Thursday, June 05, 2008


I first tried carrot juice fifteen years ago in Seth's kitchen. He presented me with a glass of fresh juice and dared me to try it. It looked funny, too orange. I was apprehensive. Raw carrot juice was for people like Seth and his dad, Ira--people whom I thought were obsessively concerned with health and wellness. Not me.

In the blossom of my high school years, I was insufferable. I ate whatever I wanted. I smoked. I was a weekend binge drinker. I gained thirty pounds every summer, and then lost it all again in October before wrestling season. I never wore a seat belt. Still years away from any real sense of accountability or adulthood, I was invincible--a portrait of hubris, clueless and stoned.

And yet, carrot juice intrigued me.

"If you drink this," Seth said, "You'll feel so stoned."


"Drink it."

So I drank. It tasted sharp and sweet and potent, like some exotic liquor. Ten minutes later, I didn't feel stoned; I felt horrible, doubled over in pain. He explained how my system, in its state of toxicity, was most likely rebelling against the juice, which was all wholesomeness and purity.

Spitting curses, I refused to believe him. I stayed away from carrot juice for a long time.


I hated vegetables as a child.

Because mom only knew how to overcook vegetables, I ate them overcooked. Boiling was her preferred method: death by water. By the time she finished cooking, the color and nutrients would bleed out, staining the water a deeper color than the vegetables themselves.

In section IV of The Wasteland, Death by Water, T.S. Elliot writes of Phlebas, the drowned Phoenecian sailor, whose lifeless body bobs like a cork in the water for two weeks:

"Phlebas the Phoenecian, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and the loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers."

Floating with the tide, his salt-bleached skin and bloated impotent form remind me of my mother's vegetables--the look, the taste. Stacked on my plate, their limp, pale bodies were grim reminders of the life they once contained. Neutered, languid, and nutritionally vacant, there could be no rebirth; their nutrients would not pass on to me. They were truly dead.

No wonder I hated eating them.


Throughout history, philosophers like Aristotle have tried to pin down the nature of essence--to describe it as something that contains the whole of a thing, even in infinitesimal quantities. To be an "essence" means to have one hundred percent of the qualities or properties of a thing in only a small fraction of its true form.

Think spark as an essence of fire. Think soul as an essence of life. Think vegetable juice as the essence of the vegetable itself.

By drinking vegetable juice, you are getting nearly the full essence, almost one hundred percent of the nutritional benefit, minus the matter or roughage. In other words, the nutrients are directly absorbed into the bloodstream for an unparalleled energy boost.

This is why many people become obsessed with the health benefits of juicing. To some, it becomes an entire lifestyle. There is an entire web-based niche market devoted to these type of people. Think Jack Lalane . Think this guy.

Yet that seems to be the allure. Most people who juice are not part-time dilettantes. They are enrapt with the juicing idea and lifestyle. Many juicers are eccentric, extreme people.Their clothing and fingertips are permanently stained purple from cutting slicing raw beets. You can find them stalking the supermarket produce aisle late at night because they know this is the time when produce boys, in green aprons and plastic gloves, begin to stock the shelves with fresh vegetables. They are the ones who ask for organic kale. They are the ones who buy the purple chard and mustard greens.

I'm thinking of one evening last week: It's 11:30 p.m. and I have nothing in the fridge to juice in the morning. I have to pick up some vegetables. Now. I hop in the car and drive forty-five minutes to the only late-night supermarket I know in Manhattan. Save for the hum and crackle of the lights, the store is silent and empty. I walk to the produce section. The machine that sprays water vapor on the leafy greens in has gone haywire, spraying its misty arc randomly into the air over the aisle; it creates a barely perceptible shimmer in the florescent light. It looks unreal, chilly.

We moved days before, and all of my clothing is still in boxes. I've been wearing the same baggy, white linen pants, moccasins, and blue shirt for four days and haven't showered in quite some time.

I run my hand over the heads of broccoli. I scratch the itchy, week-long growth on my chin. I think to myself as I walk through the water mist, a plastic basket hung through my arm, What the hell am I doing here?

For the first time I realize I am truly a juicer. I smile. The wheat grass looks so fresh. So green.


Juicing requires devotion, if only for the time it takes to prepare the vegetables, juice them, break down the machine, clean its parts, and reassemble it. For the uninitiated, it can be a long process. Many people who give up on juicing do so for this reason. I now have the cleanup stage down to about 5 minutes, but it took me a few years to get there.

Like fasting and cleansing, juicing is also a something people use for detox and healing. Many people use juice fasts as a way to kick-off a longer, more comprehensive health recovery or weight loss regimen. Others include juicing into their daily, long-term routines.

While researching juicing regimens on the web, I came across many sites devoted to juicing leafy green vegetables like kale, chard, spinach, bok choi, wheat grass, collard greens, and cabbage. The idea is the greener it is, or the more chlorophyll contained in the vegetable, the better it is for you. Unfortunately, leafy greens can taste pretty bad compared to beets, carrots and other sugar laden vegetables.

My juicing regimen used to consist of carrots and beets. I often juiced whole bags of carrot. Then I realized how much sugar I was putting into my body. Since then, I've stuck primarily to leafy greens, with a few carrots and beets thrown in for taste.

When I first tried juicing greens, I was surprised to see my shabby, forty-dollar centrifugal juicer produce such high quality juice from leafy greens. I expected a frothy mess with little or no good juice. But it all went well--not much foam either. It even rivals what some of the fancy juicers can do.

It ain't absinthe, but it'll get you high.

The first time I made it, I didn't drink it right away. I was a little awed. I bent down to look into it closely. I moved it around in the light and studied it for awhile. Smelling the foam, I decided it was the greenest thing I had ever seen. If the color green had a scent, it was this. It held me spellbound for awhile, lost in its depths. Gearing up for the worst, I took a little sip. It wasn't bad. Shocked, I downed half of the glass. It wasn't bad at all--nowhere near the bitter, acrid bile I was expecting. It was even a bit refreshing.

I can do this, I thought.

I lift the glass again.


It's now 5:15 am. I have to be at work in three hours. I just finished cleaning my juicer in the sink, a once tedious, time-consuming process that I now complete in no time at all.

A twenty-ounce glass of cabbage, spinach, garlic and carrot juice stands before me, taunting me with its bitter potency. I think back to the first time I tried juice all those years ago in Seth's house. In defiance, I pick up the glass and down the whole thing like a tequila shot. I stand up. There's a rumbling going on somewhere in the depths of my bowels. I sit back down.

I feel funny. I think I'm stoned.

I should call out of work today.

This produced 16 ounces of juice.

Steve's Green Juice:

All ingredients should be used fresh, preferably bought the same day. I use a centrifugal juicer, in which a spinning metal blade grinds the vegetables, expelling the juice from one end, while catching the roughage in a container at the other end. Most people say that leafy greens are best juiced in a single auger or manual press juicer.

Also, remember to use only organic produce while juicing. This is important. You don't want to consume super-concentrated levels of pesticides and agri-chemicals.

1 medium sized cucumber
2 celery stalks
a lot of spinach
1 head bok choi (green part only)
1 large handful cilantro
1 olive-sized piece ginger

(If you want, add a few carrots or some beet for taste, but you'll lose that fabulous green color.)


Seth said...

Years ago, I was a true juicing fanatic. I wore my fanaticism on my very skin, like a healthy stigma. I actually turned orange. Not just my palms, but my whole body.

I hardly ever drank green juice (besides wheat grass); I was all carrot. I sometimes wonder if my fanaticism played any part in my eventual diabetes diagnosis.

Juicing can be healthy, but I think one needs to have a healthy reverence for its power (and a keen idea of the sugar content).

Green juice is probably the best choice. I spent an entire summer drinking wheat grass every morning. By August I felt like I might levitate.

Mystic Mama said...

I get on a juicing kick every so often - though not nearly enough. But at least twice a year when I do a detox cleanse - working up to a week of juice feasting this round. I will give some of your concoctions a go!

I've been doing vegetable/fruit smoothies every morning, which is like juicing, but different. I use hemp seeds, soaked almonds with carrots and apples and spinach, cucumber and whatever fruit I have on hand. My little girls now point to the big box of spinach I have in the fridge and say, "mommy, I want a smoobie!" It's a great way to get them (and me) to eat raw veggies.

Seth, have you read Dr. Cousens book about curing diabetes with raw foods and juices? Very interesting indeed. Veggies are powerful little buggers!

Seth said...

Hi Mystic Mama,

I have not read the Dr. Cousen's book. From the little research I've done it looks like the book offers help for type-2 diabetes (I have type-1 diabetes); still, the suggestions are probably healthful for most people.

I'm not a raw-food enthusiast. When I eat too much raw food I feel tired and washed out.

I am interested, though, in recent research on glyconutrients...

Jerry Silverman said...

the image of you in your 4-day-old clothes & week-old growth at midnight in a grocery store with sprayers going haywire... classic.

Karen said...

I certainly remember when Seth turned orange. At first I thought I was imagining it, but eventually the fact that it was a result of his carrot juicing fanaticism was undeniable!

I have not juiced in a while, but would like to try it again. I always liked the carrot-ginger combo (using just a touch of ginger)...

Mark said...

"I never wore a seat belt."

There's some out of control crazy going on there. I'm glad, Steve, that juice has fastened you down and buttoned you up.

My baby sister - a hardcore juicer - bought me a machine some years ago. Although I don't take full advantage of it as often as I should, you've inspired me to pop the lid and get juicing.

Suzanne said...

Mmm, juice.

The last time we used our juicer was to make fresh tomato juice for bloody marys. That was a while go. Perhaps it's time to break it out again.

Indiana said...

I juiced a lot in my late twenties for the benefit of trying to cure my anemia. My husband, at the time, would religiously make me a beets cocktail every morning before I went to work. Eventually my husband, the juicer and I parted ways, but the anemia did not.

Today I'm thinking juicing would be something I need to add to my regimen for the strict benefit of iron and energy.

Iron transfusions from an IV are not fun nor are they healthy. Try sitting in a hospital chair watching a tiny television for 10 hours while everyone is hustling around you. The liquid does flow warm in your veins though which can be kind of interesting.

Thanks for the reminder.