Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What is Raw Gastronomy?

Let's play a little game. What did you have for breakfast this morning? I'll go first. I had my favorite (at the moment) green smoothie: 2 bananas, a large handful of mint, 3 big spinach leaves, a teaspoon of maca, a teaspoon of chia seeds, and water, blended. Then I went to work, where I served lots of people their breakfasts. Some of them had scrambled eggs with asparagus and pancetta. Others had sourdough toast with raspberry jam and cream. Some just had coffee.

Why did you choose to eat what you did? I chose my breakfast because I think it tastes good, it gives me lots of energy, and I know, intellectually, that it's full of nutrition. Similarly, each customer in the restaurant read through the menu and made their breakfast choice based upon a set of ideas in their head - though their choices were shaped somewhat by what the chef decided to include on the menu (no green smoothies, unfortunately).

Basically, gastronomy is a discipline concerned with what you ate for breakfast. It also covers why you made that choice, the setting in which you consumed it, who you ate with, what you talked about, what sorts of dishes and utensils you used, who cooked it, who grew and processed the ingredients, the cookbook your recipe came from, the development of the dish, what nutrients your meal contained, and just about every other aspect of food and dining that you can think of. Etymologically, the word means "rules relating to the stomach, to eating and drinking," but the term as we use it today refers to something much more specific. Perhaps Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the father of French gastronomy and original food writer, defined it best: "the reasoned understanding of everything that concerns us insofar as we sustain ourselves." Gastronomy is not the study of cookery, cuisine, or nutrition; it is the discourse on these topics.

So what does gastronomy have to do with raw foodism? The raw foods concept is one based upon a basic nutritional precept: the retention of life-giving enzymes. In their natural state, fresh foods contain enzymes that assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Once heated above 116 F (45 C), the enzymes start to break down, hindering the body's ability to absorb the food's nutrients. Not only is the body forced to produce its own enzymes to digest the food, which is a strain on the system, but it also treats the cooked foods as toxins, releasing white blood cells to attack the invaders. In a nutshell, eating raw foods gives the body more nutrients in a much more efficient manner, leaving lots of energy for other tasks aside from digesting. The result: eating raw makes a person feel more energetic, alive, and happy, as well as promoting general health and even reversing chronic illnesses.

Being a raw foodist can be the simplest thing in the world. What's more simple than reaching for a bowl of fruit when you're hungry, or cracking some raw nuts, or making a big salad? In fact, most of my day-to-day meals are simply salads, smoothies, or fruit. But if you've read the rest of my blog, you've noticed that I include many ingredients beyond fresh fruits and vegetables. That's where gastronomy comes into play.

Long before I discovered raw, I loved to create in the kitchen. I love the interplay of flavor, texture, color. I love the sensuality of eating. I love the energy of putting a meal together and the joy in sharing my creations with others. For me, becoming a raw foodist does not mean the end of this passion; rather, I have redefined it. In raw food preparation, we do the same things as cooked-food cooks, we just use a different set of ingredients, techniques and equipment. Ultimately, a raw chef has the same imperative as a cooked chef: to create flavorful dishes with respect to the integrity of the ingredients.

From the perspective of gastronomy, I hold raw food preparation to be a cuisine of its own. Any cuisine has rules attached to it: rules of what is considered food and non-food, rules as to how particular ingredients are treated, rules as to how foods are combined, rules as to techniques and equipment used. A cuisine necessarily requires a group of people with a common understanding of these rules. Raw cuisine takes as the boundaries of food anything either in a natural state, or that has been processed without heating to a temperature leading the denaturing of enzymes. There are also a whole new set of ingredients found in raw cuisine, many of which provide flavors and nutrition not found in simple fruits and vegetables. Some of these are the superfoods, which will have to be a post of its own in the future! As for preparation, nothing is off limits as long as it keeps the enzymes in tact. Common preparations can be as simple as chopping and mixing, and as complex as dehydrating, blending, processing and freezing. The stove and oven are no longer necessary, with new equipment such as a dehydrator, spiralizer and blender taking their places. Unlike many traditional cuisines, the boundaries of the community of raw food cooks is not geographical but ideological, largely thanks to the ease of communication today using digital media.

Raw gastronomy, then, is simply the act of writing about raw foods from all angles. To me, this can't just be approached from a scientific/nutritional angle, or an intellectual angle, or a hedonistic angle, or an emotional angle. My love of food is many faceted. Therefore my writing about raw food should express all of the ways in which food nourishes me. Raw gastronomy is what my mind chews on long after my breakfast is over.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jess, how are you? Haven't seen you in a while. Where you working? Still giving Central Market tours? Anyway, interesting blog. I look forward to trying some of your raw recipes. I remember my chiropractor in Berkeley always saying that I should eat more of my food raw. See you around!

Jessica Loyer said...

Hi Michelle, good to hear from you! I didn't know you had a food blog; I like it! Are you still kicking about Adelaide?

Yes you should definitely eat more of your food raw. Much easier for your body to assimilate the nutrients, among many other reasons. When I first started eating raw, I just tried to incorporate more fresh fruits and veggies into my day as snacks, then slowly experimented with entire raw meals. It's actually good fun if you like food preparation like me!

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