I"m 50 plus some years old, and in I came of age in the 60's and70's, which means I've seen a lot of crazy food fads come and go. Does anyone remember the word "Macrobiotic"? This diet, popular back then among the insane, promised to balance your yin and yang if only you did things like avoid eating food with any flavor. Children of macrobiotic parents would often scarf down hamburgers and ice cream as soon as they were away from home, their bodies desperate for nourishment and the forbidden. And of course, like all diets that promise to balance you out, the practitioners were all drug addicts or the most neurotic screwballs you could ever hope to meet. There was a well-known macrobiotic East Village restaurant, The Cauldron, and the staff were all outpatients. I wll say, they did make the best soba noodles I ever ate, if that counts for anything. You don't hear much about macrobiotic these days, but many macrobiotic ideas are still around. Another popular nut diet involved a long chart of what foods shouldn't be mixed together. I don't know what this was called, but many painfully thin women in the 70s would tack this long list on their refrigerators. Again, another way to remove pleasure from the culinary experience.
Of course, everyone knows a vegetarian or too, many of whom eat fish or chicken. I have no quarrel if you wish to avoid meat, but vegetarians aren't vegetarians because of animal empathy, most do it to feel superior to us lowly meat eaters. Walk into a steakhouse, and the overwhelming mood is of joy, comradery, and happiness. Walk into a vegetarian place, and it's a funeral parlor, the eaters solemnly bent over their plate of bean sprouts, tofu, and whatever else has no taste (if this isn't true, why do vegetarians try to create dishes that mimic meat?). "I don't enjoy this," they probably mumble, "but I it makes me superior to everybody else." I recall eating at Angelica's in the East Village years ago, a high temple of these beliefs, and asking the waitress for some lemon. "We don't do lemon here," she replied haughtily. I apologized for daring to ask for something that might add some taste to my food..
Vegetarianism is also a cheap way to be noticed. You're throwing a party, and you think, "Oh, I'll make a chicken salad for everyone," then you realize, "Oh wait, X is a vegetarian." Vegans are even more annoying, some going so far to not eat honey. "Bee slavery" they call bee farms. Go fuck yourself. If there's any field that doesn't hurt the animals being cultivated, it's harvesting honey. It's in the interest of the harvester to hope his bees flourish. Taking honey doesn't hurt the bees, doesn't kill them, so what is the problem? Vegan women often have problems dating, because let's face it, a guy who says, "Oh, does that have gluten? I'm allergic" is probably not a guy you want to date.
The most extreme food cult is of course the raw foodists. A friend of mine converted to this religion years ago, and a more hapless sorry bunch of morons it'd be harder to find. First, the idea of raw food is ridiculous. Many foods require heat to make them edible, and even signal desireability through cooking. Broccoli is a pale green, but when cooked, turns a beautiful vivacious green, and the chemical that's good for you in tomatoes is only released through cooking. Also, there's no culture that doesn't cook. I can't think of any society based on raw food at all. Even the most primitive tribes have fire, and a way to cook. Also, like all food cults, they make idiotic claims for themselves. It cures cancer, it cures athlete's foot, you won't age, etc. etc. If somebody wants to eat raw food, go ahead, but don't make pumped up bullshit unproveable claims, or invent theories. I love pork, but I don't claim any mystical properties for it, I just like it.
For years, vegetarians used to justify their diet with the animal kingdom. "Chimps don't eat meat," they'd say, but then it turned out not only do chimps eat meat, they wage war on each other and cannibalize their neighbors. Okay, not such a good example. Then they used dolphins, but it turns out dolphins eat each other too. Here's a word to the wise: animals are pretty diverse, you can find a species to shore up any argument. Monogamous animals, sexually perverse animals, celibate, whatever. It doesn't prove anything about humans. In the 60's there was a famous study of rats & overcrowding. Apparently, they became neutotic, masturbated, etc. This was supposed to show something about humans in cities, but even as a kid, I said, "Well, now scientists know a lot about how rats behave if rats lived in crowded apartments, but they don't. And notice, rat brain, size of a pea. Human brain, a bit bigger.'
Another religious aspect to being a raw foodie is the cleanse, an idea that's a hallmark of most food nuts. Either through fasting or some elaborately unpleasant diet, you're supposed to get the toxins out of your body. Obviously, none of these people took elementary biology. People who do these claim years of crap gets flushed out of their systems. But the stomach digests food by breaking it down with hydrochloric acid. In mad scientist movies, the vat of acid with the huge skull and crossbones, is either sulfuric or hydrochloric, and this acid is what attacks your food. Unless you've been eating metal or glass, nothing stays in your body for years. The intestines use bacteria to further break down food, take out what the body needs, and what's left is pushed out as waste. Getting colonics, anothr food nut belief, is actually harmful, because they flush out the necessary flora the intestines need to do their job. If you want things to flush normally, drink lots of water.
But raw foodists are always cleansing, and falling off the wagon, because I think the body rebels against so boring a diet. And then it really is like Christian Science: if you die, it's not because disease doesn't give a fuck how you pray, and Christian Science is dead wrong, it's because you didn't believe enough. So my friend has been cleansing for years, constantly backtracking, and constantly starting again. She thinks it'll cure her asthma. That fact that she's been eating raw food for years, and it hasn't changed her breathing isn't a fault in the diet, it's because she's not rigorous enough in following the true path.
Americans seem to enjoy any cult that removes pleasure from simple human activities. Eating, sex, walking, whatever, there's some doctor or theory to drain the pleasure out of it. I recall a study saying you shouldn't drink cold liquid, it shocks the system. Maybe if you're a neurasthenic, but I love cold liquid. I store a glass in my freezer, permanently filled with ice cubes. Cold water is a genuine pleasure to me. Now I'm supposed to give this up too? Anything that causes pleasure for it's own sake seems to make Americans nervous. Perhaps that's why so many glom on to these rigorous diets, founded not on good culinary principles, but vague wackjob theories.
Quite frankly, even if you could prove that eating uncooked food makes you immortal, I'm not giving up the pleasures of a well grilled steak, a juicy hamburger, a porkchop, or a nice broiled piece of fish. If you can, more power to you, and have a nice life.