Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.

To learn more about the upcoming Special Edition of Satya and Call for Submissions, click here.

back issues


June/July 2003
Raw History
By Rynn Berry



Contrary to popular belief, humans began to cook their food only recently. For the great mass of people throughout the ages cooking fuel and animal flesh have been onerously expensive luxuries. So the contemporary raw food movement has a venerable history.

In the first place, evidence of the first use of fire by humans—which is likelier to have been used for tool-making than for cooking—has been dated to 400,000 BCE. That may seem like a long time ago, but in the evolutionary scheme of things, it’s quite recent.

According to Professor John Walker, a professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, the earliest hominids judging from the micro-wear on their teeth were frugivores (an animal or human who takes its nourishment primarily from fruit, nuts and seeds). Our nearest primate relatives, the bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) with whom we share 99 percent of our DNA, are frugivores.

In classical Greek antiquity, Pythagoras is said by Diogenes Laertius to have insisted that his disciples become apuratrophists and eat their food unfired (apura). So to be a Pythagorean, as many people were in the ancient world, was in sensu stricto to be a vegan raw foodist. (Pliny tells us that most lower and middle class Greeks lived on uncooked barley gruel, which was the staple of their diet.) And the early Buddhists were also said to have been raw foodists, or fruitarians. With a rise in the consumption of animal flesh during the 19th century, the use of cooking in food preparation became more common.

In the U.S., one of the earliest proponents of a raw food diet was the 19th century advocate for healthy living (who gave his name to the Graham cracker), Sylvester Graham (1794-1851). In his book, Lectures on the Science of Human Life, he elucidates the reasons why humans should return to eating their food in its unfired state.

Other 19th and early 20th century Americans who advocated a raw or semi-raw diet were Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), who, despite having invented flaked cereals and (according to some) peanut butter, lived chiefly on apples and nuts; Dr. James Caleb Jackson (1814-1895), who served raw and lightly cooked vegetarian meals at Our Home, the country’s first successful health spa in the 1850s; Bernarr MacFadden (1868-1955), who lived as a raw fooder as he sat atop one of the country’s largest publishing empires at the turn of the century; and Herbert Shelton (1895-1984), who systematized raw foodism into Natural Hygiene from the 1920s to the 1970s. According to my research, many Native American tribes in the U.S. consumed their food in its unfired state. In his book, The Founders of America, Francis Jennings, Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian, writes of the California Indians: “Their staple foods were acorns, properly leached and pounded into a powder or paste, supplemented by dried salmon and nuts. It seems clear, therefore, that they had escaped the culture of Mexico’s Indians with its stress on maize cultivation.”

Also among the roots of modern raw foodism in the U.S. is a group of German raw foodists who settled in Southern California at the turn of the 19th century! It is ironic that Germany, which was the seat of carnivorism in Europe at this time, should have helped spawn the modern crop of vegan raw foodists. These German-American naturmenschen included such diverse luminaries as Dr. Carl Schultz, a pioneering naturopathic physician, legendary fruitarian farmer-philospher Bill Pester, and Arnold Ehret, a prolific author of books on fasting and raw foodism.

What motivated these German émigrés to seek a paradisal existence in Southern California? Gordon Kennedy in his book Children of the Sun (1998) offers two reasons. Germany was heavily industrialized at this time and the younger generation, born in the 1880s, was rebelling against the pollution of the landscape, and engendered raw foodism, heliotherapy, hydrotherapy, and naturism (nudism). He also suggests that there had always been a quiescent strain of raw foodism that lay just below the surface in Germany that had been most successfully exploited by a religious group called the Adamites, an extreme Hussite sect that flourished in Germany and Holland in the Middle Ages. Among the Adamites there was a recurrent upwelling of the desire to return to the primitive bliss of the Garden of Eden.

So, secular though they may have seemed, these German émigré raw foodists were latter day Adamites, who were animated by an almost religious zeal to recreate the conditions of the Garden of Eden. This meant living as Adam had lived: going unclothed, living embedded in and worshipping nature and living on a fruitarian diet.

The first wave of naturmenschen lived off the land almost as wandervogel (migrant birds, free spirits). The second wave, which included people like Vera and John Richter and Hermann Sexauer, established businesses that forwarded the cause of vegan raw foodism. Hermann Sexauer, a sporadic raw fooder, founded the first health food store in Santa Barbara in 1934, Sexauers. Vera and John Richter started America’s first raw food restaurant in Los Angeles in 1917. Called the Eutropheon, which is Greek for “good nourishment,” it lasted for 25 years and did much to educate Americans about the benefits of a raw food vegetarian diet.

Originally influenced by the writings of fruitarian naturopath, Benedict Lust, John Richter became such an authority on the subject of raw foodism in his own right that he used to give weekly lectures at the Eutropheon. These lectures were anthologized into a book called Nature—The Healer (1936), one of the pioneering books on the raw food lifestyle to be published in the U.S. His wife Vera wrote one of America’s first “un-cook” books, Cookless Book (1925), with recipes collected from her restaurant’s bill of fare.

Another European émigré to whom the modern raw food movement owes much is Ann Wigmore, born in Lithuania in 1909. Her grandmother was the village healer, renowned for achieving miraculous cures by putting her patients on a raw food diet and plying them with juices that she had pressed from wild grasses. Ann Wigmore drew upon her grandmother’s vast store of knowledge in founding her Hippocrates healing centers throughout the U.S., one of which still exists in Puerto Rico.

So it is clear that the modern raw food movement—which did not spring full-grown from the head of David “Nature’s First Law” Wolfe or Roe “Perfect Body” Gallo—owes an enormous debt to the European pioneers who brought their knowledge of raw foodism and arcane healing arts to the U.S.

Rynn Berry is the Historical Advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society, and is completing a book on the history of raw foodism, called Fruits of Tantalus: A History of Vegan Rawfoodism, to be published in 2004. Rynn is also the author of Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, Food for the Gods: Vegetarianism and the World’s Religions and the Vegan Guide to New York City.


All contents are copyrighted. Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.