What’s Hippie Food?

Last April, I emailed the editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA) and asked if he knew of a place “that makes and serves hippie food.” He replied, “The mother of all ‘hippie food’ emporiums just happens to be directly across the street from our office. Boont Berry Farm is a wonderful little store in business here for about forty years.”

But what exactly is “hippie food”? I wasn’t sure when I sent my email. The editor of the AVA didn’t define the term, either, though he put it in quotation marks.

Fifty-plus years after the advent of the hippies, many ex-hippies, as well as students and aficionados of hippie culture are asking pertinent questions about the cooking and eating habits of “the drop-outs” and “the back-to-the-landers” who lived in communes, formed “food conspiracies,” as they were called, and aimed to exist outside the boundaries of the corporate food world.

That was no easy feat in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when hippie culture, and the counterculture to which it belonged, spread from New York and San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado, Taos, New Mexico, Boonville, California and elsewhere. Eating outside the fast food industry is no easy task today, either, though organic foods are more readily available than they were in 1976 when Burt Cohen, an ex-New Yorker who had attended graduate school at UC Davis, arrived in Boonville and started to grow vegetables.

Not long afterward, he opened Boont Berry Farm Store at 13981 California Route 128, the long, windy highway that runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Sacramento Valley.

“The store hasn’t really changed over the past thirty-six-years,” Cohen told me. “People who return after a long or a short absence are happy to see that it’s basically the same.” He added, “It might have been hippie at the beginning, but not anymore.” The sign outside the store reads, “Natural Food & Deli, Smoothies, Juices, Ice Cream, and Organic Local Produce.” The ceiling is low, there’s a wood floor and the place hasn’t expanded, though there’s more variety now than there was at the beginning.

The hippies of 1967 and 1968—those who have survived—don’t eat the same foods today as they did back then, though some still aim to shop at stores like Boont Berry Farm and not at Whole Food and Safeway, which have expropriated and adulterated some of the basics of hippie cuisine. While Cohen doesn’t care for the hippie label, he’s comfortable calling his place “a community-based store.”

He points out that some people have worked at Boont Berry Farm Store for decades. Julianne is one of them.

“I was raised by a hippie grandmother,” Julianne said. “She also made cheeseburgers.” Julianne doesn’t mind calling Cohen’s emporium a “hippie food place.” She explains that it offers gluten-free and dairy-free foods and that it also “takes and fills special orders for hippie things like nutritional yeast and tahini.”

On a recent morning on the cusp of summer, I visited the store and bought a four-pound package of gluten-free and whole grain baking and pancake mix. I also enjoyed a Caesar salad. The refrigerated display-case offered two specials: a curried shrimp dish; and vegan lasagna. There was an array of local cheeses and local wines and there was fresh, local, organic produce, too. What more could any reasonable person ask for? Not much!

Burt Cohen said that he originally started the store as a venue for the vegetables he was growing at Boont Berry Farm. He’s no longer growing crops for sale, though the Anderson Valley Community Farm uses about half the property he owns. Some of that produces is sold at Boont Berry Farm Store. These days, Cohen says, he does more cooking than ever before. He also travels widely and eats wherever he goes.

“In Italy I ate tiramisu everywhere I went,” he said. “Now I make my own at home.”

Cohen’s tiramisu and his curried chicken, vegan lasagna and Caesar salad are good reasons to return to his emporium.

Earlier this year, I threw a dinner party at my house to talk about hippie food. I invited a dozen friends, many of them ex-hippies and countercultural types. I also persuaded my friend, Isa Jacoby—a spunky, whimsical ex-New Yorker who loves to feed people and who sometimes cooks for hundreds—to make her version of hippie food. She prepared a feast that included miso soup, “beetnik salad,” “Russian vegetable pie,” ”Tassajara bread,” “Diet for a Small Planet Bread spread,” and “Free Love Desert.”

Jonathan Kauffman, the author of a new book titled Hippie Food would have been scandalized by Jacoby’s menu. After all, he says that two of his favorite hippie foods are lentil stews and whole-wheat bread. In Hippie Food, Kauffman tries very hard to be cutesy, as for example when he writes, “The revolution failed. The revolution succeeded.”

Curiously, he down plays the role of food in the counterculture. “Food wasn’t much on peoples’ minds” in the Haight Ashbury he says. “The revolution was and so were music and drugs.” Memories of and books about that era say otherwise.

The Hippie Cookbook—which was written by Gordon and Phyllis Grabe and published in Forestville, in Sonoma County in 1970— shows that food was pivotal for hippies and that it was inextricably connected to protest and rebellion. The Grabes offer recipes for “Disarmament Day Dinner,” ”Moratorium March Muffins,” and “Peace Symbol Pie Crust.”

They also suggest that hippies grow their own marijuana. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, rebellion and food mixed in the great American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. They’re still mixing in the era of Donald Trump.

Wendy Krupnick teaches organic farming and gardening at Santa Rosa Junior College. She also calls herself “a life-long hippie.” Born and raised in Los Angeles by bohemian parents, she has lived the hippie life in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Bolinas in Marin County, and Sonoma County.

“I was moving like crazy,” she said. These days she’s less mobile.

Krupnick remembers food co-ops, macrobiotic diets, influential books by the likes of the nutritionist Adelle Davis, loads of fun with hippies, and restaurants like “Late for the Train” and “Flea Street. Café” which were owned and operated in Menlo Park and Palo Alto by a woman named Jesse Cool. How cool is that!

Krupnick hasn’t forgotten that hippies were often described as “dirty and flakey,” that they were often “disheveled” and that some of them “hung out and listened to the Grateful Dead all day.” None of that has prevented her from accepting the best of hippie culture. Today, she’s an advocate for real, not corporate food.

In New York, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I called myself a “freak” and then a "Yippie.” We staged guerilla theater actions like running a pig for president in 1968. Abbie Hoffman once defined a “Yippie as a hippie who had been hit on the head by a policeman’s truncheon.”

I didn’t embrace hippie ways until I arrived in California in 1974. While I didn’t care for brown rice and tofu, I liked the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll and the protests. Many of the hippies I knew in San Francisco worked in “natural food stores” such as “Seeds of Life.” Some of them thought that “natural foods” were the way to make the revolution, though they also ate in Mexican restaurants in the Mission and Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. They had eclectic tastes in food and they liked to share food with one another whether they were in communes or not.

Hippies were almost always drawn to cultures other than their own. Anything but white, middle class suburbia. They brought the spices and the condiments of Indian, Chinese and Japanese food into their kitchens and they often fed street people and the homeless. Hippies who went to the American South learned about the cooking of poor whites and poor blacks. They came home, grew and cooked collard greens and made grits from corn meal.

At the 1969 Woodstock festival that was billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music,” Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm, made granola— perhaps the quintessential hippie food—for hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise have gone hungry.

At Boont Berry Farm, Burt Cohen and his crew have been feeding tens of thousands of locals and tourists, too, ever since 1982, though they haven’t been giving food away as the Hog Farm did at Woodstock. The anarchist Diggers of San Francisco also made food and fed many of the runaway kids from suburbia who landed in the Haight and needed something to eat and a place to stay.

A new book by Malcolm Terence called Beginner’s Luck describes hippie foods and lots more at Black Bear Ranch, a commune in the Klamath Mountains. An old book by Elia Katz titled Armed Love, which was published in 1971, offers the most honest account of hippie culture I have ever read. In 1971 and 1972 signs in many restaurants read “No dogs and no hippies,” though there were notable exceptions to that rule. At one point in his narrative, Katz writes that he often escaped from the commune where he was living “to buy large breakfasts in a local luncheonette, because health food makes me sick.”

Burt Cohen may not like the hippie label, but he has never turned away a hungry hippie.

“It's been fun,” he said when he looked back at his time at Boont Berry Farm Store. The AVA’s editor calls it “a boon to the community.” Legendary northern California marijuana grower, “Smokey” Joe Munson, who shops there whenever he’s in town, calls it “the best kept food secret in northern California.” Hopefully, this article won’t prompt a deluge that overruns the store. Hopefully, too, Burt Cohen and friends like Julianne keep on keeping on.


(Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.)

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