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Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets

by Brenda Davis, RD and Vestanto Melina, MS, RD (with Rynn Berry)
2010, Book Publishing Company, Summertown, TN 38483.

Review by Kirt Nieft
Copyright © 2011 by Kirt Nieft. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

Here is a book from the establishment about raw veganism. The authors have long time associations with all the proper institutions, such as the American Dietetic Association and the North American Vegetarian Society, among others. I am guessing that they are kinda like the radicals of the ADA–the fringe of the extremely mainstream, so to speak–advocating for vegetarianism, juicing, etc.

So for starters, this book is nothing like the rest of the raw vegan books in tone. There is no real extremism to be found. What would the ADA have to say to the aspiring raw vegan? We find out in Becoming Raw; a lot of numbers having a lot to do with various molecules; calls for moderation; and plenty of straight, but gentle, talk about some of the sillier lore of rawists (enzymes, food combining, etc.).

We still find the generalized assumptions of vegetarianism dismissing animal foods without much real effort. The word “evolution” is nowhere to be found, of course, but at least the reader doesn’t have to suffer through the usual distortions of human history and prehistory present in so many books proposing veganism. The authors appear to take it as a given that someone who would buy the book is already into the idea. Indeed, the “philosophical” stuff is confined to the slight (8 page) first chapter, and refreshingly asserts that cooked food is not evil.

Rynn Berry then contributes a 16 page history of raw veganism. The back cover blurb says “for the first time anywhere...a coherent, objective narrative tracing the history of the raw-food movement in the United States”. He goes back to Graham in the 1830’s, brings us along through Shelton, Bragg, Wigmore, and the rest of the usual suspects. Berry gives a plenty of space to Essene and Christian rawists. (The only mention of Nature’s First Law is listing David Wolfe as an Essene minister.) Much of his research seems to have led him to Chet Day’s web pages, which are frequent in the references.

The next chapter summarizes the paltry research relating to raw vegan issues, but tends to end up talking as much about vegetarianism. Indeed, the rest of the book reads like a modification of the ADA take on veganism (which the authors have written previously: Becoming Vegan). We travel the big words along several tracks including energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, carbs, fats, pH, etc. complete with dozens of charts and tables. I doubt many readers will do more than skim the bulk of the book, unless they like to read textbooks similar to what a Registered Nutritionist has mastered. Of course, I had to read every word, and between the chemistry and the charts I kept track of the stuff that actually was useful to keep an aspiring raw vegan from screwing up their health with the diet, and to a lesser degree, screwing up their mind with dogma.

The authors get so many things right. Amidst the mini-lectures on BMI, carbs, oils, and the charts that often have nothing specific to do with raw veganism, there are clear and correct discussions of many issues that raw vegans will need to face. Bone density, caloric intake, and dental health issues are found in and around verbiage about calcium, selenium, iodine, zinc, protein, and Vitamin D. While raw veganism scores highly on most of the laundry list of nutrients, the authors are frank about the problems that can occur. Further, they provide solutions and approaches to avoid trouble. Oftentimes it is as simple as eating some cooked grains and/or starchy vegetables. Sometimes, for example B12, supplements are called for.

A rational discussion of food combining gets a sidebar, and enzymes get a whole chapter. The proper conclusions are made in every case, and this is why this book is a stand out as the most rational tome regarding raw veganism available. The price the reader pays for this is that most of the book is more skimmable than readable. It ends with the obligatory menus and recipes (get ready to juice like crazy and eat a pound or more of greens per day!)

I have minor gripes. The authors pretty much assume that raw means raw vegan, and there is not a single mention of raw animal foods and what nutritional powerhouses they may be for vegans suffering deficiencies. Most of the charts and tables list only non-animal foods as well. Further, there is no summary emphasizing the list of pitfalls a raw vegan faces. The possible nutritional problems are explored along the way, but may never get read by skimmers. A summary of the cautions presented throughout the book would make a useful addition to any future editions of Becoming Raw.

Is this book the “growing up” of raw veganism? Maybe it could help some individual raw vegans grow up, and simply be a referenced counterbalance to the plethora of “rawsome” books out there. But my take is that the registered dietitian authors saw the growing mention of raw veganism in the media and figured they could do a book on that too. Then again, the main authors also penned The Raw Revolution Diet.

Fractionally, I’d estimate that a third of the book is generic nutritional info, another third deals with vegetarianism and veganism, and a fourth spins that info on raw veganism or deals with straight raw issues. The last twelfth is either the recipes or the missing piece, depending on your perspective.

--Kirt Nieft

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