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Until recently, the main resources for someone like Mercur were classes and coaching provided by High Vibe, the city's only store devoted to raw foods, and lectures and counseling by Jubb and his ex-wife, Annie.
Jubb, raised on an island between mainland Australia and Tasmania, was influenced by his Nepalese grandfather, "who understood that our choice of food was affecting the earth." Jubb loves the East Village because "there are more people interested in this lifestyle here than in any other place in the country. There's a critical mass of consciousness building that's going to affect the entire earth."
Dagger, who owns High Vibe, also senses an accelerating interest in raw food among New Yorkers. "We get new people in here every day, and now with Quintessence, more people are getting together and communicating. Things are rolling." Like Hoyt, Dagger transformed his former creative space"my art studio, my darkroom"into his business. He describes his inviting basement, with its cavelike white stucco walls and strings of white icicle lights, as "the East Village gone Southwesta sanctuary, a place for people to hang out."
A laid-back artist-photographer-musician with tattoos running up both arms, Dagger got into raw foods because "I had done so many drugs and I just felt so bad. But I always tried to eat right. I started riding my bike like crazy and eating a lot of watermelon. I felt compelled to eat tons of it. I found out later that it's very alkalinizing, and drugs make you very acidic." Although he credits eating live foods with his vibrant health and ability to function on four to five hours of sleep, Dagger says he's "not in favor of zealotism. Do you feel good? That's the only thing that should influence your decision."
Paul Nison, who's developing a restaurant called Eden above the Hygeia Center on East 23rd Street, agrees. Nison was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and told diet had nothing to do with it. Desperate, he experimented with raw foods and his symptoms disappeared. "I was told that by 30 I'd be lucky to have my intestines and I'd probably have cancer. I'll be 30 this year, and I did a 117-mile bike race, and haven't gone back to my doctor."
Jubb student Narda Narvãez, a physical therapist, founded the Natural Wellness School at Hygeia in February. "I started the school to help the community," she says. "Food is so connected with family and comfort that you need a new family to support this." Narvãez, looking for a new space, intends to bring in a variety of health practitioners. She's starting a database of clients who have recovered from serious illness using raw foods "because we need documentation and research."
Jyni Holland, a registered dietitian at NYU Medical Center, wants to see such research, as "there are no scientific studies showing an advantage to eating raw broccoli instead of cooked broccoli." Holland also contests claims that raw foods provide greater enzymatic activity, because "the minute you pull a plum off the tree, you've separated it from its life force and it begins to break itself down. I don't want to put this diet down without knowing more," she adds, "but if you have an immune system compromised by chemo or severe AIDS, we recommend a 'no raw food' diet to protect against bacterial infections. I would also be concerned about adequate caloric intake, and adequate protein, B12, calcium, and zinc."
Holistic physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman notes that "some people do really well on the raw food diet, yet some do abysmally. I do put some cancer patients on a raw food diet, as it is marvelous for detoxifying. We usually use it for two to three months." Lots of fats will "alleviate some of the potential problems with this diet. I give high doses of coconut oil to patients with immune problems, for example, as studies show it to be extremely helpful. Also, if you have ulcerative colitis or celiac disease, using only sprouted starches can help."
Hoffman favors metabolic typing, a blood-test-based method of determining appropriate diets. "We are finding that some people must have meat, while for others it's not metabolically suitable. My hunch is that the people doing well on raw food would be shown by metabolic typing to be in the latter category." He cautions that "people use food like a personal statementtoo much of that is going around. It's best to avoid arrogance . . . or using food as an emblem of virtue. The macrobiotic people destroyed their movement with arrogance."
Eliot Tokar, a practitioner of traditional Asian medicine, agrees. "A raw food diet is a very strong yin diet; most people can benefit when it's used for a limited period. It's in danger of becoming a fad, however, with people thinking it can be applied in any situation and be beneficial. This may be because the diet can cause very rapid change and can make you hyper and spacey."
While building Quintessence, Chan and Hoyt flew to San Francisco to work at Juliano Brotman's Organica, a popular raw food restaurant. "Juliano was so helpful," recalls Hoyt. "He gave us names of suppliers, showed us recipes. This is kind of a movement, so if you know something you share it. It's a supportive communityeverybody's networking. We love that people come to the restaurant and actually talk to people at other tables. That's what it's all about."