The origins of the raw food movement

Everyone followed a raw food diet back in the day. And by ‘back in the day’ we mean before man (and woman –  actually, it was probably woman!) discovered fire and learned to control it.

But modern interest in a raw food diet started to emerge at the start of the 20th century.

The raw food diet’s most famous advocate was Swiss nutritionist and physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who is best known as the creator of muesli. Bircher-Benner’s diet promoted raw food and carbohydrates over cooked food and animal protein, which was at odds with the science of the time. The acclaimed novelist Thomas Mann accused his clinic of being a “health jail” but his ideas proved popular with many, and his reputation soared in the 1930s when great strides were made in our understanding of vitamins in fruit and veg. In 1904, Eugene Christian published the book Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them. In it he detailed how he and his wife had followed a raw food diet for a year and cured all manner of intestinal and health ailments that had been afflicting them. They famously held a seven-course raw food banquet in New York, which led to raw foodism becoming briefly popular in the city’s high society. Other pioneers included Californian fruit grower Otto Carque (The Foundation of All Reform, 1904), George Julius Drews (Unfired Food and Trophotherapy, 1912), Bernarr Macfadden and Herbert Shelton. Drews is said to have inspired John and Vera Richter to open America’s first raw food restaurant, The Eutropheon, in 1917. Herbert Shelton founded a school and clinic in Texas that promoted the practice of Natural Hygiene, a form of alternative medicine. Shelton was a controversial figure who believed that conventional medicines were poison, that fasting would cleanse the body, and that only one type of food should be eaten at each meal. He was jailed for practising medicine without a licence, but his philosophy inspired Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of the influential book Fit for Life.

And more recently…

Raw food has been popularised by Norman W. Walker, the inventor of the Norwalk Juicing Press, and Leslie Kenton with the 1984 book Raw Energy – Eat Your Way to Radiant Health, published in 1984. The 1990s saw celebrities such as Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson publicly embracing a raw food diet, while the 2000s saw the opening of raw food cafes and restaurants in California and other parts of the US.

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