In the Raw: learning to 'cook' raw, vegan-style
December 13, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- Julia Child had her copper pots; Rachael Ray a vintage Chambers stove.
But for Master Sgt. Valetta Stewart, or "Chef V," as she calls herself, her kitchen essentials consist of a super-powered blender, a food processor and a dehydrator.
"I don't have a stove. I don't have an oven," said Stewart, a reservist assigned to U.S. Africa Command.
Her lack of major kitchen appliances is by choice - Stewart is a vegan raw food enthusiast.
She teaches a raw food "cooking" seminar at the Stuttgart United Services Organization.
Because raw foods are not heated above 116 degrees Fahrenheit, the class is less about "cooking" and more about chopping, mixing and blending.
"Today is all about eating, trying new things and experimenting," Stewart told a recent class of 14 students.
For two hours, in between discussions on where to shop for organic foods, herbal remedies, fasts and kitchen gadgets, students were treated to lettuce wraps filled with couscous salad and guacamole, a chopped salad of broccoli, cauliflower and a myriad of other fresh vegetables, a patAfA made from almonds, a breakfast couscous with raisins, a chunky paste made of raw apples and nuts, and several smoothies made with combinations of zucchini, bananas, avocado, nuts, apples, berries and coconut water.
The students tried all the dishes, eagerly accepting second and third samples. "The number one thing is taste. As long as it tastes good, they'll eat it," Stewart said.
People eat "raw" for more than taste, though. "Raw food is very, very good for you," said Stewart, who has eschewed meat, dairy, bread, cooked and processed foods for about seven years. "Most people on a raw food diet feel more energetic and have a stronger immune system."
Acne, allergies, weight gain and many chronic illnesses are all rooted in the foods a person eats, she added.
Lest you find Stewart's raw vegan diet extreme, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture attest to the importance of fruits and vegetables in attaining health.
"Most fruits and vegetables ... may also play a role in preventing certain chronic diseases. When compared to people who eat only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts, as part of a healthy diet, tend to have reduced risk of chronic diseases.
These diseases include stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and perhaps, cardiovascular disease and hypertension," according to www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.
Even Weight Watchers International has joined the band wagon. Last month, the global weight management services company revamped its point system to reflect current scientific research.
All fresh fruits and most vegetables now have zero points, meaning a person can eat as much of them as they want.
However, for Stewart, it's not about weight management, it's about health.
Her mother, father and two siblings died from diseases such as emphysema, asthma-related conditions, hypertension and heart disease. If they had changed their diets, their health would have improved, she said.
While she couldn't influence these family members to change, it did not dampen her passion to inspire others.
She approached the USO last summer and volunteered to teach a raw food class. "What's the point of having knowledge, if you don't share it'" Stewart said.
USO tour manager Elizabeth Plotner said the USO staff was skeptical at first. "But four days later, Valetta brought in several [raw] dishes - chocolate cake and rum balls. They were delicious."
From the beginning, Stewart's classes have been a hit. "We offered the first class and had 15 participants, with 15 to 18 on the waiting list. And from then [on], we started offering it twice a month. Valetta is so enthusiastic, meticulous and engaging. It's been a nice addition to our class schedule."
Stewart is scheduled to leave Stuttgart in June. Those who can't take her class still have the opportunity to clean up their diets, however, by simply incorporating more raw fruits and vegetables into meals, Stewart said.
"When you have a chance to eat something that is raw, fresh or natural, eat it," she said. "If that means juicing, then juice - even if it's just at breakfast.
"Within days you will be able to see a difference in some aspect of your life."