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What to Eat in Still Troubled Times

June 2020. This is a revision of a blog I posted on February 9, 2017. Though the struggles don’t seem to cease, this year, our experience during the Covid-19 Pandemic and the fight for black lives, racial justice and an end to police brutality, demands some extra nutritional fortification and strengthened immunity.

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

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

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Beans, collard greens,

Tzimmes, hummus, dahl,

Fatteh, dolma, kibbeh,

Chicken soup with tortilla or matzoh ball.

Figs, plantains, chiles, dates,

Guacamole, and holy mole, spooned upon the plates.

Of course, some xocolati, I mean chocolate, dark,
Lots of tea, a handful of nuts 

All strengthening for the heart.

And, don’t forget the grits. (Basic or Savory) You will need them for the soul.

The concurrence of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a bright light on the social and health disparities in our country, and the dire consequences for black and brown communities of color. As such, the topics of diet, nutrition, food systems, and food access, which I have previously written about, have been reverberating more loudly of late.

An appreciation of the factors which have contributed to this maleficent situation need include an understanding of the history of the African-American diet–from its African continent roots, the insults of slavery and oppression, to the implications of its modern-day corruption. A discussion of this can be found in An Illustrated History of Soul Food, by Adrian Miller.

Along the continuum from past to present, through the generations, are two African-American women notable for their contributions to the food, nutrition, culture, and community narrative. One is chef, teacher, political activist, and author, Edna Lewis, (1916-2006). “Lewis cooked and Picture 1 of 1wrote as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia founded by her grandfather and other black families freed from slavery. Long before the natural-food movement gained popularity, Edna Lewis championed purity of ingredients, regional cuisine and farm-to-table eating.”

“She was a chef when female chefs–let alone African American female chefs working in restaurants–were few and far between. She authored what are considered some of America’s most resonant, lyrical and significant cookbooks” including The Taste of Country Cooking*, The Edna Lewis Cookbook*, and, In Pursuit of Flavor*. Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You A Pie*, is a children’s book/cookbook about Ms. Lewis by Robbin Gourley; and, At the Table with an American Original*, is a collection of others’ essays about her life, edited by Sara B. Franklin.

The other is Haile Thomas. At just 19 years of age, this remarkable young woman is a “youth health activist, vegan food and lifestyle influencer, cookbook author, speaker, founder/CEO of the nonprofit organization HAPPY-Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth, and a Wellness and Compassion Activist”. A Wellness and Compassion Activist–so needed. I will let her own words speak for her.

Questlove and Haile Thomas Bring Nutrition Activism to All Communities

Haile Thomas: The Happy Organization/Keynote Speaker–FoodTank

Haile Thomas: Living Lively: 80 Plant-Based Recipes to Activate Your Power and Feed Your Potential (due to be released end of July 2020)*

* Please check out these black-owned bookstores for purchase of any of these books: @marcus.books@esowonbooks@peoplegetreadybooks, and @unclebobbies.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Be well. Take care. Stay safe. Let’s heal.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Morose Meals and Human Bites; Of Poverty and Light; A Cinderella Story; Love Is Love

Living Lively

Haile’s My Plate

My Plate Reflection-The American Stew of Privilege 

Every immigrant group could look down on them. There was always a bottom that you could be hostile to and that was useful in bringing the country together into the melting pot. What was the basis, the cauldron, the pot? Well, Black people were the pot. Everyone else was melted together, and American.

by Toni (Morrison)

Photo Credit: Grits and Collard Greens–Kim Daniels on Upsplash

 

 

isle of you

I describe a large part of my career as sitting in small rooms speaking with individuals about the intimate art of eating and self-nourishment. My geography was usually contained within a 10′ x 10′ space. However, the last few years have found me wandering about (albeit mainly, though not entirely, figuratively) in a larger and more vast landscape observing the radical movements taking place concerned also with matters related to eating and nourishment.

These movements are taking what was quiet and personal and are making them loud and public. They are serving to challenge the status quo that served to foster the nutrition and health quandaries and crises that have defined the past few decades. These are movements made up of people passionately determined to decry the depriving of access to real food, the poisoning of plants and people, the hunger of our children and seniors, and the seducing of the vulnerable with manipulative marketing. They assert through their efforts and missions that denying folk of their birthright of health is no longer ok.

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This week I’ve been trying to decide how I might, in a timely manner, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day appropriately honor those whose work I have stumbled upon in my wanderings whose efforts have astounded me. I did so once, many years ago, in Who Do I Love. While flailing about in my decision-making process, one new food hero came to my attention. With that, my dilemma gently placed its hand on my heart. It said, “Just do it. Don’t delay. Just put this out there. Now.”

So here are a few of those Who I Love ‘Two’. There are many more organizations and individuals also doing what I call Random Acts of Crazy Love. This short list includes initiatives addressing food/nutritional insecurity, food injustice or apartheid, hunger, and health either started by just one person taking one huge step, that I have a personal connection to, are perhaps not well-known and/or have struck me with Cupid’s arrow. My brief descriptions do not them justice, therefore, please check them out to really see the deep work being done and where donations would be appreciated.

Keep Slauson FreshOlympia Auset shows up and commits. Frustrated by the lack of healthy food in South LA, and concerned about its inherent consequences, she sets up pop-up produce stands and delivery service for (organic) produce at different locations on different dates throughout the community. This is no small feat. Now in its third year, with more than 25,000 pounds of fresh produce sold, Olympia is working toward establishing a healthy market in the neighborhood.

Chilis on Wheels–In 2014, Michelle Carrera wanted to just do something to help her community. When on Thanksgiving Day she discovered that soup kitchens did not serve vegan meals, she made her own vegan chili and carted it through Union Square in NYC on a wagon. Seeing the response, she committed herself to prepare vegan food to serve those in need. Now, the organization’s chapters continue to do that, and, so much more.

I Love You Restaurant–Jaden Smith started a Vegan Food Truck serving the homeless free meals in Los Angeles.

The Market@25th–This is a full-service grocery store with a mission in a historically-rich but economically-ignored neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. The community-focused store provides an opportunity for local food entrepreneurs, cultural connection, and nutrition, health, and other empowering educational programming.

First Fruits Farm — Jason Brown was the highest-paid Center in NFL history, but he walked away from a 35 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams to become a farmer. Spiritually inspired, he taught himself to farm and now grows and harvests over 100,000 pounds of vegetables in North Carolina to serve communities in need.

Champale Anderson— This St. Louis, Missouri woman prepares and distributes free sandwiches and snacks to hungry children in her neighborhood.

Civil Eats –Founded by Naomi Starkman, Civil Eats serves up daily online news and commentary about the American Food System. The content is quite comprehensive and the stories are compelling. It is where I often learn about these amazing folks and initiatives.

Mazon–A Jewish response to hunger through advocacy, education and strategic partnerships.

Comfort Food Community–Here are good folk doing big things in the small rural communities in Washington County, New York (not far from my home) to eliminate hunger and food insecurity, and building community through the power of food.

LEAP for Local Food, Produce Perks Midwest, Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Community Food and Agriculture Coalition–These are my friends at four state and region-wide organizations committed to improving the health of their communities and the strength of their local agricultural and food systems through policy and advocacy work and the growth of nutrition incentive programs facilitating healthy food access for low-income citizens.

And last but not least,

Feed The Mass–Jacobsen Valentine (yes!), founded this nonprofit cooking school in his hometown of Portland, Oregon providing affordable culinary education to address the culinary and health gap in his community. The low-cost and scholarship supported classes for adults and children focus on meals based on whole foods and made from scratch.

Well, that is it for now, though there are many more to mention. Whose work do you love? Please let me know.

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.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Isle of you, Elyn

Isle of You was the name of a little store in Ithaca, New York–where once upon a time I found my heart–high on a hill.

Related Posts: Love is Love, Nourish Thyself Well Day, Who Do I Love, Inventive Incentive

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Isle of You Necklace My Plate

My Plate Quote

I alone cannot change the world,

but I can cast a stone across the waters

to create many ripples.

by Mother Teresa

heart beets

The excerpts below are taken from, Our daily lives have to be a satisfaction in themselves; 40 Years of Bloodroot, a collection of essays from the writings of Selma Miriam & Noel Furie, published by Emily Larned.

Bloodroot. Each flower and each leaf of this plant grow separately from the others. But the leaves touch and the roots are interconnected. Individual yet interconnected (p.35). A perennial which dies down to the ground each winter and then returns to life in the spring, the roots being the maintaining force of life (p.91). When cut, the root and stem of this plant, native to eastern North America, seep a bright red substance.

Bloodroot. A feminist, lesbian, collectively-run restaurant and bookstore ‘with a seasonal vegetarian menu’ that sits unassumingly by the Long Island Sound in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, CT. The name inspired by the qualities of the plant. Has survived…winters (since 1977), sustaining her owners’ feminist vision as well as keeping minds and bodies fed (p.91).

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Bloodroot Restaurant Bridgeport, Connecticut

Bloodroot would have to be vegetarian. Only by refusing to use the flesh of other creatures and therefore economizing on the earth’s riches so that more might eat could we call our food feminist (p.92). It is important to explain once again why we, as feminists, are ethical vegetarians. It is amazing to us that so many human animals don’t want to know that other thinking and feeling creatures (the overwhelming majority of them female–poultry) are tortured and killed so that we may eat meat or consume “safely” tested drugs and cosmetics (p.62).

Our vegetarianism stems from a broader base of reasoning than that of personal health. It comes from a foundation of thoughts based on feminist ethics: a consciousness of our connection with other species and with the survival of the earth. Of course, we know that a diet based on grains and legumes, vegetables and fruits is personally healthy. But regardless of how much is learned about food combining, vitamins, basic food group needs, or about problems with pollution or chemical additives to meat, the fact remains that dependence on a meat and poultry diet is cruel and destructive to creatures more like ourselves than we are willing to admit–whether we mean turkeys and cows or the humans starved by land wasted for animal farming purposes to feed the privileged few (p.65).

Bloodroot. The beautiful red-orange color of my dear friend Jodi’s tresses. Jodi was an ethical vegetarian in the deepest sense. She not only expressed her compassion for animals by not eating them, but by loving them, watching out for them and by advocating for them.

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Jodi was an ardent supporter and defender of all the feathered and furry. Every living thing, the cats in her home, the birds in her yard, all the plants in her garden, or on her table, she so cherished and protected. Profoundly pained by cruelty, she scanned the news to inform others of injustices against wildlife around the globe or of lost dogs in the neighborhood.

Sadly, Jodi passed away this summer. Her last labor of love was holding a large garage sale to benefit her local animal rescue shelter.

Jodi was the caring mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend; the one who fed everyone with nourishing meals; and provided the safe harbor for lost waifs and little kitties. She was warm-hearted and light-spirited, though she could be fierce in defense of those more vulnerable. Like the women at Bloodroot, Jodi also served in both formal (and informal) collective restaurants for many years of her life–and too, was an insatiable lover of books. A community of hearts has been broken by the loss of this caring, compassionate, wise, witty, unique and elegant woman–with a twinkle in her beautiful eyes.

I wish I could have taken Jodi to eat at Bloodroot. She would have loved it and felt right at home–though perhaps best if she could be in the kitchen. Not to mention the resident cats who comfortably contribute to and partake in the local ecology. One of them took the empty seat at the table I shared there in the beautiful garden with my co-workers just last week.

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Bloodroot Cat

Everything alive changes. It either grows or fades. Perennials spread; sometimes they die out in the center and need to be divided. Sometimes they die and their seeds continue their race. …Those of us who treasure diversity try to keep as many kinds of life going as possible, and that is how we try to live our lives: encouraging growth and life, a spirit and way of living that is perennial life (p.114).       

To have known Jodi, was to be touched by her grace and her gifts. Those of us who did, know we are each a little better because of her, her spirit and her way of living. And, for exemplifying that a vegetarian way of life does not reside in its potential capacity to protect our own lives, but the lives of many others.

For those who may be interested, it is worth learning more about the living her-story and radical feminist foundations of Bloodroot. It is quite fascinating and has been captured by the collective’s various cookbooks and prolific writings. Its papers are archived within Manuscripts & Archives at the Yale University Library. Emily Larned’s beautiful hand-stitched book that I have used for my references is also a great resource. And incidentally, a documentary about its founders, Selma and Noel, has just been newly released.

Lastly, if so inspired, please consider a donation in Jodi’s memory to her local animal shelter, Free to Be Me Animal Rescue.

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.

Peace and Blessings, Elyn (Yes, it has been a long while.)

Original sources: Bloodroot: Brewing Visions, Lesbian Ethics Vol. 3 No.1 (Albuquerque, NM, edited by Jeanette Silviera)
The Bloodroot Collective. The Second Seasonal Political Palate. (Bridgeport, CT: Sanguinaria Press, 1984)
The Bloodroot Collective. Perennial Political Palate. (Bridgeport, CT,: Sanguinaria Press, 1993)
Bloodroot

Bloodroot My Plate

My Plate Song                                                                             

Call any vegetable Pick up your phone Think of a vegetable Lonely at home / Call any vegetable And the chances are good / That a vegetable will respond to you.

Call and they’ll come to you Covered with dew / Vegetables dream of responding to you / Standing there shiny and proud by your side / Holding your hand while the neighbors decide / Why is a vegetable something to hide?

by Frank (Zappa)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nutritional violins

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

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

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

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Paiute Indian Harvest Exhibit                        Cannonville, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

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

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

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Broken My Plate

My Plate Haiku

I often wonder

What did they eat for breakfast

Those who go and kill?

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

the humanist imperative to nourish and care for our children accordingly

Wednesday morning, upon logging in, I was greeted by the juxtaposition of the following subject line messages in my inbox:

Race to Fight Childhood Obesity from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation;

Censored: Michelle Obama‘s Biggest Mistake from Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances with Fat; and,

Lock-In Drill from my daughter’s high school.

Where shall I start? To begin with, on Wednesdays, I am not at the Health Center, and on that particular morning, my private client needed to reschedule. So, though I receive an onslaught of topic-related information constantly, I had on that day more time than usual to slowly digest these matters that are so relevant to what I do.

receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the...

Frances Moore Lappe receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ragen’s offering attracted my attention first. I have referenced her work previously. She is a committed activist and a powerful voice in distinguishing the difference between health and weight issues, preventing fat-shaming, and, shining light on the lies and manipulations of the weight loss industry. I can always count on her to keep me informed of something meaningful. Here, I learned that Michelle Obama was planning to go on the show The Biggest Loser to thank the contestants for being role models. Ragen’s reaction was quite pointed and the story of what happened when she and filmmaker Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful) tried to field a response to the media is quite interesting. However, it was this comment that contributed to the theme of my day.

The worst thing is that all this focus on the weight of individuals is distracting us from the systemic issue of lack of access. Many people do not have access to the healthy foods that they would choose to eat–including foods that are not genetically modified or full of hormones or government-subsidized high fructose corn syrup. Many people do not have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, or to affordable evidence-based health care. But as long as we focus on little Johnny’s BMI, we don’t have to address the real problems here and we can just keep shaming and blaming fat kids and adults and misinforming them and everyone else about the odds of becoming permanently thin.

I strongly share these sentiments and it took only a few clicks on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s website to confirm this dismissal of the larger issues. The articles in their In the News column included, Schools Find Active Kids Make Smarter Students and Virginia Legislation Calls for School PE Guidelines. Both are sad statements about the current state of affairs on such seemingly obvious matters. I applaud the work of the Alliance which I have discussed before in Diet for a Small Caterpillar, but I am often sad to see their amazing talents and resources going toward small, simplistic efforts to repair an intuitive intelligence that was broken by bad policymaking and vested interests disenfranchising the well-being of the citizens of the world.

I also have a visceral reaction to the term the fight against childhood obesity. Obesity is not the only consequence our children are suffering–it is just one of the manifestations of poor nutrition and the ignoring of all the ingredients that contribute to both physical and emotional well-being in early stages of development. If this were only about obesity, my daughter would not have had to, unfortunately, participate in a lock-down drill. Furthermore, fierce language is not what is needed even when details may make us wish to brandish our childhood obesity-fighting swords.

Thankfully, on that Wednesday morning, I was also fortunate to hear a really beautiful interview with Frances Moore Lappe, who has certainly had a strong influence on my own path. I will leave you with her words.

We don’t have a shortage of food, we have a shortage of justice. As we shift to focus on our relationships with each other, and with the earth, as we align our lives and our economy with what is true about our nature and is harmonious with the wellbeing of nature, we find answers to so many of the questions we face today. Hope is not what we find in evidence, it’s what we become in action.

So, I hope the connections make some sense and perhaps my title of this piece suggests such a shift of intention toward the task at hand.

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

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie

by george, i think he’s got it!

Thorazine, Seroquel, Paroxetine and Lipitor. It looked like a good case of schizophrenia with a touch of high cholesterol. Unless I am very busy, I usually get a glimpse of my client’s history on the electronic medical record before I call them in. This is usually a good idea.

There is a set of double doors and a short hallway separating my office from the waiting room area where patients wait. As I pushed through the doors, a tall gentleman was anxiously waiting right at the other side, surprising me. James? I ventured. Yes, indeed.  Well, that was touching. Not all my clients are quite so eager to see me.

baked bread on plate near mug with coffee

Photo by Sarah Boudreau on Unsplash

James began excitedly talking before we even made it back to my office. Persons with mental health problems are no strangers on my schedule. Often the powerful medications they are on have high side effect profiles–most of which include weight gain. In addition to this, many in this population cannot work and live on the very limited fixed incomes provided by their disability payments. The capacity to access and prepare good food is pretty low–and coping behaviors like cigarette smoking, coffee drinking, and pastry eating are high.

I admit that sometimes, as I am doing my ritualistic walk from office to waiting room, premature assumptions rotate my eyeballs upward and I internally utter something like, Dear Lord, really? Is my job as a nutritionist not already hard enough? Couldn’t you have made me a psychiatrist or neurosurgeon or something easy like that instead? This was one of those times.

James is 45-years-old. He lives in a studio apartment by himself. His meager kitchen consists of a refrigerator, microwave, and hot plate. He smokes close to a pack of cigarettes a day. And, he is a baker at a local cafe and bakery. So, every morning, James is at the bakery, not only surrounded by but preparing mouth-watering temptations–and an always fresh pot of brewed coffee. Together, that popular combination has been the foundation of his diet for many years. He confides that he loves his Folgers and has 2-3 big cups per day with sugar and powdered creamer.

About three weeks ago, James’ doctor informed him that his cholesterol levels were high and prescribed the usual statin Lipitor. Of course, that scenario is exceedingly common.  Most people are generally just told to take the medication; some are given lip service on eating a low-fat diet; and a few who may be fortunate to have a doctor who knows of a nutritionist a few doors down, are told, “Go see the nutritionist”.

James says he doesn’t want to have health problems like this and that he has already made some changes. He’s not really sure if what he is doing is right though, and he’d like some input. He proceeds to tell me that instead of just having coffee and a sweet in the morning, he is now eating a bowl of instant oatmeal at home; leaving the pastries alone and waits till late morning when the head cook prepares for him a bowl of her well-regarded freshly made soup. Also, he has stopped going to McDonald’s; has cut down his coffee intake and is drinking more water. And, when he wants to snack at night he is having some peanuts. Impressively, he is trying some new vegetables which he admits is hard for him. Almost apologetically, he explains he never ate any of that kind of stuff when he was growing up.

I am praising, affirming and singing hallelujah. Then, he says that with his next paycheck he is planning on buying a steamer and a countertop grill. He imagines that he has room for those and they wouldn’t be that expensive. He asks if I think that is a good idea.  Suddenly, he is the Eliza Doolittle to me, Professor Higgins, and though I haven’t done anything, I could not be more proud.

By these simple changes, James has already cut his consumption of dangerous refined sugars and carbohydrates,  increased soluble fibers, decreased trans fats and improved his hydration status. When I weigh him he is already down three pounds. This pleases him. But, most incredibly, he says that he already feels a little better– not just physically, but mentally as well. Yes. This is a very profound statement for someone who has been medicated for most of his adult life. James has gleaned what most have never considered–the relationship between nutrition and emotional and behavioral health.  As we finish, he acknowledges that he is not ready to address his smoking, but he is really thinking about it. Though there are changes I will still recommend–and some things that I will not be able to change–James is on his way.

This story is typical of instances I am privileged to encounter on most days and which really keep me going– people like James, who despite very difficult circumstances, find some way to respond to an inner impulse to find a better way. As often as I may wish for easier work, I do look upward and say thanks for some incredible inspiration and beautiful encounters in the name of health. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

the importance of teaching kids about nutrition

She comes flying into the room and perches herself on the chair facing me. Three minutes ago she had been minding her business sitting in class, unaware that she was one of the anointed ones. Due to her high body mass index (BMI) she was selected to come to chat with me, the visiting nutritionist.  eat-547511_640

Fearless, she presents herself ready for the challenge–with no idea what it may be. I introduce myself and tell her that I am a nutritionist. I ask her if she knows what a nutritionist is. Tentatively she says, “Someone who talks about being healthy?” I praise her response, refine it by adding the food part and tell her that most nine-year-old children don’t know what a nutritionist is. She clarifies that she is almost ten.

Now that we understand the context of our being together, I offer her a carrot. She scrunches up her nose like a rabbit. “No way”, she says. I ask when was the last time she had tried one. Apparently, it was not since she was a little kid and that was a long, long time ago. When I beg a favor and ask if she would try one for me, the terms include placing the garbage can in close proximity. Fair enough. I knew that the carrots I had brought were not the sweetest. However, the girl I had sat with just prior had enjoyed them well enough, so I ventured a try with my new guest.

One bite, one chew and into the garbage it went. “Ewww! It tastes like it came out of the ground!” In educator-fashion, I ask, “Do you know where carrots come from?” “From out of the ground,” she says, in educator-fashion, having proudly proved her point.

OK, moving onward. We discuss what she has eaten today. She is now well into our game and ready to play. For school breakfast–only an institutional plastic cup of juice. There were bagels too, but she hadn’t been hungry. For lunch–a piece of pizza–the every Friday and frequent random day of the month menu item. She only had a few bites though and mainly ate the little cup of cubed pears along with chocolate milk.

Then, as if she had been born and raised in this cramped little space we are sharing, she reaches down to the computer printer that is positioned behind her, deftly removes a piece of paper, takes a colored marker from the case I have on the desk and proceeds to draw me the piece of pizza. She indicates where she took half-mooned bites from around the edges and includes the carton of milk and pears in the picture as well.

I ask her about hunger and how and where she knows she is hungry. With a touch of condescension, she tells me she just has an instinct about when she is hungry. OK, I concede. Whatever the game, I seem to be losing.

She continues her diatribe that though she likes fruits, she does not like vegetables except for corn and lettuce. But, she eats ketchup, and as if daring me, says ketchup is made from tomatoes, so it is a vegetable. It is subtle, but I mutter some consent. She is obviously right as was Ronald Reagan on this issue. I am not about to argue– she is in full control by now. “Peas?”, I meekly ask. “Gross, like little eyeballs.” I had set myself up for that one.

And so it goes. What does she like? The usual culprits she admits–hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, Hi-C and Kool-Aid. She drinks low-fat milk because her mom gets it on the WIC program for her younger sister. Her mom has diabetes–so she knows that food matters. I begin to ask her, that given our talk would she be interested in trying something new for herself and, before I can even finish the sentence, she says, no she will not try a new vegetable. At this point, I inform her she is killing me. “How did you know this is exactly what I was going to ask?” “I just knew.” I have now officially been schooled.

Finishing up, she says, “Can we meet next week?” Obviously, she thinks I need some serious remedial work. I tell her I won’t be back until next month, to which she sweetly replies that we can meet then. In closing, she adds that she will try to eat less of her unhealthy choices.

Though I am already completely won over, she is not done. She signs the pizza picture for me and offers it over as a truce. She wants me to see how well she writes her name and informs me that she reads above grade level. I thank her deeply, tell her she is a very amazing kid, and we agree that we both had fun.

On a growth chart, this young girl will plot out in the 98th percentile of BMI for her age. Her school will forward her measurements to the state health department and she will be counted as an obese kid. In body, she is, as my mother would have said, a little pudgy. In being, she is lively and lovely and in full possession of her priceless childhood innocence and instincts.

What my conversation with her and others teaches me, is that this area of nutrition education requires a large degree of humility. The story is not only about the weights and measures which is the current focus. And, while I don’t mean to dismiss nutrition education, what our children really need is nutrition provision. We don’t expect children to childproof their own homes–why should we be asking them to childproof their own bodies?  

Our children deserve the birthright of both health and being valued for all that they are. Attention to good quality food in the world inhabited by our kids is what is required. I wish I could submit to the state an algorithmic index similar to that which assigns one’s BMI, but that would instead measure a child’s confidence, grace, and sense of self-worth–a self-esteem index (SEI). This girl’s SEI would be very high–but it might not be for long. I hope I did not cause any damage that day and that instead, it was more of an educational experience. Maybe it is true that teaching kids about nutrition is really important. I do seem to learn something every time.

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

 

she weighs how much?

I present this as a Zen Koan. A Koan is a paradoxical question, the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational thinking. It derives from the Japanese words “ko” for public and “an” for ‘matter for thought’. This is clearly a public matter for thought in the current dialogue on childhood obesity. How do we best serve a seven-year-old girl whose high weight highly challenges notions of normal growth patterns?

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Image by Debi Brady

This girl is not a nameless, theoretical child. Tanazia is an amazing girl who I know. She has keen inquisitive abilities, deep empathy for others, and sophisticated insight for someone so young. She is deeply connected to her family, respects her elders, and helps care for her three-year-old brother and emotionally reactive two-year-old foster-sister who she shares a room with. She excitedly tells me that when she grows up she would like to do something to help others. When her grandmother mentions the Peace Corps, she responds that there are people right here in her own community who are in need.

Tanazia—who is just one of many children who are accumulating weight in an inconceivable short amount of time–is in a relatively good situation. She now lives with a set of very caring grandparents who love her dearly. She has a stable roof overhead, and there is a modicum of food security. While some family members are overweight, her grandmother, who had gastric bypass surgery a few years ago, is generally food-savvy and keeps a relatively healthy home. Plus, she has a back yard–one large enough and safe enough to play in—a rare commodity in this part of the city.

Despite this, she has already had to armor her body with layers of body fat against many emotional wounds. She was born to a 15-year-old mother who has since had two more babies and is now pregnant again. Her father has died, and she was at an early age exposed to and a victim of domestic violence. Her grandmother has chronic health problems. And, she herself, has asthma–another player in the childhood obesity conundrum. Her mom has supervised custody and gets to see her daughter every other Saturday for just a few hours. Equipped with few ways to show her love, during their time together she usually takes Tanazia out to eat somewhere. It’s usually Chinese food or pizza with soda and candy.

This sweet child has already endured the taunts of kids. Going to school-squeezed into her charter school uniform skirt—is something she is already leery of by second grade. Though her grandma does give her breakfast at home and provides her with lunches to bring to school, controlling the intake at school is hard to do. Unfortunately, the meals provided by the school lunch programs do not meet nutritional recommendations and are a sad source of the low-quality foods and excessive fats, sugars and calories that are contributing to the problem. Turning down a free meal or two in a day would be hard for anyone to do, especially for those to whom the secure availability of food is not a given.

Declining the morsels of joy to be found in the cheap junk foods that easily find their way into all the cracks and crevices of our lives–cupcakes, bags of chips, Rice Krispie treats, fruit punch– is nearly impossible for those with easy and happy lives let alone for those who excessively use food as an easy and legal pursuit to push down painful life experiences.

And, although Tanazia has a backyard, the physical activity levels of young girls who live in vulnerable neighborhoods are amongst the most limited. Add in the cold winters in this part of the country and the possibility of expending calories diminishes even more.

Despite these challenges, this beautiful child tries hard to do what I—her nutritionist—have recommended. She drinks mainly water, she listens to her belly to see if it is really hungry—a task most adults find hard to do– and has only a small piece of cake at birthday parties and church functions.

My heart breaks at having to impose such harsh restrictions on such a young life. I know restriction breeds hunger. I know parental strategies require fortitude, patience, non-judgment, and structure. I don’t have many options nor enough solutions to fight all the forces that prey upon this innocent child and countless others like her. Current anti-obesity initiatives come far too late and offer little. Cute and catchy names of new programs belie the gravity of the situation and chew at my cynical side—the part of me who knows too many stories of real children’s lives. Societal weight stigmatization adds to the burden. I pray for this young girl to grow up healthy and whole, equipped with all she needs to be a powerful adult. Hopefully, size alone will not get in her way.

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

 

Hello world!

Hi. Wow. I am about to start my blog. Something I would have just kept wondering about how to do for about the next decade or so. Personally, I am still marveling at the invention of the toaster oven, so modern technologies obviously are a little hard for me to adopt. Thankfully, one of my nutrition clients gave me the info I needed to even know where to begin.

IMG_3096

Hello Avocado!

Which brings me to the point of one of the issues I think I want to blog about. That above-mentioned client is gifted and funny and talented in so many ways and I would have remained stranded in a blogless universe without her. However, she and many others like her feel worthless because they are trapped in a body that betrays them. Their sense of themselves is molded as much by how they view themselves as to how they believe others perceive them. Whether medically, societally, or personally defined as fat–eating brings a vicious cycle of fear and loathing and momentary comfort and escape.

When I decided to study and become a nutritionist many years ago, I thought I was going to set out to solve problems of world hunger in remote parts of the globe. At that time, aside from that, the other main venue of applied nutrition was in hospital dietetics or in animal husbandry. Essentially, the MO was that we were all mainly basically nourished–or we were severely not. When I headed out on this path, yes, of course, there were overweight people, but their struggles were private and personal, and eating disorders were barely defined let alone described.

My nutrition work has briefly taken me to severely malnourished communities in Peru and Guatemala, but really, I am embarrassed to say, I have not strayed far from home. Society, politics, technology, media and an increasing focus on our individual selves changed the domestic landscape regarding nutrition. The issues intensified and the communal conversation amplified. My jobs kept me on the home front. I had no idea nutrition would become such a huge topic.

We all know how much nutrition information there is out there. New initiatives are good as we struggle to fix the ills that have befallen us in the past few decades. We are now attended to with myriad messages to eat right. I have sat in witness to this frenzy. While it has played out, I have been privileged to have worked with so many individuals and have heard their stories of frustration, pain, confusion, and guilt. What is obvious to me, is that we suffer mainly from being merely human.

The stories I want to relate will hopefully give voice to this humbling human experience regarding eating. I want to give my client who helped me get this started, along with others, tools and understandings that do not necessitate flagellation and deprivation. My wish is to assuage some of the loathing and to soften the edges of this intense dialogue. We will see.

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