This morning my alarm rang at 5:15. In New York, on extremely destructive nights, I’d be going to bed at this hour, or later. I’m up so early because every weekday at 6:15 a.m., I teach yoga for the Institute students and staff as part of my four hours of work for food. We practice yoga on a cement floor under a humble house on stilts, 50 yards from the breaking waves.
My boyfriend, Tom, woke up with me and juiced a beet, some organic apples, carrots, and lemons. The fruit juice tonic, full of live enzymes, is more bracing than coffee, and though it makes me feel better, I still crave steaming coffee, my previous morning stimulant. My current diet is nothing like my previous one. I’ve always eaten a lot of salad and fruit, but I also ate pasta, eggs, steak, and cheese regularly. Butter was my favorite flavor. Now, when I think of butter, I think of the hormones and antibiotics most cows are pumped up with. Here, I’m learning to make conscious choices about more than just food—products I use on my body, for example. I stopped wearing deodorant the first week I was here after I learned that the armpits are one of my body’s major channels for eliminating toxins. You learn to love the smell, because it’s better to have the toxins out than in.
Living here is an extension of a sabbatical I was taking after my journalism jobs completely depleted me. You could say I was having a midlife crisis, though I hadn’t yet reached midlife. I was then, and am now, still living on savings from the boom years, when I made six figures (and sold a house in Silicon Valley). The cost of living is low here. Tom and I rent the farmhouse for $500 a month, which is nothing compared to our previous rentals in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We bought a cheap 1966 Pontiac Tempest, and we don’t go out to eat or out drinking. I eat most of my food at the Institute. We also have dozens of mango, papaya, banana, grapefruit, lime, coconut, guava, quenepa, and other tropical fruit trees on our farm. There’s not much left to buy. Things I thought I needed before—like fashionable clothes—don’t matter much anymore.
The main reason I wanted to stay here after our initial vacation was to heal my body. About six years ago, when I was 36 and wanting to start a family, my gynecologist gave me some bad news: My ovaries weren’t working. Essentially, I was in menopause. It’s a rare condition called premature ovarian failure, and there are several reasons it happens to women well before the age they would usually go into menopause. However, once you have it, it’s irreversible, my doctor said, so not a lot of research has gone into why it happens. Just before we came here, Tom and I saw a fertility doctor at Columbia who said I was a good candidate for egg donation, but it would cost around $25,000 for the first try. After two years of living like a club kid, I didn’t feel ready for this. Hence the trip.
The theory behind this diet is that our bodies operate more efficiently on raw food. The food itself has more nutrients and living enzymes than cooked food. So instead of just refueling our bodies, we’re giving it extra nutrients to repair itself. “Living food,” the more extreme form of “raw food” that’s practiced here, also includes some fermented foods (the rejuvelac and veggie kraut I mentioned yesterday) that are high in the pro-biotic bacteria that help our bodies digest food. Some raw foodists eat a lot of nuts, but we go a step further, soaking and sprouting them so they’re easier to digest. We also eat a lot of sprouts and the young greens of plants like sunflower, buckwheat, peas, and adzuki beans for the enzymes and vitamins they contain.
Today was the start of the second week of the Institute’s two-week menu. On the second week of the program, Mondays are “blended” days. Breakfast was delicious—bright-orange blended papaya and banana with almond cream—a purée of soaked, skinned almonds that has the consistency and richness of whipped cream. Lunch and dinner, however, were both energy soup. On nonblended days, when I add seed cheese, dulse, and some sprouts to my soup, I love it. Blended days, when we eat no solid foods, are challenging. But I remind myself that a bowl of energy soup is like eating six plates of salad, and I think of the extra good I’m doing for my body. I believe that I can reverse the damage I’ve done to my body, and maybe make my ovaries start working again. In fact, after four months on the diet, I had my first natural period in over a year. The following month, I had another. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.
After dinner, Victoria Boutenko, who has been eating raw food for 10 years and has written several books on the subject, spoke to us. She thinks eating cooked food is an addiction, like coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes. Human babies can live on mother’s milk for years, she tells us. When we try to introduce cooked food to babies, we do it slowly. And they don’t like it. Victoria asked, how many people noticed how their babies turn their faces away from the cooked food. Several hands went up. But I thought about how my Croatian grandfather used to like to tell a story of when I was a baby, before I had teeth to chew; they’d give me a chunk of steak, and I’d suck on it until it was absolutely white. He was so proud of me for that.