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Beatrice Trum Hunter: The Venerable Crackpot

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Beatrice Trum Hunter is a pioneering writer on food, nutrition, and healthy living. She was writing about the benefits of natural foods and the health risks of chemicals long before the subjects became popular. Her books include The Natural Foods Cookbook, Gardening Without Poisons, and The Great Nutrition Robbery. Now in her 90s, she remains active as a writer and photographer. And a living testament to her beliefs. 

 

 

 

She lives simply and happily in a house alongside a dirt road in the woods of Deering, New Hampshire -- where she has lived for over fifty years. It's an old, white, two-story house with a long porch on one side. Across the road is a big barn with two Volkswagen Beetles parked outside.  One is a 1973 that used to belong to Hunter's mother-in-law -- the renowned photographer Lotte Jacobi. The other is a 1971 in mint condition that she bought a few years ago; "It was one of these cars driven by a little old lady, and had very low mileage. I thought, this is a good backup. Because the thought of buying a new car -- all I have to do is look at the dashboard of a new car, and I go into a frenzy! " She laughs. 

 

Inside, the house is a reflection of her principles. It's simple but functional. There is little or no plastic anywhere; natural materials predominate. There's a large woodstove in the center of the main floor -- the house's only heat source. The spare furnishings would strike some as frugal, but she's not denying herself any pleasures or frills; she lives simply because she likes living that way. Her "wants" are focused on her creative pursuits. 

 

Many of the walls are covered with photographs of ice crystals, an interest she picked up in recent years. There are plenty of books everywhere, mainly on topics of health, nutrition, and natural living. In her upstairs bedroom and office, there are signs of a writer at work: stacks of research materials, pens and paper, a typewriter. "As you may suspect, I am really a Luddite," she chuckles. "I chose not to go into the computer age." She does have a computer-literate friend who puts her writings into electronic form for submission to publishers. 

 

Hunter herself presents a simple, functional appearance. She is small in stature, with a simple (probably self-administered) haircut and not a trace of makeup. Functional clothing, little adornment. She is well-spoken; each sentence feels carefully crafted and complete. For someone born in 1918, she appears to be very healthy; I would have guessed that she was ten to fifteen years younger. 

 

"I think my upper years have been the happiest of my life," she says, "and certainly the most creative." She radiates a sense of confidence born of a lifetime of achievement, and the satisfaction of seeing the world catch up with her ideas. And there's a sense of contentment, from having crafted a life on her own terms. 

Read the rest of her story in my book, including her youth in New York City, her relationship with photographer Lotte Jacobi, and her own photograpic work -- depicting the ice crystals that form on her porch windows in wintertime. 
 
Click here to read selected excerpts from my interviews with Hunter -- including her views on food and nutrition, and her early years in New York City. 
 
Listen to my 2004 interview with Hunter from the NHPR Archive.  

Contact me at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.