Rabbit Food

January 16, 2012
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My stint as a raw vegan certainly had its highs and lows: the highs of euphoric clarity associated with my newfound worldview, and the lows, in which, quite literally, I collapsed to the ground, approaching the depths of malnutrition. What began as a not especially thoughtful subscription to the ever-growing trend of alternative eating at my school quickly integrated itself into my life, seamlessly, and as though it had intended to redefine me all along.

On Thursday, May 27th, 2010, a pleasant, 70-something day, I concocted an experiment. School wound down in its usual manner: excruciatingly slowly. The entire community anticipated the arrival of final exams and the promise of summer vacation. I decided to attempt to consume a raw vegan diet through the impending weekend, not due to the inherent pleasure of bonding with Gretchen Koles, but rather, for the unadulterated purpose of testing my own willpower and determination.

That afternoon, I conducted some initial research. A raw vegan diet abides dutifully by all of the restrictions of a vegan diet, forbidding all animal products. In addition to observing the conditions of veganism, raw veganism prohibits the consumption of any food item cooked over 118 degrees Fahrenheit, as food loses its essential healthfulness and antioxidants when it is heated. To place that meager number in perspective, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Upon discovering this magic number, I hesitated to continue with my experiment. Absolutely everything one would ever care to eat reaches an edible state at a temperature far higher than 118 degrees. Fantastic. I read on, learning that in order to sustain a raw vegan lifestyle healthfully, one must purchase lots of shiny equipment, including knives, blenders, food processors, dehydrators, spiralizers, juicers, and sprouting jars (automatic or manual, for less-avid raw vegans). I had never heard of a dehydrator, a spiralizer, or a sprouting jar, nor was I familiar with the array of raw food ingredients essential for a raw pantry. Nama shoyu, groats, and dates did not occupy popular real estate in my family's pantry.

As my first order of business, I began to compose an exhaustive list of everything I could eat. The list fit effortlessly onto one Post-It note. I realized then that this little experiment would bring the heat (as long as it remained under 118 degrees).

I spent the remainder of Thursday, and Friday in its entirety, eating raw fruits, vegetables, and almonds. My diet, resembling that of a small woodland creature - and referred to lovingly by my friends as “Rabbit Food” - felt oddly satisfying. It may very well have been my imagination romanticizing the entire episode, but I swear birds chirped with more fervor than usual, and my looming finals felt a little less ominous.

The following weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, I refused offers to eat nearly everything. Until my mother had the sense to purchase the most enticing fruits and vegetables in sight, my blood sugar dropped dramatically.

“Emmy-oodle, honey, I bought everything in Whole Foods’s “raw” section. What the heck is buckwheat?”

My mother unpacked grocery bags full of funky raw foods, including crackers made entirely of seeds, organic blue agave nectar, curry made of God knows what, and buckwheat granola. Most of it looked positively inedible.

Following the holiday weekend, I elected to spend a few extra days testing my new philosophy. A week passed quickly, and I missed cooked food less and less. Nothing appealed more than the winning lunchtime combination of a shiny apple and a tall glass of water. I had found an alternative eating style that had not yet been tackled by another Branson student, likely because of its unhealthiness and difficulty to sustain.

As May came to a close, I felt nothing but excitement regarding my new lifestyle choice. I continued to rid my body of the detrimental toxins plaguing its temple-like aura. My body was becoming a holy place of worship. I meditated over each breath I took in, considering its nutritional value and potential for life-threatening disease. I glowed with contentment.

One morning, eight weeks into my blissful walk down the Yellow Brick Road of raw veganism, I awoke to realize that standing proved to be difficult. Several minutes later, I was lying heavily upon the cool, white-tiled bathroom floor, not able to recall how I had ended up there. As I moved to collect myself, I felt a throbbing pain in my jaw, where I had collided with the hard ceramic of my bathtub, mid-fall. Wincing as I steadied myself, I failed to attribute this fainting episode to my newfangled dietary choices, chalking it up instead to a swell of vertigo after getting out of bed too quickly.

Both my doctor and my mother urged me to abandon raw veganism in favor of a more balanced diet, but I remained obstinate.

“Emily, I am really glad that you came in to see us today. From a medical standpoint, the best advice I can offer you is to abandon this silly experiment right now. Perhaps go to In-n-Out. Get yourself a burger!”

Dr. Maisel lost some of my respect that day. Being raw felt cool, different. It seemed artsy and trendy, while allowing me to maintain a dietary integrity that none of my contemporaries had attempted.

A week later, I fainted again, in a manner almost identical to that of the previous week. Following my second meeting with the bathroom floor, it seemed reasonable, even necessary, to reevaluate my new raw lifestyle. My doctor and my mother were adamant, and I had to agree.
Raw veganism, although cool and artsy, proved to be unhealthy for me. After three months of subsisting off a diet meager even for a rabbit, I released my stronghold in hopes of finding an equilibrium that would satisfy my doctor, my mother, and myself. I have now reached a compromise position, as a “flexible vegan,” indulging in an occasional dairy product, and enjoying cooked food with enthusiasm.

During my stint as a raw vegan, I grew to appreciate the legitimate reasons for leading a raw lifestyle. I feel a radical difference in my overall morale and energy during weeks when I follow a rigid vegan structure. In addition, the irrefutable environmental and animal rights motivations to eliminate animal products from my diet became increasingly important.

My tango with raw veganism, albeit brief, also offers some insight into my lightweight version of rebellion. Never having been a “bend the rules” kind of gal, this quiet defiance fit me much better than I had expected. I opposed my parents, who tried tirelessly to encourage me to ingest something warm. I disobeyed the recommendations of my pediatrician. And I casually ignored the snide comments of my classmates, who questioned my fervent need to eat lettuce and celery.

Now that I have reached a different equilibrium, my highs are less euphoric, and my lows, less devastating. The rabbits in the neighborhood have a little less competition as they go looking for dinner. I still spend a lot of time at Whole Foods, but spend less time on the bathroom floor. And I do everything my parents tell me to do. Right.

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