myself once I identified my primary ‘dosha’ (mindbody constitution) and began eating a Kapha balancing diet. Being ‘raw’, however, took my health to a different level altogether and the changes in my health were dramatic. I lost weight (too much in some people’s opinion), became supple and lithe, my skin and countenance glowed, and I felt fabulous. My blood sugar completely stabilized. I reached a level of health, vitality, clarity, energy and flexibility that was undreamed of for me. Never had I felt better. I even walked away from my successful business as a private chef for the rich and famous because I no longer wanted to cook ‘dead’ food for clients… it was completely unappealing.

I won’t get into the details of a raw food lifestyle here or the surprisingly delicious foods one can make when armed with the right tools (high-speed blender such as a Vitamix, a fruit_tartdehydrator, food processor, and a juicer). If you want to eat something other than salads, celery sticks, or smoothies, a raw lifestyle is fairly labor intensive (one of the primary reasons it doesn’t last for most people), requires planning, along with ample time for soaking nuts, dehydrating, etc. Trust me when I say that the evolution of ‘raw’ cuisine (even in the past ten years) is amazingly complex and can yield very tasty food (but there’s still a lot of unsophisticated, ‘nuts and twigs’ food too). Even Chicago-based, Charlie Trotter, one of the world’s top chefs, jumped into the game with a beautiful cookbook (co-authored with Roxanne Klein) titled Raw. At our house, when people came for dinner they were stunned at the high-caliber ‘uncooked’ cuisine that I created, especially the desserts. Over and over I heard variations of, “I could eat this way every day… I can’t believe this is raw!”

After two years of the raw lifestyle, as we entered another soggy, grey Pacific Northwest autumn and the weather cooled, my body told me that I no longer needed to be ‘raw’. I was cold and I wanted… chicken. Preferably wrapped in bacon. Interestingly, this moment marked almost the exact amount of time that I had lived on the heavy protein diet; it’s as if my body needed to swing its pendulum to the far extreme so that it might finally come to a place of balance. I obliged my craving for chicken (no bacon) and found myself gradually transitioning to a diet that was about 50% raw, which sustained me through the winter. Over the next couple of years, my diet fluctuated with climate, seasons and location as we moved around the globe, but I discovered that if my raw food dropped below 30% of my intake, I began to feel noticeably worse. Heavy. Tired. Sluggish. My familiar depression crept back on stealthy paws to shadow me. Compared to most people, my diet remained very healthy, yet it wasn’t anywhere near the peak it once had been. Mostly I felt okay with that… mostly.

These past two years of living back in Hawaii after Europe, my diet has lightened. In this recent move to O’ahu from Maui, I have descended from the upper slopes of Haleakalā (where nights and mornings were cold) and what’s on my plate has shifted back to a warmer climate array: salads, fresh fish, fruit. My week on Kaua’i eating directly from Paula’s garden has nudged me further towards the raw approach. Without intending to, I also gave up caffeine and my daily ‘cuppa’… another totally unexpected turn of events.

As I said at the outset of this blog, looks like I’m coming around again. I’m not certain if I’ll swing back to an entirely ‘raw’ diet (though it certainly feels like I am heading in that direction, and Hawaii with its near idyllic climate is an easy place to maintain such a lifestyle). Pity that I no longer have all those kitchen appliances (they were sold or gifted to people when we moved to Europe because of the differing electrical voltage). Maybe I’ll ask for a new Excalibur dehydrator for my birthday this month… oh, the goodies I could create with that.

Soul Artists know that body and soul are inseparable, that we are each in fact a ‘bodysoul’. Conscious nourishment of the physical body truly nourishes the invisible soul, as well. Conversely, when we neglect the body, soul suffers too. As part of the Elemental Way—my personal practice of wellness, a four-step approach to consciously nourishing body, mind, spirit and soul—each day I do something proactive and nourishing for my body. For me, that is eating fresh food and some sort of exercise (walking, yoga, dance, etc) or ‘earthing’. As I navigate the somewhat challenging transition to urban dwelling, trying to create work and a new livelihood, I know that healthy food is my ally. On the days when I’m wearing a cloud of blue, the most important thing I can do for myself is to eat fresh and exercise.

Soulful reader, there is truth to the old cliché, you are what you eat. Most of us are so used to feeling somewhat poorly, average, or tired that we simply think that is normal. But it doesn’t have to be so. Food is medicine… and what you eat (or don’t) can literally shift your consciousness. When we lighten up in body, we also lighten up in mood, mind and spirit. Getting healthy means getting fresh… and getting exercise. It means nourishing the bodysoul. Here’s hoping that rather than reaching for the bag of crisps or chips, the crackers or cookies, you’ll reach for the apple and almonds, instead.

Who knows, keep up with that fresh eating long enough, you might even find yourself plotting out a garden. Or embarking on a whole new chapter of life, sails unfurled to the trade winds of Fate and Grace.