When Mills student Mariah Olivera was 14 she became a vegetarian, much to the dismay of her family. When she switched to veganism at 15, her family was still wary, but by the time she went raw vegan at age 16, they were unfazed.
“My family was most disturbed when I became vegetarian,” Olivera said. “By the time I became a raw vegan they were used to it.”
Raw veganism is a diet that completely eliminates all types of animal products, much like a vegan diet. However, the different is that raw veganism does not allow any cooked foods.
According to Robert Alan Ross, who has been studying nutrition for over 40 years, that enzymes are denatured by the process of cooking.
“…when you eat more cooked food you are consuming acidic toxins faster than your body can eliminate them so they back up, disrupting your body’s delicate acid/alkaline balance, a major cause of excess weight and disease,” said Ross on www.rawfoodlife.com.
According to Ross, food should not be cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking it hotter will destroy the natural enzymes that eliminate toxins from the body.
Olivera’s reasons for becoming a raw vegan were much simpler. She chose it for environmental reasons, citing the increased emissions caused by meat production.
“I want to make my carbon footprint as small as possible,” Olivera said.
Mills College professor Bertram Gordon, currently teaching a History of Cuisine course at Mills, says that raw food diets are sometimes problematic because it is hard to define what “raw” food is.
“Cooking is the application of heat,” Gordon said. “Digestion is cooking too.”
However, he said he was “not arguing for or against the raw food” but that the definition of “raw” is sometimes questionable.
Olivera’s diet is simple. She mainly eats soaked beans (such as soybeans), oats and other grains, and lots of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.
“When I first started at Mills people were concerned that I had an eating disorder or that I wasn’t getting enough nutrition,” Olivera said. “But when they hear I eat two cups of soybeans a day, they start to realize I do get enough nutrition.”
For Olivera, the health benefits were obvious almost immediately after.
“I was doing cross country, and my 5k time decreased by 4 minutes.”
Many raw foodists point towards the past, saying that before the agricultural revolution humans solely relied on raw foods to sustain them.
However, according to Gordon, humanoid species learned to cook before the evolution into homo sapiens occurred. Additionally, Gordon said there was evidence of cooking up to 1.5 million years ago.
Harvard professor Richard Wranghan explains in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, that cooking actually lead to the evolution of homo sapiens.
“Cooking enabled hominids’ jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains,” Wranghan said.
Scientific citations aside, Olivera said she is content with her raw vegan lifestyle. Still, her eating habits come up sometimes with her family, who is half Cuban and half Mexican.
Olivera said that despite social aspects of cooking, sharing a meal usually isn’t a problem.
“People expect that I bring my own food,” Olivera said.
Mariah Olivera’s favorite fresh vegetable and tomato chili
Recipe from RAWvolution: Gourmet Cooking Cuisine, by Matt Amsden. Serves 2 to 3.
-2 cups blended tomato (3-4 medium tomatoes)
-1/2 cucumber, peeled
-2 stalks celery
-1/2 red bell pepper, seeded
-1 cup fresh basil, mint or cilantro leaves, or combine
-1/2 cup whole-leaf dulse
-3 cloves garlic, peeled
-1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup Nama Shoyu (or any raw soy sauce)
-1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth.