David Loves Belinda

October 21st, 2010

Let’s Talk About Food at The Museum of Science in Boston

October 6th, 2010

This weekend is the kickoff the MOS new Food initiative “Let’s Talk About Food”!

Here’s a good link on Public Radio Kitchen: http://www.publicradiokitchen.org/2010/10/06/talking-about-food-at-the-mos

Here’s the Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
—Museum of Science launches new initiative and public program series,
Let’s Talk About Food—
Museum invites visitors to explore what we eat and why it matters with events, evening
discussions, and a waterfront cooking lesson with Boston’s best chefs
BOSTON (September 28, 2010) — This harvest season, New Englanders will discover the savory side of
science when the Museum of Science launches Let’s Talk About Food, a celebration and exploration of
what we eat and why it matters. Under this new initiative, the Museum will present an ongoing series of
public programs that spotlight how food influences our culture and shapes our health and environment.
Starting October 2010, the Museum invites visitors to explore the art, science, and culture of food from
varied perspectives, alongside culinary luminaries like Mark Bittman, Jody Adams, Corby Kummer,
and Tiffani Faison. Fall programs will include a waterfront cooking lesson with Boston’s best chefs; a
screening of the film, FRESH; and a program that will challenge high school students to design a healthy,
tasty, and planet-friendly school lunch with the help of urban gardening experts, nutritionists, and Craigie
on Main Chef Tony Maws. At citizen discussion group events, including a forum moderated by Adam
Ragusea of WBUR-FM, the public will carefully consider food system issues like health and nutrition,
food security, food access, fisheries, and land use, and make informed recommendations about what
solutions should be implemented. In spring 2011 the Museum will share these recommendations with
policymakers, stakeholders, and the broader public – and celebrate with an outdoor festival of food and
science.
“The Museum strives to inspire visitors to explore how current science and technology are integral in
shaping our culture. We’re thrilled to welcome the public to the Museum’s ‘endless table’ for this open
conversation and examination of food through the scientific lenses of health and sustainability,” said
Museum president & director Ioannis Miaoulis. Miaoulis, a former dean of the School of Engineering at
Tufts University, developed a course called Gourmet Engineering and is passionate about the science
and technology behind food and cooking. “Food shapes our lives, culture, and world in complex and
unpredictable ways. We hope that the Let’s Talk About Food initiative will help demystify important
aspects of the food system and inspire discussion that will lead to future solutions.”
Earlier this year as part of its current science and technology offerings, the Museum presented public
programs focused on food to enthusiastic crowds. In response to the popularity of these programs and
public interest in the topic, the Museum created a two-year series dedicated to the exploration of food
issues. Writer and journalist Louisa Kasdon, who moderated the Museum’s panel discussion at a
packed screening of the film, Food Inc. last spring, has joined Let’s Talk About Food as project
consultant.
“Everyone needs to, and loves to talk about food. But we need to bring together all aspects of the food
discussion under one Big Tent, where everything from discussions on what to do about obesity, the pros
and cons of farmed fish, the mysteries of molecular gastronomy, the science of taste, and the issues of
sustainability, food security and food safety—can be explored in an enlightened, educated and
entertaining forum,” said Kasdon. She added, “I believe that this museum has a unique opportunity to be
that Big Tent and to lead the way for other science museums across the country.”
While developing this initiative, the Museum invited feedback from diverse members of the New England
food community, including representatives from farmer’s markets, restaurants, government, non-profits,
schools and universities, culinary writers, filmmakers, and medical professionals. Their perspectives and
contributions will help shape the topics and events that the Museum will present in the next two years.
LET’S TALK ABOUT FOOD: PROGRAM INFORMATION
Food for Thought: What’s For Lunch?
Part of the Museum’s High School Science Series
Friday, October 8, 10 a.m.
Nutritionists, public health researchers, scientists, and chefs outline the issues concerning school
lunches, health, sustainability, and food justice. Through hands-on activities, 300 high school students
will learn skills for making better choices about food: how do you create an urban garden; what are
properties of the nutritional components in popular foods; and how does graphic information system
(GIS) mapping of food systems show the path food takes to your table? Mayor Thomas M. Menino will
welcome students, and Chef Tony Maws (Craigie on Main) will work with kids to make and deconstruct
a simple, delicious, and affordable meal. Students had the opportunity to make recommendations for
improving school lunches, and one student’s submission will win them the chance to cook side-by-side
with a master chef at the Citizen Chefs Meet Boston’s Best event taking place the next day. Supported in
part by the Lowell Institute.
Food for Thought: Setting the Agenda
Friday, October 8, 7 p.m. Free
Lilian Cheung, director, health promotion and communication, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of
Public Health and co-author, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life; and Karen Spiller, project director,
Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, Boston Public Health Commission. Moderated by Adam
Ragusea, WBUR.
Food is a basic human need and connects our biology with our culture. As demand for food increases, so
does the impact on our planet and our health. How safe is the food we eat? What critical issues face our
food supply? Listen to a panel discussion about the current state of our food system, then participate in a
discussion about future solutions. Print media sponsors: Stuff Magazine and The Phoenix. Radio
sponsor: WFNX
Citizen Chefs Meet Boston’s Best,
Saturday, October 9; 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Free
Jody Adams, Cheftestant, Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters and chef/owner, Rialto; Chris Douglass,
executive chef/owner, Tavolo and Ashmont Grill; Tiffani Faison, Top Chef finalist, contestant in this
year’s “Top Chef All-Stars” and chef, Rocca; Rahul Moolgaonkar, executive chef, Wolfgang Puck
Catering, Museum of Science; Jason Santos, contestant, Hell’s Kitchen and executive chef, Gargoyles
on the Square; and Ana Sortun, cheftestant, Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters and chef/owner, Oleana.
With experts Kathy McManus, Department of Nutrition Director at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and
Edith Murnane, Food Policy Director for the City of Boston. Emceed by Annie B. Copps, senior food
editor for Yankee Magazine
Imagine getting a cooking lesson from the most celebrated chefs in the city. Some of Boston’s best
chefs, including Jody Adams, Jason Santos, Ana Sortun, and Chris Douglass, working side-by-side with
citizen cooks, share their secrets for success while preparing a meal in the Museum’s picturesque
waterfront pavilion. Each culinary couple will create a delicious, healthy meal that is planet-friendly and
can be prepared at home. Experts will then discuss the meals through the scientific lenses of nutrition
and sustainability and offer tips for great cooking at home. Print media sponsors: Stuff Magazine and
The Phoenix. Radio sponsor: WFNX
“Like” the Museum of Science on Facebook for a Chance to Cook with a Celebrity Chef!
Submit by Tuesday, October 5; Winner announced Wednesday, October 6
Ever dream of cooking with a celebrity chef? Clueless about how to create meals that are delicious,
planet-friendly, and affordable? The Museum of Science is giving its Facebook fans a chance to cook
side-by-side with one of Boston’s master chefs, including Jody Adams (Rialto), Chris Douglass (Ashmont
Grill/Tavolo), Tiffani Faison (Rocca), Jason Santos (Gargoyles on the Square), and Ana Sortun (Oleana),
at the Citizen Chefs Meet Boston’s Best event, Saturday, October 9, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. “Like” us on
Facebook then tell or show us why you should be chosen on facebook.com/museumofscience by
October 5; extra points for photos, video, or recipes! A winner will be announced on October 6.
Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating
With Mark Bittman, bestselling author and TV personality
Wednesday, November 3; 7 p.m. $28
Mark Bittman is known for his no-nonsense style and no-frills approach to cooking. Drawing links
between diet, health, and climate change, the popular food writer shows us how our bodies and our
planet are paying the price for overproduction and overconsumption of food. In Food Matters, Bittman
takes the mystery out of what terms like “organic” and “agricultural sustainability” mean to focus on what
small, but powerful things we can do to eat in an environmentally responsible and budget-friendly way.
He explains how to eat more consciously and to become less reliant on animal products and nutritionally
worthless food. By making simple adjustments to his diet, Bittman lost 35 pounds, improved his health,
and reduced his carbon footprint. Join us for an evening that will make you rethink your relationship with
food. Tickets for the general public go on sale Thursday, September 30 at the Museum box office, by
phone at 617-723-2500, and online at store.mos.org. This program is part of the Celebrity Science
Series, spotlighting luminaries of science, technology, and culture, and the Let’s Talk About Food series,
inviting visitors to find out how food influences our culture and shapes our health and environment.
Funding provided by the Reno Family Foundation. Sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare.
RELATED OFFERING
Your World, Our Story: Be Part of a New Exhibit
Website launches September 29
The Museum is planning a new gallery experience: one that is built by you! In the new Hall of Human
Life, your participation will be key to the exhibit’s message on human health and biology, and you can get
started by submitting to our new site today. The exhibit focuses on five areas that reflect our role in a
changing environment: food, physical forces, living organisms, social experiences, and time. First up is
food — one of our lifelines as humans. Send us your photos and videos that show us not just what you’re
eating, but its impact on you and your environment: how does food change you? How do you impact
your food environment through your eating habits? How does this vary amongst other people, or in
different parts of the world? Give us some context by describing your submission in 100 words or less.
Your multimedia story could be selected to appear both on this website and in the new exhibit! Get
started: mos.org/create
Let’s Talk About Food is supported by Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare. A complete list of events is
available at mos.org/food. For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit
mos.org/food or call 617-723-2500, (TTY) 617/589-0417.
About the Museum of Science, Boston
The Museum takes a hands-on approach to science, engineering, math, and technology, attracting about 1.5 million visitors a
year via its programs and 700 interactive exhibits. Founded in 1830, the Museum was first to embrace all the sciences under
one roof. Highlights include the Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon
Current Science & Technology Center, 3-D Digital Cinema and Butterfly Garden. Reaching 25,000 teens a year worldwide via
the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, the Museum also leads a multi-museum, $20 million National Science Foundationfunded
nanotechnology education initiative. The Museum’s “Science Is an Activity” exhibit plan has been awarded many NSF
grants and influenced science centers worldwide. Its National Center for Technological Literacy® aims to enhance knowledge of
engineering and technology for people of all ages and inspire the next generation of engineers, inventors, and scientists. Visit

http://www.mos.org.

Press Contacts (Images Available):
Sofiya Cabalquinto: 617/589-0251 or scabalquinto@mos.org
Lauren Crowne: 617/589-0250 or lcrowne@mos.org
Let’s Talk About Food on Twitter: #mosfood or @museumofscience
Let’s Talk About Food on Facebook: facebook.com/museumofscience

Dun Gifford –Profile by Louisa Kasdon for Boston Magazine 1999

May 13th, 2010

It’s hard to imagine Dun Gifford as anything other than to remember him loping across a room, bee-lining me or anyone else he was happy to see, with a big, rib crusher of hug, and a “life is fabulous” beam on his face. I realized when I heard that Dun had died, still breathless from a trip to Australia (and wherever else he’s been in the last twelve minutes), I didn’t actually believe it. He couldn’t be dead. Dun was one of the immortals.

So, I remember Dun with a copy of the profile I wrote of him for Boston Magazine in 1998. It was tetchy interviewing for that piece. Dun disquieted some of the greatest names in the food world. But he was impossible to dislike and yet he rankled a lot of the more purist members of the fooderati. But ultimately Dun accomplished a huge task –he catalyzed a community of scientists, cooks, chefs, food writers, wine writers and made friends from coast to coast, continent to continent. My hand over my heart for his kids, for Sara, and for Pebble. He is a hard loss.

A Profile of K. Gifford

K. Dun Gifford may well be Boston’s answer to Forrest Gump. A mature version of the smart and cheerful captain of the football team at an old-line Yankee boarding school, Dun Gifford just keeps cropping up all over the place. On June 25th, 1956, the young Dun Gifford and his family were on the Andrea Doria the night it collided with The Stockholm and sank. In ‘68, Gifford was in San Francisco cradling Robert Kennedy’s head when he was assassinated, and he was once again on the scene in Chappaquiddick in 1969 to identify Mary Jo Kopechne’s body and accompany her casket home to Pennsylvania. Gifford sailed on one of the defenders of the America’s Cup. He built office parks and shopping centers, and helped manage the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Now, the six-foot-four and a half-inch-sixty-year old patrician hopes to be on the scene of another major event in America, the revolutionizing of its eating habits. In particular the kind of fat you eat. Not the amount, just the type. You have Dun Gifford and his colleagues at Oldways Preservation Trust to thank for the proliferation of those cute little carafes of extra virgin olive oil now served with your bread basket instead of butter. He wants you to vote with your fork.

Leaning back in his chair, leg extended to nurse a knee injury, Gifford expostulates in an exposed brick and wood beamed office Oldways in East Cambridge, with the kind of bonhomie that makes some guys cringe – as if they are re-visiting their experience as third-string bench warmers on the freshman squad. Never one to think small, Gifford founded the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust in 1988, because he became convinced that Americans were killing themselves by what they put in their mouths. As someone with a life long passion for food (one of his earliest memories is of sitting in his grandmother’s Rhode Island kitchen and listening to the cook puzzle over how to make a cake with “no white flour” as per grandma’s decree), and a personal history of “being an agent for social change”, Gifford set out to change our eating habits “one forkful at a time”.

With Gifford playing Elmer Gantry, Oldways has launched an almost evangelical campaign to tell the world that they way we used to eat is the way we should be eating. Using his considerable charm and marketing instincts, Gifford and his band organize mega scientific and culinary conferences in exotic surroundings around the world bringing together influential food writers, chefs, nutritionists and physicians among others to educate them on the physiological and sensual superiority of what people ate before there were supermarkets and food courts. Once convinced, these opinion leaders go forth and spread the gospel. The gospel is called the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

The Mediterranean Diet mimics the traditional eating patterns of Crete, Greece and Southern Italy. It’s a plant based diet which relies on lots of olive oil, legumes, grains and vegetables and only small amounts of meats and sweets and it’s also a diet which public health research declares will drastically reduce the rate of chronic diseases such a heart disease and cancer in America. Bolstered by the support and blessing of the World Health Association and the Harvard School of Public Health, Gifford and Oldways have gone to war against the USDA and its familiar Basic Four Food Group pyramid (the one you memorized in your Junior High Health class) and developed its own rival pyramid, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

Unlike the USDA guidelines, which lump all proteins in one group, and all fats and carbohydrates in another, the Oldways Pyramid differentiates between the kinds of proteins and the kind of fats, advising carnivores to substitute chickpeas for chicken, and olive oils for butter. But it is not a no-drinking no-fun vegetarian diet, Oldways simply recommends reducing the servings of red meat to a few times per month, and servings of poultry and fish to a few times per week. Oldways even recommends a daily glass or two of wine as a boon to mankind. Their most revolutionary tenet is that unsaturated fats like olive oil should account for thirty per cent or more of our caloric intake and that a plant oil based is in fact healthier than a non-fat regimen. “We don’t talk about carbohydrates – we talk about potatoes and yams. Cheese and nuts. There’s no carbohydrate or protein aisle in the supermarket,” says Gifford. “ If you talk about carbohydrates – people just tune out. Initially, the people in the nutrition establishment hated us because we were challenging the whole basis of their approach – invite a calculator and your girlfriend to lunch”. Ten years into the campaign, the USDA has begun to re-write the rules for healthy eating and re-jigger their pyramid to resemble Oldway’s. Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health says, “Dun Gifford has built an essential bridge between nutritional scientists and those who make the menus and prepare the food…Oldways has made an enormous contribution to the public’s understanding of a healthful diet…dispelling the phobias about fat”. Gifford wasn’t fazed in the least bit by taking on the nutrition establishment. He figures that he’s been preparing for this battle throughout his whole eclectic life.

Born in 1938 in Providence to a family that traces its blood lines back to John Brown and the Quakers who founded Rhode Island, blue-eyed blonde Gifford was the oldest son in a family with high expectations for their children. “I still can see the chair my mother sat in when she told me to remember that I came from a family that was given much and gave back more. A family that had produced senators and governors and that as the oldest, I was probably the one to carry the torch for civic responsibility”. Clearly, the parental messages for success and excellence hit home with all three Gifford boys. Younger brother Jock is a successful businessman on Nantucket, and little brother Chad runs BankBoston. Sister Bambi is a (tk). But in addition to the spine-straightening stuff, Dun Gifford’s parents also produced a self-described sensualist who can “still smell the pies baking and the bread rising” in his grandparents home where he lived with his mother while his father was off fighting World War II. He remembers the Sunday after-church roast lamb dinners with mint jelly, clamming and fishing with his family on Nantucket, and the beach-plum jelly the family made and the boys sold by the roadside as part of their contribution to buy “at least the hubcaps” for the family jeep. He also recalls when his Dad, a crusty Scots Presbyterian from Kentucky (who was by then President of Rhode Island Hospital Trust, the bank that became Fleet), decided to start a wine cellar in 1948, “taking the grown men downstairs for a tour and coming upstairs laughing”. Wine got to be part of the sensual thing for Dun too.

The food thing stayed with Dun, even as he went off to boarding school at St. George’s and Harvard College. He still savored his Nantucket summer excursions to go blueberry picking with his father and sibs and to the farmer’s market with his Mom. “Dun was always very interested in family roots and tradition, ” brother Chad says. But the conventional expectations for a big, smart and privileged male WASP captured his career next. Graduating from college in 1960, he enlisted in the Navy. When Gifford returned to Boston three years later for law school at Harvard, he was already a husband and father, having married Gladys, (universally called Pebble), now a successful Cambridge real estate agent and community activist who is one of the prime movers of the Harvard Square Defense Fund, a group that among other agenda items, keeps fast-food restaurants out of Harvard Square.

Although Gifford says it was not his intention to go into the public sector after law school, he spent one of his Summer vacations in law school working in Washington as a legislative assistant for Rhode Island Senator, Claiborne Pell. The stint in Washington led his mentor and law school Professor Charles Harr to tap Gifford as his assistant to help draft the legislation for President Johnson’s Task Force on the Cities, the legislation which enabled the office of Housing and Urban Development. “Johnson was a little loony,” Gifford says, “ dispatching jet planes to pick us up in Boston and fly us to Chicago to meet people he thought we should get to know. Pretty heady stuff for a law student”. Heady enough for Gifford to turn down a right-out-of-law school job with Goodwin, Proctor & Hoar and return to Washington to work for full-time HUD in 1966 as it was being founded.

After HUD, Gifford sashayed over to Ted Kennedy’s office and became one of the Senator’s legislative assistants. The natural next step for big-picture Dun was to enlist in Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign for the Presidency where alongside with Rosie O’Grier, he says that he was one of the men who wrestled with and subdued Sirhan Sirhan. There is a bit of skepticism about the magnitude of his role in the fisticuffs, but a Providence Journal photograph does show Gifford and Grier kneeling beside the stricken Kennedy’s head. “It took us all a long time to recover after Bobby’s death. I went back to Teddy’s office. I needed the continuity,” says Gifford. The next snapshot is of Dun on Saturday morning press conference in Chappaquiddick. “I was the tall obvious guy from Kennedy’s office, and everybody just sort of expected that I could answer the questions” he says. Actually, it was slightly more complex than that. Dun got a call at his home in Nantucket on Friday night asking him to come to the Vineyard right away. He won’t reveal who phoned him. And Dun was the one charged with identifying the body, “dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s”, dealing with the coroner and the death certificate and accompanying the casket. “Mary Jo had worked for me in the ‘boiler room’. I couldn’t help her, but I could help the Kennedy and Kopechne families deal with the crisis.”

By 1970, Dun and his growing family got tired of the psychic rewards of public sector life (“It’s hard for a guy with three little boys to live on $17,000 a year”), and returned to Boston and a corporate career as a Vice President and Assistant to the Chairman of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, Gerald Blakey. Blakely, (who has since sold CC&F to the Marshall Field Company), describes Gifford “as a brilliant and creative person with terrific instincts” Blakeley also remembers Gifford as “a born evangelist with a great interest in food”. Developer Don Chiofaro, who worked at CC&F at the same time as Gifford says that “CC&F was a special kind of development company and a great incubator for entrepreneurs. It’s not a surprise that people like Mort Zuckerman, Federico Mansfield-Colloredo, and Dun Gifford came out of it. It doesn’t surprise me that Dun is taking on the world…he was always a big thinker”. Gifford ran CC&F division that built skyscrapers for a year. But Gifford’s legal background and recent Washington experience was fresh and valuable, and he became Blakely’s resource for the zoning and permitting issues that surrounded CC&F development projects from Arizona to Route 128. Gifford’s favorite part of his eight year CC&F tour, was his association with the Ritz Carlton, which CC&F owned, and his developing friendship with the legendary Charles Ritz. “Managing the Ritz was a job that fell to the most junior partner because hotels weren’t seen as important holdings like office towers”. Ritz and Gifford fell in love. Ritz invited Gifford to Paris to spend two weeks each summer in the hotel as his guest. “Ritz was on a mission to educate me. We went roof to sub-basement at the Ritz in Paris. He showed me the room where they kept all the recipes from the Ritz from time immemorial”. Gifford calls Ritz “wonderfully obsessive” and characterizes their relationship as one of the turning points in his life.

In 1972, motivated by a deep interest in open space planning, and egged on by Ted Kennedy, “Ted told me that Jack had always wanted to extend the Cape Cod National Sea Shore”, Gifford says, he researched and wrote a federal bill, the Nantucket Sounds Islands Trust, to protect the more fragile parts of the peninsula and the Island from overdevelopment. It did not pass the senate. “It was tragic. We came so damn close, but Nixon was President and the Senators from the West like Alan Simpson were afraid of the precedent the bill would set”, Gifford recalls.

In 1987, Gifford left CC&F to go into business for himself, founding a holding company for his business investments which included being the co-owner, manager, and investor in three local restaurants including the Harvest and starting a Faneuil Hall chocolate chip cookie company , Kilvert & Forbes, with pal, Senator John Kerry, (named after their mothers). Gifford also was the founding co-chairman of the Massachusetts Chapter of Common Cause. “Dun was always a ‘cause’ guy,” comments younger brother BankBoston President Chad Gifford. “His resume is much more interesting than mine. I’ve worked for the same bank for thirty years”. The elder Gifford did stints as CEO of the Nantucket Electric Company, as chairman of the London Harness Company, as a managing partner at Roscommon Capital Corp and also launched Gifford’s, a short-lived gourmet food mail order business. But although Gifford repeatedly refers to himself as a businessman, he readily admits that his efforts met with varying degrees of success. “I only worked in the corporate sector to meet the demands of supporting and educating four kids.” he explains. His passion for the big picture was stronger than his passion for the bottom line. And increasingly, his big picture passions took him into the realm of food and wine.

Gifford first met Julia Child through his brother Jock who owned the Straight Wharf restaurant in Nantucket where Child and her associate producer and friend Marion Morash were cooking. The friendship was a rewarding one. Julia introduced amateur food worshipper Dun Gifford to the world of the food establishment. In 1984, he became Julia’s hand-picked chairman of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food, the AIWF, a high profile organization that Child had founded along with vintner, Robert Mondavi. Gifford became chairman of the board of the national AIWF in 1988, a director of the National Wine Coalition in 1990, a trustee of the James Beard Foundation in 1991 and a corporator for most prestigious culinary school in America, the Culinary Institute of America, in 1995. Gifford was now sitting at the high table of the food world.

But “being controversial is part of being effective” Gifford says and by 1990, Gifford had starting collecting detractors. People who suspected that he was more of a serious social climber than a serious social activist. His outspokenness and confidence in his superior vision grated on some. It all came to a head at the AIWF.

The AIWF was formally founded in 1981 by Julia Child and vintners Richard Graff and Robert Mondavi, actor Danny Kaye, chefs Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters among others, to endow a serious educational center for the culinary arts and sciences to be located on the campus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. By all accounts, Julia Child devoted a huge proportion of her time to the organization – donating both her personal prestige as well as her personal checkbook. As other major donors were recruited, the AIWF hired a full-time executive director and began to publish a sumptuous magazine, The Journal of Gastronomy. Local chapters sprung up all across the country, with members meeting frequently for elegant fundraising dinners. Unsurprisingly, Boston, the home of the most recognizable apostle of the AIWF, Julia Child, became a major chapter and Dun Gifford her hand-picked first president. All give Gifford high marks for getting the local AIWF chapter rolling, but rumors of financial irregularity began to surface within the chapter with members divided over whether Gifford was the organization’s benefactor or a recipient. Gifford calls the rumors “ridiculous” and points out that he was one of the group’s major donors.

In 1988, Child realized that the national office of the AIWF was in trouble after years of expensive merriment and mismanagement by its lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous board of directors and its highly paid executive director George Trescher, (a party-planner from New York who had managed Caroline Kennedy’s wedding among other splashy do’s). The non-profit had plunged into more than a half-million debt and Child asked Gifford to step in and sort out the mess. Gifford says today, that if he had known the true size of the deficit, he would not have taken the position. He choked when he sat down to go over the books. “They had spent money like there was no tomorrow. Here I was a brand new member of the board and a brand new chairman and I had to deliver an unpopular message of fiscal restraint to all these important people in the food establishment…Julia Child, James Beard, Robert Mondavi.. I’m a businessman, and it’s not a big deal to trim expenses, but it was not a popular message and I took a lot of crap for it”. Gifford objected to the “unreasonable” six-figure salary paid to the well-liked executive director and told the board that a pay cut was in order. In short, Gifford’s message to the AIWF board was, keep doing what you are doing, and you will sink.

Simultaneously, philosophical rifts had opened in the AIWF with food activists like Alice Waters, chef-owner of San Francisco’s Chez Panisse, AIWF program director Greg Drescher, and author Nancy Harmon Jenkins who urged the organization to become more global and get involved in sustainable agriculture. On the other side were many of the most potent and vocal board members who really did not want to hear about pesticides and ecosystems. Julia Child says that she was not interested in “scaring people about food”. Nor were the large California wine-growers on the board not open to the gospel of organic agriculture. Ever one to think broadly, Dun Gifford’s evangelical soul became engaged in the fight.

“I was against the dumbing down of the organization. I wanted the organizational to become more international in its outlook. I felt that if the AIWF didn’t pay more than lip service to the Alice Waters’ constituency – the young chefs who were interested in cooking healthy and saving the planet – it was in danger of limiting itself and never reaching its goal of becoming a 50,000 member institution,” Gifford explains. In 1990, after two years of regularizing the finances of the AIWF, Gifford simply resigned from the board at the end of his two-year year term. But the very verbal food world contradicts Dun’s version of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the AIWF. Many recall that he was asked to resign because the incoming executive director refused to take the job unless he did so. Clark Wolf, a New York based food consultant who Gifford had actually recruited to join the AIWF board, calls Gifford “a patrician carney…so big, so white, so melodious that he could be selling snake oil” and accuses Gifford of “being an opportunist – hiring his relatives, taking the organization’s debt from $300,000 to $600,000 and trying to develop his AIWF position as chairman into something which would allow him to do whatever he wanted”.

In her 1997 biography of Julia Child, Appetite For Life, Noel Fitch Riley, states that AIWF benefactress Julia Child referred to Gifford’s behavior at AIWF as a “betrayal”. Gifford brushes off the book, noting that he has threatened to sue the publisher for libel and saying that “the passages about me are a total fabrication and the AIWF’s own books and records substantiate me. Julia knows better”. Child dismisses it all. She explains that “Dun sort of works in his own way and on his own things. He was already planning Oldways as he was planning to leave the AIWF”, she says. “I’ve always enjoyed Dun. He’s a lot of fun”. But the charges and counter-charges persist and rumors still circulate in the food world about whether Gifford resigned from the AIWF or was putsches -ed.

The idea for Oldways came to Dun Gifford in 1990, in the town in China where Confucius was born. He was on an AIWF sponsored trip and had been to a banquet the night before – “forty courses, each one light as a feather”. For the past few days, he had been puzzling over the fact that all the chefs he met in China were either over sixty-five or under twenty-five. In Shanghai, he finally asked one of the men in the Chinese cooking academy where all the middle aged cooks were. Risking governmental disapproval , the Chinese instructor explained that during the Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, cooking was considered a “bourgeois activity” and that all the chefs had been sent off for-re-education and all the cookbooks burned in huge bonfires. “Nothing was left. The splendor and tradition of Chinese cooking was gone. It all had to be re-invented”.. After the banquet, Gifford says he spent the whole night thinking, “the old ways have to be preserved”. And the idea flourished. Upon his return to Cambridge, Gifford went straight to the Bryn Mawr bookstore, purchased and packed off every book and old magazine he could find about Chinese cooking and mailed it off to his new friend in Shanghai.

Out of this experience, Gifford began to conceptualize Oldways as a 501-C3 non-profit foundation which would do three things – 1)recognize and celebrate the entwined traditions of culture and food, 2) support research into healthy diets and sustainable agriculture, and 3) use the media to educate the population on what to put on their plates and in their mouths.

Using his native skill for promotion and marketing, Gifford forged alliances with nutritionists at highly regarded institutions such as the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization. Greg Drescher, the imaginative program director from AIWF transferred over to Oldways as did Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Another early Oldways recruit was the International Olive Oil Consortium (IOOC) who pulled their sponsorship from AIWF to follow Drescher and Gifford to Oldways. Although accusations swirl within the food community, Gifford contends that Oldways neither “stole” sponsors nor talented staff like Drescher and Jenkins from AIWF; The money and talent flowed to Oldways as a consequence of support for the Oldways’s agenda. Clark Wolf, still a member of the AIWF board, counters that “two is not enough for Dun’s faces”.

Despite much industry backbiting, Oldways has flourished. At a seminal 1993 conference presented in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, Oldways unveiled its Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. The pyramid had emerged as a result of an earlier Oldways conference which Associate Professor Frank Sacks credits as being the moment where scientists, chefs, and the media simultaneously discovered or re-discovered academic findings made in the 80’s which suggested that a diet high in natural vegetable fat led to the lowest levels of coronary artery disease. “The discussion about the superiority of the Mediterranean diet became mainstream as a result of Oldways. Dun is a brilliant communicator and synthesizer. He can talk scientists, chefs, the media, historians and anthropologists and gain respect in all quarters,” Dr. Sacks says. Barbara Haber, curator at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library gives Gifford and Oldways much of the credit for creating the trend towards Mediterranean cooking. “Dun waged a very classy kind of educational campaign to publicize the health benefits of the Mediterranean style of eating. No dancing bottles of olive oil. The beauty is that it’s a delicious product”.

Gifford, acting as an Olympian scale dinner host, took his quarries on fabulous field trips. Organizing research conferences in exotic spots such as Porto Carras, Greece, Barcelona and Seville, Istanbul, Tunisia, Morocco and Tuscany, all locales where the local eating patterns reflected traditions to treasure and a quality of life to emulate. The guest list was assembled with savvy – top level food writers, academic nutritionists, historians, anthropologists and chefs who all were able to get an overview of where food fits into culture. Boston Magazine food critic, Corby Kummer, who went on several of the trips, calls them “ a food writer’s Fulbright”.

The Mediterranean Pyramid has now been joined by siblings : an Asian pyramid, the Latin American pyramid, and the Vegetarian pyramid have been added to the family. each reflecting a different cultural twist on healthy eating. Oldways has become an international organization with more than 400 hundred sponsors underwriting its annual $ mm budget. Initiatives such as Chef’s Collaborative, a powerful national organization of more than 1500 chefs who are dedicated to organic farming and sustainable cuisine has been created under Oldways aegis. The group supports local farmers and operates far-reaching educational programs to get the message of healthy eating into the classrooms. Chris Schlesinger, chef-owner of the East Coast Grille and one of the founders of the Chef’s Collaborative, credits Gifford and Oldways with “framing the discussion, and giving (him) a real perspective on the way food binds cultures together”. Jody Adams. chef and co-owner of Rialto, says “Dun is a visionary”. Even the cranks at the USDA now give grudging approval to the Oldways pyramid. In the April 1997 Nutrition Insights bulletin, the USDA admits that “the Oldways Diet pyramids illustrate eating patterns consistent with current nutritional recommendations”. Translation: Oldways got it right.

And Gifford, luxuriating in the excitement of the adulation and of being in the thick of social change, couldn’t be happier. “I’ve made a lot of enemies, but I have a lot of friends. I calculate my success based on how many minds I’ve changed each day.” So every time you reach for the olive oil, remember to thank Uncle Dun.

The Waterford Inn in Provincetown

April 2nd, 2010

We had to get out of the house and awy from the lap top, the desk top, and the remote control.

Just the thing for good weather getaway in the off season. Right on Commercial Street in P’town. Brand new owners as of last summer who put heart, soul, and quite a bit of cash into the refurbishment. Fantastic views and a first-class restaurant in cafe. If it was this good in Late March….how terrific in June?

Rant #26 “Prepared to My Liking”

January 28th, 2010

Prepared to “My Liking”?

I’m about to embarrass myself the next time I go out to eat. There is a new catch phrase that is driving me bonkers. “Is everything to your liking?” What the hell is my “liking”?

It is entirely possible that I will say something so super-snarky that I might become one of those diners with a not-so-nice comments in my guest profile. But if I write about it before I say it, my good-natured dining persona might be preserved.

The question usually floats across the table during the “check-back,” the useful, considerate, moment when a well-trained server circles back to your table, shortly after serving the meal but before you’ve tucked in too deeply to a dish. The point is to make sure that everything is as it should be. Not too cold, or too rare, not too salty, not too spicy. It’s a good and important table service moment. In a busy kitchen anything can happen. An extra flick of the hot chili oil, a rare instead of a medium rare. Salt mistaken for sugar.

It’s mincing words, I know. Turning a courtesy into tiny meaningless chiffonades. The server is trying to be courteous, solicitous, even when they don’t hang around long enough to hear my answer. And truthfully, I hardly ever have anything to say. I’m not a picky eater. Rare, medium rare, more or less. Almost all restaurant meals are more or less okay for me if I like the company and I’m being treated with warmth. But the question confuses me. I know how to answer, “Is everything all right?”, or, “How is everything?” and lots of equivalent queries. But asking me about “my liking” is confusing for me. Do I like the dish? I can answer that easily. Yes, I do. Or, No, I don’t, and here’s the problem. Is “liking,” meant as a synonym for my “fondness” for the flavor balance, or the texture? Or do I think there’s too much eggplant purple and it’s overwhelming the red of the marinara? I don’t really know how to answer. Maybe “liking” is vaguely British, and I am so solidly American, that I miss the nuance. But next time you see me, at a table, with a server hovering, a question hanging in the air? Please come and clamp your hand over my mouth before I say something snarky.

Wellesley Rocks!

January 25th, 2010

RE: The Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs

From: Louisa Kasdon ‘72

I have never been as proud of being an alumna of Wellesley College than I am at this moment. It has been a great honor for me to be asked to cover the 2010 Inaugural year of the Albright Institute by the Wellesley College Alumnae magazine.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been able to watch the program go from being a well-crafted schedule of speakers and forums, to a life changing experience that will groom and guarantee that the forty fellows (Wellesley College juniors and seniors) will be among the global leaders of their generation. I was awed by the speakers – Wellesley faculty, and the remarkable group of Wellesley alums that came as “professors of the practice”; and by Madeleine Albright who spent the third and final week of the Institute with the kids: three hours each morning listening to student presentations, and two hours each afternoon sitting on a panel. She had dinners, teas, and went to a basketball game too!

Each morning, two groups of students presented a policy plan on one of the eight Millennium Development Goals; MDG’s in UN speak. The MDG’s are the milestones set by the international community as an agenda for measurable progress by 2015 on topics such poverty, gender equality, child health, and maternal mortality . Not exactly a trivial assignment for a bunch of young women in their early twenties to tackle! [One of the students turned 21 on the final day of the program.]

Secretary Albright was fair, funny, warm, wise, and completely engaged. She sat in a red armchair in the front of Founders 121 as each group of five Fellows presented their recommendations for how to achieve the stated development goal. The content and the quality of the presentations were amazing. In addition to mastering all the current themes of international development, the kids were able to offer concise and critical recommendations to move forward. They reviewed case studies, interviewed worldwide experts, mastered telephone books of data, and were able to present with poise, surety, style and fantastic mastery of video, audio and Power Point. Secretary Albright could have been a pretty terrifying interlocutor and she was decidedly not. I loved hearing her say, “Just as I wrote down a question to ask, in the next minute, you gave the answer!” The kids were in love with her. Impressed, awed, but in love.

The 40 Albright Fellows are an incredible group of young women––exceptional in so many ways before their Albright experience. To watch them in action, asking insightful, tough, witty, and very well mannered questions (especially when they were highly critical of the speaker) was to re-acquaint myself with the exceptional power of the Wellesley experience. Over three weeks, the forty fellows lived together in one dorm (Freeman), cooked meals together (it’s intersession and the dining halls are closed), sat, studied and socialized. Few of the forty knew each other when the session began. They were from as many different majors, and backgrounds as Wellesley can muster. From New Jersey and Nigeria, Vancouver and Jordon, from India and California, majoring in econ and classics, math and biochemistry, religion and poli sci. Most of the fellows had previous exposure to international issues – as summer interns, as international students, or during a year abroad.

They worked for three weeks, assigned into groups of five – and had to figure out how to manage personalities as well as the content. Just like the real world where you don’t always get to pick your working team! I laughed when one of the students said, “When they selected the Albright Fellows, they didn’t pick two leaders and 38 followers!”

At the end of program last Friday, I was weepy with pride. The kids were so splendid, the content of the program so stellar, and so well-presented with nary a hitch, Albright so candid and deeply serious… I could not have been prouder to call myself a Wellesley woman.

For the forty fellows, having been an “Albright Fellow” will mean much in the world as they develop their careers on the global stage, and, in turn, become mentors to the hundreds of young women who will follow in their paths. For me, to be a Wellesley woman observing this inaugural year was to re-connect with the mission of the college in ways I thought were impossible.

I urge you all to go the college website and download one or more of the faculty or alumnae seminars, or one of the student MDG presentations. There isn’t a dud in the bunch.

Christmas in Lausanne

January 17th, 2010

If I were a normal person, flying from Boston to Geneva on the day before Christmas, I would be writing about the wonder of Les Fêtes Noel in scenic, charming Switzerland. The grandeur of snow-topped peaks of the Swiss Alps at dusk, the sharp bright moonlight, and I’d be describing the archetypal Christmas dinner, with perhaps mulled wine, roasted goose, and a magical Buche de Noel with meringue mushrooms and flakes of chocolate bark. But this was our family Christmas, and it carries all the charm and challenge, the tight-lipped good humor of forced togetherness, of any family Christmas, celebrated anywhere in the world by jet-lagged, gift-exchanging Jews.

My oldest daughter and her husband live in Lausanne. They have very important jobs at the same company and they travel constantly. The weekend before Christmas, she’d had a meeting in Izmir. He flew from someplace in Tajikistan (or Azerbaijan) to meet her for the weekend in Istanbul. It was out of the question for them to travel back to the states again for the holidays. After all, we’d made our choice––Thanksgiving or Christmas in Boston? Turkey and cranberries beat out mistletoe, and here we were: me, my 92-year-old very game mom, (aka Meo, the grandmother of all grandmothers), my husband, his electric mobility scooter, two laptops, and five bursting ginormous bags. Daughter Number Two flew in from San Francisco, via Philadelphia and Frankfurt. Somewhere in Germany, perhaps courtesy of the snowstorm that shut down America, her own ginormous rolling duffel went on a five day vacation of its own, arriving in Lausanne at her sister’s apartment, a day or so after the holiday.

I’d lugged Christmas in a bag—a handful of tree ornaments, CD of Motown Christmas carols, a heap of our family Christmas stockings (Snowflakes for Katie? Trees for Evi? Or is it the other way around?). Plus an ingenious paper kit I found at the shop near our house in Cambridge that requires three adult American women to spend many hours weaving paper strips into a dozen red and white baubles for the Christmas tree. And, of course, many gifts. Large and small. For my kids and the new son-in-law, for my mom and my husband, and for my daughter’s in-laws who were flying in from San Francisco en route to a Club Med skiing vacation in the French Alps. Oops, almost forgot, for the brother and his new girlfriend, train-ing in from Vienna on Christmas Eve, as the concluding stop of a week’s European tour. Ten for Christmas dinner. A straight up menu, without a lot of folderol cooking, and no dilly-dallying. Come Christmas Eve in Lausanne, grocery stores close early.

This is best part of any holiday as far as I am concerned: logistics, cooking strategy and tactical shopping. Constraint One: ten jet-lagged adults arriving more or less in time for a festive evening meal; assessment of the capacity of the kitchen (one smallish super-modern combination microwave and convection oven), and an unintelligible induction cook top, which means that only three of my daughter’s fancy wedding present pots heat up at all. Screw all gleaming copper, the All-Clad and the Calphalon! On, Le Creuset and old chipped Dansk! Constraint two: Time. Twenty minutes to shop before closing. Constraint three: achievable simplicity for the staff on hand. So, the swat team of my two delectable girls and me bustle off to the local Co-Op, re-usable shopping bags in hand. We scout, we reconnoiter, we debate and we grab. Risotto with dried porcini mushrooms recently scavenged by husband on a trip to the Ukraine. Roasted vegetables—in Christmas-y colors: green asparagus, red peppers, finger slim carrots, red onions, white onions, and whatever else looked good hanging around in the fridge at home. We’d roast them with olive oil and garlic, and shred local Gruyere for a final gratinee. And what about baked sweet potatoes? What if we sliced them into thin rounds, and sprinkled them with salt from the honeymoon trip to Bali? And the obligatory simple green salad from butter soft lettuce and tomatoes trucked in from Spain.

At the center of the meal: the world’s most perfect beef tenderloin. Huge, expertly trimmed, and a red that makes most American beef look digitally colorized in comparison. This one extravagant Christmas purchase, (177 ChF), this one perfect log of meat, made me happier than all the shopping and scavenging done in anticipation of the whole season. The butcher, his fair Swiss face topped with a nose shaped like a perfect right triangle, presented the beef to us for inspection, as if it were the Hope Diamond. An artisanal miracle, right up there with perfectly runny cheese. Swiss people eat only meat from Swiss cows, and Swiss cows eat only green Swiss grass, (and possibly the occasional lump of chocolate, fed to them by a doting Swiss child with symmetric golden braids). The Locavore Gospel made real and sensuous, in a way that no bestselling screed will ever match. Madly we toss in some yogurt and cheese, tangerines, bread a panettone and a velvety chocolate Christmas mousse cake. (Joyeux Noel in marzipan letters). Plus three more pairs of underwear just in case the lost-in-space-luggage decides to spend Christmas in limbo. (It does. And for future reference, note that Lufthansa takes its phone off the hook for Christmas.)

We lug home our loot. Three strapping Americans with good sturdy re-useable shopping bags, stumbling through the city streets of Lausanne. The light is beginning to fade. Shopkeepers checking watches and turning their locks in unison. The light in the steeple of the Lausanne Cathedral glows holiday red. And then, the bells. A symphony of medieval bells ringing in the holiday as darkness falls. Christmas Eve in Lausanne and the women are cooking.

Ophelia Dahl from Partners in Health at Wellesley College — Haiti, Three Days In

January 17th, 2010
Wellesley, Ma January 15. 11:00 AM

By Louisa Kasdon

Ophelia Dahl, Executive Director of Boston-based Partners in Health (www.pih.org) spoke to a capacity crowd of students, and other members of the Wellesley College community this morning about the current situation in Haiti. Dahl is a Wellesley College alumna, class of ’94, and was scheduled to be on campus this morning as a visiting faculty member this morning as part of the three-week inaugural program of the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs. The new institute selects 40 students every year for training as future leaders in global affairs. Dahl’s talk, in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, veered quickly from a planned presentation focused on an over view of community based health programs to a hard hitting update on the situation in Haiti. Students were riveted. Her arrival, even before the earthquake, was anticipated much as an icon coming to campus. She came, stuffed the mike into her waistband, and smiled. “As an alum, every time I drive through the gates of the campus I believe that things are going to be all right.”

But today is not an all right day for Dahl or anyone else concerned about international issues. Her arrival was late, delayed by a conference call––much of it by satellite telephone––with her colleagues and friends now on the ground in Haiti. “My head is spinning a bit, “in understatement, as she catalogued all the complexities of getting emergency aid to Haiti in the aftermath of Wednesday’s 7.0 earthquake. “ We are hearing from our colleagues on the ground that the casualties may be far higher than initial reports, possibly as high as 250,000 lives lost. And it is still very hard to get information. Even though our staff work for us in the Central Plateau and other regions, they have family who live in Port Au Prince and we have not heard from many of them since the earthquake struck,” she said, addressing the students and others, her manner fatigued yet calm. “There are still severe aftershocks, and they are hampering the ability to mobilize. The quake struck the government, the UN, the ports the airports, the Red Cross and the communications system, and each loss compounds a terrible problem. All major aid organizations are damaged or destroyed.” Dahl said that one of her colleagues, a physician from Brigham and Women’s Hospital landed in Port Au Prince just as the earthquake was occurring. “We were in a budget meeting and she sent us a message–‘SOS…SOS…We need supplies. Everything is crushed.”

Because of PIH deep roots in the country, the organization was able to start moving expertise and supplies to the capital city quickly. “Our staff is trained and local and didn’t need to wait for instructions from Boston,” she explains. “They knew which medical supplies were needed instantly. What can a doctor do if he doesn’t have bandages and morphine in a situation like this? With supplies that we could bring in from our hospitals and from a supply chain in the Dominican Republic, they were able to get to work.” As the 600 members of the PIH staff moved in from their bases, they “encountered boulders on the roads, roads that were hard to define as roads, and a wave of quake victims already moving out of the capital to the still staffed and equipped PIH operated hospitals in the Central Plateau, three hours from the capital area devastated by the quake”. Dahl reports that in addition to the need for dollars, medical supplies, orthopedic and surgical equipment, there is also a need for everything blankets and sleeping bags, to flashlights and tents. “It is winter in Haiti and people are getting cold. Right now, there is no way in or out. It’s not clear who is coordinating in the country, or who is manning the control tower at the airport. The government is knocked out.”

The crisis is intense, but the process of rebuilding Haiti is long one, and Dahl hopes that “international imagination and attention” can stay focused on Haiti’s needs beyond the immediate. She says that PIH has received “generous outpouring of funds” through its website in the past few days, but more will be needed for sustainable recovery. We have to clear the debris from roads, get the airports open, and get aid supplies delivered and get the bodies removed before the inevitable next wave of disease. Then we have to focus on the re-building process.”  Partners in Health has a long-term commitment to the area and is already thinking about long-term needs. “ We have to think about the lasting echoes of this disaster, beyond the immediate trauma. Will we need to build bridges? Roads? We have to keep from mission creep, but we also have to be nimble and do whatever it takes to help the country recover.”  Partners in Health has begun to receive donations from corporations in the medical industry for everything from crutches to operating equipment. “It means so much to be able to say to a friend or colleague from Haiti, ‘Yes, we can send that.” To find out more about the current situation in Haiti and about PIH’s efforts on the ground, visit the website www.standwithhaiti.org

Gluten Free News

December 11th, 2009

We are gaining force and impact. Here’s living proof. General Mills has a new Gluten Free website thta listis its gluten-free products. It’s called “LiveGlutenFreely” Lots of recipes too. All using General Foods products, of course. But that’s not so bad. I’m excited about making Rice Crispie treats with gluten free Rice Crispies. It always bothered me that the one stupid snack I might have been able to indulge in wasn’t actually GF.

http://liveglutenfreely.com/

Five Hours at the Natural Products Expo East

October 6th, 2009

I figured on an hour. Easy in, easy out. Little did I imagine that I would jet into the Natural Products Expo East in Boston and stumble out five hours later with three shopping bags (yes, re-useable and heavily logo-ed) brimming with business cards, brochures, and mini samples of everything from silver ionizing healing cream and nasal cavity washers, to gluten-free pizza and rare tea blends. Plus, an added bonus during my workday hours: much useful and highly personal advice on how to protect myself with probiotics, perform a toxic cleanse, and use crystals to change my aura. It’s the Fancy Food Show for the New Age set. And it is a hoot. Hundreds of booths, wafting aromas of lavender and ozone, many peopled by people who resemble the guys who testify after encounter with UFO’s, but a lot of savvy, suited-up marketing people offering studies and statistics, and spiral bound presentations with their competitive advantage. I know that big companies like Pepsi, Kraft, and Coca-Cola now own many of the leading natural products. It’s just surprising to see what their entrance into the formerly-Mom& Pop, crunchy-granola world of natural products has meant to the explosion of the industry. And I don’t think it is bad at all.

Being a food writer with a gluten allergy, my personal quest was to see what new, potentially edible, gluten-free products were coming to the market. I imagined a teeny corner of a not-so-major expo where I might find one or two crackers and cookie mixes good enough to serve my civilian guests. I was astounded by the sheer depth of the offerings––not just for gluten-free folks, but aisles of products that were cross referenced and segmented for every known food sensitivity—no eggs, booth 1178. No dairy, take a left to booth 1276. Tree nuts and peanuts? The whole aisle over there. The niche is huge and by the number and the sophistication of many of the vendors, I suspect quite profitable. Yes, as someone with an allergy I will happily pay more for a product whose claims I trust. Every product label carried an organic logo, called attention to its ingredients locus of origin, and is readable without a magnifying glass.

Many of the people staffing the booths come with a story attached. For me, a veteran story-sharer, cruising the entire trade show was like eavesdropping on the true confessions of people with food issues. A mother whose two sons were diagnosed with a peanut allergy. A woman diagnosed with celiac in her mid-forties and longing for a cracker she could bring to a cocktail party. A man who suspected he had allergic reactions but couldn’t find a diagnosis. A younger man whose own diet concerns led him to develop a wheat-free granola with “live” grains that helped him lose thirty pounds, and clear up his skin! Food as medicine, developed by consumers and food professionals with a problem to solve.

I bounded from table to table, bonding with the proprietors as I tasted gluten-free mini-pizzas, gluten-free power bars, gluten-free sourdough bread, probiotic lime and green tea swirled frozen yogurt popsicles, marched myself down the aisle for gluten-free pretzels, crackers, cheesecake with gluten-free graham cracker crust, chocolate cookies (both shelf-stable and fresh from a mix), and carrot muffins, and back to the pizza again. There was even a gluten-free line of chocolates, (who even knew that chocolate had gluten?). In between, I washed it all with a huge range of organic teas, power drinks, and three sets of powders (diluted in distilled water) that each and all pledged to make be beautiful and young. (Still checking….)

I was thoroughly ill when I reclaimed my car from the convention center valet. But I was also enormously impressed. First, at the sheer number of food entrepreneurs operating in a niche market for allergy friendly foods; second at the fact that so many of them have a personal connection to the need for the product; and third, with products that are both responsive to allergy concerns and to conscience.