Raw foodists dine on organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, sprouts, seeds, nuts and nut milks; none heated to over 116 degrees F. Shunning preservatives, processed foods, fish, poultry, and animal products, living foodists tout eating without heating. In their natural state, vitamins, minerals and enzymes quickly energize our bodies. "Raw food is a whole philosophy" a way of being with food," says Mary Shaw, culinary director for the Ashland Food Co-op.

Raw foodists dine on organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, sprouts, seeds, nuts and nut milks; none heated to over 116 degrees F. Shunning preservatives, processed foods, fish, poultry, and animal products, living foodists tout eating without heating. In their natural state, vitamins, minerals and enzymes quickly energize our bodies. "Raw food is a whole philosophy"¦ a way of being with food," says Mary Shaw, culinary director for the Ashland Food Co-op.

The Rogue Valley is home to raw food expert and author Victoria Boutenko and her family, known as the "Raw Family." Eating exclusively raw foods since 1994, the Boutenkos claim to be healthier, more energetic, and remain symptom-free from serious, chronic diseases. The patriarch Igor, and teenage children Valya and Sergei, share their raw enthusiasm through painting, "cooking," and writing books for all levels of raw foodists (to be a raw foodist, at least 75 percent of your food must be raw).

Together the family creates meals combining the five flavors: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. "Farmers' markets are absolutely the best places to shop," says Boutenko, "if it's not from your own backyard." Harvest herbs, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, but don't overlook nutrient-rich greens like chickweed, purslane, burdock, nettle, dandelions and thistle. "No matter what your diet, we all need to eat more greens. Green is the color of life," she says. Indeed, plants are the bases of the food chain. When we consume plant energy, we get the nutritional benefits. But, when we are secondary consumers, noshing the cow, who ate the grass — we don't get the phytochemicals and living enzymes.

Raw foods contain incomplete plant proteins. Vegans combine fruits (about 5 percent of their calories from protein), vegetables (about 20 percent protein) and protein-rich sprouts to create higher quality proteins. Easily cultivate sprouts by soaking and draining lentils, beans, peas, seeds or grains and they'll start to grow.

Although much raw food fare is simply cultivated and not cooked, shopping and chopping can be time-consuming. To get a variety of tastes and textures, living foodists integrate whipped, frozen, and dehydrated fare. Instead of preparing meals with pots and pans, Victoria Boutenko's kitchen is equipped with a large cutting board, a blender (she recommends a Vita-Mix, so powerful she says it can almost liquefy wooden blocks), a good food processor, a dehydrator, a juicer, and mesh bags for sprouts and nut milks.

Sergei Boutenko, known as the Fruit Boy, makes nut milks by soaking nuts for six to eight hours, blending them with water then straining them. Inexpensive and nutritious nut milk yields the base for raw nut cheeses. As the moisture drains from the nut milk, it creates a denser, cream cheese-textured, rich nut cheese. Served with a green salad and flax seed crackers "cooked" in the dehydrator complete a tasty raw food meal. Raw foodists do a lot of dehydrating, to preserve the summer's bounty and create "uncake," live pizza crust, scones, cookies and crackers.

When meandering through the produce aisle, the farmers' market or your backyard garden, appreciating nature's colors and shapes, why not enjoy the natural flavors, too. "In the spring, summer and fall when the foods are the most vital, if we all ate a little more raw food, we'd notice a difference in how we feel," says Shaw.