Next week is all about food in Des Moines. For the sixth year, dsm magazine is sponsoring Restaurant Week, during which 30 of Greater Des Moines’ hottest restaurants will be serving adventurous entrees at reasonable prices. A food trend is the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Perhaps not so coincidentally, next week also is Des Moines Raw Food Week, celebrating a diet based on uncooked and unprocessed foods. The vegan-style diet eschews food cooked to temperatures higher than 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Joel Cox recently switched to a raw food diet to improve his health. Cox has been working for several months to better control his eating habits, get more exercise and focus on his health as he prepares to hit age 50. His motivation: his own father died when he was young. As the father of two young boys, he doesn’t want history to repeat itself. 


Why did you decide to pursue a raw food diet?

About two years ago, I watched an interview on TV with former President Bill Clinton. President Clinton spoke candidly about his recovery from heart surgery and changes to his diet. He gave credit to Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., for introducing him to a vegan diet plan which helped reverse damage to his heart from years of poor diet. At the time, I didn’t know what my cholesterol level was, but I knew how much I weighed, and one thing was for sure — there was too much Joel.  I bought Dr. Esselstyn’s book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” and started to make gradual changes to my diet.  I made a commitment to myself and my family I would get in better shape, eat better, and lose weight. Since then, and with the help of my wife, kids and some very special people in my life, I have lost nearly 70 pounds.  

This spring, I was ill with a virus that attacked my heart and put me in the hospital. The virus subsided and I was given a clean bill of health. I felt my weight loss, improved diet and daily exercise helped me get through the illness faster and much easier than had I not elected to make these changes.  


How are you learning to do this?

I have been working with Sheree Clark. She has a nutrition consultation practice called Fork in the Road.  It’s a process for me, and the change is not going to come overnight. I’ve been reading a lot and listening to Sheree. None of what I am learning is hard to incorporate; it’s just a matter of planning and execution.  


What’s the biggest obstacle for you in eating a raw food diet?

I am not perfect. There will be times when I have to make the best of a situation with limited menu choices or I simply fall off the wagon for a day. The obstacle I face is having enough conviction to forgive myself and pick up the path again the next day.  


Did you like vegetables as a kid?

Is potato salad a vegetable? Mom didn’t serve a lot of vegetables when I was growing up. I don’t think I had a salad until I was in college. 


What foods do you love so much that you won’t give them up?

Is Budweiser a food? I really love shrimp, so that one stays. I may sneak in some turkey around the holidays.  


Does what you eat affect your job performance? If so, how?


I think not only what you eat but when you eat affects your job performance. I try to eat a few snacks during the day to keep from getting too hungry, and I typically have a light lunch. If I were to down a big meal at lunch, I would have a hard time with my focus in the afternoon. Many believe a raw food diet allows you extra energy to help drive through the day.  


Raw food recipes seem to be very time-consuming. How are you dealing with that?

If your life revolves around fast food and takeout, yes, raw food preparation will require a greater time investment. If you already make a time investment in food preparation during the day, it’s really a matter of changing what goes into your meals. The recipes I’ve been working with require very little prep or cleanup time and don’t need to be cooked. If you’re interested, take a look at cookbooks from Jennifer Cornbleet or Ani Phyo. Check out Joe the Juicer’s website, rebootwithjoe.com, or Sheree Clark’s website, fork-road.com. 


What’s your favorite raw food recipe?

A marinara sauce made with fresh basil and tomato from the garden, served over raw, spiralized zucchini.