the 60s (37)

How We Got From Twinkies to Tofu

HIPPIE FOOD
How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat

By Jonathan Kauffman
344 pp. William Morrow. $26.99

Review in today’s NYTimes by Michael Pollan

For a revolution that supposedly failed, the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s scored a string of enduring victories. Environmentalism, feminism, civil and gay rights, as well as styles of music, fashion, politics, therapy and intoxication: In more ways than many of us realize, we live in a world created by the ’60s. (Though, as our politics regularly attest, some of us are rather less pleased to be living in that world than others.) Jonathan Kauffman’s briskly entertaining history, “Hippie Food,” makes a convincing case for adding yet another legacy to that list: the way we eat.

Kauffman has more in mind than the menu items that the ’60s served up: the tofu, tempeh and tamari, the granola and yogurt, the nut loafs and avocado sandwiches on whole wheat bread with their poufs of alfalfa sprouts that “smell as if a field of grass were having sex”; hard as it is to imagine now, all of these foods were radical novelties before 1970 or so. But the counterculture transformed much more than the American menu; it also changed the way we grow our food and how we think about purchasing and consuming it. “Eating brown rice was a political act,” he writes, just as much “as wearing your hair long or refusing to shave your armpits.” How this curious idea came to seem right and true (and to outlast the hairy armpits) is the historical question at the heart of “Hippie Food.”

Kauffman, who was born in 1971, comes at his subject as a child of children of the ’60s: He grew up on brown rice and quite likes it. A former line cook and food critic in the Bay Area, Kauffman is now a reporter for the food section of The San Francisco Chronicle, and his book is the work of an enterprising journalist who has interviewed many in the cast of hippie farmers, cooks, communards and food artisans who together forged what Kauffman asks us to regard as a new and “unique, self-contained cuisine.”

“The food Americans were eating in the mid-1960s resembled nothing that any civilization on Earth had ever eaten before,” Kauffman reminds us. By then, a series of food-processing innovations developed during World War II — powdered soups and juices, cake mixes, dehydrated coffee, etc. — had infiltrated American food culture, which lacked the deep roots that might have allowed it to withstand the influences of marketers, faddists, kooks and ideologues of every stripe. Americans, Kauffman notes, have long displayed “a queer eagerness to abandon the culinary wisdom of the generations that preceded them.” In the ’60s that meant eating things your parents had never heard of; if they ate white bread, you ate brown.

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The Passionate Photographer

Just wrote this today for my book on the ’60s (which also includes the years leading up to the ’60s):

I was the Information Services Officer at Sembach Air Base in southern Germany in 1958-1960. In addition to running the base photo lab and editing the base newspaper (The Sembach Jet Gazette), I was in charge of public relations and dealing with the press.

There was a German photographer, Helmut Haak, who photographed troops on American air bases. He contacted me about setting up photo shoots.

I would line up a fighter plane down on our airstrip, and benches for the military personnel, arranged by unit. There might be 30-40 men and women in each photo.

Helmut made a ton of money selling the photos. Practically everyone bought one. He drove a big Mercedes and lived in a small castle overlooking the Mosel River.

We hit it off. One night he invited us, along with my secretary Inge, over for a light supper.

He served white and pink champagne in bottles with his own label. He took us up into a small turret at the top of the castle. As we looked down on the river in the mist, he showed us an exquisite little music box with a moving mechanical bird.

Helmut had a 4-seat Cessna airplane, and he made friends with our base commander (Colonel Simeral, a pilot) by taking him flying. It was a spiffy little plane, and the colonel loved flying it.

One day at the base he took me up. We took off, and were still in the flight pattern when we heard on the radio: “F-86 dogs scrambling,” which meant that at least two of the base’s fighter pilots were taking off in a hurry. Shit!

Helmut was sweating. I was worried. The F-86’s were like rockets with cockpits on top—fast and powerful. Pretty soon, the planes roared past us—phew!—and we came back in.

 Helmut told me that one time, when his girlfriend was sailing back to America from Bremerhaven, he swooped down when the ship was leaving port and dropped a bouquet of flowers for her on the deck.

Before I left Germany and returned to the USA, I got word that he had crashed in the French Alps, not seeing Mont Blanc in the fog. The notice said that he had missed clearing Mont Blanc by 3-4 meters.

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Otis and My Book on the '60s

On the last leg of my trip to Oregon this week, I had a great visit with Foster Huntington before heading home, saw his incredible new video project, spent the night in his treehouse, and went to the airport yesterday afternoon, delay of flight, dragged into home about midnight, got up this morning, for some reason had a hard time getting going on my book on the ’60s. I even thought of dropping the project and going ahead with my book, “The Half-Acre Homestead.”

But I did what I advise people to do when they don’t know what to do about a project: “Start.” Which I did, and it started flowing.
I started writing about the Monterey Pop Festival. I was there and thought it was the beginning of a wonderful new world. For me, it wasn’t about Jimi Hendrix, or Janis (her first appearance with Big Brother, I believe), or Bryan Jones wandering around in the crowd, but it was about Otis. Good god a-mighty…

He appeared Saturday night. I hardly knew who he was, had certainly never seen him. He was wearing a green suit, was maybe the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and was an entire other universe of music.
I pulled up the Youtube video of him singing I’ve been Loving You Too Long, and — I didn’t cry, but it sure brought tears to me eyes. For Otis, who’s gone, and for the ’60s, which never quit materialized the way I thought it would.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=0vUc17A0SNY

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The Gag-Me-With-A-Spoon Summer of Love

My annoyance at all the lame krap floating around now about 1967 in the Haight-Ashbury district, “The Summer of Love,”just about turned to repulsion of late. Yeah, strong word, but man is it bad! We went to the deYoung Museum in San Francisco (an architectural catastrophe) Friday for their exhibit. $25 entrance fee! Most of the exhibit consisted of posters and yes, the posters were magnificent, but the exhibit was mostly ’60s drivel.

The “hippie clothing” was awful. No elegance, no simplicity. People with bad taste and too much time on their hands; bad colors, mishmashes of design. A truly awful crocheted bedspread commissioned by Bob Weir. Two rooms of flashing video montages of blurry dancers — senseless, dumb; not trippy — sloppy.

And the clincher: when you leave the exhibit, they funnel you into The Summer of Love Gift Shop. I kid you not. T-shirts, hats, trinkets, a poster of lame buttons — all made in China.

These curators are giving the ’60s a bad name.

The “Hippie Modernism” exhibit at the Berkeley Museum was way better.

As is the exhibit at the California Historical Society. Really good b&w photos, tracing the ’60s from the Beats-on. $5 entrance fee.

There was a conference this weekend, some 45 presentations on the era, mostly by college professors.

Sorry, I’ve been brooding over all the distortions, all the weren’t-there, don’t-get-it pontificators.

“The Haight-Ashbury was a neighborhood. The ’60s was a movement.” -Ken Kesey

PS The “Summer of Love” (1967) was in actuality a disaster in San Francisco.

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My Take on the '60s

Jim Morrison said once that when they (The Doors) finished a record, only then were they released to start thinking about the next one. When I finished Small Homes, I couldn’t think what to do next. I’d sort of run the gamut of 9″x12′ building books, each with about color 1000 photos, from Home Work to Small Homes. Retire? No way! I’m just getting warmed up.

About the same time there was an explosion of articles, TV specials, museum exhibits, and conferences rehashing “The Summer of Love.” (Yes, I know I’ve written this before, but I’m further into it all now.)

Since my take on the years was so different from everything being written or presented, I decided to write my own version of the ’60s. (I was there.) The project seemed to gather momentum as I proceeded. I started having fun. I hadn’t looked back at those times in any sort of organized way, and I found myself not only marveling at what happened, but having new insights with the perspective of 5 decades.

Plus, the 60s weren’t an abstraction for me. The concepts, the spirit, the new knowledge profoundly changed my life. (I just realized this now.)

Stop, children, what’s that sound,

Everybody look—what’s going down.

                             -Buffalo Springfield

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The Lost Files

I was looking through one of my many filing cabinets (which contain old school file folders containing papers and photos) the other day and discovered about 15 folders on a book I started to write in the late ’70s. It was going to be called Home Work* and was about my building experiences, starting with my first building (studio with a “living roof” in 1962), then building homes over the next 17-18 years. I took them out of the filing cabinet and put them in this box:

Back then, I felt that I could offer guidance to novice builders, based on the fact that I started building from scratch. No carpentry training or previous construction experience.

I’d made a lot of mistakes that I could warn first-time builders about, and I had ideas for simple homes based on practicality and economy– and ones that felt good.

I wanted to encourage people to use their own hands to build their own homes. I’d done it, and never had a bank mortgage or paid rent.

The project got interrupted by my publishing Stretching by Bob Anderson in 1980 and then 20 years of publishing fitness books. Karma, I guess.

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