In Loving Memory of K. Dun Gifford
May 9th is a day of remembrance for Oldways. Today is the one-year anniversary of the passing of K. Dun Gifford, the founder and inspiration behind Oldways.
Being a new member of the Oldways family I have the unique perspective of seeing the organization differently than those who have spent so much time here. I know Oldways as the organization it is today, led by our president Sara Baer-Sinnott, and I work alongside other wonderful people to continue the Oldway's mission to change the way people eat. But my colleagues possess something that, no matter how many years I remain involved with Oldways, I can never have, and that is the gift of having known Dun; I have missed the opportunity to meet an influential man who had a vision and saw it to fruition. So I've asked my colleagues here at Oldways to share their fondest memories, as a way for us all to come together and pay tribute to Dun. A way for them, through their memories, to help paint a picture not only for me, but for others, and a way to commemorate and celebrate him on this day.
I invite you all to take pleasure in the stories each of my colleagues has written in loving memory of Dun. And if others reading have their own story please do share, as all memories are welcome.
From Cindy - in June 2004, Oldways traveled to Tuscany for a Continuing Medical Education (CME) trip we organized for physicians and dietitians. At this point I had worked for Oldways for a bit more than a year, but because I was working only part-time, I didn't know Dun all that well. That trip crystalized, for me, what makes Oldways special – and how much Dun's personality and unique skills contributed to Oldways' effectiveness at its mission. From Day 1 of the trip, I marveled at Dun's bonhomie, his host-with-the-most presence at any gathering. Towering over those around him, with a commanding voice and easy laugh, Dun knew how to make a party lively, and how to keep a scientific debate on track. Both elements were in evidence as we hunkered down to study nutrition with eleven professors from the Harvard School of Public Health in the mornings, then enjoyed long lunches and toured olive groves, vineyards, and markets in the afternoon. But Dun wasn't just guiding the content of our trip, he was also creating it. Always a productive contrarian, he'd delight in pointing out contradictions in the scientific research, drilling down to the basics, insisting that laboratory theory be leavened with common sense and logic. Or, he'd take the stage to explain the fine points of honey and beekeeping, wine-tasting, or cheese-making. That man could speak extemporaneously on almost any topic related to food or politics! Before I went to Tuscany with Dun, I knew that Oldways embraced something it called the "pleasures of the table." But after I returned, I really understood what that meant. Dun's ability to marry good taste and good health, through the force of his ebullient personality, has made a big impact on the world.
From Georgia, Remembering Dun - It would have been impossible to be a foodie in the 1990’s and not to have heard of Dun Gifford. From my perch as a food writer back then, I knew that he’d started an organization called Oldways and was doing all sorts of interesting things with chefs and sustainability and traditional foods. I attended an Oldways conference in 1993, heard Dun speak, and came away dazzled by the food, the people, the ideas, and the buzz. And so I had a bit of back story in my pocket when I came to work for Oldways in January, 2010. As I arrived on my first day to become reacquainted with Dun these many years later, he was wearing a blue and white checkered shirt, nicely pressed. He had a green plastic watering can in his hand and was tending a massive philodendron that had grown in a tangle to completely cover one of his large office windows. I’ve always liked men who like plants, and Dun was easy to like, with his wry smile, sparkling eyes, big, warm handshake, and easy jokes. But he suffered no fools. One day, when he complained about his office being cold, I tossed off the suggestion that he might rather be in Tierra Del Fuego. He scowled and sharply delivered a lecture on that far archipelago's stretches of sub arctic and polar climates, and sniffed at the misconception that although the name means "Land of Fire" it is not a place he would want to visit to get warm. I came to appreciate that talking with Dun was an adventure, a journey that could take twists and turns and continue to resonate long after the words. The last conversation I had with him was about supermarkets. He talked about the sad state of America’s health. Here we are, he said, spending billions of dollars on health care and getting all sorts of messages out about healthy eating, and Americans just keep getting sicker. Supermarkets, he said, are where change needs to happen. Shortly after that, Dun left on one of his legendary journeys, this time to France, Australia, Hong Kong. He died suddenly soon after his return home. The philodendron started to look leggy, so I cut it all the way back to the soil and put all those trailing vines in my compost pile. The plant has come back with great vigor, and Oldways is working with supermarkets. I'm quite sure Dun still comes into the office now and then to check up on us. And I like to think it’s part of my job to keep those conversations going.
Kara's Memory - This is my absolute favorite photo of Dun. He'd just joined the 2008 Morocco Culinaria upon our arrival in Fès the night before, and we spent our first day in Fès exploring the souks, the ancient labyrinthine markets at the heart of many Moroccan cities. We'd stopped at a cavernous Berber carpet shop to learn more about these complex hand-woven rugs. I was trying to be discrete, to get a picture of our vibrant leader against the equally vibrant backdrop of beautiful textiles and exquisite architecture... Needless to say, he caught me, and this treasured moment of candor and levity is the result. Best of all, no one else noticed, so while the group around us was listening intently to the history of various Berber weaving techniques, Dun and I were giggling like ten-year-olds behind our hands. You could always count on Dun for these types of moments, and while I miss his leadership and his intelligence, I miss his mischievous grins and his contagious laughter almost as much...
From Kyle - One of Dun’s memorable phrases was, “Let your mind be bold.” I think of that often because it is easy to be locked into doing things the same way they’ve always been done. But it so much more fun to be bold – and the results are much more gratifying. I’m sure he felt this way when he started Oldways, at a time when olive oil was considered an ethnic product. (How far we’ve come!) What a great lesson for all of us: Dun’s imagination and bold move made an unforgettable impact on the way Americans eat today. From Birthe - It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since Dun’s passing. In a way, I’m still expecting him to walk in the door from one of his many travels and say “Good to be back.” But I suppose it’s attributable to the fact that Dun’s spirit very much lives on as we “carry on” with his visions here at Oldways. I miss hearing about Dun’s adventures, and likewise being able to tell him about mine - no matter what they were about, he was interested. He took a special interest in all of the people he worked with both at Oldways and conferences and educational tours; and many a time I saw how he took the time helping and guiding employees in their personal problems. He always wanted to learn new things, and was open to listen to others opinions before making up his mind on new directions for Oldways. And it was great fun travelling with Dun on Oldways tours, seeing him discussing food, wine, history and the local cultures of the region. His interests were broad and he could, and was willing, to discuss just about anything. He would try eating anything (at least once), such as ant eggs in Mexico! On the trip to Sicily with CheeseArt featuring cheese and fish pairings he would happily try it all, although many had difficulties eating raw fish with cheese for a whole week. And on the long bus tours in Sicily he would tell us facts about the places we were to visit, including his fascinating modern, free interpretation, and summary of “Medea,” which we were lucky to be able to see in the open outdoor historic Teatro Greco in Siracusa; a great help for those of us who hadn’t recently read the Greek tragedies, since “Medea,” of course, was performed in Italian without subtitles. And then on food tours, he would happily participate in the cooking classes. But there are so many fond memories from trips, and conferences, and everyday life in the office. I feel fortunate to have known Dun, and miss him in the office and as a friend.
From Casey – Dun was a big part of my teenage years, as I was lucky enough to travel with him and my mom. One indelible memory of traveling with Dun involved both celebration and tragedy. It was March 2004 and the city was Barcelona, where we had gone for the Alimentaria food show and a Mediterranean Diet conference. The trip was to be a celebration for Dun and others, including Ferràn Adrià of El Bulli and Dun's long-time friend and collaborator Fausto Luchetti, former Executive Director of the International Olive Oil Council, who were being awarded a prize by the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. But the celebrations were cut short a day later by the tragedy of the Madrid bombings. To me, it was as if 9/11 were happening all over again. Along with 1.5 million people in Barcelona and millions of others in cities all over Spain, Dun and my mom and I participated in a silent candlelight demonstration and protest. As always, and as he did for years, Dun explained things, helping me to understand the senseless tragedy and the history that we were witnessing. His gentle, patient and kind help, advice and guidance is something I'll always be grateful for.
From Chrisanne- I was only an intern when Dun was alive, so unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to work closely with him. But that certainly didn't stop him from treating me like an old friend when I came in twice a week. My desk was positioned right outside his office, so he'd always greet me with a warm grin and a pat on the back. "How are you?" he'd call out in his booming voice, genuinely wanting an answer. From day one he made me feel welcome and appreciated. The last time I saw Dun, he was headed to Australia and he promised to bring me back a kangaroo. I will always remember him that way - full of jokes and enthusiasm.