Archives

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

Capital Roots Veggie Mobile

                           

Veggie Rx is a “produce 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) (now known as Capital Roots) 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. They also receive an additional food bag valued at $4 provided as part of the Veggie Mobile’s Taste and Take tasting program each time they shop.

The bio-diesel fueled, hip-hop pulsing, “produce aisle on wheels” Veggie Mobile which I chatted about in No Passing, 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.

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.

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 Resources: 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

IMG_2051

J’s My Plate

 

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

By Gordon

dominique et moi

November was Diabetes Awareness Month. Or, so I am told. For me, every month is diabetes month and every day is diabetes day, as nary an hour goes by without my sharing sacred space with someone who has diabetes. Sometimes this is the shell-shocked newly diagnosed, other times, it is the weary veteran of the disease.

So, a few weeks ago when my dear friend and favorite Diabetes Educator, Marie handed me a flyer of some local events in my community, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, I agreed to distribute copies to my patients. Looking it over, I caught sight of something interesting. Tucked among the listings for some talks at a nearby hotel on various dietary topics, like Healthy Eating for the Holidays was mention of a presentation to be made by Dominique Wilkins–the former NBA All-Star who played primarily with the Atlanta Hawks. My inner basketball jones, relatively well-tuned from my life with Pete and Morgan perked up.

photo (2)

Former NBA Champion and ADA Ambassador Dominique Wilkins at the Health Center

Dominique Wilkins, who was born in France, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2000, just shortly after retiring from his long career. He is now a committed ambassador for the cause, passionate about helping others. While I doubted if many of my patients would travel across town for the other events, I thought some of them might be excited by the prospect of seeing the man with the moniker Human Highlight Film enough to make the effort. I asked Marie to get the date posted on our electronic message board.

A few days later Marie called me into her office and said, look at this email. Our CEO was informing her that the basketball legend’s PR folk had offered us a drop-in appearance at the Health Center and was wondering if we could garner interest with only a few days’ notice. Go for it, I exclaimed giddily, anxious for the opportunity to present some celebrity inspiration at our humble clinic. I quickly found a few other employees who shared my excitement and called a few of my “guys”, apologizing for making any assumptions about race, gender, age, and sports interest. When a 13-year-old patient of mine who I mentioned it to seemed quite aware of Mr. Wilkins’ basketball legacy and excitedly understood the significance of such a visit, I maintained my enthusiasm.

At the appointed day and time, wearing sensible high heels to enhance my own short stature, I walked through the doors to the waiting room and there was Dominique Wilkins–graceful and stunning. I went right up to him, looked way up, introduced myself and shook his hand. We were now on a first-name basis. I told him my husband taught me to enjoy the game of basketball by watching him play. I appreciate sport for its expression of the human body and its choreography, and Dominique certainly embodied both. He seemed touched.

The crowd in the waiting room was small but attentive. Some were there to see him. Others were just innocently waiting for their medical appointments. Dominique addressed his mixed audience. Basically, his impromptu message was that diabetes is a serious but manageable disease. Do what you have to do to deal with it. He matter-of-factly listed the basic dictates: do some physical activity that you enjoy for at least thirty minutes on most days, give up the sweets, stop drinking juice and soda and follow your doctor’s advice.

Apparently, as he was talking his talk, a woman sitting behind me was reacting with noticeable disbelief. He challenged her discomfort and questioned her about what she was thinking. She essentially said she thought he was talking crazy stuff–mere mortals could not do what he was suggesting. These simple declarations which are easy to espouse, are unfathomable and overwhelming to many–no matter who is delivering the message.

Diabetes is crazy-making. It pulls the rug right out from under you when you thought you were just minding your own business. No other health condition asks so much of so many. The multiple actions required for ‘self-management’ are daunting. Once the blood is commandeered by an excessive army of sugar molecules, it demands some pretty strong sacrifice and extreme behavioral changes in a bargain to help assure that you get to keep all your digits. Minions are condemned for just starting the day with that big bright sunny glass of OJ and satisfying thirst with one of those ubiquitous caramel-colored cola elixirs. No one said anything about diabetes and how it damages the heart along with the kidneys, nerves, eyes, and brain, did they? As Dominique gently goaded the woman to challenge her resistance, I saw in her face the communal shock of the masses, the same shock that had evidently once brought this Adonis of a man to his own knees when he received his own diagnosis.

I then raised my hand to ask a question. I was interested to know his thoughts about celebrities–and celebrity athletes in particular–who endorse products known to be detrimental to health. I did mention a player’s name and I did mention a beverage product. Dominique’s defense was a little weak as he responded with “Who wouldn’t do that for a million dollars?”  I don’t know–millionaires, people who know their messages matter, someone who might spend a day with me in my office seeing the onslaught of diabetes–its victims increasingly both younger and more significantly laden with this burden of glucose metabolism gone awry? He rebounded by saying that many athletes give a lot of their time and money to supporting important causes. Yes, this is true, but nonetheless, there it was–the constant contradiction.

Yes, the contradiction that favors and forgives corporate irresponsibility while individual and societal health is decimated in its wake. Another example of the kind that leaves our government and the rest of us pathetically pawing the ground trying to find and fund ways to clean up the mess. Per year, the company that makes the product I referred to, spends something like 1.7 billion dollars–could that be right–on advertising just its beverages; and the athlete will earn about $60 million. May I add that the companies that market diabetes drugs are also raking in some big bucks. Meanwhile, my patients and many like them sit among the rubble of a broken health care and food system often without two good glucometer strips to rub together.

Dominique’s response did not diminish my admiration for his work or for his play. He is doing something valuable in bringing his efforts to diabetes awareness. He showed up and talked to my patients. They and I appreciated it. Still, I sighed deeply. Diabetes can be a grim disease–especially for those without some modicum of financial resources, intelligence or fortitude–and access to good quality food and medicine defined in its truest sense.

Interestingly, Dominique, well endowed with more than a modicum of these necessary ingredients, shared that the most challenging part for him to do in order to address his own condition was exercise. After eighteen years as an elite athlete in top physical form, peeling his body back off the couch and wrangling it back into servitude, was the last thing he wanted to do.

Well, here’s to all the things I would do in service to the public health if I had just a few of those millions of dollars. What do you think? What would you do? 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.

In health, Elyn

Related Post: Spring Cleaning and the NBA Finals

IMG_5703

Keith’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

by Gordon

set the twilight reeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health, Elyn

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

My Plate Diapoetry

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

by Lou (Reed)

 

the new food revolution, food stamp cuts and health disparities

My Dilemma cuddled up next to me in bed and rested its head on my shoulder. “What is coconut palm sugar?”, it asked. I explained tenderly while rubbing its dear little head, that it is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. There are several different varieties of palm, and “coconut palm” specifically refers to the coco nucifera plant. It possesses a low glycemic index making it a healthier choice than sugar refined from sugar cane or beet sugar and is an option for diabetics. My Dilemma looked at me with the pure innocent eyes of a child.

English: Coconut Palm tree on the beach in Nus...

English: Coconut Palm tree on the beach in Nusa Dua Bali Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about goat’s milk kefir?”, it then asked. I answered, “Oh, you know. Kefir is a fermented milk product that originated centuries ago in the Caucasus mountains, made from the milk of any ruminant animal–in this case, goat. The various types of beneficial microbiota contained in kefir make it one of the most potent probiotic foods available.”

I thought it might be drifting off to sleep, but then it muttered, “Can you tell me the story about chia and hemp seeds, lukuma, stevia and mesquite sweeteners, oh and kombucha and cacao nibs?”. Try saying kombucha and cacao nibs five times fast. Wait a minute. Looking its way, I noticed a little smirk on its face.

I realized then it must have been looking through some of my papers that I have lying around among all of my resources. It was getting late and I was not in the mood to be playing games–even the one apparently called, describe the recently sourced foods deemed essential to a really healthy diet and that are alternatives to the substances compromising our health. Really, it is getting hard to keep up with these emerging products. I could have been annoyed but instead just planted a kiss on its little cheek. Besides, my Dilemma is always incredibly patient with me as I stagger about waving my sword attempting to slay the conundrums of our modern world’s feeding debacle. It is essentially the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote–forever loyal.

I plumped the pillow, pulled up the covers and made sure it was quite comfy. It puffed a little sigh, the kind that signals the final controlled exhale of the day, but then it managed one last exertion. “Do you tell your patients at the Health Center to eat these foods?” I remained still and didn’t say anything. I knew if I ignored it, sleep would blanket its cares and it would choose sweet dreams over reality-drenched answers.

I was glad to lay the matter to rest and tucked myself in for the night. But still, I knew my innocent-seeming Dilemma was playing me. It knows that every day as I walk into my office, I pray that I may not alienate my clients by making totally unrealistic suggestions and that I am grateful as I leave that there is still air in my car’s tires. It is quite aware that I oft apologize when I utter things like extra virgin olive oil, stevia, quinoa, almonds, and organic milk. It knows I choke and can’t say grass-fed, locally raised beef and heirloom tomatoes, and that I break out in hives when considering presenting the advantages of a gluten-free diet for certain individuals.

My economic assessments must be made fast and furiously and I cannot instantaneously calculate what a person’s monthly social security income, low wage earnings and varying food stamp dollar allotment translates into in terms of a daily food budget for themselves and their family. I have no lab values measuring the degree of food insecurity. Many of my clients depend on the graces of food pantries–especially at the end of the month; some live in shelters or at rehabilitation centers with absolutely no control of their food choices.

If quizzed, I would say the majority of my patients know the price, more or less, of white rice, corn or vegetable oil, hamburger meat, chicken and twelve-packs of soda–and messing with their math by offering well-meaning alternatives does not make for good calculus. Though food budgeting education is valuable, most of whom I work with are already experts in that regard. I can’t surmise how much wiggle room someone has in order to make their diet more of a priority, but I must venture in and gather and glean some sense in order to gauge what is possible. At the end of the day, I can only hope that I was close if there is to be any hope of meaningfully promoting diet for health.

A shelf in my office contains food boxes and wrappers, non-perishable examples of “consider this” and “please, whatever you do, try to avoid this” foods. The shelf is not big enough. My patients are kind as they pick up from the floor the items that have fallen as I search for something from my display to show them. For those with grass-fed dreams but ground beef budgets, I have a few things to suggest, though I lament that it is nary enough. These include beans, oats, sardines, milk substitutes, flax seeds, teas, lemon juice, spices, dried apples, low-sodium chicken broth, canned salmon, whole grain pasta, boxed tomato sauce, sunflower seeds, and apple cider vinegar. When I can, I offer little samples. On some days I have coupons for the farmer’s markets, the local food coop, and manufacturer’s products to share-and I do have a small group of patients tucked under my wing participating in Veggie Rx, a Produce Prescription Program that provides free fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis.

Almost everyone is thoughtful, attentive and appreciative and willing to try to do something. Hardly anyone looks at me and yells, “Are you kidding me?” as I proffer a baggie of cinnamon. Still, I need a lot more to ameliorate the consequences of the nutritional junkyard that litters the land and to which those living in poverty are most vulnerable. With sugar at 62 cents a pound and coconut palm sugar going for about $5 for that same amount, what I could really use is a more level playing field if I am going to accomplish my goal of minimizing health disparities.

In the morning, I found my Dilemma curled up on the couch with a cup of coconut palm sugar-sweetened teeccino caffeine-free herbal coffee alternative and the newspaper. “Good morning”, it greeted me. “Just reading about the cuts to the food stamp program.” “Have a good day!”, it shouted after me, as I ran out the door to work.

If you have any suggestions or would like to hear what I think my patients could really benefit from, drop me a line.

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

P.S. Please take a moment to watch this beautiful video, Place Matters, by Clint Smith

Related Post: Inventive Incentive

IMG_0316

My Plate Cup

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

By Eva

summer’s end

Before summer goes leaping into fall, as it can tend to do in these parts, I want to offer homage to it and to those who tend its landscape.

In early June, before the sun had reached its northernmost point in the sky and summer’s arrival in this hemisphere had not quite yet been heralded, I was lamenting in “Obesity, oh wait a minute“, about the “collective abdication” of societal nourishment due to the blurry division between culture and corporation. This was written in response to my learning about a local community sacrificing its citizenry for some petty reward from Arby’s–the fast food roast beef chain. The insidious mutiny of our taste buds and natural hungers by corporations who have invested deeply in behavioral psychology, flavor and gene manipulation and marketing in order to usurp our birthright of health, always makes me feel pretty yukky.   

susan fowler's friendship garden

The Friendship Garden

I quoted Dr. David Katz who asked, “If you know it’s important to control your weight and attend to your health, but almost everything in your environment and your culture conspires against such efforts- how responsible are you, personally? Are you truly personally irresponsible if you go with the prevailing flow?

When one is swirling about in the prevailing flow, it is hard to either remember or to imagine a different current of possibility. For context, I remind that my work entails helping those who have not just gone with the flow, but who are drowning in it. While much about our modern food situation lurks in shadow, thankfully the enlightening sun continues on its ecliptic journey along the celestial sphere in spite of ourselves. When it reaches the right ascension: 6 hours; declination: 23.5 degrees on June 21st–the longest day of the year, the light shifts, the air warms, and we are blessed with the advent of summer. This is the season that offers the opportunity to paddle over to the river bank and to rest for a while.

At the solstice, the denizens of summer appear. Having spent months in preparation for this precious moment, this is when the sowers and reapers take to the fields, playing midwife to the earth’s fertile bounty that the warm sun beckons forth. One must move slowly and sit quietly to see them. Like little gnomes, hunched low to the ground or up in the trees, they are busy with their work, often in the early hours of the day. They tend to be wary and shy of the noise and bustle of the big cities and crowded highways. Sometimes they commune better with their animals than with people.

But, they are gentle and caring folk, and eventually, they step through the veil of the misty morning and come forth with their beautiful harvest–raspberries, blueberries, currants, peaches and plums, big bunches of leafy chard, heads of tender bibb lettuce, peas, and beans, luscious tomatoes, beets, and carrots pulled from the dirt, melons of many varieties, eggs laid from happy chickens, cheeses curdled from the milk of frolicking goats and tiny bundles of fragrant herbs.

As if awakening from a midsummer’s night dream, when we behold these offerings we are a bit uncertain at first about what is real–are we truly enamored of the jackass or are we brought to our senses by being reminded of what is truly beautiful and deeply nourishing? Can we actually claim this amazing food for ourselves and for our children as well? May we feel more resolute to decry the fodder that misrepresents itself by masquerading as food? It is possible.

Summertime provides me with many wonderful examples that creating new paradigms of food and feeding exist. Two urban, youth-focused programs include the Student Produce Project run by my friends at the Capital District Community Gardens; and the magical school-based Friendship Garden fertilized by many years of hard work and the amazing love of my dear friend, Susan Fowler. Susan is also a wonderful teacher and a whole lot more. Her students call her Mrs. Flower. With her corps of elementary students in her heart and at her side tending the crops, she has been an early crusader in the school gardening movement.

CDCG Produce Project

CDCG Produce Project

Farmer’s markets also always inspire. This summer, a day trip led me and Pete to the Saugerties Farmer’s Market in the beautiful and bountiful Hudson Valley. There, near the wonderful assemblage of growers, bakers and jelly makers I came upon an educational and artistic display about the health effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Later, I kept wondering how did science meet such creative expression, so I traced my way to the work of the person responsible, Claudia McNulty. Claudia is a painter, designer, sculptor and seemingly, environmental activist as well. Her work is beautiful and thought-provoking. Claudia has provided some links to very important information through her Corn Porn GMO project. These include the Seralini GMO Rat Study and a video interview with an MIT scientist on the effects of the increased use of the herbicide RoundUp required by GMO crops. To appreciate our current health crises, it is essential to understand the influence of GMOs.

But, the earth tenders who most personally influenced my own summer were my friends Justine and Brian Denison, and their crew, the farmers at Denison Farm, providers of my Community Supported Agriculture share. They not only grew but also delivered the amazing produce that graced my own table and fed my family. The film, Radical Roots: Reawakening the Local Food Movement, by Patricia Lane, features their farm. The elements captured in this story really colored my thoughts and inspired me through these long sunny days. I hope it may do the same for you.

So, to all of summer’s tenders who work so hard as stewards of the land and take care to feed us all, I offer deep and profound thanks, and hope that the fall provides some well-deserved rest. And to summer itself, it is always sad to see you go, but thanks for giving respite from our busy year and for illuminating the ways we can re-route the prevailing flow that permits corporate control of our health and environment.

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 Baker: Tess Beatrice at Sow Good Bakery--creatively conceived and beautifully presented delicious morsels all gluten-free, refined sugar-free, sometimes raw confections laced with unusual spices and topped with tender flower petals.

IMG_2591

Farmers’ My Plate Plate

My Plate Haiku

Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten — every piece of fruit — had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone’s knees, someone’s aching back and hips, someone with a bandanna on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one told her about this before? by Alison Luterman, “What They Came For” (from The Sun magazine)

obesity, oh wait a minute

I have something to get off my chest. Well, really off my dresser. I’ve had this scrap of newspaper lying there for two months. It’s an article headlined, “Town Renamed for Sandwich”.  I hope I don’t embarrass myself here because this is about Arby’s and Reuben sandwiches, two things I know hardly anything about. Apparently, the Town Board of the somewhat nearby town of Coeymans, rechristened itself Reubenville as part of an Arby’s Reubenville Challenge. By tacking a red and white banner that said “Welcome to Reubenville” over the regular town sign, the town received 5,000 free coupons redeemable for a Reuben sandwich at an Arby’s in another town fifteen miles away.

The Three Graces

The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Arby’s famous for Reubens? Last I knew I thought they made roast beef sandwiches. I suppose they could make Reubens as well–doesn’t seem that far a stretch–but I am pretty sure they didn’t invent them. Though I have been rather ignorant of meaty matters for about forty years now, I once did know my way around a good corned beef sandwich–and was vaguely aware of its non-kosher cousin.

A perfunctory visit to the “Welcome to Arby’s” website has just revealed to me a picture of the Reuben, embedded in what is supposedly a marble rye. It doesn’t look like a New York marble rye to me if you know what I mean. Anyway, I am now hip to the 640 calories, 30 grams of fat and 1,610 milligrams of sodium that this town name changing sandwich contains–as well as its plethora of both real and hard to even imagine ingredients. I must commend Arby’s for listing the nutritional information for its complete menu in a very clear and accessible way. If you would like a quick lesson in fast-food gastronomy I suggest you take a peek yourself. I only wish the town council members would have bothered to do the same before getting that banner made.

I am still pretty bewildered. Does Coeymans have anything to do with Reuben sandwiches or with Arby’s for that matter? Named after its early settler, Barent Pieteres Koijeman, Coeymans’ roots are strongly Dutch. Is there some confusion in the town between the possible German origins of the sandwich and the German-Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, known for his beautiful paintings of voluptuous Rubenesque women? Rubens apparently died from heart failure related to chronic gout. Is that what this is all about? My bigger question is, why would any municipality waste its time and efforts responding to such a bogus challenge which serves only to promote the purposes of a corporate food giant and does nothing to protect or promote the lives of its citizens?

Interestingly, physician David Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and a prolific writer on many things of nutritional interest, just happened to speak to my burning questions and larger perpetual conundrum about personal health in the context of culture in a piece he posted this week titled “Culture, Power and Responsibility“. This piece is part of his Personal Responsibility for Health (PRH) Chronicles.

Katz writes, “I think we know what it is, and it’s all about power-and culture. Culture is a powerful influence on us all. When personal responsibility involves defiance of the prevailing forces of one’s culture, it becomes a very tall order indeed. Unfortunately, that is just the order associated with personal responsibility for health.

In a commentary published in The Lancet in February of this year, a group of scholars made the very point that the power of culture, and profit, is all too often oriented in opposition to health rather than in support of it. We might ask people to take responsibility in spite of it all, but that’s a bit like pitching someone off our boat and assigning them responsibility for keeping afloat- whether or not they’ve ever learned how to swim. Relevant power is prerequisite to responsibility.”

If you know it’s important to control your weight and attend to your health, but almost everything in your environment and your culture conspires against such efforts- how responsible are you, personally? Are you truly personally irresponsible if you go with the prevailing flow?

How can the whole of our collective responsibility for health be so much less than the sum of what we expect from its parts? Do we truly expect every individual- adult and child alike- to compensate with personal responsibility for the collective abdications at the level of culture and corporation?

Oh, blessed be. I could not agree more. Yes, I believe that it is the cultural, corporate and governmental abdication of responsibility that displaces much of the onus on an unwitting and poorly equipped populace. And, this is why the actions of both the Coeymans Town Board and the Arby’s Corporation drive me insane. This is also why I feel the ubiquitous conversation about obesity must be redirected.

The collective chatter about obesity is still amplifying. Traveling widely around this nutritional universe as I do, I am bombarded with meteoric messages about fighting, fixing, flagellating, and fracking obesity. The mandate is to leave no obesity behind–neither it’s grown-up or childhood varieties–adorable pudgy babies and grandmas included. Millions are being spent on the ammunition to obliterate this planetary scourge. The aims appear community-based, but individuals are the intended targets. The drones attack both bodies and psyches alike, unable to discern the difference. For my own safety I have taken to wearing a helmet–well, at least when I am biking.

The increased prevalence of obesity is a physically evident symptom of a culture whose motives ignored or overrode its responsibility to protect the birthright of health for its citizenry. However, generalizing obesity as a health crisis is complicated by the fact that its definition is too broadly applied, its prevalence poorly defined, its detriment still debatable and its cure misunderstood. There are many other equally important markers of compromised health and well-being. However, by focusing only on the obvious, the approach has been to throw massive resources at obesity programs with uncertain outcomes while abiding the cultural insults.

Rebuilding or restoring our country’s health will necessitate more than these bombastic approaches that seem similar to our political mindset of problem-solving. It will require some deep introspection regarding the constructs upon which we structure personal and public life. It will beg that our corporate and political leaders, as well as our policymakers, take a serious and sensitive look in attending to the environments that either foster or hinder health. There is much to be undone and redone. I have a few ideas of my own.

But while we continue to work toward meaningful change, I will think about the dear people down there in Coeymans in the aftermath of their brief moment of irrelevant fame. I wonder how many of the 7418 citizens even cared if they were one of the 5000 somehow chosen to drive thirty miles for a sandwich. My sincere wish is that those folks may have either a large dose of relevant power or access to good affordable health coverage because neither their council members nor Arby’s is going to pick up the real bill for that Reuben.

Do you know what I mean?

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 

21910_10153005731839958_2854070245513298632_n

Nirinjan’s Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Lagoon watercress

Peppers my tongue

With spring joy.

by Roxanne

(Gratitude to Roxanne, who provided a beautiful dinner of field greens with a maple vinaigrette dressing, and brown rice with wild mushrooms and tofu during my Memorial Day weekend bike trip to Martha’s Vineyard.)

reporting from the rim of the sinkhole

A few months ago, at about 4 PM, Pete sent me an email saying something about soul food. I was rushing to end my day so I overlooked the attachment that would have filled me in on the details and why he thought this might be of interest to me. I dismissed the message quickly.

That evening though, as fate would have it, I got another message on my email informing me that I had a new follower on Twitter. This was big news given that it is a rare occurrence. As Pete assures me that I am right behind Lady Gaga in terms of followers, I must assume that she might have like twenty-eight. So, I decided to check out my ignored little bird account and see who my new follower might be.

Once there, I stumbled upon a flurry of activity on the feed from someone I follow–chef and food activist Bryant Terry, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen and Urban Grub. The excited conversation was about a PBS documentary Soul Food Junkies which was apparently being aired right then. The praise was pouring in for this film by Byron Hurt, about his exploration of the historical and cultural roots of soul food cuisine and its relationship to the current health crisis with its impact on the African-American community.

Image result for soul food junkies

A documentary by Byron Hurt

Ah, now I got it. I ran upstairs to the TV room and grappled with the remote. Attempting to master its controls, I pushed that channel button frantically. I must mention that I have about as limited a relationship with the television as I do with my Twitter account–and relying on an old antenna like apparatus, have access to about seven channels. Still, I knew I did get PBS. Round and round I cycled through those seven channels, three PBS stations and still could not find the show I was looking for.

Instead, what I found was a program about a guinea worm eradication program sponsored by Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center in Africa. It was rather fascinating though quite gruesome to watch. Apparently, water-borne guinea worm disease which has plagued a wide swath of Africa and Asia for thousands of years is poised to be eradicated. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its campaign with the partner countries, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. By 2012 there were 542 cases left in just four African countries.

Guinea worm disease is contracted from drinking unclean water contaminated with larvae that once inside the human abdomen grow into worms up to three feet long. These worms eventually emerge from the body through excruciatingly painful blisters on the skin. I guardedly watched as health workers painstakingly exorcised these worms from the legs of screaming children and stoic adults, wrapping the worms around little sticks that were slowly turned. One worm, one person at a time. The success of this amazing eradication program has been due to water treatment and filtration programs and community education at a very grass-roots level.

A few days later I was able to watch Soul Food Junkies on pbs.org. It is an excellent film and I have been talking it up with a lot of my clients–and others as well. Many of my clients are African-American and my daily consults revolve around discussing this interface between food as cultural identity and health. Soul food is not the only problem area. Many cultural cuisines that have sustained people for millennia are causing problems in the context of our modern existence. This is due to various reasons including agricultural alterations in the actual foodstuffs that form the basis of these cuisines, more processed versions of these dietary staples being substituted for the real foods, traditional diets being padded with the excess of sugars, concentrated carbohydrates and other addictive substances that infiltrate our beings and a massive increase in sedentary lifestyles and stress. The vulnerable communities that are more exposed to poverty and its attendant health disparities are experiencing greater discord between their food and their health.

This is multi-layered stuff that claws at the core of who we are as eaters and which reveals how deeply connected we are to our heritage. Food is clearly not just an extrinsic matter. It communicates intimately with our cellular makeup. And, it is a heavenly sacrament. I remember as a child listening to my mother and my aunties trying to sever the relationship between my hypertensive grandfather and the heavily salt-cured foods of his Russian roots. Little did I know I would one day be standing between an African-American man and his beloved fried chicken or an Asian woman and her dear little grains of rice.

But yes, there I am. Standing tall at five feet one, holding firm with my big professional tweezers before every diabetic who sits in my office. With exact precision, I try to extract each granule of sugar that has gone rogue in the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on the body–sort of like a guinea worm. Just as guinea worm disease takes hold in unsuspecting individuals so does diabetes. Persons consuming available foods for the purpose of sustaining survival and attaining some pleasure, awaken one day to learn that they are infested with massive globs of excess glucose.

I have been doing this work for a long time and I can tell you that the diabetic epidemic is getting worse. My daily roster is full of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes. This morning I woke up to some crazy NPR story about the woes of candy makers due to the relatively high price of sugar–the price regulated by the Farm Bill. Apparently, the makers of Dum Dum lollipops require 100,000 pounds of sugar for the daily manufacture of ten million Dum Dums–and they are having a hard time affording it. Can those numbers be for real? Well, please don’t tell Dum Dum that I have some sugar stockpiled in my office–mounds of the stuff that I have removed from my clients. I know they will just try to recycle it right back into the very folk I took it from.

Diabetes might not seem to be as bad as guinea worm–but one can actually make many metaphorical if not actual comparisons. Diabetes leaves many physical and emotional scars. My clients look at me through eyes that plead to spare them from this scary disease–that comes complete with implements that stab and jab and symptoms that pain and worry–depleting the soul. I scurry furiously to help pull them out of the sinkhole of this very complicated condition. If a disease caused by a swarm of microscopic larvae can be eradicated from the planet, it is hard to believe we can’t do better to minimize the incidence or increase the reversal of diabetes. The methods employed essentially would seem to be the same–access to ‘clean’ food, governmental responsibility, respect for human dignity, caring, education, and cultural adaptation.

And so, that is why the work of Bryant Terry and the film of Byron Hurt are so important–and why folk should watch Soul Food Junkies and align it with their own food foundation. Time is of the essence and Jimmy Carter deserves a rest.

Thank you for reading, really. As always, thoughts, tweezers, and twitter followers welcomed.

In health, Elyn

Related Recipe: Bryant Terry’s Citrus Collard Greens with Raisins Redux

(Update February 2020: Bryant Terry has just published a gorgeous cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes. From the Introduction: Vegetable Kingdom is inspired by my daughters, Mila and Zenzi. They have blessed this book like my ancestors blessed meals, by humbling me to that which is greater than myself.)

(Update June 2020: Bryant Terry prefers that his book(s) be purchased from independently-owned bookstores (check indiebound.org & bookshop.org) and ideally, from Black-owned bookstores like: @marcus.books@esowonbooks@peoplegetreadybooks, and @unclebobbies.)

(Update February 2021: Check out Byron Hurt’s continuing efforts @byronhurt and support completion of his new film, Hazing.)

shutterstock_275107754

Bryant’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

This isn’t steroids

It’s Collard Greens.

from Ballin’ at the Graveyard (Documentary on an Albany, NY neighborhood basketball game)

“It includes the authentic voices of men working to do what’s right—for themselves, their families, and for the larger community. If you want to better understand our City’s character and come away feeling good about it, this film is a must-see.” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

who do i love?

Happy Valentine’s Day. My day started out with a visit from Ms. Henry. Now, if she is not the true expression of this global love fest, I don’t know who is. One might almost expect for her to leave a trail of rose petals behind as she spreads love wherever she goes. Ms. Henry always has some story that both surprises and delights.

Today, she told me that she had informed everyone, that in no way were they to get her any chocolate this holiday. If they wished to get her anything, she would gladly accept red foods. And, wouldn’t you know it, her six-year-old godson and his mom gifted her with apples and pomegranates. And, the little boy told her that they had shopped for the fruits at the food coop. It was only 9:15 in the morning and I felt my heart open wide.

photo (1)

The rest of my workday was filled with more touching moments as I had some other clients tell of their own personal blossomings and awakenings on this lifetime eating adventure. I was feeling light in spirit as I raced out of the office to tend to some mothering duties–and the late afternoon sun granted me enough warmth that I shed my dark winter coat and threw it in the back seat of the car.

Come evening, I was grateful to join a circle of friends who were gathering for a cozy showing of the movie Moonstruck, thanks to the abundant and incredible hospitality of Heidi, whose love flows out through her wonderful culinary gifts and the pouring of the perfect glass of wine. Tonight’s Italian theme-based dinner was baked ziti, (meatballs on the side) and rapini. Rapini is a green and Brassica rapa vegetable, rich in Vitamins A, C, and E, folate, potassium and detoxifying indole-3-carbinol compounds dear to my heart–of course. Oh, and beautiful, homemade individual heart-shaped flavanoid-blessed chocolate cakes. How sweet is that?

So, though my main squeeze was out of town, and all cuddling was reserved for Chico the cat, it was still a special Valentine’s Day. In its honor, I want to take a moment to share a list of some of the (not previously referenced) amazing people I love whose work informs and supports my own and who inspire me by the generous sharing of their wisdom, wit, intelligence, passion and pure love for keeping us all a little healthier and happier.

Nutritional Wisdom: Andrea Nakayama: AnFunctional Nutrition Alliance; JJ Virgin: Exercise Physiologist and Holistic Nutritionist; Paula Owens: Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Health Practitioner; Lisa Nelson: Heart Health Made Easy

Gentle Approaches to Dietary Self-Management and Body Acceptance: Angela Minelli: Stop Emotional Eating and Compulsive Overeating; Deah Schwartz:  Resources for Every Body Every Size

Environmental Toxins and our Personal Health: Lara Adler: Environmental Toxin Education

Parental Amusement: Honest Toddler: (I just love when Zena reads me these tweets!) (Updated 2020: Twitter feed was taken over by their mom.)

Please take a moment to check these out. I hope they will lead you somewhere helpful. Share with me anyone you love whose message is also along these lines.

With full heart, I call it a day–loving you. Like this post or forward me some love by way of comment, subscription or sharing. Or, a My Plate Haiku (or other expressions) or My Plate Plate.

In health, Elyn

Honest Toddler My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Do not tell someone that you love them

And then six hours later

Make them quinoa.

by Honest Toddler

so-duh

I have a confession to make. I recently had a soda. Yes, I did. That means, of my own volition, I purchased the vibrantly colored 12-oz. can, pulled up on that little flip top, and brought that fizzy, bubbly nectar–rife with all its high fructose corn syrup–up to my own lips…and swallowed. Then I swallowed again. And, I did all of this under the bright lights of the public eye. I tell ya. That little burst of Sunkist Orange Soda was quite satisfying.

It was a cold winter’s night. Pete and I had gone to our little local community-run movie theater where nice volunteers staff a humble concession stand. I don’t really know how it happened. I was thirsty. Ordinarily, I would have just purchased water–which was what I was assuming I was about to do again as I approached the counter. However, uncharacteristically, my thirst informed me right then and there that it would not be humored this time by just plain water and it insisted that I consider the offerings stocked in the small glass-front refrigerator.

shutterstock_110861171

Alice and the Cheshire Cat

I was stunned. I did not know what to do. Healthy-oriented me does really enjoy a few lines of lightly sweetened specialized iced teas but there were none of those to be found in that bastion of freon-cooled fare. Instead, there were just waters, sodas and those pouches of Capri Suns that you stick little straws into. I panicked. The cloyingly sweet fruit juice concoctions aroused a mild nausea, the sodas provoked my usual disgust and disdain and the concession people were beginning to look at me funny.

Suddenly, the sun logo on the little orange can seemed to wink at me and I found myself saying, “Yes, I’ll have an orange soda.” When I went back to sit in my chair, Pete turned to tell me that the seat was saved…for me. He really did not recognize me with that can in my hand. The last time he saw me with a can of soda was about 1981 when we were parched and poor living in Dallas, Texas.

Now, you might not think this was such a big deal without appreciating that I have about the lowest per capita soda consumption and am kind of like the Carrie Nation of the soda-drinking world. I tote around soda bottles emptied of their original content and refilled with their hidden sugar equivalency. Like I described in Private Health, I paste pictures of skulls and cross-bones on these bottles. I make my victims hold those bottles while I read them the insidious list of ingredients that their beloved brands contain. I make them weep as they promise to not ever imbibe again. When forced on rare occasions to empty the bottles of their original contents so I can use them for my own devices, I don plastic gloves and a face mask. That is how corrosive I consider these substances to be. And, if anyone had ever dared offer my own kids a soda in my presence, who knows what their fate may have been.

So, imagine my inner confusion as I leaned over and whispered to Pete during the movie, “This is pretty good.” Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not like I never had the stuff. I was raised on soda. The only thing that had stopped me from having a relationship with it long ago was an early adoption of a whole foods, crunchy granola lifestyle, an understanding of the depleting aspects of white sugar and resistance to large multi-national corporations. If I had not had such a strong philosophical position on such matters way back, I might have just gone along enjoying these nice little fizzies with the rest of the masses. Especially the innocent flavors like orange, black cherry, and ginger ale. Sometimes they do just hit the spot like nothing else can. If not bolstered by my iron-clad conviction that soda should be a banned substance, I could easily imagine getting another one of these little cans of sunshine the next time I go to the movies. And then, maybe when I go to a restaurant or if I am on a trip. I could then just keep a few in my own fridge.

Maybe I should have relaxed a little last week with my lovely 300 plus-pound 35-year-old client who was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago. His blood sugars are better but still not in good control. He is drinking way less Pepsi than he used to. Now, he only has one or two cans a day, sometimes none, while on the job during the day as a building maintenance supervisor. Should the fact that he is the father of five– the youngest of which was with him during our consult and who was the cutest thing ever–matter? Is it just a coincidence that he sees a connection between his blood sugar levels and his soda consumption?

Maybe I shouldn’t have tried so hard last week to figure out what was up with my 34-year-old pregnant client. Prior to this pregnancy, her chart indicated that there was evidence of high blood sugar–hyperglycemia–without a full diagnosis of diabetes. She came in bemoaning her foul moods, agitation and lack of both patience and energy. Came to find out she has been consuming 2 to 3 liters of Cherry Coke daily for a long while. Imagine her surprise when I pulled out a sugar-filled bottle of her favorite blend from under my desk.

Once again, there is a new hoopla in the divisive soda world as Coca-Cola is releasing these commercial spots touting their supposed corporate responsibility in the fight against obesity while at the same time ignoring the true effects of their confectionery concoctions. You can watch one of them here. My peeps, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, CSPI, and others are thankfully responding to this deceptive campaign accordingly. This is good because I am busy in the trenches.

These little stories I cite above are just examples of situations I really encounter over and over, even in the course of a day. Corroded teeth, eroded stomachs, poor mood regulation, extreme belly fat and of course, diabetes lie in the wake of soda consumption and its adherent addiction. It is this that fuels my manic reaction to the stuff–and will continue to do so.

Being diagnosed with diabetes is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Every day I meet the people who have unfortunately fallen into the hole chasing some elusive White Rabbit. Reality changes mighty quickly and quite extremely. Simply awakening from a strange dream will not make it go away. Eating cake will certainly not help and the Red Queen is apt to yell, “Off with her toes!” And, Coca Cola and Pepsico will have nothing to offer except a Cheshire Cat smug grin.

So, though I enjoyed that little refreshment, it will be a long time until my next one.

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

IMG_0595

A Bank of Beverage Machine’s 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)

of poverty and light

Amid all of the celebrations of the holiday season it sure is easy to overindulge and to gain those few–oh excuse me for a moment–my dilemma is tugging at my sleeve. Sorry, it seems to be interrupting me to say something about property. Property? Puberty? You know, despite its omnipresence in my life, I don’t even understand my own dilemma sometimes.

It is like when my son was little and (prematurely) learning to talk, he would get so frustrated when his word was misinterpreted. When I would repeat the statement to make sure I had heard it correctly, like, “You want some bed?”,  he could only surmise that his mother must be severely limited and he would implore the heavens for some relief. Who on earth he would beg says, “I want some bed”, and even if they did, why would they say that when standing in the kitchen after nap time? What part of “bread” does my mother not get?027

My dilemma is reacting the same way now. So, with a deep breath, I will take its sweet little face between my hands and ask it to calm down and try to tell me again. Oh, I get it now. Poverty. My dilemma is asking me if I could please not write about holiday eating, but instead about poverty.

Oh, poverty. “Right now?” I ask, in the midst of this season of tinsel-tinged holiday cheer? Yes, it replies. Write about it on this darkest day of the year when we most crave the light to illuminate all that should be revealed. “Can you just try?” it says in that adorable little voice. “About poverty and nutrition?”

What do I know about this topic and what credentials do I have to write about it? Well, I do work in a Federally Qualified Health Center that serves the economically poor–the uninsured, the underinsured, those who sit at the bottom of the economic ladder, those lacking in many of the resources that others easily possess. And, I do educate on nutrition. Yet, I am still nervous to presume that I have the right to tread here. My own perceptions are actually a bit blurry.

Though every day I am deeply privileged to have my clients share the stories–somewhat intimate–of some parts of the realities of their lives, I cannot claim to really know what their impoverishment feels like. And, though yes, the majority of my clients are poor, some poorer than others–they all mainly go to sleep with some roof over their head and some food in their tummies. Furthermore, they possess a richness that nourishes and inspires me as well–whether it be of spirit, honesty, feeling, fortitude, resilience, wisdom, story-telling, family and community connection, self-reflection, humility or appreciation.

Yet, I am still perplexed, so I look back at my dilemma and ask, “But, don’t people already know about poverty and nutrition? That it is complicated but it has something to do with the cheapest (hunger-slaying) food often being the least healthy; the battered economy; governmental food subsidies; food deserts; reliance on convenience and processed foods; income inequality; the history of supplemental and commodity food programs and the lack of a just and sustainable food system?

And, haven’t I already discussed things like food addiction and the impact of excessive sugar-sweetened beverages on emotional and physical health? And, I probably have already ranted about even bigger, more amorphous issues like lack of breastfeeding, TV advertising, health disparities, a stress-based society and may I now even add environmental toxins and gun violence which disproportionately affects our poorer neighborhoods–and how I believe all these things affect our bodies and who we are as eaters.

My dilemma nods and whispers, “Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?” I sigh. Maybe it is on to something. There are many disparaging assumptions made regarding how the poor feed themselves. Maybe what I can do for today is to shed some light on how poverty in modern-day America infringes upon the hunting, gathering, and metabolic fundamentals required for normal human nutrition–a process that has become quite enigmatic for many, but more profoundly for those who must often do with very limited resources. In the daily conversations that I have about this elusive, ill-defined quest for proper eating–oft imagined as being as simple to prescribe as popping a pill–I am perpetually filtering many realities that are probably rather obscure.

So, here it is. Most of my clients would like to eat better. They would–but there are numerous hindrances. Many are tired. Very tired. Those who work, often work very exhausting types of jobs. Many of them–the home health aides, the certified nursing assistants, the truck drivers, the cleaners, the warehouse stockers, and even the retail workers–work variable hours, often with overnight shifts which distress the natural circadian rhythms and thereby the sleep and eating patterns. Those who don’t work are often depressed or in chronic pain. Food provides easy relief. They live in neighborhoods where people get shot and murdered. They forget how to use and move their bodies. Many over their lifetimes have cared for so many others that self-care is just an amusing oxymoron. Often, just the physical requirements that cooking entails become difficult.

Additionally, when money is tight for food, so commonly it is for all the things associated with food preparation and eating. This includes appliances like stoves, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, and freezers–and even the kitchen table and chairs. Some of my clients live in accommodations where not all of these are provided or where they are not properly working. Some only have a microwave to cook their food. Some live in settings where they have to share a kitchen with random roommates. Some people keep food in their bedrooms to prevent others from eating it. Those who live in group programs have no control over the type of food that is provided.

And, then there are the even smaller things like a set of good knives, measuring cups and spoons, pots and pans, a blender, a cutting board, a steamer or a food processor. For many a modern cook, one could not imagine even basic food preparation without most of these accouterments, if not even more. Yet, for some, these are downright luxuries. Just recently, I did a display on winter squashes to promote these nutritionally blessed, fiber-dense and delicious denizens of the food kingdom–but even so, I was cognizant that unless one buys them pre-cut and frozen these pretty gourds demand a whack of a proper, well-sharpened knife to reveal their inner gifts.

Each person has their own circumstances. Though I must serve my clients quickly and effectively I have to obtain some information before I venture in with suggestions. I cannot assess for all of the above. I must pry for information with the utmost gentleness and respect to get a quick sense of where we are starting from. Depending on the person, sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not. The foods that are now commonly touted to be required for a healthy diet, I sometimes must ask permission to utter. I say things like olive oil, brown rice, walnuts, almond milk, and on a good day, quinoa, preceded by “may I?” and followed by “thank-you.” What might seem like a molehill of a price differential could quite truly be a mountain.

Thankfully, there is usually space for an appropriate conversation about food and eating when the context is understood and appreciated. And, fortunately too, the realm of health-giving foods contains some low-cost and readily available options. My clients are glad to be reminded of them. Usually, they learned of them from their grandmothers as well. But, most importantly is when that light goes on that says that they are worthy of nourishing themselves in the best way that they possibly can. That they matter. Then this abstract matter of nutrition begins to make some sense.

So, I guess, my main observation is that bottom line, despite our economic differences, we are foremost eaters–doing the best we can with what we know and what we have at the moment. And, that somewhere, somehow, it is always about love. I look back at my dilemma for some confirmation. Oh well. It has fallen fast asleep.

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.

Read below on the new My Plate Invitational

In health, Elyn

ChooseMyPlate

USDA MyPlate Plate

My Plate: In honor of the New Year, I invite you to submit a photo of your own beautiful plate to be placed in the rotation along with the My Plate Haikus. My Plate (your plates) will offer a prettier and more personal representation of the MyPlate put forth by the USDA as a model of how Americans should feed themselves–which replaced the MyPyramid. I can’t wait to see your plate. It can portray whatever nourishment, pleasant eating, or mealtime means to you. It can contain a meal you have prepared or been lovingly served, a depiction of feeding, or just some beautiful dishware. My Plate Haikus always welcome too.

You may include it in a comment or submit to zimmermanelyn7@gmail.com/Subject Line: My Plate Photo