Raw Vs. Cooked: A Timeless Debate

Many people are making choices to transition away from our industrialized, over-processed food system.  Popular diets are proof of that. Just look at the paleo diet, inspired by the Paleolithic era, which advocates for eating as our ancestors did, mostly whole foods and refusing modern day over-processed offerings including sugary treats, grains, and dairy products. The raw foodism trend takes this a step further and includes a diet of mostly raw, unprocessed local and organic foods as close to their natural state as possible, including raw meat.  Many raw food advocates believe that heat from cooking removes natural enzymes, vitamins, and beneficial bacteria found in organic foods that improve the health of an individual's microbiome.  Just recently, the World Health Organization has weighed in on some risks associated with cooking and processing meat.  However, cooked food advocates argue heat and cooking are essential in order to kill dangerous pathogens, release nutrients, and deconstruct the cellular walls of many foods in order to aid digestion.  The USDA has published an internal temperature chart for cooking protein (scroll down) from years of food safety studies.  The story is as vast as it is old and carries implications further than your own body.

In his book Cooked, Michael Pollan points out: “Cooking gave us not just the meal but also the occasion: the practice of eating together at an appointed time and place. This was something new under the sun, for the forager of raw food would have likely fed himself on the go and alone, like all the other animals. … But sitting down to common meals, making eye contact, sharing food, and exercising self-restraint all served to civilize us.”

How much raw vs. cooked food is likely a question of balance.  Many nutritionists do not advocate for an all raw diet citing that a modest serving of cooked starch and/or meat provide the energy necessary to sustain us. And truth be told these cooked foods are what made it possible for us, as modern day men, to exist today.

In this Food List, we address both sides of the argument, and look into the history of cooking and how it played a key role in defining our society. While the debate continues, even the raw food folks have to admit we're all undoubtedly grateful for the gift of fire.

This week's terms


Nutrients are the essence of life. They’re essential in our function, growth, and survival. We consume our nutrients; carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are macronutrients that fuel the body, while vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that support our metabolism. Imbalances in our consumption of macro- and micro-nutrients manifest into diseases. Nutrients and their calories are in constant exchange through dynamic food webs.

Raw Foodist

Raw foodism is a diet that includes at least 50% raw, unprocessed whole foods. Some raw foodists only eat a raw plant-based diet, while others choose to include in their diet raw and cooked meat and dairy products.


A process that heats liquids and foods at extremely high temperatures to kill viruses and harmful organisms. Louis Pasteur invented this process in the 1860’s in an effort to subside the spoilage of goods. While pasteurization succeeds in extending the shelf life of different food items, opponents often criticize how the process “kills” the beneficial enzymes and vitamin profiles of foods subjected to the process.


"Fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. Culinary traditions everywhere make use of fermentation and guide the process so as to avoid food spoilage and instead produce foods and beverages that are enhanced in terms of preservation, NUTRITION and digestibility, flavor, and/or alcohol. Biologists define fermentation differently, as anaerobic metabolism, and most fermented foods and beverages meet this criteria, however some do require oxygen (vinegar, kombucha, tempeh, certain cheeses) and yet these are still widely recognized as fermented. Typically the word fermentation is reserved for microbial processes that are desirable. Undesirable transformations are described as spoilage or rotting rather than fermentation." - Sandor Katz

Mindful Eating

"Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects one’s body, feelings, mind, and all that is around us. The practice enhances our understanding of what to eat, how to eat, how much to eat, and why we eat what we eat. When eating mindfully, we are fully present and savor every bite--engaging all our senses to truly appreciate the food. Beyond just taste, we notice the appearance, sounds, smells, and textures of our food, as well as our mind’s response to these observations. When we eat with this understanding and insight, gratitude and compassion will arise within us. Thus mindful eating is essential to ensure food sustainability for future generations, as we are motivated to choose foods that are not only good for our health, but also good for our planet." - Dr. Lilian Cheung

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