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Rebecca Wood: Cookin’ with a passiion

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local Author – May 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

THERE ARE A LOT OF diet deities out there. Some preach organics only, some the value of veganism. Listen to me, they say. Raw foods. Red foods. No foods.

Rebecca Wood, cookbook author and teacher, tells each student to listen to the most important person: himself.

“There’s a lot of contradictory information out there,” Wood says. “The way to discern what’s legitimate, versus what is just a passing fad, is to see how it works with your digestion, to really track and notice how you feel.”

Wood’s gospel is whole foods. “Of course, grains are the staple of a whole foods diet,” she continues. “Most of The Whole Foods Encyclopedia by volume is probably vegetables, but grains and fresh produce are the staple of my diet.”

Just as writing and teaching about food has been the staple of her life. Wood hails from rural Utah “so food and food preservation, well, I just grew up with it.”

She attended the University of Utah, where she earned a degree in English and then got involved with macrobiotics. “What was exciting about macrobiotics in the ’60s was discovering the direct relationship between the foods we eat and how we feel,” she recalls.

The excitement of that discovery impelled Wood to study abroad at the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kenilworth, U.K.

“So that’s what fascinates me,” she says, “how specific foods can help us achieve the health that we wish.” Thus her passion for teaching healthy cooking and eating was born.

“In time, I shed my macrobiotic identity but still appreciate some of the common-sense macrobiotic stuff. But overall, it’s not the whole picture.”

[Rebecca Wood. Photo by Marcia Darnell]

Wood married, raised three children, then wound up in Boulder, teaching cooking. (She had taught in London.) “I’ve always been teaching and writing about cooking,” she says.

For people just starting down the path of healthy eating, Wood recommends starting out with an organized kitchen, “so that cooking can be pleasurable instead of drudgery. “It’s my experience that if we’re working in an organized kitchen, then cooking is fun,” she says.

According to Wood, the first steps to a healthy diet _are: one, organize the kitchen and clean out all those unhealthy foods; two, get good healthy supplies; and three, set aside time to prepare foods.

“Even if it’s just on Saturday that you have one really delicious meal, then you notice how you feel and that helps you make it a priority.”

Listening to her body became top priority to Wood twelve years ago, when she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I was able to turn it around with natural remedies. I was grateful for that,” she says. Her remedies included acupuncture, Chinese herbs, homeopathy, and the support of the people in her life. Wood’s dietary regimen included more animal products (i.e. meat), no refined fats, and fresh foods. She has had no recurrence.

“As much as possible, I recommend eating foods that are cooked fresh,” she says. “If it’s more than 24 hours old, it imparts less energy and you’re less satisfied.

“If it seems overwhelming to people, the thought of doing that, it’s a matter of organization, planning, and doing food preparation in steps.” For instance, soaking beans or grains overnight.

“If I eat stale foods, I feel stale. If I eat freshly cooked foods, I have energy to do what I want,” Wood says.

And what she does is remarkable. Wood is the author of several books.

Her first book was written in 1981, as a tool for developing the training program for Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder. That book became The Whole Foods Encyclopedia, and Wood used it as she traveled around the country, training staff for natural foods stores.

“That’s how I got to know the industry,” she says.

That first effort was followed by Quinoa: The Super Grain, then The Splendid Grain and a revision of her first book, amended to The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.

Splendid Grain won the 1998 award from the Julia Child Association of Culinary Professionals as well as the James Beard Award. In the world of cookbooks, those are the equivalent of the Oscar or an Emmy.

IN ADDITION TO RUNNING a cooking school (in her own kitchen), Wood travels to teach and demonstrate cooking. “I was in Reno a couple of weeks ago and taught in New York City last fall. I’m also traveling to do some demos for Eden Foods.”

She has a couple of new books in the works — one a textbook to go with her cooking school.

She also has a web site ( which offers a weekly question and recipe (with archives). The site is easy to use, featuring a simple design. Its use is growing, she says.

“My intention for the web site is that people who are just needing support for eating a healthy diet will log on and get enough information on a weekly basis — or whenever they’re interested — that they can help implement the diet in their own homes that works for them.”

And individuality is what it’s all about for Wood.

“The more we notice how foods make us feel,” she says, “the more we intend to prepare foods that make us feel good. Once we have that intention to make that shift, then it’s just a matter of implementation.”

For those in a time crunch, Wood urges a sense of priority. “We all take time to maintain our cars, to maintain our wardrobes, to maintain relationships at work and outside of work,” she says of today’s standards, “but preparing food is not a priority.”

For working parents she recommends: “Do the best you can and be organized and find ways to upgrade at a pace that works for you, without beating yourself up over a slip.” To feed finicky kids, she says, “get kids involved in growing and preparing foods to get them to eat healthy foods.”

As to what foods to test on ourselves, Wood asks us to look back in time. “Look at historical foods,” she says. “For example, a grain-based diet, of freshly cooked foods, versus processed foods, versus refined foods, is what makes sense.

“If you look at historical precedent,” she adds, “vegetables — in our temperate region — have always been more important than fruits. Fruits are wonderful as a cleansing food, and a cooling food, but fruits with grain-based meals are hard to digest.

“Fruits, as a sugar, digest very quickly, whereas grains are complex carbohydrates and take longer to digest. If you eat both together, the fruits are going to digest first, grains ferment and that spells acid indigestion.”

Region has a lot to do with the foods Wood prepares in her classes.

Before a recent one-day demonstration, Wood asked the students to imagine what lunch would consist of in this area 100 years ago and 1,000 years ago — an interesting exercise in both food and history.

“Our nutrition today substantiates what historical peoples worked out, that is, a grain-based diet, fresh produce, a little bit of fruit, and some amount of animal foods,” she says.

In addition to clean air and the beauty of the mountains, Wood says we are fortunate to have “wonderful foods,” citing Coleman beef, quinoa and other healthy grains, and fresh produce grown locally.

WHEN IT COMES TO FOODs other than grains, Wood has very specific ideas about what’s healthy. “There’s a lot of misinformation about fat,” she says. “Essential fatty acids are denatured at high temperatures, so it’s critical that we use vegetable oils that have been processed at low temperatures, because if they’ve been denatured by light or oxygen, they contribute to formation of free radicals, and are a carcinogen.

“I never buy oil in a clear bottle, or oil that doesn’t have stamped on the bottle when it was processed and at what temperature. I buy vegetable oils in small quantity and use them up, rather than buying in large quantity. Extra virgin olive oil is an exception — it does have good shelf life.”

[Rebecca Wood. Photo by Marcia Darnell]

Wood is also a big believer in butter. “For my baking, for cooking at temperatures above 240°, saturated fats like butter or coconut oil are going to not be denatured.

“I saute with good quality sesame oil or a little olive oil or with butter and I bake only with butter,” she says.

In addition to more energy and better sleep, Wood believes that a healthy diet contributes to overall pleasure in eating.

“Next time you’re in front of a fast food restaurant, stop and watch people eating,” she recommends. “Is anyone having a good time? Is anyone enjoying food? And then recall what it’s like to sit down to freshly prepared foods, foods that taste delicious and satisfy. Then note how you feel right after you eat at McDonald’s — the next hour, the next day — notice how foods make you feel.

Wood needs all the energy she can cook up right now. In addition to teaching and writing, she’s making plans to have a house built in the Baca Grande near Crestone. Naturally, she’s devoting a lot of thought to the design of the kitchen.

“The most important element in designing a kitchen is that it’s a pleasurable space, and functional,” she says. “Organized, with lots of light.”

Given Wood’s gospel, it’s sure to be a unique space.

“All that anybody should be interested in is what works for them.”

For information on the Be Nourished cooking school, contact or call 719-256-4727.

Marcia Darnell attended a demonstration by Rebecca Wood, where she learned how to make ghee.