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morose meals and human bites

Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with...

Eleanor Roosevelt Image via Wikipedia

I am pretty certain that McDonald’s is purposely trying to get my goat. They know I have not cared for them for a really long time. It goes way back. Firstly, I never liked that red and yellow color combination. I find it jarring and it reminds me of a bad mix of mustard and ketchup. Then, there was the whole clown thing. As a child, Bozo viscerally upset me. When McDonald’s fashioned Ronald after Bozo it was like a recurring nightmare. I was confronted repeatedly by the image I thought I had successfully avoided by outgrowing children’s programming. I am sensitive that way. On top of this, I think their restaurants smell bad.

I recall in high school coming home after eating at McDonald’s, climbing into my mom’s bed not feeling great, and deciding to become a vegetarian. I can’t swear the two events occurred simultaneously, but I carry a strong association between them.

Then of course, as a whole foods advocate, nutritionist, and mother, there was no way I could find love in my heart for this child-seducing fast-food corporate giant. I did my best to be the David to this Goliath, but the Happy Meal made me lay down my slingshot. By that point, not only were kids enchanted, but the parents were as well, and I felt defeated.

Still, I was shocked recently when driving down a local highway. I came upon a McDonald’s billboard displaying a gargantuan coffee drink, with a Marge Simpson hairdo-sized topping of whip cream styled with a Mark of Zorro chocolate signature. The huge letters said, ” Chocolate Drizzle is a Right, Not a Topping”.

Since they know I don’t watch much television and therefore might miss their commercials–what better way to get in my face than with a billboard. So what if I tell my clients that  McDonald’s will not pay for their medical bills and medications should they develop nutrition-related health problems. Or, that I do use their bathrooms on occasion. This still seems like an overblown, petty and morally bereft response to our personal tiff.

Is this subliminal or just plain out seductive and manipulative advertising? Or is it downright obnoxious? I get that this is just advertising and that companies rely on it to promote their products. I do watch Mad Men–on Netflix. But to be raising chocolate drizzle to the status of a right in a world where many are denied their true ones is indecent. This assumption about simple entitlements overshadows and ignores the sanctity of our real human rights which according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to matters such as life, liberty, security of person, freedom from servitude, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. They extend to include a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and their family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care, and necessary social services. Drizzle does not make the list.

Am I being too sensitive again? Should I lighten up? From where I sit, there are more important rights to assure than drizzle. Here are some examples of things I see that may make me a tad jaded. One day last week I had five clients. Cumulatively they weighed 1,576 pounds. Individually they weighed 382, 366, 284, 292 and 252 pounds. The 252 pounds belonged to an 11-year-old boy with early signs of diabetes and other distressing diet-related health problems.

One morning this week I saw three clients right in a row. They ranged in age from 35 to 48 and were on 17 prescriptions between them–mainly for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, reflux, and pain–lots of pain. I am tempted to list them. They make for an interesting mix of consonants and vowels. Later, I saw a woman who described a recent McDonald’s meal to me which consisted of 1800 calories.

On a daily basis, I speak with people without kitchen tables, homes, jobs, beds, medical insurance, sufficient medical care–and adequate food. I see kids who can’t go out and play in their neighborhoods and who might not graduate high school.

So, don’t go there with me McDonald’s, asserting that chocolate drizzle is a right. You know that drizzle is not a right but a chemical mixture of corn syrup, dextrose, water, sugar, glycerin, hydrogenated coconut oil, cocoa, food starch-modified, nonfat milk, natural and artificial flavors, salt, gellan gum, disodium phosphate, potassium sorbate, soy lecithin, and artificial flavors. And that it sits atop beverages that contain up to 390 calories and 59 grams or 15 teaspoons of sugar. More importantly, you know that the billions you have to spend on advertising can cover up that bad smell especially when money is tight and food comforts.

When the inequities have been evened out, when health care is guaranteed for all, when the growing of healthy food is more supported by our government and made available and affordable, when rights are not confused with privileges and when corporations are held responsible for their actions–then McDonald’s and I can end our feud and sit and have a conversation. Maybe we can meet at my office.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who worked tirelessly to establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wrote, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small that they cannot be soon on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood they live in; the school or college they attend; the factory, farm, or office where they work. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Let’s not belittle this beautiful description of what really matters.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn


My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?  by Julie

What to Eat in Still Troubled Times

June 2020. This is a revision of a blog I posted on February 9, 2017. Though the struggles don’t seem to cease, this year, our experience during the Covid-19 Pandemic and the fight for Black lives, racial justice and an end to police brutality, demands some extra nutritional fortification and strengthened immunity.

A friend, an indefatigable defender of human rights and environmental causes, writes to me and asks what to eat in troubled times. I reply,

You should eat the foods of the people from around the world who now need your strength of resistance


Beans, collard greens,

Tzimmes, hummus, dahl,

Fatteh, dolma, kibbeh,

Chicken soup with tortilla or matzoh ball.

Figs, plantains, chiles, dates,

Guacamole, and holy mole, spooned upon the plates.

Of course, some xocolati, I mean chocolate, dark,
Lots of tea, a handful of nuts 

All strengthening for the heart.

And, don’t forget the grits. (Basic or Savory) You will need them for the soul.

The concurrence of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a bright light on the social and health disparities in our country, and the dire consequences for black and brown communities of color. As such, the topics of diet, nutrition, food systems, and food access, which I have previously written about, have been reverberating more loudly of late.

An appreciation of the factors which have contributed to this maleficent situation need include an understanding of the history of the African-American diet–from its African continent roots, the insults of slavery and oppression, to the implications of its modern-day corruption. A discussion of this can be found in An Illustrated History of Soul Food, by Adrian Miller.

Along the continuum from past to present, through the generations, are two African-American women notable for their contributions to the food, nutrition, culture, and community narrative. One is chef, teacher, political activist, and author, Edna Lewis, (1916-2006). “Lewis cooked and Picture 1 of 1wrote as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia founded by her grandfather and other black families freed from slavery. Long before the natural-food movement gained popularity, Edna Lewis championed purity of ingredients, regional cuisine and farm-to-table eating.”

“She was a chef when female chefs–let alone African American female chefs working in restaurants–were few and far between. She authored what are considered some of America’s most resonant, lyrical and significant cookbooks” including The Taste of Country Cooking*, The Edna Lewis Cookbook*, and, In Pursuit of Flavor*. Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You A Pie*, is a children’s book/cookbook about Ms. Lewis by Robbin Gourley; and, At the Table with an American Original*, is a collection of others’ essays about her life, edited by Sara B. Franklin.

The other is Haile Thomas. At just 19 years of age, this remarkable young woman is a “youth health activist, vegan food and lifestyle influencer, cookbook author, speaker, founder/CEO of the nonprofit organization HAPPY-Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth, and a Wellness and Compassion Activist”. A Wellness and Compassion Activist–so needed. I will let her own words speak for her.

Questlove and Haile Thomas Bring Nutrition Activism to All Communities

Haile Thomas: The Happy Organization/Keynote Speaker–FoodTank

Haile Thomas: Living Lively: 80 Plant-Based Recipes to Activate Your Power and Feed Your Potential (due to be released end of July 2020)*

* Please check out these black-owned bookstores for purchase of any of these books: @marcus.books@esowonbooks@peoplegetreadybooks, and @unclebobbies.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Be well. Take care. Stay safe. Let’s heal.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Morose Meals and Human Bites; Of Poverty and Light; A Cinderella Story; Love Is Love

Living Lively

Haile’s My Plate

My Plate Reflection-The American Stew of Privilege 

Every immigrant group could look down on them. There was always a bottom that you could be hostile to and that was useful in bringing the country together into the melting pot. What was the basis, the cauldron, the pot? Well, Black people were the pot. Everyone else was melted together, and American.

by Toni (Morrison)

Photo Credit: Grits and Collard Greens–Kim Daniels on Upsplash

no passing

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.

photo by Jennifer O’Conner

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 forty-seven 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, doctors, nurses, 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.

photo by Jennifer O’Conner

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 streets 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.

photo by Jennifer O’Conner

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.

Happy Thanksgiving.

In health, Elyn

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

by Gordon

forks on the road

I am just back from a motoring vacation with my college roommate Julie, down through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains with extra stops in Asheville and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As a sign of a good vacation, I successfully left my work responsibilities and chronic nutritional thoughts behind. I mainly needed to be concerned about not feeding the bears in exchange for them not feeding upon me. We were blessed with an unfettered and peaceful journey. Our path was not heavily trodden while we were there, and seeing relatively few people I did not have to stop and consider how and what they were all eating. Personally, I was being nourished with a lot of fresh air, incredibly beautiful scenery and the contents of our coolers–plus the loving offerings of our hosts along the way.    

Often when I am trying to be “off duty”, like a NYC taxi cab, someone or something stops me and commands or demands my food or feeding attention. Like recently, when I went to volunteer at an early morning shift during the fund drive of my local public radio station. I had been positioned at my phone station for no more than seven minutes, when the lovely octogenarian volunteer seated to my right, leaned over to inform me that there was an obesity problem in this country. As evidence of this, he pointed out to me a large-bodied woman seated across the room. I would ordinarily still be asleep, but here I was explaining kindly that you cannot superimpose a societal condition or criticism upon an individual. One must be careful to not make assumptions about another’s corporeal experience. Thankfully, I did not have to reveal my identity as a heavily dilemma-ed nutritionist. He understood my point and graciously thanked me for this broader and more sympathetic understanding.

But, on this trip, I avoided such common encounters. If I had ventured out a little differently in search of southern hospitality I probably would have had some interesting observations and conversations. Under different circumstances I would have been open to considering the trip more of an anthropological study in regard to cuisine and culture, but not this time. The only incursion into my personal space was when omnipresent McDonald’s found me once again like I described in Morose Meals and Human Bites–even far from home. This time they taunted me with a billboard of gargantuan iced drinks in bright colors with the words “Global Chilling”. I swallowed my disgust, feigned benign disinterest and sped by.

Food-wise, one of the main intentions of my trip was to visit Asheville, North Carolina. About twenty years ago, in an issue of  Vegetarian Times, I read an article describing the city as one of the top vegetarian-oriented places in the country. Against a backdrop of the mountains and art deco architecture, the photos of this beautiful city enchanted me. Though the food culture in this country has changed radically since that time, and natural food and vegetarian options are available in many, even unexpected locations, I still considered Asheville a sort of mecca that I needed to make a pilgrimage to.

Though my time in Asheville was very short, I walked its grounds, smelled its aromas, and ate of its bounty. I even gave my leftovers to a street kid who asked me if I had any food to offer as I walked by clutching the compostable to-go container. I was really reluctant because it was the best tofu enchilada with mole and black beans that I had ever had. After a quick internal struggle, my vegetarian heart fluttered and I gave that baby over. As promised, the city was overflowing with quinoa, tempeh, seitan, shiitake mushrooms, jicama, and locally-sourced herbal blends.

It had been recommended to me to eat at a restaurant called the Laughing Seed Cafe. Some details of time, place and meeting a friend shifted my loci a few blocks over which resulted in us eating at a relatively new restaurant called Boca, which was wonderfully delicious. But later, I did pass by the Laughing Seed, which describes itself as ‘Revolutionary Vegetarian’ and got a copy of its Take-Out Menu.

Now, back home, I am curled up on my couch with the menu. Each of its many offerings sings to my soul as does the small print explanation of its name. Apparently, legend has it, that the Indonesian Laughing Seed plant was sacred to the people of the Spice Islands. When eaten, the people were intoxicated with laughter and were able to speak with the gods. This wondrous food satisfied the appetite, creating a sense of fullness and well-being which lasted for many days.

We did not enter a highway rest stop with its fast-food offerings until the very end of our trip just after we crossed back into the Empire State. After being accosted by the blasting of the hand dryers in the bathroom, I stood amidst the throngs waiting in line at the various concessions. Back in my jurisdiction, I was apparently back on duty. I watched the people rush by with their coffee drinks, fries, candies, and hamburgers. I don’t really go back to work till tomorrow, so I will leave this just as an observation.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn


Amy’s My Plate Tree Cookie

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection. by Gretchen