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'Alive and amazing'

If summer's swelter makes cooking a chore, revel in some raw relaxation.

"Raw foods is great for summertime — it's cooling," says Autumn Faber, an Ashland chef and caterer.

While a raw-food diet continues to gain followers looking for weight loss and better health, Ashland Food Co-op is entering its fourth year of classes on the topic. The latest series kicks off this week with Faber, a 40-year-old Yreka, Calif., native who recently brought her expertise in nutritional healing to the region.

"A lot of our energy goes to digesting our heavy meals," she says. "Most illness starts in the gut."

Certified this year by Bauman College, which has programs in California and Colorado, Faber says her food is rooted in SOUL — seasonal, organic, unrefined and local. Raw is just a facet of that philosophy.

"I am not dogmatic in my approach to food," she says. "There's all different kinds of raw.

"I think it's a great thing to do as long as your body feels good with it."

Raw-food proponents used to insist on a vegan diet (devoid of animal products) and never heated ingredients in excess of 115 degrees to preserve vital enzymes. As the concept entered the mainstream over the past few years, the stance softened to the point of simply encouraging more raw foods in an otherwise healthful diet. Nutrition experts and physicians cite improved energy, sleep and mental function among the benefits of adding a few raw meals per week.

"After struggling to feel good, people do," says Faber. "It's amazing how much our diet can affect our mood.

"It is a great way to look good pretty quickly; it's a good way to lose weight."

Cooked or uncooked, animal-derived foods often by definition are high-calorie foods, making raw a low-calorie way of eating. However, cooked foods — even meat — are getting another look from figureheads of the raw-food movement.

After informally founding Ashland's raw-food community in the 1990s and writing what followers consider to be the raw-food bible, Victoria Boutenko says she started to question veganism's validity in light of evidence that all primitive humans consumed some form of animal protein, albeit insects.

Boutenko's latest book, titled "Raw & Beyond," offers readers "a more sustainable, healthy and energetic lifestyle" with raw to steamed and lightly cooked dishes. Written with Elaina Love and Chad Sarno and published in January, the book was inspired by the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in a typical raw, vegan diet.

Formerly the most requested topic for Co-op cooking classes, raw food still draws the most consistent interest, particularly from fans of Ashland raw-food "masters" Maria DiMaggio and Vrnda Leier Heyden, says Mary Shaw, the Co-op's culinary educator. More recently, demand for gluten-free products in the store has "gone through the roof," she adds. In that vein, Faber's next class, "Just Desserts," is not only gluten-free but vegan and will present alternatives to sweetening with cane sugar Tuesday, Aug. 7.

"Anything that has to do with the sweet side of life is popular," says Shaw.

But raw still fits into that realm. DiMaggio and Leier will offer a raw ice-cream class in late September, says Shaw. In the meantime, menus are ripe for fresh, raw, seasonal produce, she adds, particularly as people look for simpler cooking styles.

"It just jumps off the plate at you," says Faber of raw food. "You end up feeling really, really alive and amazing."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Raw food Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell