Doing What Comes Naturally
Consumers Mainstreaming health foods
San Diego Tribune
Wednesday, January 9, 1991
by James B. Kelleher
Tribune photos by Nelvin Cepeda

There’s nothing bland about this health-conscious recipe, Green Been and Zucchini Bundles, at right, a favorite of the Stein Family of Rancho Santa Fe.

Natural foods. Not so very long ago, the mere mention of those two works conjured up images of bean sprouts and wheat germ, food cracks, nudists and Nehru jackets.

But that's changing. Although many nutritionists -- including UCSD's biology profession Paul Saltman -- continue to insist that natural foods have no superior nutritional value over regular foods, a growing, if still small number of Americans consumers are changing their eating and buying habits and making food choices for their larders that reflect a gut-level appreciation of the link between diet, personal health and the well-being of the planet.
Call it the environmentally friendly kitchen. In pantries around the county there's a new criteria for selecting storing and preparing food that's putting the "eco" back in home economics and transforming the face of health foods, perhaps forever.

Lee and June Stein are typical of today's upscale health-food consumers. For years now, Lee, who once presided over San Diego's Seaport Village during its years of expansion, and June, a CPA, have avoided foods with artificial flavorings, artificial colorings or chemical additives. Recently, they've deepened their commitment to the lifestyle -- and the environment -- by beginning to grow fruits and vegetables in the backyard of their Rancho Santa Fe home, nurturing themselves, their family and the earth from the soil up.

"I don't see it as extremist," Lee says of his family's life-and food-style and the keen attention they pay to the soil. "I see it as quite reasonable if you take the time to think about it. Why not know what you're eating instead of just eating what's being marketed to you? If you can create a diet that is free of additives and chemicals, why put them into your body?

-"There is a side of science -- which I agree with -- that says chemicals can be important at certain times and for certain reasons, but at the same time I find it hard to ignore the literature that exists that suggests there may be negative effects from those additives. If people are concerned about the air they breathe -- and the recent pressure to get the Clean Air Bill passed suggests that they are -- shouldn't they be concerned about the food they're eating, too."

The Steins insist that they reap more from their organic garden project than they sow.

"The nature of gardening, " June says, "The way it turns into a group activity, teaches our children to nurture the earth along with us. It involves them because what they've helped create in the backyard eventually shows up in the kitchen and on the dinner table. It creates a participatory home life that's health and nurturing on many levels."

"Being aware of the good chain and the impact our decisions have on it, is just another tier of environmental awareness, " Lee says.

In their concern for the personal and environmental impact of their eating habits, the Steins are not along. An increasing number of American are attempting to realize the genetic potential -- and ameliorate the ills of their environment -- by changing the way they eat.

A recent nationwide survey conducted by Whole Foods magazine found that today's natural food store shoppers are a far cry from the sandal-wearing simple-lifers of old. Most are college-educated professionals, between 31 and 40 years of age, whose incomes marked them as fairly well off.
Like the commitment, the motivation among devotees differs. Some say they've opted for the approach because they believe natural foods and organic fruits and vegetables offer better quality for the money. Others say they've chosen the regimen for personal health improvement. Still others say they are responded to alarms raised by books like "Diet for a Poisoned Planet," which argues America's food-style is eating away at the Earth. In any case, pleased observers say the effects are the same: A healthier environment and increasing respect and visibility for a way of life that was once Bohemian and beyond the pale.

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