Taste takes a back seat

This magazine, originally dubbed Delicious!, intentionally sought to counteract a stereotype that has plagued health food for decades: that it tastes crummy.

To be honest, that stereotype was often deserved, says Sylvia Tawse, founder of Fresh Ideas Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm, who took her first job at a natural foods store in the mid-1980s. There, she found brittle oat-bran muffins alongside steaming pots of “brown goo” (seitan or tofu chunks in mystery sauce).

As Dobrow says in Natural Prophets, “through the 1960s and 1970s, there [was] little more than a sprinkling of dreary health foods stores across the country, offering a laughably small selection of wheat germ, tofu, brown rice, and other products that were decidedly lacking in mainstream tastes, and for that matter lacking taste altogether.” People ate them not to delight the palate, but to fix what ailed them or to follow their conscience. “It was food as prescription or food as philosophy,” says Tawse. “It didn’t matter how it tasted.”

Fears cause missteps

Back then, there were plenty of reasons to eat unpleasant health food anyway: On September 22, 1985, the inaugural Farm Aid concert sounded the alarm that America’s burgeoning factory farms were forcing the loss of 32,000 family farms each year. In 1989, demand for organic produce blew up in the wake of a 60 Minutes special pegging the chemical pesticide Alar as “the most potent cancer-causing agent in the food supply today.”

Soon, concerns about a heart disease epidemic were luring in people who had never thought about stepping foot inside a health foods store. Unfortunately, “heart health” awareness brought with it a misguided fat-free craze and a new generation of bland, hyperprocessed “better-for-you” snacks. (Remember fat-free SnackWells?) As food manufacturers moved further away from “real food” toward unpronounceable ingredients, historic (and delicious) ingredients got left behind: Home cooks began to eschew “fattening” butter for fake-food margarine, banished nuts as too fatty and caloric, and abandoned cholesterol-heavy egg yolks for insipid whites.