Kitchen Counterculture

An illustration from The Munchies Eatbook by Alice and Eliot Hess. From the author’s collection

In conjunction with the release of the virtual version of the museum’s 2017-2018 exhibit Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest, museum educator, Melanie LaBorwit looks into how the counterculture had a hand in changing how Americans eat. You can visit the online version of Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest here.

“The Flavor of Cultural Change:   The Evolution of Countercultural Cookbooks and Their Legacy”                                         

Melanie LaBorwit, Museum Educator

In an article on a course at Macalester College, called “From Counterculture to Digital Culture”, one of the students, Rosa Durst, reflected on her research and the intersection between cookbooks and radical movements. “Food is one vehicle of cultural significance,…which allows cookbooks to become not just manuals for eating but manuals for performing activism, creating art, or finding new ways of living.“ (Macalester News, June 2017) .

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, culture writer Cynthia Bertelsen muses about the legacy of what she calls “the hippie era’, (Gherkins and Tomatoes food blog, July 2010). She notes that the 1960’s and 1970‘s marked a turning point in culinary literature. Before this time, vegetarianism was perceived as only the interest of Seventh Day Adventists and around the world most people ate vegetarian food not out of choice but from poverty.

Betty Crocker’s Dinner In A Dish. About as mainstream as it got at the time. From the collection of the author.

Too often, food preparation in the United States, mostly deemed as historically women’s work, is overlooked in history; but the advent of a new style of cookbook in the 1960‘s  is incredibly revealing, reflecting not only culinary changes, but changing gender roles,  working lives, trends in publishing, and a concern for the environment and environmental activism.

Another mainstream example from the author’s collection.

There are many books that have been added to the canon, but there were five main titles that were almost ubiquitous on the kitchen shelves in the Age of Aquarius.

Diet for a Small Planet (1971) by Francis  Moore Lappe’ was among the first and most popular of this revolutionary genre. Part political diatribe, part recipes, Lappe’s work introduced many new ingredients which would soon become staples at food co-ops which were opening  up around the country.  With an emphasis on legumes and fresh vegetables, she also reintroduced traditional foods from different cultures and ingredients once perceived as esoteric. While in retrospect, her recipes are not considered the most flavorful, her perspective on sustainability, home grown foods, nutrition, and feeding the world looking into the future has proven to have been prescient for the time.

Vegetarian Epicure (1972), by Anna Thomas came soon thereafter and included more tasty and aesthetically pleasing recipes from around the world accompanied by lovely hand drawn illustrations printed on gold colored papers.  In 1974 came Tassajara Cooking from Edward Espe Brown, which was an overnight success.  Tassajara introduced new ideas for intriguing meals and nutritional information accompanied by Zen insights and meditative thoughts for one’s kitchen and daily life.  Laurel’s Kitchen(1976) by Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey became de rigueur  among college students and others cooking  on their own for the first time, and was followed quickly on its heels by the immensely popular Moosewood Cookbook (1977) by Mollie Katzen, hand written and illustrated in homey fashion.  The demand for these books, as well as other sequels that followed, has never abated.  Individually, each of these publications gained huge followings and widened the audience for what had once been considered well outside the norm of American-style foods. Collectively, their influence on American foodways must be perceived as truly revolutionary.  

In contrast to these counterculture cookbooks, most mass marketed cookbooks in this era reflected the idyll of a nuclear family home, represented women in the kitchen whose primary role was coming up with innovative meals for her husband and children and occupied themselves with ideas for incorporating new foods as an occasional novelty, and with a narrative that encouraged the busy cook and housewife to  focus on her important role as a hostess for all occasions.  On the remarkable blog “The Historical Cooking Project”, Dr. Alex Ketchum observed recently that the countercultural cookbooks that came out of the 1970’s and even the 1980’s were “ responding to the over-processed foods and strict gender roles in the post-war period.” ( May 2019)  Out of the war came manufacturing of new highly processed food products to aid the housewives of America with convenient shortcuts for their elaborate dinners.  Instant soups, cake mix, powdered potatoes and meal kits were filling the shelves of new supermarkets.  Mainstream cookbooks began adding in these prepared foods as main ingredients for expedient meal preparation, but still emphasizing set gender roles for the lady in the kitchen.

Countercultural cookbooks do not seem to address gender at all ( though interestingly they paved their way for a new crop of women writers and feminist chefs)  but call attention to environmental issues, industrial farming practices and the risk of pesticides. Rodale press had long been publishing the magazine, “Organic Farming and Gardening”, begun in 1942. Their writing was originally  addressed to farmers  to promote chemical-free growing in traditional agriculture, but their audience in this era would also change and grow in unanticipated ways. The counterculture community was looking for new resources and new authority to support their back to the land endeavors. Recipe collections that were published to a younger audience of consumers increased attention to, and normalized the term “ natural foods”, beyond the commune communities scattered in rural enclaves through the nation or newly developed food cooperatives in urban areas. They  began to create a new demand among consumers for purchase of and development of a market for these natural foods. 

A page from the Moosewood Cookbook. From the author’s collection.

Have you recently enjoyed a meal with tabbouleh?  herbal tea?  free range chicken? Curried lentils? or a sandwich with whole wheat bread? Arugula?  Avocado?  Several varieties of mushrooms? Organic cheeses? Heirloom tomatoes? Bean sprouts? We owe the enormous diversity of our culinary options in the 21st century to the intrepid hippie cooks in our late 20th century kitchens.

Some more food for thought:

Warren Belasco, Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry, Cornell University Press, 2007

Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking, Shambala Press, 1974

Mollie Katzen,Moosewood Cookbook, Ten Speed Press, 1977

Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a  Small Planet, Ballantine books, 1971

Maria McGrath Food for Dissent:  Natural Foods and the Consumer Counterculture since the 1960’s.   University of Massachusetts, 2019

Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cooking and Nutrition, Nilgiri Press,1976

Anna Thomas, Vegetarian Epicure, Knopf ( later Vintage reprint) 1972.

http://www.historicalcookingproject.com/  Historical Cooking Project, ed. Dr. Alex Ketchum

http://www.thefeministrestaurantproject.com/  A public history project begun with Dr. Ketchum’s doctoral dissertation research and newer contributions to research on the subject.

“Fire” Sale at the Cowden Cafe

PlazaCafePosterAndy and Daniel Razatos, owners of the historic Plaza Cafe on the Santa Fe Plaza, are still reeling from a fire last weekend that put their well-loved eatery temporarily out of commission. But that hasn’t stopped them from feeding the hungry hordes at the Cowden Cafe, which they operate inside the New Mexico History Museum. To sweeten the deal for customers longing for the turkey-cashew mole and other delights they whip up at the Plaza, the Razatos have lowered prices at the Cowden, including a delicious offer of 99-cent desserts.

You read that right.

And you just might have to hurry if you aim to beat the crowds of people who, in at least a few cases, are snapping up not one, not two, not three, but grocery sacks full of desserts, take heed: The cafe opens at 11 a.m. and stays open until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

On Friday, dessert selections included flan, red-velvet cake, white cake and a gooey-luscious chocolate cake.

But that’s not all.

Besides their desserts, the Razatos are offering fire-sale prices on their salads, sandwiches and daily soup choices, which on Friday included tortilla soup and (…wait for it…) MENUDO! What could be a more culturally specific dining choice during the annual Santa Fe Fiesta? (Well, other than roasted head of Zozobra, perhaps.)

A cup of menudo, packed with legendary health-giving properties, costs only $1. And a soup-salad-sandwich combo? A mere $4.

patio lunch kidsThe best part is that you can then enjoy them on the second-floor cafe’s outdoor terrace overlooking the Palace of the Governors Courtyard and the rooftops of downtown Santa Fe.

You don’t have to be a museum-goer to eat at the cafe — although we think you’ll be enticed to buy an admission ticket once you get a glimpse of the interior. Just enter through the Washington Avenue doors and tell the nice folks at the guard station that you’re here for the chow. They’ll send you on up.

While at the cafe, log onto our free wifi or just enjoy some time with your dining companions.

The Cowden Café is named for a historic ranching family who built the JAL Ranch. From 1883 to 1915, the JAL Ranch (which lent its name to the southeastern New Mexico town of Jal) was the open-range home to 40,000 head of cattle and a part of New Mexico history that included the likes of Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight, skirmishes with Comanches, and tales of scrabbling out the pioneer life in dugouts and covered wagons.

At its peak, the JAL occupied much of what is now Lea County, east and south into Texas.Its legacy was detailed in Michael Pettit’s book, Riding for the Brand: 150 Years of Cowden Ranching (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), which won a New Mexico Book Award for Best Southwest History. Michael will talk about the JAL and family ranching lore at 2 pm on Sunday, Sept. 26, in the History Museum Auditorium. The lecture is free with museum admission (Sundays are free to NM residents) and will be followed by coffee and cobbler featuring fruit grown by New Mexico farmers, courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

You’ve waited long enough. How about some food?

sandwich casepastry cabinet

turkey sammich 99-cent dessertsflanwhite cake