Even more than religion and politics, issues around what we eat can touch deep into our emotional cores, bringing up a host of charged feelings and prejudice in ways that can be startling and even confrontational. The raw vegan diet in particular seems prone to touch raw nerves. I've encountered raw evangelists who've accused me of 'poisoning my children' by feeding them cooked food as well as attacks (including, ironically, from vegans) on raw fooders that have also been both disproportionate and irrationally vitriolic (they are just a bunch of obsessive fanatics, cranks, going too far, etc, etc).
In this context Steve Charter's Eat More Raw is a very welcome publication, for it sets out the ethical, health and environmental raw vegan case with informative detail and calm clarity. Yet at the same time it accepts in an open way that raw may not be for everyone (although still has much to offer anyone). What's more, this is also very much a book about permaculture, and doesn't once forget the ethics of earthcare, peoplecare and fairshares and how these relate to ourselves and each other as much as to the planet.
Based on Steve's own researches and experiences, the book is divided into four sections. The first lays out his philosophy of interconnectedness, and the relationships between personal and planetary health, including how food production, processing and diet affect these. Steve reminds us that we are the only species on earth that cooks it's food, and that this is a process that reduces much of its nutritive value. Unprocessed, organically grown fruit, leaves and vegetables on the other hand provide us with all the vitamins, minerals and even proteins that we need to promote vibrant health in highly accessible forms- ask any passing gorilla! Steve's view is holistic- the raw diet isn't the answer to life the universe and everything, but is one element in a 'personal power pack' that also incorporates meditation, creative activities such as art and song, spiritual awareness, community living and forest gardening. And that's where the permaculture comes in as the book applies it's principles and design methodologies (including working with nature, seeing solutions instead of problems, multi-functionalism, zones and sectors) primarily to 'zone zero zero' -- how we 'design the designer' to be wealthy in mind, body and spirit.
The book then goes on to look at the practicalities of going raw, with plenty of advice on making the transition (Steve suggests that aiming for a 50:50 raw diet is a good personal goal, but don't try and do everything at once if it doesn't feel right to you and don't be hard on yourself if you don't 'get it right'), food combining, detoxification processes, raw parenting, possible vitamin B12 deficiency (the odd dollop of yeast extract is probably preferable to risking brain damage...) and maintaining personal balance, as well as a host of tips on getting started in permaculture and forest/paradise gardening.
The last two sections of the book consist of a selection of inspirational writings by Robert Hart, 'Living Foods' pioneer Elaine Bruce, and others, followed by a selection of delicious looking recipes and a highly useful series of appendixes. Steve now lives and works at Ecoforest, a raw vegan community in southern Spain, hence an abundant and diverse supply of sun drenched fruits and leaves is available to him at all times. However I've always been dubious about how raw fooders can sustain themselves in the cool temperate UK without depending on imported fruits and veggies such as avocados, bananas, dates, etc. Appendix 4 addresses this with good advice on creating an all year round food producing system, with plenty of detailed advice on choosing appropriate varieties for an abundant forest garden.
Steve's informed yet informal writing style, along with his clear and simple diagrams, makes this a highly readable volume. Nonetheless I found it very challenging, particularly raising questions around issues such as wheat production, where I have to confess some degree of complacency. Yet even as a confirmed grainoholic (I'm afraid I have neither the will nor inclination to envisage an existence without good bread, pasta or beer) I'll certainly start looking more seriously at alternatives such as maize, oats, quinoa, amaranth, etc in future. I'm also experimenting with Steve's suggestion of eating only raw fruit for breakfast. Far from feeling ravenous by 10 am as I expected, I'm feeling completely sustained up until lunchtime, when I'm eating alot more mixed leaf salads, especially wild plants like red dead nettle, dandelion, lemon balm and chickweed...
In short I'd recommend this book not only to those thinking of eating more raw foods or wanting to apply permaculture to an already predominantly raw diet, but also to anyone who has an interest in holistic health, be it on a personal or planetary scale. Be careful though, it might just change your life...