Book Review: We Want to Live by Aajonus Vonderplanitz
"From the Planets"
© 1997 Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
Michael Schachter, M.D., an old friend who treats many cancer patients,
returned from the September meeting of The Cancer Control Society in Pasadena
all fired up: he had heard a presentation by one Aajonus Vonderplanitz on
the latter's new book, "We Want to Live."*
Mike had also seen the blood work on a multiple myeloma patient who had
failed to respond to all other conventional and unconventional treatments.
The man went to Mr. Vonderplanitz and in a very short time most of his blood
parameters had completely normalized.
Shortly thereafter, Mike spoke at the panel that Mary Ann Richardson,
Ph.D. and I organized at the Third International Congress of Alternative
and Complementary Medicine in Arlington, VA. There, he made his enthusiasm
for what Mr. Vonderplanitz was doing public. And so I ordered and read this
book. It annoyed, fascinated and challenged me.
I was very skeptical. There is the question of authority. I am certainly
not hung up on academic credentials, and know that some very excellent discoveries
can come out of left field. But essentially Aajonus has little on his resume
that reassures us that he knows what he's talking about. He is a self-appointed
"nutritionist," who tells us that he was featured in Disney's
Epcot Magazine and has "fostered nutriton on several talk TV and radio
shows and children's programs." Fine, but hardly promising for an expert
on cancer therapy.
This book is odd, as odd as the author's name. (His real name, he confesses,
is Dick something, but not liking the sexual connotations of "Dick,"
he chose a new name that he calls "more Graeco-Roman sounding."
Graeco-Roman? "Aajonus," he is constantly explaining, "like
homogenous but without the hom." "Vonderplanitz" seems also
made-up German meaning "From the Planets."
Little things about this book and its author annoyed me. He says "effect"
when he means "affect," (twice on page 22 alone); that sort of
thing. The organization of the book is maddening: the first half is a novelistic
story of his estranged son's recovery from a severe head injury, interrupted
by numerous appendices. He suggests that the reader go through the book
consecutively but, hungry for details, I found myself constantly flipping
back and forth.
The core of the book is how Mr. V. barged into the hospital where his
comatose son was dying from his car injuries and took charge of his treatment.
At one point he went so far as to break open the nurses' medicine cabinets,
pour his son's medication down the drain, and replace them with certain
formulas of his own.
What were these formulas? Well, Aajonus is a total fanatic for raw foods.
His prescription for health for everyone (his comatose son included)
is to get back to basics, and start eating the way our ancestors reputedly
ate. His basic philosophy is that (a) food is to be eaten in a live, raw
condition; and (b) a diet rich in raw fats and raw meats from natural sources
is essential to health. According to the introduction to his book, "we
must think of them as new food groups, utterly different in their biochemistry
from the fats and meats we have been taught to avoid in cooked form."
Thus, his diet primarily encompasses:
- raw animal meats (beef, fish, poultry, organic eggs)
- raw dairy products (unsalted raw butter, raw milk, raw cream, unsalted
raw cheeses, raw kefir)
- raw whole fruits and vegetables (especially vegetable juices)
- unheated honey
Weird? Well, this is not unheard of in the holistic health movement.
In the 1930s and 1940s there was fascinating work done by Francis Pottinger,
M.D., who showed that raw foods contain nutrients that seemed to be vital
for health. Then came Weston Price, D.D.S., a dentist who believed that
deterioration of the dental arch and of teeth in general could be correlated
with the switch towards an adulterated food supply. Price traveled the world
studying so-called "primitive" diets. According to Price, most
of the native cultures of that time ate many animal foods raw (milk and
milk products in Switzerland and Africa, Eskimos, even Japanese with their
According to this point of view, "civilization" brought with
it a taste for cooked meats, and a consequent decline in general vitality
and health. First, I am not initially convinced by Mr. V.'s contention that
raw meat and dairy products are entirely safe to eat, especially for those
who have compromised immune systems. (I will not attempt to deal with the
intricacies of the potential bacterial contamination, a discussion too involved
for this book review.)
Also, from a historical point of view, the opening sentence in the "Encyclopedia
Britannica" article on Gastronomy reads: "The first significant
step towards the development of gastonomy was the use of fire by primitive
man to cook his food." There are in fact prehistoric cave paintings
such as those in Les Trois Frères in Ariège, southern France,
depicting these gastronomic events. These sites date from 15,000 - 10,000
B.C. Our ancestors apparently had a yen for cooked meat going back many
thousands of years. Not for nothing was Prometheus, the bringer of fire,
considered the culture hero of the Greeks.
Nevertheless, I am prepared to admit that rare or even raw meat may have
a role to play in the dietary control of cancer. Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.
of New York City has observed that some of his cancer patients tend to thrive
on diets that include fatty and very rare meats. These tend to be particularly
the leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma patients. Dr. Gonzalez is not
saying this to promote a book or to entice people to his clinic. I can only
assume that this is an honest observation on the part of an intelligent
and innovative clinician.
So there is some precedent for this in at least the holistic end of medical
practice. But Aajonus takes it a few giant steps further. He believes that
raw food and particularly raw meat is a cure for whatever ails us, especially
but not limited to cancer.
Aajonus is the type of person we have all met: the health food nut with
the crazy diet that will cure everyone of everything. He himself has done
everything, and his Theory can explain everything. He is pure California:
has a cantaloupe- and honeydew-colored kitchen, paints houses, does a little
acting (on "General Hospital") on the side. His jacket photo is
a glamourous head shot.
He tells us he lived in the California desert for years, met fabled American
Indian medicine men (long departed) on vision quests, and has certain other-worldly
connections (hence, I assume, the "from the planets" name). He
also has sufferedand cured himself of various diseases and conditions:
first and foremost cancer, but also a massive dose of "death head"
There is an essential sloppiness to the science of all this. I do not
trust his scientific "facts" or misuse of statistics. For instance,
like many people in the alternative health movement, he is very down on
vaccinations. At one point he trots out some figures to "prove"
that "polio vaccines create polio" (p. 270). The figures he gives
purport to show that in five areas there was far more polio reported in
1959, after compulsory vaccination was introduced, than in 1958, before
it was required. No references are given for these figures. But even if
they are true, they are probably part of a larger picture whose context
is not provided. Polio is an epidemic disease and so large differences are
to be expected in occurrence rates from year to year. By Aajanous' own reasoning,
there should be explosive outbreaks of polio in the Western world by now.
But, as every child knows, the opposite is true. The rates of polio plummeted
following introduction of the Salk and Sabin vaccines. Many advocates of
alternative medicine paint themselves into corners with this type of dogmatic
There are many other scientific and factual boners in this book. But
with all that I suspect that Mr. Vonderplanitz has a future in the world
of alternative cancer treatments. He claims to have cured himself of multiple
myeloma (a cancer of the bone marrow) and also tells in some detail the
cancer history of his former companion, Owanza di Mdina, who (he says) was
diagnosed as having thirty very small malignant tumors in her spine, sixteen
in her liver, six in her utreus, and innumerable nonmalignant ones in her
brain. Instead of taking radiation and chemotherapy, she went on Mr. V's
raw diet (p. 281). She is alive and well with no sign of cancer years later.
In a well-written introduction to the second half of this book, Mr. Ron
Strauss writes that Aajonus "apparently facilitated 236 cancer remissions
(of 240 cases) as well as many recoveries from heart disease, chronic fatigue
and other serious illnesses." This 98+ percent cure rate is certainly
of great interest to anyone who is dealing with cancer on a personal or
professional level. We can assume that many of these cases, like Owanza's,
were considered incurable by conventional doctors. This sort of claim cannot
help but generate a great deal of excitement in the cancer world. The name
of Aajonus Vonderplanitz may soon be on everyone's lips.
The problem is, On what basis are such claims made? How are Mr. V's proponents
defining "remission" or "cure"? What sort of documentation
can they offer? As I mentioned, my initial interest in this topic was stirred
by the report on one patient. At the Arlington meeting, I looked at a copy
of the blood work. It was very impressive and looked as if something remarkable
was happening. But who is following up on this case? And are we sure that
this man had not concomitantly been taking other treatments that might also
result in the same effects. It is certainly impossible to make a case for
anything based on one case.
Then what about the "236 cancer remissions"? If Aajonus can
predictably get such results, he should be able to document them. No amount
of paranoia about the medical profession will serve as an excuse for failure
to do so. In fact, one of my disappointments with this book is the lack
of documentation of his own case, that of Owanza's, or any of the other
patients mentioned. Where were they treated? By whom? Exactly what conventional
treatments did they receive? What proof is there that they are currently
Claims of cancer cures are social dynamite. They get peoples' hopes up,
set them off on sometimes fruitless paths, just when there is little time
to waste. And so claims should be made with the greatest degree of responsibility
and circumspection. And advocates of alternative medicine should raise their
standards as to what they are willing to accept or promote. We have witnessed
over and over again the phenomenon of the "cure du jour." Kathy
Keeton's apparent remission on hydrazine sulfate generated tens of thousands
of hits to Web sites and calls to cancer agencies. I would not be surprised
if Aajanous's book will set a similar phenomenon in motion.
I believe that Aajonus is sincere and that himself "walks the walk"
of raw foodism. It is certainly conceivable to me that some individuals
need and crave raw foods, even raw meats. Although I am healthy, I myself
went out and bought raw nuts, nut butters, a wonderful jar of raw honey,
and some raw cheddar after reading this book! For me, personally, this message
is insidiously seductive. It is precisely because of this that our left
brains have to get into the act and demand facts to support instinctual
For cancer patients, there is a lot at stake.
* We Want to Live: Out of the Grips of Disease and Death and Healthfully
(the facts), Carnelian Bay Castle Press, P.O. Box 7100-47, Santa Monica,
CA 90406-7100, ISBN 1-889356-77-8, $29.95). I ordered it through Barnes
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