Dun Gifford, Oldways’ founder, died five years ago today. Although he is gone, he is never far away.  I sit at his desk, in his office, surrounded by many of his treasures – including hundreds of books, St. George icons, trinkets from far and wide, oils he painted, and more than three dozen wooden fishes from Mexico City’s San Angel Sabato Bazaar that used to hang on a huge wall in his house in Nantucket.

He isn’t really far away because, at Oldways, we are making his dream of preserving and promoting the old ways come to life.

I held a staff meeting last week to talk about our vision for the years to come — how we will fulfill our mission of inspiring good health through cultural traditions and lifestyles.

What does this mean?

It means getting more people cooking and putting traditional foods, ingredients and meals on their tables.  It means inspiring an Oldways Table in every kitchen in America.

Sarah McMackin, the program manager for the African Heritage & Health program said to me, “I like to think about how we are changing the standard American table, so that the new American table reflects and celebrates the cultural food roots found throughout this country, and all over the world.”  

This reminded me of Dun.  I could hear him.  In the days when we had only three traditional diet pyramids (Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American), when asked what people should eat, he would say, “Eat like a Mediterranean two days a week!  Eat like an Asian two days a week!  Eat like a Latino two days a week!  And on the seventh day, splurge, do whatever you’d like!”

The Oldways Table reflects exactly this.  It features pasta one night, paella another, pad thai today, and gumbo tomorrow.  The center of the Oldways Plate is quinoa, noodles, sweet potatoes, and fresh tortillas; it’s leafy greens and vegetables, beans and legumes, booming with flavors and spices; it’s a mix of healthy oils, nuts and seeds, sauces, and traditional cheeses; and, it’s all grounded in tradition, history, heritage and a healthy world.  

Dun once wrote that our eating patterns and food choices “have enormous consequences for the environmental future of the earth, for our personal health, and for the integrity of our cultures and traditions.”   I do believe we can help to ensure a brighter future for all of these things by replacing the “standard” American diet pattern (the SAD diet, as it’s come to be called) with a new pattern, born from all of our collective old ways.

Now of course we’re doing some things differently than when Dun was at the helm.  We’ve started new programs (one for Supermarket dietitians), introduced a new Heritage Pyramid (African Heritage), and focused on new audiences (foodservice, hospitals, senior citizens).  But many things remain the same, especially that at the heart of Oldways is the vision that Dun had when he started the organization 25 years ago. Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being!


Here’s to you, Dun!

- Sara

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