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Far from Home

Well, here I am. Right now I am on retreat in beautiful California, far from home. While my orientation to space is altered due to this coastal exchange from east to west, my orientation to date and time has been altered as well. I have experienced a profound loss.  image

As I search for some renewed serenity and some solid ground-albeit in this land of shaky earth-I do try to stay somewhat aware of the prevailing events of these times that still swirl around me. Likewise, as I reconnect with the calendar structure that patterns the days before me, I turn the page onto August just in time to remember to honor the annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.

In that I consider the support of breastfeeding babes, moms and families an essential component of improving the collective health of communities around the globe, I do always try to write something about World Breastfeeding Week and its annually appointed theme.

Forgive me this year, that as my tears still flow more readily than my words, in lieu of my own thoughts I share this interesting article by journalist Ellen Wulfhorst who I am grateful to call my dear friend. Ellen provides a look at the very real consequences of compromised attention to the timely initiation of breastfeeding. This highlights how powerful are the immunoprotective properties of breast milk and how greatly breastfeeding serves as an antidote to infant mortality.

Thank you to all of you who continue to support me, my blog and my work. Gratitude to those who have nourished me so wonderfully on this visit–Julie, Gordon, Debbie, Michael, Ben, Lois, and Richard. (Check out Lois and Richard’s creative and funny political satire webisode series Medicare Mermaids at http://www.medicaremermaids.com)

To healthy birth and rebirth, Elyn

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Julie’s MyPlate

MyPlate Food for Thought. Breastfeeding is not only the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development; it is also the foundation of a country’s development. UNICEF and World Health Organization’s World Breastfeeding Week Message

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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 like 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 lifetime and energy on another’s behalf.

With the serious state of health care 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 is 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 fluorescent bulb, a slamming door, or a moldy carpet. And, it can be enhanced by simple attention.

  • Check to ensure that where possible, the walls are nicely painted, there is nice artwork, and 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 and health educators 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 art 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 

 

 

 

where has all the produce gone?

Perhaps it is due to the recent one year anniversary of the passing of Pete Seeger that has this title coming to mind–but this is something I have been thinking about for a while.

I have had a few experiences lately, where a brilliant idea of mine that I have kept gestating in some corner of my mind, waiting for just the right labor to bring forth, is birthed by someone else–and I read about it somewhere. I hate when that happens, especially as brilliance is not my forte and such ideas are few and far between. And, so now I must act quickly to share–and thus take credit–for these rare flashes of genius. 

As you may know, I have been swimming around in this primordial soup for many years–somewhat akin to, um, yes, let me see, ah yes, the great Soviet biologist Alexander Oparin–father of the primordial soup theory–seeking answers to some of life’s most pressing questions. While Mr. Oparin had been searching for the origin of life on Earth, I am anxious to find a solution to this little problem of sanely feeding the carbon-ignited populace of whom he divined the spark.

I was already concocting my own brilliant idea when a friend sent me this article, Can America Learn to Love Misshapen Veggies? by Elizabeth Segran. It is about the vision of Doug Rauch–the former president of Trader Joe’s– to create markets for oft misshapen produce and other food that might otherwise be headed prematurely and unnecessarily into the waste stream. Having seen the high degree of such waste and the exorbitant cost of such a loss while hunger is rampant in our country, he is experimenting with opening grocery stores that would sell such abandoned produce at low-cost in high-need neighborhoods. He seems to know a thing or two about the grocery business, and I am glad to learn of his concern and his efforts. Maybe he’ll like my idea–it is along the same lines.

You see, kind of like Sisyphus, I am among those dedicated to rolling a giant Hubbard squash up to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down again–ceaselessly repeating the effort. Sisyphus’ fate “as much through his passions as through his torture”–is similar to the plight of the modern-day nutritionist. “Eat your vegetables!”, we implore. “Three cups a day!” “Eat all the colors of the rainbow!”  We beg, we cajole, we try to be cute. We strive mightily to bring the veggies to the people, but we can’t make them eat. (Horses, on the other hand, accept them rather well.) Undaunted, like Sisyphus, we perforce keep trying.

Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus states that the gods had condemned Sisyphus to his labor, reasoning that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. But, he continues, “If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals.” Ah! My personal interpretation of the text provides some vindication for our insanity.

Vegetables can be daunting to buy, prepare and cook. They can be expensive. When they go bad they look quite sad. Certain vegetables require strong muscles, a good set of sharp knives, and a certain finesse to commandeer properly. As a food group they are complex and complicated, and many times a relationship with them must be carefully nurtured. Some challenge the taste buds with a propensity to be bitter or earthy. Plus, they often carry baggage from our collective childhoods.

But, they are so gooooood! And, rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, Omega-3s, enzymes and phytonutrients to help our hearts, bones, skin, hydration, and mood–they are good for us! The benefits of a plant-rich diet are well established, and with so many different types, including what I might like to think of as a starter kit vegetables for the disinclined, there are plenty for all to enjoy and benefit from–in spite of early experiences. But, with so many real and perceived obstacles, to the chagrin of Mr. Rauch and myself–many march needlessly to their unconsumed demise, after much time, love, care, and commitment were dedicated to their growth by hard-working farmers. Some, just because they do not meet the standard definition of beauty.

So, my basic idea is this: In an effort funded and supported by health care collaborations, corporate and/or governmental subsidies–grocery stores, and other appropriate establishments should create space for the preparation of freshly made, nutrient-blessed vegetable-based juice–oh, and yes, soup–for sale to the public at an affordable cost. Incentives for purchase by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps) recipients could be implemented, similar to those being offered at Farmer’s Markets. These products can be available year-round in frequented food environments.

Vegetable juices and soups (made with well-prepared broths that can also utilize other ingredients that might otherwise be wasted–such as meat bones) are perhaps the simplest health-promoting and disease-preventing foods available. Increasing the exposure to and ease of access and consumption of these may be a powerful antidote to the scourges of our chronic health ills. Call me naive, but my experience informs me that many appreciate the taste of health–particularly when health has become an elusive concept. Returning health to our food establishments is mildly becoming a not so foreign idea. In my nearby city, a local health insurer and the YMCA has partnered with a food chain–and health classes and services are offered right in the grocery store. And golly, our supermarkets often house pharmacies–so, why not grandma’s penicillin?

The benefits of my little “Primordial Soup and Juice” Program include opportunities to expand vegetable education, improve the visibility of nutrition specialists, eliminate barriers to vegetable purchasing and intake, and affirm the age-old wisdom of food as medicine. Plus, it can contribute to the reduction of food waste and spare the feelings of those poor misshapen vegetables. What well-intentioned juice or soup maker would not warmly welcome them? Right, Mr. Rauch?

Oh, and Pete, Where has all the produce gone? Thirty-one percent of it into the waste stream, everyone. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn? New verse: Assimilated well into our cells, everyone.

Please drop in and say hello. Any thoughts to help embellish this vision? Send word.

In health, Elyn 

Addendum–March 8, 2015. Just elaborating by suggesting that this idea can be implemented in our schools as well as in all of our subsidized food programs serving both young children and adults in group care facilities.

my plate

My Plate Haiku       Did you really think That you could hide fish in rice?              Oh, the green paste burns!   By a cat            from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano

a winning goal

I would feel a little remiss were I to not make mention this year of World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). In previous years I have always made a point to do so. But, it is late. I should already be in bed. Besides, I have to get to work early tomorrow in order to partake in a webinar that is celebrating the week and its important mission. So, I will be more brief than usual. wbw2014-logo-hd

Perhaps after tomorrow’s webinar, I will have something more inspiring or informational to offer with a larger perspective. Tonight, I sit quietly with only my personal experience–the one that reminds me that twenty-six years ago at this very time I was deeply in labor, nestled in my midwife’s quiet birthing room in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. On the other side of midnight, in the dark of night of the day of my own birthday, my son would make his way into the world. Our breastfeeding relationship would begin immediately thereafter.

But, during that time, the practice of breastfeeding on a larger global scale was diminishing with serious consequences for maternal and child health, with societal and environmental implications as well. In 1981, the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, to remediate the malnutrition suffered by infants and young children due to the inappropriate marketing of commercial formula.  And, then in 1990, exactly two years after my own bond was formed in connection with the dying art of breastfeeding, the Innocenti Declaration was signed by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. It designated the first week of August as World Breastfeeding Week.

Twenty-four years later, though there have been significant gains made in reversing the declining trend, there is still work to be done. There are also newer nutritional impacts of breastfeeding being investigated as we begin to better understand the myriad functions of the gut microbiome.

This year’s WBW slogan is Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life. I suppose it relates to this year’s Football World Cup. Could that be? That’s a little funny to me because my son has been a soccer player and is a devoted fan of the sport. Though no longer on the field much he is hoping to be working in the field of professional soccer someday. May I also parenthetically add, that throughout and since the World Cup games, I’ve noticed that I have had an almost daily blog reader from Brazil–so apparently not everyone in the country was focused on the sport. A special hello to that reader(s).

The objectives of WBW 2014 are strongly linked to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by governments and the United Nations to fight poverty and promote healthy and sustainable development in a comprehensive way by 2015. A description of how breastfeeding is linked to the MDGs can be found here. The connections are quite profound.

I am interested to see what I will learn in the course of tomorrow’s session. I will let you know if there is anything particularly interesting. In the meantime, please take a moment if you will and have a look at these powerful photos. They will say much more than my usual thousand words.

In health, Elyn

P.S. The webinar session was yesterday. It was sponsored by the SUNY School of Public Health and entitled, International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and Promoting and Supporting Exclusive Breastfeeding. I applaud the school’s long term commitment to this topic, and recommend the session highly. I believe it will be available soon for viewing online. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, an international breastfeeding authority, and author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, whose pioneering work and advocacy for breastfeeding dates back to the 1950s, is on the panel.

In the session I learned about some examples of successful applications as well as egregious violations of the International Code of Marketing.  I also was informed about some exciting outcomes in regard to increasing initiation and exclusivity of breastfeeding in some NYC hospitals and in the Vermont WIC Program due to some dedicated efforts. And, I also learned the term commerciogenic malnutrition. In this context it referred to the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and its impacts on babies, but I may ponder some wider implications as well.

As always, send word, share your thoughts, subscribe and pass along. Thanks.

Today’s MyPlate photo is of the beautiful watermelon cake my office “birthday angel”  made for me to celebrate my birthday! Go make one soon. Send me your MyPlate photo.

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding; To She Who Loves Us Before She Meets Us; Breastfeeding Redux; Oh Mother

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Cathy’s Plate

  My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?  by Julie

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 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 foodstuffs? 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

 

 

 

 

Sid Caesar Salad

It happened again–my finding a nutrition-related story (or it finding me) where I least expected it. This time it was not “not a laughing matter”–but actually rather amusing.

Always appreciative of those who have made the world a funnier place, the recent passing of the comedian Sid Caesar led Pete and me to look for some footage of this icon of American humor. I sat nearby as he clicked here and there on his computer. He immediately started laughing, listening to the “double talk” for which Caesar was particularly famous.   

Soon I was giggling with him. A few minutes later, he told me to come to look at what he just found. I leaned over as he played a sketch for me from Caesar’s long-running TV show, Your Show of Shows, called  Health Food Restaurant. This piece dates to the early 1950s. Caesar and Imogene Coca play a married couple out to dinner at a fancy New York City restaurant. Yet instead of the steak, sausage, snails and hot tamales that Caesar craves, here at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen where Coca has taken him, there is only pala paka plant blossoms; the Vitamin B1 B2 B3 C D and H Dinner for Two; homogenized bone meal and wheat germ with a side of cructose; and spaghutti, made from a cabbage extract and a cauliflower derivative. Caesar of course mocks, whines, pleads and gags his way through the menu as described by the waiter, played by Carl Reiner–who you may recall, I once met. But, impressed by the youthfulness and vitality of the other diners, and in an earnest attempt to appease his wife, he forgoes his personal desires and literally digs into the dinner salad served with a set of gardening tools for silverware.

Although “health food” and “plant-based” proponents and movements have probably been around since our Paleo beginnings, there was just something very surprising about seeing this sketch which was made during a period after which we seemed to have left vegetables behind on rural farms and before the Back to Nature movements of the 1970s. It was a time maybe of boiled potatoes and blanched green beans at best which also coincided with the peak years for deaths from heart disease. As this interesting history details, it was also a  time marked by an increase in the use of hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils and the advent of pasteurized milk.

I am not sure we can pinpoint the nadir of the American diet. Though the 1950’s can be critiqued for its focus on meat and dairy along with the increased use of processed foods, plasticized fats, and high smoking rates, things seem to have gotten a whole lot worse since then. I don’t think we have hit bottom but there are some signs we are beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages.

Perhaps I am just being a little naive. Just as we don’t believe that people in the “old days” ever had sex, maybe I can’t imagine the nature of health food consciousness before my own time and the dietary context in which it existed. Though the use of refined sugar is presented as a modern-day scourge, its grip took hold long ago. A brief look into biographical information about health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne who was born in 1914–ages ago–interestingly states that he described himself as a sugarholic and junk food addict as a young boy with associated behavioral problems. His early education about natural foods changed the course of his life. Of course, attention to the attainment of physical, emotional and spiritual health has coursed through human history, the admonishment of gluttony is a big theme in the Bible, and there have always been grandmas telling us to eat our vegetables.

Nonetheless, Health Food Restaurant seems quite anachronistic for its day–at least six years before Jack LaLanne’s pioneering fitness show began airing nationally in 1959. Although it was just a spoof, it seemed rather prescient addressing current anti-aging and food toxicity issues. One of the dishes is mentioned to be good for the ankles. The edema of the lower extremities is a common symptom of poor heart, kidney or liver function. Interestingly, Sid Caesar who seriously battled alcohol addiction and depression eventually became a devoted natural food and fitness adherent to which he credited his healing–and maybe his longevity, being 91 at the time of his passing.

The sketch touched on a few things that I think about. It reveals the intensity of our food attachments and belief systems and even their influence on relationships. Though we usually reference money, sex and religion as divisive issues, food, and eating habits probably belong somewhere on that list.

Additionally, it looks at the center of a society’s dietary culture at any given time and how far out is its fringe. How and why did the standard American diet evolve and deteriorate in such a relatively short period of time compared to other cultures? What was sacred and what was sacrilege as we shifted from rabbit stew and acorns to beef and potatoes, to chicken nuggets and french fries? Nature, economics, politics, biology, capitalism, and science all drove this complicated national trajectory. For all that was good and bad, it seems that we did not slow down and smell the pala paka blossoms and those that did were either ignored or derided. It is interesting now to see how the tide is turning as we confront current health and environmental crises. It is those who were on the fringe who may be forging our new direction.

Mockery is an innate behavior with evolutionary purposes that makes us defensively joke before we proceed. Some from the tribe must be brave enough to venture out while the others sit back and have a good laugh at their expense. Thank God laughter seems to be good for our health. I am particularly grateful to those who bless us with their humor because as I look down as I stomp around in the primordial swamp of our food culture, I see far too many swollen ankles–enough to break my heart. RIP Mr. Caesar.

Well, as they say at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen, “Good Health To You and Good Health To Everybody”.

Please drop in for a virtual cup of tea and say hello.

In health,  Elyn

susan's plate

susan’s plate

My Plate Haiku

Hearts are not just

Reserved for romance

Every living thing is in love.   By, Kat

(This post is dedicated to my friend Susan who is heading out to join the Peace Corps.  May her plate and heart be filled with good things.)

inventive incentive

To make bread or give love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.

Barbara Brown Taylor ~ (An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith)

On a cloudy and dreary Saturday morning in October, I headed into Albany to catch up with the ever-busy Veggie Mobile in order to get a glimpse of the Veggie Rx Program in action. It had been almost two years since I began administering this program that I had helped establish at the Health Center, and as a concerned mom, it was time for a periodic check-up to see how it was doing.  veggiemobile                           

Veggie Rx is a “prescription incentive” wherein fruits and vegetables are “prescribed” to medically high-risk patients by their health care providers as a means to encourage healthier diets and to improve health outcomes. Similar programs have begun to emerge in the past few years, and are being considered as a model of a viable public health intervention for disenfranchised communities. This medically-housed approach provides powerful messaging, unique for an institution that traditionally proffers mainly pharmaceutical solutions and well-meaning but often weak recommendations for health behavior change. It affirms, “Let food be thy medicine.” 

Veggie Rx was initiated as a collaboration between Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG)* and the Whitney Young Health Center and is funded by the NYS Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program. It was designed as a pilot to serve fifty persons with diabetes and/or hypertension. Once recruited and enrolled, the participants receive “prescription coupons” valued at $7 each, which can be redeemed once per week on CDCG’s Veggie Mobile. This bio-diesel fueled, hip-hop pulsing, “produce aisle on wheels”, toodles around many Capital District neighborhoods most days of the week, year round. It irrigates identified food deserts by arriving at a variety of community locations where anyone can shop, right on the truck. It is somewhat akin to an ice cream truck except that it hawks an impressive array of fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it from local farms. 

I met up with the Veggie Mobile that day in the city’s Arbor Hill neighborhood. Parked at the corner of a side street, it was a burst of color in a rather gray landscape. That brightly painted truck always shows up representing the rainbow, but it is the activity that it fosters that is the pot of gold. Among the customers were two Veggie Rx participants. One was a woman whom I had just enrolled in the program. She was there with her two young granddaughters. ‘Patient with diabetes’ instantly transformed into ‘loving grandma’ as I watched her solicit the girls’ advice for what to choose that week. The other was a gentleman who had been enrolled for a while but who had not really participated. I had recently called him to discuss removing him from the program—but he asked for another chance. He explained that he had experienced a host of health problems but was feeling better and really wanted to have this opportunity to improve his diet. Sure enough, there he was like a kid in a candy shop–but instead of candy, he was purchasing a sophisticated assortment of produce.

After an hour at that location, the dedicated Veggie Mobile staff women closed up shop. I hopped in my car and followed them as they got back on and off the highway and made their way over to the next scheduled stop at a low-income housing complex—not too far from the Governor’s Mansion. Arriving there, about fifteen people were already waiting–men, women, and children–including two more Veggie Rx participants. They were surprised to see me and greeted me with smiles and hugs.

This was a busy site, so I assisted with bagging while anchoring myself at a good vantage point. Shopping on the Veggie Mobile begs some patience—but perhaps not any more than waiting in a fast food drive-thru line. Here though, was connection, community and lots of conversation about good food. There was squeezing back and forth as people reached to add another sweet potato, banana or onion to their order. All forms of “monetary green” (cash, SNAP EBT cards, New York State Fresh Connect, and Farmer’s Market Coupons–along with the cute Veggie Rx coupons) were exchanged for “nutritional green” (collards, kale, green beans, green peppers, and broccoli). It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Despite my sheer love of this program, I am still not sure yet if these incentive initiatives are token, feel-good, short-term experiments–or the templates for a new health and food revolution. Are they worth the effort for the few that they serve? Can they put even the tiniest dent in the massive problem they are trying to solve and might a few fruits and vegetables a week really affect change?

What I  do know is that I have seen Veggie Rx change the behaviors and well-being of many of those in the program. Let me strengthen that. I have witnessed some profound changes. There has definitely been some powerful “medicine” going down. Participants have started juicing, making smoothies, and taken to more plant-based diets. Many have attested to feeling better and have noticeably become more enlivened. While I have also noted improvements in individuals’ health markers (weight, blood pressure, hemoglobin A1c)–to see these markers shift in a significant way for this highly challenged population will take time. I caution not to base the success of these types of programs solely on those indicators–it is too myopic a lens.

Veggie Rx offers more than just food access and is about something greater than fruit and vegetable intake. Relationship building is the true foundation of this program. This power of relationship–between participants and the Health Center and Veggie Mobile staff–is not to be underestimated. Having undertaken an evaluation of this program and through my direct contact with the participants, I know that they feel better valued as both patients and consumers which increases their engagement in both roles. I also know that they consider this program to be a blessing in their lives–those are their words, not mine.

Participation comes with some requirements which asks something deeper of its recipients–like standing out on street corners in the cold, shopping in cramped quarters, finding a specific time and place to shop, and committing to follow-up medical appointments. Not everyone enrolled has taken advantage of the program, but the majority have–and some quite extensively.

As a metaphor for, or a substitute expression of the universal yearning to return to the land, the capacity to access the bounty of the earth perhaps subconsciously reminds us of the connection to our source and our birthright of health. The mere act of showing up and filling one’s bag with beautiful produce yielded from the soil reflects a powerful commitment to one’s self. Standing witness on that morning shed light on what a new paradigm of healthcare could look like–particularly in response to the problems associated with health disparities–but in the larger context as well. I returned home with a reassurance that my little toddler-aged program was doing well. I can’t wait to see it grow.

As always, greetings, thoughts, and inspiration welcomed.

In health, Elyn

*Capital District Community Gardens is now known as Capital Roots.

**An additional food bag valued at $4 is also provided as part of the Veggie Mobile’s Taste and Take tasting program. So, Veggie Rx participants receive $11 worth of fresh produce per redemption.

Related Articles:

Food Trust/Policy Link:  Access to Healthy Food and Why it Matters

Double Value Coupon Program–Diet and Shopping Behavior Study

Building Healthy Communities Through Equitable Food Access

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