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Hippie Food, Then and Now

Mmmm, hippie food—some people crave it every day, but the words alone are enough to send others running for cover. Some of us grew up cooking it, some of us grew up eating it, some of us might be eating it right now without even realizing what we are doing—and some of us are asking “what in the world is it?”

A brief history

The hippie movement came into being in the 1960s and was comprised mostly of young people caught up in a swirl of change. The war in Viet Nam was causing political unrest that divided families and friendships; the civil rights movement in the U.S. inflamed millions on both sides of the equation; music influenced people like never before. The “rebellion” that young adults have always experienced escalated from simply thinking parents were wrong, dumb or embarrassing to an often total rejection of theirlifestyle. Kids left home to live with groups of friends and made ends meet as best they could or traveled the country by the busload in search of music, the perfect commune, or utopia. It was not cool to support the “establishment,” and this affected all sorts of business transactions—bartering was popular, hippies bought funky used clothes and furnishings instead of new, and growing one’s food was another way to undermine corporations. Beads, bell bottoms, and long, flowing hair were adopted by both men and women. Everything was bright and colorful, from clothes to furnishings to paint jobs on vehicles.

Back then it was cool to be in touch with everything natural and, out of respect for Mother Nature, reusing and recycling became priorities. This fed the back-to-the-earth movement and combined with a widespread new interest in Eastern philosophies and religions. Suddenly it became important to respect one’s body and that started with the food that was eaten. The growing array of convenience foods in mom’s pantry was rejected in favor of unadulterated, natural foods. Extreme macrobiotic diets were all the rage for a while. Though vegetarian diets have always been around, they suddenly gained new exposure. Those in search of enlightenment often chose a vegetarian diet to sustain their beliefs. Others decided that a vegetarian diet was an ecological necessity, which boosted the fledgling organic agricultural movement. Many people were also distrustful of the assortment of additives and preservatives that had become common in processed foods and sought safety in natural foods. Health food stores and natural food cooperatives sprang up across the country to provide basic, “real” food that the hippies—or anyone—could feel good about purchasing.

But what did the hippies really eat?

Like any other group, some of them lived on processed junk food, at least some of the time. But for those concerned about their diets, brown rice was a hot commodity, no matter how it was served. Bread was literally a weighty matter, with many cooks turning out heavy whole-wheat loaves liberally laced with soy powder, rice or other grains, blackstrap molasses and bran. Tabouli salad was a staple of refrigerators and potlucks everywhere. A look back at natural foods cookbooks of the era shows that soy—in the form of grits, powder, flour and whole beans—was incorporated in everything from salads to cookies and cakes to ensure that vegetarians were ingesting enough quality protein to maintain health. Cheese was another ingredient that was used in a huge number of vegetarian recipes from appetizers to desserts. A mysterious substance called tofu started showing up at natural food stores. Beans were an important part of the diet and alfalfa sprouts were the topping of choice for salads and sandwiches. Chocolate was set aside in favor of carob, and desserts were replete with nuts and dried fruit. Many cooks developed a repertoire of natural snack recipes to have on hand in case the “munchies” should strike. And, for a few years, vegetarians were caught up in ensuring they were ingesting “complementary protein” combinations at every meal. (If you don’t remember some of the recipe gems of the era, check out the recipes pages in this issue of the Reader for a few examples.)


Some things have really changed-and for the better. For starters, organic food is everywhere here at the Co-op. This used to be the dream for many people and today it has become so much the reality that many consumers are pushing their horizons farther and changing to a locally sourced diet.

Most nutrition experts now say that we don’t need to be so concerned with combining foods for optimal protein at each meal. Instead, they say, vegetarians eating a varied, balanced diet of whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits each day will have no problem ingesting enough quality protein.

We all have learned more about the importance ofwatching the amount and type of fat we consume. Olive oil, butter, and healthier, non-hydrogenated products, have replaced the margarines and shortening of the ’60s. Cheese is used with a lighter hand by most cooks and often is of artisanal quality, something that was not common in this country in the ’60s and ’70s.

Ethnic foods

Many of us grew up during the ‘60s with virtually no knowledge of traditional ethnic foods—unless you count pizza—especially here in the Midwest. Wading into “hippie” food broadened horizons for many young people. Suddenly there were dozens of new things to try coming to us from ancient, mostly plant-based whole food cuisines. In addition to tabouli, we learned about pita, falafel, dolmades, tahini and many other goodies from the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries. The search for enlightenment opened many seekers to the food heritage of India and thus began a love affair with dhal, vegetable curries, and spicy heat. We turned to Asian recipes to find uses for tofu and bean sprouts and stumbled onto tempeh; we discovered how satisfying fresh, homemade tortillas could be and then learned to fill them with good things we called Mexican, and later learned were really Tex-Mex or Southwestern, flavors.

Today that willingness to experiment in the kitchen is still alive and well, but many cooks, hippie or not, rely on the availability of a wider variety of ingredients, imported and domestic. Forty years ago the only curry sauce available, except in the largest cities, would have been made from scratch. Today, an assortment of curry sauces canbe found on the shelves in the Grocery department. Back then if you wanted black olives for your Mediterranean plate, you opened a can in most places, but now the Deli also offers an array of olives for every taste. Rolling up your sleeves and turning on the oven used to be the first steps in satisfying a craving for pita bread or tortillas, but now there are many kinds ready on the shelves if you prefer not to bake.

Brown rice

Brown rice is still popular and available in more varieties than any ’60s hippie could have dreamed of, including jasmine and basmati rice. In addition, most modern hippies also enjoy other whole grains including barley, spelt and quinoa. Whole grains show up in breads, cookies, pasta and frozen entrees these days—something else no one would have expected 40 years ago. Commercial bakeries and home bakers alike have learned the tricks of working with all kinds of grains and whole grain flours and now turn out more delicious—and much lighter—baked goods than ever. You can even buy white whole-wheat flour now!


Tabouli still shows up regularly, especially in the summer when we augment the lemony, bulgur and parsley mixture with loads of garden-ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, and mint. This classic is often updated by substituting quinoa for the bulgur and many cooks also like to add chickpeas or cannellini beans.


Soy has become a ubiquitous ingredient, showing up in a huge number of foods and beverages. This is due in no small part to federal farm subsidies that really kicked into high gear in the 1970s. Luckily, soy products have become more palatable over the years, probably due to improvements in processing techniques. The procedure for making soymilk has improved drastically and the grittiness and “beany” flavor that turned off many consumers has all but disappeared. You can buy soy yogurt in several flavors and at holiday time you will find soy masquerading as eggnog. Soy cheese, dogs, brats and “sausage” are useful ingredients for many people too. The Frozen aisle has a variety of soy-based burgers and meatless balls, as well. These products may not qualify for whole food status, but they do serve an important function in providing vegans and those coping with dairy allergies with more choices—and that can be especially important forchildren wanting to eat the same sorts of foods as their friends. The undeniable convenience of ready-made soy foods is another feature that many vegetarians take advantage of, at least occasionally.

While dried whole soybeans are still a staple in many a hippie’s pantry, we can now add canned soybeans in either the black or yellow varieties. Green soybeans, also known as edamame, have become almost as popular here as they are in Japan. They are available in frozen form year-round, but true connoisseurs look forward to fresh edamame when in season.

Let’s not forget tofu. Forty years ago buying tofu meant fishing a chunk out of a bucket of water at your local co-op or Asian food store, but now the coolers in the Dairy aisle showcase an array of different brands, textures and flavors. The various flavors of baked tofu are good for sandwiches and snacking or can be added anywhere you use plain tofu. You can find silken tofu in shelf-stable packaging in the Grocery department and it is an ingredient in a variety of frozen foods ranging from potpies to frozen whipped topping.


Tempeh was virtually unknown in this country in the 1960s, but now the Co-op stocks tempeh made with a variety of grains, as well as tempeh “bacon” and of course, locally made plain tempeh.


Beans still anchor the hippie diet and the Bulk aisle carries a wider assortment than back in the day. Dried beans today tend to be cleaner and more intact than they used to be. The quality of canned beans has also improved over the years, making them a reliable choice for those days when you just don’t have the time—or desire—to start from scratch.


Crisp green alfalfa sprouts still grace many a salad and sandwich, but other sprout varieties can also be found in the Produce department. Troy Gardens provides us with a variety of fresh sprouts, including alfalfa, lentil, and mixed bean sprouts. Many folks still like to keep some sprouts growing in the kitchen—they are a great nutritional asset, easy to grow and one of the only sources of fresh local greens during a Wisconsin winter.

Dark chocolate

Surprise...we have learned that dark chocolate is good for us! Well, in moderation anyway! Carob still has its fans, but the chocoholics among us are grateful for the huge array of fair trade chocolate bars that are found at the Co-op today. And who would have ever thought that we’d be eating dried blueberries in our chocolate bars?

Whole foods are still the way to go

All things considered, whole foods are still the way to go, bringing us the best nutritional value for a reasonable amount of money and keeping a huge assortment of additives in the chemistry labs where they originated.

In his recently published book, In Defense of Food, author Michael Pollan discusses the health and environmental problems associated with the typical Western diet. Interestingly, many of the traditional diets he describes as healthier models look an awful lot like “hippie food,” incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. If meat is eaten, Pollan encourages people

to know what the meat animal ate and to partake in small, condiment-style portions. I guess you could say that hippie food is healthy food—groovy!