For a few years in the mid-2000s, S.H.A.P.E. Community Center in Houston’s Third Ward was the home to The Raw Truth Vegetarian Restaurant and Vegan Café, a local eatery that served both cooked and raw food meals to a varied clientele. One of the restaurant’s defining and unique characteristics was its raw food preparations. While the practice of following a raw food diet is quite varied in its forms—including Paleo dieters who advocate eating raw meat along with other uncooked foods; vegetarian versions that adhere to Natural Hygiene principles that eschew processed foods, condiments, and other dietary and physiological stimulants; and other paradigms—what they all typically agree on is that foods should not be heated over approximately 115 degrees Fahrenheit. To do so is believed to damage the food’s nutrient content. Though Houston has a number of grocers and eateries dedicated to the promotion of healthier eating and lifestyles, the Raw Truth was one of the few restaurants in the city with raw food preparations on its menu. This devotion to a growing culinary niche captured the attention of PETA, which recognized The Raw Truth with its Best Veggie Burger in North America award in 2005.The restaurant was run by a partnership of women that included Chef Cheryl Pradia. A native of Houston, Pradia has been involved in the culinary world for many years. She has worked for another Houston Mexican dining institution, Ninfa’s, and has received certification in raw food preparation from renowned raw food chef Alissa Cohen. The Raw Truth itself often served as the meeting place for a number of social and political organizations both internal and external to S.H.A.P.E. Pradia’s own journey on the path to the raw food diet and her tenure as head of The Raw Truth was a long one that started early on. Though The Raw Truth is no longer open, Cheryl Pradia remains active, working as a caterer and sharing the discoveries she has made about diet and health with others in workshops.
EW: What was your early relationship with food like, growing up?
CP: My paternal and maternal grandparents grew up in Louisiana—in south Louisiana, so my experience with food early on was Creole food, gumbo, etouffe, crab, shrimp, you name it, but mainly seafood. We had soul food, but it was mainly seafood, and, so I was always interested in food—in the flavors and all, so I would sit in the kitchen on a stool and watch my grandparents cook. My mother was born in St. Martinsville, Louisiana and she is an excellent cook as well.
EW: How did you begin your journey? How did you find out about raw food and the raw food movement?
CP: I really started about twenty-five years ago reading a book called Fit for Life. I was on my way out of town for the Fourth of July weekend, and I was in the airport and bought this book because it was talking about food combining and how meat just sits in your stomach for days before it’s digested. And by the time I landed, I just said, ‘no more meat for me.’ And so that next week when I got back home, I bought a juicer, and I started juicing, and the flavors of the live food were just awesome. I burned up the juicer within the week. So I bought about five juicers before I decided to buy a commercial juicer.