David Smigelski

Granny would be so happy

Are you old enough to remember when acupuncture seemed like something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and naturopathy was seen as an aberrant offshoot of the hippie movement?

Remember when herbs were considered weird, and homeopathy was denounced as quackery?

Now you can buy homeopathic remedies at the neighborhood pharmacy, mainstream health organizations are touting the benefits of herbal remedies, insurance companies are paying for acupuncture treatments and naturopathic principles are key tenets of integrative medicine.

You can carry this line of reasoning a long way. Remember when tofu was synonymous with space cadet? Now you can't switch cable channels without stumbling across a nutritionist touting the benefits of soy isoflavones.

Just a few short years ago, organic foods and the people who pushed them were viewed with the same suspicion — and, in many cases, the outright hostility — that was once aimed at communism. Now you'd be hard-pressed to find a supermarket that doesn't have an organic foods section.

Ditto gluten-free. Ditto essential fatty acids. Ditto yoga. Ditto tai chi. Ditto fresh air, clean water and the importance of buying local.

Those of us who began dabbling in "alternative" health and natural foods "back in the day," meaning in the 1970s or earlier, can't help but feel vindicated. A lot of what we took as common sense — such as the wisdom of eating foods grown without chemicals or using herbs instead of pharmaceuticals — has moved from the fringe to the mainstream.

This train of thought began rumbling down my mental track as we finalized this month's issue of Oregon Healthy Living, which contains stories about acupuncture and herbal remedies. In recent months, we've published stories about massage, yoga, natural foods and other topics that would have been considered "alternative" not long ago.

Now they're hot, with the backing of organizations such as AARP, the Diabetes Association, National Institutes of Health and many others.

People who are new to natural health can't appreciate how hard it used to be. We couldn't walk into Food 4 Less and buy organic pot pies, tempeh bacon and tofu lasagna. They didn't exist. If you wanted organic vegetables, you pretty much had to grow them yourself. If you wanted tofu or natural peanut butter, you had to be a detective because there was no Internet, so you couldn't do Google searches to find them.

My grandmother would be so proud. She got breast cancer in 1959. The doctors cut her breasts off then exposed her to a dose of radiation that would be unthinkable today. It burned her throat so badly she couldn't swallow.

Determined to live, she became a pioneer of natural foods. Because she couldn't swallow solid food, she bought a juicer and a blender after hearing about them on TV from Jack LaLanne. She lived on carrot juice, beet juice, lecithin and brewer's yeast. She'd blend liver, raw eggs, garlic and other foods she read about in Prevention Magazine, one of the very few sources of information about natural remedies available to the public back then.

She lived on those concoctions for 13 years before her throat had healed enough to take her first bite of solid food — poached fish that she mashed with a fork.

She lived for more than 30 years after her surgery, long enough to see the advent of natural-food stores, but not long enough to see organic pot pies in the freezer section of the neighborhood grocery.

She would have been so happy.

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