Search Results for: of poverty and light

of poverty and light

Amid all of the celebrations of the holiday season it sure is easy to overindulge and to gain those few–oh excuse me for a moment–my dilemma is tugging at my sleeve. Sorry, it seems to be interrupting me to say something about property. Property? Puberty? You know, despite its omnipresence in my life, I don’t even understand my own dilemma sometimes.

It is like when my son was little and (prematurely) learning to talk, he would get so frustrated when his word was misinterpreted. When I would repeat the statement to make sure I had heard it correctly, like, “You want some bed?”,  he could only surmise that his mother must be severely limited and he would implore the heavens for some relief. Who on earth he would beg says, “I want some bed”, and even if they did, why would they say that when standing in the kitchen after nap time? What part of “bread” does my mother not get?027

My dilemma is reacting the same way now. So, with a deep breath, I will take its sweet little face between my hands and ask it to calm down and try to tell me again. Oh, I get it now. Poverty. My dilemma is asking me if I could please not write about holiday eating, but instead about poverty.

Oh, poverty. “Right now?” I ask, in the midst of this season of tinsel-tinged holiday cheer? Yes, it replies. Write about it on this darkest day of the year when we most crave the light to illuminate all that should be revealed. “Can you just try?” it says in that adorable little voice. “About poverty and nutrition?”

What do I know about this topic and what credentials do I have to write about it? Well, I do work in a Federally Qualified Health Center that serves the economically poor–the uninsured, the underinsured, those who sit at the bottom of the economic ladder, those lacking in many of the resources that others easily possess. And, I do educate on nutrition. Yet, I am still nervous to presume that I have the right to tread here. My own perceptions are actually a bit blurry.

Though every day I am deeply privileged to have my clients share the stories–somewhat intimate–of some parts of the realities of their lives, I cannot claim to really know what their impoverishment feels like. And, though yes, the majority of my clients are poor, some poorer than others–they all mainly go to sleep with some roof over their head and some food in their tummies. Furthermore, they possess a richness that nourishes and inspires me as well–whether it be of spirit, honesty, feeling, fortitude, resilience, wisdom, story-telling, family and community connection, self-reflection, humility or appreciation.

Yet, I am still perplexed, so I look back at my dilemma and ask, “But, don’t people already know about poverty and nutrition? That it is complicated but it has something to do with the cheapest (hunger-slaying) food often being the least healthy; the battered economy; governmental food subsidies; food deserts; reliance on convenience and processed foods; income inequality; the history of supplemental and commodity food programs and the lack of a just and sustainable food system?

And, haven’t I already discussed things like food addiction and the impact of excessive sugar-sweetened beverages on emotional and physical health? And, I probably have already ranted about even bigger, more amorphous issues like lack of breastfeeding, TV advertising, health disparities, a stress-based society and may I now even add environmental toxins and gun violence which disproportionately affects our poorer neighborhoods–and how I believe all these things affect our bodies and who we are as eaters.

My dilemma nods and whispers, “Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?” I sigh. Maybe it is on to something. There are many disparaging assumptions made regarding how the poor feed themselves. Maybe what I can do for today is to shed some light on how poverty in modern-day America infringes upon the hunting, gathering, and metabolic fundamentals required for normal human nutrition–a process that has become quite enigmatic for many, but more profoundly for those who must often do with very limited resources. In the daily conversations that I have about this elusive, ill-defined quest for proper eating–oft imagined as being as simple to prescribe as popping a pill–I am perpetually filtering many realities that are probably rather obscure.

So, here it is. Most of my clients would like to eat better. They would–but there are numerous hindrances. Many are tired. Very tired. Those who work, often work very exhausting types of jobs. Many of them–the home health aides, the certified nursing assistants, the truck drivers, the cleaners, the warehouse stockers, and even the retail workers–work variable hours, often with overnight shifts which distress the natural circadian rhythms and thereby the sleep and eating patterns. Those who don’t work are often depressed or in chronic pain. Food provides easy relief. They live in neighborhoods where people get shot and murdered. They forget how to use and move their bodies. Many over their lifetimes have cared for so many others that self-care is just an amusing oxymoron. Often, just the physical requirements that cooking entails become difficult.

Additionally, when money is tight for food, so commonly it is for all the things associated with food preparation and eating. This includes appliances like stoves, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, and freezers–and even the kitchen table and chairs. Some of my clients live in accommodations where not all of these are provided or where they are not properly working. Some only have a microwave to cook their food. Some live in settings where they have to share a kitchen with random roommates. Some people keep food in their bedrooms to prevent others from eating it. Those who live in group programs have no control over the type of food that is provided.

And, then there are the even smaller things like a set of good knives, measuring cups and spoons, pots and pans, a blender, a cutting board, a steamer or a food processor. For many a modern cook, one could not imagine even basic food preparation without most of these accouterments, if not even more. Yet, for some, these are downright luxuries. Just recently, I did a display on winter squashes to promote these nutritionally blessed, fiber-dense and delicious denizens of the food kingdom–but even so, I was cognizant that unless one buys them pre-cut and frozen these pretty gourds demand a whack of a proper, well-sharpened knife to reveal their inner gifts.

Each person has their own circumstances. Though I must serve my clients quickly and effectively I have to obtain some information before I venture in with suggestions. I cannot assess for all of the above. I must pry for information with the utmost gentleness and respect to get a quick sense of where we are starting from. Depending on the person, sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not. The foods that are now commonly touted to be required for a healthy diet, I sometimes must ask permission to utter. I say things like olive oil, brown rice, walnuts, almond milk, and on a good day, quinoa, preceded by “may I?” and followed by “thank-you.” What might seem like a molehill of a price differential could quite truly be a mountain.

Thankfully, there is usually space for an appropriate conversation about food and eating when the context is understood and appreciated. And, fortunately too, the realm of health-giving foods contains some low-cost and readily available options. My clients are glad to be reminded of them. Usually, they learned of them from their grandmothers as well. But, most importantly is when that light goes on that says that they are worthy of nourishing themselves in the best way that they possibly can. That they matter. Then this abstract matter of nutrition begins to make some sense.

So, I guess, my main observation is that bottom line, despite our economic differences, we are foremost eaters–doing the best we can with what we know and what we have at the moment. And, that somewhere, somehow, it is always about love. I look back at my dilemma for some confirmation. Oh well. It has fallen fast asleep.

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.

Read below on the new My Plate Invitational

In health, Elyn

ChooseMyPlate

USDA MyPlate Plate

My Plate: In honor of the New Year, I invite you to submit a photo of your own beautiful plate to be placed in the rotation along with the My Plate Haikus. My Plate (your plates) will offer a prettier and more personal representation of the MyPlate put forth by the USDA as a model of how Americans should feed themselves–which replaced the MyPyramid. I can’t wait to see your plate. It can portray whatever nourishment, pleasant eating, or mealtime means to you. It can contain a meal you have prepared or been lovingly served, a depiction of feeding, or just some beautiful dishware. My Plate Haikus always welcome too.

You may include it in a comment or submit to zimmermanelyn7@gmail.com/Subject Line: My Plate Photo

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

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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

nutritional violins

Forgive me the ruse of exchanging the word violence for violins, as did Emily Litella (Gilda Radner) on Saturday Night Live years ago. In the skit, Miss Litella gives an impassioned editorial response to a story about parents objecting to violins on television. Chevy Chase eventually interrupts and informs her the story was actually about the “violence” on television. “Never mind”, she replies. Well, I wish this was about violins–it would sound much nicer–and we wouldn’t have to mind.

Three years ago, I came upon an article that referenced the term nutritional violence. I had never heard this term before, but it gave a label to what I had considered the glaring basis for what was gravely compromising the health of our populace. I made a mental note to further explore that issue and bookmarked the link so that I could reference it when ready.

When I recently revisited the link, it was no longer active, and I cannot locate it again. I had long hoped to credit the author and her article–so if you may be familiar with this, please let me know. Instead, I poked around for other references and found some articles on nutrition’s impact on violent behavior which I have been musing on as well, given the recent stream of extreme acts of terror perpetrated by assault guns. This past fall, after the tragedy in Las Vegas, in a rare Instagram, I posted the MyPlate Haiku question, “I often wonder, What did they eat for breakfast? Those who go and kill.” 

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Paiute Indian Harvest Exhibit                        Cannonville, Utah

Actually, the following is the only dietary information I have on those who have pulled the trigger: in limited media details on the Parkland shooter, I heard he was apprehended after the shooting having a soda at a local mall; the YouTube shooter was a vegan; and Dan White, who killed Harvey Milk, invoked his diet change from healthy foods to Twinkies and other sugary foods as part of his defense, claiming their consumption was symptomatic of his depression.

While my own data is thus limited, and yes, I was shocked and chagrined to learn of the vegan’s destructive rage, there is other evidence of the association between the composition and constituents of one’s diet (or lack thereof) and behavioral impacts–including violence. Studies have demonstrated the decrease of violent behaviors through dietary and nutritional manipulations in prisons and in schools.

Interestingly, schools were the first institutional settings where large scale attention to nutritional improvements was made–though those efforts continue to be challenged and there is still much work to be done. I was reminded this week of the disconnect between our institutions and communal well-being in an article in The New Food Economy on “lunch shaming” whereby students whose families cannot afford to pay for school lunches are stigmatized and either denied food or offered an inferior meal. The article quotes Christine Tran, a school nutrition equity advocate, who states, “School food is often not seen as a school issue, which is a problem philosophically within our country.” One might broaden that statement to reflect many other environments.

While I have witnessed school lunchrooms and have written about this previously, I have not been privy to a prison chow hall. However, I have engaged in enough conversations with those who were previously incarcerated, and those in drug treatment programs to have a pretty good sense of what is going down. It is sad to see how seriously overlooked nutrition is as an adjunct to healing.

I bring your attention to two papers (here and here) that describe how poor diets and nutritional deficiencies may be risk factors for aggressive behavior and solutions to address this grave problem. The usual, along with the not so recognized, culprits are to be found on the list of troublemakers.

By addressing nutrition as it relates to the promotion or provocation of behavioral violence, I may have strayed here from my intention to discuss nutritional violence–nutrition that violates individuals and communities, but the two could be conflated. If we have been able, with only short hindsight, to witness the profound impacts of our modern adulterated foodstuffs on physical health, it should not be a huge leap to consider the mental health consequences as well. An increasing understanding of that which affects the brain–and the brain’s relationship with the human gut microbiota–provides insight not only into our physiology and metabolism but into our moods, emotions, cravings and other behaviors as well.

The nutritional violence I was initially thinking about is not perpetrated by guns, but by our food system and the purveyors of its policies and products. It does not kill its victims point blank, but, it robs. It robs people of access to basic food required for physical, emotional and social health and well-being–and disproportionately it does so to the poor.

We might credit that our food system does not starve its citizenry, leaving it victim to gross nutritional deficiencies causing widespread blindness, stunted growth and kwashiorkor as in other parts of this world. But, it is certainly acknowledged that it has inflicted harm in its own and profound way.

I don’t think I have to describe what our food landscape looks like here. Many of us may have some basic ideas of the food deserts; fast-food swamps; adulterated, processed, sugar-laden foods commandeering our grocery stores (pharmacies, schools, and hospitals); seductive and targeted advertising; pesticide-laden, large-scale government subsidized supported agricultural practices; caffeine and sugar-riddled beverages; and corporate-controlled food policy. Allow me to add in marginalized breastfeeding promotion and support; native lands devoid of access to water and cultural foods; food insecurity and hunger; and pharmaceutical food additives. (My, that was a fun paragraph. What did I miss?)

I hope I do not have to try too hard to convince that there is some essence of violence in the above, nor that such suggestion is considered hyperbole. One may have to close their eyes for a moment to imagine and appreciate more deeply the collective impact. But, then also, to go one step further, and to consider how our food system more deeply affects communities already burdened by injustice.

Quite coincidentally, after I started this piece, I saw that my old friend Mark Hyman, powerfully addressed this very topic, in a talk titled, Our Food System: An Invisible Form of Oppression, that he gave last week on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He gets to my point better than I could, outlines the profound consequences of this oppression, and reaches a  much broader audience. I thank him for his attention to this matter and for sparing me my final paragraphs.

There are many others who also address similar concepts in various ways and with different names, such as food and race; community safety and nutrition; oppression through poor nutrition; gender, nutrition and the human right to adequate food and nutrition; food justice; and food sovereignty. There is much serious content packed in here, but all worthy of review and consideration if this is of interest to you.

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

Related Posts: Serenity Now, Of Poverty and LightKyuushoku, Reporting from the Rim of the Sink Hole

P.S. Take a peek at Emily Litella’s funny tirade on Busting School Children — which may be sadly relevant.

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Broken My Plate

My Plate Haiku

I often wonder

What did they eat for breakfast

Those who go and kill?

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

yesterday

BEATLES MANZANA

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the big nutritional and societal issues that trouble me did not seem so far away. It was an unusual day as my afternoon was devoted to working with children as part of a new project I am involved in.

In the morning I saw a client who at age 42 weighs 371 pounds and requires a cane. She had recently come to me with uncontrolled diabetes and pending renal failure. Surprisingly, she had made some pretty profound changes in the time since I had last seen her and had greatly improved her blood sugar levels. When I asked her what explained the change, she said being spoken to about her kidney damage; and her love for her nine-year-old daughter made her face that big mighty river that flows through all of us.

I encounter many common themes in my work, and often the same ones coincidentally present themselves repeatedly in the course of a month, a week or even a day. One of my current recurrent themes, represented by that client, has been women in their early forties with way too much pain and far, far too many pounds and medications to bear. I always wonder, where did this story start, how did it get so extreme, how was it not prevented?

These questions often leave deep indentations as I press my fingertips into my forehead while bowing over my desk. On some days, the pressure is so deep I can almost feel my prefrontal cortex. But, yesterday, I knew I needed to ready myself for the children, so I yanked my hand down away from my head and put on my happy face. Little did I know the answers to my rhetorical questions lay in these young kids who awaited me.

First, was a pretty, very precociously developed, thirteen-year-old girl who hates her body and by association herself. As I was speaking with her she picked up her cell phone, pushed a button and brought it to her ear almost as unconsciously as brushing a hair behind one’s ear. As I asked her to put the phone away, I fumbled looking to offer her a better connection with me. I asked her and her mom a few of the perfunctory questions but my words sounded hollow. Even at her age, I could tell there were already too many chapters to her story and too few cutesy nutritional clichés that could assuage her experience of being fat.

Next, was a six-year-old boy. He is a big boy at 100 lbs. He was accompanied by both of his very big parents who were eager to help their son as well as themselves. With the boy quickly picking his way through the things in my crowded office I needed a distraction fast. I passed the dad these fun picture cards I have where different scenes are creatively constructed out of fruits and vegetables–while asking the mom for some history.

Dad did successfully engage the boy while Mom described to me that he started on whole milk as a one-month-old infant because her WIC checks for formula were stolen. Since then he has always drunk a lot of milk at will without limit–until very recently. How much milk did she say he drank a day? Why had she not gotten new WIC checks? Already, six years of details had passed me by due to my split attentions. What else was already missed in this young boy’s story and by how many people? Done looking at the cards, the child slid off his dad’s lap and came and stood right in front of me. He asked me the hardest question to answer simply–Is milk good for you?

And then, a lovely, smart and very insightful thirteen-year-old came and placed her presence before me. Within the passing of our first few shared sentences, she told me that she doesn’t eat breakfast or lunch at school because she does not want the other kids to make fun of her. At 271 pounds she has lost the right to eat in peace. A right so assumed we don’t even define it–has already been denied this child–and who knows what else has accompanied this loss. And dinner, she eats in her bedroom in front of the television.

Her mom, full of appropriate concern then joined us. She assumed responsibility for a household with much dysfunction in regard to structure and care associated with food and eating but she was more guilty of love than neglect. Still, her daughter now has abnormal glucose and insulin levels, has had to undergo an ultrasound for an ovarian cyst related to hormonal imbalance, suffers from depression and has already been on a number of medications for various issues.

Though the session was over, I apologized for having to go. I felt a shadow hanging over me–the connection between these children’s stories and those of the women who I described above. Is it already too late for these kids? Is their situation already too extreme? Was too much already missed and not prevented? And, is twenty the new forty?

But, I had to rush out to go pick up my own daughter. It was her birthday–my, seventeen came suddenly.

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

Related Posts: She Weighs How Much; Of Poverty and Light; Some Big Feet to Fit

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Broken My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

By Eva

Could Not Afford Balanced Meal

I am a little embarrassed to admit this. Here it goes. I came late to the term Food Insecurity. This term is so ubiquitous now in the light of the tragic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every day, reports about food insecurity are rolling off the presses and plastered everywhere, shocking us into disbelief as we equate it with images of endless lines of cars and people awaiting offerings of food donations.

While the experience of lack of food is not new, and though the immensity of the problem came on with a vengeance, we seem to assume that the linking of the words food and insecurity has long been used and understood among the general populace. But has it? And, if so, while I may lag behind on new trendy words like ‘cancel culture’, how did I miss ‘food insecurity’?

Percentage of households reporting indicators of adult food insecurity in 2019
Indicators of Adult Food Insecurity–2019 USDA

Just so we are all on the same page here, the definition of food insecurity has many variations, the first of which appeared in 1990. These include the lack of consistent access to sufficient food for an active healthy life; a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level; a lack of access by all household members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, which includes as a minimum the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods; and, assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies); and the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. Each meaning contains some complexity, and while similar, the nuanced differences may be significant.

The term was appropriated by the US Department of Agriculture, (USDA) in 1995 when it began collecting data in its attempt to capture the number of food insecure households and the extent of hunger in the nation. In its ensuing efforts to refine its findings, the USDA established two sub-categories: Low food security–the reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet with little or no indication of reduced food intake; and, Very low food security–multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. (See chart.) (Hmm, should ‘Gained weight’ also be listed?)

However one wishes to slice it, it is not pretty. In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.[1] It is a lot worse now. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, tracks this data, with information on current impacts documented here.

As a Nutritionist who has concerned herself with helping to adequately and appropriately feed people for four decades, not only should I have been hip to the term sooner, I should have been way ahead of the curve–like one of the first to know. In 1995, I was working for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (or WIC) administered by the USDA. Clearly, I missed the memo of what they were up to–and likewise the nascent term–food insecurity.

My own ignorance came to stare at me with incredulity when in late 2018 my work found me supporting recipients of FINI Program Grants. I understood the program, and it was easy to employ another acronym, but I would hesitate each time I had to recall what FINI stood for. FINI was shorthand for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program. FINI Grants were established and written into the 2014 Farm Bill to ‘incentivize’ the purchase of fruits and vegetables by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) recipients.

In 2019, just as I cemented the name of the program into my prefrontal cortex, FINI was changed to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (or GusNIP). It was renamed in memory of the former Undersecretary of Agriculture who was instrumental in implementing early models of expanding produce purchasing power for low-income consumers and advancing the legislation that authorized the Farm Bill funding. The newly anointed GusNIP retained the nutrition incentive part of its identity but snipped away the food insecurity part. I appreciate the intention of the program and have championed its cause and the grantees who lovingly administer it, but I do take issue with the use of the word ‘incentive’. I’d prefer ‘nutrition support’.

I also came to learn during this time that there was a USDA Food Insecurity Screening Tool or Survey Module too. The original version contained 18 questions but has since had different iterations with variations of ten, six and down to the Hunger Vital Sign’s validated two questions which are:

“Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we had money to buy more.”

“Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” 

Yikes, how did I miss that? Though I find the statement phrasings and category listings a bit odd, I see that it is useful. It can be used for data collection and to identify individuals in need of resources. But why had it taken me so long, just a mere year or two before the pandemic flashed Food Insecurity before us all like a neon sign, to find familiarity with these terms and associated tools? Was insecurity something I applied only to myself while everyone else was knowingly and casually tossing the word around with food? What had I been doing with my many hundreds of clients to figure out what I needed to know to help them?

To make sure I hadn’t just forgotten, I searched all of my 125 blog posts. Before 2018, I had used the term twice. I am pretty sure that means that a year ago when I did a big blog cleanup, I inserted it to make it appear that I was appropriately informed back then. But, this has made me really stop to wonder, how I had functioned without the use of the term and the screening tool.

The answer may be relatively simple. When working in low-income communities, there was not usually much for me to discern in the way of food insecurity–it was the norm–and I generally could identify both levels. While I wasn’t using the USDA’s terms and tools, I had the privilege of time to sit with my clients and to have real conversations about the intimate details of their feeding lives. Sometimes, I employed my own screening tools but the stories I heard informed me of so much more.

Even so, I know some details of my clients’ circumstances did slip through the cracks. I have discussed my limitations here. However, I think my assessments were usually near the mark, but it is tricky. There is not much room for assumptions when guiding anyone’s nutrition path. The space between peanut butter and almond butter is wide and chunky for even those who are food secure. I do feel bad about the time I recommended wild rice to a man who later expressed to me his dismay in regard to its cost. However, that misstep highlights a distinction between prevention and repair in terms of what is required for nourishment. And, it marks how the differences mentioned above in defining food insecurity in relation to just ‘food’ in contrast to ‘nutritious food’ matter.

Also, if ‘active lifestyle’ means toiling to care for families, young children, elders, the ill or disabled–one’s own or other’s–or doing low wage service work or manual labor, then my food-insecure clients were quite active in spite of their food insecurity and waning health. Through it all, my office desk drawer was well stocked with referrals to every food and health support resource and program around–including some I created. And, yet my efforts could not surmount the magnitude of the underlying problems.

So then, what blanket terms was I using if I was not tucked under that of food insecurity? A whole bunch, including poverty, exhaustion, trauma, nutritional violence, food deserts, malnutrition, restrictive and confusing SNAP eligibility regulations and bureaucracy, social services system overload, toxic food culture, racism, exclusions for immigrants, disparities, inequality, high food costs, inadequate wages and a sad story to name a few. I guess I got by. Which might you use?

In closing, I share this telling by Jadon-Maurice Forbes, I Didn’t Drink Water At Dinner as a Poor, Black Kid. Start here. You may then be able to skip all the above. No, really. Please, read it.

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

My Plate Haiku

Food bought did not last

Could not afford balanced meal

Food Insecurity

by 37 million Americans

weight, weight, please tell me

This is a post about weight–weighty matters, the weight of the world, mainly the ongoing conundrum of there being too much of it. It is a topic I think about sometimes–trying to wrap my arms around it to contain it properly.

Actually, you will see that I don’t have much to say about it, but instead am sharing the brilliant voices of others who do. It seems these stories have recently, coincidentally collected in my little basket of big dilemmas.

Before I proceed and attempt to offer something up on this largely considered nutritional–but so much greater– matter, let me digress for a moment to share something about me and my nutrition work and my nutritionist status. I have a little explaining to do.

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I have experienced a lot of changes in the past few years. Some of these are profoundly personal while others are professional. I will stick to the latter and how they have influenced what I write about–perhaps some of you who follow me have noticed–but they are both intertwined.

When I began writing this blog in the fall of 2010-wow-I was perched in a clinical setting that continued to make me privy to the upfront and personal stories of individuals’ eating lives. I had been doing nutritional counseling for many years at that point in time. My clients’ issues strongly reflected, what I refer to in My Story, the massive changes in our food culture and highlighted the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu. The nutritional crises of our time, including the obesity crisis and its shadowed sister–eating disorders–were about twenty plus years deep in the making.

Professionally, I had been riding this unforeseen wave since its onset in the early 1990s and felt I had something to say to personalize and humanize what was projected as a faceless statistical trend. Having worked with so many people, I was able to synthesize the common experiences that were impacting us all. I could also relate some true experiences of my clients in my writings. I would juxtapose these experiences alongside the larger impacts of poverty, trauma, environmental changes, food adulteration, community access, societal messaging, etc.

What I never stopped to share, was that two and a half years ago, I stepped out of direct care. I began doing nutritional program development and administration for a statewide program serving childcare centers–the preschoolers, families, and educators. It is a good program. Though its implied mission is to prevent childhood obesity, I strongly prefer a redirection of intention to support the full health potential of all our children and mitigate the effects of what I am wont to refer to as nutritional violence and size stigmatization. Anyway, at that time, the nature of my posts changed and their frequency decreased. I had less material and more other things to tend to.

And now, I have just begun a new position. I am working for a breastfeeding support organization. This is a nutritional and health issue I am passionate about, but for the first time in my career, I am not carrying the title of Nutritionist. I seem to be welcoming this change–it is a natural extension of my life work and public health orientation that fits well with my current circumstances. But it also stirs some emotion. Due to a combination of my personal experiences and the fact that I have not done direct care for a few years now, I no longer feel I can assist others with the acute health challenges of our time and the precise nutritional approaches they demand. So, along with other big changes I am now facing, I think it may be that I am no longer a Nutritionist.

So, my dilemma asks me, “Then what’s with the name of your blog?” For now, I will answer that until I have time to reconsider it, it will stay the same. I am still deeply interested in nutrition and how it relates to our individual and collective health. I am still paying deep attention and I still want to be part of the larger conversation. And, I still want to help people. I may present more concise offerings on my Lifeseedlings Instagram page which are budding perspectives and occasional haikus on food politics, nourishment, body respect, eating, and cooking. Join me there.

And so, back to the issue of weight which I raised as the focus of this post. I wish it wasn’t all that it was and is. I wish it didn’t dominate the headlines and pervade our thoughts. I am bothered by my own sometimes prejudiced assumptions and that despite my somewhat larger awareness of its complicated nature, I still conflate weight with health and want to help ease and prevent the physical and emotional burdens it encumbers. But it is about time for all of us, those with or without the business to do so, to stop believing that banishing this weight, this unruly fat, is similar to scrubbing dirt and grit off of a coal miner’s body–some effort no doubt, some soaps better than others, but once undertaken, the job would be done.

From my observations, I think MAYBE things are changing. We may finally be realizing that plain out calorically restrictive diets of any ilk and fat-shaming just don’t seem to be working to solve the problem in the long run nor are they doing anyone much good.

And, while not entirely new, more voices–powerful, angry and/or tender voices, are emerging that challenge the once firmly held ideas and attitudes held by our scientific and medical communities, our society and even our personal selves about the ‘weight problem’. Their words and advocacy may be shifting our perspectives, sharpening our sensitivities, and providing new approaches to care.

Here is a short little syllabus of what I consider to be very interesting insights on the topic. It includes:

  1. Where the story often begins. A post by Your Fat Friend, a personal story about the implications and consequences of early childhood weight interventions; and a discussion on What Harping on A Child’s Weight Looks Like 20 Years Later about the importance of fostering body appreciation for everyone, by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen on her website, Raise Healthy Eaters.
  2. What No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss. A powerful and personal look at how expectations about ways to lose weight imply a process that is both isolating and not sustainable, by Nick Eckhart in What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Losing a Lot of Weight.
  3. How Even Well-Meaning Assumptions about Fat Athletes Can Be Misguided. Here, Ragen Chastain (whose blog Dances With Fat I have written about before) deconstructs such assumptions in her post, What Fat Olympians Prove (and What They Don’t).
  4. Really? Just five amazing stories from an episode of This American Life, entitled, Tell Me I’m Fat. (Transcript or Audio).

This is not required reading, but I hope you find something thought-provoking, attitude- adjusting or maybe even life-changing within. And, though I don’t have Carl Kasell to answer my phone, you can leave me a message here.

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

(Update 2019: After a year and a half working for the breastfeeding organization, I moved forward to work for Wholesome Wave, a national organization dedicated to food access and affordability and a leader in programmatic and policy changes related to addressing food insecurity. My work here reunites me with my previous efforts of developing Produce Prescription programs as I described in Inventive Incentive. This work certainly has brought me back into the food and nutrition space, and gives me new types of stories to think about.)

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Wholesome Wave’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Pick your own today

Happy kids in wide-brimmed hats

Sweet summertime fruit.

by Nan (Blessings on her new little grandson, Orion!)

 

 

 

 

just today

Just today, I got an email informing me that the way to eat carbohydrates more efficiently and prevent the insulin resistance associated with diabetes is to take Cinnamomum Burmannii, Berberine, Pterocarpus Marsupium, 4-hydroxy isoleucine, #5 – R-Alpha Lipoic Acid (R-ALA). These substances are available in combination in pill form. Well, that sounds nice and easy, I thought. Now just how could I obtain some of these little Burmanniis and Marsupiums for all of the inefficiently carbohydrate-eating, diabetes-prone poor folk. I wished nutritional supplements were available to my clients. I’d settle for some R-Alpha Lipoic Acid.  IMG_3170

Just today, I did not attend the bariatric conference that I went to last year and described in How Can You Say No to a Brownie.  Therefore, I missed the session on Diet Strategies: Which work and which don’t. I guess I will have to wait, along with the rest of the world, on that breaking news.

Just today, I culled through the medical records of a number of clients at the Health Center, collecting data for a project I am working on. Medical records are literature. They contain the stories of lives weathered by poverty documented by scads of lab results, vitals, hospital discharge papers and consult notes. Lives marked by the chronic health problems of diabetes, hypertension, pain, extreme weight, and hospitalizations. Conditions tended to by a boatload of pharmaceuticals, prescribed in an oft crapshoot manner.

Just today, I missed the webinar I had registered for with Renegade Chef Ann Cooper. Without an ounce of rocket science, she is feeding kids healthy foods in schools. I was disappointed. This would have brought some hope and inspiration.

Just today, I received an e-health report from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science describing that 50% of people with hypertension do not have it controlled. I thought about all the records I had just pored over. Most of those with uncontrolled hypertension are on one to three hypertensive medications.

Just today, I wished again–this time for stress reduction programs for my clients. I left my office near tears. I dreamed about a new line of work.

Just today, on my way home, I heard a news story that the US Army had declared a service-wide stand down to bring attention to the problem of suicide in the military. Army bases around the world were shut down for mandatory suicide prevention training.

Just today, I took a walk. I thought about processed food. I use tweezers to extricate it from my clients’ lives though I could use something a bit stronger–like a Jaws of Life. I wondered about a stand-down calling for a moratorium on the low-quality foodstuffs that glut our food supply. I decided that we need a National Day of Nurturing and Nourishment.

Just today, my amazing, earth-moving niece Shanti shared some stories about the beautiful and remarkable greening, gardening, and food work she does with the Clinton Housing Development Company and Cultivate HKNY in the midst of New York City.

Just today, going to pick up my daughter from crew practice, I drove along a quiet road with the sun setting spectacularly on one side while the harvest moon rose beautifully over the other. Arriving home, I read the team’s paperwork asking me to sell David’s Cheesecakes, Grandma’s Pies and cookie dough for a fundraiser. My heart sank. My inability to broker in sugar will cost me some bucks as I will have to choose the buyout.

Just today, I wrote this blog. As I was calling it a day, an old friend posted information about an organization doing wonderful work. I was glad to learn about One.org which is working with women to address childhood malnutrition and putting nutrition on the global agenda.

Just tonight, I shut out the light, deciding I would do a new little campaign at the Health Center. I will call it One Day One Way encouraging people to take back their own health. By the light of the moon, I wished you all good night.

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

My Plate Haiku

If only we could
Change the world on that one day
By feeding our hearts .

by Julie