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"A fruitful lot"

Saturday, October 02, 1999
by Laura Pratt
National Post (Canada)

Fruitarians survive on nothing but the likes of lychees, watermelon and mangoes, and steer clear of anything that has eyes. Is it the key to a long, healthy life or one step removed from starvation?

Frederic Patenaude can wake up without an alarm clock. He can swan about on the beach for hours and never get a sunburn. He has less gas than he's ever had, his breath is as fresh as an anti-static dryer sheet and he's enjoyed an extraordinary run of good luck in the past several months. Patenaude credits all of this to his choice, two years ago, to cut a substantial chunk out of his diet. Today, the Montreal native who recently relocated to the more "conscious" metropolis of San Diego, eats fruit. And, apart from the occasional pecan and spoonful of raw honey, that's pretty much all he eats.

No one knows for sure how many fruitarians there are in the world. But at least one thing is certain about these folks -- whose membership included the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi -- they're a fruity lot. Fruitarians do not indulge in any dairy products. They steer well clear of anything "that has eyes." Many of them believe that vegetables have feelings, and that it's the height of cruelty to deprive them of their vitality by throwing them in a stew. Eating a fruit, on the other hand, does not murder the tree or bush that produced it. Indeed, you're doing it a favour by relieving it of its seed and, like Warren Beatty in his pre-Annette Bening days, spreading it around.

Skeptics' first question is how a person could possibly get the protein and fatty acids they need from a bowl of fruit. The trick, it seems, is to eat bushels of the stuff (four kilograms of fruit daily would satisfy your protein requirements) and to fill up on are much higher in protein and fat than other fruits). Or you could do what Patenaude is doing, and hit up a lactating friend for a regular swig of human milk.

Mother's milk aside, Patenaude's diet is fairly typical for a fruitarian. He'll start the day with a glass of juice and a plate of assorted fruit. He loves sweet stuff, so Patenaude fills up on cherries, apricots, cantaloupes, watermelon, mangoes and papayas when these fruits are in season. In the afternoon, he'll break for a couple of servings of non-sweet fruits, such as avocados, red bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. He washes it all down with coconut water. In the evening, he'll prepare himself a big kale, lettuce and avocado salad, then pop a few chunks of coconut and handfuls of sunflower seeds into his throat for dessert. Before bed, Patenaude might snack on an apple and have a mug of green juice, a type of fruit juice.

Meals don't mean much to Jennine Annear. She became a fruitarian in early 1997, and this 29-year-old, stay-at-home mom from a small town in Ontario, says she doesn't think about food in terms of breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore. "I just eat when I'm hungry." On one particularly muggy summer day recently, Annear resolved to limit her intake to half a watermelon.

In the winter, to stave off the cold, and the cooling effects of most fruit, Annear indulges in a baked potato or a squash. Her three-year-old son, meanwhile, has drifted from his mother's healthy influence and would just as soon have a Happy Meal as a bowl of plums. "My son loves McDonald's. He loves french fries and he loves ketchup. My husband got him into all that stuff. It doesn't make me feel good, but I can't do anything about it."

The worldwide leader of the fruitarian movement is Rene Beresford, who lives north of Cairns, Australia, and heads up the internationally peopled Fruitarian Network. He produces the quarterly Fruitarian Network News and manages the private donations that trickle in, all in aid of funding a property "to grow our own fruit trees, and for therapy where people can come along for regeneration, rejuvenation and to learn about the lifestyle of a predominantly fruitarian diet." Beresford revised his dietary habits in 1974 as a reaction to fears that he was becoming an old man. He first limited his menu to "whole foods," such as organically grown meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products, and a kidney stone surfaced, which Beresford had surgically removed. Next, he volunteered to be treasurer for the Natural Health Society of Australia and then split off with others to form a group of "raw fooders." Meanwhile, Beresford's wife, who witnessed her husband's "unexplainable urge to devote himself to things spiritual while concentrating on health," grew increasingly distant. She left him one August day in 1987, when the devout core of the Natural Health gang dared each other to take their pursuit of wholesome living one step further, and to slash all but fruit from their rations. "I didn't do this for the sake of health," Beresford recalls, "but because I thought it was rather fun to eat mainly fruit."

After that, it was like General Electric moved into Beresford's brain and switched it alight. Colds, flus, headaches and body odour haunted him no more. He no longer had to turn on the fan in the bathroom. And a feeling of joy, that remains with him to this day, washed over his being. "It all made sense," he enthuses.

Sometimes, Beresford, who is "not afraid of his age" (70), cheats and eats a green salad. Sometimes he has a potato or a piece of wholemeal bread with an avocado on it. "I do not want to be a fanatic about the diet," he says without a trace of irony. Christine Jans, who lives in Calgary, hasn't eaten meat for years.

When she first went vegetarian, she caused a serious furor within her circle, which regards the body's urgency for steak as fundamental. But Jans stuck to her guns, in part because she could never find a satisfactory answer to why she would eat a cow if she wouldn't eat her dogs. And she didn't fancy eating her dogs.

Just the same, this hospitality manager still struggled with repressed guilt over her murderous ways when it came to her taste for vegetables. She felt uncomfortable when someone gave her one of those, "Oh yeah, well carrots have feelings, too" responses to her defence for not eating animal flesh. And then she stumbled across fruitarianism, an ism she'd heard of, but had never explored "because it seemed so flaky in a fluffy new-age type of way."

Since June 2, Jans has devoted herself to the new age. She has lost weight, become less sensitive to cool weather, cut her requirement for sleep in half and attained a natural high. She likes being a fruitarian because "it's such a cruelty-free and sensuous way to live. Fruit is ambrosia for humans. Every meal is pure pleasure."

Kosotie, an unemployed Swede who goes only by a single name for "spiritual reasons," went fruity four years ago. He argues that the biggest challenge for a person who has made such a life choice comes when confronting the rest of the world with it.

"Society has such a fear of new things," he sighs. "People are always clinging to old traditions because they know what they have but not what they will get. So someone has to clean up the road for them and make it easier to try new things, which will only benefit them."

Kosotie, 38, is doing his share of cleaning the road by spreading the news about the benefits of a fruit-only diet, and about his fruitarian organization, Justa Bananer. Kosotie grew up in a small village in Sweden, drinking beer and eating burgers and pizza. Then he joined an animal rights group at age 28 and discovered the connection between food, animals and health.

Today, Kosotie survives on pawpaws, figs, cherimoya and other fruity delights. He never has to wash the dishes or throw out food packaging. He never sweats when he exercises, and his unexplained rashes have disappeared. He claims to have no mucous in his nose.

Daniel Greene has had mucous-free periods in his life, too. But he's given up this clarity in favour of what he feels is ultimately a better choice for his health. This San Diego sign-language interpreter/singer/actor/dancer decided to become a vegetarian when he was about 16 because his mother returned to school and he took over cooking duties. This meant struggling to wash a thick cake of white fat off his hands post hamburger production, or preparing a chicken whose fleshy uncooked presence made it impossible to ignore that he was eating a corpse. So Greene left his mom in the kitchen and took the Hare Krishnas up on some free dinners at their temple, where he learned about vegetarianism.

Eventually, this self-professed mystic became a fruitarian in1987. And although he returned to the movement periodically over the 10 years that followed, he's emerged from the experience with a bad taste in his mouth. Every time he's tried it, he's lost scads of weight and suffered periods of weakness.

"That combination made it very difficult for me to function socially, and even to make a living. I looked skinny, and everybody worried about me. It's just not workable." What's more, when Greene limited himself to such an exclusive menu, he would constantly obsess about all the bad foods, and ultimately go ballistic on potato chips and chocolate-chip cookies.

Nancy Schwartz, interim president at the National Institute of Nutrition in Ottawa, isn't surprised. While she says she respects all kinds of philosophies and beliefs regarding what people shove in their pie-holes, she thinks a diet consisting principally of fruit is a farce. Filling up on watermelon and lychee fruit, she says, will put you at serious risk for iron-deficiency anaemia and impaired bone health. There's not enough iron, calcium or B12 for a human being to survive on, she says. "What most of us would like to see people strive for is a little more balance. Eating a wide variety of food, in moderation, and not eliminating or depriving oneself of any major group, is the best route."

But David Klein, a health consultant living in Sebastopol, Calif., says he has no regrets about his decision, in 1984, to switch to a100% fruit diet. He says he misses nothing about his New Jersey upbringing, powered by meat, bread and plenty of junk. At 41, he feels like a teen most of the time. The colon disease that plagued him for years has completely gone, as has his memory of headaches, low energy and sapped mental strength. Life, he says, especially eating, is simple and easy.

"I like to tell folks that fruit is brain food," he says. "Glucose is the brain's only food, and raw, sun-ripened fruit is the best source. What do you think is the best way to a fruitful life?"


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