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Raw materials: Beatrice Trum Hunter interview excerpts
Our first interview was in the spring of 2004 at New Hampshire Public Radio. In this passage, she explains her views on food and nutrition -- and how she first became interested in the subject. 

Your first book, The Natural Foods Cookbook, came out in 1961. Was anyone writing about the subject at the time?

There were some people, but this I think was the first definitive book on natural foods. 


Did you have trouble finding a publisher or readers?

I had no problem finding a publisher or readers, but there was opposition from some people in the nutritional field who were not yet aware of the value of whole foods. 


Were you thought to be a crank?

Not only a crank, but a crackpot! [She laughs.] But that's one of the problems when you're before the wave. 


What were the things that attracted criticism?

To the dietitians and nutrionists, the fact that I wasn't using processed food, because they were pushing many of the processed foods.


You're wary of processed foods, but you're fine with meat, eggs, and butter.

Very much so. To stay with the foods that have supported human life for many many generations. 


You're not concerned about fat and cholesterol?

Not at all. If it's good fat. There are some fats that should be eliminated from the diet -- any of the trans-fatty acids that are formed when fat or oil is chemically altered through hydrogenation. So, margarines would be out. 


Margarine is worse than butter?

Absolutely. Butter is good, if it's used in limited quantity. Also the polyunsaturated fats, such as soy oil, safflower, sunflower. These should be used in very limited quantity. 


Some of those are generally considered to be healthy.

But they are not as healthy as some of the other oils. Fish oils, linseed oil, are much better. Olive oil is much better. 


How did you first get interested in food issues?

I read a book in 1933 that blew my mind. It was "A Hundred Million Guinea Pigs" by Kallet and Schlink. These were the owners of Consumers Research magazine. [Arthur Kallet later founded Consumers Union after breaking with Schlink.] The population at the time was a hundred million people, so a hundred million guinea pigs meant the peple were not being protected. It was the story of what was happening to foods, drugs, and cosmetics. As a result of that book, I stopped eating sugar. For a while, I even gave up apples, because the story was told of the spraying of arsenic in the orchards. This was the period before DDT. 


This was also a time when there wasn't much regulation of any of that.

The laws were on the books, but they were not really being followed very strongly. 


Have things improved? 

They've gotten better in some ways, and in other ways they've gotten worse, because there's more in the marketplace of the junk foods. Look at what people put in their baskets in the supermarket, and you realize there's an awful lot of junk out there. On the other hand, there's a lot more good food that is available. More fresh fruits and vegetables, more organically raised produce, meat, eggs, fish, and so forth. 


How have people's attitudes toward food changed? 

A good deal.  Many more people are selecting foods that are nourishing. Many more people are looking for certified organic food; that movement is growing fantastically. I didn't think I'd ever live to to see whole supermarkets of natural foods and organic foods. 


And yet we keep getting heavier. 

For one thing, portions are so large. Another thing is that the official advice that has been given to us by the government has been very faulty. If you look at the nutritional pyramid, the base of it is carbohydrates. There's no distinction between whole grains and white flour products, and yet people are being told to eat up to 12 portions a day from this group. Which has made the baking industry very happy, but it's also put on a lot of poundage. 


What concerns you most about the American diet? 

Too much food, and too much of the wrong thing. An enormous amount of sugar and white flour and the hydrogenated fats. Those three things are culprits. 


Our second interview was in the winter of 2008, at Hunter's home in Deering, NH. In this passage, she recounts her childhood in New York City, where she was born in 1918. 


What did your parents do?

My father was a working-class person. He worked in a factory that made men's neckwear; he was in charge of the cutting room. And I worked there summers in order to earn enough money to help toward my education. My mother was a homemaker. 


Did you attend college?

I did, but I had to fight for the right to go to college. My parents, I don't think either of them had finished elementary school, and they didn't see any value in sending the children to colelge. My sister had gone to college; she went to Hunter, which was free in NYC, and then she promptly married. So on the basis of that, my parents really were very reluctant to allow me to go -- even to a free college within the city. And I had to fight! And the basis of my argument was, 'You allowed my sister to go to college; I should be given the same opportunity.' And I just kept hammering away. [chuckle] until finally they relented. 

But as I look back, it was really strange that they were so opposed to the children furthering themselves. They had been born in this country; but I think for many of the people who came from elsewhere, they took advantage as much as they could, for the children to have a better education. 

Anyway, I did make it, and I went to Brooklyn College. 


What did you study?

English literature. I expected to teach English. When I got out of college, it was during the Depression, and there were no opportunities whatsoever. And for the last two years of my college life, I had taken a fellow student, a young woman who was blind, to college. She needed some assistance to get to college. 

So I became acquainted with what she was going through as a handicapped person. We had a long ride on subways, an hour and a half each way. And I would read to her in the subways. But somewhere along the way, she taught me Braille. And on that basis, I went into education of the visually handicapped. I was on a year scholarship at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, MA. And then it was renewed for a second year, to receive a masters degree in the education of the exceptional child at Teachers College Columbia. 

Then I taught for fifteen years in that field, in the public schools of New Jersey and later in NYC. 

My life has taken a number of turns! 


You grew up in a time when women were expected to get married and keep house. What made you want to take a different path? 

I think I was very serious, always. I'm getting less serious as I go on, now. [she laughs] And I valued an education. That was a way to get out of what I felt was a very oppressive type of existence. And I never felt that I was part of my family. So I think whatever my parents would think, I automatically would take the opposite viewpoint.  And as a result, they looked upon me as being very strange. If not the black sheep of the family, I was certainly a gray sheep! [another laugh] 

And I began to realize that I was not the peculiar one, it was the family. Because I found many other families, of friends and schoolmates, who accepted me and my attitudes. So I realized that there was a world out there that was very different from my family. 

And then I discovered the public library. And I discovered music and drama, and all of the things I had no nourishment of any of that at home. There were no pictures, there were no books. I was not taken to the circus. I never learned to roller skate or ice skate or bicycle. To swim; I finally taught myself to swim. 

I felt that it was a very strange childhood. Now I go with a friend of mine, two of us being circus-deprived children, we go to the circus every year! [laugh] 

I think I've made up for the childhood years. 




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