The big "o" has been in the news recently—that is the "o" in organic. When Michelle Obama planted an organic garden on the South Lawn of the White House, it generated plenty of headlines and photos.
Many heralded the news as a gesture in teaching the public about local, sustainable food. Mrs. Obama talked at length about healthy-food choices and making dietary improvements. She said she felt better following a healthy routine and encouraged others to make small changes.
In Tucson, there's been a push toward eating local, fresh food with the Eat Local, America! Challenge, continuing through July 20. Tucson Community Supported Agriculture offers three-month subscriptions, getting you a weekly bag of locally grown fresh produce for a fee.
Another development in healthful eating is the raw-food movement. Raw foodists consume uncooked, unprocessed and often organic food. This can include raw meat, dairy and eggs, but many raw foodists are vegan, consuming no animal products. Raw food can be heated, but not above 105 degrees. (This temperature may vary, depending on who you ask.)
Tucsonans Rebecca Astara and naturopathic physician Ariel Policano run raw-food groups. Astara maintains a Facebook group called Tucson Raw/Vegan Salon. Policano coordinates a meetup.com group called the Tucson Raw Food Meetup. Each hosts monthly raw potlucks and says attendance is increasing.
All attendees must bring a dish that is raw, vegan, unprocessed and organic. But you don't need to be a raw foodist to attend.
"The purpose is to bring people together in community to learn about raw foods and to share information," says Policano.
Adds Astara: "One thing I want to be really specific on is if anyone has an interest in health, organic foods, whole foods (or) natural living, this is a great place to come. It doesn't matter what your diet is. You only need to want to share this type of food that evening."
My nonculinary brain initially couldn't figure out what one would eat besides plain veggies and fruit. Astara sent me some recipes that sound both delicious and surprising: lemon meringue pie, beet-with-plum-sauce nori rolls, apple jicama salad, mango/apricot guacamole and kelp-noodle spicy spaghetti. A scarcity of choices does not seem to be an issue.
"It's given me all these new food choices," says Astara. "I feel like I have 1,000 things I can eat now that are super- healthy. ... Since I found raw foods and superfoods, my consumption has increased.
"The thing about the raw-food movement is that there used to be few choices. Now, it's taken off exponentially. There are so many chefs that just prepare raw foods. ... I don't ever feel deprived."
The superfoods that Astara mentions include maca, a root plant; raw cacao, from which cocoa and chocolate are made; and goji berries, a sweet red fruit. Superfoods are nutrient-rich foods that help ward off disease.
Policano stresses the power of enzymes in raw foods. When a food is cooked, enzymes are destroyed. Eating live, raw foods—which are full of enzymes—adds to our energy and longevity.
"Enzymes are the main thing that differentiates cooked food from live food. Enzymes are the key to all living reactions. We want to be greedy about the enzymes we get or preserve in the body. ... Live foods are the best recommendation that I can make for my patients," says Policano.
Both women report great personal benefits after they turned to raw-food diets. "I had such a profound personal transformation," says Policano.
"Everything in my life changed," adds Astara. They speak of greater clarity, energy, mood elevation and immunity.
What you won't find coming from the women is a holier-than-thou attitude. In the debate between vegetarians and meat-eaters, there's often a "my way is the only way" stance. Having eaten each way, I've seen hostility, lack of acceptance and impatience from both sides. These mindsets don't serve either party well.
Astara and Policano have the right approach in that they want to bring people together. Instead of arguing or convincing, there's simply an open hand.
"I come from a place of inviting. Why don't you come and try the food yourself? See how your body feels," says Policano.
Astara agrees and adds: "My reason for starting the potlucks was to gather conscious community. The food is delicious and secondary."