Search Results for: the dance of diabetes

the dance of diabetes

It is a modern dance though it has its roots in classical forms. It was originally choreographed for just a handful of dancers but now it is staged for many. In recent years it has been performed all around the world. I have seen it many times.

The curtain rises and the stage is empty. Slowly, alone and in pairs, the dancers enter–men and women. They are dressed simply in tights and leotards, all in tones of soft browns and grays, with one wrist wrapped in a band of red fabric. The dancers inhabit their space with sparse yet defined movements, engaged with each other, but each portraying a distinct set of steps.

Suddenly, one of the dancers contracts his center and extends one arm forward, palm facing upward. While he curiously studies the fingers of the upturned hand, his other arm reaches behind and then quickly arcs overhead coming full circle its palm slapping down against the other. As palms meet, the dancer deepens the contraction, a pained look grabs his face. Grazing his fingers along the wristband it unfurls in a flutter of scarlet fabric. He straightens and assumes his previous movements–the colored cloth now flowing behind his every step. ballerinas-g39791c62a_1920

This contraction of the body, where the torso curves forward over the controlled pelvic area is a fundamental movement in modern dance. Martha Graham–the mother of modern dance– developed the gesture from observing the physical manifestation of grief in the body.

Soon, another dancer stops. This time a woman. She too contracts her center, contemplates the fingers on her upturned palm and follows also with the circling arm, the jolting slap and the unfurling of the scarlet rivulet of cloth. And, so it goes. In syncopated rhythms, new dancers initiate the pattern while those already afflicted repeat it over and over. Their eyes now remain fixed on their upturned hands that lead them forward.

As the tempo of the music intensifies so does the frenzy of the dancers now marked in red–about 10 percent of the performers. They respond to the dissonant notes that punctuate the melody while the others maintain a more composed presence. The noise of the slapping of the hands amplifies. Sporadically, they also clasp fist in hand drawing their arms in toward their torso or legs. Again the contraction of their bodies and the grimaced faces. Continually, they return to their earlier movements but always with one palm upturned and leading their way.

As the dancers’ paths intermingle, the rivers of red become intertwined among all of them. There is a flurry of color amid the neutral gray and brown hues. Some of the grieved are gently lifted up and held in the air or are tenderly embraced while others dance quietly alone extending their arms upwards calmly or angrily beseeching the heavens. A few tuck the wounded hand behind their backs, tethering its gestures and move on without it–though the red trail remains.

Eventually, the music regains a slower pace. The dancers all resume the steps of the first part of the piece regaining semblance of movements of everyday life and common interactions. Slowly they each quietly walk off stage. The lights dim.

This is the representation of the experience of diabetes. Its steps are hard to master and its care is tempting to ignore. Unsuspecting individuals in unprecedented numbers, an abrupt diagnosis and suddenly a life marked by the demands of modern blood-letting. Rather than preferring to allow one’s life fluid to course through the body unseen and uninterrupted, diabetes requires a more intimate relationship.

The hand must reluctantly but gracefully present itself. Fingers must be pricked, poked and squeezed multiple times a day begging the deliverance of the droplets of our inner essence. The sacrificial digit must be chosen and its offering must then be measured with precision to determine blood sugar levels. Numbers digitally displayed on a meter determine one’s destiny for the day as well as for the tomorrow. Medications are quickly and somewhat arbitrarily prescribed–some of which are delivered by measured injections to various parts of the body.

Food becomes more enemy than friend and each bite becomes suspect and open to investigation. Kidneys, eyes, and toes–and yes, hearts, are no longer private property but are open to the purview of medical technicians. And yet, the dance of life must go on. Interestingly, Martha Graham once stated that the mission of her work was to “chart the graph of the heart”. In essence, diabetes monitoring requires the same.

Not everyone appreciates modern dance. This is an unsettling piece. But, diabetes can be re-choreographed as its treatment is improved and, more importantly, as its causes are prevented.

Sharings on the experience of managing diabetes respectfully welcomed.

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

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

By Gordon

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

Oh, Some of the Things I Have Done

A few years ago, while serving as a resource person for a national food security organization, I responded to an inquiry. It was from a woman doing related work for a small non-profit. Though I was then staying and working out of state, she was from a community very close to my home–so there was a welcomed familiarity in connecting with her.

When I returned home, I made the lovely thirty-five minute drive down beautiful back roads to meet with her. Sitting together in her office–a large warehouse space–she described her programs related to food access, nutrition education, and Produce Prescription Programs. Having done the same work myself, I was impressed with her sophisticated and creative approach, and the success of her efforts. She had been in this job for four years and had accomplished a lot in a rural area with limited resources. And, though her face was largely hidden behind a Covid mask, I realized that she had obtained this professional maturity by, at best, her mid-thirties.

We stayed in touch, and a few months later she informed me she was moving on to pursue an unrelated opportunity, and I wished her well. Having become linked on LinkedIn, I noticed that she identified herself as a Public Health Innovator. This intrigued me. While I did not doubt her right to ascribe that title to herself, I wondered what being such an innovator would entail, and might I, with a few decades on her, have any claim as such. And so, I began an inventory of my own path.

Let me acknowledge that by all measures, and certainly by today’s standards, my efforts were itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, tiny. I have been a very small fish, in a very small pond, with little personal agency to swim out into larger waters. I had no funds, grants, or extra supports. Maybe just some supervisors who let me do some things–or didn’t stop me. I just wanted to help those I was serving. My reach was small, and the sustainability of my projects limited, but I did possess some type of fins and gills, impelled to create something to fill a need that had lacked attention or address in its time.

What turned into my career began in the early 1980s, a period when the government, still in the wake of the ‘War on Poverty’, was crafting its national nutrition programs to bluntly address abject hunger, the effects of a few decades of corporate interests controlling the American diet were seriously taking their toll but had not yet reached full crisis level, and the folks in the natural foods movement were making the connection between diet quality and personal and societal health–but they were quite marginalized.

Margarine was still cool, soda drinks were just starting to supersize, the term ‘wellness’ was not yet coined, and no one knew were were a mere decade away from an obesity and chronic disease red-alert. Likewise, mimeograph machines were just surrendering to Xerox, typewriters to word processors, and print materials knew not of the worldwide web.

Arriving at this cusp of nutritional awakening, I began to work my way through a number of different community and clinical settings, propelled by geographic moves related to early adulthood and marriage. At each stop, I was witness to emerging issues, and being in unchartered waters I had a modicum of freedom to make things up–or should I say, find some innovative solutions.

I first stepped out of the box in 1980, when as a WIC Nutritionist in the federal program that was then only about five years old, I arranged to walk a group of moms down the street from the WIC clinic site to a little whole-grain bakery for a tour–certainly this was not within normal operating procedures. This was before there was any widespread, soon-to-be earth shattering news about the ills of Wonder Bread. But I had gotten the memo, and I guess thought this was an opportunity for an interesting, educational outing. Though my intention seemed rather innocent or naive, I guess something deeper was rising within me that would inform my future endeavors.

And so I swam forth through the next four decades, trying some innovative things largely within various work settings but beyond the requisite duties of my role. Here are just some of them:

The Nineteen Eighties

Presented a paper I had written entitled, The Role of Nutritional Services in Prenatal Care, to the medical team in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at a large, prestigious university medical center. (Yes, young me!). This forwarded the integration of nutritional assessment and counseling into prenatal care within that practice and enabled me to later provide specialized nutrition support to pregnant women in other settings. (1984)

Presented workshops on nutritional approaches to women’s health concerns in various workshop settings. Many of these concerns had not been properly understood until the mid-1900s and were only gaining wider recognition and support around the 1970s due to the visionaries and feminists of that period. (1985-1987)

The Nineteen Nineties

Developed a cooking class for pregnant teenagers while working for another WIC Program and observing the demise of home-prepared meals in a peak period of teen pregnancies. I enjoined the collaboration of a local Cornell Cooperative Extension agency and a community food pantry. Participants received a free bag of groceries at each class. (1994)

Implemented the following at a Community Health Center to provide greater options for well being to a low-resourced community: (1997-2001)

Physician-Nurse Team-led walking program and nutrition classes for staff and patients

Center-based Yoga Class Series taught by certified Yoga Teachers–there was a waiting list for the class

Coupon Program and Cooking Demonstrations with the local food-coop

The Two Thousand Aughts

Invited one of the nation’s first mobile produce vans intended to bring quality, discount-priced produce to underserved neighborhoods to make a weekly stop at a Community Health Center to reinforce the notion of ‘food as medicine’. This popular stop served a wide-range of clients, staff, and medical providers and raised awareness about food insecurity. (2008)

Provided to my clients (on a very small scale) low-cost, non-perishable nutritious food samples boxed in cardboard Chinese Food containers. They included sardines, beans, oatmeal, teas, spices–along with cooking instructions. These were essentially a precursor to healthy meal boxes available today. (Back then I wished I had a way to get funding to expand that idea.) (2010)

Expanded eating disorder services and resources at a college. Also, helped initiate changes to support more sustainable practices and local food sourcing for the college’s Dining Services. (2007)

The Twenty Teens

Developed and administered the clinical component of one of the nation’s earliest Produce Prescription Programs. Conducted a Program Evaluation and the Program’s results were published in a Public Health Journal. (2011-2013)

Designed a Diabetes Education Program that had included a diabetes-friendly meal that was prepared together by some of my patients in the Program who were experienced cooks–mainly elderly black ladies who had each fed countless mouths and who could serve an army or at least a filled church. The program also included a dance segment led by a local Latin Dance teacher. (One of the program attendees became a member of the teacher’s traveling dance troupe.) (2012)

Solicited local businesses to donate breastfeeding supplies to a Community Health Center for nursing mothers in honor of National Breastfeeding Month. (2013)

In the mid-Twenty Teens my work took me out of direct care environments and into more Program Management roles. By this point, innovation was largely being measured by technology-based advances where I was less well-equipped–though I still pushed my grassroots efforts where I could. My inspirations and innovations grew out of having sat with thousands of eaters from around the globe and from all walks of life, a plethora of pregnant moms, a couple of hundred college students eating their way from adolescence to adulthood, and a few dozen elementary-aged school children who knew more about food and life than you might think. I looked for every available resource to support them all as best I could, created partnerships when possible, and came up with new solutions when necessary.

Surreptitiously I removed infant formula promotional materials from the ‘free’ gift bags and magazines targeted to pregnant women and quietly encouraged vending machine vendors to replace the most nefarious offerings with others less harmful to the human organism. I produced lots of nutrition education materials and wrote many newsletter articles. And then, I embarked on documenting in 125+ blog posts ‘the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu’. From my work chairs to my pitter-patterings about, I bore witness to much of the difficulties we are now experiencing in even more extreme ways–demanding a more robust and urgent response. My writings presaged much of what we are confronting and I invite you to to search my site for my insights on any number of nutritional matters including breastfeeding, eating disorders, toxic food systems, child health, obesity, racism, health inequities, nutrition insecurity and food marketing. Gosh, things got a lot more complicated than just whole wheat bread.

Looking back, I acknowledge that I did a lot for a small fish. I used to say that one thing I would not do was to dress up like a fruit or vegetable, but I will don the Public Health Innovator Hat, at least for a moment. I still have a list of things that I would love to see be done, so as I ease out of this work, I’d be glad to share my ideas. Also, feel free to build upon my efforts if you can appreciate their value. Finally, fellow innovators, keep up the good work. If I catch sight of your schemes, I will be glad to celebrate them.

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

P.S. OK. Here is one of my ideas. Let’s implement a program for vulnerable senior citizens similar to the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Program. Maybe just an add-on program called WICS.

And, here are some other important insights and innovative ideas shared by Food Bank News regarding collaborative efforts working with underserved populations with globally-based examples.

My Plate Haiku

Craving for pickles

And German Chocolate Cake

My friend is pregnant. by Gretchen

Love Is Love

The dog days of summer barked outside, but inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx, where Love is Love.

Yes, it was hot. The day when summer first reminds us what really hot is after initially just gloriously warming us up. But, I was on a mission and was not to be deterred. It had already been a year or more since I learned that two hip-hop musicians had opened some juice bars in low-resourced neighborhoods–in Yonkers, the Bronx, and most recently in Brooklyn.

Music coupled with a healthy eating initiative ignited by love sings to my soul. So when this came to my awareness, I was determined to pay a visit to one of their Juices for Life businesses, and an opportunity had finally presented itself.

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Juices for Life

Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, cool inflammation’s heat with nature’s nectars. 

To start with, I had to know who were these guys, Styles P, and Jadakiss? To find out meant calling my son. Once again, he would need to rescue his unhip mother. Apparently, these two Yonker’s natives were founding bandmembers of The Lox. Their hip-hop careers began back in 1994–who knew–while they were still in their teens. Along the way, Styles P abandoned the smoked salmon with a bagel and cream cheese and ascribed to a vegan lifestyle–including the preparation of vegetable juices. This he credits for a transformative change in his health and mindset. Jada Kiss was thus also inspired.

In this must-see video, the artists explain that they are constantly asked to invest in various ventures and why they chose to bring healthy food to the hood, committing themselves to access and education. In other interviews, Style P’s message is also infused with his concern for families–with an emphasis on children and elders. And, he urges people to begin finding ways to juice and blend at home.

Finally, the time had come. In the video, a man says that if you don’t know who Styles P and Jadakiss are, then you must be living under a rock. So, a few weeks ago I shoved my rock aside and headed down to Manhattan to visit my son. I’d forewarned him that on the agenda was an outing to the juice bar in the Castle Hill neighborhood in the Bronx. While we’d discussed this before, he was a little surprised that I was really serious.

Off we went and headed deep into the subterranean underbelly of the sweltering city to catch the first subway. Whatever air there was down there was thick and heavy, and the wait for the train on the crowded platform was trying. But things got better as we transferred to the Uptown 6, which would carry us to our destination. Miraculously, it was an express train, adequately air-conditioned and without too many passengers. The train streamed along, and at the far reaches of its tentacled line, it emerged from underground and rose to its elevated height. I looked out the windows as we crossed the Bronx River and was afforded wide views of the urban industrial landscape.

Exiting the station, we found ourselves in the glaring light and searing heat of the early afternoon. As we walked the few blocks down a commercial corridor, the streets were pretty deserted either due to the heat, or that it was a Sunday and many of the businesses were closed.

Filling the cracks of lack, helping people to feel good.

However, once we found ourselves inside Juices for Life things were chill and there was some good energy. The set up was simple. A counter, a cooler filled with produce, shelves filled with protein and nutritional powders, and some stool seating. Initially, there were just a handful of customers, so we were able to take our time reviewing the varied menu of juice, smoothie, and shot options and placing our order. The counter person, Akil, was very friendly, and gladly abided my many questions. I was pretty hip to everything on the menu except for its offerings of sea moss and bark.

Our juices came quickly, and we sat to sip. Suddenly the place filled with a wave of people, including a street detective. There were obvious regulars and newbies alike. A woman told us that the place is usually busy and attributed the lull to the heat. I watched as the juicing staff of three plus the veggie prepper who kept the cooler stocked, choreographed their steps, spinning, and dosey-doeing with each other. They moved quickly to fill the orders, loading the whirring juicer and blenders, and gracefully catching and pouring the colorful elixirs. Their Juices for Life company T-shirts reminded that Love Is Love. img_4404.jpg

We stayed for about an hour talking with both staff and customers and sampling some shot concoctions. We learned that both rappers visit the store, but Styles P is there more regularly. A wall plaque honors him for his contribution to the community. The Juices for Life website explains its mission of bringing health to ‘poorer communities’ by ‘letting food be its medicine and medicine be its food’. This is a worthy and deeply profound mission. Freshly prepared juices from a bounty of different vegetables and fruits provide our bodies with an easily assimilated and powerful source of essential nutrients. They are a balm to the nutritional needs of our cells required for optimal health, and a salve to the nutritional abuse and violence these cells have been prey to. It was really beautiful to witness the communal toast of good health that each cup of juice provided to all who were there that day.

Training back, I wondered how viable could such enterprises be. Could juice bars become as ubiquitous as the fast-food joints, liquor stores and bodegas that are known to populate such communities? Is the five to six dollar price per glass–which is cheaper than at many similar places–still too much for many to make for a sustainable habit? Or is that cost actually cheaper than many other commonly purchased unhealthy products?

I believe that such initiatives contribute to sowing the seeds of change. And, that education and empowerment will promote changes in disease prevention and the delivery of healthcare. For now, I would love for there to be the opportunity to allow persons who receive SNAP Benefits to be able to redeem them for juices, similar to their expanded acceptance at Farmer’s Markets. Next, I’d like to see juicing kiosks in more places–such as community markets, health clinics, and hospitals. And, and for more cultural icons to use their celebrity to endorse and support health-promoting activities.

To Styles P, Jadakiss, and all those who are making this happen, I thank you. Just one thing, if I may–it looks like you could use an additional juice machine.

And stay posted, my next trip to the city may include a visit to Brooklyn, to check out Francesca Chaney’s Sol Sips.

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.

Love Is Love, Elyn

Related Posts: Nutritional Violins, Dance of Diabetes, Where Has All The Produce Gone?

Related Song: Jadakiss–Why

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M & E’s My Plate

My Plate Rap

The dog days of summer barked outside, But inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx where Love is Love.

And Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, Cool inflammation’s heat with Nature’s nectars, Filling the cracks of lack, Helping people to feel good.

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

visions of sugar plums

When I arrived at my office on Monday morning, a bag was hanging from the door handle. My first glimpse through the plastic made me think the bag contained cucumbers, maybe small pickling ones. I was a little puzzled as I did not think December was the season of the giving of cucumbers, but even so, I was all for it. I put the bag aside and started my day. I figured the answers to the questions the cucumbers posed would present soon enough.

Sure enough, a short while later, Marie, my hallmate, friend, and partner in the quest to nourish the needy, came by to tell me that a mutual client of ours had brought me some bitter melon. Bitter melon? Oh yes, of course. My East Indian client had told me months ago that he would bring me something. I reached for the bag and untied the knot. Staring me in the face were five of the strangest cucumbers I had ever seen. I suddenly felt like the gamekeeper of little tiny crocodiles.

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Bitter Melon Food Republic

A quick google search informed me that I was now sharing my office with five Momordica charantia, the most bitter of any fruit, and though they come in various shapes and sizes, I was in the company of the sub-continent phenotype. Moments later, Marie, who is a nurse and thus always quick to action, was back in my office with a red plastic plate and a white plastic spoon. She grabbed one of those emerald babies and took immediately to its dissection. With the red, green and white color palette, it seemed like some ancient Christmas ritual. I was not sure she knew what she was getting us into. This was not your momma’s ordinary cucumber and I was still not convinced it was vegetable, not animal. I winced as she made the first vertical slice.

As she did, an intense, I suppose bitter odor filled the room. I would not say it was completely unpleasant, but now I was more afraid we might be dealing with a controlled substance. Eviscerated, the dear little bitter melon did not look dissimilar to other members of the squash or melon family. As it was pretty narrow, the insides were filled mainly by the seeds surrounded by a little flesh. Marie went right for the seed and then wondered if she should have exercised more caution. I dabbled in the skin and flesh. Little tiny ‘microbites’ seemed sufficient for now. We then googled how one was to prepare these things, which I was determined to do in honor of my client who had gone to the trouble to bring them to me. I considered regifting but thought better of it.

The amazing Internet proposed a multitude of recipes for my little warty friends. Teas, sauces, curries, stir-fries, and cocktails were all possible. Even desserts apparently–though I wondered if they would be deserving of the extra “s”. Marie, who was not yet hallucinating, left me alone to ponder. Shortly after, as luck would have it, my other hallmate, the psychiatrist, who is from India, happened by. I invited him in to show off my gift. Of course, bitter melon. He was familiar and well-versed in this botanical wonder. He gave me a few suggestions including stuffing the little buggers with any nice savory filling. He said all parts could be eaten but some people don’t enjoy the seeds. Further research did inform that some types of these seeds can indeed induce difficulties in susceptible individuals.

As the day proceeded, the sacrificial fruit lay exposed right next to me on my desk. Though I had been aware of bitter melon’s powerful anti-diabetes properties since it increases insulin sensitivity–which was why my client and I had even discussed it –my experience with it had been seeing it used in various glucose support supplements. Spending a day with one was a different story. Just seeing it, touching it, and most potently, smelling it made it obvious that this was a powerful healer–like many plants are. Maybe not too dissimilar from hot chili pepper, its acrid scent wafted into my lungs, blood, and brain.

Bitter melon contains many biologically active substances and has many medicinal uses. Its benefits are quite impressive. Besides its role in diabetes, it has anti-parasitic, anti-viral, anti-malarial, cardio-protective, anti-dysentery and anti-cancer properties. After a short time in its company, I would not doubt any of these. So informed, I carried these big green pills home with me. To be honest, visually they gave me the willies and I was cautious about their use. I enjoy the taste of bitter to some extent and gladly ingest all types of bitter greens but my lack of experience with this incarnation of bitter gave me some pause. Still, I jumped right in and sliced one thinly into that evening’s dinner of a seitan stir-fry. As my family sat to eat, I gave fair warning. Blended on my fork with other foods it found some welcome in my mouth. I am open to a future relationship though I may leave that to other Asian cooks. And, if I ever do have a nematode worm or diabetes, I would gladly consider its use.

Due to my nutritionist vibe in my work settings, I am often excluded from excuses for food excess events. Just the other day I was walking down the hallway with a co-worker. A nurse approached us and said just to my co-worker, “I have coffee cake back in my office. Go have some.” Years ago, this obvious slight would have stung, but now I am rather used to not being invited to play in all the reindeer games. Someone did give me some lovely little Ghiradelli chocolate squares but besides the bitter melons, those were my only holiday treats. Oh, but Miss Henry from my post, Lose 14 Pounds in Three Years did tell me she was bringing me some Sweet Potato Pie.

Well, anyway, so it goes. In the spirit of this holiday season, I wish you both peace in the world and in your hearts, and wonderful visions of sugar plums–which it turns out were once sugar-coated coriander but now seem to be a confection of almonds, dates and dried apricots (see recipe) and the gift of health.

I would love to hear from you and could use some new holiday Haikus.

In health, Elyn

My Plate Haiku

The children were nestled all snug in their beds                                                                   

While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. by Clement Clark Moore