Does the V word scare you?
I am of course talking about veganism. An overwhelming number of folks look at vegans with puzzling perplexity and understandably so. Although vegetarians make up about 3.4 percent of the United States population, only 0.8 percent claim to be vegan.
Guilty. I initially had the same reaction to another kind of foodie folk: The raw vegan. Adding another level of complexity to this lifestyle, I had the same questions others have of me. Why do you do this, and more importantly, what do you eat?
Learning to un-cook
There is a sensibility epiphany when we suspend our preprogrammed notion of a meal and think about raw produce. The raw movement believes that avoiding heating food above 116 degrees Fahrenheit maintains the digestive enzymes that naturally appear in fresh uncooked fruits and vegetables.
Even beloved Dr. Oz has a 28-day raw food challenge aimed at increasing energy, improving digestion, loosing weight, reducing the risk of heart disease and improving skin appearance.
Raw foods retain higher nutritional value, have more antioxidants and a more robust fiber content. A raw apple and veggies a day may just keep that doctor and the Metamucil away.
In a world over boiling with conflicting and complex nutritional information, raw seems more like a back to basics. Having navigated the low-fat high sugar diet, the high-protein low-carb diet, the cookie diet, the grapefruit diet, and a myriad of others, our weight-loss obsessed society needs something rational and logical.
Pat Greer, owner of Pat Greer’s Vegan Kitchen, specializes in raw living foods that are gluten-free, dairy-free and organic using local ingredients.
“I laugh when I think back when I used to own a candy store on the Northwest side of town," Greer says. "I lived in a constant diabetic coma while making 28 kinds of fudge, 39 flavors of popcorn, cookies, brownies, ice cream and jelly bellies. But we did laugh a lot.”
A health challenge
After a year of failed attempts to get her act together and a worsening health, Greer buckled down and dramatically increased her intake of raw fruits and veggies, with some seafood. To her amazement, a year later, Greer was in the clear. With that in mind, she naturally transitioned into a raw food diet.
While sipping on some homemade apple pineapple kombucha in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a commercial kitchen, I sat and chatted with Greer about her journey, keeping my eye on the goodies that were being assembled a few feet away. There is a calmness about Greer that is contagious. Whatever she is on, I'd like to inhale.
CultureMap: Pardon the pun, but I can’t help crack-up a little when I see the Kracker sign outside your door. I imagine there is a story behind it.
Pat Greer: I was making food for myself, and started packaging and selling any excess at what is now the Central City Co-Op. A client who loved my raw Spicy Flax Krackers encouraged me to expand and found myself looking for a place to home my kitchen. This used to be a crack house. Somehow, making my Krackers here seemed ironically hilarious.
These Krackers also came from surplus produce. Coming from a depression family we learned not to allow anything go to waste.
CM: People have the impression that eating vegan, organic and raw is very expensive. Do you have any shopping suggestions to not break the bank?
PG: It doesn’t have to be expensive if one buys smart. There are some fruits and vegetables that I recommend you always buy organic like apples, berries, pears, carrots and greens as traditionally, they need a lot of pesticides to grow and seem to retain them. However, asparagus, sweet corn, onions, pineapples and mangoes have been tested to retain very small amounts of pesticides when conventionally grown
Foodnews.org is a wonderful resource that helps people make informed decisions on what to buy organic and conventional.
CM: Are you 100 percent raw vegan?
PG: I was when I first got started, but I am not today. I encourage people to increase their raw food intake, but to do what works best for them. My stance has not been popular with some pure high raw vegan foodies. At 14, my granddaughter is an aspiring chef and if she bakes a cookie for me, I am going to eat it. Thankfully, she is a vegetarian.
CM: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring raw vegans or those that want to increase their raw food intake?
PG: Absolutely. I believe in transitions if you have the luxury of time. If you have a serious illness, I suggest jumping right in.
- Look at how many salads you eat. Increase that by 25 percent. Two weeks after that increase it by 50 percent.
- Redefine what you consider a salad. Salads can be much more than vegetables on a bed of greens.
- Open up your palate to the possibility that your favorite cooked foods like pizza, burritos, pad thai and even burgers can be translated into a raw version. How do you do a raw vegan pizza? A Portobello mushroom can serve as the crust, a raw cheese sauce make by blending veggies and cashews, and add chopped veggies for the toppings. All you really need is a good knife.
- Make a list of the foods you like, foods you kind of like, and foods you would rather avoid. Do the same with herbs and spices and play a game of connect the dots. Experiment.
- Eat together and have fun cooking and experimenting with friends and family. The process will be much more enjoyable.
CM: I can imagine that raw cooking is an oxymoron, but can you teach us something delicious and simple we can do at home?
PG: (Laughs) Absolutely. I always have greens at home and love wrapping just about anything inside.
The un-cooking lesson
Stepping back into the kitchen, I realized something peculiar about a raw kitchen: There are no ovens or ranges, but rather a lot of counter space and a wall of dehydrators, a powerful food processor, a blender and a bunch of knives.
- A medium size Swiss chard leaf, washed
- Smear of peanut butter
- A few thin slices of ginger
- Slices of apple, skin on
Generously spread the peanut butter on the Swiss chard leaf. Lay the ginger and apple, and roll. Munch. You’ll be surprised as to how the spiciness of the ginger is complemented by the apple while the suave peanut butter playfully mingles with the crisp greens
You can use any green, cashew or almond butter, or tahini. Instant gratification is my type of cuisine.
As we finished, I decided to peruse the menu, taking home a bunch of goodies.
The raw peanut butter pie? Sinful. The "rawsome" pecan pie? An aphrodisiac. The luscious lemon pie? Like the cigarette after good sex.