One week on the raw food diet

It's trendy, but is it tolerable?

This year has seen Jamie Oliver launch a Food Revolution in the American schools and Michelle Obama plant a White House garden. Food documentaries are hitting the big screen and novelists are writing nonfiction books about their vegetarian conversions and locavore lifestyles. Healthy, fresh food has moved to the forefront of the public consciousness, and along with it, a renewed interest in raw food diets.

If you haven't been keeping up with the habits of many a health-conscious homo celebritus—Uma Thurman, Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman, et al.—a raw diet consists of only uncooked foods heated to a temperature of less than 100 or so degrees Fahrenheit. That means mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but it could also include raw eggs, fish (sashimi), and meat (carpaccio), or unpasteurized dairy products such as raw milk and raw-milk cheese.

Proponents of raw food diets suggest that plant foods in their natural state are the most wholesome foods to eat. While many raw foods are certainly healthful—scientific studies have shown that plant-based diets, in general, can lower cholesterol and improve glucose levels—claims that uncooked food necessarily delivers a greater nutritional benefit or that raw diets may prevent or cure diseases like cancer are less substantiated.

Faking baking: (clockwise from top left) raw versions of chocolate cheesecake, tostada, cinnamon roll, and lasagna
Rachel Hutton
Faking baking: (clockwise from top left) raw versions of chocolate cheesecake, tostada, cinnamon roll, and lasagna
Raw Mexi Wraps
Rachel Hutton
Raw Mexi Wraps

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Pure Market Express

500 Chestnut St.
Chaska, MN 55318

Category: Restaurant > Health

Region: Chaska

Details

Pure Market Express
500 Chestnut St., Chaska
952.452.4865Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert items, and snacks priced $5-$14 apiece

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While raw food subsistence has been around since before hominids adopted the practice of cooking food with fire, some 125,000 years ago, I was prompted to try it by the arrival of Pure Market Express, a raw-focused prepared-meal service in Chaska. The shop consists of a small, deli-like storefront with a few items on hand for drop-ins (if you wait a few minutes, others can be prepared). Pure Market Express sells some items at other retail outlets, such as Lakewinds co-op and Local D'Lish, and the entire menu is available to order for pickup or overnight delivery anywhere in the country.

One day last month I picked up a few items to sample, to test the raw food waters before I took the weeklong plunge. I returned with a Thai salad that would have looked at home in any restaurant or deli—except for its inclusion of curly kale, a vegetable that I've never seen served raw. I also tried an order of bacon jalapeño poppers, filled with ground pine nut "cheese" and topped with "bacon" made of dehydrated eggplant. The mock bacon tasted more like salt-and-vinegar eggplant chips, but overall the poppers were juicy, crunchy, creamy, and savory all at once. They were nothing like the typical batter-fried version, but good nonetheless.

Ditto the tostadas, or flax-based crackers topped with cashew nut "cheese," ground walnut "meat," and salsa. Raw doesn't have to mean bland in terms of texture or flavor: These tostadas had essentially the same anatomy and seasoning of their cooked counterparts. Still, they bore little resemblance to any recognizable Mexican culinary tradition. "It's good," my friend remarked, as she took a bite. "But I'm not going to try to relate this to any sort of food known to man."

Day 1

On the morning I begin my raw food diet, it is cold and dreary outside. I throw on a sweater and a stocking hat, even though it's mid-May. I'd like nothing better than a steaming bowl of oatmeal, studded with plump raisins, sprinkled with brown sugar and pecans, and topped with a splash of half-and-half. Instead, I help myself to a Clark Kent smoothie, which had arrived the day before, packed among dry ice pouches in a large Styrofoam cooler. It is one of the 23 raw items now nestled in my refrigerator: a week's supply of food for $175, plus delivery.

The smoothie is gray and has a gritty texture, like somebody tossed a handful of vitamins into the mix and hit blend. If your idea of a smoothie is a Mango-a-go-go from Jamba Juice, be forewarned that the Clark Kent contains the likes of pulverized spinach, kale, cacao nibs, flaxseed, and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (blue-green algae, to the uninitiated). Remembering what I read on Pure Market Express's website, "Live food makes you feel alive," helps me choke the drink down.

Next I try a few bites of Cocogurt, mock yogurt made from cashews and coconut meat, with a smooth, whipped texture. A few drops of lemon juice do a respectable job of mimicking milk-based yogurt's sour tang, but it would be more palatable if it were topped with fruit or blended into a smoothie.

I follow it up with a raw cinnamon roll, which is nothing like its namesake's buxom, doughy swirls. The pseudo pastry is made of flaxseed, Brazil nuts, medjool dates, coconut butter, raisins, and walnuts, and it tastes rather like Fig Newton filling with hints of salt and cayenne. (It comes with a tasty mock caramel sauce, the remainder of which I decide to save, not knowing what sort of sweet-craving straits I might face in the upcoming days.) The nut-cinnamon paste resembles an energy bar—the sort of thing you'd eat during mile 18 of a marathon, or a daylong downpour on a backpacking trip, or some other desperate circumstance. It reminds me of that mock apple pie recipe on the Ritz cracker box in which cinnamon and lemon juice are used to trick the brain into believing that mushy crackers are baked fruit.

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