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Good Books

Andrew's "Raw Food Controversies" Review

Raw Food Controversies "Raw Food Controversies" is perhaps most useful not as a how-to book (although it goes for that angle too), but as the story of someone who's continuously fought their way toward health, refining their diet and lifestyle until they overcame the many stumbling blocks in their path and arrived at something that works. 

Author Frederic Patenaude, a long-time raw-food enthusiast and educator who clearly states that he ocassionally eats some cooked food, walked a tricky tightrope with the book.

Starting from his teens, he chronicles the many mistakes he's made, weaving in first-hand experience with some of the biggest names in the raw food movement, and finishing up with a "what works for me," section of his current advice. He includes segments that succinctly debunk many of the most popular raw diets and health gimmicks, like colonics. 

Raw Food Controversies: The Big Names

For me, the most fascinating part was his stories about the big names in the raw food movement from before they'd really made it big, such as David Wolfe and Gabriel Cousens.

I've always been baffled by the figure of Wolfe, who comes off as a somewhat laughable snake-oil salesman willing to hawk any product he can to make a buck, no matter the cost to those who listen to him. Yet at the same time, Wolfe is the founder of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, a nonprofit that does some fantastic work (I donate to the organization regularly). It's these and other odd contradictions that makes me curious about him and his actual beliefs. What could possibly have created the David Wolfe we know? I hope I can meet him one day so I can get a sense for what he's actully like.

Patenaude met Wolfe in the mid 1990s before the later's raw food empire had really taken off, and paints him a friendly, open guy (then attending law school) who gave Frederic a job, dietary advice, and even a place to sleep for a few nights.

Yet in the book we see Wolfe as he transforms from a primarily fruit-fueled raw foodist to one willing to try odder and odder regimes. I'm all for experimentation, but what's interesting is that Wolfe appears to embrace new ideas before they've even borne fruit for him, quickly passing them off as his advice to health seekers like Patenaude.

We also see Wolfe fall under the sway of charismatic individuals who are enthusiastic about their ideas, even if they don't have much sense from a nutritional perspective. This is hardly a biography of the man, but it certainly provides some interesting anecdotes.

Raw Food Controversies: The Problem With Changing Your Formula

One of the criticisms I foresee of "Raw Food Controversies" is that Patenaude previously released a number of products endorsing different approaches to raw foods, including a high-fat recipe book ("Sunfood Cuisine", a companion book written for David Wolfe's company, which Patenaude has revamped to include lower fat levels and still sells) and one that promotes a more natural-hygiene-oriented approach to raw foods, ("The Raw Secrets", which warns against the high-fat intake found with most raw food diets). 

He says the plans he laid out in these books always represented what he thought was best at the time, yet they never brought him the health and energy he was looking for. They even lead to a mouthful of cavities.

Disclosure: I received a free preview copy of The Raw Controversies in return for considering it for a review. Although I've met Frederic Pantenaude and his wife, Veronica, and consider myself on friendly terms with them, I think this is a fairly unbiased assessment of the book.

The natural thought is: If the plans in your previous books damaged your health and you broadcast them as the best option, why should I trust "Raw Food Controversies" will be any better?

But I actually don't have this objection, and have a lot of respect for Patenaude's honesty. I've met more than a few raw foodists who can't manage to maintain the very diets they suggest are superior to any others, resorting to binges on fatty meals and cooked foods to take in more calories than their diminutive plans allow. Some of these people are raw food teachers who promote the very systems that aren't working for them.

I'm not sure if the move will affect Patenaude's business, but it's certainly the path less traveled. Most authorities, if they change their suggestions, merely brush the changes off as quibbles or their earlier ideas as merely less-refined versions of what they endorse now. Patenaude critiques the downsides of the various approaches he's tried, and I'd say all these analyses are accurate. I'd rather see someone admit that they tried something adventuerous and had problems along the way than lie about the old plan working great.

Raw Controversies: Fred's Plan

It's important for anyone looking to cast blame to note that "The Raw Secrets," actually represented the first large-scale turn away from the high-fat diets that are so popular today. Subsequently, several raw food teachers, including Dr. Douglas Graham, have supported raw diets that are grounded with modern nutritional research about fat, carbohydrate, and protein levels, but this was new territory when "The Raw Secrets" Came Out.

Frederick points out that the major problem with his diet at that time was that he was still not getting in enough carbohydrates, a problem he corrects with "Raw Controversies."

Although I do not endorse cooked food eating and have a few minor quibbles about some of the information presented in "Raw Food Controversies," I think the dietary recommendations are spot on. The suggested diet is a low-fat one based around fruits as the main calorie source, with plenty of greens and limited quantities of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. He also eats some cooked food.

Patenaude makes it clear that an all-raw diet works quite well, but also supports a "mostly-raw" plan for those who have trouble staying raw or desire some cooked food. This includes foods that would typically be considered great on a cooked vegan diet, such as steamed vegetables, tubers, and non-glutinous grains like rice. Patenaude says he eats some cooked food to make travel easier and for variety.

One of the points I'm glad he emphaisizes clearly is the importance of eating enough calories, whether those be from fruit or low-fat cooked carbohydrates like potatoes. Failing to eat enough calories, whatever the diet, will result in binges on fat or unhealthy junk foods.

Raw Food Controversies: In Short

Raw Food ControversiesI enjoyed "Raw Food Controversies," and wouldn't hesitate to suggest it for someone looking for an interesting read.

Who Should Consider Reading Raw Food Controversies?
  1. Anyone who is currently eating a raw food diet who isn't experiencing the vitality and health they desire. Patenaude has tried just about every plan out there, and does a good job walking people through the downsides of each and offering a better plan. 
  2. If you want want to read an interesting health journey told in a conversational style, or want to find out more about the raw food movement's big figures.
  3. Those looking to adopt a partially-raw diet based around nutritional sense.

Who Will Likely Not Get Much Out Of The Book?
  1. Established raw foodists who feel that their current plan is working perfectly.
  2. Those looking for wholly original dietary information or suggestions not seen elsewhere.
You can learn more about the book here.

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