Maybe you’ve been reading Delicious Living ever since we went by that one-word moniker Delicious! or maybe this issue is the first you’ve picked up. Either way, you’re shopping at a natural products store that looks remarkably different than it did 20 years ago. Back then, your local natural foods store was pretty basic. It didn’t have rows of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. It didn’t have a gourmet coffee bar offering Fair Trade organic beans. And it certainly didn’t have anything resembling an organic olive bar.

Fast-forward to today’s often high-end, gourmet marketplaces with locally grown foods plus plenty of herbs, supplements, and natural personal care products. How did we get here? Consumers demanded it, says Delicious Living founder Doug Greene. “Twenty years ago, people were just yearning for a unique shopping experience,” he says. “But shoppers kept getting more educated and more sophisticated, and they pulled the natural products industry along with them.”

Delicious Living educated these increasingly savvy consumers, introducing them to everything from ayurveda to zinc. But when the first issue of our magazine was published in 1985, an all-encompassing natural lifestyle was more a vision than a reality. Through the years, Delicious Living chronicled many milestones and innovations—sometimes educating, sometimes trailblazing, sometimes reflecting, but always helping readers make better purchasing decisions at their natural products store. Take a look back with us as we watch the natural lifestyle come of age, as seen in the pages of our magazine.

A changing diet
With a name like Delicious Living, it’s no surprise that food and nutrition have been a major focus throughout the years. Our goal was to keep readers current about diet trends, but without jumping on the bandwagon when fads didn’t follow common nutritional sense. In 1992, when “low fat” were the words on everyone’s lips, Delicious Living helped readers navigate the trend in the articles “Low-fat Cooking Tips From the Pros” and “Top Ten Foods for a Low-fat Diet.” A few of our pearls of wisdom: “Use fat-free condiments instead of butter, sauces, or cheese to add flavor to all kinds of dishes. Top cooked grains with a sweet or hot chutney. Spread muffins and breads with apple butter or all-fruit conserves instead of butter.”

We also reported on the dangers of trans fats and hydrogenated oils long before many other publications. “We’ve all heard about the health hazards of saturated fats—the butter and shortening that remain solid at room temperature,” we wrote in our January/February 1991 issue. “Yet, unsaturated fats hardened through hydrogenation may be just as bad, according to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.”

By December 2000 we were reminding our readers that not all fats are created equal—and some certainly shouldn’t be banished from your diet. “Not all fats are bad fats,” said Mary Van Elswyk, PhD, RD, in the story “Life in the Fat Lane.” “It’s dangerous when you start severely restricting fat, because you also cut out essential fatty acids (EFAs), important nutrients the body can’t make on its own, yet they’re needed for normal physiological functions.” Today we know that “good” monounsaturated fats—from olive oil, avocados, fish, and nuts—are beneficial components of a heart-healthy diet.

In 2000 we also paid homage to the Slow Food Movement founded by Italian food and wine critic Carlo Petrini in 1986 (a year after the first McDonald’s opened in Italy). “Slow Food aims to counter the global takeover by fast food, which, according to the Slow Food manifesto, ‘erodes our culinary heritage in the guise of efficiency,’” we wrote. “Instead, Slow Food relishes the use of fresh regional and seasonal vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, and wines.” Back then, the Slow Food Movement boasted 60,000 foodies from 35 countries, with 30-some chapters across the United States. As of 2005, it boasts 80,000 members in more than 100 countries. Guess we were on to something….

Of course, no history of recent diet trends would be complete without a mention of the low-carb fad, a topic on which we tried to remain sensible. In June 2000’s “All for Protein, Protein for All?” we wrote: “Most experts agree that we do need to cut down on carbohydrates. But not because of the chemical reactions they cause in our bodies. It boils down to portion control, says Janis Jibrin, MS, RD, author of The Unofficial Guide to Dieting Safely (Macmillan USA, 1998). ‘When you go to a restaurant, you get these huge portions of pasta,’ she says. ‘Bagels have tripled in size, cookies have quadrupled. It’s not the carbohydrate’s fault—it’s the portion size.’”

We came to a similar conclusion four years later in the May 2004 story “The Low-carb Lowdown,” which hit stores at the height of that dieting craze. Although this trend took off quickly and then fizzled, we stayed our course, advocating that those wanting to lose weight still needed to follow the basic guidelines of eating less and exercising more: “Many experts say the secret to getting and staying trim is decreasing your caloric intake while increasing the calories you burn each day through exercise. The country has a weight problem because processed foods have become convenient and inexpensive (pretzels and cookies are less expensive than nuts and apples). And, most important, people have lost sight of portion control. On the Food Guide Pyramid, for example, one serving size is a half-cup for pasta or rice. Many eat much more than that.”

Organics go mainstream
Another trend we followed was the growth of organic food. Organic foods seem commonplace today, but 20 years ago people still weren’t even sure what the term meant. “We’re all much more organic-friendly today, but 10 to 15 years ago, that was just not the case,” Greene recalls. “Organic food was way too expensive and unregulated for most people.” Also, organic produce was not as available then because fewer growers understood the benefits of farming organically.

Delicious Living published its first story on organics in the May/June 1989 issue, when concern over the use of the chemical Alar on apples was shifting mainstream consumer interest to organic food. “The grocery world was turned on its ear in March with the broadcast of a 60 Minutes segment on the chemical daminozide (Alar) and the high amounts of residue in apples and apple juice,” is how we covered the story in 1989. “The events that followed were dramatic and swift: Shoppers reacted. Actress Meryl Streep appeared on the Donahue show to reinforce the message that pesticides pose a special hazard to children. And natural foods stores sold out of organic products in record time.” Suddenly, people began to look more seriously at organic foods and scrutinize the source of their groceries.

After this initial flurry of interest, the organics movement still took a while to gain a permanent foothold in the psyche of mainstream consumers. More than a decade after our first story about the importance of organic foods, we covered the finalization of the national organic standards act in 2000 and 2001, helping consumers to determine if the food they purchased was grown with the use of pesticides. In the September 2001 story “The New Organics,” we wrote of this landmark moment: “After a 10-year roller-coaster ride through Washington’s rule-making process, the mandate of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 was fulfilled in late 2000 with a final ruling. For the first time in the United States, this action creates a single, national standard for certified organic foods.” A collective sigh of relief was heard among consumers and industry leaders alike. Finally, we would all know that what we were buying at the natural foods store indeed had not been genetically modified or grown with pesticides. And buying we were….

“From humble beginnings, the organic market has grown to reach heights that very few predicted in its early years,” we wrote in that same September 2001 story. “Organic foods are estimated to be a $6 billion to $7 billion market in the United States, and about $21 billion globally, growing at double-digit rates.” The U.S. organic market is projected to reach $30.7 billion in sales by 2007.

Readers get political
Delicious Living editors realized that a national standard for organics wasn’t the only food safety issue that needed to be addressed. “Even with national certification, the organic production system is still fragile,” said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, in our September 2000 story “Fields of Dreams.” He went on to urge that “if issues like genetic [engineering] or chemical drift concern you, put pen to paper and write your legislators and the secretary of agriculture, demanding more resources for organic agriculture.”

This would not be the only time we called on our readers to get involved—even if it meant writing or going to Washington. In fact, in the 1990s, Delicious Living began running a monthly legislative update column, covering everything from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to food irradiation. In February 2000, we ran a piece titled “Wanted: Labeling on Genetically Engineered Foods.” In it we noted that “genetic engineering has greatly affected the national food supply. In fact, USDA statistics show that as much as 44 percent of acreage was planted with genetically modified organisms in 1998.

Although consumers may assume that these man-made plants have no adverse effects on human health and the environment, the truth is that no one actually knows.” We also stated that “federally mandated labeling is the only responsible way to accommodate people who want to avoid GMOs” and asked, “Don’t consumers have a right to know?” As our readers became more interested in supplements and how they can improve health, Delicious Living also took a strong stand on food and supplements legislation in the 1990s, urging readers to write their representatives in support of national organic standards and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which guarantees public access to dietary supplements including amino acids, herbs, vitamins, and minerals. The grassroots activism ultimately led to the passage of the DSHEA legislation in 1994 and the implementation of the national organic standards in 2002.

“There were huge, huge, huge legislative challenges to the natural products industry in the 1990s,” Greene says. “We didn’t have the money for lobbyists, so we had to do a grassroots effort. Delicious Living wrote about the legislation we wanted to exist today, and readers en masse wrote letters [to legislators]. I was told by one of the congressional aides that the natural products industry had generated the most letters since Watergate.”

Shoppers focus on prevention
Of course, there’s more to natural living than organic foods. In fact, 20 years ago many natural foods stores had supplements sections that dwarfed their comparatively small food section. Shoppers at one time were far more interested in health remedies than gourmet recipes. “In the early days, people came into a natural foods store because of some idiosyncrasy, like a food allergy or a disease,” Greene says. He envisioned a customer base that focused on the positive instead of the negative, the prevention rather than the cure—and natural foods stores that were one-stop shops for people wanting to lead healthy lifestyles.

Hand in hand with a new interest in prevention came an interest in alternative health therapies. In “The Natural Path,” in our May 2000 issue, we wrote about the future of alternative medicine. “We’ll see a new era of medicine in this country—if we can balance medicine’s use of heroic methods to prolong patients’ lives with natural therapies to improve people’s quality of life,” said David Molony, then-executive director of the American Association of Oriental Medicine.

In March 2001, we covered alternative medicine for children in “Play Hard, Breathe Easy: Complementary Approaches to Childhood Asthma.” In the story, we interviewed Ira Cantor, MD, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, who said, “It’s not a matter of substituting vitamins for medicine. We’re not replacing albuterol in urgent situations, but we have found that our patients need their nebulizers less frequently.”

And in November 2002, we looked at the future of alternative medicine in the story “The Soul of a New Medicine.” We wrote, “In 1993, a team of physicians at Harvard Medical School stunned the medical establishment by reporting that Americans made more visits to providers of complementary and alternative medicine than to primary-care physicians—in 1990 spending an estimated $10.3 billion out-of-pocket to do so.” Clearly, alternative medicine’s time had come. We interviewed Alice McCormick, DO, then an associate fellow studying with the University of Arizona’s program in integrative medicine, who remarked that she believed integrative medicine was the future of medicine—and that to get there we needed to reform medical education. In the story, McCormick “describes her initial medical training as years filled with limited sleep and exercise, poor nutrition, and minimal room for emotional, spiritual, and physical healing. Her experience with the University of Arizona has been remarkably different. ‘The program’s first goal has been to teach me how to get healthy myself. It has challenged me to look deeply at my approach to food, water, and exercise, and at my emotional health.’ Finally, she says, the healer is healing herself.”

Green topics take center stage
Although personal health has always been a focus of Delicious Living’s editorial coverage, the health of the planet has also been a major concern. Greene says renewed interest in Earth Day in the early ’90s spawned a renewed interest in green-friendly topics in the pages of Delicious Living.

In April 2002, we interviewed actor and environmentalist Dennis Weaver, who recalled that when he was a kid “we never heard of the word smog, we never heard the words acid rain or global warming or ozone depletion.” He went on to say, “Practically every environmental problem we have is because of the kinds of energy we are now using to support our economy. We have the ability to move away from our addiction to fossil fuels. We need to make the kind of choices that will take us there.” And in its pages, Delicious Living has since covered the emergence of the hybrid car and discussed alternative fuel and energy options available to consumers.

We were also concerned about the effects of home lawn care on the environment and offered alternatives to weed-and-feed in the story “Grow an Earth-friendly Lawn” in our April 2004 issue. A startling fact from that story: “U.S. homeowners use up to ten times more pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Also troubling, we noted, is that “many lawn pesticides remain active in the soil for months after application; under certain conditions, some can even persist for years.” To reverse this suburban lawn trend, we offered ten steps to growing an organic and ecofriendly lawn.

And in September 2004, Delicious Living looked at yet another aspect of leading an environmentally friendly, sustainable lifestyle: wearing organic clothing. In the story “Eco-style: Clothing With a Conscience Is Fashion’s Latest Trend” we reported this upsetting fact: “According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, it takes three-fourths of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton needed to make just one pair of jeans and one-third of a pound of chemicals to produce just one nonorganic cotton T-shirt.” But on the bright side, we added, “organic fiber apparel manufacturers expect to see a 39 percent annual growth from 2000 to 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association.” Perhaps organic duds will soon be as popular as organic food is today. We think that’s a fashion trend worth copying.

The future looks delicious
After 20 years and thousands of articles, Delicious Living remains dedicated to chronicling the trends and growth in the natural products industry. And the future looks promising for those of us hoping to lead the way toward more thoughtful, conscious, and healthy living. Who knows what natural products stores may look like in another 20 years? Loren Israelsen, executive director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance and a former member of the Delicious Living editorial advisory board, envisions a continuation of the one-stop, natural lifestyle shopping concept. He imagines community centers that sell natural fertilizers, recycle batteries, and give demonstrations on building eco-friendly homes. Customers might stop in for a yoga session after work or visit an adjoining alternative health practice.

But no matter what the changes, Greene believes the philosophy Delicious Living has espoused for 20 years will continue through future decades. “I view all of us as part of a large family, and the natural foods industry will continue to nurture and empower that family.”

After reading 20 years’ worth of Delicious Living articles, Denver-based freelance writer and editor Vicky Uhland was amazed by the growth and changes not only in the magazine, but in the entire natural products industry.