It’s difficult to imagine chomping on only raw fruits and vegetables during the frigid New York winters; when there’s two feet of snow on the ground and Vassar still has not called off class, we’re more likely to crave something warm and grounding like roasted sweet potatoes or a steaming cup of hot cocoa than a kale salad. But as the chill of winter thaws and we begin to move into spring, you may find yourself naturally gravitating away from warming, hearty foods like soups and more toward sweet, raw fruits and crunchy salads.
According to Ayurveda, the Indian system of holistic health and healing, this is quite natural: the move away from the cooked and towards the raw between winter and spring makes sense, as raw foods are cooling and rehydrating, bringing relief to an overheated, depleted body during the spring and summer months.
But for some, eating only raw is a year-round affair. “Raw foodists” or sometimes “living foodists” are people who espouse the dietary philosophy that food must not be heated over 118°F, as to supposedly optimize nutrient value, preserve enzymes, delay aging and stave off chronic disease.
This generally means a diet that consists only of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains and sprouted legumes. Some are more fanatic than others, choosing to eat 90 to 100 percent raw with no exceptions, but eating raw in a place like New York would be pretty difficult and definitely unwise; we’d feel pretty unsatisfied and freeze in the wintertime without careful planning!
In my thesis, entitled “Raw Religion: The Spirituality of Diet,” I attempt to tackle the dietary philosophy and understand the obsession around the uncooked from a religious perspective. I mainly considered how fervent adherence to a dietary philosophy such as raw can mitigate fears of aging, illness, disease and death that have become fixations amidst 21st-century industrialization and media-projected beauty ideals but are also just a part of life in a body that will age and eventually diet.
I also considered raw foodism as a kind of faith or religion—something to practice, follow, and otherwise “believe in.” The majority of raw foodists will not deny the spiritual underpinnings of the raw food movement and adamantly declare that is just one of many paths to the divine experience of heightened consciousness. The austerity, asceticism, dedication and discipline required to maintain the lifestyle already make the diet “religious” in a colloquial sense. But, for raw foodists, there seems to be something intrinsic and spiritually-unifying that underlies the drive to raw.
While I do not personally follow a raw food diet, I did dabble in a few of the recipes during my research, which are surprisingly easy and surprisingly satisfying. Below is a cake I mashed together using my knowledge of raw and also Ayurveda (and whatever I had in my TA kitchen).
Start with the crust. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until they make a thick, gooey paste. Line the inside of a round cake or cheesecake pan with plastic wrap—you want to make sure you use plenty of plastic wrap so you can easily pull the cake out of the pan when it is done, so don’t skimp! Mash the paste along the bottom of the pan, making a cheesecake-like crust. Stick in the freezer while you prepare layer two.
Wash the pears well and slice them into large chunks. Place in the food processor with the remaining filling ingredients and blend on low speed for 30 seconds at most. You don’t want the pears to be mushy and blended, but rather crunchy and intact; it should look like a fruit salad, not a smoothie! Take the pan out of the freezer and fill the second half with the rosemary-pear concoction. Stick it back in the freezer.
For the top layer, peel the almonds and place in the food processor with all of the remaining ingredients. If you don’t have time to soak the almonds, you can blanch them and this makes peeling considerably easier. Blend until the mixture is incredibly smooth and creamy, like regular frosting. Spread over the top of the cake and add some fresh berries or sliced pears for added decadence to your raw creation.
Keep in the refrigerator or freezer until serving time. When you are ready, slowly maneuver the cake out of the pan by pulling up the plastic wrap and carefully move the dish to a serving platter. A raw treat perfect for spring.
For the crust:
1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight
About 3/4 cup dates
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves
For the filling:
3 to 4 ripe pears
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1/2 of the juice from one lemon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the frosting:
1 cup soaked almonds, soaked overnight and peeled
1/2 cup coconut milk (any milk will do!)
1 tablespoon coconut oil and 1 tablespoon maple syrup or raw honey
A squirt more of lemon juice