I am on my way to Boston to attend Oldways conference Finding Common Ground. I love Oldways for combining old school traditional cuisines with new science. Plus, they rebuilt the pyramid.
Originally posted on for Huffington Post
Oldways, New Vegetarian and Vegan Diet Pyramid
The old ways are new again — and even more vital. That’s why Oldways, the Boston-based nonprofit advocating health through heritage, traditional foods and foodways just released its new vegetarian and vegan diet pyramid.
There’s nothing new about the health benefits of a produce-rich diet. Back around 400 B.C. or so, Hippocrates was saying let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food — and he lived into his 80s. What’s new “is the science,” says Oldways president Sara Baer-Sinnott. “The science gets better.” Among the latest compelling stats is a JAMA study linking a meatless diet to lower risk of mortality. Info like that, coupled with the growing interest in a meatless diet prompted Oldways to update its vegetarian pyramid of 1997, which, despite its focus, was shy about trumpeting the power of produce. The images of fresh fruits and vegetables were few and were shunted off into the corner.
Produce gets its due with the new version, with a rainbow cornucopia of vegetables and fruits comprising the broad base of the pyramid. “It’s beautifully illustrated, and one of the most astonishing thing to me is if you put your finger over the top” (where dairy resides, at the tip of the triangle), “it’s vegan. In the past, we didn’t really account for vegans,” admits Baer-Sinnott. “Personally, I love cheese. But here, there’s not much difference between vegetarian and vegan.”
From the vegetables and fruits at the bottom to the little triangle of dairy at the top, the foods of Oldways’ pyramid are whole, unprocessed, traditional. “We’re not about food fads, we’re about traditions, taking the best of the past and bringing it forward. It’s delicious, not expensive and it brings family and community together.”
Like Slow Food International, Oldways was founded in the 90s, in the dark days of low-carb, low-fat and processed food. Oldways takes a holistic and deliciously old school approach to health and nutrition, focusing on “the importance of preserving old ways, the food traditions that are healthy for people, good for the earth, also for culture.”
All these old ways were fairly new for Baer-Sinnott when she came to the nonprofit twenty years ago after working in publishing. “I’ve really learned about the power of healthy eating and the pleasure of eating,” she says, just back from a tour of Madrid. It’s all part of the job and the nonprofit’s mission “to inspire people, to get them excited.” These annual Oldways culinaria trips do inspire people to take what they’ve learned — and eaten — in different regions and apply it at home in melting pot America. “Twenty years ago, when we introduced Mediterranean olive oil” (as part of Oldways’ Mediterranean Diet Pyramid), “olive oil was a weird product.”
In the same way, Oldways’ vegetarian and vegan diet pyramid aims to make a traditional vegetarian and plant-based diets less mystifying and more accessible to people accustomed to the Standard American Diet. “People may think it’s a lot more complicated. We’re trying to provide tools to make them feel more confident and show the foods are exciting and delicious.”
From personal health to global sustainability to animal rights, “there are so many reasons why people choose vegetarian and vegan eating,” says Baer-Sinnott. “They’re all good reasons.”