Dr. Doug Graham could be a poster child for the raw-food movement.
The 47-year-old Florida professional health trainer and public speaker from Florida was brimming with so much energy he nearly bounded off the walls during his lecture at Vegetarian Summerfest 2000, the North American Vegetarian Society conference held earlier this month at UNCA.
One moment, Graham was half-kneeling, half-leaning on a desk in front of his audience. The next moment, the barefoot lecturer climbed on top of the desk to make a point.
Graham — a chiropractor by training — is hailed as a leader in the raw-food movement, which calls for a diet of raw fruits and vegetables, sprouts, and a few seeds and nuts. In other words, no animal products and no cooked foods. For Graham — who authored a booklet called Grain Damage: Rethinking the High Starch Diet — it also means no grains. The raw-food movement, he said, is gaining momentum.
“It’s becoming a force to be reckoned with,” Graham declared after his lecture.
The modern raw-food movement began about 15 years ago, Graham explained; it has mushroomed over the past five years. Last year, he knew of only one raw-food “event” in the world; this year, five major ones are taking place. In addition, last year’s North American Vegetarian Society conference featured only one lecture on raw foods, he pointed out, whereas this year, Graham alone gave four lectures at the conference. Graham is even leading what he has dubbed a “Cultural and Raw Foods Adventure” to Thailand this fall.
Some young people, he noted, are forsaking a standard American diet and going straight to raw food (bypassing the intermediate steps of vegetarian and vegan eating). Graham, a former meat-eater, has followed a raw-food diet for 18 years.
And although Graham acknowledges that he’s a leader in the raw-food movement, he notes that his real specialty is “natural hygiene” — which he defines as the science of human health. He’s held several high-profile positions in natural-hygiene organizations, including a stint on the board of directors of the American Natural Hygiene Society. The philosophy behind natural hygiene holds that a host of requirements must be satisfied for people to thrive, Graham noted. One of them is a raw-food diet.
Others, according to the Hygiene Society’s Web site, include getting plenty of sleep, vigorous exercise, fresh air, sunshine and distilled water — along with developing self-esteem, social skills and meaningful relationships. Natural hygiene’s philosophy of living in harmony with nature “emphatically rejects drugs, medications, vaccinations and treatments because they undermine health by interfering with, disrupting or destroying vital body processes, functions, cells and tissues,” according to an article by T.C. Fry and David Klein found on Living Nutrition magazine’s Web site.
But Graham didn’t stray far into the topic of natural hygiene at the Asheville conference. Instead, he focused on his raw-food message, which combines health and environmental concerns.
“Creatures are born with everything they need to survive, but they’re not born with stoves,” Graham said outside the lecture hall.
In fact, cooked food is the “new food experiment,” he maintains. “People ate raw for 2 million years before they ate cooked.”
In 1900, said Graham, Chicago’s raw-food club boasted 5,000 members. But pasteurization and fear of germs, along with modern medical technology that developed around World War I, squashed the movement.
So what is it about cooking food that’s a problem?
“What isn’t it about cooking foods that is the problem?” Graham replied.
Cooking drains or destroys important nutrients, said Graham. Also, cooking isn’t environmentally friendly, he noted, asserting that most of the wood burned in the world is used for cooking. By eating raw fruits and vegetables, Graham saves the water, soap and electricity that he would have used to prepare and clean up after cooking food.
“Eating cooked food is a slow death,” Graham proclaimed, asserting that the body responds to cooked food by producing a surge of white blood cells.
But the raw-food enthusiasts couldn’t entirely get away from cooked food at the conference: Cooking classes were being held in the same building as his presentation. One woman even told Graham after his lecture that she’d been “repulsed” by a cooking demonstration.
Although he’s not disgusted by cooked food, Graham revealed that he doesn’t desire it anymore, either.
“I know it still tastes good,” he admitted. “People that eat spiders and flies and rats think they taste good. But if you look at universal appeal, fruit has universal appeal.”
During his lecture, Graham laid out his theory on how a raw-food diet results in better athletic performance.
In essence, that type of diet funnels less of the body’s fuel toward digestion, leaving more energy for physical activity, Graham explained, citing a European study that compared runners who ate different diets.
For raw-food believers, “the digestion happened on the tree,” Graham said. “It was called ripening.”
About 45 people packed a small lecture hall to hear him. Wearing a T-shirt, shorts and sandals — which he immediately slipped off his feet — Graham told the group that if people lack the proper amounts of water, sugar and salt, their athletic performance will suffer. He advocated drinking water before, during and after exercise. The best source of sodium is vegetables, such as tomatoes and dark-green leafy vegetables, he said, and sugar is best obtained from whole foods such as fruits.
“I gotta ask you, ‘Where do they get their protein?'” he tossed out to the crowd, mimicking a raw-food critic; the audience responded with smiles and laughs.
He offered up an example of someone hospitalized in an intensive care unit, with only an intravenous drip of saline and sugar water to sustain them.
“Nobody’s worried about them getting protein in the hospital for weeks and months,” argued Graham, yet everyone seems to think people on a raw-food diet should get protein at every meal.
Despite the common athletic practice of carbo-loading with pasta, Graham opposes it, especially since most people add oil and sauce to their pasta. By doing that, he declared, the athlete is “shooting himself in the foot.”
Graham — a former trampoline competitor and coach — works as an athletic trainer in Marathon, Fla., when he’s not on the lecture circuit. His better-known fans include tennis great Martina Navratilova and New York Knicks player Ronnie Grandison. Lesser-known, but still impressive, is Rudy Carti — who holds the world record for 151,000 abdominal crunches in 48 hours. All three contributed glowing comments to the back cover of Graham’s 1999 booklet, “Nutrition and Athletic Performance.”
When pressed, Graham (who says he eats twice a day) revealed to his audience that his typical diet consists of a fruit for breakfast and all the fruit he cares for — along with vegetables — for dinner. Most of the time, he’ll eat one food at a time, such as tomatoes, until he’s satisfied. He says he eats no beans but some nuts.
Graham said his diet includes 10 percent fat, much of which he gets from fatty fruits, including Florida avocados. In addition, lettuce, he declared, “has lots of fat in it.”
But he cautioned that the average person could no more successfully plunge into his diet regimen than they could into his training regimen.
“You have to build into this,” he advised.
One woman asked what he thinks about a diet consisting only of fruits.
“I don’t know of fruitarians who have succeeded in the long run,” Graham said, explaining that vegetables are the best source of minerals. “People who try to live on an all-fruit diet eventually get into trouble.”
He likened an all-fruit diet to drinking seawater when you’re thirsty: “They try to solve [their] problems by eating more fruit.”
Someone else asked whether a raw-food diet provides enough vitamin B-12. Graham answered that organic produce supplies people with enough B-12 within and on the surface of the food — but that those surface vitamins are diluted when people wash the fruit or vegetable with chlorinated water. Almost all people with B-12 problems are carnivores, he claimed.
“The best source of all minerals is dark-green, leafy vegetables,” Graham allowed.
But licensed dietitian/nutritionist Carol Fenwick, who practices at The Lifestyle Enhancement Center in Asheville, seemed skeptical of many of Graham’s assertions. Vitamin B-12 is found in animal products, she said, so vegans usually take dietary supplements to make up for it. A B-12 deficiency may take several years to show up, she said, but it can lead to pernicious anemia.
As to lettuce containing much fat, she remarked that most lettuce has only a trace of fat in it. An entire head of iceberg lettuce yields a gram of fat, according to Whole Food Facts, by Evelyn Roehl.
Fenwick also worried that if people on a raw-food diet felt deprived, it might lead some of them either to develop an eating disorder or to use the diet to cover up a disorder.
Graham’s audience, however, voiced enthusiasm for his ideas. Yet despite his hearty reception, Graham revealed after the lecture that he still has to defend his beliefs — noting that he’s been called a health nut and kidded for eating “rabbit food.”
“It would be socially unacceptable for me to ask them, ‘How do you like your vulture food?'” Graham pointed out.
“There are a zillion signs that living healthfully is unacceptable,” he said with a sigh.
Undaunted, though, Graham continues to promote the benefits of eating raw fruits and vegetables — rejoicing in the movement’s growing popularity.
“Now,” he noted with satisfaction, “There’s lots of us.”
Raw-food workshop to be held in August
A local raw-food workshop will be held Aug. 4-5 in Hendersonville. Topics will include increasing the amount of raw and living foods in one’s diet, a review of the many varieties of living foods, hands-on preparation of food, and striking a balance with a living-foods diet. The retreat also will feature sunrise and sunset meditations, yoga, hiking and time for relaxing.
The workshop will be conducted by Victoria Jayne of Portland, Ore. Jayne is an associate instructor from the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, an ordained Essene minister, and a licensed clinical social worker. She has also trained for the past 10 years with Dr. Gabriel Cousens (physician, author of Conscious Eating, and another prominent promoter of raw-food living).
The workshop will be held at a private home in Hendersonville. To register and get directions, contact Mary Lou Wilson at (615) 368-7062 or (828) 698-6537. The cost is $275, with raw/living-foods meals included.
Aside from the workshop, people interested in participating in a local raw-foods group can e-mail BePeace18@aol.com.