As soon as Gena Hamshaw began experimenting with a raw food diet, she saw the benefits. The D.C.-based clinical nutritionist credits the regimen with solving her digestion woes, boosting her energy level, expanding her taste horizons and even changing her life.
But she still craved roasted veggies tossed in olive oil and sea salt. So she ate them. She also went back to making brown rice drizzled with tahini dressing, tofu scramble and baked sweet potatoes.
Hamshaw’s continued fondness for cooking — with actual heat — may make her seem like an odd spokeswoman for the raw foods movement. Her accessible approach, however, keeps attracting readers to her 5-year-old blog, Choosing Raw. And it’s why she hopes her new book with the same title ($20, Da Capo Press) will persuade more folks to sample some of her favorite foods, including homemade hemp milk, chia pudding and zucchini “pasta.”
Even if you don’t know her name, it’s possible you’ve tried one of Hamshaw’s concoctions already. Fans of her blog include the local folks who run Sweetgreen and Jrink, both of which tapped her to help develop their juice menus.
“I’m a middle-of-the-road, sane voice,” says Hamshaw, 32, who recognizes that many raw foodists and enthusiasts come off as “woo-woo.” They often advocate for potentially dangerous cleanses and offer strategies that aren’t practical, she adds. (Their blogs are all about “living in yurts, or having lots of money,” she jokes.)
What motivated her to start chronicling her dietary journey was the fact that she was young, busy and making only $28,000 a year, which forced her to be realistic about raw food.
Complicated recipes that required three days of sprouting and dehydrating hard-to-find ingredients were off the table. Instead, she developed techniques that helped her understand how to whip something up with whatever produce was in her fridge: hearty salads, blended soups, raw “rice” made from finely chopped veggies.
The 125 dishes suggested in the book are meant to be played with, Hamshaw says. Some are raw, some are cooked and some are a combination, but all are 100 percent vegan.
According to Hamshaw, that’s one of the healthiest possible diets — as long as you don’t fall for several myths that circulate widely in the vegan community. One whopper: Vegans don’t need to worry about calcium intake because their low-acid diets protect their bones.
“I heard that and bought it hook, line and sinker,” says Hamshaw, who just needed to do a little digging around to find out that wasn’t true. “There’s no bulletproof vest quality to a vegan diet.”
Vegans, like everybody else, need to eat balanced meals. And it does the movement no good, Hamshaw says, to promote inaccurate information.
Hamshaw’s policy is to put it all out there, including the personal history behind her food philosophy. She’s particularly candid about her struggle with anorexia, which first emerged in her early teen years.
“My pediatrician said something and I took it too far,” says Hamshaw, who had multiple relapses over the next decade. But going vegan and exploring raw cuisine changed her relationship with food for good. Ethical eating felt better, and she stopped viewing what was on her plate as simply a number of calories.
It’s a common experience, Hamshaw now knows after hearing from dozens of readers on the topic. She publishes their “green recovery” stories every month. Veganism may not cure every eating disorder — for some people, putting any food in the “forbidden category” is risky, she notes. But she’s proud to host a forum where it’s acknowledged as an option.
Presenting multiple choices is key to everything Hamshaw does. You can substitute pine nuts for chick peas, or use an oven or a dehydrator to make your ratatouille, she says. All that matters is that you’re choosing — and sometimes choosing raw.
Gena Hamshaw’s book showcases simple raw dishes, but if Washingtonians want to be wowed, she suggests they dine at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw (elizabethsonlstreet.com). For raw and cooked vegan food, she likes Great Sage (greatsage.com) in Clarksville, Md.
A Really Raw Deal
The D.C. Raw Food Festival takes over the Emergence Community Arts Collective on Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. (733 Euclid St. NW; 202-462-2285, bit.ly/rawfoodtickets). “Raw food is not like McDonald’s, available on every corner, but there is a lot in the city,” says organizer Aaron Cobet, who is bringing together local raw food chefs to show off what they can do (including a raw vegan chocolate mousse). Attendees can expect to receive helpful pointers and tons of “absolutely delicious” food samples, Cobet promises. Tickets are $20 online and $25 at the door, but pre-registration is encouraged.
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