The raw-foodist subculture is a mix of alternative-health types, spiritual seekers and the aggressively trendy. (Celebrity devotees include Demi Moore and Angela Bassett.) Many people turn to the movement after struggling with chronic illness or obesity. Numerous Web sites peddle juicers, suggest recipes and offer testimonials that read like conversion experiences. ''It was about two years ago, at the height of my suffering from deadly cancer, that I was introduced to the raw-food diet, which completely changed my life,'' proclaims one of the faithful on rawfood.com. There are potlucks in Little Rock, festivals in Portland, conferences in Boston, tropical retreats in Bali. A small library's worth of ''uncookbooks'' have been published, and there is a movement afoot to pressure the Food Network into producing a raw-foods show.
It would be easy to dismiss raw cookery as kookery, and many do. But the rise of raw also reflects something about America's current mood. Extreme dietary regimens tend to crop up during times of crisis as a simple fix for society's ills. Amid the wave of social reforms in the 19th century, Sylvester Graham (of cracker fame) linked vegetarianism -- and home-baked bread in particular -- to spiritual salvation. A short time later, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of cornflakes, promoted a regimen of ''biologic living,'' which, in addition to some visionary ideas about diet and exercise, included five daily enemas and radium therapy. Read More