Raw Food Diets: A Brief History

Greetings beloveds,

Summer time calls up desires for fresh food, cool sweets, and delicious water during these hot days. As such I wanted to share with you all a bit of my academic work on a topic I am passionate about: Food, Spirituality, and Identity. Here’s a bit of work I did on the Raw Food eating practice that covers a bit of its’ history, theoretical basis, and praxis. Enjoy!


Raw food is a relatively unknown subject that has had little research conducted on the subject however, research on this topic is increasing (Hobbs 272; Turner-Mcgrievy 738). Hobbs noted that out of the 24 published research on raw diets in 2005, 15 of the studies were conducted in Finland with only two having occurred in the U.S. (272) There were only two scholarly texts to my knowledge that focused specifically on raw diets and their effects on individuals not in direct comparison to diets that included cooked foods or meat consumption. I will provide detailed information on these studies so that the sparse amount of academic research on raw diets can be understood. This limited amount of research illustrates the depth of how unexamined raw food is and why my thesis will help to fill this gap. Following these two articles I will cover research that included a raw food diet as a factor of their study but may not have focused singularly on raw food since their concentration was aimed more so on the specific foods in the diet, nutritional value, and health implications of following this particular type of diet

The first portion of this review will provide a brief overview of the information that these studies stated about raw food including definitions and rates of occurrence. After that I will focus on the scholarly work that examined raw foods in relation another form of eating such as cooked vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diets. Then I will include theoretical texts that will provide an overview of the various ways in which studies on food, culture, nature and the economy have been studied academically. These scholarly texts deliver a basis to evaluate and analyze the information that is provided by the subjects of this study through their Youtube video blogs. This portion of my review of literature will provide a foundation to understand various theoretical perspectives towards food studies and why raw food is an untapped research topic for those areas. The final section will outline a few of what I consider to be the most pertinent pieces of literature that explore raw food from those who advocate this lifestyle.

The first study is the only study to my knowledge that focused specifically on the attitudes, perceptions and lifestyle of those who self-identified as consumers of a raw diet is Suzanne H. Hobbs’ “Attitudes, Practices, and Beliefs of Those Who Follow Raw Food”. Hobb’s procured her data through non-experimental, qualitative semi-structured interviews from 17 individual’s subjects who were leaders of the raw foods community to Hobbs (Hobbs 273).  Hobbs located her subjects by calculating prominent reoccurring names of authors, lecturers, and retreat leaders of print books, newsletters, magazines, flyers, conference agendas, and internet raw food communities (Hobbs 273). The interviews were conducted over the telephone and taped so that verbatim transcripts could be created (Hobbs 273).

The results of Hobbs research covered the demographics and ideologies of the sample. The demographic characteristics of the sample had a mean age of 46 years old with a range of 31-69 years of age (Hobbs). 11 of the participants were male, 13 were college graduates and 9 held advanced degrees (Hobbs 273). Respondents were physically active and had weight within the normal range according to BMI standards with  men’s BMI ranging between 20-25 with a mean of 21.5 and women’s BMI ranging from 17-26 with a mean of 20 (Hobbs 276). Health care was considered by 59% to be nature, myself or none was sought. 18% used chiropractor, 12% had a practioner (Hobbs 276). The perceptions of the sample in relation to why they participated in a raw diet was because of health advantages, protection from disease, faster healing times, weight control, and more energy (Hobbs 275). There were few challenges associated with following a raw diet but some did find issues with social pressure to eating cooked or non-raw food, getting used to the actual diet, and location (Hobbs 275).

The perceptions of the subjects about raw food diets included what the definition of a raw diet was and how that 18% of the sample identified as raw vegan, another 18% labeled their diet as consisting of raw vegan living foods, and 29% described their diets as 100% raw (Hobbs 273). The average length of time being raw was 13 years with a range of 3-32 years (Hobbs 273). How the subjects defined being raw though was just as diverse as their self-identity labels. A variety of percentages were included in the amount of raw eaten in their diets were completely vegetarian with no consumption of raw meat, fish, or poultry (Hobbs 274). Eighty eight percent stated they were vegan but generally the participants ate a vegan diet for the majority of the time “by not consuming dairy, eggs, meat fish poultry, commercial sweets or conventional, sweetened desserts, or alcohol in a typical week” (Hobbs 274). A consensus of the definition of a raw food diet is that it includes no cooked foods (Hobbs 275).  Some respondents went further and stated a specific temperature that foods could not be heated, enzymes had to be intact, and one said raw foods still contain their life force (Hobbs 275). Most agreed that the definition hinged “on the intention of the dieter” (Hobbs 275). The definition of a living foods diet ranged from one where the foods are still alive when eaten, to depending on time from harvest to consumption (Hobbs 275). Finally 38% said raw and living diets were the same while 31% said a living diet was one step up from a raw foods diet with more enzymes, energy, and life force” (Hobbs 275). In conclusion, these results lead for Hobbs to conclude that Health practitioners could use her results to better understand clients who are raw or aspire to become raw (277). Hobbs asserted though that further research needed on larger raw populations, food handling and preparation practices (277).

The other study that focused solely on raw food was that of Lilli B Link and Judith S Jacobson’s “Factors Affecting Adherence to a Raw Vegan Diet”.  Link and Jacobson conducted an analysis of participants who decided to follow a diet similar Anne Wigmore’s consisting of fruits, vegetables, and wheatgrass juice through the Hippocrates Health Institute (55). An adherence model was used as the theoretical framework which lists that dietary adherence is affected by numerous variables, such as self-efficacy, perceived control over one’s health, perceived severity of the illness social support, readiness to change, past adherence, and sociodemographic graphics to guide their data analysis (Link and Jacobson 53). Link and Jacobson used a pre and post questionnaire as their form of data collection (55). The results of Link and Jacobson’s study indicated that after their time in the program those who adhered to a raw diet increased from 8 pre-questionnaire to 14 post (56). Subjects who stayed with the vegan diet after the program was most closely associated with the factors of having followed the diet beforehand, level of education, “severity of comorbidity disease,” and self-efficacy while being negatively associated with the amount of close social connections and state of physical being (Link and Jacobson 56). In conclusion, five factors were found through the open ended questions could either be helpful or a hindrance in being able to continue on a raw diet after leaving the institute (Link and Jacobson 57). These were 1. Having the means 2. Social support 3. Supportive environment 4. Faith in the program and 5. Emotional state (Link and Jacobson 57). Link and Jacobson felt that a raw vegan diet may assist those who has received a severe medical diagnosis but results suggest that it is difficult to maintain this diet outside of the conditions of the program (58).

Raw Versus Cooked

The argument for raw over cooked food is that cooked food destroys nutrients and enzymes, changes the physical and chemical structure, and when digested cooked food can release harmful by products (Link and Jacobson 53). The other most frequently attributed reason for eating a raw diet is based on thermodynamics and entropy according to Hobbs, focusing on the amount of energy that is available in foods which is considered to be diminished when food is cooked or heated over a certain temperature (276). The opposing viewpoint argues that cooking some foods can be beneficial. Carmody and Wrangham argue that anthropologists generally state that cooking has been used to broaden the foods that could be consumed while others find that the purpose of cooking is to serve as external additional form of digestion to make the process easier (379). Although Link and Jacobs state that non-cooking activities such as soaking, germinating or fermenting may also make those enzymes inactive (54)

Nutrition Value

Nutritional deficiency is a concern in particular for a raw food diet diets because while vegetarian diets has specific nutrients that they may be low in such as iron, zinc, and vitamins E, B-12, and D (Dunn-Emke 1443; Garia et al; Turner-McGrievy 743). The high intake of mainly fruits and vegetables was found to be the reason why it was difficult to absorb nutrient such as carotenoid (Garcia et al 1297). The amount of fat was central to the levels of these nutrient concentration (Garcia et al 129). Research has found more information on the nutrient absorption levels and nutrient intake patterns of those who engage in plant based diets some of these concerns have been alleviated (Dunn-Emke 1443; Lampe 482S). Studies have asserted that low nutrient adequacy is not a concern as long as one consumes a variety of foods and perhaps even some that are fortified (Dunn-Emke 1442-3; Su and Arab 1401; Turner-McGrievy 745).

Plant Based Diets

Variety of ways in which vegetarian or vegan diets can be organized makes it difficult to categorize and discretely label different groupings of vegetarians (ADA 1267). The American Dietetic Association has released an official statement of their opinion about the vegetarian form of eating. As a leading authority of health, eating habits and American dietary culture I have included the beginning of their stance in its entirety.

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes” (ADA 1266).

With this statements those who have conducted research on plant based diets have similar opinions on the subject. Vegetarians were classified into vegetarian for those who ate a primarily plant based diet and vegan or those who ate plant based but refrained from the consumption of plant products (Fung and Hu 7; Hobbs 272; Keys et al 520S; Koebnick 705; Turney-McGrievy et al 739) Much of the research that has been conducted when the subject matter centered on primarily plant based vegetarian or vegan diets suffered from small sample sizes which limits the ability to generalize the results of the study (Hobbs 277; Lampe 487S; Link and Jacobson 58). Small sample sizes also lesson the validity of the results because there would not have been enough data gathered to be able to really assess the benefits, consequences, and attitudes of those who consume plant based diets (Hobbs 277; Link and Jacobson 58).


Physical body structure health was studied much often than any other form of health. Key et al researched mortality rates of vegetarian and non-vegetarian’s and found that vegetarians had the lowest mortality rates in relation to ischemic heart disease (Key et al 522S). No difference was found in the mortality rates between non-vegetarians and vegetarians for colorectal cancer although previous studies had found a connection between the consumption of meat and colon cancer (Key et al 522S). Another physical health conclusion was found from a study on hip fractures of American women and Chinese women by Anderson. Anderson suggests that Western nations may benefit from shifting to a plant based diet but cautions that it is important to maintain calcium levels although calcium is in no way the only factor that affects bone health (541S). Lastly, Ganss et al found that those who consisted of primarily a raw food diet had a significantly larger amount of visible signs of erosion, such as grooves, compared to those who ate cooked foods (79) No direct causal links were unable to be determined though between diet and tooth erosion since other factors such as saliva composition may have played a part as well (Ganss et al 79). There may have been limited research on this topic but the physical state of the body is at times affected by what specific kind of diet one eats. Psychological and mental health was assessed even less in the literature as will be shown next.

Psychological health was only addressed in one work on the relationship between eating disorders and vegetarianism (1523). Authors asserted that young individuals may describe themselves as vegetarian so as to conceal their disordered eating habits but that does not mean that they are actually vegetarians nor that being a vegetarian lead to their eating issue (Robinson et al 1523). Vegetarian diets may help to keep one from developing an eating disorder by limiting energy intake and decreasing risk of becoming obese (Robinson et al 1523).


Raw foodists decide to pursue that lifestyle for health or for weight loss or live in a more “natural” way (Hobbs Koebnick et al 70). In many of the studies of those who either were on a raw diet or switched to a raw diet experienced weight loss (Hobbs, Koebnick et al 70, Carmody and Wrangham 380). Carmody and Wrangham in their study found engaging in a raw diet that did not include caloric restriction still resulted in weight loss so weight loss cannot be directly attributed to the intention to lose weight and not eating enough calories as some researchers have tried to argue (380). Participants of plant based diets that include cooked foods were found to gain more weight and have higher performance levels than raw plant food consumers (Carmody and Wrangham 380).

Gender and Race

Gender differences between women and men were limited. Men were only singled out as having experienced an increase in the amount of nutrients in Su and Arab’s work on the results of salad consumption because they included more salad dressing on their salads (1402) It was hypothesize that this may have increased the palatability of the food, larger portions when there was more dressing, and greater absorption of carotenoids due to the oil (Su and Arab 1402). Also men’s reliance on food for nutrients was thought to have lead for men to have access to micronutrient biomarkers as opposed to women who reported using supplements to meet nutrient recommendations (Su and Arab 1402). As for women, low levels of energy intake are noted in women as being associated with menstrual irregularities or a decrease or menstrual issues such as amenorrhea (Carmody and Wrangham 380). Koebnick performed a study on the difference in effect of either a low fat cooked or raw diet on women’s menstrual patterns. The group was divided into three different groups to find that those who ate large amounts of raw food in addition to having low BMI’s were also those who suffered from partial or total Amenorrhea (Keobnick 74).  No relationship found between those who ate cooked vegan and vegetarian diets and amenorrhea (Koebnick 74).

Race was only mentioned in a few of the studies. It is not obvious if this is because the studies were not racially diverse or because there were not any differences noted often. Su and Arab’s study on salad consumption reported Non-Hispanic Whites are generally known to have more healthful lifestyles than compared to other groups (Su and Arab 1402). African American’s were found to consume more refined grains such as white bread, cereal and biscuits which hold higher glycemic levels which are associated with CAD and serum lipids. Su and Arab recommend that this load can be lightened by replacing refined grains with whole forms (357).

Theoretical Sources

The first source that I will provide is that from a portion of Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of things. This is a work that explores the human understanding of things, being, and politics through an evaluation of various situations. For my thesis I will focus on the chapter titled “Edible Matter,” (Bennett 39). Bennett places food not as an object but as a body of subject that reacts and causes reactions (39). Assemblages are the form by which interactions between different bodies (which Bennett argues can be anything that causes a reaction or could have an action placed upon it in this case the human and nonhuman body) result in various circumstances. In this case the assemblage Bennett focuses on is that of “American consumerism” and the resulting “effect of the ‘crisis of obesity,’ which transitions the discussion. Bennett then moves to discuss scientific research on the subject of food and early theoretical understandings of the human relationship to edible entities and consumption (39-40).

Fat is described by Bennett as an actor of its own volition and a receiver of action (43). When looking at the issue of obesity Bennett states that there must be an “index not only [of] the large humans and their economic-cultural prostheses…but also the strivings and trajectories of fats as they weaken or enhance the power of human wills, habits, and ideas,” (43). This assertion is related to this work in two ways. First directly towards the process of an analysis of food culture and practice, Bennett’s work influences the idea that when studying food to be cognizant of food as an entity that acts and is acted upon. Food rather raw or cooked causes actual physiological, physical, and chemical reactions on all those who come into contact with it be it the grower, the harvester, the distributor, or the consumer.

The second way in which Bennett’s work will be used in this work is in regards to the understanding of food as an independent agent as an angle upon which the attitude and understanding of food for those who participate can be understood. For if food is seen as an active being, this can be applied to the living status of food that is not cooked for those who follow a raw food diet and assist in exploring and explaining how a living food can affect the emotional, cognitive, and physical state of those who consume that food. Moving further into the theory of food in relation to others, Bennett discusses Nietzsche and Thoreau’s perspectives towards foodstuffs. This provides the context upon which the specifics of diet can be addressed because Nietzsche found that food, vegetables in particular, were not sustainable edibles while Thoreau held the viewpoint that eating animal flesh was vile and that vegetables brought about states of creativity. The final aspect of Bennett’s to be used is that of her discussion of the slow food movement. The slow food movement focuses on the moving away from the immediate gratification and fast services of the McDonaldlization of society towards a form of eating that relishes the taste and pleasure that can be derived from paying attention to the food that one consumes, where it comes from and how this affects the world (Bennett 51).

The following two texts that I will be using although represented in two separate texts cover the same topic of the creation and evolution of eating practices within the United States. First, is Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration by Hasia R. Diner. This work focuses on the influence that the multiple identities of the specific groups known as Italian, Irish, and Jewish races as immigrants who were becoming a part of the American population (Diner). The native foods that these groups consumed in relation to their class status from their respective previous location were at times incorporated into the group of foods that eventually became a part of the American diet while at other times may have been eliminated in favor for other foods (Diner). The other text that has a similar topic is Laura Shapiro’s Perfection Salad. Shapiro’s work focuses specifically on the process by which the modern American diet began to be formulated (Shapiro). Outlining the role of gender, work, race, class, and nationality, Shapiro provided the means by which eating and food in American transformed from a household duty to that of a manufactured, processed, indicator of one’s stance in society (). Both of these texts provide the a history of how American food eating, cooking, and preparation practices came into being which will be beneficial to being able to understand why raw foodists may view the American diet, food industry and food related institutional agencies and ideas as they do.

A raw food diet is considered by many raw food advocates as the exclusive consumption of mostly uncooked vegetables and fruits with nuts and at times oils for fat (Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Steven, Wigmore). One can eat a gourmet raw diet of elaborate salads, cashew cheesecakes and many forms of zucchini pasta with “cheeze” which is a cheese substitute created by combining a nut base and nutritional yeast with various spices (Boutenko). Raw dairy products are sometimes included in the eating practice but because there is often a vegan/animal welfare dialogue that is incorporated with this eating style as well, even raw dairy products are avoided (Graham, Rose, Wigmore).  The term raw does not always explicitly mean that food has never been heated but is more so understood to indicate that the items to be consumed have not been heated above a temperature of 115- 118 degrees Fahrenheit (Graham, Rose, Steven, Wigmore). Heating substances for consumption past that temperature supposedly will destroy or make less potent the nutrients of the food (Graham, Rose, Steven, Wigmore). By nutrients I mean the enzymes and vitamins that exist in all food which nourish our bodies and help for them to function (Afua, Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Wigmore). To preserve these nutrients advocates of an exclusive raw food diet believe that one should consume the food as soon as possible after harvest (Afua, Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Wigmore).

In the raw food community there is a major emphasis for food to be alive or living (Afua, Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Wigmore). Cooked foods are “dead” because their nutrients or enzymes have been heated to a point where they are no longer as vibrant as what they were because the heat has caused a reaction leading to the nutrients death (Afua, Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Wigmore). Although the human body creates its own enzymes, there is more energy required for the body to create enzymes then to utilize enzymes already present in foods that are still “alive,” (Steven). A raw food diet however is not only about the temperature that a food is cooked to. Those who practice eating a raw diet also frequently advocate eating primarily organic and unprocessed foods (Afua, Boutenko, Graham, Rose, Wigmore). Many of the raw food advocates experienced harsh health issues which lead to their participating in a plant based eventually raw diet (Afua, Bouteko, Wigmore). Wigmore began her personal journey towards health through raw living foods when she developed gangrene and almost had to have feet amputated but regained her health through eating the green grasses that she found outside (67-70). Bouteko began her journey towards a raw lifestyle when she notes that her entire family became gravely ill. Upon an adoption of eating solely uncooked food, Bouteko noted that her family began to experience rapid improvements in their health including more energy, less physical signs of aging, a decrease in desires for unhealthy (greasy cooked foods) and improvement in the blood sugar levels of her son (11, 21). Experience and personal concern for the health or themselves, their family and society

The general form of knowledge acquisition that Afua, Bouteko and Wigmore use to gain information about health, nutrition, and diet was experiential and anecdotal. For example, both Bouteko and Wigmore credit their grandmothers as playing influential roles in their path to a raw food diet. Having spent her earliest years in an Eastern Lithuanian village where she was raised by her grandmother, Wigmore credits with providing her with the knowledge of the healing properties of the environment and foods (VII, 1). Bouteko also uses informal means of information such as a participant in raw food and independent research to understand the way that the body digests food and the nutritional make up of food. In the Chapter Modern Science Studies Un-Cooking Bouteko begins to provide evidence for the positive outcome of adopting a diet rich in un-cooked vegetables from various health institutes, research studies and health journals which caused for Bouteko to come to the conclusion that greens are vital for one’s health and were even the “most important food for humans.”(12 Steps 16).

Lastly, several of the raw food advocates also make spiritual claims about the effects and influence of eating a raw food diet that ties into the similar argument of the interconnection that exists between all that womanism according to Maparyan makes (Afua, Bouteko, Wigmore).


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