A diet to please a deity

Published January 22, 2007

PLANT CITY - Roger Swanson wants to walk again. Daina Roughgarden hopes to rid her body of nodules that could prove cancerous. Rocio Mazzetti desires to keep symptoms of multiple sclerosis at bay.

They each sought help this month inside a rust-colored house on Thonotosassa Road, home to the Central Florida outpost of the Hallelujah Acres Lifestyle Center. For about $1,200 a week, leaders at the center teach would-be adherents the basics of the Hallelujah Diet, a vegan eating plan that centers on the consumption of raw foods and Christianity.

It is not a place for the carnivorous or the carnally minded.

Billed as God's original diet, the plan takes its premise from Genesis 1:29:

And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.'

The dieters' goal is to re-create the state of health in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived disease-free.

"We're choosing to go back to a time when God had the perfect world for man," said Sherry Orcutt, who runs the Plant City center with her husband, David.

While she does not make promises about the diet's healing powers, Orcutt offers her family as testimony. She said she has lost 70 pounds and no longer has anemia or needs blood pressure medication. Her husband, who was diagnosed with MS in 2001, now lives medication- and virtually symptom-free, she said. Her daughter also claims weight loss and clearer skin.

Others on the diet - including the Rev. George H. Malkmus, who created and markets it with books, seminars and DVDs - say strict adherence helped them overcome many health maladies including cancer, body odor, hair loss, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Few nutritionists take issue with vegetarian and even vegan diets, particularly if they are shored up with supplements such as vitamin B-12. But many nutritionists and doctors often look askance at the Hallelujah Diet's health claims and, in particular, Malkmus' assertion that food in its raw state provides more nutrition to cells than its cooked counterparts.

"The human mind is a wonderful thing, and if people feel that they are healthier by following a diet like this, more power to them," said Marian Nestle, a professor at New York University and the author of Food Politics. "There isn't much science to back up these ideas, however."

Some health watchers, including a few of Malkmus' own health ministers, question his claims. Malkmus credits the diet with curing him of colon cancer but acknowledges that he never had a biopsy of his tumor and didn't know if it was malignant. He also says he has not been sick since going on the diet 30 years ago, but he openly speaks of having had a stroke.

Some Christians also regard Malkmus' theories and claims as extreme. But there are plenty of believers. Officials at Hallelujah Acres Inc. headquarters in Shelby, N.C., estimate that more than 2-million people worldwide follow the diet. Malkmus' latest book, The Hallelujah Diet, has sold more than 60,000 copies and is in its fifth printing. He has also trained more than 7,000 health ministers around the world to spread the diet gospel and plans to open four additional franchises this year.

The Plant City dieters believe, too. They signed up for five days filled with Bible study, low-impact exercise, health classes and sunshine breaks for vitamin D.

Food, of course, served as their primary preoccupation as they donned aprons and plastic gloves and learned to prepare food God's way.

The group gathers first in the dining room, which has a collection of crosses on one wall and a picture of Jesus Christ on another. It's breakfast time.

"Bacon and eggs and home fries," said David Orcutt as he gingerly placed an 8-ounce cup of carrot juice and a 2-ounce serving of BarleyMax, which is made from barley and alfalfa grass, before each dieter. The product is made and marketed by Hallelujah Acres.

The carrot juice, freshly juiced, goes down smooth and sweet. The BarleyMax puzzles at least one dieter.

"Do you just, like, down it?" asked Anne De Santis, a New Jersey graduate student, peering at the green liquid. "What's the flavor?"

Orcutt answered with a smile.

"It's kind of grassy," he says. "A lot of people don't like it."

His charges are willing to try. For some, the diet is where their faith meets their food.

"Today, I was supposed to go for my thyroid scan," said Roughgarden, a 54-year-old Sunday school teacher from Naples. "When I was asking the Lord for guidance and wisdom, Hallelujah Acres kept coming to mind. I do believe the Lord led me here."

An answered prayer

In December 2001, David Orcutt lay in a hospital bed, unable to explain weakness in his right leg.

Sherry Orcutt lifted a prayer in desperation. Show her how to help him, she asked God. The answer didn't come right away.

Doctors gave the Orcutts grim news. David had multiple sclerosis. He would need medication for life and would likely see his mobility degenerate.

Soon people at the Crossing Church in Brandon, where the couple worshiped, started telling them to drink carrot juice and BarleyMax. Someone gave them a copy of a book by Malkmus that outlines the Hallelujah Diet. They also met a woman who said the diet helped her overcome the symptoms of MS.

The diet was not the answer Orcutt expected. It requires adherents to eat only two meals a day. Breakfast is usually liquid, BarleyMax and carrot juice, which dieters drink several times a day. Raw fruits and vegetables make up 85 percent of the meal plan.

The diet allows only one cooked dish per day.

Refined sugar, white flour, all meat, dairy products, seafood, refined grains, canned vegetables and fruits, artificial fruit drinks, alcohol, coffee and carbonated beverages are out. Salt and pepper, too.

The Orcutts started the diet in January 2002. Within a month, David Orcutt, now 59, jettisoned his walker. Eight months later, he was running.

"We don't claim that he's totally cured," Sherry Orcutt, 54, said. "We claim that he is managing the disease with our lifestyle choices."

Malkmus, 72, trained the Orcutts to become health ministers, and they began hosting seminars at their church. In 2004, they opened Hallelujah Acres, a five-bedroom house in Plant City.

The Orcutts host about 200 people a year at their center. Their curriculum includes optional Bible lessons, cooking demonstrations and health classes.

Sticky theological questions sometimes get sent to corporate, where Malkmus stands ready to explain his teachings. According to his studies, sickness entered the world after the flood - as in the one with Noah and the ark - only after God began letting people eat meat.

"I believe the only reason he gave permission was that the flood had totally covered all the plant life there was for survival," Malkmus said in an interview. "... I don't think God ever intended this to be a continuing diet for mankind."

Malkmus has decades of biblical anecdotes that support his theories, including the story of how Daniel got stronger after refusing to eat meat from the king's table. The minister doesn't condemn meat eaters, and he sidesteps healing claims - though he's happy to tout dieters' success stories.

"Here we are some 6,000 years after creation and when a person, Christian or non-Christian, goes back to that original diet, almost always they get well, and they don't get sick anymore," Malkmus said. "That's pretty powerful."

Becoming believers

By the end of the week, most of the Plant City dieters are believers in the Hallelujah lifestyle.

Mazzetti, who has come all the way from Lima, Peru, vows to return with her son.

Roger Swanson, who uses a wheelchair and has multiple sclerosis, and his wife are health ministers and contemplate opening a lifestyle center on their 34 acres in South Dakota.

With less than a day left at the center, they each think about the return home. Family members may be difficult to convert. There's even doubt among the dieters. Kris Rademacher, a machine builder from Appleton, Wis., doesn't know if he'll give up all meat.

But they can agree on a few things. The food was excellent, they say. And the center was just the catapult they needed to get healthy in the new year.

"I have no qualms," De Santis said. "This is the best money I ever spent."

Sherri Day can be reached at 813 226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com.


The Hallelujah Diet

At Hallelujah Acres Lifestyle Center in Plant City, each group of visitors leaves with about 75 recipes that fit the raw food diet. Here is one from meals made Jan. 7-12, when seven strangers, who nicknamed themselves the Jubilee Juicers, gathered at the center. For information about Hallelujah Acres, contact the Orcutts at (813) 757-1771 or visit their site, www.edenhealthministry.com.

Just Like Cheesecake


2 cups raw macadamia nuts or almonds

1/2 cup dates, pitted

1/4 cup dried coconut


3 cups chopped cashews, soaked for at least one hour

3/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup raw honey

3/4 cup coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon sun-dried sea salt (optional)

1/2 cup of water

Raspberry sauce:

1 bag frozen raspberries

1/2 cup dates

- Process nuts and dates in food processor. Sprinkle the dried coconut onto the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Press crust onto the coconut. This will prevent it from sticking.

- For cheese, blend the cashews, lemon, honey, gently warmed coconut oil, vanilla, sea salt and 1/2 cup water. Blend until smooth and adjust to taste if necessary. Pour the mixture onto the crust. Remove air bubbles by tapping the pan on a table. Place in the freezer until firm. Remove the whole cake from pan while frozen and place on a platter. Defrost in the refrigerator (3 to 5 hours). Take out of the refrigerator at least one hour or more before serving so it will be completely defrosted (enhances flavor).

- For the sauce, process raspberries and dates in a food processor until blended. (Do not use a blender or the raspberry seeds will become like sand).

Source: Complete Book of Raw Food