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Palatable pleasures

  • 21 April 2006

It’s a health paradox: just when people began turning to low-fat diets, there began a corresponding increase in obesity. The connection alarmed Dun Gifford, founder of Oldways Preservation Trust in Boston: ‘Fat provides sensations of satiety; without fat, the feelings of fullness do not kick in and so people just keep on eating.’

Gifford founded Oldways in 1988 to campaign against fast food and to promote healthy eating. He was the keynote speaker at a food summit in Adelaide in October, a gathering that included some of the world’s leading television chefs and food writers.

The meeting concluded with about 100 participants signing the Declaration of Adelaide (see panel), a six-point communiqué urging changes across the food supply chain, in government policy and in food education. Whether it has any legs is yet to be seen, but at the very least it represents a determined effort to highlight some of the important issues surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food.

Gifford wrote the declaration and was backed by fellow panelists, including food writer and chef Stephanie Alexander, food producer Maggie Beer, British television chef Antonio Carluccio and the Canadian author of Last Chance to Eat, Gina Mallet. The summit was held in conjunction with the Tasting Australia festival and is likely to become a regular event. Gifford says the prevailing wisdom when he founded the trust was that ‘techno-foods were our food future’.

‘This techno-food locomotive was rumbling powerfully down the tracks in the late 1980s, and touted as the salvation of our crowded planet and its billions of hungry mouths. For compound reasons, this terrified me; techno-foods seemed dangerous. I decided to challenge it, and organised Oldways as a non-profit organisation to do so.’

Described by Newsweek magazine as ‘a food-issues think tank’, Oldways embarked on several campaigns, one of the first being the issue of low-fat diets promoted by nutritionists in the early 1990s.

‘We pointed out that the world’s two healthiest populations—Mediterraneans and Okinawans—eat high-fat diets, the former based on olive oil, the latter on fish.’ Oldways drew on scientific research to come up with the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, now widely embraced as the ‘gold standard’ of healthy eating.

In the mid-1990s, Oldways challenged a US government crackdown on alcohol, ‘first, by pointing out that high-level science universally recognises the health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol; and second, by publicising the additional, but then little known,