A Brief History of Raw Food

As the only species on the planet that eats cooked food (with the exception of the unfortunate animals that find themselves snacking on our trash), humans have turned preparing food, mainly in the form of cooking, from a basic animal necessity to an art form. Now that gourmet raw food chefs around the world are transforming the preparation of the most rudimentary raw food ingredients into masterpieces that can rival any cooked dish, it is interesting to look back and see how we rediscovered the wonder of raw, living foods.

It all began (I’ve been watching Lord of the Rings movies, sorry) ages ago, when men were still the hunted, and not the hunter.

~ 2.5 Million BC – ~ 400,000 BC – Early ancestors of the homo sapiens subsist on an entirely raw diet, mainly consisting of nuts, seeds and fruit. Meat may have been a part of the diets of our evolutionary ancestors dating all the way back to ~3.9 Million BC, but cooking was not invented until 400,000 BC at the earliest.

6th Century BC – Pythagoras, famous Greek philosopher and mathematician, founds a religious movement called Pythagoreanism. He requires his followers to abstain from the consumption of meat and fish, and was was an ardent proponent of eating vegetables raw. His aversion to beans may have been due to the fact that they are not easily digested raw. His most famous student, Hippocrates, becomes the father of medicine.

15th Century – Leonardo Da Vinci experiments with a fruitarian diet.

1830s – Sylvester Graham, preacher and inventor of graham bread, the inspiration for graham crackers (they used to be healthy!), travels through New England during the onset of a cholera epidemic advising people to stick to a diet of pure water and fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. He argues that a vegetarian diet is a cure for both alcoholism and, more importantly to him, impure sexual urges. Being a man of the church and all, the prevention of lustful sins was his main goal. He backs up his claims of vegetarianism being natural by pointing to the original humans; according to him, Adam & Eve were essentially what we would call in modern times, fruitarians.

Late 19th Century – Dr. Max Bircher-Benner cures himself of jaundice through a diet primarily consisting of raw fruits and vegetables. He later opens a “sanatorium” in Zurich, where he helps cure many diseases previously thought to be incurable. He later publishes a book called The Prevention of Incurable Disease, and also invents muesli.

1899 – Arnold Ehret, a German health educator, embarks on a long journey of discovery, which culminates in his self-curing of Bright’s Disease through fasting and a fruitarian diet in Northern Africa. Numerous well respected European doctors had declared his disease incurable before hand. He claims that he is in the best shape of his life afterwards, supposedly completing such miraculous athletic feats as a 1000 mile bike trip in 14 days and walking for 56 hours without stopping or eating.  Upon his return to Europe he begins to spread his knowledge of detoxification through fasting and fruitarian diets. He later opens healing clinics in Switzerland and California.

Early 1900s – Mahatma Ghandi lives for an extended period of time on a fruitarian diet before returning back to his more traditional vegetarian one.


That bowl is filled with the Mahatma’s favorite fresh fruit topped with raw macademia cream

1920s – Norman Walker opens the world’s first juice bar in Long Beach California. Armed with his self-designed hydraulic press juicer, the Norwalk, Walker becomes the modern maestro of juicing. He goes on to write several books on the subject, as well as on other areas of health and natural living. His juicers are still sold today.

1922 – Herbert Shelton publishes his first book, Fundamentals of Natural Cure, and later goes on to found several health schools. A later book of his, The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, becomes a favorite of the aforementioned Mahatma’s. He consults it before commencing his public fasts.

1928 – Max Gerson coins a diet of vegetarian food and organic juice as “The Gerson Therapy” and claims it as a treatment for cancer. He recommends as many as 13 glasses of juice a day! His method is still used today to treat heart disease, cancer and diabetes in several clinics throughout Europe and Mexico.

1930 – Paul Kouchakoff discovers the condition of Digestive Leukocytosis, in which the human body goes into a state of defense against toxins after eating cooked food. He also finds that the body avoids this condition after eating raw food.

1940 – Edmond Bordeaux Szekely opens Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, a camp for healthy living and organic farming. It was there that he began to experiment more with raw foods. He later went on to write Treasury of Raw Foods. The ranch still operates today.

1966 –  Inspired after healing his sick daughter using raw foods, Arshavir Hovannessian publishes Raw Eating in Iran.

1968 – Ann Wigmore and Viktoras Kulvinskas co-found the Hippocrates Health Institute, where they heal people using raw, living foods. Ann helps pioneer the modern usage of wheatgrass juice, and is later referred to as “The Mother of Living Foods.”

1975 – Viktoras publishes Survival Into the 21st Century: Natural Planetary Healer’s Manual, which delves deeply into living foods and the nutritional value of their enzymes, and sells over a half a million copies worldwide.

1984 – Leslie Kenton’s The New Raw Energy helps push raw foods further mainstream.

1994 – Juliano Brotman, widely known as the mysteriously monomial Julianto, opens the restaurant Raw in Los Angeles, which attracts plenty of health conscious celebrity clientele, who in turn hugely increase the popularity of raw food.

Since then, the raw food movement has slowly but surely gained momentum, and now there is a seemingly endless choice of chefs, experts, books and blogs to learn from. Here’s hoping you find the right one.

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