Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

A Century of Food 1970 – 1979

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West Coast Cuisine

The 1970’s ushered in many new innovations in the world of food. In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkely, California. Panisse was a man who had a love for the French as depicted in the movie, Fanny (1961). The movie centers in Provence and had inspired Waters as well who had gone to France and became enamored with the country and the food. She found the virtues of mesclun ( a salad made from a selection of lettuces with other edible leaves such as dandelion greens, mustard greens, and radicchio), arugala and chickory and brought back the seeds to grow. She also had a passion for Mediterranean cooking, not yet popular in the U.S. She went against the previous decades of prepackaged foods and her mantra was fresh foods, simply prepared. She promoted a new concept dubbed “California Cuisine” which spread through the rest of the country. She shunned factory farms, and promoted food that come from the farm to the table as quickly as possible. This philosophy is growing currently as a national movement.

Another landmark in food in 1971 began when three friends opened a coffee house in Seattle, Washington. They named it after a character in Herman Melville’s 19th century novel, Moby Dick – Starbucks, the chief mate on the Pequod, a whaling ship .


Fat Attack

In 1977, an American committee of the U.S. senate led by George McGovern published the first Dietary Goals For The United States in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease in the country. The guidelines generally suggested that fat was the culprit in our diets; soon food manufacturers began removing the fat and when that happens, sugar is added. So carbs were in and fat was out.

A young doctor named Dean Ornish recommended that heart attack patients change their diets drastically and promoted “heart-healthy” recipes. The American Heart Association adopted these recommendations and soon restaurants were soon displaying heart symbols on menu items that were approved to be healthy. Dr. Ornish stressed a change in lifestyle approach to treat and prevent coronary artery disease. Beginning in 1977, he conducted clinical research studies showing that lifestyle changes could not only stop the progression of CAD but could actually reverse it. These lifestyle changes included plant-based diet, smoking cessation, moderate exercise, stress management techniques including yoga and meditation, and psychosocial support.

In 1973, the Moosewood Restaurant, a collectively owned vegetarian restaurant opened in Ithaca, New York. It featured vegetarian cooking that was spicy, ethnic and exciting. Cookbooks such as The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest soon followed. These new innovations gave vegetarianism a new life since its first boost of energy at the end of the 19th century.

For meat eaters, one very popular dish of this decade was Beef Wellington, a fillet of beef tenderloin coated with pate de foie gras and a duxelles of mushrooms all wrapped up in a puff pastry crust. Dinner parties with friends featured more complicated menus and Wellington was considered the most difficult because of its preparation.



Seed Savers

Have you ever had corn named Two Inch Strawberry Popcorn or Blue Jade that turns a deep blue when cooked? There are beans of the same type carried by Cherokees over the Trail of Tears and a sweet watermelon called Moon & Stars with a dark husk marked by a bright yellow splotch of a “moon” rounded by smaller stars. These varieties are just a few of the 25,000 rare or lost vegetables whose seeds have now been preserved or saved. Some are planted, then carefully collected and preserved and often referred to heirlooms. In 1975, Kent Whealy and his then wife, Diane founded Seed Savers to save heirloom seeds from extinction. According to the United Nations, about 75% of the world’s garden vegetables have been lost in the past century due to consolidation of seed companies and the rise of single-crop industrial farms replacing small, varied family farms. Almost all seeds now available to consumers were developed to favor the industrial farms for shipping and long shelf lives, often compromising taste and textures.

Seeds were once a part of the public domain but now they are mostly hybrids that have trouble reproducing and must be purchased each year as well as genetically modified seeds that are patented. Heirloom varieties make both a gastronomic and economic sense. Many are hardy and disease resistant. One grower of a native American grape variety that was abandoned during Prohibition days and all but forgotten says: “I spray my European grapes for fungus 15 times as opposed to two or three for my heirloom variety.


Diet Wars

The weight loss craze was in full swing and the “diet wars” began. In 1972, Dr. Atkins introduces his “Diet Revolution” featuring a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet. The anti-fat gurus were appalled. In 1974, Richard Simmons opens Ruffage and the Anatomy Asylum, a Beverly Hills restaurant and exercise studio. Richard quickly becomes a fitness guru. In 1978, Dr. Herman Tarnover introduces the “Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet”, another version of the high protein low carb diet. In 1979, the Pritikin Diet Program recommends a high fiber diet with less than 10 percent of calories from fat. Regular exercise is suggested and no added salt or sugar is included. The system was originally designed for heart patients, but becomes popular with dieters. Wendy’s hamburger chain introduces salad bars in 1979.



Dr. Robert Atkins

The decade of the 70’s was also time for indulging our tastes with eclectic appetites. We indulged in Buffalo chicken wings, Pasta Primavera to goat cheese salads to Crock-Pot Chili in course of a week. Brunches with quiches became Sunday morning fare, but soon men rebelled by saying “real men don’t each quiche”. Tom Wolfe christened the 1970’s the Me Decade as we worked our way through the Vietnam War, rampant inflation and President Richard Nixon.


Pringles, the potato chips in a can were actually developed in 1967, but did not reach full national distribution until 1975. They were made by combining dried potato flakes with flour and water to form a dough that could be cut into a perfectly uniform shape, cooked in curved molds and than stacked in “tennis ball” cans. They were named after Pringles Street in Finneytown, Ohio near Proctor and Gamble’s Cincinnati headquarters.

The original interest in the product quickly dissipated. People were beginning to tire of over-processed foods and more “real” products were desired. Pringles was included as one of the top food flops for the next 20 years but they never left the food market. In 1992 cans began shipping to Europe and began the rebirth of Pringles. They were sold in 40 countries and sales increased to 1 billion dollars. Sales have now been on the upswing in the U.S. since the early 90’s. They do pose and advantage over other chips in that they do not crush as much and retain their freshness with a shelf life of 15 months with no preservatives.

Pringles cans can also be used as a signal booster for logging into wireless computer networks. The can’s long shape can be pointed at buildings and its aluminum inner lining acts like a satellite dish which sends them to a laptop’s wireless card.


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