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"Status is... For Vegetarians, Eating It All Raw"

By Sara Ivry
New York Times Magazine -- 11/15/98

Vegetarianism, long considered a hippie hallmark, is now mainstream. But the traditional no-meat-no-fish menu is being upstaged by competing practices that advocate a far greater rigidity. In crunchy subcultures in which a "my diet is better than yours" attitude quietly prevails, coolness is gauged by culinary austerity. And the question abstemious eaters like to grill one another with nowadays is this: How "raw" are you?

Raw foodism -- not, heaven forbid, as in sushi, with all its roiling bacteria -- is an interestingly popular diet regime in which adherents ingest only uncooked, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Raw meat is out, as is dairy: both are considered poison in disguise. Other big no-nos include coffee, tea, alcohol, and vitamin supplements. Truly orthodox raw foodists even reject seemingly innocuous products like vinegar, garlic, and herbs, those tasty aditives the rest of us take for granted.

"The purer you are, the more status you have," says Ronni Kolotkin, a recent raw convert from New York City. "The goal is to be 100 percent raw. We pity meat-eaters because we know they're going to die soon. They're killing themselves." Like many other raw foodists, Kolotkin has tested a litany of diets -- vegetarianism, macrobiotic, the all-protein route -- but swears going raw is where it's at. She's not at 100 percent yet (she still nibbles on some pasta every now and then), but she's trying hard.

True raw foodists definitely see themselves as perched at the top of the food chain. "Spiritually and mentally you become clearer," says Ed Lieb, who runs Planet Health, an alternative healing center in Manhattan. "We're elite because we eat things as nature intended."

Certainly raw foodism makes veganism look fairly mundane. That's the diet, formerly on the outer fringe, that considers all animal products and by products taboo. "People say they're vegans -- they're proud of that," says Kolotkin. "But raw foodists think: That's nothing! That's nowhere! We don't eat soy products. We don't eat tofu. No grains. You can't even drink herbal tea. If you have to cook it, you can't eat it."

 

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