Learn, Discover, Raw — Workaway in Turkey

As a three-year Bay Area resident, my first introduction to raw food happened at the raw culinary school in Turkey. It was a week full of challenges and surprises. Trying things for the first time became the new norm: going on a raw diet, leading a Yoga class, surviving a 24-hour fasting, and playing drum with a Turkish band. I wanted to share my raw journey and learnings below with other adventurers.

How did I end up in a Turkish raw culinary school?

I have always wanted to volunteer while traveling abroad. A couple of years ago, a friend recommended a site called “workaway”. It is a platform for hosts and volunteers to meet and connect. Out of 20 applications, I got two replies, including this Turkish raw culinary school.

After a two-hour bus ride from Istanbul, I finally arrived at a small town called Izmit. Even when I arrived at the raw culinary school, I still had no idea what raw food even meant. Little did I realized that I was up for a real adventure.

What is raw food?

Raw foods are any foods that have not been heated beyond a certain temperature, typically 105 °F (40°C). In general, your food options are limited to three categories: fruits, raw vegetables and nuts.

The next question people usually ask is why pursuing a raw diet? In my mind, there are three major benefits:

#1 Weight loss — This is the most common reason for people to start a raw diet. I lost about 10lbs in my one week at the raw culinary school.

#2 More nutrients — According to research completed by Kimura and Itokawa, mineral content in mass cooking was approximately 60–70 percent of the minerals in raw or uncooked foods. Although the actual percentage varies depending on the type of foods and cooking methods, you generally obtain more nutrients (e.g., vitamin) on a raw diet.

#3 More energy — From my personal experience, my energy level has dramatically improved on a raw diet.

What did I learn beyond raw food?

One week at the raw culinary school also taught me how to build a tight community: sharing and caring.

# 1 Episode of sharing:

On my first day, chef Mehmek told us one of the many community traditions: Everyone Teaches a Class. He believes that every volunteer has something unique to share.

I truly believed in that philosophy and start to have more appreciation for the group’s talent. Among the group, we had two architects from Lithuania, one oil engineer from France, one biologist and a few yoga teachers from US.

Inspired by our daily yoga sessions at 6 am, I decided to offer my own version of Bikram Yoga. Although I practiced Bikram almost daily in the past month, I had never taught a single class before. However, the group was extremely supportive. At the end of a few Bikram yoga classes, one of my students told me that she can finally bend her head to the knee.

One of the most impressive classes was candle making offered by the two Lithuanian architects. To me, it is certainly a practice of patience. The entire evening was full of laughters and creativity sparks.

# 2 Episode of caring:

During mid week, chef Mehmek brought up the idea of mid-week 24-hour fasting. For the next 24 hours, we were only allowed to drink water and tea. I’ve never fasted before but since we were doing it as a group, I happily took on the experiment.

It was difficult going through an entire day without food. The next morning, before we broke our no-eating rule, a part of group suggested running at 5:30 am. I got up early and joined the group. However, during the run, my legs started to cramp. I eventually stopped running, and was carried back to the school. It was the worst cramp I’ve ever had in life. Lack of electrolytes and dehydration had finally kicked into my body. Not only my legs, my entire lower body and stomach started to lose sensations.

Everyone in the group was trying to help. Chef Mehmek told the group to give me a massage. Suddenly I felt touches on my legs, arm, back and everywhere. It was so hard for me to describe the instant flush of love and happiness. Team work equals love overload.

As chef Mehmek once told me, “Love the life you live, live the life you love”. My one-week long raw food journey has certainly put me a step closer to where my heart lies.

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