Dao Earl is a director and facilitator at Sura Detox, and one of the UK’s leading health and healing experts.
In this interview he talks to Sarah Best about why he first went raw, the major yet little-known immune benefit of raw eating, why he is no longer 100% raw, and what his diet looks like today.
How did my journey with raw food begin?
At 20, in my misguided search for peace, I went to Asia to find where the best dope was, and after a couple of years in and around Thailand I’d smoked myself sick of that path, and I had a lot of time on my hands to start reading. I read The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity, which attempts to link Traditional Chinese Medicine, raw food and the acid/alkaline balance.
It does that somewhat unconvincingly, in my opinion, but it’s a great introduction to the work of Bernard Jensen, Norman Walker, Victor Irons, Herbert Shelton and Arnold Ehret. A couple of years after I went raw I experienced some pretty profound changes – changes I hadn’t read about anywhere.
For example, I used to get plenty of mosquito bites in Asia, which would turn into tropical ulcers; infections that only go away with antibiotics. After a couple of years eating almost entirely raw food, the mosquitoes still loved me, but the infectious bacteria didn’t. Something profound had changed in my immune system.
I now see that a bacterial shift had begun – it takes at least a couple of years to do so – and my immune system was freed up to do the job of keeping the blood clean.
The bacteria that digest fruit and leaves (our native diet for millions of years) can’t digest starch. There are others that can, but eating a dominance of starch gives you a dominance of those bacterial strains, and food starts to ferment rather than purely digest.
Meat will do the same. It’s very nourishing while its digesting, but as soon as it starts putrefying in the bowel, there will be a proliferation of detrimental bacteria, causing masses of toxic waste. Both of these require immune system management.
The immune system is heavily invested in keeping the balance, and so it becomes stressed managing bowel flora.
Because of this bacterial imbalance the immune system’s resources are pointing inwards instead of outwards, which is why we have to clean wounds – and because everyone has to do it, we see it as being a feature of life, instead of a symptomatic aberration of nature.
Any other animal licks its wounds and they heal, but we have to keep them clean and dressed to stop infection. That should be the immune system’s job. Also, other animals can drink from a puddle. Why do we have to purify our water?
Meanwhile, we are busy celebrating ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution. But without our medical systems (herbal as well as pharmaceutical), how many of us would actually be here?
On my retreats, I ask 20 (reasonably aware and healthy) people, “Who in this room would be alive without any form of medical intervention, whether orthodox or alternative?”
I give myself as an example: when I was two I had a severe ear infection that was treated with antibiotics. Without them it would have gone further and caused septicaemia and I probably would have died.
Every six months or so someone might raise their hand. So where is this fantastic, robust, evolving species? It’s an illusion. We are sick, ailing, and dependant upon medicines.
Why I’m not 100% raw anymore
For 10 years I would say I was 100% raw because I was very identified with the ideal. But I’d have the occasional bread, cheese or chocolate binge, and then sweep that under the carpet.
In retrospect I can see that my dietary ideal – fruit and leaves – had me wrapped too tight, and that my body was still requiring some major density that is very hard to get on raw food. It’s difficult to say whether that was for emotional or nutritional reasons, but it was certainly very real.
The human body does require quite a lot of density because it doesn’t function very well. That doesn’t necessarily mean cooked food; it could mean nuts and seeds.
In the cooked food world, people choose grains, beans, meat, eggs and cheese but these are not particularly good strategies for solving that problem because they in turn cause other problems to deal with. The solution is to choose foods that are dense enough to satisfy that short-term need but which don’t cause problems which need to be solved later.
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine were an attempt to map out the world with the knowledge and resources available at the time. You do one thing, that causes a problem, so you bring in something else, but that causes a problem too, and pretty soon you have yourself surrounded by the rules that govern their particular symptom management system.
But these systems never even ask the question, “Why do we need to do this when no other animal does?” – let alone come up with an answer. Their perspective was limited but there is a picture emerging that contextualises their knowledge.
The work of Tony Wright explains all that and supports the raw food argument – not as a solution, but as a starting point. It closes some very big circles. And it is the only explanation I have ever heard that answers more questions than it raises.
Most of these medical systems came out of a feudal system, where foods were tithed to a landlord, leading to widespread hunger. By eating a predominance of grains and beans you solve the hunger problem, because they fill (clog) you up and digest very slowly. But you create the problem of a shift in bacteria balance in the bowel.
No other health system talks about not needing a medical system. In fact they are all medical systems in essence – herbal or otherwise – to manage our failing bodies.
I was “pretty much completely” raw for 10 years. Then my daughter Yamuna was born and my (then) partner and I realised raw wasn’t the whole story.
We were living in India, where much of the fruit is picked unripe and acidic, and several of Yamuna’s teeth turned black shortly after coming through – a worrying call to reassess everything.
It was very painful for me, both because it was my daughter, and because of what it forced me to let go of. But it ultimately freed me, and taught me that food is only the ground floor of our being.
Health challenges are always an opportunity to learn more, and it’s ongoing. There’s always more clutter to let go of.
My diet today
I probably eat around 90% raw now. I do get the occasional cold (which I love! Finally, a day or two in bed feeling cosy and lazy, rare in my busy life !) but free of the ‘raw-fooder’ identity, I am much happier, which is a great trade-off.
I can’t be religious or elitist about food anymore because I was denying my need to be free. You can’t be healthy if you’re not happy. But many people go through years of thinking they need to be all raw before getting to a place of allowing themselves to listen to what is actually being asked for by the whole being – not just the intestines.
If I want it, I eat it – but I also feel it! My system has become very sensitive after eating mostly raw for so long. If I eat a pizza, I know it the next day. I have the food equivalent of a hangover.
There are tricks I’ve learned – like taking digestive enzymes with such a meal, to lighten the load, and psyllium afterward to keep it trucking on through – but I save them for those moments. And if I go to someone’s house and they’ve cooked, I’ll eat what they’ve made, along with the big salad I’ve brought, and everyone’s happy.
It goes through phases. Sometimes I’ll go up to 20% on the cooked side, other times I’ll be 100% raw for a while. I don’t “manage” it. But I take note, and ask myself if I am suppressing something emotional, or protecting myself in some way.
When I go to my mum’s in London and she makes all these yummy foods that mean a lot to me emotionally, I partake, alongside my raw breakfasts and salads. I notice when I get home that I continue to want bread, but I know that’s because grains give off opiates, and withdrawal is the cost of the high.
And as I don’t buy bread anyway, I flow back into the three-quarters of me that feels much brighter being back in Devon, and I just want to eat fruit and salad once again.
Aside from those bread moments I almost never eat grains.
For better or for worse, I’m not big on food prep and I’m not inventive either.
Sometimes I’ll eat four to five meals in a day; sometimes two. For breakfast I have nut milk mixed with fruit. I change the nuts and the fruit every day for variety.
For lunch and dinner, it’s a salad. I finely chop lots of different leaves with other veggies like broccoli and mushrooms, I often add sprouts, and I make it taste yummy with different oils, nutritional yeast flakes and often goat’s cheese.
Sura Detox offers highly effective cleansing retreats in rural Devon. The Sura program encompasses juice fasting, colonics, meditation, yoga and massage, among other things, and Dao’s educational talks are the high point of the week for many participants. For further information visit the Sura Detox website.