Natural rediscovered

Then something shifted. “Spurred on by the unrelenting idealism of a few visionaries and by a series of food scares that laid bare the presence of dangerous chemicals in everyday foods, society began to rediscover the world of natural and organic foods,” writes Dobrow. “Natural foods became more abundant, more accessible, more sophisticated, more palatable, [and] more desirable.” By 1996, more than 6,600 natural health foods stores dotted the country, ringing up $9.17 billion in sales—a fraction of overall food sales, but representing an astonishing 17 percent annual growth over the previous five years, which was four or five times the rate of conventional grocery.

In the late 1990s, a countertrend to food-as-duty emerged—one in which people rediscovered real food as a source of joy. “We went from a ‘health food’ movement in the ’80s to a more hedonistic ‘gourmet food’ movement in the ’90s,” says Tawse, recalling the glorious selections of artisan cheese and chocolate that began to appear in health foods stores.