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what to eat in troubled times

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

I reply,

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

Rice and beans, collard greens
Tzimmes, hummus, dahl
Fatteh, dolma, kibbeh
Chicken soup with tortilla or matzoh ball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figs, plantains, chiles, dates                           Guacamole, and holy mole

Spooned upon the plates.

Of course, some xocolati
I mean chocolate, dark
Lots of tea, a handful of nuts
All strengthening for the heart.

And, don’t forget the grits. You will need them for the soul.

Please click on the links in the captions of each food photo. These will lead you to the amazing food blogs of three incredible women who are not only very talented cooks with fascinating (and mouth-watering) recipes, but also writers, photographers, educators and cultivators of cultural cuisines and relationships. Also, explore some of the other foods mentioned here if you are not familiar with them. This will take you to both far off lands and perhaps kitchens right in your own neighborhood!

Stay strong. Say hi.

In health, Elyn

my plate

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Poem

The world’s spinning madly, it drifts in the dark

Swings through a hollow of haze

A race around the stars, a journey through

The universe ablaze with changes. by Phil (Ochs)

The Google Drool

The Google Drool. This is the reaction we may have upon learning about the employee perks at companies like Google, Facebook and other big startup or tech companies. We may find spit running down our chins when hearing about such things as barista-staffed coffee bars, top level chef-prepared fare at various campus restaurants, snack bars arranged to foster healthy choices–not to mention arcade game, bowling and ping pong rooms; mid-day yoga and fitness classes, shower rooms with provided towels, lava lamp decor, and even the ability to bring one’s dog to work!                                                       Orange, Office, Fruit, Juicy, Food, Ripe

Tucked behind the big and small amenities that these large and hip companies are able to provide is a strong employer commitment to employee well- being. Clearly, these business savvy entrepreneurs have recognized the value of recruiting and having happy and healthy workers–and while floating in the tech bubble–have taken time to figure out what promotes such benefit.

For those of us living outside the Google Universe, we may consider ourselves lucky just to have a coffee maker, a vending machine, and maybe a water dispenser; and are giddy when someone brings in a box of donuts to start the day. That’s OK we say. We’ll trudge into work daily loaded down with our necessary sustenance carried in various totes, or use our precious lunch breaks–which we are not paid for–to frantically run out for a sandwich or slice of pizza. We’ll rush to the gym before or after work, if at all, and stuff that soggy or soaked towel back in our bag. We’ll come to work sick because we don’t have sufficient–if any–health care benefits or sick days.

While it may be unrealistic to presume that every business, workplace or employer could even provide a modicum of the level of benefits and types of environments as the Google-type giants, it can still be an important exercise to step back and consider what changes could be implemented in one’s specific setting to enhance the well-being of those who work there–dedicating a big chunk of both their life time and energy on another’s behalf.

With the sorry state of healthcare in our nation, and the associated high costs of health insurance premiums burdening both the business sector and individuals, governmental and private entities are trying to find solutions to the problems associated with an increasingly unhealthy populace. While we sit and wait for that to happen, what are some ways employment sites can, on their own, support the health and well-being of the hard working masses with some small homeopathic doses of supportive care?

If you are responsible for or can affect workplace environments, here are a few little ideas that may just spark the imagination of possibility. They are intended to be relatively easy and hopefully cost permitting. However, each are certainly not applicable or realistic for all settings, in which case, consider them a starting point for what may be for yours.

The Food Culture: The bane of our society. While we seem to understand that what and how we eat really matters, we continuously create apologies for ignoring this, and the workplace is no exception. Foods offered in workplace settings are classically “happy foods”–those which compromise health but which feed the mentality of rewarding everyone for the drudgery at hand. The assumption is that we need these sugary and junk food enticements. But, what if we thought about workplace food as replenishment–and maybe even increased productivity–rather than reward?

  • Beyond the coffee machine, offer a station with a variety of healing teas, good quality water (perhaps an infused water dispenser), a bowl of seasonal fruit or a vegetable platter when possible.
  • Institute Healthy Vending and Healthy Meetings practices. These can send a powerful message to employees, clients and business partners alike.
  • Investigate being a drop-off site for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where local produce boxes are delivered to participants on a weekly basis.
  • Establish relationships with health food vendors and establishments. Hire them to cater any workplace events and see if they can offer an employee discount in return.
  • Model healthy eating behaviors to inspire others.

The Physical Environment: Take a walk around the physical space and look and listen. Well-being can be depleted by a flickering florescent bulb, a slamming door, or a moldy carpet. And, it can be enhanced by simple attentions.

  •  Check to ensure that where possible that walls are nicely painted, that there is nice artwork, and that the flooring is comfortable and clean.
  • Soften the internal environment with good lighting, some plants, and relaxing sounds. Consider diffusing essential oils. Create some room to provide employees with a quiet area, and make sure you can accommodate nursing moms with a private lactation area–this is the law in many states.
  • Enhance any outdoor areas so employees can take a walk, do some stretching, take breaks or even do their work.
  • Install a bike rack, a ping pong table, provide a few pieces of fitness equipment and some yoga mats, and display signage encouraging stair climbing and other health promoting activities.
  • Make sure that No Smoking policies are strictly enforced and restricted areas are fiercely protected.

The Work Day: Here is where it can get fun to elevate the work day to something a little more special for everyone.

  • Create a “quiet hour” encouraging work in silence to mitigate background noise and foster creative thinking.
  • Create a “movement time” encouraging walking or stretching. Promote a “tag” system where a five minute movement activity, such as a lap around the building is passed from one employee to the next. There can be “play time” as well.
  • Review human resources policies. Can any “rules” be re-visited to ensure they promote caring for all rather than preventing abuse by a few? Can flexible leave time replace specified allocations? Are there ways to promote stress reduction simply by reducing punitive leaning policies or by making up your own nice ones?
  • Take advantage of the array of healing arts practitioners in your community. Create a monthly wellness schedule bringing in various specialists for some mini-sessions. These specialists might be glad to provide discounted pricing to your employees. Reward dedicated (and lousy) employees with a healing arts or healthy food gift certificate.
  • Offer in-house chair massages. Many local massage schools have students eager to practice their skills for free.

Essentially, once you begin to look at the workplace as an environment for health the possibilities are many. Become your own Google when it comes to employee perks. Even a small investment might yield some large or unexpected returns. The bottom line: let your employees know that your business is committed to health promotion because you care about them.

I would love to hear your ideas. What workplace health perks have you provided or received? What do you wish for?  Can you bring your dog to work? Please leave me a comment. Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s to a kinder and gentler world.

In health, Elyn

quinoa cake

Chickpea Quinoa Cakes

My Plate Haiku:  Two restaurants’ menus/ Surprise me on both to find/ Chickpea Quinoa Cakes. by Elyn

Here’s how to make Chickpea Quinoa Cakes: Hench Herbivore’s Chickpea Quinoa Cakes 

 

 

 

the cookies are coming, the cookies are coming!

I did not consider that the setting would be more than nutritionally neutral. It was a required training on a non-nutritional topic at an off-site setting dedicated to health. Though it was an all day event, I did not know it included lunch, so I had my own packed in my bag. If anything, I supposed it would include the perfunctory coffee and some offering of basic breakfast carbohydrates to start the day and amuse the attendees, but that would be it. My, was I in for a surprise.

have your peeps call my peeps

have your peeps call my peeps

It was a cold morning so I was glad for the tea bag and hot water. But, as I found myself in line with the others waiting for their morning jolt, I of course noticed what was available, and reflected on how nutritional awareness now means lets serve some fruit along with the wide array of pasty pastries. I am more disheartened about such food offerings in my professional settings where health and nutrition are purported to matter. Still, having a day out of the office, to learn about the proper design of research studies, I thought I would pass the day imagining myself as research scientist, rather than nutritionist. Increasingly, I find myself interested in matters of investigation and evaluation, and though I lean strongly toward the qualitative, I like to unveil that quantitative data as well.

The presenters were all quite knowledgeable and held my attention with their touches of humor and accessibility, despite the somewhat dry subject matter. At the end of the morning we were ushered across the hallway for the lunch–which apparently was provided– and consisted of a selection of sandwiches and wraps, bags of chips, cans of soda and bottles of water. As I looked down the three long lines of tables where we were sitting, my clearly not quieted nutritionist mind acted up. I was tempted to count how many people had chosen a soda and what kind, and to then count the total number of people and begin some analysis.

Just as I reminded myself to not play probing, annoying nutritionist, the facilitator took to the microphone and informed the group about the schedule for the afternoon sessions. He then apologized that the cookies had not arrived but that they would be coming soon. The group emitted a palpable response. And, when at break time he did announce the advent of the cookies, as promised, the audience broke into applause. Really, the previously lackluster assemblage of folk, mainly there due to the mandatory nature of the event, responded with animated cheering. Forget the soda study. Where was my neurobiology team when I needed them to measure the excited brainwaves in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to just the anticipation of a sugary surge? I observed the same sparks in the eyeballs of those three-year-olds who just the week before had come to my door disguised as pirates demanding candy. Wow. But, there was still one more twist to come.

As the group got up to dive into and divvy up the cookie bounty, I headed down to the bathroom. On my way back, a woman was heading in my direction. My own brain flipped into one of its pre-programmed reactions. Young, attractive, stylish–I suddenly feel quite badly about myself. As we got closer, she held up a cookie to me and said, “Yeah, I know I am so bad.”

Shocked out of my own internal self-admonishment, I asked, surprised, “What?” She said,”I know I shouldn’t be eating this, but I can’t help myself. I am sure this is emotional eating. I should be better tomorrow. This was a tough week.”  Confused and concerned, I said, “I am sorry, but why are you telling me this?” She reminded me that she knew I was a nutritionist because we had come upon each other while walking near my office the month before, and I had told her what division I worked in. We had talked together for about five minutes before we went our separate ways. Now, here, out of context, it took me a moment to recognize her.

Stupidly grasping for something to say, I stuttered, “Then, if I have any power granted in me as a nutritionist in this very moment, please do not feel guilty and bad about yourself because of a cookie.” “Thank you, Elyn”, she said, sounding relieved as she walked away. She had only just shared a common feeling that many suppress. But her conflict makes her a potential subject for this big human study of who we are as eaters–along with all the rest of us. We are tasked with needing to be cognizant of our food choices, in a toxic food environment, while mysterious uncontrollable drives often control our behaviors. Pretty complicated stuff, this eating thing, aye matey?

Well, I really am quite aware that any situation can present me with a nutritional conundrum. This one concerned how a little cookie can magnify our longing, our regret and all the places in-between. In response, may I suggest that as best you can, nourish yourself in many ways, observe what lights up your prefrontal cortex, avoid long boring meetings, and most of all be gentle and loving with yourself.

In health, Elyn

By my own personal accounting, this is the 100th post of the Nutritionist’s Dilemma, and as you can see, the dilemmas persist. To help me embark on the next hundred, if you are a subscriber, regular reader, occasional visitor, or someone who has just stumbled upon my blog, I would greatly appreciate your taking a moment to: write a comment (below) to let me know how my writings resonate (cogent, amusing, inspiring, galvanizing) or just that you were here (Hi El, Yes, I DO read your blog); share one of my posts (forward to a friend or share on Facebook); click an available like button; subscribe (on side); or invite me on some interesting joint venture to change the world, near or far. 

(I would also love some new haikus as I am now relying on ones written by a cat.)

A deep thank you to those of you who have supported my humble efforts to give voice to my experience and to feed my quiet muse.

Blessings to all and Happy Thanksgiving!

My Plate

My Plate

 My Plate Haiku

I lick your nose, I lick your nose again

I drag my claws down your eyelids

Oh, you’re up? Feed me.

By a cat

from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano

eye of the newt–the halloween report

The week of Halloween is usually the busiest one of the year for me. I have described before the antics of my next door neighbors Amy and Eric and the going ons in my little village, but this year things were truly larger than life with the celebration of the Day of the Dead and all whom that invites. So, this past week was crazier than usual with many attendant dilemmas.

It all started out with my fire belly newt. I wrote about Everest, a few years back in Feeding Things. Recently, Everest has not been doing well. He became quite bloated, and was eating less and moving less than even usual. After thirteen years with us, I thought maybe his time had come. On several occasions, I declared and bemoaned with certainty that he was dead, and each time I did, he’d surprise me by appearing in a different part of his tank. I was actually pretty upset, because thirteen years with anything, including a pretty little amphibian involves some emotional attachment. But, what was I to do?

Zena intervened by finding a nearby reptile and amphibian veterinarian. Yikes! Just when I thought I should let nature take its course, I found myself at the beginning of the week, on Zena’s birthday, at the vet. I figured I should do it for her and besides, the newt had never needed much of anything before. It was her wish to get a newt when she was in first grade, and here she was in college, asking me to please do something. Well, that was a rather surreal experience. They brought in big heat lamps, and that vet whisked dear Everest up out of his tank for a full physical examination. His eyes were declared clear, his will forces strong–as he would not open his mouth, but his prognosis poor.

Though I was anxious to get home to get ready for Zena’s birthday dinner, I waited as a few remedies were prescribed including a highly nutritious food powder that I need just mix with water and get down his throat. I drove home wondering if I had done the right thing. But, I knew this was going to be a crazy week with lots happening, so I set Everest up in a new spot with a new light, and decided to accept whatever was to be without much more intervention. Still, I was aware that it was interesting that my newt story was transpiring just in time for Halloween. Even Leah’s Cakery, the incredible bakery (and more) in the village was serving up Eye of the Newt Soup in the spirit of the upcoming holiday.

We had a lovely dinner with Zena, but that was just the beginning. When you live next door to people whose Halloween display is so elaborate that the mayor decrees that the street gets blocked off, you cannot just sit by and do nothing. None of that, “Oh, no, we don’t get many trick-or-treaters.” Only the pressure I feel to impress the “Joneses” by making some humble effort to make my house look spooky–one year it was a little Snoopy cut out that said “BOO”–allows me to preoccupy myself and forget that this holiday is a nutritionist’s nightmare.

I did not go and buy any candy, but neither did I have time to go figure out a substitute. Last year I gave out little adorable fruit and vegetable stickers (big hit) but this year my source was dried up. I dragged a huge tree limb out of the woods for my Edgar Allen Poe inspired decorative theme, I dug out the pumpkin and skull lights, I found the stuffed crows and owls and, I went in search of pumpkins–which are hard to come by when you wait till the end. Then mid-week, I remembered it was my turn to be the birthday “bunny” at work which means I had to prepare a little celebration for the person’s whose birthday it was in my unit, which in this case turned out to be my boss. Yikes. That involved some agita and concern whether my low sugar baking would be enough to impress.

In the midst of this, I did try to go find something to humor the little children enough that they wouldn’t notice that they were not receiving any candy. I arrived at a local dollar store only to find that they were closing in a few days and that the shelves were pretty bare. However, I managed to gather up a few packs of some type of crayon markers–and a new cat poop scooper.

When Peter arrived home from being out-of-town, he found the measly amount of markers in a box by the door. He looked at me and said he would go buy some candy. Still, even what you think might be enough is never enough and always exceeds what my conscience can abide.

Friday morning, Halloween Day, arrived. Though I had wedged the big tree limb onto my porch, there was still some decorating to do. And, while the pumpkins had been eviscerated they still needed to be carved. On top of everything, the next day was Peter’s birthday, and I hoped to celebrate it with the guests who were coming for Halloween which included Zena and some of her college friends, and Peter’s sister and brother-in-law.

I checked on the newt. Amazingly as the days had passed his bloating had decreased and he seemed a little more active than he had in weeks. I looked him in the eye and wished him a Happy Halloween. He gave me a little wink. Heading out to work, I ran into Leah’s. Leah is truly a wizardess and had conjured up the most adorable little Halloween chocolate cakes. I described the situation and she magically added the words Happy Birthday above the frosting skeleton.

I got to work and begged for a slightly early release, which was granted. I raced home. My street was blocked with those orange cones reminding me that I could not even park in front of my house. The clock was ticking as I walked over from where I was able to leave my car, carrying the cake and finalizing my game plan. The little kiddies would start arriving any minute. I put up the butternut squash, sweet potato and pumpkin soup in the cauldron, my witches beta carotene brew antidote for too much candy. I stood above the pumpkins, wielded a knife and recited the spell for quick inspiration for carving ideas.  And, I stuck Zena’s stuffed sloth as the final touch on the tree limb. I responded to the first rings of the door bell and ran outside to watch as the first visitors took in the wonder of it all. Peter then arrived home, just in time to become official greeter and dispenser while I hung back in the kitchen. The onslaught was intense.

So, here is this year’s report from the field. As the monsters, princesses, zombies, pirates, dice, skeletons and lions arrived at the door, the orifices of their candy collecting devices agape, Peter asked, “Which would you prefer?” “You can either have some chocolate or candy just like at every other house, OR, you can have some (state of the art) markers.” Well, though I am not sure the survey would meet the rigors of the scientific method, the results suggest about a thirty percent response rate for the markers. Really! Amid the din of shrieks for chocolate, I heard, “Wow! Markers are great! I love markers. Yeah, cool, thanks.” In fact, the response rate was so high that we had to start breaking down the four packs and handing out individual ones. That was just about the time that we ran out of candy too. Emergency measures were put in place temporarily until the situation could be resolved–which was when I ran to my other neighbor, Carrie Woerner who is running for State Assembly, and she handed over to me some of her reserves.

So, along with the spirits, many questions floated in the air.  What is it that we are truly seeking and craving?  What other tokens of love and fun can we share? When is enough enough? When do we saturate? What are the deeper implications? And, should you force feed a newt?

Well, maybe I am a party pooper (and a kitty poop scooper) but it is complicated. When the night finally quieted down and the goblins returned to their homes, Peter and I wandered over to Amy and Eric’s to see how they were doing. The candy quandary question arose. Amy, always creative even when utterly exhausted gave me an idea. Next year, I will honor the holiday by giving out some nice little bags of herbs tied up with a sweet little greeting. Perhaps some chamomile, yarrow or mugwort. Ah, yes–mugwort. The makings of a gentle potion to put the children peacefully to sleep. No sugar crash and good for parents too.

Oh, well. It’s over. The squirrels have already eaten away at the pumpkins, the newt is still alive, and tomorrow is Election Day. If you live in my district, please vote for Carrie!

In health, Elyn

Any related Halloween anecdotes to share? Please do.

Related Posts: Post Halloween Post and The Nightmare Before Halloween

P.S. Carrie did win the Assembly seat!

My Plate Haiku: What’s with my tummy/Expanding and contracting/Like the moon above.  by David

photo 3 - Edited

Leah’s Plate

whirled peas

It was a truly resplendent summer here in the Northeast. Temperatures warmed and drew some beads of sweat, but they did not oppress. Evenings were maybe a little muggy, but a gently blowing fan was enough to protect well deserved sleep and allow for midsummer night dreams. Flowers popped open on schedule, and gardens did not disappoint. Skies stayed mainly blue and sunny, and, the occasional rains rewarded with magical rainbows. And yes, the full moons were super.

Yet such tranquility did not settle in so easily around the world. Each day seemed to bring news of some atrocity greater than the day before. New global conflicts arose and old ones were reignited. People in an airplane came crashing to the ground. Unimaginable violence was perpetrated. Many lives were lost and many hearts were hurt. The world became a less funny place.

It is hard to fathom events like we have witnessed so intensely over these past few months in particular. Who leaves their homes to go and inflict such pain and to scorch places once graced by beauty and poetry? I know this is a big and naive question. logo

Thankfully, my awe and faith in humanity is inspired by those who have stayed close to home, close to their land and their communities, working from deep places in their hearts to consciously nourish others-while minding their own business(es). A few months ago, some lovely folks reached out to me to let me know about Farm to People, and I am glad they did.

Farm to People is a small assemblage of persons whose mission is “to make it easy to discover and buy from small-batch artisanal producers”. They represent producers mainly from the Northeast, but their reach is spreading. Through Farm to People’s online marketing system, producers are able to source their products and consumers are able to learn about and have these great products shipped right to their doors. Their standards are: locally-crafted, no GMOs, small batch, nothing artificial, and humanely raised.

To look through their list of about ninety producers and their amazing products is enough to make one cry–well, me at least–I cry easily. It also makes one imagine that world peace could and should be certainly attainable through a shared commitment to each other expressed via a culinary experience. These producers are cranking hard day and night, around the clock, in cities and countrysides, in barns and kitchens, just by their little lonesomes. These are true labors of love–the kind that make mommas and poppas proud. Many of the traditions and recipes that they use are those that have been handed down from generations past.

A sampling of what these little businesses alone could bring to the table of global détente includes:

  • Ramp Spaccatelli from Sfoglini Pasta Shop, Brooklyn, NY
  • Sriracha Chili Sauce from Jojo’s, Brooklyn, NY
  • Fromage Blanc, from Tonjes Farm Dairy, Callicoon, NY
  • Moroccan Harissa from Mina Harissa, New York, NY
  • Pickled Jalapenos from Katchkie Farm, New York, NY
  • Roasted Garlic Achaar from Brooklyn Delhi, Brooklyn, NY
  • Caraway Kraut fom Crock and Jar, Brooklyn, NY
  • Finnish Rye Cranberry Loaf from Nordic Breads, Long Island City, NY
  • Ginger Pear Jam from Christina Maser, Lancaster, PA
  • Stone Ground Polenta from Wild Hive Grain Project, Clinton Corners, NY
  • Acorn Squash Seed Drizzling Oil from Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods, Geneva, NY
  • Whiskey Sour Pickles from Brooklyn Brine, Brooklyn, NY
  • Muesli from Seven Sundays, Minneapolis, MN
  • Umami Shiso Fine Mustard from Anarchy in a Jar, Brooklyn, NY
  • Hot Sopressata from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Asheville, NC
  • New Jersey Wildflower Honey from Tassot Apiaries, Milford, NJ
  • Applewood Smoked Maine Sea Salt from Maine Sea Salt Company, Marshfield, Maine
  • Almond Coconut Macaroons from Sweet, Brooklyn, NY
  • Mango and Juniper Dark Chocolate from Antidote Chocolate, Long Island City, NY
  • Tea Cocktail Mixers from The Owl’s Brew, Brooklyn, NY

The list goes on. It is hard for me to not include them all, but I wanted to make sure the basics for the menu were covered at least, including a good pickle. This wonderful melange of culturally blended flavors and aromas may just indeed elicit the same mid-summer’s night forgetfulness as does Puck’s flower elixir love potion. Upon awakening in the morning after this heavenly repast, all the players in this worldly travail would experience only love for each other.

Farm to People offers lovely bundles and gift basket arrangements such as Daddy Dearest, Help Mom Relax, I Love You Berry Much, A Burger’s Wardrobe and Labor Day for pregnant women. Besides food, there are other items that support healthy living such as apothecary tonics and elixirs, body soups and lotions, laundry detergent and even beautifully crafted cutting and serving boards. The packaging is as beautiful as the intention and the businesses have adorable names like We Rub You, Meow Meow Tweet, Better Off Spread, and the above mentioned Brooklyn Delhi. A monthly tasting box subscription is also available which includes free shipping. Special offers and deals are there for the asking as well.

One might say that Farm to People provides a pod for the little peas and is giving the peas a chance. With some dashes of  their wonderful spices and seasonings I am sure they can whirl ordinary and oft mocked pablum into an incredible and greatly needed dish. Can you visualize?

I have just been given an opportunity to help spread the word about the work of these kind and gentle folk  nourishing both people and the planet–causes dear to my heart. Please check them out, read about the producers and their products and support their delicious efforts by placing an order. Thanks.

[Dated information: So, here is my big and exciting news! If you place an order with Farm to People by September 30th, and use the discount code “DILEMMA 15”, you will receive a 15% discount. Yes, just for being a reader of the Nutritionist’s Dilemma. I have no financial relationship with this company.]

As always, say hello, leave a comment, and let me know what culinary delight you tried.

In health, Elyn

Pea Nutrition: Green peas have lots of nutritional and important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They contain phytonutrients that  are particular to them including pisumsaponins and pisomosides, that along with ferulic and caffeic acid, catechin and epicatechin  may have marked impacts on our health. Besides, they are an environmentally friendly food. A nitrogen-fixing crop, peas increase nitrogen availability in the soil without the need for added fertilizer (the world’s healthiest foods).

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My Plate

My Plate Poem

Peas you sow in early May, Will clamber up a curly way, And bloom for you some pearly day, When rain come down a swirly way

And when the sun comes out to shine, Pods will grow about the vine, And fatten up–all stout and fine

Then what delicious peas there’ll be, For you to eat–and me! and me!

By Mary Q. Steele, from Anna’s Garden Songs with pictures by Lena Anderson (one of my favorite children’s book illustrators)

you feed her what?

I asked and have received. In my post, Coming Full Circle, I invited guest writers to my blog. Hillary Savoie has kindly offered this story that deeply reminds how profound, intimate and powerful is the act of feeding ourselves and others. Thank-you, Hillary.

 

The hospital dietitian looks at me surprised, a vague air of concern crossing her face. She’s been called in because the nurse didn’t understand my answer to his question about what Esmé eats.
“Esmé gets a blenderized diet through her g-tube.” I say, slowly. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I know what’s coming.
 “You mean hypoallergenic formula?” Skeptically…
 “No, she’s allergic to the elemental formulas. She gets ablenderized diet. You know, regular food, just blended.”
Hillary and Esme

Hillary and Esmé

 “Ok. But, what’s in it?” Yeah, now she’s clearly nervous.
This is the point at which I get annoyed. I want to say “Food. Food is what’s in it.” I want to ask if she asks every parent what they feed their child or just those of us who feed our kids through a tube. I want to ask if she understands how much time my husband and I spend obsessing over establishing the perfect balance of nutrients…and if we could talk about something substantive instead. Really, I sort of want to ask her to leave, but I know that this might be helpful if I can hang on a bit longer.
Instead I look her square in the face and say, deadpan: “We blend a mixture of Oreos, Doritos, and Happy Meals, that should be ok right?” Because most three-year olds have consumed those things. Mine hasn’t. My child eats a textbook healthy diet: good fats, organic foods, lots of veggies, no sugar…balanced beautifully–for her–everyday.
Now that I have passive-aggressively made my point, I say, “I have a spreadsheet outlining her diet and all of the nutritional components. Would you like me to email it to you so you can review it?”
“Yes, I will look it over and we can talk in a bit about it.”
An hour later she is back, “This is actually very good, can we discuss a few items in more detail?”
Now I know we’ve reached the point where we might get somewhere…where I might be able to gather some more information about how best to fine-tune her diet and keep Ez healthy. I know the dietician didn’t mean any harm. She probably had no idea that I am the sort of compulsive and nerdy mom that keeps excel spreadsheets monitoring not only Esmé’s nutrition, but also her seizures, meds, input and output. (Although, had she read our chart it would likely have been clear).
Here’s the thing, though, having a child who is medically fragile and developmentally delayed involves letting people into all aspects of your parenting. My interactions with Esmé have been obsessively monitored and analyzed almost from the first time I held her. And it gets exhausting…nowhere more so than with regard to her food. Because it still feels like an assault on my very ability to care for my child–to nourish her properly and safely.
And I get it, my daughter is tiny–like below the first percentile tiny. And she’s medically fragile. She obviously needs optimal nutrition…but she is, first and foremost, my daughter. Feeding her properly is one of the most fundamental things I can do to care for her…and over three years of having our feeding choices questioned by people who do not understand the whole picture has just worn me down.
It seems that at some point everyone has had an opinion. But it is rare that someone can actually grasp all of the elements that come into play regarding how we feed Esmé and why we feed her the way we do. The tube part is easy–she was aspirating her food, likely since birth. She developed severe aspiration pneumonia and had cardio-respiratory arrest as a result. There was no choice but to use a feeding tube for Esmé. It saved her life, plain and simple.
Where it gets more complicated is when we discuss what goes into her tube. The majority of children with feeding tubes are fed some form of commercial formula–in our case originally it was a prescription hypo-allergenic elemental formula. I have nothing but gratitude that these life-sustaining formulas exist…they keep so many children healthy and alive. But they are absolutely not the answer for every child with a feeding tube. In Esmé’s case, these formulas make her ill, causing terrible vomiting, retching, and unhealthy weight gain. Unfortunately, no one could have predicted this–and by the time we had sorted it out I no longer had my stockpile of frozen breast milk. So we started looking for alternatives and found that a number of people who are tube-fed eat a blenderized diet. Blenderized diets can include almost any food you can think of–just blended up so that it can pass through the tiny opening in Esmé’s feeding tube.
When we started giving Esmé puréed fruit in her formula as a trial, we immediately noticed a change in her demeanor, frequency of vomiting/reflux, and strength. When brought our findings to our (then) new gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s, I was worried we would be told that we weren’t allowed to do this. That it was a bad idea. And that we should go back to status quo.
However, fortunately for us, our doctor not only saw the change we saw in Esmé, but she had experience with blenderized diets and she was completely supportive–helping us find resources on how to approach Ezzy’s diet, encouraging us to experiment with mixing in new foods that Ez might be eating by mouth if she was developing typically, brainstorming with us.
But more than that, she was the first doctor who helped us feel as though WE were driving Esmé’s nutrition, that we were the experts in Esmé and that the doctor’s job was to support us. She handed us back control over what went into our child’s body. She helped us feel like Esmé’s parents, rather than medical assistants carrying out doctor’s orders. And, thankfully, it was a fantastic answer for Esmé’s overall health and well-being.
We love making Esmé’s food. It feels like such a basic and caring thing that we can do for her. We wouldn’t do it if she was healthier on formula. But since she is thriving in this way, we truly relish in it, mixing it up every night with love, monitoring how changes affect her.
I’m actually sort of jealous of Esmé’s diet. It’s filled with high quality veggies, meat, oils, grains, and in pretty astounding variety. And, who knows, maybe an Oreo or two.
Hillary Savoie is Esmé’s mom, the founder of The Cute Syndrome Foundation (www.thecutesyndrome.com), Chief Communication Maman at the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, and a recent PhD in Communication and Rhetoric. She also write a blog about life with Esmé: thecutesyndrome.blogspot.com.  Please check out her important work that is striving to save lives.

In health, Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

The farmers’ market

Each egg at the dairy stand

A different color.   by Enki

serenity now

In my last post, Peepin’ Out, I described my encounter with some test bags of Doritos Jacked.  Since then, I realized that the incident was still bothering me. I am reluctant to write anything more about it because I do not wish to bring any attention to the product. Neither do I wish to linger in its wake. I am sensitive to being in the proximity of things that have bad energy.

I also worry that I drone on too much regarding matters related to junk food. There are so many more interesting things to focus on and write about in this big world of food and eating to which I devote my attention. Should I not be promoting positive messaging and discussing new and wonderful ways to nourish the body and soul?  Can’t I just be perky and progressive? I find and follow so many adorable and inspiring blogs. It seems however, that I have been assigned to the night shift, enlisted to cover the underbelly of the nutritional world. My beat is often in the neighborhoods of the most vulnerable. So, forgive me this further investigation of the matter.

a summer day at uncle bob's

a summer day at uncle bob’s

My mission is to help the masses achieve both physical harmony and emotional bliss as it relates to what we put in our mouths. Teach people to eat right states my job description. Restore the order of things. Ensure that each generation attains a longer lifespan than the previous one. Put back “adult-onset” into the description of Type 2 Diabetes. Decrease health care expenditures on lifestyle related chronic diseases and save our economy.  Oh, and make us all be sleek and slim.

OK, I say as I don my kale green robe and  lemony yellow gloves as part of my requisite super nutritionist uniform. How hard can it be?  Humankind has achieved many miraculous things. Solutions to myriad problems have been creatively achieved. Hearing and sight have been restored, outer space has been explored, cars will soon no longer require drivers. All I have to do is make people eat more fruits and vegetables. Onward. And then, damn, I am brought to my knees by my arch nemesis–a bag of chips.

Throughout the past few weeks, I have been swimming in the usual news–efforts by some members of Congress to roll back the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which set higher standards for school lunches, increases in global obesity, the recent opening of the film Fed Up, and gun violence. Amid these stories, I realized I had not gotten over the chip thing.

Initially, I had presumed that  the promotion of those test bags was being carried out only in the convenience store where I was–another strategic plan just to annoy me. It then dawned on me that maybe it was actually part of a larger effort and perhaps there was something more I could learn about it. A quick search led me to an online discussion of these new test flavors. Apparently, Frito-Lay/PepsiCo charges customers to help them develop new sensory stimulating ingredient formulations. I also learned that this jacked variety already existed. Yikes. It was already too late then to intervene with a large-scale letter writing campaign. The chips were already jacked.

What did jacked even mean?  None of the definitions I have found seemed really applicable to a snack food.  Is it market speak for GMO corn laden with MSG, seven artificial colors, and 140 calories per six chips? Does it refer to the bigger, bolder, and thicker attributes that the angry-looking packaging boasts? Are regular Doritos tiny, meek and scrawny by comparison?  I really have no clue about the answers to any of those questions, but I am certain we have  been jacked enough–and certainly hijacked when it comes to feeding the citizenry health-sustaining food.

Recently, Olivier de Schutter, the  United Nations’ Special Rapporteur (cool title), submitted his final report to the UN Human Rights Council on the right to food.  Mark Bittman summarized the report which “analyzes  a food crisis that is international and systemic. It maintains  that the will of the citizens and countries of the world can be powerful tools in making a new food system, one that is smart and sustainable and fair and describes that all over the world food systems are being rebuilt from the bottom up. And, it argues for statutory regulation on the marketing of food products.”

It is worth a look at the company link above to see the extreme global reach of these ill-devised products that find their way into the mouths of babes. An article in the recent issue of periodiCALS (the magazine of Cornell University’s college of Agriculture and Life Sciences) discussed current efforts in India to address malnutrition and growth stunting (which affects an estimated 341 million children worldwide). A researcher described the work being done in an extremely remote village that cannot be reached by land transport for three months a year during the rainy season. There, where such problems are endemic, young children are observed buying shining packets of cheese puffs and potato chips. The infiltration of this junk into this far corner of the world is noted. I am not shocked, though I am disturbed.

What motivates the continued development and insidious promotion of these adulterated and manipulated food stuffs?  When do their makers say, enough already? Let’s lay down our guns and claim our pyrrhic victory for the damage has been done and enough money made at the expense of others. I believe it is time to act upon de Schutter’s assessment that, “Many of us have arrived at the conviction that junk food and sugary drinks are like tobacco and deserve to be treated in the same way.”

There are so many wonderful people promoting incredible efforts to nourish the earth and its inhabitants in a kind and gentle manner, intelligently and respectfully. Their work is beginning to make a difference. No jacking required. I hope to highlight some of the amazing, loving and creative initiatives that have come to my attention in some upcoming posts. I am humbled by and grateful for what they are doing. They are making my job easier.

Well, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. As always, your thoughts are welcomed. Let’s welcome summer,  its bounty and those who grace us with its goodness.

In health,

Elyn 

P.S.  Your MyPlate Photo or Haiku can be right here when you send them to me!

Rose's Plate

Rose’s Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Pick your own today,

Happy kids in wide-brimmed hats,

Sweet summertime fruit.   by Nan