If You Love Me Don’t Feed Me Junk
For the past 3 years I’ve slowly been sorting through a half dozen boxes of papers, slides and photographs. The materials make up an archive from my parents, Suzanne Wechsler (formerly Levine) and Rick Levine, that document their involvement in the Twin Cities counterculture movement between 1975 and 1981. Through a residency at the Wedding Cake House and a year-long Material Histories of Home Economics seminar, I was able to begin sorting through the thousands of slides and consider questions about the natural food movement that the archive has brought up for me. The entire research process has been non-linear, slow and is ongoing.
In the late 1960s after graduating high school in Southern California, Suzanne attended 2 years at Fullerton College in California where she received a scholarship from the Home Economics department to pursue a career in early childhood education. This was also where she was first exposed to the natural foods community. While struggling with some health issues, Suzanne decided to actively take care of herself. She was inspired to grow her own food with no toxic chemicals, later learning the term “organic.”
After graduation Suzanne moved to the Twin Cities where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. It was here she met her first husband, Rick Levine, and found the community she invested in, pursuing her interests that revolved around teaching, cooking, nutrition, vegetarian diet, food preservation, organic gardening, and natural childbirth. Her papers including press clippings, resumes, brochures, pamphlets and promotional material for events and nutritional programming and cooking classes she was teaching both at home and in community, food demos with natural foods, gardening, growing sprouts, and documentation of her home kitchen spaces saved from this era are invaluable to what was happening during that period of time in the local community and make up half of the archive.
Rick moved to Minneapolis in the early 1970s after graduating from Stony Brook University in New York. He was a hobby photographer, had a deep interest in literature, design, and astrology, and was an early pioneer of utilizing computer technology. Married after only 3 months knowing each other, Rick obsessively documented the early stages of their relationship. This includes Suzanne’s workshops, classes, and their homelife. The thousands of 35mm slides from this time period came into my possession in boxes, unsorted and mostly unlabeled.
At the foundation of my research is my motivation to amplify the under-recognized labor of women that I believe shaped the way we view, consume and think about natural food today. I am interested in looking at the details in this collection, what’s on the shelf and in the fridge, the easily overlooked background information that can be invaluable to decoding a time and place. Categorizing the research by topics and themes, allowed me to structure my thoughts. What impact, if any, did Home Economics have on the counterculture movement? Were community cooking classes, home gardening, and the Women’s Movement central to the Natural Foods Movement and where did these overlaps happen? Did Suzanne’s lifetime devotion to good food, cooking, teaching, and ideas around marketing new products help shape the development of the aesthetic that we now know as “organic” and lend to how we consume “healthy” food today?
What is the Natural Food Movement?
“There have been three major reform movements, or waves, related to food and health in the United States….”
The first wave, which went from the 1820s to the 1890s, is generally called the health reform movement.
The second wave, which went from the 1890s to the 1960s, is called the health foods movement.
The third wave, which started in the mid-1960s and continued until the present, is called the natural foods movement.
Source: History of Natural & Organic Foods Movement
“[The natural foods movement] was founded largely by young men and women who came of age during the period from 1960 to 1980. They discovered, to their surprise, that most food crops grown since the 1940s, were produced using chemical herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers….It was quite difficult to obtain traditional, natural foods – even at health food stores. These young people, most of whom considered themselves part of the counterculture (they had fought against the Vietnam War and racial segregation, and for women’s rights) decided to try to create a new food system.” History of Natural & Organic Foods Movement (1942-2020), pg 1065
There are a few formative books that led Suzanne into the world of Natural Food. These titles were not only highly influential to her, but to thousands of others involved in the movement. Her dog-eared personal copies from that time period allow me a material connection to her experience:
Let’s Cook It Right by Adelle Davis, 1947 edition
Back to Eden: The Classic Guide to Herbal Medicine, Natural Foods, and Home Remedies By Jethro Kloss, 1975 edition
If You Love Me Don’t Feed Me Junk by Sandy Gooch, 1983. Reston Publishing Company, Inc.
History of Natural & Organic Foods Movement (1942-2020) by William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi
The Far Out History Of How Hippie Food Spread Across America, Menaka Wilhelm, NPR, 2018
FOOD: Transforming the American Table: Countercultures, National Museum of American History exhibition, 2012
Did Home Economics Impact the Natural Food Movement?
Did Home Economics influence or impact the ways that (predominantly) women participated in the natural foods movement?
In the opening of her 1986 book Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, Laura Shapiro says “The women who founded and led the domestic science movement were deeply interested in food, not because they admitted to any particularly intense appetite for it, but because it offered the easiest and most immediate access to the homes of the nation. If they could reform American eating habits, they could reform Americians; and so, with the zeal so often found in educated, middle-class women born with more brains and energy than they were supposed to possess, they set about changing what Americans ate and why they ate it.”
With the assistance of her 2-year Home Economics scholarship Suzanne recalled “having access to the modern kitchenette stations pressed me to learn how to prepare food, and the [Home Economics] department is at the root of the comfort I have for being in the kitchen. All the language I developed around food, thinking about sourcing, preserving, and preparing, started in that program.” In 1978 at the Minnesota Governor’s Conference on Food and Nutrition Suzanne presented on the panel Home Processing: Canning, Freezing, Drying and Root Storage, on dehydrating food (image 10).
No Other Occupation “Just a home-maker’ Challenges and responsibilities of American mothers; includes statistics from a Bureau of Home Economics’ study of 1000 wives, 1930
Did Home Economics Empower Women? Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 2021
The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live by Danielle Dreilinger
The Role of Community Cooking Classes Within the Natural Foods Movement
Suzanne segued into teaching cooking classes from her experience doing food demos at work. She realized there was an interest from her community to learn how to cook with the foods being introduced through the health food stores and co-op’s. Her classes were held at home in her kitchen and later offered through her employer Nutrition World.
WHOLE FOODS WORKSHOPS, offered under Aquarian Ventures, the umbrella business that Rick also offered his astrological services under. On this flier you could sign up for two classes; INTRODUCTION TO WHOLE FOODS and COOKING WITH WHOLE FOODS (meal included) costing you between $5 and $8.50. Some topics you could expect to learn about were:
- Cleaning up your health by cleaning up your kitchen
- How to think meatless
- How to read labels
- Food additive awareness
- Meal planning
- Live foods: fresh juices and indoor gardening
- Cooking nut loafs, burgers and vegetables
- Using all those leftovers
- Kitchen helpers; blenders, juicers, & seedmills
How Carob Traumatized a Generation, Jonathan Kauffman, The New Yorker, 2018
The Natural Food Aesthetic
Dehydrators, ball jars, sprouting tools, wooden utensils, juicers…these are some of the visible objects in the images of the archive. And then there are cookbooks, piles and piles of cookbooks.
I grew up in a kitchen filled with a very specific feel and look. Jars filled with bulk grains and spices, wooden utensils crammed into ceramic crocs, posters with nutritional information and diagrams of flowers and herbs. Our main appliances were a champion juicer, a dehydrator, a blender, and spouting tools. Then there were the shelves and stacks of cookbooks. As I worked through the papers I reflected on Suzanne’s role within what became known as the natural foods industry. Later in her career she shifted from recipe development and food demos to sales and marketing, hired at mainstream grocery chains, recognizing there was money to be made. I have a specific memory of her sharing an idea for recreating the feel of a small health food store in the middle of a regular grocery store by adding different flooring, natural wood, green strips to the shelves to signify “health food”, and bulk bins. While this may sound normal to us now, it was incredibly radical at the time and changed the way health food was available to mainstream consumers, at least in the Pacific Northwest where we were living at the time.
This idea of recreating the feel of a health food store made me look around for descriptions of the look and smell of these radical new spaces. It made me think about the kitchen I grew up in and the products I buy today. What is the material culture of the natural foods movement? Do these items constitute a natural foods aesthetic?
Both color and packaging have been cited as marketing tools to flag products as healthy or eco friendly. White, green, and brown are frequently used for marketing healthy food, as well as brown paper packaging that is considered eco-friendly. This aesthetic can lead consumers to believe the food inside is higher quality or sustainably produced, even when it’s not. Is the natural foods movement responsible for these subliminal markers used to sell us “healthy” food today?
FOOD: Transforming the American Table, the National Museum of American History exhibition
Dr. Ketchum, Alex, 2019. Special Series on Cookbook Literature/Historiography #2: Environmental Countercultural Cookbooks
Objects for Preparing Food, exhibition catalog, Record Unit 333 – National Museum of American Art and Portrait Gallery Library, Exhibition Records, circa 1910-1986, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
What She Ate by Laura Shapiro
Feminism, Organizing Models, and Corporate “Selling Out”
“In addition to wanting to create an alternative to mainstream society and culture, they [counterculture women] were seeking to escape the confines of suburban domesticity, the kinds of structures that had governed their mothers’ lives” … “Resulting in a reinvention of domesticity to fit into their lifestyle choices. Growing their own food, raising animals, going back-to-the-land and learning about holistic healthcare such as midwifery and holistic medicine.” Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture
As folks of the counterculture movement of the 1970s began to get older, they brought elements of their lifestyles into their careers and start-up businesses. Suzanne’s professional trajectory is a model example. Her grassroots cooking classes eventually developed into a 1983 cross-country move, first to work as the food project coordinator for Health Valley in 1982, then as the director of food project at Mrs. Gooch’s (1983-1987). Mrs. Gooch’s reportedly set a standard for the entire natural foods industry and later sold to Whole Foods Markets in 1993. This was the first of many corporate positions she had developing recipes, programming and promoting natural and organic foods.
The corporatization of natural foods has allowed the general public to have easier access to foods that used to be difficult, if not impossible, to find. It has also altered the language we use. For example, whole foods didn’t always refer to the now 40+ year old grocery chain, Whole Foods. Purchased by by Amazon in 2017, Whole Foods is on the extreme end of the current natural food brick and mortar experience, bringing natural foods to the public at inflated prices. Far from its grassroots beginnings in Austin, TX, Whole Foods is not the only example of a store born with counter culture, co-op roots that ended up selling out. Many of these stores around the United States, like Mrs. Gooch’s, actually sold to Whole Foods in the 90s. At the other end of the current spectrum are the small stores and co-ops that remain worker-owned, like the Seward Community Co-Op in Minneapolis, currently celebrating their 50-year anniversary.
Consumers now wield more power than ever with access to endless information and online shopping options. The most radical act, and a very privileged one at that, is finding a balance between the lightest carbon footprint and best labor practices.
Peace, Love, and Credit Where It’s Due: Women of the Counterculture, Emma, Silvers, KQED 2017
Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo
Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture took on the Food Industry by Warren J. Belasco
Why We Cook: Women on Food, Identity, and Connection by Lindsay Gardner
The Food Conspiracy Cookbook: How to Start a Neighborhood Buying Club and Eat Cheaply by Lois Wickstrom
Suzanne Wecshler is currently living in Skagit County working alongside her husband at their organic dairy Samish Bay Cheese and hoping to retire soon to focus on relaxing and continuing her love for recipe development and food. Since 1974, she has been devoted to the advancement of healthy eating and natural foods. Through grassroots and corporate work she helped shape the way we taste and consume them today.
Rick Levine is a master astrologer who has spent the last three decades devoted to expanding the field of astrology. He has an active patron account, releases monthly YouTube videos and is working on a new book about quantum astrology. Levine actively teaches and lectures internationally, to keep up with his programing follow @ricklevineastrologer or @rickmerlin.
All images credited to Rick Levine unless otherwise noted