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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

set the twilight reeling

Lou Reed died on Sunday. This was strange to me because my relationship with him had only begun on Saturday night. I am a little embarrassed that I was not fully informed about the music of this artist. Of course, I knew some of his songs and was aware of the Velvet Underground and their being part of the Andy Warhol scene, but I think I was just a little too young and a lot too unhip to have accessed more of his music in its time. When I was just a little older and a touch hipper, I did become a fan of Laurie Anderson’s work and got it when she and Lou Reed later became an item.

Being attached to the elements of time, sound and place that Lou Reed inhabited, I would have responded with some curiosity and sadness upon hearing of his passing. But, having been in his presence just the night before, made the news resonate through my being.

English: Lou Reed performing Berlin at the Glo...

English: Lou Reed performing Berlin at the Globe Annex in Stockholm July 9 2008  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What had happened was that on Saturday night, Pete and I found ourselves still adjusting to being parents without boarders. This is what my daughter called us when she moved out recently to start college, leaving us with no kids living in the house. Simultaneous with that event, by means of some cable wire, our computer had become magically capable of projecting things onto our television set–thus widely expanding the viewing opportunities at our disposal. So, giddy with this new means of entertainment against the backdrop of a quiet house, Pete turned me onto a show called Spectacle, where Elvis Costello interviews an array of musical guests. Though this was big news to me, the episodes were recorded between 2008 and 2010. The show is a combination of storytelling and casual performance which I love.

Comfortably curled up for a night of relaxation, we started with Elvis Costello’s interview with Elton John. Right away my rock and roll pulse began to quicken. Next, we chose the one with Lou Reed. With Costello’s thoughtful and serious questions and Reed’s droll but meaningful answers, the segment just began to unfold like a walk through a park. Reed was iconic but also gracious and familiar-seeming. He discussed lyrics, the influence of the Beat poets, songs as stories and the effectiveness of minimal chords. Then, the artist Julian Schnabel joined them on stage. A very close friend of Reed, he told a touching story about loss that brought out the richness of their relationship. He recited Reed’s Rock Minuet as if he were Hamlet. Costello and Reed performed a perfect duet of A Perfect Day and they ended the segment with Set the Twilight Reeling. The combination of the scorching guitars and contrasting vocals was beautiful. I turned to Pete and said that I felt that I had just had a spiritual experience.

So, when on Sunday, as I was home working on some frustrating and soul-constraining activities and then saw the news that Lou Reed had died, I was strangely affected. How could that be? I just saw him the night before. He seemed ok–his heart was full and he treated us to some of Sweet Jane. I texted Pete–who was at a conference–the news. He wrote back agreeing that was very weird. Throughout the rest of the day, in between tending to my mundane tasks, I gobbled up the various contents of the musician’s cholesterol-rich oeuvre by reading articles and listening to his music. When Pete returned, he played me some more. I felt kind of empty. I regretted the loss to the world of a sensitive artist.

My own clinical work can frequently feel quite vapid to me–I am reactive to when there is too much science, too much medicine, too much judgment, and too little soul. The lyrics of my day are littered with mean or inflamed words like hypertension, arthritis, hypertriglyceridemia, gout, GERD, diabetes, obesity, and diabesity. Diabesity–actually sounds like it could be the name of a Lou Reed song. While Lou Reed’s lyrics can be ugly, angry and crass sometimes too, they are also tender and romantic.

I am always longing for the lyrical and the poetic–and am grateful for artists and their art. For the lives and stories that I am privy to, I imagine something I call Diapoetry–where the impersonal becomes personal, where healing becomes love. This is any artistic or humanistic expression of matters related to health and the conditions that support or hinder it. It has applications wider than its name. There are beautiful renditions of illness and loss; there are healing practitioners whose science is art, there is life-giving food prepared with love and there are acts of service. It can be pretty or not–but it touches emotions and represents our fuller selves. Diapoetry can be represented in many ways. My observation is just that the collective psyche is weary of the bombastic and literal when it comes to our bodies.

So, it was additionally strange when on the following night, Pete said, “El, read this“. He handed me a New York Times article about Lou Reed having diabetes. Apparently, as Reed struggled with what to eat in response to it, the restaurateurs and chefs he knew throughout his little village of New York began to create special menus for him and helped him to become interested in food for health. I was shocked. Here I am following the life and times of this legendary artist who was known for his often alienating and transgressive behaviors–and he ends up with the same humbling condition that brings many to their knees, praying for culinary and nutritional redemption. Suddenly, Lou Reed who traveled in realms quite foreign to me landed in a place I know a little something about.

The article concluded with a quote from Reika Alexander, the owner of one of the restaurants that nourished him. She said, recalling a strong final hug, “Even a couple of weeks ago he told me that he loved eating our food because it made him feel really healthy. He was really sweet. I really miss him. I was hoping I could see him again.”

That story, that food, that hug and Lou Reed himself–I think that is diapoetry. It may be a fitting ending for this man who obviously fed the collective psyche. Maybe this beautiful tribute by his friend, Patti Smith, best reflects this sentiment.

Anyway, send word, love and any expressions of Diapoetry you may wish to share.

In health, Elyn

Happy Birthday to my dear husband Peter, who brings a lot of music to my life. Really– jazz, classical, post-rock, electronic, some really weird stuff–and always rock and roll. This video is for you, my love.

My Plate Diapoetry

As the twilight sunburst gleams
as the chromium moon it sets
As I lose all my regrets
and set the twilight reeling
I accept the new found man
and set the twilight reeling.

by Lou (Reed)

 

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. Mastering 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 ingesting drinking 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–clean food, governmental responsibility, 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 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.)

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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 a 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