I'm hungry. These days, I'm almost always hungry.
My boyfriend Tom and I live on a 12-acre farm in the hills of western Puerto Rico, about 3 kilometers from the Ann Wigmore Institute, a living foods school where I work. In March, we came here for a two-week vacation to escape the snowdrifts lining our Brooklyn street, and, except for a brief trip home in June to pick up our belongings, we've been here ever since. When we left New York, all I knew about the institute was that it was right on the beach, relatively inexpensive, and that the raw diet they espouse was supposed to be very cleansing. And I needed to cleanse. I thought of it as my own private Betty Ford clinic where I could relax and get a tan.
Seven months ago, I wasn't even a vegetarian. I thought I'd skip most classes, but once I got here, I became morbidly fascinated with colon health, digestion, and the benefits of wheat grass, and I didn't miss a single class. At first I felt like utter crap—I had headaches daily, and I felt bitchy and exhausted. Detoxing, everyone at the institute called it. (They blame every unpleasant symptom on detoxing.) But about a week into my stay, I started to feel different. Energized. Mentally sharper. Happier. More serene. Lighter. (I lost 10 pounds in the first week and didn't really need to lose weight.) I slept less. I started waking at dawn and going to bed earlier than I would have left the house for a night of partying back home in New York. My eyes even started changing color. Not just the whites, which got whiter, but my irises changed, too—from very dark to a richer, reddish brown.
What changed me was this odd diet. Everything we eat is raw. Uncooked. We do sometimes dehydrate food, but it's not heated above 116 degrees. The idea is that this leaves the nutrients and enzymes intact. For example, as soon as I got to work today, at 7 a.m., I cut and juiced a couple of ounces of wheat grass, best taken on an empty stomach. At 8:30, when the breakfast bell rang, I lined up for a bowl of energy soup, the cornerstone of the "living foods lifestyle" taught by the institute. Energy soup is a room-temperature concoction made of sunflower greens, which are the tiny first shoots of a sunflower plant, and rejuvelac, a fermented wheat drink that tastes a lot like bad lemonade. I added a couple of spoonfuls of blended papaya to my energy soup to make it more interesting. For lunch, I ate a salad of sunflower greens, sprouted fenugreek seeds (from the fenugreek plant, which has medicinal properties), sprouted broccoli seeds, some fermented cabbage called veggie kraut (because it tastes like sauerkraut), and seed loaf, something that tastes remotely like tuna salad but is made of sprouted sunflower seeds, dulse (dehydrated seaweed), and some vegetables. Instead of eating in the communal kitchen, I ate dinner at home, combining some sprouts I brought from the institute with my friend Leo's Cuban guacamole, a mixture of avocado chunks, pineapple, red onion, olive oil, raw vinegar, and sea salt. An hour later, I'm already hungry.
When I first became a student here, I learned how to make energy soup and rejuvelac and how to grow wheat grass and sprouts, but I felt a little discouraged. It sounded like it would take all day to grow my own organic sprouts and greens and prepare the food. That's one benefit of living in this community. Like everyone here, I am required to work four hours a day, but I don't have to prepare my own meals. Some people spend their four hours working in the kitchen or harvesting and washing the sunflowers, which I plant and water.
This morning, I worked in the greenhouse, planting dozens of trays of wheat grass, sunflower greens, and buckwheat greens that go into the energy soup. I sprayed the black plastic trays we use for planting with a mixture of vinegar and water, to prevent mold. Leo and I measured soil and poured it into the trays, shaking them to level the soil. Then we measured out a little more than two cups of sprouted seeds that we sprinkled evenly, covering the entire surface of soil in each tray. After that, we watered the trays and stacked them. It's very slow, methodical, meditative work. Today was a little different, however. Two other greenhouse workers, Shody and Franchesco, were making a video about everything we do in the greenhouse because after two years here, Franchesco is going home to Pennsylvania in a couple of weeks, and we don't want all his knowledge to leave with him.
I scheduled a massage for tonight because I knew I'd be nervous writing this diary and would need to relax. I met Elena, a strong Ukrainian woman, at the institute around 7 p.m. As I lay on the table, she said, "You want I turn off the coquis?" I thought she meant the CD that was playing, what sounded like a mixture of New Age music and the "co-Kee, co-Kee" of tree frogs, and hesitated, thinking they sounded kind of nice. "You not hear me," she said, smiling. And I realized that she was making a joke; the coquis were outside, chirping so loudly they nearly drowned out the music. She turned off the CD, and we listened.