We started and ended our month-long travels in Argentina with meals at Buenos Aires Verde. Located in the trendy Palermo Hollywood neighborhood, Buenos Aires Verde is hard to miss with its bright, almost neon, green storefront. There are a few tables out front if you wish to take in the sights and sounds of busy Avenue Gorriti. Alternatively, go for a table inside and enjoy a calm, quiet oasis where you’ll be inspired by food-related quotations on chalkboards along with nutrition information about plant-based eating.
Buenos Aires Verde has as extensive menu, offering the full spectrum of plant-based subcategories: raw, cooked and gluten-free. There is also a broad selection of desserts, homemade breads, raw cashew-based ice creams, vegan wines, dry bulk items and refrigerated goods such as hummus, nut-based cheeses and nut-based milks. Here are two items from the menu, one cooked and one raw.
A rice and adzuki bean burger served with quinoa tabouleh
Raw nori and dried seed rolls served with dehydrated tomatoes and greens
Let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of raw food. Eating raw food has gained a steady following over the years, and as a curious and open-minded eater, I try to sample raw food when traveling and have even attempted to make some raw dishes in my own kitchen.
So what does “raw” actually mean? And what is the case for and against a raw food diet?
This past Fall, I attended a raw food culinary program at Thrive in Seattle, Washington. Simply stated, raw food refers to vegan foods (vegetables, fruits, sprouted grains, nuts, seeds and natural sweeteners) that have not been heated above 104-115°F (40-46°C). Proponents of the “raw diet” argue that cooking food above 104-115°F can alter the food’s enzyme composition and destroy about 50% of the food’s nutrients. Many raw food supporters claim that eating a raw diet can help with a long list of ailments: everything from allergies and acne to inflammation and asthma.
However, on the other side of the equation, critics argue that an entirely raw diet does not allow us to meet our basic caloric and nutrient needs. Joel Fuhrman, MD and author of Eat to Live, discusses raw versus cooked food as it relates to nutrition-based treatments for treating obesity and chronic disease. He points out that our bodies can only absorb about 50 calories from one pound of raw vegetables and meeting the remaining caloric needs would require excessive consumption of fruits, nuts and seeds, all of which have a lower nutrient content per calorie compared to vegetables. Excessive cooking, such as grilling or frying, will not only destroy the nutrient composition, but such cooking also promotes the formation of toxic, carcinogenic compounds. However, conservative cooking only destroys a small amount of nutrients and actually makes certain nutrients more available for absorption in our bodies.
So where does this leave the average consumer? I’m certainly a bit confused when I hear these conflicting messages. Of course I want to do what is best for my body and future health, but the answers aren’t so clear, are they?
My personal health goals regarding food are pretty simple. I want to consume a diversity of nutrients from plant-based foods, and for me, achieving this “nutrient diversity” means eating both raw and cooked foods. I also want to eat enough food throughout the day so that my caloric needs are adequately met. Ensuring that my caloric needs are met means that I have ample energy during the day to do all the things I enjoy doing.
For the sake of variety and balance, I strive to eat some raw food on a daily basis, but I don’t go out of my way to plan my meals around eating raw food. Often, my raw food consumption consists of a large salad (like the one pictured below) sprinkled with nuts and seeds or a smoothie loaded with leafy greens, fruits, nuts and almond milk.
There isn’t a right or wrong approach here, but it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons along with the conflicting grey area discussed above and determine the approach allows you to feel your best and achieve your optimal health. This isn’t about following the latest food trend and doing what everyone else is doing. It’s about doing what makes the most sense for you and your health.
Let’s go back to Buenos Aires Verde. What I liked most about Buenos Aires Verde is that the restaurant does not take an “all or none” attitude. I generally shy away from “all or none” attitudes, especially when they’re related to food decisions. At Buenos Aires Verde, one can enjoy raw food alongside cooked food. There is something delicious for everyone.
When eating at a restaurant like Buenos Aires Verde, I usually go for something raw, just to try something new. I’m genuinely interested in how a restaurant approaches making a raw pizza, cannoli or cheesecake. These items, which are traditionally cooked and made with non-vegan ingredients, require creativity in the kitchen, and if anything, it’s the creativity behind these dishes that intrigues me.
Here are a few of the more interesting raw items that I have tried in the last year or so:
Raw mixed berry “cheesecake” and spirulina energy ball at 42 Raw in Copenhagen, Denmark
The raw Thai noodles, also at 42 Raw, are made from zucchini, carrots, red curry, chili, ginger, mango & coconut.
Raw avocado sandwich at 42 Raw
The “Peace” at Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles, CA is supposed to resemble an open-faced bagel with cream cheese and lox. It is made from a raw onion sesame bagel with cashew cream cheese, nori “lox,” tomato, onion, capers and sprouts.
The “Fantastic,” also at Cafe Gratitude. This one was especially impressive. It’s a raw cashew crêpe filled with fresh fruit and topped with coconut yogurt, maple syrup and pecans.
Lastly, and most recently, here is the raw passionfruit “cheesecake” at Little Bird unBakery in Auckland, New Zealand.