For about 18 years of her adult life, Elizabeth Fraser of Portland figures she was a “junk food” vegetarian – fooling herself into thinking she was being healthy since she’d given up meat. In the meantime, she ate processed veggie burgers, fat-laden chips, sodium-laced salsa, and cereal grain bars with lots of not-so-nutritious additives – and still struggled to maintain a healthy weight.
Then, in 2009, raw food kept coming into Fraser’s life. A raw food restaurant opened in Portland. Articles on raw food appeared in magazines, and a raw food cookbook caught her eye in a health food store. She decided to try eating only uncooked fruits, vegetable, nuts, and seeds for a week, and by day 3 she was hooked.
Less than three years later, she is the “Girl Gone Raw,” with her own website, (www.girlgoneraw.com), blog, classes on food preparation, and a passion for sharing her newfound energy and health with the world.
“I was drawn to raw food because it is so colorful and creative,” says Fraser, who is also an artist with a studio in her Munjoy Hill duplex. “I feel more alive and connected to the planet. It’s kind of hard to put into words.”
A raw food diet is simply that. Nothing is heated above 118 degrees (a little hotter than bathtub water) so that the enzymes – the life force of the plant – will not be broken down or destroyed. A raw diet isn’t just celery sticks, salads and handfuls of nuts, though. Fraser has a high-speed blender for making smoothies and a heavy-duty food processor, a food dehydrator and a spiralizer for creating her main dishes. When she’s craving warmth on a cold, winter day, she blends her veggies with warm water and spices and makes a soul-satisfying soup. When she wants noodles, she “spiralizes” zucchini or summer squash into long, thin strips to serve with other veggies.
“Everything takes more planning,” Fraser admits, but adds that it’s all a labor of love. “It feels so good to go shopping and hit the produce section. We all know we could benefit from adding more vegetables and fruits to our lives.”
Fraser, who is 40, hails from Ohio. She lived at the boarding school where her father taught and ate a steady diet of cafeteria meals where meat, overcooked vegetables, starch and dessert were standard fare. She stayed in shape by running and participating in sports. But when she developed arthritis in her hip and could no longer run, she put on weight. Since she has become a raw foodie, she’s lost the extra pounds and kept them off. No wonder she considers raw veggies such a delight.
“Raw food meals are so nutrient dense that you fill up fast,” she says.
Raw foodies like Fraser are admittedly on the extreme end of the vegan scale, and that can sometimes make people defensive, she says. Luckily, Fraser’s partner is also into raw foods, but, she adds, the switch has changed family dynamics in some ways because gatherings revolve so much around food.
“My brother struggles with it,” she says. “We had a longstanding ritual of getting together for coffee, but within 10 days (of starting her raw food regimen) I couldn’t finish a cup. The healthier you eat, the more sensitive you become.”
This added sensitivity, by the way, can be a blessing and a curse. Once or twice a year, Fraser feels the need to do a week-long juice fast (complete with enemas) designed to rid her body of toxins from the environment and from any cooked food she’s eaten during the holidays or socially. Her January juice fast was the subject of several blogs.
“It’s a way of resetting and helping you regain your awareness,” she says. “Juice fasting frees up a lot of time. Digestion takes a lot of energy.”
Fraser’s 10 nieces and nephews have had little problem adjusting to their aunt’s way of life. She loves it when her 5- and 2-year-old niece and nephew come to visit, and ask, “Can we make a smoothie?”
Fraser and a friend, Maggie Knowles, are working on an “un-cookbook” about raw food that is designed for parents to use with their children. Knowles is a mom and a columnist for the Portland Daily Sun and a vegetarian blogger for examiner.com. There is space on the Girl Gone Raw website devoted to tips, recipes, and ideas for helping make vegetables and fruits a bigger part of kids’ diets.
“It’s all about getting them more familiar with fruits and veggies and teaching them how to incorporate them into snacks and meals,” Fraser says. “We’re excited to share our healthy living tips and kid-friendly recipes with the world.”