How hippie food went mainstream

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“Hippie” wasn’t always a derisive term.

At least, its origins weren’t. It evolved from the words “hep” and “hip”, each of which mean “in-the-know” or “knowledgeable”.

Although it came to be synonymous with counter-culture, free love and a lax approach to paying rent (or as Ronald Regan so charmingly put it in 1967: “For those of you who don’t know what a hippie is, he’s a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”), hippies may well have been “in the know” for many of their ideas around health are going mainstream.

“The counter-culture is always ahead of what’s happening in mainstream culture,” Peter Meehan, the editorial director of Lucky Peach magazine told the New York Times last week. “It’s as true in any creative field as it is in food.”

Consider many of the foods and movements that we associate with being “hippie”.

Australia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world while vegetarianism has risen 30 per cent in NSW in just four years. Quinoa, apple cider vinegar, fermented foods, organics and almond mylk (milk?) are common, not only in many households and cafes, but in Coles and Woolies. Yoga is Australia’s fastest-growing fitness activity and meditation has also made it to the mainstream.

Yes, the hippiedom is ruling. My best mate’s husband has started making his own kombucha, my brother frequents “spirit” festivals that are all about getting more conscious not unconscious, I was sent a “mother” (bacteria, not a non-attached hippie’s parent) last week in the mail and we barely bat an eyelid these days at algae-coloured lattes and turmeric teas.

Our growing knowledge about the importance of the microbiome, our understanding about the impact of food and stress on our health, of farming practices on the environment and the growth of farmer’s markets have all undoubtedly played their part in the shifting trend away from stodgy towards simple, from fringe to front and centre.

“I’ve been cooking for 30 years – I’ve seen a lot of different fashions with food … it’s a more natural approach now. The world is becoming much more aware about the effect of food on our body,” says Alessandro Pavoni, the head chef of two-hat restaurant Ormeggio at the Spit and Sotto Sopra in Newport.

After surviving bone cancer and two heart attacks, Pavoni changed his own approach to health.

“These days I’m now vegan – I’m vegan for health,” he says. “I’m better than ever and fitter than ever. I really understand what food can do to you and we pay a lot of attention in our restaurant to making alternative dishes – for our degustation there are whole vegan and gluten-free menus.”

For Magdalena Roze, television personality and author of the new cookbook, Happy and Whole, it is about returning to a more simple, nourishing way of life.

Having moved to Byron Bay with partner, Three Blue Ducks co-owner Darren Robertson, after working “crazy, long hours” and “burning the candle at both ends” in Sydney, she slowed down, returned to her Eastern European roots and “the old simple way of preparing wholefoods like my mother and grandmother”.

“To simplify things and put the power back in your own hands, I find it helpful to try and get back to the basics,” she says. “By this, I mean eating wholefoods that are unprocessed, grown without the use of sprays and chemicals and are as close to their natural source as possible.”

In shunning fast foods and the fast life, it is about far more than food.

“It’s a philosophy,” says Pavoni, adding that it encompasses seasonal produce, sustainability and waste management – “we need to learn to use everything”, he says.

In her new book, Hippie Lane, Taline Gabrielian agrees that the philosophy is “all encompassing”.

Her interest in health and food intersected, evolving her approach as she leaned about “how our food choices impact on our wellbeing and overall health”.

“It starts with the promise/belief that hippie-style food will result in a healthier life, and is swiftly followed by the amazing results of general wellbeing,” says Gabrielian, who says that “alternative” foods were not mainstream when she started her business seven years ago. “When you switch to natural unprocessed whole foods, you will feel the difference. You will notice an improvement in digestion, appearance, energy and vitality.

“On your journey you will experience a heightened appreciation for food and it’s power to heal. You will become more mindful around your food choices. And once you make the change, you won’t turn back.”

Roze agrees.

“Yes I think it is more than food,” she says. “I’d like to think that going back to a simple way of cooking and living isn’t a trend though, it’s what we crave at our core, and perhaps more so now people are looking for ‘more’ and it’s not material things.” 

Thankfully, embracing hippie means you can still get your hands dirty (in both senses of the word).

Roze also says she doesn’t see particular foods as “good” or “bad”.

“Sure, cakes and marshmallows aren’t as nutrient-rich as a bowl of chicken broth, but they are ‘sometimes’ foods and, for me, perfectly fine on occasion, especially if they’re made with real, whole ingredients.”

The new hippie philosophy is a far cry from the “the aimless – the long-haired hippies” as described in a 1965 San Francisco Chronicle article that popularised the word. Now, being “hippie” is being in-the-know and knowledgeable.

“I think hippie culture is a crucial and positive step toward prevention and wellbeing,” Gabrielian says.

“I hope it’s going to increase because it’s going to make us more aware of what we eat and how to cultivate food,” adds Pavoni. “And it will make a healthier world.”

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