Wall St Journal: Raw-Food Movement Pushes Deeper Into New York City

8 Aug

image of Rawvolution co-owner Janabai Amsden in the East Village by Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal

I’ve seen a huge rise in hits on my blog in the last six months so am therefore well aware of the raw food revolution’s rise in momentum worldwide. Sumathi Reddy writes this great piece about the very wave of raw food love washing across the US in the Wall St Journal on Monday 1 August 2011.

There will be no oven when Rawvolution opens Monday in the East Village. No stove, either.

“Nobody gets burned here,” said Janabai Amsden, who founded the Santa Monica-based restaurant with her husband. “We try not to ever make anything over 110 degrees.”

Rawvolution is one of a small group of restaurants that once catered to a niche population: the raw food community. But such restaurants and juice bars—which often also sell raw food and juice cleanse packages—increasingly find themselves gaining the attention of a more mainstream crowd.

“Our clientele has definitely changed a lot,” said Sarma Melngailis, chief executive officer of One Lucky Duck and co-founder of Pure Food and Wine, a raw-food, vegan restaurant that was among the first in New York. “Certainly more and more people know about it and people are getting in to juice cleanses and that kind of thing.”

Raw food is defined as food that is uncooked and unprocessed and is usually vegan. Most practitioners and restaurants define uncooked as prepared at less than 118 degrees. Dehydrators are used to make bread. Juice is usually made with a hydraulic juice presser. Advocates believe that such food methods preserve more nutrients and enzymes than more traditional methods.

Rawvolution will be a smaller version of the California outpost, with a grab-and-go menu. And of course there will be juices, like a “green juice” of cucumber, celery, parsley, ginger lemon and kale.

Natural-juice cafes are becoming especially prolific, popping up everywhere from the Bronx to Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.

Denise Mari, founder of Organic Avenue, which has four stores in Manhattan and one in the Hamptons, said its juices have soared in popularity and probably make up more in sales than its menu of raw food. The company is in the process of opening four more stores in the fall.

The company also has a variety of cleansing programs. And it’s not just celebrities that are slurping them up.

“There’s such a thirst for the juice,” said Ms. Mari. “I think it’s like just everyone who needs to be healthier is getting turned on to drink a green juice.”

Some nutritionists warn that a strictly raw-food and juice diet is not entirely healthy.

Lisa Sasson, a clinical assistant professor at the New York University Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, said the premise that raw food contains more enzymes is faulty because our bodies make enzymes that break food down. Also, she said getting all the food groups you need on such a diet can lead to deficiencies in iron, calcium, Vitamin D and B12.

“Unless people are very conscientious they can have some deficiencies with the raw-food diet,” she said. “It is a very difficult diet.”

As for green juices, Ms. Sasson said there’s nothing wrong with having one for breakfast or as a snack. But she said there is no research that supports the idea that juice cleanses clean the colon.

But advocates tout the benefits of the diet, which they say makes people feel more energetic and healthier.

“I like eating raw because it makes you feel like you’re really investing in your body and you’re taking care of it,” said Dana Levy, a Manhattan artist who began eating raw about two and a half years ago but has taken breaks.

“It made me feel like I went from riding a bike to driving a Ferrari,” she said of when she first started eating raw. “My body was just so focused and I felt very energized.”

Raw-food restaurants are still mostly centered in the East Village, though there are exceptions, such as Rockin’ Raw in Williamsburg, which opened two years ago and whose coffee is even made from a cold press (coffee grinds are put into a cheese cloth with water and sit out in the sun).

Doug Green, owner of the East Village’s Liquiteria, said that when he opened in 1996 he served both raw food and juices but found there was little appetite for the food. So he switched gears and focused on the juices. He estimates that sales have been growing about 20% a year.

Have to comment on Dog Green’s name…Could it be more apt? Did he make it up? Should I change my name to Susie Sprout?

“Today this generation of Baby Boomers and younger are just changing the meat and potatoes for the juice and the kale salad,” he said. “We have everybody from sanitation workers coming every morning to police officers to hedge-fund and private-equity guys.”

Mr. Green said the restaurant intends to launch a new menu next year and will return to its roots with a raw-food section. “Basically what we’re relaunching is what we had in 1996 but we’re launching it in 2012,” he said.

Mr. Green said he now expects consumers to have more of an appetite.

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