Thin Slice of Bread

by Francis

 

Last Thursday morning, at breakfast, I ate one quarter of a very thin slice of freshly baked whole grain bread.

A man eating bread for breakfast hardly deserves note, under ordinary circumstances. In fact, I’m certain that, at the very moment I took the first pleasant bite, hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of men around the world were taking bites of their own pieces of bread. Perhaps their bread was smothered with butter, or toasted, or had a little jam on it. Mine was plain.

I make special note of my morning bread because it was the first piece of bread I’d eaten in six months. In fact, it was the first piece of cooked food of any sort I’d eaten in that long. With that piece of bread, I broke my half-year-long experiment in eating a purely raw foods diet.

Raw “living” foods is a fad of sorts. Or perhaps it’s a religion. In any case, more and more people seem to be adhering to some version of it. At its simplest, “raw foodists” eat only plant-based foods that have not been cooked – no meat, no dairy products, no stir-fry, no steamed vegetables, no pasta, no rice, no tofu. And no bread.

At its extreme, raw foodism represents an entirely new relationship with food. It includes an elaborate set of theories about vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. There are special ways of preparing food, using mysterious devices such as dehydrators, madelines, and juicers. Raw foodists focus on “superfoods” – hyped by gurus, the special plants and beans that pack the most nutritious value for their weight such as goji berries, cacao, and wheatgrass. Raw foodists eat seaweed and mung bean sprouts, drink ginger and kale, and soak nuts in water to bring them to the peak of perfection.

Blogs and books about raw foodism tell stories of converts who find themselves feeling dramatically healthier, bursting with newfound energy, and needing less sleep. Nothing of the sort happened to me. My health was similar (I still seemed to come down with colds far too often), my energy level was about the same (I was very energetic in the morning, but needed my power nap in the afternoon), and my sleep requirements remained unchanged (I needed 9 hours a night or I’d be a wreck).

My lack of dramatic improvements in the popular measures of raw food success may result from doing it wrong. Unlike may raw foodies, I didn’t read any of the books written by the “gurus” of the movement. I dislike their questionable credentials, casual disregard for scientific method, elaborate marketing, and self-branded workshops designed more for their own wealth than for my health. In my only foray into guru-originated information, I read a widely disseminated web page by Dr. Gabriel Cousins, one of the leading raw foods authors/teachers of the day. Within the first few paragraphs, he included a mathematical fact so egregiously incorrect that I couldn’t bear to give anything else in his essay any credibility. There was no way I was going to follow his program.

In lieu of reading a guru’s book or splurging on an expensive workshop retreat, I gleaned what ideas I could from online communities and friends, then focused my attention on eating the widest variety of foods I could. My theory, probably as good as any, is that valuable nutrients can be found throughout the plant world, and my body can filter effectively. So I drank smoothies made from rainbow chard, tested several different kinds of seaweed, slathered almond butter on apples, devoured croquettes made from sprouted lentils, added sunflower sprouts and liquid aminos to my salads, and – just for good measure – popped vitamin B12 and vitamin D tablets each morning.

While I can’t claim a dramatic increase in energy or health from my six months raw, I do point unquestionably to some major changes. Most notably, I lost an enormous amount of weight. Everyone, from my barber to coworkers, commented on how thin I looked. They were worried, but my M.D. wasn’t, even after subjecting me to a dizzying array of tests. In losing weight, I felt lighter and my movement came more easily, but my clothes look pathetically huge on me. If I had the money, I might buy myself smaller clothes, but in the meantime I settle for looking something like Ghandi.

Partly because of the raw foods, but also partly, I’m sure, as a result of giving up alcohol and caffeine during this period, I have experienced a profoundly higher level of mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity during the past few months. My work has seemed more focused and precise; my meditations and prayers have seemed more calm and sincere; my relationships with others have seemed richer and more honest. Such an effect is difficult to describe in detail, but I truly believe it to be real.

The last effect of my raw foods experiment is that I love and understand my food at a level previously unimagined. After a while, I started to taste subtle differences in pieces of fruit or in the various leaves in a salad. I could feel the digestive processes more acutely. I enjoyed preparing and consuming food in a new, invigorating way – each bite seemed to deliver a symphony of pleasures into my mouth. Each bite was alive.

After six months of eating only living foods – plant cells with the life force still surging through them, sprouts that were still growing even in the moment I put them in my mouth, and juices that came fresh from the fruit, unadulterated by heat – I was curious how that first piece of bread was going to taste. Would it make me gag? Make me sick? Or fill me with joy and relief?

For a moment, as I placed the bread on my tongue, I was swept back in time. I imagined myself eating the bread of the olde world, baked in a big stone oven with a wood fire, in a village somewhere in Europe, as I prepared to go work in the fields. I felt an instant connection to the history of bread, one of the oldest of prepared foods, with its elaborate heritage. I became one with the yeast.

And then, it just felt dead.

I chewed the lifeless and tasteless remains, got up from my place at the table, and took my plate to the counter.
Am I still a raw foodie? I hate the label. And I am uncomfortable with the implied arrogance of claiming that my way of eating is healthier than anyone else’s, the idea that I might reject some choice cooked morsel if it were offered to me. But as long as I am able, I think the vast majority of my diet will still consist of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Nevertheless, food isn’t religion, and I know that my body is just a vessel for something much more important. So from time to time, I may partake of something outside the raw foods line – a piece of grilled salmon, perhaps, or some brown rice. Or maybe, when it’s freshly baked and the timing seems right, a slice of whole grain bread.

Except next time, I think I’ll spread marmalade on it.

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