Bronze-level article

Raw foodism

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from Raw food)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Raw vegan Thanksgiving "turkey". ...mother of God
Potentially edible!
Food woo
Icon food.svg
Fabulous food!
Delectable diets!
Bodacious bods!
Needles are scary
Icon vax.svg
Pricks against pricks
A tortilla is made in a dirty factory by some dude who hates his job, boss, life, and YOU! And he sends that hate into the food, and you eat it and send the hate to the centre of your core being!
—A perfectly reasonable outlook[1]

Raw foodism denotes a popular brand of fringe food woo, centered around the patently incorrect belief that uncooked food is per definition (read: automagically) more intrinsically healthy than cooked food is – or, in other words, that almost everything is a vile poison except for things crawling with known pathogens.

While most raw food diets are related to vegetarianism and veganism, this is not necessarily always the case.

The raw foodist worldview is centered around chemophobia generally, and mainstream raw foodism embraces the anti-vaccination movement[2][3][4][5] and GMO fear mongering[6][7][8][9] while championing homeopathy as preferable to evidence-based medicine.[10][11][12][13] As such, the raw food movement is basically one big crank magnet.[14]


August Engelhardt in 1911
Finally if man subsisted on uncooked food the integrity of his appetite, his thorough mastication and simple meal, would serve to prevent over-eating and save him from one of the most destructive causes operating in civic life. For excessive alimentation is the cause of more disease than anything else which affects his existence.
—Sylvester Graham[15]

The early days of raw foodism were populated by number of quacks, starting with Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister of "Graham Cracker" and anti-masturbation fame.[16] The Graham Diet, while not strictly raw, advocated fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, and butter. It also advocated "Dr. Graham's Honey Biskets" made from coarse whole-grain "Graham Flour", which are not the same as today's Graham Cracker.[17][18] Graham mistakenly believed that his "Graham Diet" would prevent cholera.[19]

In 1877, Gustav Schlickeysen published a dietary treatise, Fruit and Bread: A Scientific Diet. After reviewing the teeth and stomachs of various animals, Schlickeysen claimed, "The natural food of the ape is… uncooked fruit and grain, and reasoning from analogy, we are justified in asserting that this is also the proper food of man."[20]

Starting in the 1890s, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, inventor of muesli, was a proponent of vitalism after the time it had already been debunked by the advent of modern chemistry. He was also a proponent of raw food.[21]

Bircher-Benner's book inspired August Engelhardt, the ultimate raw foodist and fruitarian. In 1898, Engelhardt and August Bethmann wrote a pamphlet, which was later translated into English in 1913 as A Carefree Future: The New Gospel and published by the naturopath Benedict Lust. The pamphlet recommended eating only coconuts. In 1902, Engelhardt traveled to what was then German New Guinea (now part of Papua New Guinea). He lived out his "carefree" dream on a small island called Kabakon, where he was a "Kokovore", a nudist and a sun-worshipper. He established a cult called Sonnenorden (Order of the Sun), which briefly attracted a few other Germans. Engelhardt slowly died alone on Kabakon at the ripe old age of 44 in 1919, succumbing to mental illness, rheumatism, malnourishment and tropical ulcers.[22]

Proponents of raw foodism[edit]

  • Arthur M. Baker, author of Awakening Our Self-Healing Body[23], he is not only a proponent of raw foodism, but also advocates germ theory denial. He is also a supporter of the Natural Hygiene Movement.[24] Support for raw foodism is, according to Baker, also found in the Bhagavad Gita and the Essene Gospel of Peace. Another convincing argument he subscribes to is that Methuselah only ate raw food – and he got to live pretty long, didn’t he?
  • John Benedict Lust, author of Raw Juice Therapy[25] (and The Herb Book), is a naturopath and an advocate of herbal medicine. Lust is a nephew of Benedict Lust.

Premises of raw foodism[edit]

Raw foods were here first, and we were doing FINE! Cooked foods came along, and now we're about to DIE!
—Because typhoid,Wikipedia E. coliWikipedia and similar foodborne illnessesWikipedia certainly brought us longevity in the past[1]

There is no unified source for researching raw foodism. The scientific literature contains very few studies. What is out there is mostly in articles and websites. There do seem to be some agreed-upon premises in the movement.

  1. Humans ate raw food for millions of years and were just fine.
  2. All other animals eat raw food and are healthier and relatively longer-lived than humans. (Never mind that no other primates have ever reached half the age of the longest-lived humans)
  3. Raw foods contain enzymes that are very good for you.
  4. Cooking food produces toxins.
  5. Cooking food can break down some vitamins in food (though it makes them more available — but why worry about facts).[26]

Science rains on the parade[edit]

Examining the premises[edit]

An understanding that certain foods taste better after exposure to fire and heat may go back millions of years to a common ancestor of people and chimps, [Alexandra G.] Rosati proposes. Knowing about naturally roasted fare, early fire-tamers got cooking right away, in her view. That was a big deal, because increased energy available from cooked foods would have fueled brain expansion in Homo species over the last 2 million years, as Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham has argued.[27]
  1. The Homo genus did evolve for millions of years eating raw food, before they learned to control fire (and later discovered cooking). There is no evidence that pre-fire humanoids were any healthier or long-lived than humanoids after the discovery of the control of fire.[note 1][note 2] Humans lived without refrigeration, vaccination, or sterilisation as well, but these are all things that have improved average lifespans. "Wild-born chimps living in a sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo understand that raw food can be cooked, and they appear to prefer cooked over raw."[27][28] And, "wild chimps have been observed collecting and eating charred seeds and nuts from areas recently engulfed by wildfires."[27] Both processing (e.g., slicing or pounding)[29][30] and cooking[29][30][31] improve net caloric-availability of food, both by reducing the need for chewing and increasing nutrient availability. Food processing and cooking likely had an important impact on Homo evolution by reducing the need for large teeth and jaw muscles, then enabling the evolution of larger brains and bodies.[29][30]
  2. There is no scientific evidence that other animals live proportionally longer than humans, or are even healthier. In fact, the human lifespan has increased dramatically over the years, primarily thanks to improved public health provision and advances in agriculture. And it is estimated that animals kept in captivity generally live longer, healthier lives than those that are out there in the wild, although there could be several other reasons for that, as well. Some rawbies are fond of pointing out that certain animals live x times past the age of maturity, and humans do not match this. This, in most cases, is generally considered irrelevant due to developmental differences between species, namely the long gestation and postnatal growth period required to foster the human brain before puberty.
  3. Enzymes are simply protein catalysts that operate at the specific temperature and pH for which they evolved. There is nothing magical about enzymes, and indeed the plant enzymes that raw foodists are so enamored of aren't even meant to function in a mammalian body. In any case, human digestion breaks most proteins (including natural enzymes) down to constituent amino acids fairly quickly, making them nutritious, but inactive. There are some cases where cooking foods can cause the leaching of nutrients (specifically by boiling them); however, this is not true in all cases, and sometimes cooking can even make nutrients more accessible. Finally, those few proteins that aren't broken down quickly by the digestion process can result in a food allergy; many cases exist of people who are allergic to a raw food item but not to cooked versions of the same item.
  4. Processed cooked meat (e.g., sausage) is carcinogenic in humans, while cooked red meat is likely to be carcinogenic in humans.[note 3] On the other hand, cooking also kills bacteria and parasites,[note 4] destroys some natural toxins (for example, cyanogens, lectins, some kinds of bacterial toxins), and makes some foods more digestible by breaking down indigestibles like hemicelluloses, pectins, and complex proteins such as collagen.
  5. A logical explanation for the abundant anecdotes claiming raw foodism makes foodists feel healthier and more energetic has nothing to do with the hypothesis behind the diet, but rather with the healthy incidentals that are necessary to support "raw foods". Like many people, raw foodists have a vested interest in not contracting Salmonella. This forces them to consume more salads and fewer Big Macs.[note 5] Also, raw food diets generally are lower in saturated fats (primarily used for frying), have less processed sugar (which is not considered 'raw'), and are rich in antioxidants (though their value is still debated).


In trying to determine things like "when in human history, did we start cooking foods", and how is development of the brain related to what we ate, many groups have run various trials on how much food modern humans need to consume if they did not have access to meat or cooked foods. Various studies exist, but the basic breakdown is this: for a human to consume enough calories to simply live a sedentary life, on raw fruits and veggies alone, they would have to be eating nearly 5 hours a day if raw meats were consumed,[32] and consuming bucketfuls of raw produce if meat were not on the menu.

On vegetables and nutrients[edit]

Some water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C and B leach out from vegetables upon boiling.[33] In other words, unless the water is consumed instead of discarded, these nutrients will not be ingested. The melting point for Vitamin C is 190°C (374°F) therefore, none of the Vitamin C is actually lost in a boiling pot of water (100°C).[34] Vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids survive much better in the cooking process (in addition to other fat soluble substances).[35] For vegetables, cooking comes with advantages[36] and disadvantages. For example, raw carrots lose polyphenols but increase carotenoid count upon cooking. Microwaving is in fact a great way to preserve 90% of a vegetable's Vitamin C, according to a study.[37] Basically, with vegetables, it's complicated. Cooking foods takes out nutrients but makes more available, but it also depends on the cooking method. In the end, as long as you are eating your fruits and vegetables, this is a very healthy choice regardless of the cooking method[35] … unless you're frying.[38]

In conclusion[edit]

Steak tartare (raw meat) served with raw egg. As close to pure muscle-and-embryo you can get. Yum!
100-200 years ago, people ate organic unprocessed food and didn't have vaccines and lived to the ripe old age of died in childbirth.
—Lauren DeStefano[39]

There is no convincing evidence currently available to fully evaluate raw foodism's supposed health claims and plenty of grounds to be extremely wary of it due to the increased potential for ingesting food-borne pathogens, the most prevalent of which (such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Listeria) are killed by heating your food to a sufficient temperature. There is evidence that in general, people who consume calories that match their activity are in many ways healthier. There is also evidence that diets with less animal fat and fewer calories help prevent cardiovascular disease. These, however, are truisms that equally support vegetarian or flexitarian diets and a general reduction in consumption, and have no real bearing on the possible dangers of cooking. Indeed the issue of getting enough calories from a raw food diet, especially a vegan one, may be one of its foremost problems (unless the rawfooder makes heavy use of, for instance, virgin olive oil) — a problem exacerbated if one actually needs energy for physical labor or is a growing kid.

For raw foodism to prove its health claims, studies could be designed by selecting at least three samples of people to be randomly assigned either a usual Western diet, a raw food diet, or a diet similar to raw food but which allows for heat treatment.[note 6] These three samples would have to be followed over at least a number of years and preferably decades (to catch any long-term problems) to be able to evaluate any statistically significant differences between them in terms of health.[note 7] This study, if practical,[note 8] then might lead to a valid evaluation of raw foodism.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Doughism.

External links[edit]


  1. Unless you believe in things like Adam literally living 900+ years and fire not being discovered until, say, Abraham.
  2. Fire was likely being controlled at least 400,000 years ago by Homo erectus.
  3. World Health Organization: Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat
  4. Try to compare Wikipedia's ist of foodborne illness outbreaks by death tollWikipedia where, as of July 2015, 6 came from meat that either had been or were destined to be heat treated and thus off-limits to raw fooders. In addition, 3 other outbreaks (from peanut butter, canned tuna and vichyssoise) would also have been avoided by raw fooders as all are heat treated. However, that would still leaves 6 major outbreaks against which a raw food diet wouldn't have been any protection (though one of these outbreaks, from raw milk cheese, would have been avoided by raw food vegans).
  5. Of course, salmonella can also be present in salads if it has been transferred from meat, eggs or live animals, for instance via human contact. Not to mention that one of the more serious outbreaks of food poisoning in Europe in recent years, which cost the lives of 48 (possibly 51) Germans, a Swede and an American in 2011,Wikipedia was traced back to raw bean sprouts — exactly the kind of food rawfooders might eat. Interestingly, in East Asia where bean sprouts are part of the traditional cuisine, they are fried in wok dishes or similarly heat treated as a filler in deep fried dishes or soups — unlike their use, raw, in salads in the West).
  6. This would probably mean a vegan diet, but a flexitarian one would do if the rawfooders in question eat raw meat (e.g. steak tartareWikipedia), sushi, or other animal products.
  7. We're pretending that we're mainly dealing with a raw food diet's effect on adults here, but a truly all-encompassing study would either have to include growing children, or raw food needs to be portrayed as at best a dubious diet for children. A somewhat similar situation might apply to the elderly.
  8. Practicality in this case would be dependent on two things: a) the subject would have to be trusted and b) the experiment could somehow be done without double-blind testing. a) is difficult; b) is highly unlikely.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, episode 1.11, Eat This!
  2. Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective? by Neil Z. Mille. The Raw Food World.
  3. Vaccines are Bad! by Karen Becker. Raw Dog Food.
  4. Physiological And Ecological Cleanliness Vs. Vaccination Raw Food Explained.
  5. Vaccine Dangers, Raw Food Saved Jesse Bogdanovich The Raw Advantage.
  6. Why we don’t need GM foods: What the mainstream media aren't telling you Raw Food Life!
  7. How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods Beautiful on Raw.
  8. Monsanto GMO Stops Lobby in Europe The Best of Raw Food.
  9. Chipotle Now Serving a Menu Free of GMOs! by Lynn Griffith (April 2015) The Raw Food World.
  10. Homeopathy Raw Food Explained.
  11. How I Saved My Dog's Life With Homeopathy and Raw Food Shirley's Wellness Cafe.
  12. Raw Food And Homeopathy Is A Blend For Champions by Dagný Ösp Helgadóttir (June 12, 2012 at 9:30am) Homeopathy World Community.
  13. Healing Schizophrenia Through Homeopathy: Two Women's Stories by Lynn Griffith (c. 2014) The Raw Food World.
  14. I am Annoyed and Disappointed: Café Gratitude espouses a raw food diet and a philosophy of self-transformation. But some current and former employees say it's left a bad taste in their mouths. by Sam Levin (Aug 5, 2009). The raw food restaurant was sued for forcing employees to take Erhard Seminars Training.
  15. Sylvester Graham's Lectures on the science of human life condensed by T. Baker (1881)
  16. Lectures on the science of human life by Sylvester Graham (1839).
  17. Tawdry Knickers and Other Unfortunate Ways to Be Remembered: A Saucy and Spirited History of Ninety Notorious Namesakes by Alex Novak (2010). Perigee Books. ISBN 0399536191.
  18. Clan Graham Society This newsletter includes a recipe for Dr. Graham's Honey Biskets.
  19. A lecture on epidemic diseases generally: and particularly the spasmodic cholera: delivered in the city of New York, March 1832, and repeated June, 1332 [sic and in Albany, July 4, 1832, and in New York, June, 1833: with an appendix containing several testimonials, —rules of the Graham boarding house, &c] by Sylvester Graham (1833).
  20. Fruit and Bread: A Scientific Diet by Gustav Schlickeysen, translated by M. L. Holbrook (1877).
  21. Biography of Max Bircher-Benner
  22. Death By Coconut: A Story Of Food Obsession Gone Too Far by Nina Martyris (Friday, December 4, 2015) NPR.
  23. Awakening Our Self-Healing Body: A Solution to the Health Care Crisis
  24. A Critical Look at "Natural Hygiene"
  25. Raw juice therapy by John B. Lust (1959). Thorsons Publishers.
  26. Nutritional Quality of Fruits, Nuts, and Vegetables and their Importance in Human Health by Adel A. Kader et al. USDA (archived from December 29, 2009).
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Apes do the darndest things: Chimps display hunting, foraging skills that may have served early hominids well by Bruce Bower (2:22pm, September 9, 2015) Science News.
  28. Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees by Felix Warneken & Alexandra G. Rosati (Published 3 June 2015) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0229.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 H. erectus cut, chewed way through evolution: Less energy needed to eat sliced raw meat led to smaller teeth, jaw by Bruce Bower (1:00pm, March 9, 2016) Science News.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 [Impact of meat and Lower Palaeolithic food processing techniques on chewing in humans] by Katherine D. Zink & Daniel E. Lieberman. Nature. Published online March 9, 2016. doi: 10.1038/nature16990.
  31. Nutrient bioavailability — getting the most out of food European Food Information Council
  32. The Way We Eat Now: Ancient bodies collide with modern technology to produce a flabby, disease-ridden populace by Craig Lambert (May-June 2004) Harvard Magazine.
  34. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds by Joy C Rickman, Diane M Barrett and Christine M Bruhn
  35. 35.0 35.1 Ask Well: Does Boiling or Baking Vegetables Destroy Their Vitamins?
  36. Thermal Processing Enhances the Nutritional Value of Tomatoes by Increasing Total Antioxidant Activity by Veronica Dewanto et al. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2002, 50 (10), pp 3010–3014. DOI: 10.1021/jf0115589
  37. Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables by Tara Parker-Pope (May 20, 2008) The New York Times.
  38. Effects of Different Cooking Methods on Nutritional and Physicochemical Characteristics of Selected Vegetables
  39. 100-200 years ago, people ate organic unprocessed food and didn't have vaccines and lived to the ripe old age of died in childbirth by Lauren DeStefano (12:52 PM - 3 Feb 2015) Twitter (archived from August 31, 2021).