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FEEDING A FAMILY: A JOURNEY INTO THE CULTURAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL IMPLICATIONS OF FOOD
Janice Stensrude
August, 1996

From my marriage in 1960 and into the present, I have studied the culinary arts and many of the disciplines with which it is associated--physical, social, cultural, and economic. My serious study of nutrition began in 1970. During this period I read voraciously, experimented with abandon, and took courses in gardening and food storage at the local family Y. Though I continue to read and write about topics related to food, my period of intense study ended around 1985. My primary interest in food topics from 1985 to the present (and the area in which I continue to delve for new insights) has been the mind-body connection in creating mental and physical well-being.


Food is more than sustenance: it is an expression of health, affection, cultural transmission, stimulation, teaching, participation, and bonding. In our times, however, it has been disembodied. For the most part it is just considered fuel.

Rose Nader, It Happened in the Kitchen:
Recipes for Food and Thought


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter I. FOOD INTO CONSCIOUSNESS

Chapter II. A STUDY OF NUTRITION

Chapter III. FOOD IN SOCIAL CONTEXT

Chapter IV. POLITICAL REALITY AND OTHER LESSONS

BIBLIOGRAPHY


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CHAPTER I.
FOOD INTO CONSCIOUSNESS

My Food Experience: Childhood to Motherhood

I became a full-time household manager in 1969, ten years into my marriage. One day I was nurturing the schedules and problems of doctors, nurses, and lab technicians; the next morning, the children were off to school, my husband off to work, and I was alone with an entire day to do what had always been done in brief spurts of time on evenings and weekends. The sudden change in my life, from working mother to housewife, created a crisis in structure.

I began by sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other. I made lists--endless lists of all possible tasks that could structure the day of a full-time homemaker. And then I made lists of lists. It took months to structure the activity that was to fill the new-found daylight hours. When the dust settled, the focus was clearly on feeding the family, somehow improving on the twenty-minute dinners that had dominated my working-away-from-home years.

In retrospect, food was always a major focus in my life, and I don't think I am alone in that regard. Folklorist Charles Camp wrote that food is the cause of civilization. It was the need to gather and prepare food, he wrote, that led to the development of society. A juicy thought, but nothing could have been further from my mind as I grew up in southern California and on the Texas Gulf Coast. Food was always there; I didn't think much about it--or so it seemed.

Though I was a breast-fed baby, as were my brother and sisters, I cannot claim any memory of that first food. My earliest recollections of food date to wartime America in the early 1940s, during my preschool years. I remember my mother stirring the powdered coloring into the white margarine that had just come onto the market as a substitute for butter. I remember watching the headless chicken running in circles in the yard after my mother had wrung its neck as the first step in preparing a chicken dinner. I remember that measles and chicken pox and mumps meant soup for every meal--taken in bed, with big pillows plumped up to support me in a sitting position. I remember tonsillectomy meant large bowls of ice cream any time I wanted it. And I remember my sister going to bed without supper and not being able to go to the movies with me because she refused to eat the rice and gravy that our mother had prepared to please our new stepfather. He was an East Texas native, and his marriage to our mother introduced many strange things to our southern California table--black-eyed peas, hominy, grits, okra, fried liver.

The macabre sight of the headless chicken circling the yard till it dropped came back to me when, as an adult, I learned that Kosher chickens never suffer this fate. The Orthodox Jewish tradition holds that animals should not suffer when slaughtered. A Kosher death is a skillful stroke of a knife at the throat, instantly ending the animal's life. When I first heard of the practice, I considered it a strictly spiritual matter--keeping God's creatures safe from unnecessary suffering and pain. In more recent years, I have learned that hormones secreted during states of terror permeate the entire body. I would think that such a release could be expected to somehow change the chemical composition of the body. Perhaps the ancient Jews knew intuitively that meat containing the remnants of terror was simply not nutritionally sound. And perhaps the Jewish prohibition against eating pork could have derived from the observation that consuming improperly cooked pork caused illness. With so few people educated in ancient times, it was ultimately more efficient to issue religious sanctions than to offer abstract lessons in science and health, even if the knowledge was available to the educated few.

By the time I was six years old, our family size had stabilized. I was the second of four, with a sister two years older and a half-brother and half-sister, who were five and six years my junior, respectively. I was largely unaware of the economic challenges faced by a stay-at-home mother and a family breadwinner who left Army service to begin civilian life as a printer's apprentice. Even nine years later, when my stepfather had completed his seven-year apprenticeship and two years as journeyman, the wage of a master printer was strained by the economics of housing and feeding a family of six. It was my mother's job to make her household allowance stretch.

My stepfather's hobby was cattle. In his retirement he established his own herd on land inherited from his mother. I think that must have been his lifelong dream. But when I was in elementary school, he leased pasture land on the outskirts of Texas City, Texas, a small oil-refinery town on the Gulf Coast, where we had moved from California when I was in the third grade. He had a bull, an old milk cow, and a series of young animals purchased to be fattened and slaughtered. The entire family participated in the care of the animals. Our freezer was always full, and we had fresh milk daily. Our butter churn was an old mayonnaise jar filled with cream scooped from the top of the milk, and we each took a turn shaking the jar until the butter formed.

At that time, fresh vegetables were less expensive than canned ones, even though the variety of fresh produce was very limited. Economic necessity demanded that we eat more fresh vegetables than canned ones. My mother negotiated a reduced price on canned goods by the case. Each week she purchased a case of a different canned fruit or vegetable to keep the pantry stocked with variety.

I look back on these experiences and feel as if food was our reason for being. Just as our prehistoric ancestors, the entire family was involved in gathering, preparing, and consuming food. Food-related activities were our preoccupation from rising to retiring.

In college I lived in a women's cooperative. We elected one from among us as Coordinator. It was her job to plan meals, assign chores, police the door after curfew, and generally perform the duties of a dormitory housemother. We lived as a family of seventeen, sharing housekeeping and cooking chores. Those two years living in a women's cooperative at The University of Texas were the beginning of my interest in food preparation, and Betty Crocker was in charge of recipes. When I married, my entire cooking repertoire was from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and I could not plan a meal without consulting its pages.

When my mother married, it was a certainty that she would quit work; when I married a university student in 1960, it was a certainty that I would continue working.

By the end of our first year of marriage, we had had our first child, and I had celebrated my twentieth birthday. In the course of one year, I had become a wife and mother and left my teenage years behind. Quite suddenly, the responsibility for the health of three people was thrust upon me, and two of those people, myself and my child, were totally dependent on me for the decisions that would determine our level of physical well-being.

Becoming a Family Meal Planner

In the fourth grade, I had learned about the Seven Basic Food Groups, though I have long since forgotten what they were. In the 1960s, it was the Four Basic Food Groups--fruit, vegetables, meat, and bread. Some combination of childhood practice and what I picked up from magazines and television led me to create my own basic four: meat, starch, vegetables, and dessert.

Meat was the only source of protein I recognized. Starch included bread, potatoes, rice, beans, and anything else I classified as essentially carbohydrate in nature. Unaware of the importance of vegetables for their contribution of necessary vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and roughage, their sacrosanct position was assigned more from a lifetime of hearing "You must eat your vegetables." I knew it to be true because I had heard it from my mother, every adult female relative, and June Cleaver. Clearly, as an adult female, part of my mission in life was to urge the consumption of vegetables by all who took seats at my table.

Desserts were the last group in my basic four because I did not recognize them as necessary to life. They were strictly a treat for Sunday dinner and other special occasions. Fruit, which was something that one always had in bowls readily available for snacks, did not qualify for a food group.

I recognized breakfast as the most important meal of the day, but was more concerned that it be hearty than that it contain any certain groupings of food. My husband and I shared the same vision of breakfast as being eggs, toast, bacon, and orange juice. Pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast breads were valued more for the time required in preparation and the variety introduced. These were for special weekend breakfasts when time constraints were less severe.

My goal was to have one serving each of meat, starch, and vegetable at each evening meal. As a student wife, my primary criteria for meat was that it be cheap, and I devised a method of shopping whereby meat would average 50 cents per serving. That meant Spam, tuna, and hamburger, rounded out at the end of the week with a nice piece of round steak. Steak and roast beef required more meals of tuna and Spam than could normally be tolerated. The idea of excluding meat from meals was beyond my thinking for many years.

My classification of starch was essentially anything carbohydrate that was not a fruit or dessert. This included grains and grain products (such as rice and bread), potatoes, and other starchy vegetables. Vegetables in my vegetable group were of the green and yellow variety only. Using this type of classification system, if I served lima beans, a starch vegetable, there would be no bread, potatoes, or rice with the meal.

It's just as well I didn't adhere too closely to the government's Basic Four, because in 1991, the FDA decided this time-honored grouping fell short of dietary wisdom. The Four Basic Food Groups model was replaced with the Food Guide Pyramid, its larger base representing the foods that should be the larger part of one's diet and tapering upwards as groups were added that should make up the smaller part of one's diet.

At the base of the Food Guide Pyramid are the grains-- bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Forget whatever you were told about carbohydrates before; the government now wants you to eat more of them. Above grains are the fruits and vegetables, and perched upon these are dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. At the small top of the pyramid are fats, oils, and sweets.

The consensus among experts is that the Food Guide Pyramid is a vast improvement over the Basic Four Food Groups that it replaced. Dairy and meat lobbyists managed to prevent distribution of the pyramid for a year, jockeying for a better position on the pyramid, and they succeeded in being placed on the same level with dry beans and other plant proteins. Though high-fat dairy and meat products managed to stay off the top--the least desirable position--fat itself occupies the top position with the notation "use sparingly." Setting out to improve the health of its citizens through education, the government has succeeded in offering slightly better information that could have been even better, except for politics. It would be nice to assume that information available from our government is the most accurate and unbiased available. Sadly, veiled in the language of science and public interest, government pronouncements are too frequently compromises to protect the interests of giant corporations and others with the money and power to influence public policy.


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CHAPTER II.
A STUDY OF NUTRITION

The additional time found for household chores when I quit my salaried job soon led to an interest in the science of nutrition. I browsed cookbooks at the local library branch, copying recipes that I worked into my weekly menus. It was the reading of one of these cookbooks, Nancy Sutton's Adventures in Cooking with Health Foods, that led to my explorations into the nutritive value of food, changing forever the way my family ate and the way I came to view food. Sutton made reference to publications by Adelle Davis, a now legendary nutritionist, of whom I knew nothing.

I read everything I could find written by Davis. Her books were dense with foot notes, making reference to thousands of published research studies. I developed the appropriate outraged attitude that put me at the front of the fledgling health-food movement, began patronizing health-food stores, and timidly began challenging the medical professionals who were still the guardians of my family's health.

A Focus on B Vitamins

B vitamins are water soluble; that is, they dissolve in water and excesses are eliminated in the urine. The body does not store B vitamins to be used at some later date; they must be consumed every day in adequate amounts to prevent deficiency. The fact that B vitamins are found in every cell in the body and are involved in nearly every body process caused me to focus particular attention on them.

My reading in nutrition convinced me that B vitamins were a major problem in the American diet. Most of the nutrients are removed from flour in the refining process, removing an important source of B vitamins from our diets. There was also a time when molasses, very rich in certain of the B vitamins, was the most frequently used sweetener. With the widespread use of refined sugar, which contains no vitamins, another source of B vitamins has disappeared from our diets. Adelle Davis claimed that two-thirds of the food we were consuming were significantly stripped of their original nutrients--in some cases, totally stripped. And it is not just the condition of the food we eat that contributes to poor diet; in this country we eat about half the calories that our more active grandparents ate. Even without a loss in nutritional value through processing, we have only half the chance of getting adequate nutrients as our grandparents did.

I read about the results of a number of scientific studies that verified the effect of losing B vitamins during food processing. During World War II, the Danish government forbade the milling of grains because of shortages. On a diet of whole grains, the Danes enjoyed a 34 percent drop in death rate and declines in cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and diseases of the heart and kidneys--all this in a time of very high stress. Davis reported a study where rats were forced to swim in ice water to see how long they could survive the stress. One group of rodents were given liver in addition to the same diet the other group was given. The liver-fed animals swam two hours or longer, while those not receiving liver drowned in ten minutes or less. Some researchers believe that liver contains some antistress nutrient that has not yet been identified, though it is the richest source of all the known B vitamins, the vitamins traditionally believed to be most effective in relieving the physical effects of stress. Liver, nutritional yeast, wheat germ, and rice polish are rich sources of the B vitamins. Vitamin B12 occurs only in animal foods--milk, eggs, cheese, and most meats. I began to look for ways to introduce more of these foods into our diet.

Going Organic

Adelle Davis was not the first nor the last to claim that the food produced by the American agricultural machine was inferior to the food grown on family farms before the advent of chemical fertilizers and powerful insecticides. For me, though, her writings were the first that introduced me to the concerns of what is today labeled "sustainable agriculture." Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, woke me to the extent of poisonous chemicals that were being heaped on our food supply, and luckily a lot of other people were awakened too. As a result of Carson's book, DDT was banned in this country. Unfortunately, its manufacture continues in the United States today. DDT is sold to our farming neighbors to the south and continues to reach our tables on the fresh produce imported from these countries.

Particularly after World War II, chemical fertilizers replaced practices of crop rotation and leaving fields fallow for a season or two to revitalize the soil. Proponents of "organic" farming maintained that chemical fertilizers only replaced a few soil nutrients, enough to have crops that grew in abundance, but not enough to make the crops adequate for human health.

If chemical fertilizers containing only a few nutrients are used to maintain production on land that has been depleted of 20, 30, 40, or more nutrients, what other deficiency diseases are we creating in our midst? I was among those concerned enough and convinced enough to pay more for organically grown foods. The argument offered by organic farmers and their supporters was quite simply more convincing than that offered by proponents of chemical farming. Fresh, organically grown produce was difficult to find, but when I found it, it was always superior in flavor, though not usually the most cosmetically perfect. I could not always afford the price, but when I could, I bought organic.

Today, more and more people are paying the extra few cents (and sometimes few dollars) to buy food that has been grown by organic methods. I now have the luxury of shopping in a super market where a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains are carefully marked "organic," "traditionally grown," "pesticide free," and "transitional." The latter term refers to crops grown by organic methods on land that has been chemical free for less than three years. The term "organic" can even be found at the meat counter, referring to chickens and beef animals that were allowed to feed contentedly in the sunshine on hormone-free feed. In California, the state certifies organic produce to curtail fraudulent claims by people who wish to capitalize on the higher prices demanded for organic produce. I am forced to trust the word of Whole Foods Market, who claims to have personal knowledge of the growing conditions of the food they purchase for resale.

What remains to be done is an exhaustive analysis of organically grown produce to compare it to that being grown with chemical fertilizers. The damage to health by powerful insecticides has been repeatedly confirmed scientifically. So far, the nutritional superiority of produce grown without chemical fertilizers has yet to undergo this same scrutiny.

Going Brown

Eating organic wasn't the only thing I turned to in those health food years, I went brown--brown rice instead of white, brown bread instead of white, honey and molasses instead of white sugar. White became a very unpopular food color in my house.

Refining food has made it possible to store it for longer and longer periods of time. Davis and her cohorts warned me: The longer the shelf life, the poorer the nutrition. Perhaps it was the effort required to refine food that initially made it more desirable--more civilized, more removed from its inelegant origins in nature. Until higher prices made brown bread and raw sugar more exclusive, white bread and fine, white sugar were symbols of wealth and civilization.

It wasn't the exclusive price tag that attracted me, however. In my devoted efforts to pack my family with nature's best, I learned that, in the refining process of wheat flour, approximately twenty-five nutrients are removed, and then the flour is "enriched" with the addition of a fraction of the original iron, vitamin B1, and niacin. The picture for sugar was even more bleak. Refined sugar is not ready for our tables until all nutrients have been removed, leaving only calories as a contribution to health. In creating white rice, the outer husk containing substantial quantities of B vitamins is removed. I was convinced. I switched to brown for the most part, and found sneaky ways to add nutrient-dense supplements to the whites that remained.

Discovering Super Foods

I began to learn about the so-called Super Foods--foods rich in nutrients. In Joy of Cooking, I found the Cornell Triple Rich Formula for fortifying white flour with small additions of soy flour, wheat germ, and noninstant dry milk solids. This formula was developed by Dr. Clive McCay at Cornell University in an attempt to boost the nutritional status of low-income families and institutionalized people, who frequently depended heavily on bread for sustenance. His formula, however, never made it into the loaves of white bread that still dominate the baked goods shelves of super markets throughout the United States.

On the vegetable front, I learned that alfalfa is the king of greens. Because the roots of the plant go down 30 to 40 feet, it picks up every mineral known and unknown. It is rich in vitamin K and calcium and contains significant amounts of nearly every known vitamin. You can't just cook up a pot of alfalfa, though; it is used more in the nature of a condiment.

I learned to sprout alfalfa seeds in a quart jar and added the sprouts to salads and sandwiches. Young sprouts (of any type of plant) contain more nutrient value than the seeds from which they come and the adult plants they become. The sprouting was so easy and yielded such great results that I sprouted every kind of seed I could find in the health-food store. Seeds sold for planting are treated with fungicides and other chemicals and aren't safe for human consumption. I sprouted cabbage, radish, wheat, and fenugreek. The cabbage was very pungent and had to be used sparingly. Radish sprouts tasted like freshly harvested hot radishes--wonderful in salads. Fenugreek was an unfamiliar spicy taste that added some interest to salads. Sprouted wheat was suitable for addition to cereals.

Once I even dried wheat sprouts in the sun, pounded them into flour, and used the flour to make a pie crust. The result was delightful. Wheat sprouts have a natural sweetness, and sugar would never be needed with this terrific flour. The delight was not well balanced with the considerable effort involved, and I never made sprouted wheat flour again.

I learned to add blackstrap molasses to my cooking when its strong flavor would not overpower the flavors of the foods with which it was combined. Molasses is the final extraction from cane in the refining of sugar. With more calcium than milk and rich in iron, blackstrap molasses contains more potassium than any other food. It contains significant amounts of all the B vitamins and is rich in copper, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamin E. Many people use it as a supplement, taking a tablespoon a day. I never tried dosing my family with spoonfuls of molasses; instead I used molasses in breads and sometimes combined it with honey to be poured over breakfast pancakes (whole wheat, of course!). I learned that blackstrap molasses, with its stronger taste and darker color, is significantly more nutritious than plain molasses that is processed to improve flavor. Using the stronger version was a challenge, as it dominated whatever food I added it to.

Yogurt has long been one of the super foods of health-conscious people, many of whom attribute longevity and good health to its regular consumption. The bacteria in a yogurt culture partly "predigest" the milk protein, and people with milk allergies are frequently able to tolerate yogurt. In the intestine, yogurt bacteria break down lactose, the milk sugar to which many people are intolerant, into lactic acid, and the lactic acid largely destroys the bacteria which cause gas and digestive upset.

In a healthy intestine, B vitamins are manufactured by friendly bacteria that make their home there. Antibiotics, widely and liberally used to kill infection, are indiscriminate in their actions--they kill the good bacteria with the bad, thereby frequently causing diarrhea. Although Adelle Davis recommended that anyone on antibiotics should consume yogurt to restore a healthy balance of friendly intestinal bacteria, some medical practitioners suggest eating yogurt after the course of medication is completed. These experts claim that the antibiotics are just as efficient at killing the helpful yogurt bacteria as they are at killing the bacteria that is waging war on your health. Consumption of yogurt, once the antibiotic has completed its work, rapidly restores the intestinal flora necessary to good digestion and intestinal production of B vitamins.

More for the satisfaction of improving my craft than for any other reason, I was eager to make my own yogurt. I bought a dried yogurt culture at the neighborhood health-food store, along with a yogurt thermometer--a device nearly identical to a candy thermometer, but the gauge accommodates lower temperatures. I made my yogurt with whole milk. Adelle Davis asserted that the natural fat in milk was essential to the proper absorption of the naturally occurring vitamin A in the milk. My yogurt had a smooth, custardy texture and a mild flavor, unlike the sharp taste of plain commercial yogurts. It was a hit!

I soon learned that any live culture would produce good yogurt--good news when the eight-dollar price tag on the purchased culture threatened my future as a family yogurt manufacturer. I could use my own yogurt as a starter or one of the commercial brands that contained live culture, such as Dannon. Making yogurt was a satisfying experience. I had found an easily prepared, economical food that was high in protein and calcium and capable of producing B vitamins.

I found liver to be particularly good for producing immediate results when B vitamins were needed. A plate of liver and onions for lunch resulted in a resoundingly perceptible increase in energy and a marked sense of well-being. No wonder, a three-ounce serving of liver, according to the USDA's Nutritive Value of Foods, contains 7.5 mg iron, 323 mg potassium, 45,390 IU vitamin A, .22 mg thiamin, 3.56 mg riboflavin, 14 mg niacin, and 23 mg vitamin C. In its raw form, liver is even more packed with nutrients, containing substantial amounts of zinc, selenium, and potassium.

My knowledge of super foods grew as I read. I depended on magazines--Prevention, Mother Earth News, and Organic Farming--to give me the up-to-date scoop on the latest in nutrition research. Over the last few years, such information has become widely available in the daily newspaper, on television, and in a growing number of health newsletters and magazines.

Among the new super foods are some familiar names. Oat bran and dried beans have emerged as champions in the fight against high cholesterol because of their high soluble fiber content. Broccoli is known as an important food for preventing cancer because of its high betacarotene content. Cabbage is high in indole carbinol, another factor recently found to be a cancer preventative. And after years of hearing of the virtues of no-fat diets, fatty fish containing high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil high in monounsaturates are being touted as important contributors to heart health.

In health-food stores, the newest super foods are green--wheat grass juice and powdered drink mixes containing Spirulina and the wild-harvested blue-green algae are among the new nutrition super stars. A trial with these "green foods" rewarded me with the disappearance of dry patches on my facial skin and an increase in energy level. These were bonuses to me, since my purpose had been to avail myself of the liver-cleansing power of the chlorophyll that is abundant in these foods.

A Handful of Pills

Changes in the food that appeared on my table was only the beginning. Adelle Davis and the biochemists I began reading--Roger Williams, Richard Passwater, Carlton Fredericks--were all proponents of supplementing food with concentrated supplements of various vitamins and minerals. I had learned more about B vitamins than other nutrients, and that's where I began.

It was clear to me that there were individual differences in level of requirement for all vitamins, and B vitamins were no exception. I learned that there was some danger in attempting to supplement only one B vitamin, since higher levels of one B vitamin could conceivably create a need for higher levels of one or more other B vitamins. Vitamin B6 and B2 for instance, are customarily found together in equal quantity. Taking large amounts of one or the other could possibly create an exaggerated need for the other. For this reason, I chose to supplement with a B complex that contained all of the known B vitamins in the proportion that they are usually found in nature. The best supplement, of course, is a B-vitamin-rich food that contains all the B vitamins in natural proportion, as well as yet-to-be-discovered factors that work in concert with B vitamins in fulfilling their functions in our bodies.

Stress of any nature causes our bodies to demand higher levels of B-vitamin intake. I tried various recipes for super drinks and found them all sorely lacking in the taste department. Adding chicken livers to the breakfast menu, beef liver to lunch or dinner, and a handful of B complex tablets became my preferred way to temporarily boost B-vitamin intake during times of illness or other stress.

Prior to my self-education in nutrition, my doctor had once prescribed higher-than-average doses of vitamin C for a period of six weeks to cure my propensity to bruise easily. It worked. Later, when I began learning the roles of various vitamins and came to understand the importance of vitamin C in immunity, as well as its ability to strengthen cells walls (the property that had cured my bruising), I decided it was one of the nutrients that needed to be supplemented on a regular basis. All family members were given multi-vitamins and supplemental vitamin C. It was the best I could manage. I was the only family member willing to swallow a handful of pills.

I experimented a great deal with my own supplementation, at one point taking forty desiccated liver tablets each day, in addition to my usual handful of other vitamins, to test the value of liver without having to eat it every day. I was rewarded with an increase in hair volume and energy to spare. The time and effort required to ingest so many tablets at once (not to mention several glasses of water to wash them down) eventually led me to abandon the idea of guaranteeing health through fistfuls of tablets. The temporary use of these large volumes of supplements, however, seemed to have a lasting effect.

My most intimate relationship among nutrients has been with calcium. Shortly before my fortieth birthday, I quite suddenly developed calcium deposits in every joint in my body. When I moved, I sounded like a walking popcorn machine. Even today, there are physicians who tell patients their calcium deposits are an indication of too much calcium in their diets. Luckily I had been reading about nutritional research for more than ten years, and I knew that calcium deposits were a sign of calcium deficiency. I increased my calcium intake, first to one gram a day, then to two. There was no change. By this time, I was grinding my teeth in my sleep, another sign of calcium deficiency about which I had read. I knew that two grams were more than adequate. That meant my body was having a problem absorbing the calcium I offered. I purchased a high-dose supplement of vitamin D from a natural source. Vitamin D is required for the body to absorb calcium and direct it to its appropriate metabolic tasks. When I still failed to see results, the only thing left to try was a whole food that contained unusually high amounts of vitamin D--and, presumably, some as-yet-unknown element that would put the vitamin D to work. I began to take two teaspoons of cod liver oil each evening. Within ten days, the calcium deposits were completely gone, including the ones that had been in my neck since I was a teenager. The tooth grinding stopped, too, but permanent damage had already been done to my teeth.

It was several years later, when I began to learn about the role estrogen plays in calcium absorption, that I understood the strange lump that appeared on my thigh at that same time. Fibroids frequently appear in muscle tissue throughout a woman's body as her estrogen levels drop during menopause. Though I should not have been menopausal at forty, my body had begun to react to the estrogen I had been taking for seven years following a hysterectomy. The reaction manifested as menopausal symptoms; the estrogen no longer maintained my body's estrogen levels, but rather induced my liver to become too efficient at filtering the oral medication. The result was abnormally low estrogen levels. With these lower levels, my calcium absorption dropped suddenly and dramatically, triggering a series of calcium-deficiency conditions. Ten years later, during another calcium crisis, another fibroid appeared in the muscle tissue of my thigh. Failing to get information from the specialists I consulted and no medical intervention offered, I was grateful that my long-term interest in nutrition had armed me with the clues I needed to devise an effective treatment for myself. Since that first calcium crisis, I have continued to take cod liver oil each winter when the sun's rays are least likely to be sufficient to manufacture vitamin D in my skin. I have not read anywhere of a connection between calcium and fibroid formation; in fact, I have recently read that medical science does not yet know what causes the formation of fibroids. I have learned to trust my own experience, and though that experience may not have universal application, I know that when a fibroid appears in my muscle tissue, my body is screaming for calcium.

Individual Metabolism

Exaggerated need for certain nutrients appears to run in families. From my reading, and from observing my family, I presumed that I had inherited an above-average requirement for vitamin B6. Adelle Davis reported that the lines that appear around the mouths of many people as they age is a vitamin B6 deficiency symptom. Though these lines are popularly thought to be a result of the puckering motion practiced by cigarette smokers, this characteristic appeared in everyone in my mother's family, whether they smoked or not. I have also observed this characteristic in families where all claim to have been nonsmokers for generations. I was less concerned about the eventual cosmetic damage this would do as I aged than I was about the more subtle internal changes that would be created by a long-term B6 deficiency. I supplemented with vitamin tablets and ate foods I knew to be high in the B complex.

Nutritionally induced disease states are more widely recognized today than they were when I began my first studies in nutrition. With advances in genetic studies and more studies on the statistical occurrence of various diseases in families, nutritional approaches are becoming more acceptable. It is unfortunate, though, that the largest sums of research funds are still devoted to finding drugs and other artificial means of altering metabolism, rather than in a study of nutritional management of health problems.

The individuality of nutrient needs from individual to individual is gaining acceptance. Nutritionist Anne Louise Gittleman, M.S., observed in her work at the Pritiken Center that many people, herself included, did not do well on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, vegetarian diet. Gittleman listed three factors that seem to influence the type of diet an individual will find most healthful: metabolic rate, blood type, and ancestral heritage. In short, Gittleman found that some people need to eat more fat than others in order to be healthy; some people do very well on dairy foods, while others suffer multiple health problems with dairy in their diets; and some people absolutely must have animal protein in their diets in order to enjoy good health. Gynecologist Christiane Northrup reported that she finally won her fight against fat when she reintroduced small amounts of animal fat into her diet. It was a difficult choice for Northrup, who was committed to the vegetarian philosophy.

Gittleman's findings dramatically illustrate the futility of designing and promoting a diet that purports to promote health in everyone. They also illustrate how important it is for individuals to take responsibility for their own health. I had myself learned that it is fine to seek expert help, but the only real expert on my body was me, and it was my responsibility to learn to listen to it and monitor its messages.

Gittleman's work confirmed my intuition about what constitutes an adequate diet. I had more health problems attempting to follow a low-cholesterol diet than I ever experienced when my main emphasis was on fresh, natural foods. My grandmother and my mother both died of heart disease in their 75th year. This is an important clue to my unique metabolism, an inheritance that I must learn to understand. My mother followed a very strict low-cholesterol diet, yet the only time her blood cholesterol levels fell to normal was when she walked daily for a mile and a half. Many of the foods that she used had been manufactured specifically for low-cholesterol diets. As we learned later, the chemicals used to produce low-fat, low-cholesterol foods were frequently more dangerous than the natural substances they replaced.

Sugar Moody Blues

It wasn't until I had my first stress-induced blood-sugar dips that I related to the concept that food could elevate or depress mood. The delicate emotions and foggy mind that occurred midway between breakfast and lunch were easily controlled with a piece of cheese and a few nuts munched on my 10:00 coffee break. I watched my congenial adolescent nephew, after a few cokes and a candy bar or two, transform into a snarling, sarcastic instigator of quarrels with his mother and sister. One day, after shunning family breakfast and consuming only cokes and a number of candy bars, he passed out cold.

My sister scheduled an appointment for a glucose tolerance test for her son. The doctor was reluctant. "Hypoglycemia is a rare disorder related to certain types of tumors," he insisted. My sister insisted--and she insisted on a six-hour test. It was not a pleasant day. Michael followed the classic description we had read about. At certain times during the testing, he would have trouble staying awake; at other times he would suddenly become belligerent and begin pacing; at one point he burst into tears and sank into frantic despair. It all took place in the waiting room under the watchful eye of the receptionist. My sister's smug, I-knew-it expression changed to disbelief when she heard the doctor's deadpan pronouncement: "The test is entirely within normal limits."

William Dufty's Sugar Blues gave all of us answers that we needed and some guidance in solving a problem that our doctors insisted did not exist. The idea that blood sugar dips can exist and create metabolic havoc, even without the presence of a rare tumor, has gained grudging acceptance in the medical community. It has even found its place in our courtrooms. A few years ago, a murderer was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity induced by eating a sugar-laden commercial cupcake shortly before committing his crime. This sugar-made-me-do-it plea has come to be known as "the Twinkie Defense." What physicians and courts have only recently accepted has been known to sugar-sensitive individuals for many years. As Rose Nader so wisely said, "Common sense sometimes precedes nutritional science."

Love Is an Ingredient

A human's first experience of love and food occurs simultaneously--at the breast of its mother. Modern psychologists have observed that touching and affection are essential ingredients for infants to thrive.

A recent issue of New Age Journal (NAJ) reviewed the case of Roseto, Pennsylvania. I remembered reading about Roseto in Prevention magazine in the mid 1970s. Roseto is a small town, where most of the residents are of Italian descent. When they were studied in the 1950s and 1960s, rates for heart disease and other chronic ailments were remarkably lower among inhabitants of Roseto than for the rest of the United States--despite the fact that the town's predominantly overweight residents enjoyed a hearty Italian diet laden with fat and calories. The editors of Prevention attributed the unusual health of Roseto residents to exercise. Most residents walked wherever they wanted to go, and their treks were up and down hills. This contributed to the intensity of the aerobic workout, posited Prevention, and enabled their hearts to overcome the blatantly unhealthy diet.

The retrospective in 1995 was striking. NAJ reported that Roseto now enjoys the same level of poor health as the rest of the U.S. population. NAJ's reading of the situation is the loss of community cohesiveness. Young people have moved to urban centers, the community is no longer one big happy family, and home-cooked meals are as rare as they are in any hamlet where McDonald's has found a toe hold.

The ancient Indian health system of Ayurveda specifies that food must be prepared with love. The Ayurvedic kitchen features a special altar where the food is placed and blessed before it is brought to the table. Ayurvedic wisdom says that food prepared by someone who is angry or unhappy is bad for the digestion. The cooks' responsibilities go beyond exercising culinary skill; they must tend their personal spiritual life to come into a state of love before beginning food preparation.

The subtly surreal film Like Water for Chocolate took this theme a step further. Tita, the film's main character, tells all who ask that the secret ingredient in the superb dishes she prepares is love. It would have bode them well to believe her, for when she is heartbroken and in anguish, the food she prepares causes guests to think of the lost love in their lives, and they fall to weeping and rush from the table retching. And when she is full with the passion of her mature love, the guests spontaneously kiss, fondle, giggle, and rush home to the privacy of their bedrooms. The film seems to be saying that not only are you what you eat, but in addition, you stir into your cookpot what you are.

I remember occasions when a meal sat like lead in my stomach because of the tension present at the meal. Perfectly prepared dishes somehow had no flavor when delivered to the table by a tense, unhappy cook. By the same token, there have been mediocre meals consumed with great gusto under the glowing gaze of a host bubbling with affection and goodwill. I have an artist friend who serves a really nasty concoction of instant coffee, nondairy creamer, artificial sweetener, and hazelnut flavoring--all ingredients that I systematically refuse to accept in any other environment from any other hands. It is her customary after-dinner beverage, following a meal that is beautifully served with the colors of raw and cooked foods artfully arranged on clear glass plates. The instant, powdered ingredients are carefully measured into a delft blue mug, covered with boiling water and stirred in an almost ritual fashion. I identify this after-dinner ritual with warmth and comfort and good conversation. I always depart feeling I have been nurtured, and the caffeine that normally would keep me wide eyed well into the wee hours seems not to have any effect. I call this the Roseto effect. Ayurveda would call it the good digestion that comes from food prepared with love.

If the experience of Ayurvedic cooks and Italian-American matrons in 1960s Roseto, Pennsylvania--and an artist and a writer dining in a tiny apartment in Houston, Texas--validate the theory that love in the cook pot is indispensable to good health, what is happening to our society as we depend increasingly on commercial kitchens? How lovingly prepared is a Big Mac or a Domino's pizza?

Only a few years ago, Swedish researchers designed a study to prove the necessity of proper diet and exercise in survival rates of heart patients. The results stunned scientists. The carefully supervised group who exercised according to a well-designed plan and ate only the healthiest of foods, died in significantly greater numbers than the control group of equally ill heart patients who made no changes in their personal or dietary habits. What happened? Researchers speculated that the tension resulting from strict supervision and humorless regimentation had a more harmful effect than did the continuation of an "unhealthy" lifestyle.

If my guess is correct, the special meals were prepared with the same level of ambivalence and clock-watching that I observed in the special-diet kitchen of the metabolic research unit where I worked as an administrative assistant in the 1960s. Everything offered to the patients had been carefully weighed and analyzed for nutritional content. No analysis was made for the content added by the underpaid cooks who spent an hour on a crowded city bus in order to arrive early enough to prepare breakfast for the patients. No tests have yet been devised to detect these esoteric ingredients. The proof is in the reaction to the pudding, so to speak.

As well as the mood of the cook, the manner of consuming meals has radically changed in the past 20 years. I grew up in a home where all meals were served at a table with the entire family seated--together and at the same time. Years later, I followed the pattern established in my childhood. Whether it was the hurriedly prepared meals of my working-away-from-home years or the planned and leisurely prepared meals of my housewife years, meals were always served and eaten at the kitchen table. Admittedly, during the early years of our marriage when our domestic patterns were forming, we didn't own a television.

When my mother mentioned to me that at mealtimes she found out what was going on in our lives, I realized the truth of what she said. There was something magical about children and a plate of food that resulted in a sharing of thoughts and experiences that didn't seem to happen any other time. Food was the focus for coming together, but in the absence of other distractions, we had each other's attention in a way that didn't seem to happen at other times of the day. Dinner times were standing appointments for catching up with one another.

Consumer activist Ralph Nader's mother, Rose, wrote, "At supper the children would talk about fights and problems and we found solutions." Just as I had structured mealtimes for my family after the sit-down-at-the-table model of my childhood years, Rose Nader copied the practices of her own childhood home, where "We loved to laugh and laughed to love, and the kitchen was where it all happened." An interesting difference between my method and Nader's is that she carefully planned the social portion of her family's mealtimes and after-meal cleanups. I seated my family at the table for a home-cooked meal made from fresh ingredients because it was the model of a good mother that I carried with me from my childhood. Rose Nader was a well-educated woman, trained and practiced in child development. She planned family conversations, even creating philosophical games:

Conversation helps create understanding, discipline and social skills among children that sitting at television, hour after hour, cannot begin to match. For example, I liked to pose two seemingly contradictory axioms such as "Look before you leap" and "He who hesitates is lost," and ask the children to resolve the differences with examples from their experiences or readings. We had a good time.

Understanding the value of the time she had with her children, she planned their education beyond what schools offered:

As the children grew older, my stories changed from those transmitting proper values and family experience, to concerns over food and health, contaminants in the environment, the absence of attentiveness to children's welfare in this country, nuclear war, and local needs such as maintaining a community hospital.

Even without a background in childhood development, I instinctively knew the value of what was taking place at our table. These mealtimes were among the few times that our family sat together as a unit and talked together. At other times of the day, we were each at our chosen activities--I frequently in the kitchen, my husband at one of his woodworking projects, and the two boys playing with their friends.

The mealtime pattern was not broken till Trevor, my younger son, was a teenager. By then I was divorced, and the elder son had reached his majority and gone out to seek his fortune. Trevor's teenage appetite could not wait even till I arrived home from work. He became adept at creating pizzas, omelets, and a quick-cook chili, as well as an assortment of salads and sandwiches. There may or may not have been leftovers upon my return from work, but in any event, the evening ritual of food preparation and sitting to dine together had been preempted. It was the end of an era. And when I looked about me, I saw that it was the end of an era in the United States. There were none among my friends and acquaintances who enjoyed a seated family meal on any regular basis. I am certain that, even today, there are families who join together at the table everyday. I also feel certain that they are few and far between.

When my husband and I, with our five-year-old son, bought our home, I was the only working mother among the twenty-three houses that lined our horseshoe street. I eventually gave into the pressures of trying to devote myself wholeheartedly to two careers and resigned my job to become a full-time homemaker. Ten years later, I was the only stay-at-home mom on the block. Of the twenty-six children who slept each night in those homes, only two were sitting down to a meal with their family each evening.

Television is a ready scapegoat, but more than television has impacted traditional mealtime patterns. Many women worked because they could. The women's movement had made it okay to leave one's children with a babysitter and engage in work in the outside world. At the same time, it became okay for a man to have a working wife, and two incomes meant a better life--a bigger house, two cars, college educations for the children. The 1970s saw the dawning of the gotta-haves, fed by the maturing American media who could instill in hundreds of thousands of people the desire to own things they never dreamed they could ever want or need.

For most Americans, the appetite for more and bigger could not be satisfied on a single income. At the same time, the price of home ownership and the price of a new car was beyond the reach of working-class families with a single income. This generation, who had more than their parents had dreamed of, quickly moved past frozen TV dinners and embraced the burgeoning fast-food industry. When Blake, my older son, was three years old and an only child, there was a hamburger stand three blocks from our house. It had funny-looking golden arches at either end of the tiny building, and the giant sign over the takeout window bragged "Over 2 Million Sold." Today, McDonald's probably sells more than two million burgers a day!

We and our small circle of friends were pioneer yuppies. We were young families with stay-at-home wives and upwardly mobile, professional husbands. We were seeking the good life, expecting to have everything our parents had and more. Throughout the 1980s, when the term came into common usage, yuppies were two-income, two-career families, living the good life in exclusive residential areas--two BMW families with children enrolled in private schools. We had been fortunate. Our children had completed school before our urban public schools suffered the fall from grace and effectiveness in which they still flounder.

With a renewed focus on children and values in American society, there is a new breed of professional woman, who chooses to stay at home with her children. This new movement back to the home is evident only among those who can afford it. Among my clients is an attorney who stays at home with her four children. There will be time enough to practice law after they're in college, she says. Another woman of my acquaintance, a successful free-lance graphic artist with strong connections in the advertising agencies that count, began working part time with the birth of her first child and completely left her high-income profession with the birth of her second. With husbands earning six-figure incomes and additional financial resources stockpiled from their own profitable working-away-from-home years, these women's decisions were independent of economic considerations.

Experiments with Food Styles

From my earliest attempts to provide nutrition through my self-styled food groups through my years of experimentation with health foods and supplements, I had developed a family cuisine that I believed to be health promoting and aesthetically pleasing. There were many changes from those first meals I planned and prepared. Bacon, our breakfast staple for many years, eventually disappeared from our table. Its nutritional track record was nearly as bleak as white sugar's. With only 2 grams of protein in a slice and virtually no vitamins or minerals, its appealing taste did not sufficiently compensate for its lack of contribution to health. Other foods disappeared and new ones appeared, gradually transforming the way we ate, a food style in which taste was not sacrificed in the name of nutrition and nutrition was not sacrificed in the name of taste.

As new scientific studies were published and new revelations were accessed through hearing the experiences of others, I read with interest anything that promised to be the perfect diet that would guarantee perfect health for my family and me. Among the many dietary fads that came and went, there were three that piqued my interest sufficiently to cause me to explore further.

Veggie But Not Vegan

Year round, daily meat eating in climates where plant foods are available part of the year is a recent development of Western civilization. Early man ate meat in proportion to the lack of vegetation. In places like Siberia and the icy wastelands that are home to the Eskimo, there were plenty of meat and no plants.

Vegetarians do not believe in eating other living things. Being the kind of person who talks to her plants and plays music for them, I take a broad view of the term "living things." In my view, excluding living things from my diet would lead to a choice between dirt and rocks. I see the issue more as waste than meat.

As well as my concern about the vast amounts of grains that were used to prepared food animals for slaughter, I was concerned about the origin of store-bought meat. How was it handled? How many hormones and chemicals had been fed to these animals to guarantee maximum return on the feed lot's investment? I had seen feedlots. They just didn't look like a place where healthy animals could be raised.

I considered a radical dietary change. Surely, I thought, a vegetarian diet that included eggs and dairy foods would be an easy transition. The Farm, a well-known vegetarian commune that had survived the end of the flower-child era and continues to thrive today, published an excellent vegetarian cookbook. Francis Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet was a bestseller, and I learned about combining plant foods to make all forms of protein available at one meal. (As a side note, recent wisdom is that protein combining is unnecessary.)

I enjoyed the cooking tasks associated with this era of experimenting with vegetarian fare. The dishes were nearly always tasty and filling. Many of the recipes I tried have remained among my favorites throughout the ensuing years. I never considered becoming a vegan--a vegetarian who eats nothing of animal origin. Despite the bad press that eggs and dairy products suffered for so many years, I was never willing to exclude them from my diet. Cheese and yogurt were frequently the stars of the vegetarian dishes I found most appetizing.

Though I eventually abandoned my effort to be a vegetarian, my experiment had lasting effect. I found that my body no longer tolerated large portions of beef. Beef sat as a heavy lump in my stomach, leaving me lethargic and uncomfortable. Since that time, I rarely eat red meat.

Eating Raw

Though cooking food was one of the important milestones in the development of human civilization, the eating of raw foods exclusively is enjoying a renaissance within the health-food movement. Karen Cross Whyte wrote The Original Diet in defense of vegetarianism and the eating of raw foods.

I was titillated by the notion of returning to humanity's diet before fire was found and used for cooking food, not to mention the time saved in eliminating cooking and scrubbing cook pots. Whyte pointed out, too, that eating raw food saves 200 pounds of airborne grease in the kitchen and 1,300 kilowatt hours of energy each year. How humanity found fire and how it came to be used for cooking food is permanently destined to be conjecture. One theory holds that the first fire was made from coals saved from a forest fire or a lightning strike. Learning to start and control fire may have come from sparks during toolmaking accidentally igniting brush or some other flammable material.

All that effort, and now I was exploring a diet that would eliminate the need to even light my stove. I wondered what my ancestors, who spent so many centuries developing the art of cookery and designing and refining kitchen space, would think of my reactionary activity.

Whyte recommended the raw diet on the one hand and on the other gave a careful history of the thousands of years that marked the progression from raw to cooked foods. She even described how the human jaw and teeth have evolved to smaller proportions, presumably to accommodate the modern diet of cooked food. I have to wonder if cooked food really caused such a great change. Historians and archaeologists report that cooked food became widespread among the common folk only after the introduction of public utilities that made fuel widely available. Even bread was made by combining pounded grain with fat and water. Fuel was too dear for all to afford to stoke a cooking fire.

But perhaps this was only a problem for those who lived in cities competing with many for resources that may have been more readily available to those in more self-sustaining circumstances in isolated rural areas. The information that archaeologists have accumulated regarding food habits has largely been gathered from digs of larger communities. It would be difficult to assess the lifestyle of those living in rural isolation. Even today, the poor in rural areas are more likely to eat well than their urban counterparts. City dwellers have very limited opportunity to grow their own food.

I read all the history, perused the recipes, and decided it was a worthy effort. Breakfast without oatmeal, eggs, or toast was not so problematical as I supposed. Fresh fruit concoctions and peanut butter were a satisfying way to start the day, and salads for a noon meal were pleasing enough. The evening meal became a great challenge. I had frequently included vegetarian meals in my diet, but I did not find the raw alternatives to cornbread and beans satisfying. A matter of aesthetics, habit, or the nutritional inheritance of which Gittleman spoke? Perhaps a little of each.

One book that I consulted gave a number of recipes for raw beef and raw fish. I somehow could not negotiate the hurdle from medium rare steak to steak tartare, where raw ground meat is combined with other ingredients to make a delicacy that is served in many fine restaurants. I began to see the merit in Whyte's proposal that one reason early man cooked food was to introduce variety.

I may have returned to my ancient roots, because in the final analysis, I found eating a diet of only raw foods to be too limiting. Rodale Press managed to devote over 300 pages to ways to prepare raw food in their Feasting on Raw Foods, but I found little of it seductive enough to change my lifetime reliance on cooked food for much of my sustenance. Having undertaken the grand experiment and abandoned it, my budding collection of un-cookbooks was nipped at three. Ayurveda

It was many years before I again experimented with a new food style. Deepak Chopra's book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, stimulated my interest in Ayurveda, a 4,000-year-old healing system with roots in India. What I found most appealing about this system was that it is based on the assumption that everyone's metabolism is different and that diet should be selected on the basis of a determined physical and psychological profile.

Vitamins and minerals are not considered in Ayurveda; the basis of the system is categorizing foods into sweet, sour, bitter, hot, and cold. Individuals eat from among these food groups according to their constitutions. The Ayurvedic physician examines the client and determines physical and psychological characteristics that result in a classification of Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, the three basic constitution classifications. The client is advised to eat certain foods that are in tune with the extent to which he or she fits into one or more of these classifications. There are also seasons and health conditions that dictate variation.

I bought another of Chopra's books that went into more detail and a cookbook co-authored by an Indian woman experienced in cooking the Ayurvedic way and an American nutritionist who had learned to convert the Indian foods to American equivalents. This dietary experiment did not get past two visits to an Ayurvedic restaurant. The food was delicious, but I was never certain if I should be eating Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. I must admit that abandoning the effort had nothing to do with having completed a thorough study and a time of experimentation. On this occasion, Ayurveda made no inroad into my life because I simply didn't have the time and motivation to devote to exploring it.

A Diet Evolved

Following my experimentation with a vegetarian diet, fish and chicken became more frequent choices for me. I found that I could eat vegetarian for one or two weeks at a time before I hungered for "animal food," and sometimes I would choose animal proteins several days in a row. In short, I ate what I felt like eating.

My experiments with occasional fasts had been very successful, and I resolved to continue the practice and enjoy the light, high-energy feeling that always came at its end. It was more than that feeling, though; I was convinced of its health benefits. Dr. Alex Comfort of London's University College had increased the life span of his laboratory rats by fifty percent by fasting them every third day. I wasn't willing to go that far, though--three days every three months was more my speed.

Gittleman's work has shed some light on my experiences with various diets. The diet that I have adopted through experimentation, resulting in one that feels "right" for me, may very well be my body's manner of guiding me to the diet that in fact is the healthiest for my metabolism.

The years of experimentation has been more than an education. It has broadened the choices I have available in choosing a diet that is aesthetically pleasing, satisfying to my hunger, and largely health supporting. I believe that the pleasure one takes from food is an important factor in its ability to sustain health. Rose Nader wrote, "Nutritious is delicious. When it comes to eating food, you either put your brain in charge of your tongue or your tongue will control your brain." She cultivated in her children a palate and love of healthful food. With a lifetime of exploration into the fascinating fields of cookery and nutrition, I have been able to do that for myself and others with whom I have shared my life and my table.


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CHAPTER III.
FOOD IN SOCIAL CONTEXT

In American Foodways, Charles Camp wrote that food is a "visible badge of identity." People living in tightly knit ethnic communities are true to the cuisine that associates them with their origins. Neither my husband nor I had such ethnic ties. His mother's traditional Southern cooking and my mother's interpretation of East Texas cuisine were the foods of our childhoods. These regional cookeries were not quite as distinctive as those of ethnic origin with their ties of nationality and religion. As a student family, our attempts to live on the $189 a month that I brought home from my secretarial job had as much to do with what we ate as did the meals we took at our parents' tables.

We were both from homes where meat was served at every meal and knew nothing of plant sources for the protein we thought to be an essential ingredient of every meal. Creating variety, with Spam and canned tuna as our primary meat sources, drove me to clipping recipes from magazines. My husband had the gene that kept him from ever reading directions for anything. That characteristic proved a great asset in our budget kitchen. When he volunteered for cooking duties, there was certain to be something for which no recipe existed. In this way, new dishes entered our repertoire, some from my clipped recipes, some from my husband's successful ventures into creative cuisine with Spam and tuna. The separation from the food habits of our childhood was complete as we came into the prosperous years that followed the university years and the early years of my husband establishing his place in his profession. The final change came when I had the time to fully explore food.

A Food-Centered Social Life

As pioneer yuppies, we were on the cutting edge of the new American cuisine, a combination of classic cookery techniques, special dishes or ingredients identified with specific cultures, childhood memories, and new ingredients carefully scouted out in the specialty food markets found only in big cities. Gourmet cookery in the homes of upwardly mobile, young urban professionals was a mark of our time.

Our partners in forming our new cuisine were Beth and Pierre, newly relocated from New Orleans, a city of restaurants, feasting, partying, and birthplace of the cocktail. Grandson of Hawaiian royalty, with a touch of English and Japanese, Pierre drew also from his Italian mother's heritage. But the favorite cuisine of this multi-national couple was Cajun cooking--crawfish, gumbo, and Anduie sausage.

Social life with other married couples during our college days had revolved around beer, chips, and card games. With Beth and Pierre, our social life was cooking, eating, and discussing food. Just as frequent as being one another's guests for dinner were the evenings of joint cooking efforts. Sipping cocktails or a newly discovered aperitif, we crowded into the kitchen together to create the series of dishes we would share. The culmination of our collaborations was a cooperative seven-course meal.

Food Events

By 1972, I was entirely engrossed in my study and practice of the art of cookery. That year, Don Yoder, who was to become the most influential voice in the new folklore field of foodways, wrote the first textbook contribution on folk cookery. Late in the 1970s, Charles Camp began to suggest that the appropriate direction for this new field of study should be how people use food to bring about social interaction, rather than studying the food itself. While other folklore scholars were scurrying to collect recipes from the rapidly disappearing regional cuisines in the United States, Camp began a serious study of what he labeled "food events." It was an important change of focus. By shifting from food to foodways, Camp changed the definition of the things being studied from objects to behaviors. It was the beginning of folk studies that became increasingly multi-disciplinary.

I have heard it said that people get together to play cards or other game entertainment because they have nothing else in common. If searching for a common interest is a consideration in people coming together, certainly food is a subject that connects all human beings in a common interest. Camp saw food events as a means of expression and communication between people.

Strictly speaking a food event is defined as one where the food is the main attraction, rather than merely an accompaniment to a celebration or event that incorporates food. The seven-course meal that my friends, neighbors, and I created would most certainly be classed as a food event. From start to finish, it was a communal effort.

Four couples were in attendance. The formal service of china and the antique linen banquet cloth with handmade ecru lace were contributed by one couple, the crystal by another, and my husband and I contributed the silver service. As a group we were able to set a table such as none of us had ever seen. We lacked nothing except the well-trained servants to serve our elegant meal, listed as a "must" by Rombauer and Becker in Joy of Cooking.

Picking definitions from my copy of the Larousse French dictionary, I translated our menu selections into French. Verbs in foreign languages had never been my strong suit. In Mexico, I had somehow managed to be understood by shouting Spanish nouns and waving my arms wildly in lieu of verbs. Despite the fact that the menu was entirely nouns, it still became a source of considerable amusement to one of the diners, a high-school French teacher. Pierre, a commercial photographer, silk-screened a limited edition of eight copies of the menu that were artfully placed on each service plate.

The food was anything but French. But like everything else, from selection of the dishes to the riotous French translation, there was as much tongue-in-cheek humor in our preparations as there was prodigious effort to produce an elegant feast. Pierre contributed the main course, Beef Wellington, and I prepared the other six courses. The meal was served in our living room, the only room in the house large enough to seat eight, on a makeshift table--an unfinished door with sawhorse legs, draped with the linen banquet cloth that hid its rough appearance.

The meal began with a cold hors d'oeuvre--crisp dilled okra on a bed of lettuce--followed by the hot hors d'oeuvre--Crab Mornay, selected by me to have an excuse to use the silver seafood forks that were the only utensil in my silver service that had never been used. A light white wine accompanied the first two courses.

The third course was a small serving of lime sherbet--to refresh the palate, the French say. Indeed it accomplished that end, clearing the tastes of the first two courses in preparation for the heavy beef and red wine of the main course that followed. Our token vegetable was fresh steamed asparagus artfully placed next to the giant slab of beef that crowned each dinner plate.

It was the Spanish who introduced a salad before dinner. It takes the edge off the hunger and prepares the diner to eat only till full of the heavier main dishes that follow. As the seeming parents of all things sensuous on planet Earth, the French plugged the salad into the slot immediately following the main course to prepare the diner to eat more. Studies on the human digestive system indicate that the Spanish may have had the healthier idea. Our bodies call upon different digestive enzymes to handle different types of food. Raw fruits and vegetables are the most quickly digested, but once the enzymes to digest heavier foods (such as cooked meats and complex sauces) kick in, the enzymes designed for the lighter foods are unable to do their work until the heavy food has been digested--a process that takes much longer than digesting a salad.

More interested in the social and artistic aspects of our feast, not to mention our grand experiment in gluttony, we observed the French order. We served a Caesar salad following the beef course, and the lightness of the greens seemed to fool our stomachs into believing we were not already overstuffed. Those clever French. With the illusion of only beginning to get our fill, we were able to move into the sixth course, Strawberries Romanoff, served with a good champagne. (I emphasize good. While Dom Perignon is certainly better than less expensive champagnes, I did not find it fifty dollars better; therefore, we sipped appreciatively at twenty dollars a bottle.) What could possibly be left at the end of such a repast? Why Irish Coffee, of course--made with a fine gourmet coffee, honey, and a splendid Irish whiskey.

Having consulted Joy of Cooking on the niceties of Irish Coffee, I knew that a silver spoon placed in a crystal goblet would allow the hot coffee to be safely poured into the fine glassware. Silver is a superb conductor and absorbs enough heat from the coffee that a crystal goblet will not break as it otherwise will when boiling water comes in contact with its delicate surface. The hot coffee brought the honey to liquid, the whiskey was added, and heavy cream, sweetened with a touch of powdered sugar, was hand whipped to soft peaks and dolloped onto the steaming coffee. We were giddy with the excess of the entire activity.

What did all this mean--all this planning, preparation, and no small monetary investment? What did this immersion in our neighborhood food event mean to us? For one thing, it meant we could afford to do it, we knew how to do it--we had accomplished an artistic feat and one that required knowledge--we were gaining experience, learning to live the good life without castles and servants. We did it because we could.

Nothing in the background of any of us present at that table prepared us for the experience we created for ourselves. In charge of research for our event, I had consulted Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker's Joy of Cooking, the closest thing to an encyclopedia of cookery on my bookshelf. We followed the American custom of serving the hostess first and waiting until everyone was served; then after the hostess had taken the first bite, everyone dug in.

It's interesting that the American traditions vary from the European, where each guest begins eating as soon as they are served. Maybe the American custom derived from the fact that without a royal class, newly rich Americans needed a cue from the hostess to know exactly how to behave at a formal dinner. The European practice is certainly more practical from the standpoint of beginning before the food cools. Separated from the European culture for many years (and most Americans did not come from the European upper class), Americans have developed their own traditions, some of them more formal than the European, others less so.

Our seven-course effort seemed paltry compared to descriptions of a true formal dinner that begins with both clear and thick soups and progresses to alternating relevés and removes, each with its complementary vegetable. The relevés are light courses compared to the whole fish and joints that characterize the removes. The term entrée originated with this type of formal dinner and refers to the course immediately following the final remove--timbales, sea foods and variety meats, served in rich pastes and delicate sauces. This one course in a formal dinner far exceeds the contemporary American notion of an entrée. The salad follows the entrée--not the cold, crisp lettuce salads to which American restaurant diners are accustomed, but rather a cooked seasoned vegetable garnished with greens. The salad is followed by a variety of cheeses and then hot and cold fruits. Each of these courses are, of course, accompanied by a complementary wine.

This sort of formal dining no doubt has its origins in European upper-class feasts where hosts competed with each other to prove the expertise of their cooks, competing to see who could produce delicacies in quantity with which no one could compare. Food was likely the first "possession" that people hoarded. At first it must have been to feel secure from hunger, and later it served to prove their superiority in never being hungry. Being able to provide more than anyone could possibly hope to eat somehow became an important sign of status.

Before I read of such repasts, I considered the seven-course meal of the variety at my favorite French restaurant--the type of meal we sought to copy--to be the ultimate in formal dining. In truth, a formal dinner would have several more than seven courses.

Julia Child was once asked to name the best places in France to eat. "In someone's home," she replied simply. The idea of what constitutes elegant dining has, for the average American, been determined by what we have experienced in dining out in restaurants, rather than how we have been entertained in private homes. The compromises restaurants make to accommodate the commercial needs of serving many guests in the course of an evening garners a quite different result from more modest proportions prepared by an accomplished cook. This acquaintance with fine dining only through restaurant fare has had an interesting effect on our perception of good food. Many of us seek to copy the cooking of our favorite restaurant, even if its specialty is pizza or hamburger. Restaurant cooking has become some measure of culinary excellence. But then perhaps this is because today we are far more likely to be eating in a restaurant than in a neighbor's home--or even in our own homes.

Sometimes the line between an event created for food and an event that features food is blurred when food becomes a dominant highlight of a tradition that began with other purposes. Those who do not celebrate the religious or philosophical meanings of Christmas, Thanksgiving, or other such national holidays, frequently observe these holidays as feast days. The food event survives for these people, though the original meaning no longer exists.

Living in South Carolina, I became witness to a remarkable event that had evolved over time from a horse race where spectators brought food to a gigantic food event where the horse race simply marked the day and place where people would come together to display and consume their feasts. The annual running of the Carolina Cup, a surrey competition, has been held each spring in Camden, South Carolina, for more than a hundred years. The social importance that the Cup has attained over the years precludes the obvious solutions to seating and feeding the large crowds that show. Grand stands and concession stands would destroy the social customs that have grown around this famous race.

Parking lot and point of observation are one and the same. Those who park next to the roped-off racing field pay more for their parking places. The race itself is brief, yet those who come with the auspicious purpose of being spectators to the race begin arriving early in the morning and stay hours past the race's end. After my single trip to Camden, I learned that many who were there that day never saw a horse, nor even learned the race results.

The purpose of arriving early and leaving late is to spend the day eating, drinking, and socializing. Perhaps at one time people traveled so far in their horse-drawn transportation that it was necessary to bring provisions for a full day's outing. Whatever the original intention was, the social spectacle that takes place is unrelated to the race itself.

Similar to the Kentucky Derby, what one wears is of utmost importance. Unlike the Derby, however, Carolina Cup goers may just as easily be dressed with a sense of humor as in garb that would make the Easter Parade proud. There were 1890s-style lace dresses, hats piled high with fruit and flowers, a satin business suit in hot pink and glo-green, a full-dress tuxedo from the cummerbund up worn with gym shorts and high-top tennis shoes, and many others who took their dress more seriously, looking as if they had just stepped from a New York fashion runway. As at the Kentucky Derby, hats for women were a must, but, again, not taken quite so seriously.

The food that accompanied this finery was equally astonishing. With cars randomly parked on the vast expanse of unpaved meadow, folding tables were erected between cars, usually several tables pushed together to hold the food for occupants of several cars of friends. I saw every variety of table setting and every variety of feast. It was definitely a competition. There were a few tables that sported fine white linen table cloths and full settings of china and silver. One table even had two large silver candelabra and an elaborate floral decoration. I was fortunate to be the guest of someone with a parking space abutting the track. I was among the few who actually saw the race. My hosts served cold fried chicken (that they had prepared themselves), potato salad, cold cuts, and an assortment of gourmet baked goods from the tailgate of a station wagon, an imitation of the tailgate parties that were popular in the parking lots of football fields before college games--another regional food event that was new to me.

Just as the expectations of the crowd at the Carolina Cup in South Carolina has provided resistance to change in the food traditions surrounding that event, the expectations of the crowds attending the annual Greek Festival in Houston have forced great changes in that event. The festival, sponsored by Houston's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, has come a long way from its beginnings. With Greek folk dancing and food prepared by church women as its focus, it grew from a few hundred attendees to tens of thousands. The women of the church no longer cook all year and place the delicacies in their freezers in anticipation of the annual event. The food is prepared in commercial quantities by a commercial enterprise, and certain dishes that do not yield easily to quantity cooking have disappeared completely from the event.

Those who attended the festival in its early years leave disappointed in the change from the delicious home-cooked Greek delicacies to the commercial versions demanded by the sheer quantity required. In this case, the purpose of the event, raising funds for the church, have dictated major changes in the original food event. The purpose of raising as much money as possible is served by relinquishing the characteristics of the original vehicle. The church membership did not grow in proportion to the growth of the crowds that came in increasing numbers each year. It became impossible for a few hundred church women to provide food for so many. In Houston, changes governed by practicality have enhanced the growth of a food event; in South Carolina practical changes would no doubt destroy the food event that was once a horse race.

The years I lived in South Carolina were a sampling of rural life and the meaning of food and community. Each Labor Day on a back road between Prosperity (formerly Frog Level) and Chapin, cars begin to line up before dawn outside a small concrete block building. Smoke belches from a chimney, and the odor of pork flesh wafts through the air. Once a year, and only once a year, the Fulmers fire up their wood-burning cookstoves and prepare hundreds of pounds of pork barbecue, basted with the mustard-based sauce that is unique to the region. In this case, the food event is not in the eating, but in the annual social fest that is created in the early morning hours of Labor Day each year as neighbors line up to purchase a regional delicacy to round out their holiday celebrations.

In neighboring North Carolina, I heard of pig pickin', a popular food accompaniment to large celebrations. Similar to an Hawaiian luau, a whole pig is barbecued, and guests pick their portions from the carcass of the spit-mounted pig.

Camp points to the elements of drama and performance that accompany some food events and provide the cook with an opportunity to display special skills. Wedding cakes, birthday cakes, and Thanksgiving turkeys were his examples. Shortly after becoming a full-time housewife and an avid health-food freak, I established my own special dishes for these occasions. Before the day of counting cholesterol, the demand was only that the food be fresh and natural, free of preservatives, artificial coloring--never canned and rarely frozen. Working with these specifications, our family birthday cake became a prune spice cake--chopped prunes and nuts baked in a traditional cake spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I soon even learned to alter the liquid in recipes to allow the use of honey rather than refined white sugar. Frosting was more of a challenge. How do you ice a cake without mounds of refined sugar? I hit on the perfect solution--heavy cream, whipped to perfection, with only a sprinkling of powdered sugar for sweetening. One young doctor at the Baylor Clinical Research Center, where I had worked the three years prior to undertaking full-time housewifery, had done research that condemned the lipids in butter and other fresh dairy products. Dr. DeBakey had drummed him off the medical school staff for his outrageous and radical views. I used heavy cream and gobs of butter in all of my healthy meals.

My daughter-in-law, who refuses to cook more frequently than once or twice a month, is an expert cake decorator. She produces cakes for all occasions that rival in appearance the best to be found in any bakery. Though she has no interest in the day-to-day preparation of meals, her artistry is inspired by memories of special celebrations in her childhood home, where four brothers and sisters meant frequent occasions for celebrations where food was always the star.

Family Food Traditions

Special meals taken on Sunday have been a tradition in Christian countries for many years. Mormons prepare their food on Saturday to be eaten cold after church on Sunday because church doctrine specifies that no one may work on Sunday. The family of my childhood ate fried chicken on Sunday, accompanied by a larger assortment of dishes than we normally saw on our weekday table. We attached no religious significance to the practice, but it was nonetheless tied to old traditions of the Sabbath as a day of rest, a day to look forward to when the mundane tasks of work and school could be set aside. I think fried chicken first became thought of as a special treat in the South of decades ago, where a chicken dinner meant killing one from among a limited number of birds in a private flock. It most certainly preceded chickens raised in small indoor pens and sold in super markets for less than a dollar a pound.

Fried chicken was not a dish that I ever mastered, but I continued the tradition of a special Sunday meal. It was a bit more like a feast than the usual weekday meals, with several vegetable dishes and sometimes more than one kind of meat--and always, always included a special dessert. Though Sunday meals no longer have religious significance for many of those who continue the tradition, the social elements remain the same. It is a day to invite friends and family to join in a feast. With work set aside for the day, there is time to gather together and visit.

Charles Camp reported that food is an important part of holiday celebrations that unite families and communities. That was certainly the case in my family. These occasions extended beyond our immediate family and into the community of friends and neighbors, frequently having guests that we had never before met. Anyone who had no place to go on that day was invited. As most people do, I viewed eating as a communal activity. If someone ate alone, they had only themselves to blame. That judgment was suspended on holidays. For someone to be eating alone on a holiday, somehow the entire community had failed.

It has become popular for organizations and wealthy individuals to sponsor free meals for the homeless and indigent at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In Houston, the Thanksgiving feast is entirely underwritten by a local furniture-store owner, whose $16 million a year income has been widely published. Mattress Mac, as Jim McIlvain has come to be known, not only pays for the meal, he and his wife and children serve it each year to several thousand Houstonians, who are not required to prove their need in order to join in the feasting. I applaud this effort to make certain that every citizen takes part in a holiday feast, yet I often wonder how long the full stomach endures for the thousands who gather as a family for only two days in the year.

Mother's Day is still the busiest day of the year for most American restaurants. The tradition of taking mother to dinner on Mother's Day has persisted, despite the fact that most mothers are no longer being saved from a day sweating in the kitchen. Again, a food tradition has survived, though the reason for its beginning no longer exists.

Every year, my family joined millions of others who ate black-eyed peas on New Year's day to attract good fortune. It was a tradition from both my husband's and my backgrounds. Some years were great and others not so great. Yet despite the irregularity in fortune, I continue to eat black-eyed peas each New Year's Day. I have begun to suspect that it is not for good fortune at all, but only to be reminded of a lifetime of New Year's Days with family and friends, usually with the television blaring the losses or gains of one football team or another. It is just another way to feel the thread of continuity from past to present.

My childhood family suffered the fate of many others. When my mother died, the gathering place for her adult children died with her. Each of us had a strong tie to our mother and to the tradition of taking holiday meals with her. Now, for each of us, it is as if a torch has been passed. We do not seek out each other for holiday feasting, but rather we each are creating a new holiday tradition with our children, who are now marrying and having children of their own.

Creating New Traditions

New traditions continue to take hold in our society. A friend of mine, who imports goods from Africa and designs table settings, told me of a new tradition that has created an annual business boom for her. Within a few short years, the African-American community has embraced Qwanza as an annual celebration of their African origins. The festival lasts from Christmas to New Year's Day, and includes special meals each day, in the spirit of preserving and celebrating an ethnic heritage. There are special ceremonies of thanks, cultural history activities for children, special music performances--a grand mixture of cultural festival, religious observance, and community celebration.

A tradition that grew from an annual sporting event unites this country's citizens from all backgrounds around their television sets each year. By the third Super Bowl, my family had joined much of the rest of the nation in celebrating a new food ritual the third Sunday in January each year. Unlike New Year's Day, when football usually accompanies food, on Super Bowl Sunday, food is the accompaniment to football. With the game being the center of attention, meals are very different from the types of feasts that we traditionally serve on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and other religious and cultural days of celebration. In keeping with the idea that everyone should be watching the game, the food is usually of the cook-ahead variety and designed so that the cook is not in the kitchen during the game.

Sometimes several couples would join us for pot luck, each guest bringing a dish of food to share. Super Bowl Sunday is the sort of occasion that lends itself well to buckets of chicken prepared by the neighborhood fast-food outlet or multiple pizzas prepared in the kitchens of franchise pizza parlors. The culinary customs of our nation's newest food traditions are well suited to the newest American cuisine that requires that no one among the diners practice finely honed culinary art in their home kitchens.

Each time people gather to eat, there is an obedience to tradition mixed with the promise of revision--the first time a TV dinner was placed on a TV tray before a television, the first time a family purchased a bucket of Colonel Sanders chicken, the first time Christmas dinner is taken in a Chinese restaurant. As our lives continually change, so change our traditions--but they seem always to center on food.

Customs

The larger fabric of tradition seems to be interspersed with what I would call customs that vary from family to family, not obviously related to ethnic or religious practice. One that was practiced in my childhood home and the home I made for my children was the bowl of ice cream at bed time. Prior to the Great Fat Fear, the first ice cream maker not requiring cranking and sacks of rock salt came on the market. I could now easily extend my make-it-from-scratch obsession to our favorite bedtime snack. I worked my way through the ice cream cookbook, bypassing the usual recipes that employed canned milk. I used the finest heavy cream I could find, and my proudest achievement was butter pecan ice cream made of fresh pecans gathered from our yard, chopped and sautéed in real butter.

Over the years, I have learned that a bowl of ice cream at bedtime is a tradition in many families. With all the sweet possibilities to choose from, why is ice cream so frequently chosen as a bedtime snack? I've often thought it is the calcium content, since calcium is known for its calming effect. Certainly warm milk has its place in folk practice, as well as medical practice, as an efficient sleep inducer. With long-term studies on dietary fat now beginning to show results, we may yet find that the fat content in dairy foods have something to do with ice cream's popularity as a bedtime snack. Certainly no one has yet found a secret ingredient added by ice cream manufacturers to create an insidious addiction.

In forming our own food customs that increasingly separated from those of our parents, the habit of passing along favorite recipes became an important part of changing the way we cooked and the way we viewed food. Sharing recipes has been a social convention since food combinations began to take form. There is nothing particularly new about sharing recipes. What is new is what Charles Camp called "photocopied folklore." With common access to copy machines by virtually every citizen in this country, to give or receive a hand-written recipe is a rarity. The recipe collections of our mothers, neatly transcribed onto index cards or collected bits of magazine clippings and scraps of paper have made way for pages of photocopied recipes.

One of my favorite stories of family tradition is the woman who baked a ham each year at Easter just as her mother had done. She trimmed a generous portion from the leg-end of the cut, just as her mother had done, scored the fat, inserted cloves over the top of the meat, completing her cooking preparations with a generous brushing of honey over the entire surface. Having observed this ritual for several years, her husband asked why she discarded so much of the meat. "It's the way my mother always did it," she replied. Her husband's puzzled response led her to call her mother and ask why a ham had to be trimmed precisely that way. "My roasting pan wasn't big enough to hold a whole ham," her mother replied. I suppose many of us have habits borne of tradition that could stand a little investigation. Since I heard that story, I have never hesitated to ask anyone the origin of traditional practices that seem to defy common sense.

The Architecture of Food

Architecture, too, has developed around food preparation--from a simple cookfire under open skies to a hearth fire, to a separate structure for cooking, to the elaborate kitchens of today. With my personal interest in all matters related to food and being married to an architect, great care was taken in planning a major remodeling of our kitchen. A marble island in the center included a double sink and an expanse of food preparation area. There were no doors on the cabinets that held the staple ingredients that were most frequently used. We had to excavate and install larger gas lines to accommodate the needs of the large six-burner commercial gas stove with a large, perfectly calibrated bake oven. As well as creating an efficient work space for serious cooking, there was sufficient floor space to accommodate up to a half dozen observers or helpers. No matter how comfortable the living room, guests seemed to gravitate to the kitchen as a center of social interaction.

For many people, the new emphasis on taking meals outside the home has changed the way homes are being built. Where once the kitchen was the most important room in the house, there is now a focus on elaborate bathrooms and closets. Building contractors in Houston, at least, have developed what they call an urban kitchen, with room enough only to boil water or pop a frozen dinner in the microwave. The eating area is barely large enough to accommodate two diners.

The space saved in minimizing kitchens has been utilized in creating large master bedrooms with fireplaces, giant walk-in closets, and large bathrooms with generous sunken tubs. An interesting change in emphasis is being suggested. These homes are not only not for taking meals, they are not for entertaining family and friends. With the function of eating moved outside the home, so too has the fellowship associated with eating moved outside the home.

The people who embrace urban kitchens do not have young children or older relatives living with them. Their social lives are where single and young married people gather, frequently in bars or restaurants that guarantee their crowds for the evening by offering free food and reduced-price drinks so that one can arrive immediately after work and stay until time to go to bed to prepare for another day's work. For many, happy hour that extends into entire evenings has become a convenience store for fellowship, supplanting the dining table where home-cooked meals gave cause for families to gather for conversation and community.

From the beginning of time, work has centered around the acquisition and preparation of sustenance. As civilization developed and people began working for currency that could be traded for food, the surplus created by some was not in crops and cattle, but in a currency that could be traded for anything the mind could conceive. Money made possible the acquisition of great varieties of goods. As humankind began to acquire more than we could possibly use, storage for the surplus became a necessity. The walk-in closet was born. It is interesting to ponder that the way we live, the choices we make in our dwellings and in the use of our time is based on the fact that we produce and consume far more than we need.

The acquisitive nature that developed from the very real need to eat has extended itself in meaningless acquisition of goods that must be stored. Entire industries are built around providing goods that serve no purpose other than requiring storage. A block from my office is Gepetto's Treasures, a fairy-tale doll store, where one can buy a doll for $20 or $2,000. The owner told me of a customer who buys regularly all dolls made by a certain manufacturer, in addition to others that strike her fancy. The store owner learned recently that the customer has had a storage shed built on her property to hold her new purchases--no museum or display room, but a structure solely to store the purchases that she can no longer accommodate in her large home.

And it all began in a simple quest to fill our stomachs.

Food As Art

My conscious motivation in preparing food was to nourish my family, to contribute to the physical health and well-being of my husband and children. While constructing a knowledge base in nutrition, I satisfied an urge for artistic expression, and created a food-based social life. I took great pleasure in my hours in the kitchen. Rose Nader wrote: "I play with my cooking because cooking is an art." Her choice of words is interesting. In Artist's Way, Julia Cameron recommends that blocked artists approach their work as play. In Prehistoric Art in Europe, author N. K. Sandars proposed that art derived from play in that they are both self-rewarding activities.

The art of food extends beyond the craft of preparation. Presentation of food is an art in itself. Choosing flowers and artfully arranging china and flatware was as important a part of my own dinner efforts as was the selection and preparation of the food. I saw the visual aesthetics of a well-set table as the first course of the meal, setting the scene for an act of pleasure as well as nourishment. In Rombauer and Becker's Joy of Cooking, the page opposite nutritional tables of Recommended Daily Dietary Allowances is an essay on table decor. The authors suggested that "changes in décor and accessories stimulate the appetite, as much as do changes in seasoning." I could not agree more.

It was the Russians who first thought of putting a vase of flowers on the dining table. Prior to that, all table decorations were made from foodstuffs, and the decorations disappeared as the diners partook of the feast. When candles were first introduced to the dining table, they had the very real purpose of lighting the table. Now the practice continues as a tradition for the well-appointed table. The addition of decoration that was not consumed no doubt relieved the wreckage that accompanied the end of a feast.

With food acquisition being the first task of all living creatures, the first art must have been food related. We think of cavemen as being primarily involved in survival, leaving little time for leisure activity. Yet Neanderthal man left behind paintings in caves and artifacts that indicated a pride in creating beauty in tools, pottery, and clothing. Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution said that the oldest art is 35,000 to 40,000 years old. Since we know that tools existed as long as two million years ago, the development of such a craft must have surely been accompanied by the desire to decorate as well as improve the utility of the tools. I believe the need to derive pleasure and perfect craft is as old as humanity itself.

With all the evidence that food in its natural state is the healthiest, and the obvious time factor involved in creating increasingly elaborate menus, why does anyone put such effort into creating elaborate menus or carving radishes into roses or sculpting ice blocks into swans and melons into baskets? The human propensity to become bored with any task repeated over and over again supports the notion that boredom was a factor in early humanity developing craft and art. What other excuse could there be for the mad pursuit of making complex the simple task of feeding oneself?

I have come to view the creation of art as an instinct. All children create art, and most adults have some area of activity where craft exceeds the utility of the fruits of their efforts. Sandars wrote of the symmetry in a honeycomb and the architecture in insects' and birds' nests. He suggested that the human brain is equipped also with a drive to symmetry that resulted in the creation of art. In my view, what separates humans from other species is the vast variety of form that this symmetry can assume. Sandars pointed to the gratuitous action involved in the human creation of art--the chip on a tool that lends nothing to its utility, but makes it more pleasing to the eye.

The art of cooking has a satisfaction separate from the act of eating (and possibly praise) that follows it. As a matter of self-discipline, I began to require of myself a good, home-cooked meal packed with all the appropriate and necessary nutrients. It was not long before I was caught up in the drive to create pleasing culinary creations--the delights of discovering the colors, textures, and flavors of tossing leftover pasta with olive oil in a skillet with bits of red pepper and broccoli, liberally seasoned with fresh chopped garlic. It is as hard to maintain the enthusiasm of cooking for one person as it is to curb the instinct to move cooking from a routine task to a creative effort that produces something pleasing to all the senses. In that way, food is the most complete of all the arts, the most sensuous, piquing every sense. It is externalized and completely internalized.


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CHAPTER IV.
POLITICAL REALITY AND OTHER LESSONS

Politics held little interest for me during my young adult years, but like many another citizen, when issues hit close to home, I took notice. The books and magazines I read in pursuit of knowledge on my favorite topics of food and health were beginning to carry more and more ominous stories about the FDA's interest in suppressing and controlling the industry that was growing around the public interest in nutritional supplementation to solve the growing multitude of health problems that the medical establishment could not deal with effectively.

The condition of our government began to gain my attention in all areas as I became attentive to the news and began to recognize that the issue of personal responsibility extended to all areas of life. I was now more than a health-food freak; I had become a full-fledged tree-hugging, soy-bean-eating, cotton-wearing champion of the individual right to live and die with the medical treatment of individual choice.

I was concerned when the medical establishment turned a deaf ear to nearly anything that implied there was a nutritional answer to disease; but then more than twenty years after Adelle Davis's books had been published, much of what she had written was accepted as medical wisdom. When the success of nutritional therapies became accepted, I was more than concerned that the FDA began its attempts to classify as drugs many of the nutritional products upon which health-conscious people depended. There had been illegal seizure of herb shipments and raids on doctors' offices. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment was seized by the FDA in a series of raids on the offices of physicians who were known to favor nutritional therapies over drug treatments. In some cases, no charges were filed, but the equipment seized was never returned. In other cases, charges were dropped or the physicians were acquitted of wrongdoing in court after being arrested and taken to jail. I finally became interested in politics because I realized the incredible power of the giant corporations whose concern for the bottom line too frequently runs afoul of the common good.

The positive side of this picture has been an outraged citizenry who have barraged Congress with letters demanding action. Some of the FDA's victims received donations from concerned citizens to support legal expenses. For the first time in my life I was writing to my Congressman and taking an active interest in how our government operates. I could see that the condition of our country and the world has not been served by bowing to economic interests. As the haves decrease in number, the have nots increase in power, and change is inevitable. The era of paternalism is drawing to a close. I am among the many who have learned that Big Daddy--the company and the government--will look to my health and retirement only to the extent that I look to it myself.

I believe most people broaden their view with maturity, each person connecting through their life interests. My vehicle of connection has been food; it has pushed, pulled, and thrust me into the realization of the interdependence of all living things. I have learned to look at the natural order in nature for understanding and as a model for all interactions.

Another important lesson I've learned from years of reading about nutrition and health is to read carefully and with a critical eye. I am not referring only to popular books and magazines. In fact, it has been fads in science that have created more havoc than fads in the popular press.

What is considered intelligent nutritional behavior changes with the latest published scientific results. Last year the Harvard Nurses Study, a 20-year-old longitudinal study of women's health, revealed no relationship between butter consumption and heart disease. Women, at least, may now eat butter. This new information followed closely behind the revelation that margarine is an unhealthy food and that table salt does not contribute significantly to high sodium levels--and further, there appears to be no relationship between salt intake and blood pressure. Where does this leave us? We have spent so many years re-educating our palates to the wisdom of modern science only to find that wisdom fickle.

I have learned that much that is disseminated to the public is not based on research at all, but rather from conclusions derived from what medical researchers have found to be true. Butter is a case in point. Statistical analyses showed that heart disease rates were high among people with high-fat diets. Butter is a high-fat food and was therefore placed on the "bad food" list. There were no studies conducted on butter. Researchers made the assumption that all foods containing fat were dangerous to human health without conducting studies on the foods themselves. After years of touting the benefits of corn oil margarine, researchers have found that margarine is a dangerous food and overconsumption of unsaturated fats such as corn oil have created significant health problems.

I've learned how to read a scientific article, assuming the scientific language is not beyond my understanding. After reading a number of them, I learned that an abstract is a summary of what the author wants you to believe about his or her work. Another is that a careful reading of the article may reveal that the research does not support what the author wants you to believe. These important lessons have brought me to the conclusion that one has to exercise caution in placing trust, no matter how impressive the credentials of one's informant. I often have to depend on an expert's interpretation of material that is too complex for my understanding. I want to know upon whom the expert depends for her bread and butter even before I want to know the details of professional background. Understanding all possible motives is essential in determining who is most likely to give straight information. Ralph Nader, for instance, is paid by consumers. With a long track record of finding fault where it needed to be found, Nader's Raiders are a good source of reliable information.

Interestingly, as I take the first cautious steps into my midlife years and turn my thoughts to life's great questions, food becomes both less important and more important, another of life's polarities that demand to be recognized as the years expire. Food is less important because the quality of my spiritual life has become more important to me than the quality of my secular life, and it is more important because I am more aware of its role in my life--the necessity of feeding an aging body with care and the necessity to trade my labor for a sufficient quantity of currency to purchase the best foodstuffs.

Just as restaurants can be blamed for loss of things of value such as families seated around a dining table sharing their meal, they can be given credit for introducing vast numbers of Americans to unknown cultures. The world is coming together in many respects as foods from other cultures are accepted. People who claim a food as part of their cultural heritage gain in status where it is served, wrote Camp. Within a block of my office, I can eat traditional foods from Lebanon, Thailand, and France. Extending to two blocks, I can select from Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Italian. Eating the food of another culture makes it seem less foreign. It is difficult to see others as objects, or less than full human beings, when you sit at their table and share their food.

It is a characteristic of our times that people resisting compromise of their traditional values are bonding in groups to celebrate their heritage and demand recognition for their differentness. The foodways of their cultures become more important to them as a badge of their identity. As recognition is achieved, that very recognition causes those traditions to travel into the mainstream, creating a basis for crosscultural understanding and acceptance, planting the seeds for the integration that legislation cannot accomplish. Houston civil rights activist Audrey Lawson said, "All we got was desegregation by law. But integration is something in the heart. And until people begin to integration then I think that we'll just watch laws come and go and come and go, and the same anger will be passed down from generation to generation." The language of food brings people together helping to create a base of understanding that will feed the change of heart that will accomplish integration.

Philosopher Ken Wilber said that the plow made possible the leisure that allowed men to become philosophers. That may have been true at the outset when isolated groups of people in a sparsely populated world sought only to grow enough food to stock their own larders. The freedom that allowed some men the leisure to sit around and think of ways to advance civilization has created a world where most of us are sharecroppers. Auspiciously working for our own welfare, we work for others and struggle to make enough money to go to the grocery store to buy food produced by giant machines and complicated chemical formulas.

Much good has also been derived from technological advancement, including public education and mass communication. An educated populace is informed from so many quarters that it is impossible for vested interests to identify all voices and silence them. Lorillard may have been able to stifle stories harmful to their tobacco products by purchasing CBS, but they were unable to hush the voice of public television's coverage of both the purchase and the news the purchase was designed to silence.

All human activity revolves around the search for and preparation of food, claimed Camp. It seems a silly statement when I consider how hard one son worked to attain the status of BMW owner and the other to acquire a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a power boat in the driveway. Food never seemed an issue in their pursuits.

Looking at the conditions in our inner cities today, it is difficult to remember that the very purpose of communities has been to produce food for its members. As our world village has grown, the distance between ourselves and the original intent of our activities has grown. We are no longer gathering our food and organizing a hunt. The acquisition of the funds to grace our tables with bounty has taken on a life of its own.

I believe overconsumption is a byproduct of new wealth. Consuming a lot of things we associate with wealth makes us feel good about ourselves. Once we couldn't afford meat--now we can, so we eat lots of it. Our diets--and our health--seem to have suffered from our prosperity. Eating a seven-course meal with five different wines surpasses the pleasures of taste or the physical necessity of nourishment. Eating meat three times a day is dietary madness. Certainly no species overeats with such gusto and wastes food with such abandon as the human species.

Anthropologist Richard Leakey suggested that man cooked his food to emphasize his specialness. We cooked our food because we could. We overate because we could. We avoided physical exertion because we could. We stripped forests and exhausted farm land because we could. Clearly, it is time to use our ever-expanding brain power that made all these things possible to create new possibilities. We can cook less of our food because we can. We can eat less because we can. We can involve our bodies in physical work because we can. We can nurture our forests and restore health to our farm lands because we can. From an optimist's viewpoint, I believe that we will succeed in doing what we must to restore our environment and heal our minds, our bodies, and our spirits.

No doubt we will continue to see Monsanto and other giant chemical companies exercise their power in our government to get approval to market their harmful products to recover their research investments. What is different now is that few of these products reach the public with their dirty little secrets intact. We knew before it was on the market that Bovine Growth Hormone, Monsanto's chemical to increase milk production, creates sickness in milk cows. At the very best, it adds no value to the milk; at the worst, it may eventually be shown to undermine human health in the same way that it causes physical suffering in milk cows. The free flow of information and unrestrained growth in communications is the greatest ally we have in creating the changes we need.

I look back on all I've experienced and learned about food, and there's a lot of bad news. The stress of both parents working and children taking meals with caregivers who too frequently are themselves members of struggling households has taken its toll. Food is anything but lovingly prepared. The voices at mealtimes come from a television set, and the food we eat is produced for profit with little or no attention paid to its ability to nourish. Integrity is redefined as serving whomever pays the bill, and the vast creative talents of Madison Avenue are willing to convince us to eat whatever lines the pockets of impersonal corporate giants with an eye only for the bottom line. Our farm lands are exhausted from overwork, and America is no longer the breadbasket of the world. Giant pharmaceutical companies are willing to tout anything as a cure as long as they hold the patent. In less than a hundred years, the United States has managed to consume forty percent of the world's resources. It's a bleak picture.

Wilber said that there is no such thing as the good old days. All eras had their positive contributions, he said, but when the fatal flaws of the new order were exposed with time, it was the call for change, and another new order would emerge in reaction to the old abuses, misuses, and painful disasters of the old way.

The time in which we live is essentially no different than any other period in history. A lot of good things have been accomplished by doing things the way we've done them. But now the grievous faults of our ways have become so glaringly obvious that we must change. And we will proceed to the next step in the evolution of humankind, and we will accomplish great things, and when the faults of our new systems are clear, there will be change again and again and again. It is the long and painful path of progress. And we can't stop it because we have this brain that demands that we explore, experiment, improvise, create. It is the eternal struggle between unleashing our power to create and harnessing the energy to stop and build.

The issues surrounding food are rich in innuendo that invites endless conjecture. There are issues of gender: Why are all the great chefs men? And the related question: When women's work is commercialized, why are men hired to do it? I was reminded of that question when I read artist John Biggers's description of how West African women made the pottery that for generations has been used for food storage. "Modern ceramic factories, worked by men, are replacing this old way of making pottery," he stated simply.

There are issues of social structure: Will family and community structure survive the mass movement of food preparation from home centered to restaurant centered?

There are issues of physical health: Will we continue to accept such things as chemicals that make milk cows sick and artificial fat products that are know to cause diarrhea and digestive upset?

And the ultimate question asked by Walter Cronkite in a cable-television special on the evolution of humankind: "Why are there human beings at all?"

It is the nature of our kind that there are always more questions than answers. Perhaps our only reason for being is because we can.


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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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The Editors of Time-Life Books, Fresh Ways with Poultry. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986.

The Editors of Time-Life Books, Fresh Ways with Salads. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986.

The Editors of Time-Life Books, Fresh Ways with Soups & Stews. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986.

The Editors of Time-Life Books, Fresh Ways with Vegetables. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986.

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Charles Gerras (Ed.), Feasting on Raw Foods. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1980.

Louise Hagler (Ed.), The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. (rev. ed.). Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company, 1978.

Louise Hagler, Tofu Quick & Easy. Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company, 1986.

Hallmark Cards, Inc., Jim Henson's Muppet Picnic Cookbook. [No place of publication given]: Author, 1981.

Beatrice Trum Hunter, The Natural Foods Cookbook. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961.

Marjorie Hart Jones, The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1984.

Diana Kennedy, Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

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Louisiana Fish Fry, Ltd., Trèsors de Louisiane. Baton Rouge, LA: Author, no date [ca. 1985].

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Norma M. MacRae, Canning and Preserving without Sugar (2nd ed.). Chester, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1988.

Faye Martin, Rodale's Naturally Delicious Desserts and Snacks. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1978.

Dorothy Melendy, American Pie. (no location): Pacific Intermountain Express, no date [ca. 1980].

Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai, The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Wilmot, WI: Lotus Light, 1990.

Rose B. Nader and Nathra Nader, It Happened in the Kitchen: Recipes for Food and Thought. Washington, DC: Center for Study of Respnsive Law, 1991.

Maurice H. Ness, Honey I Love You (rev. ed.). Denver, CO: Royal Publications Inc., 1977.

Nell B. Nichels (Ed.), Freezing and Canning Cookbook. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1964.

Barbara Norman, The Spanish Cookbook. New York: Atheneum, 1966.

Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking (rev. ed.). Indianapolis, IN: the Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1964.

Selena Royle, A Gringa's Guide to Mexican Cooking. Mexico, DF: Litografica Turmex, S.A., 1973.

Avis M. Rupert (Ed.), Don's Secrets. Lafayette, LA: Don's Seafood and Steak House, 1958.

Romeo Salta, The Pleasures of Italian Cooking. New York: The Macmillan Company, 162.

Marilyn Stone, Shelley Melvin, Charlie Crawford, Not Just Cheesecake!: The Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol, Low-Calorie Great Dessert Cookbook. Gainesville, FL: Triad Publishing Company, 1988.

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Trader Vic, Trader Vic's Pacific Island Cookbook. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1968.

J. WECK GmbH & Co., WECK Home-Canning Guide to Correct, Safe Canning. Wehr-Öflingen, Germany: Author, 1994.

Karen Cross Whyte, The Original Diet: Raw Vegetarian Guide and Recipe Book. San Francisco: Troubador Press, 1977.

Mary A. Wilson, Rumford Southern Recipes. Providence, RI: The Rumford Company, no date [ca. 1934].

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Periodicals

American Health (now Health). All issues 1983-1987.

Bestways. Carson City, NV. Occasional issues.

Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing. Potomac, MD. All issues 1994-present.

East-West Journal. Occasional issues.

Let's Live. Los Angeles. Occasional issues.

Mother Earth News. Flat Rock, North Carolina. All issues 1974-1983.

Nutrition Action Newsletter. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest. All issues 1992-1993.

Organic Gardening. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press. All issues 1972-1984.

Prevention. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press. All issues 1972-1987, 1992-1993.

Uptown Express. Houston, TX: Up and Out Communications. All issues 1987-present.

Vegetarian Times. All issues 1993-1994. Occasional issues at other times.

Yoga Journal. All issues 1981-1987. Occasional issues 1987-present.

Video Cookbooks

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. Vol 1: Complete Cajun Meal Featuring Blackened Redfish. J2 Communications, 1986.

Personal Collections

Card file of 449 recipes hand copied from various sources.

Looseleaf index to card file and cookbooks (current only through 1974).

Family cookbook compiled as a gift for my children.

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