The Raw and the Rawer
Watch me eat fifty-one bananas
On the second night of the Woodstock Fruit Festival, long after dinner has been cleared, I stand in the dining hall and wait with other festivalgoers for what is rumored to be a “fuck ton” of durian, a large, spiky tropical fruit famous for smelling like dung. The walls are made of shellacked yellow pine, so bright and fresh-looking that they make you think over and over again of trees getting chopped up, and with the nearness and number of other people’s bodies I am overly warm, almost sweating. Thick bass pummels the air from the rave-style DJ in the corner. Beneath the buzz of long fluorescent bulbs, small children limbo under a piece of string to the sloppy clapping of adults, and somewhere in the hall a drum circle stutters to an entirely different rhythm. It is too bright in here, and too noisy, and everywhere I go there’s the slight whiff of fruit rot, a sweet, sticky smell whose origin is decay.
It is the first of the festival’s many “Sweet Durian Nites,” a DJ’ed dance party that climaxes with the consumption of hundreds of whole ripe durian fruits, and the dining hall is packed with exemplars of health and youth and whiteness. There are lean kids in T-shirts and shorts, hippie chicks with rippling hair, sporty-looking guys who look like bros at first glance but are wearing toe shoes — snug, rubberized foot-gloves that swaddle the foot in high-tech materials in order to mimic the conditions of running barefoot. Everyone looks comfortable. Everyone has good posture. Everyone is attractive, or more precisely, all the attendees look so well that I feel like I should be attracted to them. Even the older attendees seem young: I have the experience many times of walking toward a girl with long hair and skinny legs only to discover up close that she is well over 60.
A narrow-headed man with arms like an action figure introduces himself as Jay and asks whether this is my first time trying durian. I tell him I’ve only had it cooked in puddings or cakes, and he assures me that raw, fresh durian is a completely different thing. He says I’ll go nuts for it, especially if I stick to a fruitarian diet. “The cleaner you get,” he says, “the more your body craves that sulfur flavor. And you’ll be able to taste more in it — coffee, ice cream, whiskey, lemon. If there’s something you miss eating, durian starts to taste just like it.”
I tell him I haven’t been raw for very long. “Yeah, I can tell,” he says. “You’ve got those dark circles. I mean, don’t get me wrong — you’re beautiful — but I can fix those.” Jay is one of the festival’s licensed massage therapists and encourages me to sign up for a free massage with him down by the lake. He also invites me to live for free on a plot of land he’s bought in Ecuador, where he plans to grow more than twenty different kinds of durian and build several tree houses.
I alternate between thinking that something has gone horribly wrong and reminding myself that it’s only durian.Tweet
Then I hear a whoop coming from the center of the room near the kitchen. Other voices join in shouting and whistling, and we crush together toward the source of the sound. Volunteers begin wheeling carts from the back-kitchen thawing room, each cart piled forty or fifty menacing-looking globes high, every spiny lump wrapped in protective plastic netting. The bodies near my own surge toward the carts in a scrabble of shouting, grabbing two or three or four durians at once, cradling the dinosaurish masses against their bare arms and shirtless torsos. Some carry them toward the peripheries of the dining hall, the corners and isolated tables — feeding behaviors I’ve seen in zoos but never among human beings. The air fills with an alarming smell, something like shit, something like cafeteria meat. I alternate between thinking that something has gone horribly wrong and reminding myself that it’s only durian.
When the crowd thins I approach one of the carts. The durians are a bit picked-over, and the ones left are smaller, less plump, and still somewhat frozen. I lift one gingerly by the netting and carry it to a table. Even trying gently to tug and roll it out of the plastic is painful. The more experienced durian eaters tell me to “find the weak spot and start digging there,” but as I turn the durian all I see are strong spots covered in small, sharp points. Eventually a stranger comes over to help me out. He has a huge red beard and wears a T-shirt that says VEGAN. in large white lettering. He flips the fruit over and points out the seam, an invisible line at which the spikes of the durian begin to part in opposite directions. When he puts thumbs on either side of the seam, the creaturely fruit pops open. Under his expectant eyes, I dig three fingers into the belly of the freezing-cold fruit and shovel it into my mouth. It tastes like custard and sour banana and very, very strongly like onion. “You like it?” he asks, and I nod and make a couple of high-pitched positive sounds. If I were being honest, I wouldn’t say that I like the taste — I would say only that it is better than I had expected. It definitely doesn’t taste like anything I long for, anything I miss having. When he leaves I give away the remaining three-quarters of my durian to a group of people who have already demolished their fourth. My fingers smell of cold egg and onion, and I am tired and still hungry.
What there is: fruit — more than $100,000 worthTweet
This is the fourth annual Woodstock Fruit Festival, a fourteen-day celebration of health, fitness, and the consumption of an entirely raw fruit-based vegan diet. There is no meat at the Woodstock Fruit Festival, no animal products, no processed food. There are no grains, no nuts, no cooked or steamed or sautéed anything. There is no salt, no oil, no refined sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, garlic, or onion. Sometimes there are herbs, or raw corn. What there is: fruit — more than $100,000 worth of fresh and frozen produce trucked in from fruit and vegetable wholesalers in the Bronx and Chinatown, greens from a nearby organic farm, and donated watermelon from a farmer in Pennsylvania. Approximately 1,750 durians from the tropical-fruit distributor New Generation, over 4,200 pounds of tomatoes, and an almost ineffable amount of bananas — enough to fill one of the large back-kitchen ripening rooms several times over. I am here as one of approximately six hundred total attendees over the course of two weeklong sessions — established or aspiring fruitarians who practice a more rigorous and restrictive diet than most people have ever imagined. For up to $1,795 a week, they seek to achieve elite health and to “plug their digestive systems,” as I overheard one woman say, “directly into nature.”
I was first introduced to fruitarianism by a close friend who crashed with me for a weekend in 2012. I opened the door and watched her roll a carry-on suitcase into the entryway, set it down, unzip it, and remove two forty-ounce plastic containers of red globe grapes, which she rinsed off and consumed in their entirety while standing in the middle of my kitchen. When she was done, she put the spindly grape-skeletons back in their plastic clamshells, and the clamshells back in her suitcase. She had been on a fruit-based diet for just a couple of months, but was already reporting astounding changes: an end to the stomach pains that had troubled her for years; bursting, glowy levels of energy; sharpened concentration; happiness. “I love it,” she told me. “It’s like the whole world is made of delicious, dripping sugar.” Her diet didn’t sound safe, but my friend looked well. She buzzed with intense well-being and her skin looked enviably great, although she took frequent naps.
At a moment when fats are being redeemed and carbs are increasingly demonized in the eyes of doctors and nutritionists, fruitarianism is an outlier. Most faithfully described as a “plant-based raw vegan diet” consisting mostly of fruit (the term fruitarian is preferred among practitioners, although only a fraction are on an all-fruit diet) fruitarianism largely adheres to a nutritional regimen known as 80-10-10. This is a high-carb, low-fat diet in which at least 80 percent of one’s calorie consumption is expected to come from the simple carbohydrates found in fresh fruits and vegetables, with at most 10 percent each coming from protein and fat. As a point of comparison, an Atkins diet begins with a recommended ratio of 10 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 65 percent fat. Because fruits and vegetables naturally contain small amounts of fat and protein, Dr. Doug Graham, an unlicensed chiropractor and the man behind 80-10-10, claims that you can thrive on a diet composed entirely of fresh raw fruits, raw leafy greens, and only occasional supplements of nuts or seeds. In the winter, breakfast might be one pound of kiwi blended with one pound of orange juice, one and three-quarter pounds of peeled bananas wrapped in romaine leaves for lunch, and a three-course dinner consisting of one pound of blended tangerines and pineapple; one pound of tangerines, celery, and red bell peppers blended into a soup; and a side salad. In the summer, typical daily intake for someone following 80-10-10 might be a breakfast consisting of four pounds of watermelon, a lunch of two pounds of bananas blended into a smoothie with one pound of water, and a dinner composed of a large salad with one pound of lettuce; twelve ounces of tomatoes; a pound of mixed blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries; a pound of peaches; and two tablespoons of raw tahini.
This diet is not easy to maintain, but raw-fruit experts promise a vast array of benefits, ranging from the usual cornerstones of dieting — weight loss, energy gain, improved memory and mood — to elite athletic performance and resistance to degenerative disease. In testimonials, fruitarians claim that going raw has done everything from curing cancer, diabetes, and arthritis to eliminating body odor and changing the color of one’s eyes from brown to blue. Unlike the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet, or the South Beach Diet, 80-10-10 promises to transform your experience of your body, revealing levels of thriving that you didn’t know existed. As Dr. Graham writes in The 80-10-10 Diet: Balancing Your Health, Your Weight, and Your Life One Luscious Bite at a Time:
Herein lies the paradox: losing weight, feeling good, even ridding ourselves of intractable diseases, does not necessarily mean we have become healthier. Heroin users feel good. So do coffee drinkers. So too do evangelists. Junk-food-eating entertainers, anorexic runway models, and supplement-pounding body builders may look good . . . but are any of these people nourishing their bodies on a cellular level? Are they eating whole, unrefined foods in the quantities and proportions on which their bodies were designed to thrive? Absolutely not.
Low-fat raw is pitched to traditional dieters looking to lose weight and look better, but also to a broader audience of people who seem healthy but fear disease and degeneration, people who find modern food production threatening, people who wonder whether there might be a level of wellbeing and fitness beyond what they’ve experienced. 80-10-10’s demographic includes both the sick and the healthy — it potentially includes everyone. In this way, “going raw” breaks with the traditional function of diet as rudimentary medicine (seen even in early Hippocratic medical texts) and becomes a lifestyle. A diet tells you what you should eat; a lifestyle tells you how you should feel about it.
The history of recreational dieting is fairly brief. Until the rise of natural-food communities in the 1970s, it could be argued that for most secular Americans diet and lifestyle were imagined as distinct, compartmentalized aspects of daily life. Dieting for weight loss was done in the background of one’s visible lifestyle, and though a women’s magazine might provide information about new diets as well as information about entertaining, recipes for dieters were never confused with the recipes designed to impress your husband’s boss. Diets were faddish, seasonal, geared toward achieving a specific goal, and then abandoned once they were no longer needed. They were not supposed to rearrange social ties or create new communities, only help you to succeed within your existing community by becoming a slimmer and more attractive version of yourself. In both the New Nutrition of the 1880s, which followed the discovery of food as a composite of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and the Newer Nutrition of the 1930s, based on vitamins, the emphasis was on eating the right amount of existing mainstream foods in the right proportion to satisfy nutritional needs. Eighty-ten-ten’s ancestry should be traced instead to the leftist utopian food communities of the 1960s and ’70s and the age of Negative Nutrition, which sought to reduce or eliminate foods that had previously been part of a nutritious Standard American Diet. Negative Nutrition spurned sodium, cholesterol, sugar, and fat — and the suspicions it raised about the Standard American Diet lent momentum to the growing natural-foods movement.
For up to $1,795 a week, they seek to achieve elite health and to “plug their digestive systems,” as I overheard one say, “directly into nature.”Tweet
In the natural-foods movement of the 1960s and ’70s, activists and hippies combined diet, politics, and community to provide a vision of how one could live the type of life one’s diet deserved. Foods were eliminated from the diet not only for health reasons but in order to cultivate a desirable personality — meat-eating, for example, was denounced as an impediment to spiritual growth and a cause of aggressive behavior. Groups like the Diggers in San Francisco gave food away for free and popularized whole wheat bread baked in emptied coffee cans as part of a broader experiment in creating a miniature society free from capitalism, while the macrobiotic Zen diet proposed eating your way to enlightenment through ten different stages, each more restrictive than the last, until the eater reached an apex where she sustained herself on brown rice alone. The fruitarian lifestyle shares the narrative structure of the macrobiotic diet, its emphasis on eliminating toxicity within the body, as well as its ethos of restrictive decadence — once eaters have been raw for some time, their bodies may be “clean” enough to move on to periods of extended fasting or even breatharianism, where one takes in energy directly from the air or by gazing at the sun and absorbing energy from its rays. Where it differs from macrobiotics is in its fixation on a utopian past. Like those on the nutritionally inverse paleo diet, fruitarians eat in hope of returning to a past that predates the primal wound of agrarian society, but whereas paleo dieters hark back to the era where humans were hunter-gatherers, fruitarians look back to an even earlier time, when we were simply gatherers — equal, undifferentiated, and deeply in harmony with nature.
At the women’s support group that runs daily in a large tented space out past the moist and muddying campground, an older woman in a brightly patterned head scarf and shawl is close to tears. She reminds me, distantly, of several grandmothers I have known. “I have come here,” she says in a soft Russian accent, “to talk about coffee. I miss coffee so bad here. I know it is bad for me, but it was like a friend. Coffee kept me warm. It warmed me inside. Now that I am here, I think I am glad to be free of what it does to me, but I am cold inside. I am cold all day long and I feel so lonely without it.” The circle of seated women makes quiet, sympathetic sounds as the Russian woman softly weeps. “Thank you for sharing, I know this must be very difficult to share,” says Ellen Livingston, the moderator — a certified life coach and one of the festival’s Pioneers. “Food is such an emotional thing for all of us. It connects us to our past and reminds us of times when we felt safe and well, times we love to return to in our memories. Sometimes we feel that when we can’t return to that food, we’ll never be able to return to the feeling we had while consuming it.”
The topic of this day’s support group is “Emotional Eating/Food Addiction,” although in coming days I will discover that nearly every session focuses on the same issues: cravings and how to resolve them. Ellen pulls her already taut body into a position strongly resembling a yoga pose and asks whether anyone else in the circle has something to say about coffee. There’s a moment of silence. “I miss chocolate,” offers a younger woman in running shorts. “We all miss something,” Ellen says calmly. “But maybe this would be a good time to remind ourselves of what we do not miss. What don’t you miss about coffee?” she asks the Russian. “I don’t miss . . . the bitterness,” the woman replies, and Ellen nods. “I don’t miss . . . that I feel tired without it, that I want it to drink,” she continues. “You don’t miss needing coffee,” says Ellen, nodding. “I don’t miss needing it,” the woman agrees. Then her face contracts. “I want to,” she begins, her voice wobbling, “I want to be myself and only myself. I want my energy to come from myself and not from any chemical. I want to shine with a light that is only my own, a pure light that comes from me and my life! I want to shine with my own light!” She wipes her face with a corner of her shawl, and we all clap for her, solemnly.
The Woodstock Fruit Festival began in 2010, at a time when the fruitarian community was more scattered and less tech-savvy. Founder Michael Arnstein envisioned the festival as a place where eaters who had communicated online via message boards and comment threads could meet in person, and where longtime practitioners who had eaten fruit-based raw in private could be brought into the spotlight and transformed into role models for those just starting out. Arnstein invited about twenty guests, established fruitarians, like the YouTube celebrity Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram (a.k.a. FullyRawKristina), to speak at the festival and serve as WFF “Pioneers.”
In exchange for giving talks and leading exercises for free in the festival’s first year, Pioneers are now invited back year after year for varying amounts of compensation. At Woodstock, the Pioneers lead exercise classes, tie-dye sessions, support groups, and tutorials. They teach aspiring fruitarians “How to Create a Fresh and Fruity Face Without Using Conventional Makeup” and “How to Have Healthy Teeth on a Raw Food Diet.” They give lectures that range from the pop-psychological (“Are You Hungry? What Are You Hungry For?”) to the pop-scientific (“An Investigation into the Evolution of the Human Brain”). They chat and take photos with attendees, do interviews, and frequently sign festivalgoers up for paid services such as nutritional testing, coaching, and training or for health retreats. Above all, they motivate beginners to “stay on track,” motivate athletes to push themselves toward new heights of fruit-fueled fitness, motivate experienced dieters to cleanse themselves further through fasting. They offer themselves up as physical embodiments of one’s best self — the kind of person you could be, if you ate this way.
Many of the festival presentations give me advice on how to deal with cravings. They insist that cravings are a matter of nostalgia and nurture rather than evidence of any gap between physiological demand and what is supplied by raw plants and fruit. A craving for cooked starches such as potatoes or bread could mean that I’m low on salt and should be eating more vegetables, or a craving for rich foods and desserts might mean that I’m not consuming enough calories, so my body is trying to push me toward taking a shortcut. It’s true that I’ve found it difficult to eat enough on a caloric level since I got here: in the line at the twenty-four-hour fruit buffet I look to the people around me for clues on what I should take, how I should eat. At one lunch, I eat eight longan fruits (each about the size of a large marble), four tangerines, and two kiwi halves and am completely full. In the same amount of time, Tanya, the petite Peruvian girl I’m eating with, clears two tangerines and seventeen whole kiwis, cutting each one in half and eating the creamy green meat straight out of the skin with a spoon. When I go back to my cabin, she heads into the buffet line for more. I am told that I’ll be able to eat greater volume with time — the stomach needs to stretch to accommodate the large volume of watery, fibrous foods — and I see this borne out in the eaters around me: the belly of a skinny, shirtless young guy eating a huge bowl full of bananas sticks out hugely, like a child’s, but when I see him again a couple hours later, he’s resumed a completely normal shape.
Having a stomach packed with fruit is a strange and not unpleasant sensation. After eating three pounds of mixed kiwis and nectarines, I feel agile and my mind seems to work at double speed. Although I’m not hungry, I’m not full, and the idea of achieving fullness is daunting — I don’t know how much I’d have to eat, or how much time I’d have to spend peeling, tearing, chewing. Fruitarians make continual reference to how “digestible” fruit is, and one consequence of this digestibility is that you burn your meals quickly and are hungry again soon. I learn to keep a few tangerines with me at all times in case I notice myself getting drifty or unfocused — each one is equal to about twenty minutes of brainpower. Other consequences of digestibility are scatological. Any bathroom shared by fourteen women is bound to be busy, but in the close quarters of our female-only cabin it was hard not to be aware of the steady procession into and out of our single shared toilet. Frequent defecation is an open secret of the fruitarian lifestyle, and while leaders of the movement don’t talk much about the downsides of this, they often tout the improved quality of your poop as a perk of the diet. Michael Arnstein claims that since adjusting to his fruitarian diet his shit literally does not smell, and even Dr. Graham devotes a portion of his lecture to the beneficial effects of fruit on the digestive system. “I have perfect poop every time,” he says, facing the crowd and enunciating into his microphone. “Why would I ever want to go back?” Our cabin consisted of beginners, by and large, and our stool — soft, with an odor like manure — did not achieve perfection. But it was quick and easily forgotten. On the internet, YouTube fruitarians dedicate videos to assuring recent converts that whatever digestive changes they experience, be they constipation or unsettlingly frequent trips to the bathroom, are a temporary but necessary stop on the way to a perfectly normal Type 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart — somewhere between “like a sausage but with cracks on the surface” and “like a sausage or snake.”
Dr. Graham radiates health, if not necessarily wellness.Tweet
In addition to physiological cravings for fat, salt, and nutrients, many on the raw vegan diet experience psychological cravings for the flavors and variety of outlawed meals. Food-prep classes with titles like “If I Didn’t Know Better, I’d Swear This Was an Italian Sausage Sandwich” and “Frickin Rawsome Sweet and Savory Stews” teach attendees how to mince and blend plants until they take on unplantlike textures, flavors, and shapes. Recipes mimic the form and structure of traditional eating and are supposed to tamp down dietary FOMO. But many fruitarians I met at the festival view recipes as a distraction, and one that makes you vulnerable to regime erosion. “The way to stay 100 percent bulletproof raw,” one attendee tells me, “is to just accept that you aren’t eating like anyone else. You’re not eating like your friends or your family when they’re eating their, like, little meals. It’s a totally different thing.” Recipes are a hassle in a diet that already requires a good deal of time and effort to source, and they retain a conceptual connection to the cooked, high-fat, and non-vegan dishes they were based on. Hence the “monomeal,” a high-volume, high-carb meal made up entirely of a single fruit. A monomeal might consist of three pineapples, or twenty mangoes, or a single sitting of fifteen to twenty-five bananas. Monomealing is supposed to aid in digestion, eliminating the possibility of combining foods that will react poorly together in the stomach — such as tomatoes and dates — and many at the festival believe that it replicates the primal digestive conditions our bodies were designed for.
In a talk called “Beginner’s Guide to a Raw Food Lifestyle,” Pioneer Don Bennett, a curly-haired “disease avoidance specialist” in a tie-dyed T-shirt, whose slim frame appears to be made entirely of cords of muscle, describes our ancestors wandering a tropical landscape, foraging tender shoots and occasional berries. When our ancestors encountered a tree bearing loads of sweet, ripe fruit, they would gorge themselves on it, filling up on as much fruit as they could, and converting it all to pure, clean energy. An elderly man in a khaki jacket and pants whom I will see at every health-related talk I go to raises his hand. “I was recently in the tropics,” he says quietly, “and I spent time walking in the jungle, and I didn’t see very much fruit at all. Sometimes I saw a tree, it would have mangoes on it or some such thing, but not so many. Four or five, perhaps. It seems to me that it would be difficult to live on this.” Don Bennett doesn’t rest a beat before responding with evidence from his own raw journey. When he first began, Don was eating large monomeals of the kind you might see people consuming here at the dining hall. But as his body completed its necessary healing, it required less and less food to function, so that today he eats one or two small meals and a larger supper. He says you’d be surprised by how different your body becomes once you’ve been raw for several years, how smoothly it works. The khaki man listens, but ultimately looks unsatisfied.
The summer after my friend became a fruitarian, she went to her first Woodstock Fruit Festival, and then her second. But when I said I was interested in coming along the following year, she told me she wouldn’t be there — she was one of many fruitarians boycotting the festival after the festival’s board of governors voted two of her YouTube vegan role models out of the Pioneers: Durianrider, a.k.a. Harley Johnstone, a chiseled Australian cyclist known for his freestyle rhyming mantras (“Raw fruit’s about gettin’ it from the tree, gettin’ it from the vine, feelin’ divine. It’s not ordering food online!”) and his girlfriend, Freelee, a.k.a. the Banana Girl, a video celebrity who makes about $20,000 a month from branded content and YouTube ads.
In December 2013, about three months after the 2013 festival, a video titled “Banned from Being Woodstock Fruit Festival 2014 Pioneers. Our Reaction” went up on Durianrider’s YouTube channel. In the video, Freelee sits in Durianrider’s lap, their skinny arms wrapped around each other. With Durianrider in a VEGAN. T-shirt and Freelee wearing a fuzzy blue sweater that complements her fluffy blond hair, the two are a model of fit, sexy health suitable for emulation by their large internet viewership. Cuddled together, they tell the story of how they were demoted in a secret vote headed by Dr. Graham. Though they were supposedly voted out because they had begun to endorse a “Raw Till 4” diet that includes eating some starch in the evenings as a “backup plan” for those unable to stick to a strictly raw fruit and vegetable regimen, a clip of Dr. Graham describing his 80-10-10 diet shows him endorsing steamed eggplant and broccoli. “We don’t hate anybody,” Durianrider explains, “but we are disappointed in a few people.” They go on to express “disappointment” in several of the other Pioneers: Dan McDonald (aka the Life Regenerator, aka Dan the Man) for selling supplements that include animal products such as deer antler, Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram for threatening legal action against another YouTube raw celebrity for producing a watermelon salsa that was too similar to her own watermelon gazpacho, Dr. Graham for calling them dietary elitists while voting against them under the premise that “raw is law” — a maxim that Durianrider and Freelee believe alienates many potential converts. They announce that they will host their own fruit festival in Thailand this year. Unlike Woodstock, it’ll be free to attend all festival activities — airfare, lodging, and board not included.
While many leaders in the fruitarian movement frame eating 100 percent raw as a health choice, Durianrider and Freelee see it as part of a larger effort to grow the vegan community and prevent cruelty to animals. “We know this cooked-food plan, this Raw Till 4 is keeping more people vegan than ever, these videos are important,” says Freelee. Durianrider chimes in: “I met a girl a while back, she’s doing the fully raw lifestyle in Adelaide, Australia, and she stopped me on the streets and said ‘Oh, you’re Durianrider, I watch your channel, I watch Kristina, it’s great’ . . . and she says, y’know, ‘I’m struggling with family and my weight and stuff,’ and I go, ‘Well, you eat fully raw?’ and she’s like, ‘I mean, I’d like to but y’know, I still eat chicken and stuff . . .’ It’s fully raw or nothing. I mean, what else is there? ‘I can’t eat grains, so might as well eat chicken.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you fuckin’ serious? Follow Freelee, Freelee’s a much better example because she’s real world! The advice Freelee gives to women is actually fuckin’ doable.’” “You can do it,” Freelee adds, nodding at the camera. “People are gonna stay vegan for life if they do this program.”
Other Pioneers have responded to Durianrider and Freelee’s accusations with a mixture of hostility and sadness. FullyRawKristina has said that the promotion of cooked food was just an excuse — Durianrider and Freelee were ousted because they were aggressive and disrespectful of the other Pioneers. Still others view their endorsement of cooked food as a genuine health threat to those susceptible to leaving the fully raw diet for one that is easier to achieve. Some in the movement have even said cooked food does more damage to the body than cigarettes. In an interview about the rift, Michael Arnstein expresses distress at ousting Durianrider, whose videos helped him enter the fruitarian lifestyle. Nevertheless, he views their occasional cooked foods as a sign of both physical and moral decay: “They went from eating health first to being cold-stone back on food addiction. That’s what it is. And that shit will spin you around. And they’re manipulating their own thinking into thinking this is OK and this is good.” In a more relaxed moment later in the interview, Arnstein discusses their demotion from the Pioneers as a matter of logistics — if the festival included Raw Till 4ers, would WFF organizers have to expand their resources, spend more on different kinds of food, invest in more kitchen volunteers to cook food for Durianrider’s contingent?
In March 2014, Durianrider released a document online. Gimmetruthdoc.pdf, a twenty-six-page file, reiterates his claim that FullyRawKristina’s PR firm threatened legal action against YouTuber Rawvana, and reproduces the letter. It includes emails and chat excerpts in which Kristina asks Freelee and Durianrider for guidance and help, and accuses FullyRawKristina of being both ungrateful and “fake.” It also singles out a particular raw foodie for sexist comments that attack Freelee because she has breast implants. But the document’s main focus is Dr. Graham, who Durianrider claims was paid an additional $70,000 from Michael Arnstein’s personal funds to attend the 2013 festival — a sum that would vastly overshadow the compensation of other Pioneers. It also publicizes his 2009 arrest for money laundering, and alludes to the death or institutionalization of several people who have attended Dr. Graham’s fasting retreats, which take place in Costa Rica and can cost upward of $16,000. (Further Googling shows that his license to operate a fasting center in Florida was suspended in 1998 for “failure to provide adequate care” to his patients, and his chiropractic license — obtained in 1983 from a not yet accredited institution — expired in 2000 and has not been renewed.) Since then, Durianrider has posted Dr. Graham’s arrest record online, and publicized the video testimonial of Leah Branster, who nearly died at one of Dr. Graham’s retreats after she developed extreme symptoms that he assured her would be cured by further fasting, and discouraged her from seeking medical attention.
Dr. Graham is by far the biggest draw, the biggest celebrity, the biggest personality at the Woodstock Fruit Festival. While most Pioneers do ten to twenty events over the course of the festival, Doug Graham does fifty-four. Each day he does a Q&A session, leads a 9 am exercise class, teaches a class on raw food preparation (“Kentuckified Cauliflower”), and at 4:30 gives a talk from a five-part lecture, “How to Be Happy, Healthy, and Have the Body of Your Dreams.” Though it’s not on the official schedule, he also appears daily between 5:45 and 7 pm at his company’s FoodNSport Info Tent, perched at the most visible point in the festival grounds, where his volunteers answer questions about 80-10-10 and hand out informational literature for Dr. Graham’s numerous wellness retreats.
A muscle-bound 61-year-old with a graying ponytail and the thick, ropy neck of a cartoon henchman, Dr. Graham radiates health, if not necessarily wellness. In his talks, he projects authority and casual chumminess all at once, sitting on the edge of the stage with his legs dangling or strolling through the hall giving audience members occasional pats on the back. He lectures like a trained professional, with the rolling, peaking style of a motivational speaker and a sound to his sentences that keeps you listening even if you aren’t really absorbing what he’s saying. “It’s challenging to eat 80-10-10 because you have to unlearn stuff you knew stone-cold!” he says, chuckling. “You have to accept that what you know is trash, and has to be THROWN OUT!” (Here he crumples an imaginary object up in his hand and tosses it over his shoulder.) Sitting among the dozens of attendees who linger after each lecture to ask Dr. Graham questions, I see how he focuses his attention on each person in turn, leaning into the question, tossing an aside to the acolyte across the way, doing voices and cracking jokes. When my attention drifts, as it does more and more, uncontrollably, throughout the week, his face moves directly into my line of sight, answering someone else but speaking toward me until I snap back into focus, nodding: when Dr. Graham speaks, you feel a whole-body urge to nod.
One woman asks him what his opinion is of garlic. Another says she’s interested in doing his fasting retreat but she has endometriosis, can fasting cure that? Then a round man, one of the few round men at this festival of hard bodies, asks a question: “80-10-10 is a low-fat diet, but I heard that the brain runs on fat?” Dr. Graham leans back and puts his hands on his knees. Then he leans forward again. “Well, no,” he says in a friendly way. “You see here, your brain is made up of fat. It was built from fat, fat’s what’s in it. But you see, your brain is already built — you don’t need to eat more of that stuff to build it. How many fingers do you have?” he asks. The man looks confused; his hand twitches. “Ten,” he says. “Right,” says Dr. Graham, “and how many fingers do you need to eat to keep on having ten fingers?” There’s a pause. We all look confused. Then everyone starts laughing at once. “None,” says the man shyly. “That’s right,” Dr. Graham says, “you don’t need to eat ’em, you’ve already got ’em!” I leave to go to dinner, but when I look back I can see there are still dozens of people waiting there to hear whatever he says next.
The last talk in Dr. Graham’s five-part series, subtitled “F.E.E.L. YOUR WAY TO HEALTH,” is the one that feels the most like a sales pitch. Unlike the others, which focus on conveying the nutritional backbone of the 80-10-10 diet and addressing audience concerns, this one deals hazily with emotional well-being and self-realization. We write down three things we truly value in our lives and meditate on them. We think on our “negative” qualities and what positivity we might be able to find in them. Then Dr. Graham starts talking about his fasting retreats, supervised water-only fasts in the jungle of Costa Rica that take more than a month to complete, including about a week of “refeeding” after the fasting period has ended. He shows slide after slide of people who’ve successfully come through his fasting retreats thinner, fitter, free of health problems that had plagued many of them for years. “Before” pictures tend to be sloppier, smile-free. “After” pictures show people who are skinny, tan, with eerily large eyes. “People who fast become more alive,” Dr. Graham says. I hear one girl in the audience whisper “Not always” to the girl next to her, but she’s the only one in the room who shows any sign of dissent.
It’s 5:30 PM on a damp, overcast day and I have a deconstructed romaine heart in my bowl, a clod of cilantro, a couple cups of sliced cucumbers mixed with dill, a pile of red bell pepper pieces, and about five tangerines on the side. In these large salads where the dressing is just blended fruit, the lettuce acts as a sieve, separating the liquid from the pulp. The bottom regions of my salad slosh with vaguely mineral-tasting liquid. The skinny kid sitting next to me is telling me about the diets he did before this one. Then he points at my arm: “Oh,” he says. “You’re freezing.” I look down and see my arms covered in goose bumps. I am also damp, and a little dizzy, and mostly sick of the cold, sweet wateriness of plant matter. I haven’t had a sip of water in days. “I wonder why the same thing isn’t happening to me,” he says, pointing at his own arms, which project smooth and china-white from the sleeves of his T-shirt. He adds that he is immune to mosquito bites and sunburn.
For days now I’ve been talking to everybody I can find, asking them how long they’ve been raw, how they found the diet, how they make it work financially, what they eat, why they eat it, and what they think about the rift that has opened up between Durianrider and Freelee and the remaining WFF pioneers. Mostly what I’ve learned is that nobody wants to discuss the controversy. Instead, we talk endlessly about food: what kinds of fruit we could buy where we lived, what kinds we wanted to try, our dietary goals and aspirations. Many were working to become fully raw, and those who were already strove for intense cleansing or fasting. Many said they were “always hungry” or “always thinking about food.” It’s generally believed that the development of agriculture made civilization possible, freeing early humans from lives in which nearly all of their time had to be spent planning and pursuing food. But you could also say that agriculture, and the divisions of labor it propagated, created the ancestors of our present-day lifestyle options — specializations in class, consumption, and daily routine that have grown more numerous and finely demarcated over time. Lifestyle differentiation made possible lifestyle choice, including the choice to adopt a lifestyle in which you would once again spend nearly all of your time thinking about eating.
In theory, fruit is free and abundant, a sweet package of harm-free profit. When you eat an animal or even a plant, you take the labor-product of its body and convert it into something completely other, alienating spirit from material and reproducing the logic of exploitation. But fruit is literally made to be eaten — it’s a piece of excess that falls off the branch on its own, a carbo-loaded gift, and the relationship between an apple tree and the creature that eats the apple and transports its seed to some other promising location is symbiotic, a form of barter rather than theft. What better basis for a community could there be than fruit, which is symbol and sustenance at once?
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But real fruit is expensive, difficult to source and ship without compromising on these principles. Most commercially grown fruit is harvested by laborers who are overworked and underpaid, then shipped long distances in gas-guzzling trucks or oil-guzzling ships that exact a toll on the environment. Eating a fruit-based diet is also not as easy as experts make it sound: that so many of the eaters I spoke to told me not only how they eat but how they aspire to eat in the future is an indication of how challenging it is to conform to the 100 percent low-fat raw model that the Pioneers promote, and how much energy they put into both maintaining and escalating their dietary practices. To keep costs down, many fruitarians get their fruit from large fruit wholesalers that buy from industrial farms, and almost all eat conventionally grown and genetically modified organisms.
There are also health concerns. In 2013, Ashton Kutcher was hospitalized for two days after following a fruitarian diet for a month, part of a Method-acting stunt designed to prepare him for filming the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs. (“I was doubled over in pain, and my pancreas levels were completely out of whack,” Kutcher later told reporters at Sundance.) Conventional nutritionists confirm that the diet is too high in sugar, which can cause cavities and overwork the pancreas, and too low in nutrients vital to maintaining the body. Fruit, for all its excellent qualities, is low in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, iodine, and vitamin D. Sticking to the diet long-term can result in dangerous deficiencies that many fruitarians try to ward off with nutritional testing and vitamin injections. And while going on a restrictive diet is not necessarily the same thing as having an eating disorder, doctors warn that the severe dietary restrictions inherent in eating strictly low-carb, paleo, or fruitarian regiment can trigger orthorexia nervosa, a term that literally translates to a “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexics are prone to anxiety over the purity or healthfulness of their food, to the point where their restricted nutritional and caloric intake can cause severe malnutrition.
By the last day of the festival, I felt OK. For seven days I hadn’t eaten anything cooked, anything seasoned, anything animal, nut, or seed, and I hadn’t had any water — at first because I couldn’t find any cups on the festival grounds, and later because I realized I didn’t really need to. I didn’t have many cravings, though sometimes I felt annoyed that I had to eat more fruit. But the dizziness that had started a couple of days prior had gotten worse, and I experienced a tilting feeling when I turned around too fast or stood up or sat down. Though I felt like myself, a slightly giddier version of myself, my boyfriend worried over how I sounded on the phone. “You keep trailing off and asking me what you were saying,” he told me. When he picked me up on the last day of the festival, he came with snacks: roasted almonds, hot coffee, and a mozzarella panini. I eyed them with a degree of suspicion. Over the past week it had come to feel plausible that these items could kill me — not all at once, of course, but in stages. I told him I wasn’t really hungry. After a few hours we reached the Sloatsburg Travel Plaza on I-87, where I went into the food court and ordered some french fries. They were hot and dry and dusted with salt that burned the roof of my mouth, and they could be eaten extremely quickly. Afterward I felt fine. The next morning I ate a breakfast sandwich and a yogurt and a huge coffee.
A month after the 2014 Woodstock Fruit Festival ended, the board of governors voted by a large majority to exclude Dr. Graham from all future WFF events after considering two documents that detailed the specifics of Leah Branster’s near-death experience at Dr. Graham’s Costa Rica fasting retreat. In emails exchanged between Dr. Graham and Michael Arnstein and later posted online, on the Festival website, Dr. Graham reacts with hostility when asked to respond to Branster’s accusations. “I’m wondering how WFF serves me. I’m wondering how WFF serves FoodNSport. I’m wondering how WFF serves The 80-10-10 Diet.”
The fifth annual WFF will take place in August 2015, and a promotional video from this past summer has already been released to encourage attendance. The video shows no lectures, no cooking classes, no FoodNSport info booth, not even much food — just a montage of smooth young bodies painting one another with mud, lounging by the lake, lifting weights, hugging one another on the dance floor. People smile wordlessly at one another, and share fruit.