Sunday, 21 September 2008

RawforLife Goes to the US Part II (Raw Spirit Festival, Sedona, Arizona)

Sedona is an easy one-and-a-half hour's drive from Phoenix (well, bar the storm we ran into at Cottonwood), past hills covered with thousands of cacti taller than houses. The town itself nestles between enormous red rocks and is said to be a magical place - the site of several 'energy vortexes'. Some say that the energy from these vortexes saturates the whole town, and affects people in a very positive way. Consequently, Sedona has become something of a 'New Age' centre. However, I'm really not sure that I felt any differently from how I usually feel attending raw events, which is...happy, relaxed and positive!

Before I take you 'inside' the Raw Spirit Festival, some words about the raw restaurants outside the site that are there for Sedona's lucky raw foodists all the year round - D'Lish and Cafe Raw Bliss - which are at opposite ends of Highway 89a, the main road running through Sedona.


Although D'Lish also serves cooked vegetarian, they always have raw dishes on the menu, and Thursdays are special raw nights. So, on Thursday September 11th - my birthday, and the night before Raw Spirit Festival - D'Lish was packed with raw foodists. I celebrated with a huge 'raw platter', which included amongst many d'lish morsels a red cabbage 'slaw', nut pate, sea vegetables, guacamole and sprouts, all topped with a raw raspberry dressing. The atmosphere was wonderful and Denise played her guitar and sang to us!

Cafe Raw Bliss

Cafe Raw Bliss, at the other end of 89a, we visited on the last day of the Festival. I went for raw pizza, which is not something I'd normally order in the UK, as I find it a little taxing on the digestion. But, here, as at the farmers' market at La Jolla, the pizza was very light, and covered with leaves - I'm experimenting with 'lighter' pizzas at home right now! Leigh had a very good carrot and ginger soup - creamy and sweet. We both drank ginger lemonade, made with lemons, ginger and agave. Now, I'm never quite sure about agave nectar, as even the agave marketed as 'truly raw' is nevertheless highly processed, but, when the temperature is 90 F, ginger lemonade is...nectar.


Imagine being in a place where you don't have to explain (let alone apologise for) your food preferences, where there are around 1000+ people just as 'odd' as you, where you can eat (mostly) anything you like from the food on offer, and where everyone is friendly, so that you feel confident (whether alone or in a group) talking to anyone you like, or simply wander around on your own, just taking it all in.

Imagine being able to watch, live, rather than on 'youtube'', a host of top raw food names from around the world speak, including the authors of your favourite raw books, and see chefs demonstrate (with lots of free tasters!), and imagine being able to meet them in person at their booths too!

Imagine being able to meet face-to-face those you feel you've got to know a little, on line, eg through raw food forums.

Imagine wandering around in hot sunny weather (come on, UK raw foodists, I did say 'imagine'!), looking at all sorts of stalls (in US they say 'booths') on all sorts of areas of the raw food lifestyle and those that, for some, are associated with it, eg hemp clothing, yoga, art.

Once you've imagined all those things, you have in your mind something that gets a weeny bit close to what you will experience at the Raw Spirit Festival. If you weren't there this year, and haven't been before, make a visit to RSF something that you intend to do as part of your essential raw food education (visualise... manifest - seemed to work for me!)

The lovely man who sold me coconut butter asked if the UK people had chartered a jet there were so many of us there! 150, he thought, but I certainly only managed to meet up with a small fraction of this contingent so I'd recommend anyone going next year to wear something to encourage other UK raw foodists to make contact. Union Jack hat?

There was a free meal served as part of the ticket price, each day available between 2 and 8 pm. I had this the first two days, and although the second day's meal must have been relatively unremarkable as I can't remember it, the first day's was very good - kebabs with a salad, and what I think was a spirulina-based dish. Very tasty, although in the rest rooms I discovered that instead of giving people what I'd hoped had been beautiful smiles, I'd been wowing them teeth.

Organisation overall - not bad...but a big omission for me (and I should think most people there?) was that the toilets were not marked on the Programme map and there weren't even any posters with arrows telling us where, leaving the volunteers to answer the same question over and over again.


Coming up to two years as a UK raw foodist, I'd heard of around a half of the speakers (mostly from the US, but UK speakers included Karen Knowler, Sukie Zoe and Joel Gazdar). There did seem to be a good mix of the really big names and those who have appeared on the raw food scene relatively recently but who have made their presence felt. And of course when one compares being able to listen to all these luminaries over three days at just one venue with the cost of going to see them all individually at various more argument for booking those 2009 tickets as soon as they become available.

I saw fewer speakers than I wanted, mainly because I did have Leigh's interests to consider, ie I wasn't at RSF all the time we were in Sedona. I would have liked to have seen Dr Doug Graham and Karen Knowler speak, but had seen both in the UK and felt my time should be focused on those speakers that are in the UK less.

I did manage to see:

Philip McLuskey

Philip went raw a couple of years ago, and lost 200 lbs! In fact, he now tours the world giving talks under the banner 'Half the Man'. Philip is not only a very inspirational speaker, but, with many raw foodists coming from vegan, 'alternative' cultures, in contrast his culture was more gangland (and he has the tattoos to prove it). He gives a compelling account of how raw has transformed him physically, psychologically and spiritually. If you know anyone who is overweight, please, please direct them to Philip's site at

What resonated with me (do you know I never used the word 'resonated' until discovering raw, but find it so apt so much of the time now!) was Philip's describing how in the early months of raw he listened to all the raw 'gurus' and read everything he could get his hands on, but, in the end, decided treading his own path and eating just what he felt like (as long as it was raw) was the right thing for him. Philip lost masses of weight on what many would describe as a high-fat raw diet, and it was only after he'd been raw for some time that he started to feel like eating fewer nuts, avocados etc. Although I now generally follow a high-fruit, low(ish) fat diet, (because that's what lights my fire right now) my experience in the first few months of raw mirrors Philip's. If you are relatively new to raw, please don't be too concerned about various gurus' pronouncements on what foods you should or shouldn't eat. The experts all disagree with each other anyway; just eat raw! (for some very broad guidelines see the 'What is the Raw Food Diet?' section at my website at

David Wolfe

Now, I had actually seen David speak before at Brighton, UK, with Leigh. David is always entertaining, but I didn't stay for the whole talk at RSF, because...he was getting just a little too whacky for me this time around. I left as he was explaining that shamans always carried with them cacao, tobacco and something else I can't remember, as if because shamans did this and that, it must be a great thing to do - a theory I have never subscribed to. Anyhow, there's no doubt that David has brought thousands of people into the raw lifestyle, and transformed many lives in so doing. If you haven't read it already, do consider buying his 'Sunfood Diet Success System' - an interesting, informative, and inspirational book.

Victoria, Sergei and Valya Boutenko

Victoria is the mother in the famous raw family (Sergei and Valya are her adult children - Igor is her husband) whose journey to raw, in which all family members saw all sorts of illnesses disappear, is chronicled in her book 'The Raw Family'. I've reviewed two other of her books - 'Green for Life' and 'Twelve Steps to Raw' - in past RawforLife e-zines. Sergei and Valya are both raw chefs and enthusiastic advocates of raw, and the talks of all three Boutenkos were entertaining and informative.

Sergei talked about those raw foods that are just right for world financial crises - those free greens growing in our gardens or the wild. Valya described how resistant she had felt at times when her mother had questioned her eating of certain foods, and suggested we try reverse psychology on loved ones along these lines, 'You just carry on eating just the way you like to eat, as I love you no matter what you eat. If you changed too much I might not like you so much.' Hmm..could be worth a go!

Victoria included in her talk a reference to a comment made by a figure prominent in the raw food community (she didn't say who, but I think the initials may be BC) that, in blending we lose lots of nutritional value through oxidation. She pointed out that when we cut an apple, yes the cut pieces go brown, due to oxidation. But when we cover the cut pieces with water, they don't go brown. So, use water when making smoothies, and problem solved...seems so simple really!

Dr Gabriel Cousens

Dr GC is the founder/director of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Centre in Patagonia, Arizona. Gabriel and is well-known for a lifetime of work in raw foods, and has most recently achieved great success in reversing Type II diabetes, culminating in the publication of his book 'There is a Cure for Diabetes.' He was speaking about his diabetes programme, but unfortunately I arrived at the talk a little late. Of course, it was jam-packed, so standing right at the back wasn't ideal, but what I could hear sounded good stuff!

Because many of the stalls were around the Outdoor Main Stage, as I wandered around (stuffing myself with raw food goodies mainly) I also heard snippets of talks from Viktoras Kulvinskas and Matt Monarch.


The music stage was a bit of a poor relation to the other stages, tucked away in a corner, and drowned out to quite an extent by the necessary amplification of speakers' voices on the Outdoor Main Stage.

But one high note for me was seeing one of my RawforLife e-zine subscribers, Emily Cantrell, perform with her husband Al. The Cantrells' music has been described as a 'pop spin on acoustic folk and bluegrass, with detours into Celtic, western swing and Americana.' Their set was a little oasis of tranquillity for me on the Saturday afternoon, and for many others in the audience, some of whom were dancing. My favourite was Emily's own composition, 'Eva Marie', that she had written for a father and his little girl. More about Emily and Al (and some of their music) at

And does anyone know who this is? I'm talking about the lady in the background who, in the photograph, appears to have two heads, although I only remember seeing one on the day. She was on the Main Stage for around 15 minutes midday Sunday, but wasn't listed in the Programme. Her singing was so beautiful (about the sea), and so was she, that I ran after her as she left the stage and asked if she had a website, leaflet...anything? But she didn't! If it wasn't for the fact that I have the photograph, I might think that I'd imagined her. So, if you know who she is, please let me know.

STALLS (or 'booths')

OK - mixed feelings...obviously this comment will reflect my own biases, but there was a plethora of stalls selling supplements, and in my view a fair sprinkling of snake oil around. RSF stalls were in general quite...New Age/alternative. I'm commenting on this only because any of you bringing non-raw partners/friends from mainstream backgrounds need to be aware that RSF for three days could be just a little too much for them...Leigh and I agreed that he would attend all day on Day One, but after that, whilst I attended much of the remaining days, he did his own thing, exploring Sedona and the surrounding area. This worked well!

However, Leigh, following the Venice Boardwalk experience, is certainly a convert to young coconuts, which were sold at one stall (reasonably priced at $3), and, as spoons weren't supplied for the jelly, devised his own method of using the glass straw to scrape around the inside before sucking it through the straw. Although there were a couple of other stalls selling drinks, I feel more were needed; I passed on superfood shakes that appeared to consist of everything but the kitchen sink in the blender for $12 to $15.

There were several stalls selling paid-for food, and I think I must have tried something from each. Lots of nori wraps (I was persuaded that this nori was truly raw and even bought some to take home) and they were all very good. One stall (each day a long queue would form shortly after its opening) sold amazing 'tostadas'. At Chef Bruce Horiwitz's stall I tasted the best dessert ever. It was basically a base of macadamias, topped with bananas and peaches, with a topping made from hemp seed, vanilla and coconut cream. I didn't manage to get the recipe, but one of Bruce's helpers told me what was in it, although she didn't know the quantities. Suffice to say I did try recreating it at home yesterday (using hazelnuts instead of macs as we can't get these raw easily in the UK) wasn't quite the same. If anyone does have the recipe, I'd love to have it.

There were a few raw chocolate stands, but I wondered why most of them found it necessary to include non-raw ingredients such as maple sugar and soy lecithin, as UK raw choc makers don't (OK, I know...agave is a 'debatable'!). Although one vendor did give me a lengthy explanation as to soy lecithin's emulsifying qualities, is is nevertheless interesting that UK raw choc makers appear to be able to make chocolate of all sorts of consistencies without it. I think Gnosis chocolate was free of such ingredients, and did taste very good, but was also very expensive!

Waving the flag for the UK were Sarah Best and Karen Knowler. Sarah was promoting Get Fresh! magazine, which is a glossy magazine that manages to straddle the alternative and mainstream sectors, thus helping to get raw out to 'the masses'. Get Fresh! is now distributed in the US and thousands of readers are very much looking forward to the next issue ( Karen Knowler, as well as speaking, was promoting her international raw food directory, out in October. This is the first of its kind, and I look forward to seeing the first issue (

Good to see one of my favourite 'gurus' - Dr Doug Graham (author of the high-fruit 80/10/10 Diet) - at his stall, helped by Simon, who was very understanding when he saw me sneaking past with my cacao shake. Although... Dr D's stall would have been even better with an array of fruit on offer. One stall I did find giving out free slices of my favourite watermelon was a Hippocrates one, and the irony of this will not be lost on those who are familiar with the differing pronouncements of Dr Doug and Hippocrates on fruit. (I also found a stall selling yellow-fleshed watermelon; it tastes just like red.)

And, there was an excellent 'farmers market' section, selling all sorts of fruit and other raw plant foods, including a stall manned by Barry Koral, who I'd met back in San Diego.

I enjoyed browsing through the various clothes stalls. The designer hemp clothes, though beautiful, were a little out of my price range, but I did buy two tops made from soy!

At Tonya Zavaste's stall ( I was able to try her famous skin cream 'Your Right to be Beautiful'. It was so good to be able to try before buying, as in the past I've wasted money buying creams on-line that were either too heavy or too light. This one was just right, and smelled gorgeous. In fact, Leigh said 'Mmm...I can smell the coconut', which is interesting, as coconut isn't listed in the ingredients. I think he has coconuts on the brain.

I waved goodbye to Raw Spirit at 1pm on the Sunday, as Leigh and I had agreed to go gift shopping in Sedona together in the afternoon before going on to Cafe Raw Bliss. I was to meet him in the carpark at 1 pm. Deciding that I would test the theory that raw fooders don't burn in the sun, and that we don't need sun protection, I threw caution to the (desert) wind, and positioned myself in full sunlight in the middle of a 90 F day, with large areas of skin exposed. Leigh was half an hour late, having fallen into a river, and I can report that later on that day my back was red and a little..sore. It wasn't too bad, in that I could sleep fine, and didn't feel the need to put anything on it, but my feeling is that, although it may be true that raw fooders might not burn (cook?) as much as others, don't push your luck.

And to sum up?

I'd highly recommend Raw Spirit Festival, but, whether it's held in Arizona or California next year, do try to combine it with a few days extra for the California 'raw trail', as explained in Part I. If I could, I'd go every year - it's only the cost of getting there holding me back. On the other hand, that's what I was saying this time last year...

1 comment:

Emily said...

excellent overview! your honest comments were great--next best thing to being there myself. thank you!