History of Organic Health Food
A Brief History of Organic Health Food
The origins of the organic food movement go back to 1920s Europe; however, the health food movement began to gain traction in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the U.S., following a number of high profile, public food scares in the conventional food industry relating to pesticides. Propelled by the ongoing counterculture movement’s regarding protecting the planet and our own health, there was a renewed focus on the relationship of the environment on the quality of our food sources.
The Hippies-in-the-Kitchen Period
Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, so-called “health food” or “hippy food” developed a bad rap. Early variations of these foods eliminated the processed sugars, white-flour ingredients and fats that our urbanized taste buds equated with tasty and delicious. Which meant “health food” was often associated with bland and unexciting food. Most professional chefs at the time were not formally educated in nutrition and how to cook with healthier alternative ingredients, so even those who knew how to select fresh ingredients and skillfully prepare them with spices cooked the food so it would retain its fragile nutrients, but struggled to create healthy foods that actually tasted good. These early experimenters were focused on trying to eliminate harmful ingredients like preservatives and antibiotic hormones from the foods, but did not give as much attention to the overall taste of the end product in its preparation.
For many years there remained a vast chasm between the world of healthy foods and the gourmet cooking world. The story is well told in Dean Ornish’s book, Everyday Cooking with Dean Ornish, in which he describes his attempts to make his new, low-fat cooking approach more “gourmet.” To this, Ornish commissioned the help of several celebrity chefs to make his recipes more appealing. Although Ornish was able to enlist a few, he tells of the rejection of his appeal by renowned gourmet chef, Julia Child, who answered when presented with the diet’s strict guidelines, “I cannot! This is not compatible with my philosophy of food!”
Berkeley’s "Gourmet Ghetto" and the birth of California Cuisine
One of the great trend-setters credited with changing the public’s attitude toward healthy eating was Alice Waters, chef and founder of Berkeley, CA’s Chez Panisse, long rated as one of the world’s top ten restaurants. Alice broke tradition by keeping a garden of fresh herbs and vegetables behind her restaurant and utilized her background in French gourmet cooking to show the world that the tastiest, most savory dishes could be prepared using wholesome, natural ingredients. Waters, Jeremiah Tower and a host of other ground-breaking chefs brought “California Cuisine” to the world, demonstrating that meals using fresh, natural foods and high quality ingredients could yield tastes that actually exceed ordinary taste experiences.
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