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John Richter: the man from Fargo

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By Gordon Kennedy

On May 13, 1989 I attended a memorial service for Tyyne K. Miettinen in Ojai, California. A native of Finland, “Toony” was born April 24, 1895 and immigrated to America as a young woman with a background in medical gymnastics and massage. The 94 year old nature girl had very long hair, went usually barefoot, and lived part of her life in a tree house she had built.

At the memorial I observed Toony’s friends, most of whom were in their 70’s, as they formed a circle for conversation and to share memories. I stepped back and just listened.

In a valley where people pride themselves on their individuality, Toony defied all descriptions of anyone’s imagination. Ojai had never seen anything like Toony.

Everyone knew she lived on fruits and wild greens, and that even while in her 70’s she was hauling big rocks around her property to complete some of her stone castles and rock houses. But one woman recalled a conversation she had with Toony on the street in Hollywood many decades before. The topic was raw foods. Toony’s decision to become a 100% raw food eater was due to a husband and wife team who ran three live-food cafeterias in old Los Angeles. Their names were John and Vera Richter.

Now days, in the late 1990’s, with so many raw food restaurants around, the usual question is “are they still in business?” or “who owns it now?” But the Richter’s raw cafeterias, The Eutropheon(s) lasted for over 25 years without any change in ownership, from 1917 through the 1940’s every old timer knew the Richters; Paul Bragg, Fred Hirsch, Gypsy Boots, Gloria Swanson, Toony, Jack Patton, Al Jacobson, Sophie Holzgreen, Maximilian Sikinger, Arthur Blackmer, eden ahbez (who insisted to have his name spelled with all small letters), Teresa Mitchell, and dozens more.

The Man From Fargo

The story begins way up top in Fargo, North Dakota, where John T. Richters was born a medical doctor in 1864.

Richter sr. also owned a drug store where John worked for nine years compounding various inorganic drugs for his dad’s patients.

Mr. Richter decided to send young John to Rush Medical College in Chicago, but he had no desire to fulfill his dad’s wishes. Instead he went to Chicago to study natural healing at and institute which taught the Battle Creek System. He adopted a vegetarian diet an learned about alternative treatments.

After he graduated he returned home and proudly showed his father his diploma. “The first thing he said on seeing it was ‘quack’, uttered emphatically and with disgust.”

Next John went to work as a coachman driving his father from place to place so he could visit his 15-20 patients. One suffered from rheumatism, another from epilepsy, and the many others all had supposedly incurable diseases.

One day John asked his father if he could have all of the cases that were considered incurable. Very soon after he turned all of them over to John.

John began to use the Nature-cure methods and one by one all of them recovered, quite to the amazement of his father, who never again called him a “quack.”

Near the year 1900, John became a doctor of chiropractic and naturopathy, and practiced independently in Minneapolis for about 15 years. During this period he lived largely on a cooked food diet of vegetarian foods, but he began to doubt the value of cooked foods when his kidneys were not functioning properly.

Richter Discovers Raw Foods

“In a naturopathic magazine which had come to my hands, there was an article describing how a certain Dr. Lust had been invited by Dr. George Drews of Chicago to partake of an uncooked food dinner. It told of the many different varieties of food that were served, of how delicious they were.”

“Dr. Drews came to Minneapolis to teach me, as well as the class I had organized for him. Gradually, my health began improving, as a result of faithful adherence, one hundred percent, to the prescribed diet. In six months such a change had been wrought in my body that it seemed logical to use the new system in my practice in order to observed how it would affect others.”

When he first began on the raw diet his weight of 145 pounds dropped to 123 pounds. “Realizing that my old, worn-out body cells had to be utterly eliminated before new cellular tissue could take their place, I remained faithful to my task. All the while of course, even though seeming to be thin, I felt much better than ever before, and really did not care whether the scale index went up or down. Soon I redeemed that loss-redeemed every pound and a little additional."

After close observation and blood tests on himself and his patients, the transformation was so overwhelming that he decided to dedicate his life and future to promoting the raw food philosophy.

With his new wife Vera, Richter left Minnesota and arrived in southern California in 1917. Thus began one of the most important chapters in the raw food history and folklore.

The Eutropheons

For over 25 years the Richter’s operated the Eutropheons, cafeterias that served 100% raw plant foods. John gave lectures and conducted questions and answers sessions, and it was from these tales that his book, “Nature the Healer,” was compiled in 1936. Vera’s “Cook-Less Book” (see ad on the right) first appeared in print in 1925, and was the precursor to many of the modern live food recipe books.

John’s Philosophy

John liked to use fruits in the morning, green vegetables and nuts at lunch, and root vegetables and nuts in the evening.

“Fruits, John believed, in general terms, are electrical in their nature while vegetables are magnetic.”

John also felt that “the olive in its ripe, sun-dried state, is one of the most nutritious, strength-giving, muscle building, disease preventing, and defender of health of any natural food. Its lubricating, cleansing, beautifying and rejuvenating powers are the greatest among all fruits.”

The Richters were opposed to coffee, sugar, salt, tobacco, alcohol, meat, dairy, cooked food, and refrigeration. As the son of a medical doctor, John felt that doctors were not necessarily racketeers, just that the public was being victimized.

Even alcoholism, he believed, could be treated and cured with a raw-food diet.

They also promoted massage, heliotherapy, iris diagnosis, sun gazing, barefoot walking, little or no clothing, and considered gardening and orcharding the most natural work for people.

John believed that under optimum conditions, with a raw-food diet, we should all live to be 140 years-old. He also strongly felt that cold climate was poor excuse not to live on raw foods, himself who had lived in the Dakotas and Minnesota with freezing winters, and stated: “You cannot become warm by eating cooked foods. They are dead.”

One interesting observation noted in his book was that rattlesnakes and grizzly bears can pick up the scent of a carnivorous human quickly. “He fears you because he believes you will kill him for his flesh.”

All through Vera and John’s books the expressions “raw fooder,” live foods,” “uncooked” are mentioned dozens of times. Some health authors like Arnold de Vries attribute the widespread use of the word “raw fooder” to the Richters and their Los Angeles clientele.

10 miles over the Hollywood Hills from the Richter’s business in Los Angeles, near the city of Van Nuys lived a contemporary of theirs, Dr. St. Louis A. Estes, who billed himself as “The Father and Founder of the International Back to Nature Raw Foods Movement.” Open up his 1927 book “Raw Food and Health” and you see endorsements of milk, eggs and cream (all raw of course). Over 70 years later the raw plant eaters are still battling it out with the raw dairy and (now) raw flesh eaters.

Richter and Estes were friends, but also philosophical rivals of their periods.

Undoubtedly the Richters most influential contribution was their three live food cafeterias. The Eutropheons taught many people how to prepare such raw treats as sun-dried breads, salads, dressings, soups, beverages, and various other healthy alternatives to the typical Los Angeles cuisine of the 1920-40’s.

John’s powerful lectures were attended by people like Paul Bragg, and the California Nature Boys lived and worked with the Richters at their home and business for many years.

After the Richters era ended in the late 1940’s, Los Angeles saw an explosion of health food stores and vegetarian restaurants.

John died prematurely at age 86 after injuries suffered in an auto accident. Vera died some years later due to a severe back injury, she was 76.

It may be many years before the raw food world ever sees their equal again.

If you ever meet someone from North Dakota, give them a firm handshake, and thank them for their native son. If it had been left to the Californian’s and New Yorkers, the 20th century would never have seen the famous Eutropheons.

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