Hippie Cookbooks, Alice’s Restaurant, and Whole Wheat: How We Got Organic

One day, Alice Brock saw a tour bus coming up the drive to her restaurant and she suddenly remembered she was supposed to feed 40 people a full lunch. She didn’t have any soup made …

Symbol of the Age of Aquarius

When the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, so did The Age of Aquarius, fading away like smoke on a hazy summer night.

Was it all just a dream?

Well, no.

If today you focus a lot on Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, if you buy whole-wheat bread and herbs at your local farmers’ market, and if you eat granola, you’re ingesting the legacy of the so-called hippies.

And just where did that word — hippie — come from, anyway?

On 5 September 1965, the San Francisco Examiner published an article by Michael Fallon about the new “Bohemian” scene developing in the Haight-Ashbury district. He called the young people “hippies.”

Many try to capture the essence of the Sixties, longing to explain just what happened when Dylan’s music played and flowers bloomed in young girls’ braids. Even food writer Charles Perry, a former rock-and-roll journalist, wrote The Haight-Ashbury: A History (1985) and food-studies expert Warren Belasco contributed the prescient Appetite for Change (1989), republished as Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry (2007).

A new cookbook published recently provides some intriguing fodder for culinary historians: Hippie Kitchen: A Measurefree Vegetarian Cookbook (Measurefree Kitchen Companion Trilogy) (2010), by Jean Johnson. According to Jean herself, she’s a “writer-historian-sustainable-type from the Sixties up for a last subversive hurrah.” The no-measurements recipes, she says, call up the cookbooks of the past. Indeed they do, as long as the cook can boil water, peel potatoes, and bake a cherry pie. This is a new one: nostalgia for both the hippie era and pre-Fannie Farmer (or Eliza Acton) cookbooks.

Jean Johnson

At a time when the only true experts on vegetarianism were the Seven-Day Adventists, who even published a vegetarian diet manual for use in their hospitals, and the millions of people around the world eating vegetarian not out of choice but poverty, the publication of counterculture-inspired vegetarian cookbooks beginning in the 1960s marked a turning point in culinary literature. What was once fringe, “rabbit food,” as my mother derisively called it, became mainstream.

Some of the recipes in the earliest cookbooks, including Diet for a Small Planet (1971), by Frances Moore Lappé, produced stodgy fare fit only for the compost heap if you maintained one. Most nutritionists of the time believed that rampant protein deficiency would result in people eating vegetarian diets (and you can’t blame them for this, as their main point of reference was the millions of children and adults around the world suffering from protein-calorie malnutrition or PCM).

Thankfully, Anna Thomas came along with her wonderful and still useful book, Vegetarian Epicure (1972), shortly after all the fanfare over Diet for a Small Planet. Thomas “traveled” the globe and borrowed from the sensible and tasty recipes found in the many of the world’s cultures of poverty. The dishes in Vegetarian Epicure celebrate the bounty of the earth, even animal fats like cream and butter.

But it was Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition (1976), by Laurel Robertson and her friends Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey, that usurped quack nutritionist Adelle Davis and provided vegetarians with a realistic way to eat and stay healthy. Some of the recipes in Laurel’s Kitchen frankly taste rather noisome, but the basic principles of combining foods remain solid enough. Perhaps more than anything, the introductory essay, a paean to the person who cooks in the household (usually women, at least at the time), pointed out the importance of the sacred job of feeding family and friends.

The Moosewood cookbooks, begun by Molly Katzen, stemmed from the eponymous restaurant. The Moosewood Cookbook (1977) and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (1985) influenced American cooking in ways not yet studied.

Another cookbook documenting those heady days is Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook (1969), by Alice May Brock.  (See soup “recipe” below, improvised by Alice and probably influencing Jean Johnson.)

All the media attention nowadays falls on organic gurus Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, but they’re standing on the summit because of the path hacked out by these other people.

One day, Alice Brock saw a tour bus coming up the drive to her restaurant and she suddenly remembered she was supposed to feed 40 people a full lunch. She didn’t have any soup made, so she improvised this Cream of Salt and Pepper Soup on the spot. Brock says, “Soup is any kind of food cooked in enough liquid to make eating it impossible with a fork.”

Sauté some onions in butter.
Add chicken stock and heat.
Just before serving, add fresh heavy cream.
Add salt and pepper to taste.


© 2010 C. Bertelsen

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5 comments

  • this is why those ‘first’ hippies loved crete – they found the cretans eating hippie food (which they had been doing for a long time anyway!)

    having been raised on so much hippie food, my mother took to her new life in nz as if all her christmasses had come at once – that’s when she started referring to corn as ‘chicken’-feed!

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  • Gary, yes, sometimes! Looking forward to buying Moosewood locally here in Virginia.

    Sandra, I’ve never been to the Moosewood, but hope to get there one of these days. I know, some of the recipes in Lappé’s books are OK, but over all, I prefer Anna Thomas’s books. I think it’s fascinating to consider how the whole idea of vegetarianism has changed since the Sixties. Like Gary says, the people producing hippie foods are prime targets for large corporations because the demand is growing by the minute.

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  • Talk about a walk down memory lane! I have every single one of those cookbooks (though I claim you can find some decent stuff in Lappé’s books), and still cook from them. And (living in Ithaca), of course I have many of the Moosewood books. I hadn’t realized how close the the (second) beginning of the veggie-cookbook I was.

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  • Occasionally, hippie food was more than brown rice, seaweed and a gray hot dog — sometimes it was tabouli, granola, or the dreaded anadama bread.

    Alice’s Restaurant is long gone, but it’s interesting that some of the sources of hippie food still exist, albeit in slightly altered form. Anna Lappe has recently come out with “Diet for a Hot Planet,” an attempt to use food to reduce global warming (a contemporary take on her mother’s guide to responsible eating).

    Ithaca’s Moosewood is still thriving and, in an attempt to combine capitalism with hippie values, has merged with Blue Marble Brands to sell its branded products. Let’s hope they stay small enough to avoid becoming targets for take-over by mainstream corporations (a fate that has befallen some of the most successful hippie food businesses).

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