Interview with John McCabe, Author of Sunfood Living

Posted by – July 30, 2008
Categories: Food & Nutrition Interview

John McCabe is one of the leading lecturers and authorities on raw food nutrition in the world today. His new book, Sunfood Living: Resource Guide for Global Health, offers solutions and improvements for the consumerist lifestyle that is plaguing society today. He addresses the intimately related subjects of health and the environment, raising awareness while promoting active change toward the lifestyle necessary for the future of our planet. The following is the first installment of an interview with McCabe in which he describes his own involvement in the Sunfood movement as well as his process in writing this new book.


Sunfood-LivingYour book explains that Sunfoodists “do not eat animal protein of any sort, including from dairy, eggs, meat, or derivatives of these. They eat only uncooked (not heated, fried, boiled, grilled, toasted, blanched, broiled, barbecued, or micro waved) food consisting of the wide variety of edible plants.” How did you come to adopt these dietary choices and lifestyle? What health improvements has this change accomplished for you personally?

Probably the most common definition is of raw food vegans. Some choose to consume bee products (honey, royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis), which does not classify them as vegans.

The term “Sunfoodist” has been around for at least several decades. When Dugald Semple wrote his 1956 book, The Sunfood Way To Health, he pretty much defined Sunfoodists as people who follow an uncooked vegan diet.

Sunfood-LivingDavid Wolfe’s book, The Sunfood Diet Success System, which I helped to edit, includes raw honey and other unheated bee products in the classification of superfoods. Frederic Patenaude’s recipe book, Sunfood Cuisine, which I helped him to write, includes honey as an optional sweetener for some of the recipes.

Sunfoodists are a variety of people living in various cultures. Not all are so strict as to only consume a totally unheated diet. Many, may drink herbal tea. Some may steam certain foods, such as sweet potatoes. Others may eat soup, which is pretty safe. My book explains that lightly boiling foods does not create the harsh chemicals, acrylamides and glycotoxins, that are created when you bake, fry, sauté, toast, broil, barbeque, micro waved, or otherwise cook foods at high temperatures.

But, mostly, the Sunfood diet consists of unheated, fresh food, and preferably those that have been organically grown, or otherwise whatever is the highest quality available to you. I always advise people to become involved in growing some of their foods. What else could be more healthful than food picked from your own garden?

As far as how I got into eating a raw food diet, that is a long story. But, basically, when I was growing up I always kept a vegetable garden. I grew up poor, and a lot of times the only real food I could get was what was growing outside. It was also what I liked to eat more than anything. There were a lot of wild fruit trees, berry bushes, and even wild tomatoes and melons growing in the nearby woods and meadows. I noticed that I felt great during the summer. In the winter, when I didn’t have access to fresh food, I would always get sick for weeks at a time, and my skin became a mess with eczema and acne. I had mostly been a vegetarian since I was ten, but still ate junk and sometimes meat. As I recognized how good I felt in the summer while eating fresh foods, and how cruddy I felt in the winter eating whatever, my desire grew for fresh fruits and vegetables, so that is what I started doing more and more. I haven’t had a cold in years, and I don’t have the skin issues I did when I was younger. Eliminating all dairy and junk food- especially fried food, and consuming a lot more greens, including green juices, seems to have been the most beneficial dietary move. Daily exercise, becoming educated, and staying physically and intellectually active work in conjunction with diet to maintain health.

When I was young I had no idea that other people were doing this raw food thing, or that there was a classification for it. When I got out of high school I worked in loud and dirty factories and nobody there seemed happy or healthy. I had already known that I wanted something very different for my life. When I was 16 I had hitchhiked across country and also went on long road trips with friends. I found that I liked the ocean. Eventually, after quitting factory work, I moved to California. On my hitchhiking adventure, I had seen fruit growing in California in the middle of winter, which didn’t happen where I grew up. By the time I was 20 I was working as a background extra in a bunch of movies and TV shows, and was also working as a private chef for wealthy people in their mansions – and I worked as a limousine driver. I had lots of exposure to a lot of people who I grew up seeing in movies and hearing sing on the radio. Peggy Lee and Doris Duke, who were best friends, and almost like a mom and aunt to me, taught me how to make smoothies and juices from fresh fruits and vegetables. I found that a lot of the old timers were very much into fresh fruits and vegetables. For instance, Jimmy Stewart kept a vegetable garden next to his house, and he shared them with his neighbor, Lucile Ball.

For a while I moved all over the country and got into all sorts of situations. Wherever I lived and no matter what I was doing, I sought out the most healthful food.

Eating for BeautyDavid Wolfe was the first person I met who told me about Sunfoodists. I met him randomly at some natural products convention in the 1990s. He walked past me and I stopped him to find out where he got his hemp backpack. We ended up talking in the middle of crowds of people streaming through the convention. By the time I had met him I had already written two books about the medical industry. He asked me to look at the early manuscript of his book, The Sunfood Diet Success System. I went through it with a red pen and made a ton of notes, then sent it back to him with a lot of information about topics I thought he may want to research. That is how we became involved with our writing projects. I ended up working as a research and content editor on the first six editions of that book. He also used me for his other book, Eating for Beauty. Some other authors have also used me, but the agreement was as a “ghost,” so I’m not allowed to mention the other authors.

When I first started realizing that people were following fresh food diets, there was a big empty void of information about the benefits. Now there are all of these books, Web sites, seminars, and raw food restaurants. It is cool that I helped fuel this thing. Raw food has become this huge movement. Hollywood people and some sports stars have become interested in raw food. Wall Street is beginning to notice. Just recently a major food company purchased the raw food nutrition bar company, Larabar.

FreshI know many people who have dramatically transformed their health by following a Sunfood diet. One is Angela Stokes of Another is a man in my neighborhood. At one time he looked like a thug-for-hire. Now he looks like a prince. Sergei Boutenko is another who experienced dramatic benefits after switching to a raw food diet. He was diagnosed with diabetes and told that he would need to be on insulin for the rest of his life. Since cleaning up his diet, Sergei no longer takes insulin. With his sister, Valya, he is the co-author of the new recipe book, Fresh.

Outside of your dietary choices, how do you incorporate the theories and values described in Sunfood Living into your life in daily practice?

Just like everyone else, I am here making daily choices, trying to make my way, and hopefully making the better choices.

Diet is just one small part of the book, and it is one small part of who we are.

How we act displays our thoughts and standards.

I believe we can all make better choices, and improve our standards. I don’t think it should be okay anymore to rely on multi-national corporations to supply our every need. I don’t think it should be okay anymore to not be involved in some aspect of growing food. I don’t think it should be okay anymore to purchase soaps and household products that contain chemicals that damage the environment. I don’t think it should be okay anymore to support the animal farming, fast food, and junk food industries when we know that, combined, they do more damage to the planet than any other industries.

Collectively, what we choose to do as individuals can change the world. The collective culture, collective mind, collective diet, and collective choices of all of us can dramatically improve the world, or do otherwise.

I, like everyone, know that the biggest room is the room for improvement.

As far as specific things I’m doing, that would have to include a lot of things. One of them is that I mostly ride a bike to get around. It is something that I have always done. But now it is being looked at as a solution to our problems, and it is. I grow some of my own food. I make food, and I am involved in a network of people who also do the same.

If you look at what Cuba did to save their country after the Soviet Union collapsed, you can get a good idea of what North Americans can be doing.

Cuba once relied on the Soviet Union for food and fuel. But, when the cold war ended and the wall fell, they suddenly found themselves in a terrible situation. Cubans had to change their ways, and they had to do it quickly. They revolutionized their food system. Within a few years the amount of food Cuba was growing increased by several hundred percent. They became involved in biofuel production and in other alternative energy sources. What they did localized their economies, which is more healthful than relying on products and cash flow from distant lands. Suddenly they no longer worried about their next meal, they simply turned to their yard, to neighborhood gardens, and to local farmers’ markets.

I strongly advocate that people turn away from car culture; away from relying on fossil fuels; away from supporting chain restaurants; away from the meat industry; away from celebrity obsession; and away from all of the practices that are greatly damaging the planet.

Much of your book is based in hard facts, convincing statistics, and an immense compilation of relevant resources. Can you describe the course you followed in order to accomplish all of the research to complete the text?

I read a lot. I do a lot of studying to find out what it is that books, newspapers, and other sources of information are saying. I try to find out where people found out the things they learned to make their conclusions. I’m not good at settling for surface answers. I’m not the kind of person who follows gurus or believes everything I hear in the mass media.

When I was an intern at a public radio station they gave me the job of writing the morning news. From that, I realized how much of the stuff you hear on popular news sources is rehashed from other sources. Lots of times they get the facts all wrong, and sometimes they do it on purpose to present a certain slant to a story that serves their agenda. Hollywood, the government, and corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to present information in ways they believe will benefit them. A lot of what you are hearing in the news is some level of mistruth.

To compile my first book, Surgery Electives, I spent loads of time in university libraries reading the textbooks that doctors read to become doctors. The UCLA medical library staff thought I was a medical student. I never told them that I wasn’t, and I had never told them that I was. They helped me in all sorts of ways. I contacted government records offices and got copies of reports and also transcripts of meetings and hearings. I dug up old news stories. I went out and interviewed people, including medical malpractice attorneys, doctors, teachers, legislatures, authors, nurses, government employees, and pharmaceutical and insurance company workers. I met with people who truly repulsed me, including people who did terrible things or who were involved in all sorts of corruption. But I kept a calm manner because I wanted to get information out of them that I could use to write my book in a way that it could be most helpful for the readers. I also spoke with people who were left with their health ruined medical mistakes. I went places and saw things that people like to shove away because it is too terrible to face. A few of the people I interviewed for the book ended up committing suicide because the medical problems they had been left with after surgery mistakes left them debilitated far beyond anything they felt they could deal with. I also spoke to people who lost family members to medical errors, including one particular family whose daughter was killed as two medical students were operating on her for cancer. They accidentally punctured her heart. The autopsy showed that the young woman had no sign of cancer in her body.

What triggered me to write that book was a small article I read in the newspaper one day about a woman who murdered her doctor, and who then committed suicide.

I wrote Sunfood Living by doing lots of reading, and by talking with lots of people. I interviewed slaughterhouse workers, and a whole slew of people who shared information that helped me write the book. I also watched a lot of documentaries and saw things that I would otherwise never care to see.

While writing my books, I developed my own way of writing. I like to include lots of quotes in my books so that the readers know that they are not just reading my opinion, and that when I do state something in a book, I’m basing it on research.

The information that you use to support the central ideas of your book comes from a wide spectrum of sources—everything from quotations about Darwinism to references to Orson Wells’ radio broadcasts to an exploration of the cost of maintaining golf courses. During your inquiries into such a variety of topics, was there anything that you came across that you did not expect to find or that was surprising?

The one thing that surprises me the most is that people have no idea where their food comes from; that most people aren’t involved in growing any of their food, and never have been involved in culinary gardening.

Eating is our most basic need. How could anyone live without coming to the realization that they are completely ignorant about their food sources? But, look at the garbage people are eating. If it looks sexy in an advertisement, they want to put it in their mouth. And it doesn’t seem to matter what is in it, or from where it originated.

I have a friend who eats all sorts of junk food. When I presented her with some basil that I grew, she didn’t believe that it was basil. She thought it only came dried and crumbled in little jars people purchase at the supermarket. When I suggested that she taste it, she winced and said that it needed to be dried first.

We are living in a time when most people depend on stores and restaurants to supply their food. That shows how distanced people are from Nature, and provides evidence of why the world is in such a messed up state of health.

McCabe is the author of Surgery Electives: What to Know Before the Doctor Operates and has been a ghost co-writer on health-related books by other authors. He has also been a content and research editor on books written by David Wolfe, including the best selling raw vegan lifestyle book The Sunfood Diet Success System. His next project is the upcoming book Hemp: What the World Needs Now.

Tags: Victoria Boutenko David Wolfe Raw Foods Vegetarian & Vegan