“In many respects the world ﬁnds itself at a fork in the culinary road. If we rush headlong down the techno-food route, then manufactured highly-processed and engineered foods are our future, and the rich garden of the world’s culinary traditions will wither and die.
But if, instead, we accelerate our eﬀorts to preserve and understand these culinary traditions, and incorporate the best of them into today’s dietary practices, then we will meet twin goals. Food growing and production will reﬂect much higher attention to sustainable agriculture practices – an environmental imperative. The full and exciting tastes of the foods of other cultures will encourage major changes in dietary patterns – a public health imperative.
These elements underpin the Oldways Cultural Models Project.”
K. Dun Giﬀord
Founder and President
In the world of food, diet and health, much has changed for the better in the 25 years since Dun Giﬀord wrote those words. As we begin a year-long celebration of our 25th anniversary, we are proud that Oldways has been a player in this upward journey on the culinary road.
Looking back over the last 25 years, many of our accomplishments have become accepted wisdom, in the U.S. and elsewhere:
- The Mediterranean Diet is much more well known. Men’s Health just called the Mediterranean Diet mainstream. While we’ve been sure of this for a while, it’s great to hear others realizing the same.
- Whole grains are the new norm. A wide variety of great-tasting healthy whole grain foods are in the marketplace, in large part due to our eﬀorts.
- Extra virgin olive oil has a fond-and-familiar nickname now – EVOO – and is found virtually everywhere. When we started, extra virgin olive oil was an obscure ethnic product.
- Other Mediterranean foods are wildly popular, found in every grocery store and even on airplanes and in school cafeterias – hummus, Greek yogurt, sun-dried tomatoes are just a few.
- Traditional raw-milk cheeses continue to be available, thanks to the eﬀorts of the Cheese of Choice Coalition, founded in 2000 by Oldways, the American Cheese Society, Cheese Importers Association and Whole Foods. The CCC is now an Oldways program.
- We developed programs on sustainability and local foods 25 years ago, when they were concepts known by very few. Now, Farmers Markets are familiar sites in towns and cities east, west, north and south and local foods make the top food trend lists year after year.
- Many more ethnic food traditions are better known and understood – grocery store shelves have ingredients to make dishes and meals from other countries; restaurants feature cuisines from many cultures (not just the French, Italian or Chinese of 1990; awareness and enjoyment have expanded to Turkish, Indian, Japanese, Moroccan, Mexican and Peruvian).
Despite all this good news, sadly, at the same time, there is too much that remains the same—Ground Hog day circa 1990. Americans continue to delude themselves about the link between what they eat and how much they weigh and how healthy they are. Although there is really no confusion about what is healthy, fad diets continue to multiply, bringing proﬁts to book authors, but disappointment and disastrous results to people, because fad diets and techno foods have never delivered overnight (or long term) weight loss, sex appeal or good health.
One step in the right direction is a larger scale and renewed push for the old ways. Traditional diets like the Mediterranean Diet and traditional foods like whole grains are what are described as healthy by many experts, over and over again. Happily these old ways oﬀer meals and foods full of ﬂavor and great taste. Traditional foods are not highly processed. “Old ways food” is grown with less water and less waste, which means more plants, less meat, and better use of land and water resources. The old ways are foods with real taste, not taste injected artiﬁcially at a factory. Old ways meals are ones eaten with friends and family — meals enjoyed for what they are – delicious, healthy, and full of fun and pleasure.
As it has been for the last 25 years, this is the Oldways Imperative for the next 25 years. Since times have changed since 1990, we work diﬀerently today than we did then. In those early pre-internet days, our main method for changing the food world involved organizing scientiﬁc and media conferences, and overseas symposiums in the Mediterranean with groups of 80-100 members of the “Who’s Who” of the food and wine world – chefs who would come home and serve unfamiliar, delicious dishes; journalists who would spread the word about “new” ingredients; and scientists who would be inspired to new research.
Today we rely on many diﬀerent groups to help us communicate the Oldways Imperative. We now work with Supermarket Dietitians, the new food rock stars, to get the word out in the aisles of grocery stores. We prepare materials for physicians, nurses, RDs, and other health professionals, so they can better communicate the positive power of traditional diets – Mediterranean, Asian, Latino, Vegetarian and African Heritage. We work from coast to coast on grass roots eﬀorts to teach Heritage Diets and healthy cooking, shopping and eating in African American and Latino communities. We work with food companies to improve the food supply. Our Whole Grain Stamp is on more than 10,000 products in over 40 countries around the world. Thanks to the internet, we can also communicate directly each year with millions of people who visit our websites and email us, looking for guidance on healthy eating and the pleasures of the table.
The next 25 years will bring more new ways of communicating the Oldways Imperative: new books; more speaking; more collaboration with others who believe in the old ways; plus new initiatives that bring the old ways to diﬀerent age groups – seniors, teens, families, millennials.
We hope you will join us as we continue this journey on the culinary road. How has Oldways’ ﬁrst twenty-ﬁve years changed your life?