Health institutions traditionally have remained aloof from the recreational activities of public life. And the American Cancer Society has been no exception.
Not any more.
More health organizations are beginning to see the value of infiltrating a segment of society that patronizes the world of restaurants, follows a premier fashion trend and preoccupies itself with affluence.
In Los Angeles, one study of 1,104 households showed that those with annual incomes of $25,000 or more accounted for a disproportionately larger share of patronage of eating places, especially at dining-type restaurants.
The American Heart Assn. successfully has filtered into the mass restaurant scene by designating dishes on menus which meet its guidelines for good heart health, but the effect upon public health has not been as spectacular as the group might wish.
The Kidney Foundation has also made use of famous chefs to promote its cause.
Countless other health societies have solicited the assistance of chefs and restaurants to help raise funds. Cake bakes and cook-offs also have been instruments of help.
So it was no surprise last week to find at the Biltmore's new Rendezvous Court, amid the Florentine fountain, Areca palms and French music chairs, 12 of California's top chefs participating in the launching of the fifth annual Cancer Awareness Week.
They were demonstrating to the media, which arrived with much of the same hoopla and paraphernalia needed to cover a political campaign or fashion show, how food that tastes good also can be good for you; that by following guidelines set forth by the cancer society of increasing foods high in fiber, Vitamins A and C, and decreasing fat intake, the public can do for itself what no cancer cure can do: prevent the killer disease from occurring at all for certain cancers.
Even more important, the top chefs had stepped out of the kitchen to give open support to cancer prevention, a concept that has been wracked by confusion and controversy amid the scientific community. Not long ago, the cancer society had a hard time philosophically linking cancer with diet. Environment, substance abuse and hereditary causes, rather than diet, had been the accepted risk factors up to a few years ago. Today, not only is a food connection acknowledged, but it has been made the focal point for cancer health awareness in the last several years' campaigns.
The gospel of healthful eating emitted by trend-setting chefs is sure to be heard by the increasing number of Americans who dine out, and the effect could be significant. John Sedlar, whose St. Estephe restaurant in Manhattan Beach is a leader in the movement toward a California cuisine, is convinced that support of health by top-echelon chefs will pave the way to public acceptance. "We can't ignore it any longer. We all have to be involved," he said.
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, who is considered the mother of the California cuisine and a veteran supporter of natural foods, echoed those sentiments. "We have to change the way we eat if we are to be a healthy society. We have to be aware of what goes into our bodies," she said.
One by one, each of the 12 chefs was called to the podium to present his or her healthful dish as might a fashion show model be brought out on the runway. Each dish prepared was deemed healthful according to the guidelines set forth by the cancer society. The style, however, was exquisite and the ingredients exotic and not inexpensive.
"We have to remember that these are gourmet recipes which do use more expensive ingredients. Hazelnut oil is more expensive than vegetable oil. But preparing these recipes at home can be less expensive by using regular counterparts," said Katherine Boyd, registered dietitian of the cancer society.
Most of the chefs needed minimal guidance for modifying their recipes to meet cancer society standards. "With minor changes and clarification, the chefs were able to meet the guidelines easily," Boyd said.
Most chefs, in fact, are conscious about high-fat ingredients. Only Roland Gibert of Bernard's admitted to having to reduce cream and fat from his recipe. "It was a real experience for me," he said. Others had no problems.
Waters, who was honorary chairwoman for the event, traditionally has used fresh ingredients in her restaurant cooking, with the garden as a heavy source of supply. "Think of the garden and pull out all you can use for salad--chicory, lettuce, zucchini, cabbage and other vegetables," she said.