I fondly remember visiting Bill White's quaint Foods for Health store in the early 1970s with my mom, Francene Lifson, to shop for some healthy "natural" food items she had read about in Look magazine, at a time when mothers were shying away from serving frozen vegetables at the dinner table. Foods for Health was probably the first store on Ventura Boulevard to feature organic produce and vegetarian cuisine at its splendiferous lunch counter.
As I grew older and wiser about my own dietary regimen and began a longtime commitment to long-distance running, Foods for Health became my main lunch stopoff for veggie sandwiches on great whole-grain bread with a side salad, and Hain canned but still awesome vegetarian chili, which they always had cooking at Foods for Health's little restaurant.
Lots of local celebrities such as Albert Brooks and rocker Tom Petty could be spotted at Foods for Health in the late 1970s (the name "Bill White's" was dropped around this time and the new owner, Phil Kim, kept only the "Foods for Health" moniker. Much of the interior decor stayed the same. In early 1994, damage from the Northridge earthquake proved too severe for remodeling, and the store closed.
I recall buying a book in 1976 at Foods for Health titled Healthy Hair and Common Sense, by Dr. Dale Alexander. The book had tips for "saving your hair from falling out," despite the fact that Dr. Alexander's photo on the back sleeve showed a gleaming, balding pate!
Nevertheless, I took his advice to try the "healthy hair shake," and purchased chia seeds, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, which I'd put in a blender with milk and a banana and gulp down each morning for a couple of years—until I realized the reason my hair was so healthy was that I was 18 years old.
Foods for Health was also the first store where I purchased bee pollen in supplements—until they started causing cravings for Honey Nut Cheerios.
The store was used as a location in the cult classic film Valley Girl. Julie (Deborah Foreman) and her boyfriend Randy (Nicolas Cage) meet there for a date because Julie works after school at the store for her ex-hippie parents, who own the place—they even wear yellow "Foods for Health" T-shirts while selling their alfalfa sprouts and avocado sandwiches.
Since the time Bill White's Foods for Health first appeared in Sherman Oaks, many other health food businesses have come and gone. I remember Natural Harvesters across from the La Reina Theatre, which was a state-of-the-art health food market. Healthy Discounts on Van Nuys Boulevard became a mainstay for buying bulk granola and fresh organic produce in the years after Foods for Health had shut down.
While in business, Foods for Health withstood the competition in large part because of a very loyal following, which included jazz drummer Stan Levey, a longtime Sherman Oaks resident. The restaurant was a place to hang out and share stories of the latest health food craze, of which I recall the Beverly Hills Diet (mainly pineapple-based) and Cara-Coa carob non-chocolate candy bars replacing the almighty Hershey bar for health nuts like me.
All these years later, I am still running and paying exorbitant prices for fresh-squeezed juices now available in all my local supermarkets. I often think of my simple and yet ultra-nutritious meals at the Foods for Health store and wish a simple, health-conscious lunch spot could open again in Sherman Oaks. Or is that what Mel's Drive In is supposed to be?