Banana Wars: The Raw Vegan Obsession with YouTube
Please, save your re-caps of last night's Game of Thrones. I have a more sophisticated form of entertainment: The raw vegans of YouTube. Their shifting allegiances and lawsuits have replaced my need for television and books. I am one of many fans who watch their videos not for the smoothie inspo but because I want to be a frontline journalist for the ongoing cycle of potassium-induced madness.
Raw vegans devote many hours and hundreds of dollars to feed their addiction to total food purity. Their diet isn't just about being incredibly thin. That would be vain at best and an elaborate eating disorder at worst. These vegans explain that veganism isn't a diet—it's a lifestyle choice, an awakening of the soul, and ultimately an ascension to a higher state of being. If you're inspired to adopt a raw food diet, you should probably plan to quit your job and attend fewer social events in order to have time for the chopping, shopping, blending, and Vitamin C-induced hallucinations. It seems an impossible lifestyle to maintain, were it not for their ability to record and monetize their obsession.
Skip the reasonable people, like Unnatural Vegan—she makes a lot of good, boring points. For maximum entertainment, subscribe to the well-known cadre of wild-eyed banana pushers. A few successful channels have established cult-like followings, and maintain their audience in spite of a few very public hiccups in the past couple of years. Some of their controversies have resulted in offline lawsuits—see Freelee the Banana Girl vs. Kayla Itsines. For vegans, they sure have a lot of beefs (thank you in advance for my Pulitzer).
To be clear, I think there is a compelling argument for veganism, and there is plenty to be said for eating in a way that discourages animal abuse. If you eat meat, face facts: the animal you're eating probably lived a miserable life and died a gruesome death. But many popular YouTube vegans advocate for something even more restrictive than veganism, and raw veganism is a skinny, listless horse of a different color.
Freelee the Banana Girl is the best known of all the vegan YouTubers. She does not advocate a completely raw diet but does advocate the "Raw til 4" diet, which consists of huge quantities of fruit before 4 PM, which is then followed by a truly shocking amount of pasta or potatoes. Before a very public breakup, Freelee lived in sticky bliss with another vegan activist, Harley Jonhstone, aka Duarianrider. He's known for his sociopathic levels of vegan rage burbling just beneath his strained sinews.
Durianrider and Freelee found each other right around the time they decided that plant-based carbs are the ultimate answer—for sexy bodies, the health of the planet, and lives well lived. Many of their followers have created their own vegan channels, and they're easy to identify. If you hear the phrase "Carb the fuck up," you know you're dealing with a child of the banana cult. Bizarrely, Durianrider also advocates adding refined sugar to a diet (his descent into full-blown mania is a matter of public record, as is his use of steroids).
Harley and Freelee's oft-repeated nutritional agenda is as follows: Animal products are nothing more than "corpses and puss" and have no place in your colon. Load up on mass quantities of fruit and starch, so that your stomach remains flat and tight and attractive between urgent trips to the restroom.
Here is one of Freelee's seminal videos, where she blends 51 bananas into slop and then eats it.
At the time of writing, Freelee has 720k+ subscribers. Their notoriety even earned them a Portlandia spoof.
Together, they tackle tricky issues, such as what you can do to stay trim over the holidays. It's easy! Watch them do it! Here's a video of Freelee and Harley at Christmas, eating barely cooked potatoes, surrounded by no friends, no family, and discussing how many mangoes they ate that day.
In 2014, Freelee and Harley were disinvited from the fruitarian gathering called the Woodstock Fruit Festival for promoting the consumption of a limited amount of cooked food. So Freelee and Harley started their own renegade fruit festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is known for its tropical fruits and has become a hotspot for vegan festivals. (Thailand: People Vacation Here for Bad Reasons.)
16-year-old Julia Boer was among the Fruit Festival attendees in 2016. It seems that she went to meet her vegan idols on her own. Julia and Harley's dynamic in this video attracted a lot of furor. In it, she has a candid conversation with Harley where she questions why the high-carb, high-sugar diet hasn't helped her lose weight. Durianrider cuts her off, saying "That doesn't matter. You listen to the directors. The king and queen."
Durianrider has since been accused by various attendees of making unwanted sexual advances toward other female attendees.
Feeling queasy from all the bananas / predation? Not to worry. I have another source of vegan inspiration. Let me introduce you to your new best friend, Fully Raw Kristina. Fully Raw Kristina started out as one of Freelee's allies, but their relationship eventually deteriorated before our nosy eyes.
Freelee offers a scathing critique of her fellow fruit-tuber in her video, "Fully Raw Kristina Getting Fat on Fruit?" Freelee has a lot of high-minded objectives, but just like the rest of us, she knows that the worst thing you can be is fat.
Other Fully Raw Kristina critics have mocked her videos on the affordability of a fully raw diet. Fully Raw Kristina has a video where she demonstrates that you can eat only raw organic produce for just $20 per day, saying, "It's possible to live and eat this way on an affordable budget."
$20 per day comes to around $560 for one person for a single month. It seems Fully Raw Kristina is Fully Unaware what most people spend on food. She defends the amount of money by saying, "You're saving money on health bills, on prescription drugs, on electricity in your home." Ah yes — the many thousands of dollars I spend to run my oven 24/7, where I cook my endless supply of roast beef.
Kristina makes an interesting series of ludicrous claims, all revolving around the idea that there is some kind of woo-woo mysticism attached to eating raw foods. Her answer to everything is "energy" and "healing." Her recipes make even me, a strong advocate for fiber-positive lifestyle choices, quake in terror.
Thankfully, she has taken has taken her frustration at negative online comments and turned them into poetry.
Kristina used to run a fully raw food co-op in Houston called Rawfully Organic. It has since collapsed like so many poorly stacked displays of apples. She hasn't given a reason, but many have speculated that it might have something to do with her grossly inflated idea of how much customers are willing to pay for food.
There is a secret ingredient in all of these raw diets: Balmy climates. You'll notice exactly 0 of them live in, say, the Upper Peninsula. Most of these channels hail from California, Hawaii, or Australia. Although a few videos have addressed the cost and how to eat fully raw on a budget, almost none get into the dynamics of eating fully raw when you a) don't work from home or b) have interests outside of food prep. If you want to be vegan, YouTube is an amazing resource for meal-planning inspiration. If you want to be a raw vegan, you would do well to remember what Hamlet said to Claudius:
Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean peasant is but variable service - two dishes, but to one table. That's the end.
Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3