Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat Jonathan Kauffman (2018)
Back in the early 1960s, my parents frequented Zerbo’s Health Foods, a store that’s still in operation in Livonia, Michigan. They brought home jars of wheat germ, bags of soy flour, and bottles of supplements, including vitamin E capsules, bone meal tablets, and liquid halibut liver oil. They espoused many of the unsubstantiated claims found in Prevention magazine as it existed in the 1950s, such as that fluoridated water was poison. Adelle Davis (Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, 1954) was also an influence, with her emphasis on whole grains and raw milk. My mother didn’t give up disgusting mid-20th-century prepared foods such as frozen fish sticks and canned peas, but she had “health foods” in the refrigerator even if they kept getting shoved to the back. In that era, health food stores catered to a very small minority of Americans.
In the 1970s came a torrent of books that had a much larger following among the members of the Baby Boom generation. Even though some of the recipes produced inedible, mushy dishes that my kids called “vegiterribles,” many dishes became favorites in my 1980s kitchen, as I kept gobbling up these food guidebooks:
Ten Talents by Frank and Rosalie Hurd (1968)
The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown (1970)
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé (1971)
The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (1972)
Recipes for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé and Ellen Buchman Ewald (1973)
The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi (1975)
The More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre (1976)
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (1977)
In Hippie Foods, Jonathan Kauffman, an award-winning food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, provides the back story for all these books, linking them to their antecedents and tracing the political movements that spawned them. I was delighted to learn the contexts of the foods that have found their way into (and sometimes right back out of) my kitchen over the decades: organic produce, vegan concoctions from the Seventh Day Adventist tradition, soy and tofu in all their manifestations, and whole grain breads.
Kauffman interviewed dozens of the key players in this food revolution. A few of these earnest aging hippies were able to parlay their involvement in natural and organic foods into corporate successes, including Stonyfield Farm (yogurt), Eden Foods (soy milk), and Lundberg Family Farms (rice). Hippie Food also follows the macrobiotic strand, somewhat associated with Zen Buddhism, that flourished on both coasts in the 1960s, and recounts the rise of food co-ops, farmers’ markets, and vegetarian restaurants all across the United States.
Kauffman found several reasons that hippie foods have now been thoroughly integrated into mainstream American cuisine. Concern about the dangers of chemically treated crops and over-processed foods had a basis in fact, and the public took note. Home cooks found easy recipes for everyday meals in cookbooks developed by other home cooks, not by professional chefs. Most importantly, Kauffman says, “the 1970s counterculture succeeded in selling America on its concept of healthy food.” (282) I agree with this assessment, but I would add that I’ll gladly take the 1970s countercultural food over the dreck peddled by most of the corporate food giants today.
Hippie Food is an intelligent and well-researched work of social history, capturing those decades in the 20th century when the political was often expressed through the practical, in the kitchen, in the garden, and on the farm. I decided to overlook Kauffman’s occasional snarkiness and awkward comparisons (“like a matchstick Eiffel Tower held together with strawberry jam” ) . And I forgave him for omitting my favorite old cookbook, Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey (1976). After all, Kauffman devotes several pages to the history of food cooperatives in my own Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has long been a hotspot for the natural foods movement. To this day, I shop at Ann Arbor’s People’s Food Co-op, especially for local produce and freshly milled whole wheat bread flour. And, for the record, I support the fluoridation of drinking water.
For another analysis of food and culture in the United States, see my review of Discriminating Taste by S Margot Finn.