Several years ago I was hired to be a houseboy for D&G wholesale showroom, a place where buyers from various retailers would go to shop for upcoming fashion seasons. Clothes were paraded in the large Soho loft’s main room by models. It was my job to make sure the buyers’ tummies were full and thirst quenched.
It was a shit job, hanging out for hours between appointments in the florescent-lit kitchen, doing much of nothing, dressed in white Dickey’s pants, whose pockets shown through the outer fabric and a well worn D&G shirt the company gave me. It would have been a complete waste of time had it not been for the day I met Tom Covielllo.
Tom was brought in to be my assistant waiter from the catering company (I was hired from a wannabe-model-cum-waiter booking agency). Tom was in his early to mid forties, with black hair, tan complexion, thin, with a slightly gay-sounding New York City accent and a distinctly calm disposition.
It was our duty to take the food baskets the caterers sent and arrange them in a way that aligned with the D&G aesthetic. Twice daily, they’d send disproportionately large baskets of food–fruit and yogurt in the morning, sandwiches and pasta at lunchtime, and cookies in the late afternoon. Eating the ample remainder was my main pastime.
Tom ate little, maybe chewing a cherry tomato every so often. We got to talking and Tom, it turned out, was a raw foodist. For those of you who, like me at the time, don’t know about raw food eating, it’s the belief that our digestive systems are best set up to digest and access the nutrition of food when it is not cooked (or not heated above 118 degrees, the point at which enzymes are killed). There are two tenets eating a raw diet:
- It is thought that digestion consumes as much as 90% of our net energy reserve; this is particularly true when living a sedentary lifestyle, when our body has minimal caloric needs. The easiest place to see this is late afternoon fatigue—the common mental dullness and sleepiness is less a function of the time of day as it is your body digesting lunch. When we consume easily digestible foods, the raw foodist contends, we have more mental energy and more physical energy in general.
- That our intestinal health is the most important determinant of our health. It is the central clearing place for all toxins. With a conventional diet, devoid of water rich, enzyme-laden foods, our bodies do not fully digest food and it essentially rots in our stomachs (it’s said that John Wayne died with 60lbs. of undigested meat in his intestine). This rot leads to all varieties of health problems: bacterial infections, receptivity to viruses, vitamin deficiencies, even producing acidic conditions that are hospitable to cancers, are all the result of an unhealthy intestine. Therefore it’s of vital necessity to keep things flowing to both make sure you’re accessing the nutrition of your food s well as purging rotting and/or toxic substances that get into your system. The natural intestine-scrubbing effect of raw vegetables is one way to promote movement, but many raw foodists receive regular colonics to really clear the path.
Tom and I only worked a couple days out of my week-long internment, but he left a lasting impression. With a couple of leftover baskets of fruit and salad from the showroom, I launched into raw foodism. Almost instantaneously, I was delivered to a state of physical vitality I’d never known before. My skin was glowing. I lost 10lbs. And I was bouncing off the walls with energy (I’d gotten in the habit of carrying around a rubber ball that I would throw ahead of me on the sidewalk to burn off excess energy). The energy was so intense I often had to eat normal food as a sedative.
But there was one big problem with my raw food experiment: I was getting sick all the time. Persistent colds, phlegm, fatigue, etc. This according to raw food folks was likely attributable to a couple possible causes:
- Too much fruit and sugar. I was eating a ton of sugary fruit, and a lot of it at night. I’d gotten in the habit of making whipped frozen bananas at night, which tasted just like ice cream, then pouring Hershey’s chocolate syrup over them (I wasn’t a purist). Nothing creates a more fertile environment for infection than a sugar-filled intestine, as the sugar promotes fermentation and yeast growth, both of which are havens for bacteria and viruses to incubate. When eaten at night, it’s even worse as my body couldn’t direct the energy to physical movement.
- I was detoxing too quickly. When you release all of the toxins from your intestine, if you release it all too fast, the toxic outflow can produce more problems that the static toxic state that had theretofore existed. So I was releasing too many toxins into my blood stream, too fast and it was making me sick.
I don’t think it’s far-fetched to make some extrapolations from these two sources of sickness. Regarding the first point, when we manipulate a system to deliver instant gratification, there’s always some sort of rotting detritus that later causes a pathological response. It’s like cheating on a test or casual sex: they might yield a good grade or a few minutes of ecstasy , but ultimately we are punished with ignorance, compromised integrity and STD’s. I wanted everything sweet all the time, but ultimately that sweetness soured (and rotted), and I got sick.
Toward the second point, which surely played a part, I realized that slow, measure progress is the most effective agent for affecting change. For most of my life, I’d been after pyrotechnics—quick fixes and dramatic results. I was drunk on the initial phase of raw eating, but it may well have been that I had changed my diet too much, too soon. That perhaps easing into this type of eating would have given my body a period to adjust to the new conditions. I’d later return to a conventional diet because the particular way I ate raw food during that time had yielded sickness. At the time, I didn’t realize that I could have just made some modifications to my diet (like cutting out the bananas and chocolate syrup) or not make it as extreme. This holds true of any pursuit: that a steady commitment will trump an impulsive spurt every time in terms of lasting change.
Probably the most important things I learned that is that my mind, and perhaps everything is kind of like my intestine: it needs to be continually cleared, it can’t house on toxic thoughts for too long, and it needs healthy, simple, vital food or else it gets sick.