Search Results for: reporting from the rim

reporting from the rim of the sinkhole

A few months ago, at about 4 PM, Pete sent me an email saying something about soul food. I was rushing to end my day so I overlooked the attachment that would have filled me in on the details and why he thought this might be of interest to me. I dismissed the message quickly.

That evening though, as fate would have it, I got another message on my email informing me that I had a new follower on Twitter. This was big news given that it is a rare occurrence. As Pete assures me that I am right behind Lady Gaga in terms of followers, I must assume that she might have like twenty-eight. So, I decided to check out my ignored little bird account and see who my new follower might be.

Once there, I stumbled upon a flurry of activity on the feed from someone I follow–chef and food activist Bryant Terry, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen and Urban Grub. The excited conversation was about a PBS documentary Soul Food Junkies which was apparently being aired right then. The praise was pouring in for this film by Byron Hurt, about his exploration of the historical and cultural roots of soul food cuisine and its relationship to the current health crisis with its impact on the African-American community.

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A documentary by Byron Hurt

Ah, now I got it. I ran upstairs to the TV room and grappled with the remote. Attempting to master its controls, I pushed that channel button frantically. I must mention that I have about as limited a relationship with the television as I do with my Twitter account–and relying on an old antenna like apparatus, have access to about seven channels. Still, I knew I did get PBS. Round and round I cycled through those seven channels, three PBS stations and still could not find the show I was looking for.

Instead, what I found was a program about a guinea worm eradication program sponsored by Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center in Africa. It was rather fascinating though quite gruesome to watch. Apparently, water-borne guinea worm disease which has plagued a wide swath of Africa and Asia for thousands of years is poised to be eradicated. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its campaign with the partner countries, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. By 2012 there were 542 cases left in just four African countries.

Guinea worm disease is contracted from drinking unclean water contaminated with larvae that once inside the human abdomen grow into worms up to three feet long. These worms eventually emerge from the body through excruciatingly painful blisters on the skin. I guardedly watched as health workers painstakingly exorcised these worms from the legs of screaming children and stoic adults, wrapping the worms around little sticks that were slowly turned. One worm, one person at a time. The success of this amazing eradication program has been due to water treatment and filtration programs and community education at a very grass-roots level.

A few days later I was able to watch Soul Food Junkies on pbs.org. It is an excellent film and I have been talking it up with a lot of my clients–and others as well. Many of my clients are African-American and my daily consults revolve around discussing this interface between food as cultural identity and health. Soul food is not the only problem area. Many cultural cuisines that have sustained people for millennia are causing problems in the context of our modern existence. This is due to various reasons including agricultural alterations in the actual foodstuffs that form the basis of these cuisines, more processed versions of these dietary staples being substituted for the real foods, traditional diets being padded with the excess of sugars, concentrated carbohydrates and other addictive substances that infiltrate our beings and a massive increase in sedentary lifestyles and stress. The vulnerable communities that are more exposed to poverty and its attendant health disparities are experiencing greater discord between their food and their health.

This is multi-layered stuff that claws at the core of who we are as eaters and which reveals how deeply connected we are to our heritage. Food is clearly not just an extrinsic matter. It communicates intimately with our cellular makeup. And, it is a heavenly sacrament. I remember as a child listening to my mother and my aunties trying to sever the relationship between my hypertensive grandfather and the heavily salt-cured foods of his Russian roots. Little did I know I would one day be standing between an African-American man and his beloved fried chicken or an Asian woman and her dear little grains of rice.

But yes, there I am. Standing tall at five feet one, holding firm with my big professional tweezers before every diabetic who sits in my office. With exact precision, I try to extract each granule of sugar that has gone rogue in the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on the body–sort of like a guinea worm. Just as guinea worm disease takes hold in unsuspecting individuals so does diabetes. Persons consuming available foods for the purpose of sustaining survival and attaining some pleasure, awaken one day to learn that they are infested with massive globs of excess glucose.

I have been doing this work for a long time and I can tell you that the diabetic epidemic is getting worse. My daily roster is full of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes. This morning I woke up to some crazy NPR story about the woes of candy makers due to the relatively high price of sugar–the price regulated by the Farm Bill. Apparently, the makers of Dum Dum lollipops require 100,000 pounds of sugar for the daily manufacture of ten million Dum Dums–and they are having a hard time affording it. Can those numbers be for real? Well, please don’t tell Dum Dum that I have some sugar stockpiled in my office–mounds of the stuff that I have removed from my clients. I know they will just try to recycle it right back into the very folk I took it from.

Diabetes might not seem to be as bad as guinea worm–but one can actually make many metaphorical if not actual comparisons. Diabetes leaves many physical and emotional scars. My clients look at me through eyes that plead to spare them from this scary disease–that comes complete with implements that stab and jab and symptoms that pain and worry–depleting the soul. I scurry furiously to help pull them out of the sinkhole of this very complicated condition. If a disease caused by a swarm of microscopic larvae can be eradicated from the planet, it is hard to believe we can’t do better to minimize the incidence or increase the reversal of diabetes. The methods employed essentially would seem to be the same–access to ‘clean’ food, governmental responsibility, respect for human dignity, caring, education, and cultural adaptation.

And so, that is why the work of Bryant Terry and the film of Byron Hurt are so important–and why folk should watch Soul Food Junkies and align it with their own food foundation. Time is of the essence and Jimmy Carter deserves a rest.

Thank you for reading, really. As always, thoughts, tweezers, and twitter followers welcomed.

In health, Elyn

Related Recipe: Bryant Terry’s Citrus Collard Greens with Raisins Redux

(Update February 2020: Bryant Terry has just published a gorgeous cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes. From the Introduction: Vegetable Kingdom is inspired by my daughters, Mila and Zenzi. They have blessed this book like my ancestors blessed meals, by humbling me to that which is greater than myself.)

(Update June 2020: Bryant Terry prefers that his book(s) be purchased from independently-owned bookstores (check indiebound.org & bookshop.org) and ideally, from Black-owned bookstores like: @marcus.books@esowonbooks@peoplegetreadybooks, and @unclebobbies.)

(Update February 2021: Check out Byron Hurt’s continuing efforts @byronhurt and support completion of his new film, Hazing.)

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Bryant’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

This isn’t steroids

It’s Collard Greens.

from Ballin’ at the Graveyard (Documentary on an Albany, NY neighborhood basketball game)

“It includes the authentic voices of men working to do what’s right—for themselves, their families, and for the larger community. If you want to better understand our City’s character and come away feeling good about it, this film is a must-see.” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

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

is that an experience you’re drinking?

My dilemma and I were minding our own business at home, when suddenly an image of a Coca-Cola bottle, or what I thought was a Coca-Cola bottle appeared in the sidebar on my computer.

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Coca-Cola global campaign executives

However, the accompanying words said, “This is not a Coca-Cola. It is an experience.” Really? It certainly looked like a Coca-Cola. While still confused, I was also informed that for Coca-Cola, experience goes far beyond the first sip and that I should make ‘experience’ my business.

With a little click, I found myself face-to-face with Coca-Cola’s VP of Global Design. He told me that they sell almost two billion, (2,000,000,000) servings, excuse me, ‘experiences’ a day. And thus, on a digital platform, he would like to have two billion conversations a day, because brands need to listen to their consumers who are all apparently craving choice and innovation.

If so, I hope he is fluent in Twi, one of the Kwa sub-groups of Niger-Congo languages, spoken in Ghana. In 2016, Coca-Cola launched a major initiative in Accra, called Taste the Feeling. It seems they were feeling bad for the millions there who had maybe not been privileged to enjoy the ‘experience’. Interestingly, a group of public health researchers has already done a little study accessing the marketing of non-alcoholic beverages in outdoor ads (visible signs) in a small section of Accra. Of seventy-seven ads, sixty percent featured sugar-sweetened Coca-Cola products–some fraction of which are near schools and feature children–I mean consumers, or soon to be ones–begging for conversation.

My dilemma caught my eye, knowing that this Mr. James Sommerville, would most likely not wish to hear from me. Given that it has been about forty-something years since my last sip, I could certainly not claim to be a consumer, thus depriving the company of that 2,000,000,001 serving. Ah, but he had certainly provoked my ire with this seductive, manipulative, alluring message about the right friends, the right time, the right glass–and the tingle.

Might I suggest that he is high fructose corn syrup coating the ‘experience’ or seeing it through caramel colored glasses–with a blast of phosphoric acid and caffeine. Or, that he has drunk too much of the figurative Koolaid– aka the company’s addictive secret syrupy recipe.

While it is certainly possible he may have already seen my anti-Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) rants, it is not likely. If not, maybe, because like me, he’s recently been watching the 9-Part Docuseries, iThrive, Rising from the Depths of Diabetes and Obesity. But, I don’t think so.

If anything, back when I was writing more about this topic, he may have been concerned with the efforts of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a Coca-Cola funded non-profit, engaging scientists in the promotion of energy balance and exercise as the solution to obesity, thus underplaying the evidence on the impact of SSB’s. While founded in 2014, the GEBN was disbanded by the end of 2015, after a New York Times article brought attention to public health authorities’ concerns about its corporate influence. A recently published essay provides some greater insight into the company’s intentions by shedding light on some of its internal documents.

Or, I don’t know. Maybe lately he’s just been busy globally designing alcopop drinks in Japan. (My dilemma, just gave me its ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look. No, I am not kidding.) But, whatever, he is up to something–and I don’t get it. Even though he was looking right at me, he lost me at “physical analog world” and “push work out to the market”. I know this is nothing new, but call me naive. What’s up here? Does Coca-Cola have to weasel its way into every mouth on the planet–ruining perfectly good teeth, or worsening not so great ones? Not to mention incurring potentially more harm. Why such deliberate cunning? Is this not loca?

A few years ago, I wrote about my dismay regarding Coca-Cola’s marketing ploy of placing common names on their labels. Interestingly, as I was delving into the Ghana campaign, I came upon a story that there was a proposed boycott of the brand in the country. I had a touch of health promotion optimism upon seeing the headline. But, apparently, the boycott was due to the fact that the names that the company had placed on the labels in Ghana, were names more predominantly found in the southern part of the country, and did not include the more common (and Muslim) names of its northern reaches. Oh, dear lord.

Well, here is my solution to that problem. Why not put only the names of the executives, such as James, on the labels? This way, consumers will know whom to contact directly should they need any assistance with their health or dental issues or geopolitical concerns.

It may be tempting to say, for god’s sake, it is just a soda! Let us just ‘experience’ that feeling of happiness, let us ‘taste the feeling’ if nothing else–is a soft drink in hard times asking too much? But unfortunately, it is far from that simple. I ponder these matters about profound insults to population health and where lies responsibility. Coca-Cola and its products are certainly not only to blame, but considering their tactics, neither are they blameless. To say they are a big player is a big understatement. (I am linking to one more article of interest here about the relationship between Coca-Cola and the Ghana health system. I invite you to take a look and let me know what’s going on.)

It is most obvious to look at the rapid increases in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes around the globe as indicators of our health crises influenced by our dietary behaviors. And, yes, according to the latest survey data (published just last week), here in the US, we are still getting fatter, while the food industry giants continue to fight hard against public health measures.

But, there are also other implications of the manipulations of our dietary environment by corporate interests. In recognition of this weekend’s global marches against gun violence in our society, I had wanted to explore the topic of nutritional violence, but this guy cut into the front of the line. Bully. But, I will get to that next. They may be related.

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.

Most sincerely yours, Elyn

Update July 2018: In Town with Little Water, Coca-Cola is Everywhere

Related Posts: Reporting from the Rim of the Sinkhole; So-duh; Brought to Tears; Nutritional Violence

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The Lives Taken Broken My Plates

 

My Plate Haiku

In school, I should be concerned

About my Health Class topics

Serving life not death.

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

six calories of separation

I am related to Fay Wray. Yes, the actress well-known for her theatrical screams, who portrayed Ann Darrow in the original King Kong film. More dramatically, though inadvertently, she was “the beauty who killed the beast”. I guess lots of ordinary people have some connection to famous ones–but mine is pretty crazy, right? When Fay Wray died in 2004 at the age of 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for fifteen minutes in her honor.download

The story is even a little more interesting. Cousin Fay was born in Canada to a Mormon family who eventually moved to Hollywood. She attended high school there and entered the film industry at a young age. Though most famous for her role in King Kong, she had many film and TV roles in her long career. It was in Hollywood that she met and married my grandfather’s cousin, Robert Riskin. Well, I know you are probably wondering if my connection by marriage counts–but Robert Riskin has a celebrated history as well. He was a prolific playwright and screenwriter–an Academy Award winner best known for his work with the director Frank Capra on films such as It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

So, while they led very glamorous Hollywood lives, the bulk of my relatives lingered in New York. Though many of them possessed various artistic talents, my celebrity relations remained thus limited. Nonetheless, though I live in a tiny circumscribed world, I am tickled by the notion of brushes with fame. My shortlist includes that of being picked up while hitchhiking in Big Sur by Carl Reiner and his wife Estelle, and of providing nutritional services to Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Brokaw, Peter Martins, and Bill Bradley during my various stints as a waitress. I actually had a little tiff with Mr. Bradley about a diet soda–he shouldn’t have been drinking the stuff anyway.

And, then there are my amazing nutrition connections. I have mentioned before in various posts that not only do I know Mark Hyman–I lived with him during college; I had breakfast with Marc David; I am pretty positive that I grew up in the same town as Michael Pollan–so that is association by geography; and I did clearly imagine seeing Mark Bittman in Brooklyn one day.

So, already sitting on a pretty full nest of impressive–though perhaps exaggerated–VIPs for a small village girl, imagine my surprise when this happened. A few weeks back, my inbox began to flood with feed from my professional and personal networks about a new book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Everywhere I turned, I was seeing or hearing about this new exposé of the food industry. My first reaction was to file this for later. But, then something caught my eye– in the tiny print of the text that appeared on my screen. The author was Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Moss. It took one quick message to my college and journalist friend Ellen to confirm my suspicion. This was not just any old Mike, Mark or Tom–but another very real connection.

Ellen dated Michael many years ago and I knew him through her. Back then, Michael was assigned to cover the New York State Legislature in Albany where he knew no one–except me, Pete–and baby Morgan. So Michael hung out–and ate–with us. At that time he was finishing his first book, Palace Coup: The Inside Story of Harry and Leona Helmsley of which I have an autographed copy–made out to the three of us.

Though we have been long out of touch, I was aware that he was a well-regarded journalist. He had won the Pulitzer in 2009 for his investigation of an E-coli outbreak. So, I was not at all shocked to see that he had written another book. Instead, I found it remarkable that someone I knew was bringing big attention to a matter so near and dear to my own work. The news about the book now seemed more close than far. Eager to get my hands on an excerpt the day it ran in the New York Times, I grabbed the magazine section from my brother-in-law before he even finished his beloved puzzle page.

In the weeks that have ensued since the book was published, Michael Moss has been very busy on the circuit with very public appearances including the Daily Show. Its been nice to see him again. His book unveils how many processed food items are insidiously designed to ensnare its consumers. It adds to the stomach-turning information revealed by the likes of Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, David Kessler in The End of Overeating, and Greg Critser in Fat Land and discussed by people like–me.

However, what Michael has achieved is to put faces and names to the industry. He got inside and he obtained admissions from those who were controlling the direction and deception of the products–that what they were doing was bad. The depth of the collusion is always chilling to encounter, no matter how many times one learns of it–and for many, this will be new. He writes, “It’s telling that many of the wealthy food executives I spoke to about their products wouldn’t dream of eating the stuff themselves.” How he managed to obtain hidden documents and how deeply he infiltrated, speaks to his highly tuned investigative acumen.

So, here I am again, giddy that I actually know someone else who is poised to affect the societal metabolism. I am not sure how heavy his final indictment was–but he has certainly added to the conversation. Stuff like this makes me want to scream one really huge Fay Wray scream. Believe me–I have it in me–even if it is just by marriage.

Please continue to join me in the collective noise-making about food justice and reclaiming a path toward real food and societal health. Take a peek at the Turn the Tide Foundation. Watch the film, Hungry for Change. Drop me a line, say hi, and share your thoughts. When you are famous I will be so glad to say I know you too–though I am thrilled to know you anyway, right now.

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: Reporting from the Rim of the Sinkhole; The Dance of Diabetes; Have It Your Way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle; Three Good Mark(s)

(Update 2020: Did you know that General Mill’s and Hershey are sleeping together and begat Jolly Rancher Cereal which hit the shelves just in late December 2019? AAAAAAGH!)

(Update 2021: New book releases: Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight and Disease by Dr. David Kessler; Hooked: Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss; and, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman.)

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen