ORONO, Maine — In an era of fast food and fad diets, University of Maine Professor Emerita Katherine Musgrave remains a voice of reason. Her no-nonsense approach to diet and nutrition has influenced generations of Mainers.
“What I believe is that the human body is a miracle that will heal itself and will prevent disease if we treat it right, and I think a large part of this treatment is the food we eat and that’s all I know,” Musgrave said Saturday during a luncheon in her honor at UMaine’s Wells Conference Center.
She blames the current obesity epidemic on overindulgence in processed foods, which are easily accessible.
“We don’t need food in the shopping centers. We don’t need food at every drive-in. You can’t go a block in Bangor without seeing a drive-in [fast food restaurant],” she said.
“I think food is too accessible even in our own homes,” she said. “Our kitchens now are so available with our cupboards and our refrigerators. When I was a child [growing up on a Tennessee farm], the kitchen was closed at night,” she said. “You were only getting heat. When that stove got cold after supper, nobody went back into the kitchen for a snack. I was in a hard-working family, but nobody ever went back into the kitchen for a snack.”
Another problem is that too few families have meals together. People often eat while working or driving, which she points out is bad for the digestive system.
“We’ve gone against the way our bodies want us to operate,” she said.
During Saturday’s event, about 80 former and current students, colleagues, friends, family members and others gathered to recognize Musgrave’s lifetime of teaching and counseling in nutrition as well as her leadership and advocacy on nutritional issues in Maine and nationally.
Musgrave recently raised eyebrows when she weighed in on the recent whoopie pie debate in Augusta. She said the chocolate in whoopie pies is high in flavonoids as well as antioxidants that ease blood pressure and have other beneficial effects.
She later cautioned, however, that self-control is the key, a theme she reinforced Saturday.
“In all food, moderation is the key word,” she said.
“She is the most amazing woman I think I’ve ever met,” said Allison Dougherty, a graduate student who moved her family from Ohio to pursue a career as a dietitian. “She is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m proud to have met her.”
Musgrave, who turned 91 last month, has taught science and human nutrition to thousands of students at UMaine. Though she retired in 1986, she still works full time. She teaches, including an online class through UMaine’s Division of Lifelong Learning, is a registered dietitian, a nutritional consultant to area physicians and corporate wellness programs and does a weekly radio segment on Bangor radio station WZON during which she discusses ideas for healthy living.
The recipient of state and national awards and recognition — including an honorary doctorate of science degree from UMaine in 2006 — Musgrave, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, will be inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame later this month.
Musgrave was sponsored for the Hall of Fame honor by Susan Hunter, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University of Maine, and former first lady Karen M. Baldacci, a former student.
Baldacci and her husband, John, had hoped to attend Saturday’s function but were unable to.
They sent their regrets and congratulations, which were announced during a tribute that followed a buffet luncheon featuring Maine seafood and a fruit dessert.
Event organizers Susan Davis and Susan Sullivan said attendees of Saturday’s tribute donated generously to a scholarship fund established in 2009 with a gift from Musgrave.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.