Eating food that’s alive


BEING on the entertainment beat, I usually blog (setokityan.tumblr.com) exclusive snapshots of celebrities with whom I have had one-on-one interview time, so I am accustomed to drawing celebrity-obssessed followers. But recently, it’s daily pictures of what I have for lunch that have had the number of followers doubling and more, almost overnight.

While I can understand responses gushing about Rain and Super Junior, I never imagined people would get excited about pictures of lunch boxes largely filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds – ie, raw food and vegan bentos.

Malaysians might not be familiar with these terms, so here’s a quick explanation: Raw foodism entails eating uncooked and unprocessed, or “living”, food. All food has natural enzymes that are critical in building proteins and rebuilding the body; heating food too much – more than between 40°C and 46°C – kills these enzymes and could even leave toxins behind, practitioners believe. Vegans follow a vegetarian diet that eschews all animal products, even those that do not involve killing the animal, such as dairy products and eggs.

Neither the raw food nor vegan diet is new but they have yet to catch on in a big way here in Malaysia – or so I thought. When I began tweeting about my lunch boxes, though, I discovered a local raw food community.

It is a fast-growing group of friendly folk who are eager to share their skills, thrills, and spills about eating wholesome foods without preservatives, colourings, artificial flavourings, and other unwanted additives.

If you think that makes raw, uncooked food sound boring and tasteless, the community would like you to think again! To initiate beginners into the practice, these folks hold raw food “cooking” classes.

While some followers keep to simple whole foods for convenience of preparation, others create complicated recipes and meals that taste as good as they look.

The basic tools required in the kitchen of a raw foodist include a sharp knife, a blender, a food processor, and something not so readily available here: a dehydrator. This is a tool that uses low temperatures and a fan to dry food, removing water but keeping enzymes intact. Why would you want to dry food? Well, it seems dehydrated foods can replace the textures and tastes of foods like bread, biscuits, and chips.

Though the dehydrator can “cook” meat (it becomes jerky), many of the raw foodies here are also vegetarian or vegan, which means fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes comprise a major part of their diet.

However, there are also those who consume animal products like raw milk (non-pasteurised and non-homogenised, ie, unprocessed), raw eggs and raw meat, too. They will happily tuck into various versions of raw protein, such as sashimi, yukhoe (raw ground beef seasoned with spices or sauces), carpaccio (thinly-sliced or pounded-thin meat/fish), ceviche (seafood marinated in citrus juices and spice), crudo (raw fish dressed in olive oil, sea salt, citrus juice or vinegar), tartare (chopped raw meat/fish with seasonings or sauces), and prosciutto (salted and air-dried meat).

Raw foodies will tell you there are countless ways to prepare food without resorting to heat or excessive processing. Foods can be juiced, sprouted, dehydrated, frozen, salted, pickled, cured, fermented, candied, air-dried, and brined.

Some folks from the Malaysian community of raw foodists conjured up some goodies to demonstrate the diet’s versatility to this writer, and after that little picnic, a Facebook page, Raw Food Today, was created to spread the goodness of “eating raw”.

Jasmin Choy, 38, is a slim mother of two boys, aged three and five. She and her husband, a social media marketing consultant, choose to work from home so they can spend more time with their children, and ensure that the family eats healthily. The couple are so convinced of the benefits of raw food that they now try to eat raw even outside the home.

“I drink a lot of smoothies outside. My husband eats lots of fruit rojak. Once in Penang, he ordered rojak from three different stalls, to see who’s is nicer and because he was hungry!”

She is wary about going completely raw, though, because her children are still growing; also, the family is unable to go completely vegetarian as one of the boys is allergic to soy and peanuts.

“We have to be careful about eating too much of tree nuts. So he eats meat to get his daily protein. Since we all eat the same thing, we eat meat too. But I don’t eat much.”

She is glad that her children enjoy eating fruit so much that she can even bribe them to do chores with bananas!

Daisy Lee, 44, is a bubbly community health and lifestyle food advocate who blogs at recipesbydaisylee.com and who has dedicated Facebook pages like Raw Food Is Living Food; she works in a local eatery and loves to prepare food.

Armed with a strong passion for veganism, Daisy initially went all the way with her raw food diet. “A year ago, I was a 100% raw food vegan for up to eight months before I decided to go 50-50, which works better for me.”

Recently, she started developing healthy vegan versions of Malaysian favourites.

“I have several varieties of different-flavoured vegan meat jerky, vegan ice-cream, and even vegan belacan ball!

“Now, I’m offering vegan cookies and looking to develop some vegan cupcakes and muffins. The cookies are dairy- and egg-free and are made with aluminium-free baking powder,” says Lee, who even has her own dehydrator.

I couldn’t imagine a Muslim following a raw food diet, not when they have to fast. But Hariz Lee, who has a Malay mother and Chinese father, is gung ho about doing so.

The 24-year-old marketing executive with an educational institution also holds a diploma in the culinary arts so, needless to say, it is a breeze for him to whip up quick, tasty raw meals as well as luscious desserts that would keep you coming back for more.

Fasting during Ramadan has not diminished his enthusiasm for the raw food diet.

“I’m doing good at getting more raw foods before and after fasting. I eat bananas, drink coconut water and eat the flesh and eat green apples, as I get quite dehydrated during the day. And I eat lots of dates to give me energy.

“I exercise after breaking fast and eat something light like lightly cooked veggie and any protein source.

“It is a great way to detox, energise the body and keep the bowel movement going. Also, it helps me lose weight, especially during the fasting month.”

When not fasting, Hariz snacks on mixed nuts like almonds, cashew, pistachio and hazelnuts or trail mix containing raisins, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and walnuts and almonds.

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