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“DAMN HIPPIES.” I can’t lie. Those were the first words that crossed my mind when I decided to become a raw vegan for a day. I know that it’s stereotypical and bad to think, but stereotypes are there for a reason, right? • Turns out I’m wrong. Again.
First stop on my all-things-raw journey: Palm Harbor Natural Foods, where I picked up food for breakfast the morning of my new diet. I was assuming that walking into a natural foods store and picking up a full raw vegan meal wouldn’t be too hard. I mean, this is a natural foods store, where all things I usually eat would never exist. Turns out it was much harder than I thought. Walking through the aisles, I had to pass up all the crackers and all the soups, all the whole grain pasta and all the condiments. Nothing could be processed or cooked at temperatures higher than 115 degrees Fahrenheit on this strict regimen.
So I ended up in the organic fruit and veggies section, the place in the grocery I usually hate the most. I picked up some spinach leaves, kale, broccoli, avocado, cucumber, lemons and a Gala apple to make a raw green smoothie. At the checkout, I saw a live raw “granola” bar. The fact that granola was in quotation marks kind of put me off, and the label warning of the increased chances of mold and insect infestation because it was uncooked and unprocessed didn’t help either, but I decided to take the risk. The cashier helpfully sorted through all of my items and approved them raw vegan. She also recommended that I check out the Rawkstar Cafe, an all raw vegan cafe in Palm Harbor.
When I made my smoothie the next morning, it took an hour and all of my might to choke it down. It was later explained to me that using two bitter items in the blender (kale and broccoli) was not conducive to making a good green smoothie. It was a little chunky and a little crunchy, almost like drinking a pureed salad, with a bitter taste (the apple was undetectable). No matter how much water I added to thin it out, it always came out of the glass in globs. Just thinking about it is sending shivers down my spine.
I had my live “granola” bar with the smoothie, and it was not as bad as I expected. The taste was nowhere near comparable to my favorite sweet Quaker Chewy granola bars, but it seemed much more wholesome. I have to admit I felt good about eating it. For lunch I decided to take my cashier’s advice and head to the Rawkstar Cafe. As soon as I walked through the door, the musky smell of nutrition and herbs got to me, similar to walking into an herbal tea shop. Owners Adam Kantrovitz and Karen DiGloria were most willing to explain everything that was confusing to me about raw veganism.
Adam worked in hotel management and Karen was a nurse before they decided to open the cafe together, both passionate about the work they do. Karen turned to raw veganism when she saw cancer patients ill again after remission. She discovered that all of the conventional treatments for such illnesses were just dumping toxins and poisons into their systems and that by eating live and raw foods, you could balance the system and limit “dis-ease” within the body.
At the Rawkstar, I had the Italian Vegan Pizza, the “DLT” Wrap and Raw Vegan Ice Cream . The pizza was made with a “dough” of crushed sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower and flax seeds, dehydrated for a day and then cut into pizza-slice wedges. Topped with tomato sauce, macadamia nut paste and herbs and spices, the pizza’s good taste definitely surprised me. Not your normal Domino’s Pizza, but good nonetheless. The “dough” was crunchy and satisfying, and the creamy macadamia paste made up for the lack of anything cooked.
The DLT Wrap was the most familiar item I tasted. Avocado, tomato and lettuce all wrapped in collard green leaves. It tasted like a hybrid of a lettuce wrap from P.F. Changs (sans the meat, of course) and a normal veggie wrap.
The Raw Vegan Ice Cream was delicious. Because raw vegans can’t eat dairy, this ice cream is made with cashews and other raw ingredients. The first couple of bites were admittedly odd, because I have been used to eating cold creamy ice cream my whole life. It was cold just like ice cream, except without the creamy dairy taste. It was almost like eating a thick custard with a caramel-maple taste. After adjusting to the taste of the vegan ice cream, I actually wanted more.
I was also able to sample one of the green smoothies sold at the Rawkstar Cafe, made with spirulina and chlorella. Both spirulina and chlorella are microscopic algae that are high in protein and packed with essential nutrients. Though not the best tasting sea life, they didn’t hinder the smoothie too much. It was pretty good, actually, considering its contents. The cafe’s smoothie, unlike mine, was smooth and had a pleasant flavor. It was sweet, but you knew there was all of the leafy green nutrient goodness in there, too. Best of all, I didn’t have to suppress my gag reflex to get it down.
Back to the stereotype. I had a big misconception about raw veganism; I expected to walk into the Rawkstar Cafe and get a speech from ’70s throwbacks about how the food industry is the ultimate evil and how corporate America is just this big oppressor plying us with its preservatives and processed foods. How animals are poor and defenseless, and instead of killing them for food, we should all go to cattle farms and set them free.
Instead I got a lesson on how to respect your body and appreciate every bit of food that goes into it. It’s not some sort of weird hippy culture, it’s all about nutrition and a healthful lifestyle.
I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed my raw vegan experience, because I didn’t. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it takes a lot of dedication. Nonetheless, though you sacrifice taste and bountiful selection for health, in the end raw veganism, in my opinion, is worth those sacrifices. Adam and Karen are some of the most energetic and exuberant people I’ve ever met, and they attribute those qualities to their raw vegan lifestyle.
I’ve laid the stereotype to rest.
Michael Newcomer is a junior at Tarpon Springs High.