Today, I awoke to a landscape that looked like a poorly iced cake. A wet, mushy, disorganized snow fell overnight and pathetically covered the ground, leaving crumbs of grass unattractively exposed. Now, a cold, icy rain is falling and I am glad that I don’t have to go out for a while. So, I am curled up warm and cozy, just chillin’ with my dilemma. We are wondering where is the art in the science of nutrition.
Sometimes, the standard approaches used in this field seem as dreary to me as this grey day. Reducing food to its macronutrient content; shaping diets to conform to a square, triangular or circular configuration; indicating proper serving sizes by comparing them to a computer mouse, a golf ball or a dissected thumb tip; helping decipher rather indecipherable food labels, or interrogating the true source of our hungers–objectifying these practices can leave me as uninspired as a plate of overcooked green beans.
I seem to prefer something a little juicier with more feeling, color, passion, and heart in this pursuit of health promotion. A tad annoyed with me, my dilemma poses that I should have just become an art historian, museum curator–or an artist–if I wished to find Picasso, Rembrandt or Gauguin in my daily work. Or a chef or a farmer, it grunts. It is right of course.
My dilemma reminds me that I know darn well where this work comes alive–where it jumps off the page-turning from black and white into full technicolor; where it brightens from canned pea puce to fresh green pepper emerald; and from hamburger helper to the tastiest, soul-nourishing food that one can ever imagine. I know where palette meets palate.
One of the most inspiring aspects of my own work is the collaboration I am able to do with an organization called the Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG)–(update Capital Roots). This non-profit is committed to irrigating food deserts with a vengeance through a variety of projects. It is responsible for 47 food gardens in the local community, a farm-to-market program for youth, an initiative that enables local corner stores to appropriately stock and effectively sell a variety of fresh produce, and, a program that serves childcare programs. In addition, it is the mother of the Veggie Mobile–the healthy answer to the ice cream truck–a produce section on wheels.
This brightly painted, bio-diesel and solar-powered retrofitted truck winds its way–playing Beatles, Motown, and Hip Hop–through underserved neighborhoods in four nearby urban centers. It brings its well-stocked bounty of wholesale priced fruits and vegetables, locally grown when available, to public and senior housing units, schools, neighborhood centers and–I am thrilled to say–the health center where I work. When I called them about two years ago and asked them to help promote the message of food as medicine, they expanded their schedule to accommodate my request. It is amazing for me to watch every Tuesday as patients, staff, clients of the center’s substance abuse program and neighbors take their turn in line to shop. Most times I witness some beautiful gem of nourishment. Recently, I was touched by observing an elderly gentleman speaking to his wife on his cell phone telling her what was available and filling his bag per her requests.
A few weeks ago I went to the rolling out party of the CDCG’s newest baby. A smaller version of the Veggie Mobile–called Sprout–was ready to take to the road to expand their service area. As I was on the highway heading to the event, a big McDonald’s truck got ahead of me as it sped in from the on-ramp. As I wrote about in Morose Meals and Human Bites, McDonald’s tries to get my goat–so I knew this was no ironic coincidence. The back panel of the truck pictured a giant-sized box of french fries, with the words NO PASSING. Don’t they think they’re clever with their subliminal messaging? However, I know what those starchy sticks are made of. Potatoes, vegetable oil, canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor made from wheat and milk derivatives, citric acid, dextrose, sodium acid, pyrophosphate, and salt will not seduce me. Neither will the canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, with TBHQ, citric acid and dimethylpolysiloxane that they are cooked in. Immune to their tactics, I switched lanes, put the pedal to the metal and passed that truck right by.
As I arrived at little Sprout’s press conference, I got all choked up. There it was–the art and poetry. It was the most beautiful and colorful canvas. Bright greens, reds, oranges, and yellows were everywhere from the painting on the truck to the gorgeous apples, yams, bananas, squash and collards that filled it. County Supervisors and other local politicians were there to welcome this new addition to the fleet, stating that only 44% of people in this city had access to healthy food. Sprout’s efforts would help to increase that number. How wonderful is that? So, take that you big giant McDonald’s truck. You are no match to this little mighty David.
After the speeches were over, local residents who were present began to shop. I took an apple that was being offered and grabbed a big juicy bite. Here, a few blocks from the very Hudson River that had informed the palette of a whole school of artists, was a veritable Garden of Eden–in a backstreet parking lot. This is where nutrition leaves science behind and becomes a thing of true beauty.
Two other projects have recently come to my attention which also remind me of the color of nourishment. One is the work of Gina Keatley, a chef and nutritionist, who witnessing malnutrition in East Harlem, founded a non-profit called Nourishing NYC.
The other is a fascinating documentary called Urban Roots, by filmmaker Mark McInnis about Detroit’s urban agricultural movement. It captures a grass-roots revolution in its truest sense that is impacting the access to food and hence the nutritional status of a largely disenfranchised population in a post-industrial era.
Please check out all of these groups and their work. I am sure donations would be welcomed.
So, in celebration of our harvest feast, rich with the hues of autumn, I give thanks to all who grow and help bring food to the table–for there lie the most important nutritional lessons of all. And, deep gratitude to my readers, Haiku poets, friends and family. Inspired by you, I strive to bring creativity and love to my own purpose.
In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Food is medicine
Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests
Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.