The Raw Deal

'Living foods' prepared without cooking

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June Florence looked down at her body. After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, she was tired and heavy. She felt horrible, but every time she asked doctors if there were changes she could make in her diet that would help her heal faster, they told her, "You look fine. Whatever you're doing is fine."

"That was my red light," Florence said, "because it wasn't fine."

It was a chaotic time, she said. Doctors spoke to her from all sides -- do this, don't do that.

Florence was 44 years old. She spent summers in Hawaii working as a personal trainer and winters working for ski patrol at the Steamboat Ski Area. She was active. She was a vegetarian.

"But I was a bad vegetarian," she said. "When things got busy, I relied on bread and dairy."

Despite what she was told, Florence decided to change her diet. The first thing she did was cut out cheese.

"I felt better right away," she said. "And focusing my food choices gave me something rock solid I could control."

A true lifestyle change came during that time. She was leaving her favorite health food store on Kauai and saw a new restaurant across the street, a place called "Raw Experience."

As she passed through the doors of the restaurant, she was walking into a new world she has yet to leave.

"A man greeted me and asked if it was my first time at the restaurant. He brought me a juice and some books I could read," Florence said.

Raw food, or living food as many call it, are foods that contain all their enzymes and minerals. Enzymes begin to be destroyed at 102 degrees and are completely destroyed at 126 degrees.

Therefore, living food chefs soak, dehydrate and blend foods instead of cooking them. As the food trend develops, so do the recipes. There's more to living foods than vegetable trays and salads.

Florence has a recipe for "live" meatloaf, for pates and elaborate desserts.

After her visit to the Raw Experience in Hawaii, Florence signed up for a six-week Sunday morning "cooking" class in the restaurant's kitchen.

"I brought one of my (personal training) clients with me, and she was losing weight and having a great time," Florence said. "And the more I did, the better I felt. I knew I wanted to do more. Food became my passion."

It was 1997, and Florence was reading every book she could find about "what's wrong with the American diet."

It started in the 1950s, she said, with TV dinners.

"Now, it's all about convenience, and 'instant' became the criteria for our food," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's nutritious, if people will buy it. If you can put it in the microwave, you don't have to shop or create or spend time in the kitchen."

Today's food is in boxes and bags, full of preservatives and colorings, she said. "It's not the same food that our grandparents were eating."

In the spring of 1999, Florence was asked to give a lecture at Colorado Mountain College about living foods. She brought some desserts and pates. She talked and let attendees sample the food.

"They all said, 'You need to teach us how to do this,'" Florence said. And in that way, Florence's business, Fresh Start, was born.

At least once a month, Florence offers a Living Foods class in her home. For each class, she chooses a different nutritional theme. She shares recipes and food preparation tips with those who come. At the end of the class, everyone sits down to a completely raw meal.

Florence can't remember the last time she used her stove. Instead, her kitchen is equipped with a blender, food processor, juicer and dehydrator.

Since she first walked into the Raw Experience, Florence continues to take classes and is working on a master's degree in live foods through a center in Arizona.

"I think people need to understand that food affects everything they are, physically and emotionally. It's not just about being fat or thin," Florence said. "I think people learn about food through advertising, but those people are interested in making money, not in how to make you feel better."

The transition to a living food diet should be gradual, Florence said, and it doesn't mean that you have to make a 100-percent commitment. "Any live food that you add to your diet will be beneficial.

"Cancer was a big wake-up call for me, and that is really my motivation to start this business. I want to inspire other people, to empower people to make a difference in their own health," she said. "And I would rather people become aware of this in a much easier way than it came to me."

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