My Dilemma cuddled up next to me in bed and rested its head on my shoulder. “What is coconut palm sugar?”, it asked. I explained tenderly while rubbing its dear little head, that it is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. There are several different varieties of palm, and “coconut palm” specifically refers to the coco nucifera plant. It possesses a low glycemic index making it a healthier choice than sugar refined from sugar cane or beet sugar and is an option for diabetics. My Dilemma looked at me with the pure innocent eyes of a child.
“And what about goat’s milk kefir?”, it then asked. I answered, “Oh, you know. Kefir is a fermented milk product that originated centuries ago in the Caucasus mountains, made from the milk of any ruminant animal–in this case, goat. The various types of beneficial microbiota contained in kefir make it one of the most potent probiotic foods available.”
I thought it might be drifting off to sleep, but then it muttered, “Can you tell me the story about chia and hemp seeds, lukuma, stevia and mesquite sweeteners, oh and kombucha and cacao nibs?”. Try saying kombucha and cacao nibs five times fast. Wait a minute. Looking its way, I noticed a little smirk on its face.
I realized then it must have been looking through some of my papers that I have lying around among all of my resources. It was getting late and I was not in the mood to be playing games–even the one apparently called, describe the recently sourced foods deemed essential to a really healthy diet and that are alternatives to the substances compromising our health. Really, it is getting hard to keep up with these emerging products. I could have been annoyed but instead just planted a kiss on its little cheek. Besides, my Dilemma is always incredibly patient with me as I stagger about waving my sword attempting to slay the conundrums of our modern world’s feeding debacle. It is essentially the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote–forever loyal.
I plumped the pillow, pulled up the covers and made sure it was quite comfy. It puffed a little sigh, the kind that signals the final controlled exhale of the day, but then it managed one last exertion. “Do you tell your patients at the Health Center to eat these foods?” I remained still and didn’t say anything. I knew if I ignored it, sleep would blanket its cares and it would choose sweet dreams over reality-drenched answers.
I was glad to lay the matter to rest and tucked myself in for the night. But still, I knew my innocent-seeming Dilemma was playing me. It knows that every day as I walk into my office, I pray that I may not alienate my clients by making totally unrealistic suggestions and that I am grateful as I leave that there is still air in my car’s tires. It is quite aware that I oft apologize when I utter things like extra virgin olive oil, stevia, quinoa, almonds, and organic milk. It knows I choke and can’t say grass-fed, locally raised beef and heirloom tomatoes, and that I break out in hives when considering presenting the advantages of a gluten-free diet for certain individuals.
My economic assessments must be made fast and furiously and I cannot instantaneously calculate what a person’s monthly social security income, low wage earnings and varying food stamp dollar allotment translates into in terms of a daily food budget for themselves and their family. I have no lab values measuring the degree of food insecurity. Many of my clients depend on the graces of food pantries–especially at the end of the month; some live in shelters or at rehabilitation centers with absolutely no control of their food choices.
If quizzed, I would say the majority of my patients know the price, more or less, of white rice, corn or vegetable oil, hamburger meat, chicken and twelve-packs of soda–and messing with their math by offering well-meaning alternatives does not make for good calculus. Though food budgeting education is valuable, most of whom I work with are already experts in that regard. I can’t surmise how much wiggle room someone has in order to make their diet more of a priority, but I must venture in and gather and glean some sense in order to gauge what is possible. At the end of the day, I can only hope that I was close if there is to be any hope of meaningfully promoting diet for health.
A shelf in my office contains food boxes and wrappers, non-perishable examples of “consider this” and “please, whatever you do, try to avoid this” foods. The shelf is not big enough. My patients are kind as they pick up from the floor the items that have fallen as I search for something from my display to show them. For those with grass-fed dreams but ground beef budgets, I have a few things to suggest, though I lament that it is nary enough. These include beans, oats, sardines, milk substitutes, flax seeds, teas, lemon juice, spices, dried apples, low-sodium chicken broth, canned salmon, whole grain pasta, boxed tomato sauce, sunflower seeds, and apple cider vinegar. When I can, I offer little samples. On some days I have coupons for the farmer’s markets, the local food coop, and manufacturer’s products to share-and I do have a small group of patients tucked under my wing participating in Veggie Rx, a Produce Prescription Program that provides free fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis.
Almost everyone is thoughtful, attentive and appreciative and willing to try to do something. Hardly anyone looks at me and yells, “Are you kidding me?” as I proffer a baggie of cinnamon. Still, I need a lot more to ameliorate the consequences of the nutritional junkyard that litters the land and to which those living in poverty are most vulnerable. With sugar at 62 cents a pound and coconut palm sugar going for about $5 for that same amount, what I could really use is a more level playing field if I am going to accomplish my goal of minimizing health disparities.
In the morning, I found my Dilemma curled up on the couch with a cup of coconut palm sugar-sweetened teeccino caffeine-free herbal coffee alternative and the newspaper. “Good morning”, it greeted me. “Just reading about the cuts to the food stamp program.” “Have a good day!”, it shouted after me, as I ran out the door to work.
If you have any suggestions or would like to hear what I think my patients could really benefit from, drop me a line.
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In health, Elyn
P.S. Please take a moment to watch this beautiful video, Place Matters, by Clint Smith
Related Post: Inventive Incentive
My Plate Haiku
Hunger tiptoes in
From bellies, hearts or minds
Feed me now she calls.