To Gayelord Hauser, who started it all.
Gayelord Hauser, one of the first “health food” advocates, is considered by many to be the father of the modern nutrition movement.*His personal story is compelling: As a boy, he had tuberculosis in his hip, and despite the best treatment then available, he was considered terminal. He was sent home to his native Switzerland to die. There, an old man, seeing the boy eating rolls and coffee, reportedly told him “If you keep on eating such dead foods, you certainly will die. Only living foods can make a living body.” Hauser started eating fresh, whole foods and recovered with remarkable speed. Thus began a lifelong passion for nutrition, and a career.
Hauser counseled movie stars, including Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Grace Kelly, and Paulette Goddard. He convinced Greta Garbo to give up vegetarianism, insisting on quality protein at every meal. His advice was sought by royalty, including the Duchess of Windsor. He helped aging television stars regain their waistlines. He wrote many books and lectured extensively. He introduced yogurt, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, and other health food store staples to a white-bread-Coca-Cola-and-Crisco America.
Gayelord Hauser was right about a lot of things: the value of animal protein and fresh vegetables, the dangers of refined, concentrated carbohydrates, the evils of hydrogenated (trans) fats. He was wrong about some others, most notably the idea that polyunsaturated vegetable oils are more healthful than animal fats. But there is little question that the diet Hauser advocated was vastly more nutritious than that of the average American in the first half of the twentieth century. I have no doubt those who took his advice enjoyed better health.
And it was reading one of Hauser’s books – the one lying open on my desk as I write this, Gayelord Hauser’s New Treasury of Secrets, originally published in 1951 – that seventeen years ago gave me the idea of going low carb. It’s the first place I heard of William Banting (though Hauser misspelled his name “Banning”), author of the first mass-market diet book in the English language, outlining a low carb diet. It’s where I first read of Kekwick and Pawan, the British researchers who demonstrated that the macronutrient makeup of calories eaten dramatically influences the number of calories burned. It is where I read the sentence “Carbohydrates are the fat person’s poison,” and thought “Geez, nothing else is working. May as well give it a try.”
There’s another piece of wisdom from Gayelord Hauser I’d like to share with you. He wrote that in the 1930s he met Ann Astaire, the mother of the immortal dancer Fred Astaire. She asked Hauser if he thought it was possible to remain healthy and young by willpower. His answer was wise:
“Not by willpower. Those are the middle-aged men in bright neckties, the women who turn girlish in their fifties… trying to look young by force, as it were. I think being youthful is a matter of wanting to be youthful, steadily, all day, every day.”
Wanting to, steadily, all day, every day. Think about this in conjunction with weight loss. People “go on a diet” with, yes, willpower. They start in a great burst of enthusiasm, but one can only keep up that sort of intensity for so long. These folks are Legion, and I know I have, in the past, been one of them. They – we – go on a diet, lose weight in time for a wedding, a vacation, a reunion, or, in my youth, the first day of school in the autumn, only to fall by the wayside and gain the weight back.
What changed for me at the age of nineteen, when I “got nutrition” like other people get religion, was that I wanted, more than anything, not to be thin, but to be well, to feel well, and to stay well. I have wanted that every day since. I want to be well today, and I want to be well tomorrow, and I want to be well decades from now. I plan to be the spryest damned centenarian anyone’s ever seen. I want the doctors shaking their heads and wondering how the heck I do it.
Don’t get me wrong; I care about my weight. I’m as vain as the next girl, and vainer than some. But the wellness is paramount, with healthier body weight being just one marker of that wellness.
It has been thirty-four years since I got nutrition. My course has had ups and downs, most notably my unfortunate adoption, in the late 1980s, of the low fat/high carb diet fad. My understanding of what constitutes good nutrition has changed, sometimes radically.** But always, every day, my primary concern in choosing food has been “Will this contribute to my wellness?” Yes, I care about how food tastes, I couldn’t write cookbooks if I didn’t. But the thing I most want from food is that it makes me well. There is no food that tastes good enough to make me stop wanting that, especially since the foods that make me well taste so damned good.
Wanting to, steadily, all day, every day.
What do you want?
* Hauser is also the guy who invented Vege-Sal, one of my favorite seasonings. His name is still on the package. Also invented Spike seasoning, and Indo seasoned meat tenderizer, all still on the market.
** Radically in some ways, yet not so radically in others. I used to believe whole grains were good for me, now I eat no grains at all. I let myself be convinced for a while that fat was worse for me than sugar. (Healthy Choice Butter Pecan with Hershey’s Syrup – “now, as always, a fat-free food.”) But I haven’t drunk a sugared soda in over thirty years, nor eaten a Twinkie nor a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.