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Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2002 / 28 Kislev, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Raw & steamy food fight | Chances are, someone at your Thanksgiving dinner had a problem with the food - and let you know it. The salt. The sugar. So many fats, so few carbs! So many carbs and so few fats! A bird was hurt in the making of this meal!

Americans love to hate the foods they love, and the most annoying of them will tell you so, even as you're reaching for the sausage and mushroom stuffing. But the newest horde of sticklers at the table make mere low-fat/high-fiber/brown-rice/whole-grain/wheat-grass vegans look like Mama Cass.

They are the life-food enthusiasts. They reject - for a cornucopia of reasons - milk, eggs, fish, pasta, sugar and, of course, meat. But most defiantly of all: They won't eat anything cooked.

Fire? Feh! Rice, bread, long-simmered beans? Those are for the self-indulgent slackers known as vegetarians. When life foodies want a sweet potato, they eat it raw.

"It's happening all over," says Jolyon Helterman, leisure editor at The Week, where his job is to pore over newspapers and magazines from around the country. Doing so, he has found an avalanche of articles on this new movement and raves for a new raw-food restaurant in (all together, now): California.

Roxanne's is the dining hot spot of the moment, with celebs lining up and a month-long wait for reservations. The curious just can't wait to try the noodles that are really young coconut strands or the mashed potatoes that turn out to be raw parsnips, pine nuts and coconut milk. Roxanne's ravioli shells are made from paper-thin uncooked turnip slices. And her pizza is a blend of ground almonds, flaxseed and zucchini (that's the "dough"), topped with fermented cashew stand-ins for cheese.

None of this labor-intensive mishmash is allowed to get heated over 118 degrees because higher temps, supposedly, kill the food's life essence.

Which is hooey.

There's not a scientist around who believes the hokum raw foodies propound: that cooking makes food unhealthy.

"To think that a string bean, once it's steamed, is less beneficial than a raw string bean is insane," says Jennifer Berg, director of the graduate program in food studies at New York University.

In fact, scientists say, many foods are actually healthier once they meet heat: We get more beta carotene from cooked carrots than raw. Cooked tomatoes give us more Vitamin C. Beans, potatoes and legumes release more protein when cooked.

Moreover, who wants to eat a raw potato?

The food fanatics, that's who. In every generation, a movement arises determined to show mom how dumb she was to cook the way she did. Ask me, that's just rejection disguised as enlightenment. Ask Freud, he'd say the same - and pass the brisket. But true believers think everyone with a stove is stupid.

"Cooked, processed, pasteurized, sanitized, sterilized foods are things our bodies were never meant to process," says Dan Hoyt, owner of the three Quintessence raw food restaurants in Manhattan. "People who are into the life-food movement are conscious at all levels."

The only thing they seem unconscious of is how silly, smug and trendy they're being. If cooked food kills us, why is Julia Childs alive and jolly at 90 while the founder of the raw food movement, T.C. Fry (I kid you not), died at age 70?

Face it, when a movement is championed by Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and people turned on by raw turnips, it ain't necessarily grounded in hard science. But it sure makes for a big fuss at the family table.

And that, no matter what they say, is really what the raw foodies love to lap up.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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