1970s Counterculture revolt

Lentils became a staple as the counter-culture embraced vegetarian eating

In the late ‘60s and early ’70s, the counterculture revolt railed against everything that symbolised the industrial state. It included a new politics of food, involving macrobiotics, Wendell Berry, the Whole Earth Catalogue and dreams of living on communes. Interest in Eastern religions encouraged people to adopt a vegetarian diet and the archetypical foods of the era were brown rice and lentils.

A counterculture has been defined as a social movement that “undermines societal hierarchies which structure urban life and create, instead, a city organised on the basis of values such as action, local cultures, and decentred participatory democracy”. The counterculture movement of the late 1960s began in the United States and was identified with hippies and the 1967 “summer of love” in San Francisco. As well as concerns about the cold war and the Vietnam war, people embraced the idea of conscious consumption for the betterment of the planet. This led to the formation of food co-operatives and communes as alternatives to consuming industrialised foods.

In Australia, the Aquarius festival at Nimbin in 1973 provided a focus for many who embraced the idea of an alternative lifestyle. The surrounding area in northern New South Wales became home to a number of new communities based on the principles of sustainability and personal freedom. Typically, communities established gardens or small farms and attempted to be self-sustaining. The permaculture movement that emerged in Australia in the late 1970s fed into this desire for sustainability. The eventual growth of the organic food movement and the development of farmers’ markets owe much to the counterculture and its back-to-the-land elements.

In Melbourne, the Shakahari restaurant was founded by the Indian guru Mukta Nanda. It was located in Carlton’s Lygon Street, near Melbourne University and the food, naturally enough, had a strong Indian influence. The brown rice and lentils combination that formed the basis of “hippy” food was based on the nutritional principle of combining grains and pulses to ensure you consumed a complete range of proteins. It was shamelessly mocked in the British television series “The Young Ones”, where one of the characters, the lugubrious Neil, was invariably cooking lentils.

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