Thursday, July 7, 2011

A New Discovery of Oldways

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: what we eat, how we eat it, and with whom we eat have a significant impact on our health, well being, and sense of community. These notions have provided the foundation for our design philosophy at Rosanna from the start. They are also the heart and soul of my book, Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions So imagine my surprise when I discovered the same core values in another book, The Oldways Table: Essays and Recipes from the Culinary Think Tank by K. Dun Gifford and Sara Baer-Sinnott. These two founded and run Oldways, the self-described “food think tank.” I was intrigued by their work, especially as it applies to the Mediterranean Food Pyramid. The book was so compelling that I contacted Oldways to find out more.  Dun passed away last year, but Sara continues with Oldways and was gracious enough to grant me an interview to explore their approach to eating well.  I hope you find these answers as educational and inspiring as I did.
Rosanna:  What is the bio mission of Oldways?  What is its purpose?
Sara Baer-Sinnott:  Oldways was founded by K. Dun Gifford, a food enthusiast and advocate in 1990.  Dun began Oldways as an educational organization to combat the rising prevalence of “pseudo foods” that were taking over the marketplace.  He saw that poor eating habits and chronic disease were spreading he wanted to change the way people ate—the base of our mission still today.  He began with the idea that if he could bring people back to the table, reintroduce them to the ‘old ways’ and revive the healthful pleasures of real food he could make a difference and collectively we could change the way people eat.
Although Dun passed away a year ago and many things have changed since 1990, our work continues and his mission lives on through our educational programs including the Whole Grains Council and Mediterranean Foods Alliance.
Rosanna:  What is the Mediterranean diet?  Why is it beneficial to one's health?
© 2009 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust
Sara: The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating based on the traditional foods (and drinks) of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.   The Mediterranean Diet is not a diet, as in “go on a diet,” even though it is a great way to lose weight or improve your health. Rather, it is a lifestyle – including foods, activities, meals with friends and family, and wine in moderation with meals. It has been consistently reported to promote good health. The health benefits are endless, from cardiac to brain function, this tried and true way of life looks at total health and well-being.  U.S. News & World Report recently announced their ranking of top diets and named the Med diet as one of the best overall diets. The Traditional Mediterranean Diet, has at its core vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, peanuts, herbs, spices, and healthy fats such as those found in olive oil; fish, poultry and lean red meat; cheese and yogurt; and moderate amounts of wine. Other vital elements of the Mediterranean Diet are daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and fostering a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods.

In 1993, as a way to help people bring this diet to life, we developed the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.  Throughout the years we have introduced modified versions of this pyramid.  And have developed alternative traditional diet pyramids for other cultures including an Asian Diet Pyramid, Latin American Diet Pyramid, a Vegetarian Diet Pyramid and we will actually be introducing an African Heritage Pyramid this November, which is very exciting for us!
Rosanna:  What are the most important steps to take to begin eating more healthy?  Is there a step by step plan?  Are there specifics--i.e. what does one need in their refrigerator and pantry to start this process?
Sara:  Taking small steps can be the best way to make positive, healthy changes.  We are all creatures of habit so it is important to not let yourself feel overwhelmed by an instant overhaul, you should nurture yourself and enjoy the process.  At Oldways we offer simple steps to help with better health.  It's important to keep meals simple and easy, aim for making every meal taste great, and to eat nourishing foods that promote satiety.  We outline these 8 simple steps to help people learn how to adopt the Mediterranean eating pattern: Eat lots of vegetables; Change the way you think about meat and if you eat it, add small amounts to vegetable sautés or use as a garnish for a dish a pasta; always eat breakfast; eat seafood twice a week; cook a vegetarian meal one night a week, and then aim for two nights a week; use healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, seeds, olives, and avocados. In addition, we encourage consumers to discover the wide variety of delicious Mediterranean foods at the supermarket and learn how to routinely break old habits and make healthy substitutions. For example, buy Greek yogurt and use that instead of sour cream; sample different varieties of hummus, find your favorites, and use that in place of mayonnaise.
Rosanna:  I’m very intrigued by the section on moderate alcohol intake, especially since many in America are over-drinkers.  Explain the health benefits of alcohol intake.  Define "moderate."
Sara:  The definition of moderate in the Mediterranean diet is they idea of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner.  Studies show that this type of moderate alcohol consumption with meals – one glass for women and two for men – has cardiovascular benefits.
Rosanna:  Because we design dinnerware with the explicit purpose of bringing people together, this last question is one I attempt to answer every day: How does eating well build a sense of community and bring people together?  
Sara:  When I learned about you and your work, I was so excited to hear that you’re is so committed to bringing people together to enjoy food.  If you're enjoying meals with others, you aren't inhaling a quick meal.   And if you eat in the presence of conversation, you're not mindlessly eating in front of the TV. The Mediterranean Diet is grounded on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Foods, drinks and meals are especially enjoyable if eaten with others, when possible, and savored.  Research is even pointing to more health benefits gained when meals are enjoyed together. From the food to the ambiance to savoring the taste of food and wine to the company we keep while eating—this is all part of the total experience.
What the world needs now, more than ever, is to think like Oldways. We need to come together, eat together, and turn our attention towards the total experience of breaking bread as a community. I second Oldways' ideals, and truly believe this is one of the most important ways to live well.
While we were talking, Oldways also asked me a few questions. To read their interview of me, and find a delicious healthy pasta recipe, visit the Oldways blog. For more information about Oldways, visit their website at  They also have a Blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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fender said...
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