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Love Is Love

The dog days of summer barked outside, but inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx, where Love is Love.

Yes, it was hot. The day when summer first reminds us what really hot is after initially just gloriously warming us up. But, I was on a mission and was not to be deterred. It had already been a year or more since I learned that two hip-hop musicians had opened some juice bars in low-resourced neighborhoods–in Yonkers, the Bronx, and most recently in Brooklyn.

Music coupled with a healthy eating initiative ignited by love sings to my soul. So when this came to my awareness, I was determined to pay a visit to one of their Juices for Life businesses, and an opportunity had finally presented itself.

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Juices for Life

Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, cool inflammation’s heat with nature’s nectars. 

To start with, I had to know who were these guys, Styles P, and Jadakiss? To find out meant calling my son. Once again, he would need to rescue his unhip mother. Apparently, these two Yonker’s natives were founding bandmembers of The Lox. Their hip-hop careers began back in 1994–who knew–while they were still in their teens. Along the way, Styles P abandoned the smoked salmon with a bagel and cream cheese and ascribed to a vegan lifestyle–including the preparation of vegetable juices. This he credits for a transformative change in his health and mindset. Jada Kiss was thus also inspired.

In this must-see video, the artists explain that they are constantly asked to invest in various ventures and why they chose to bring healthy food to the hood, committing themselves to access and education. In other interviews, Style P’s message is also infused with his concern for families–with an emphasis on children and elders. And, he urges people to begin finding ways to juice and blend at home.

Finally, the time had come. In the video, a man says that if you don’t know who Styles P and Jadakiss are, then you must be living under a rock. So, a few weeks ago I shoved my rock aside and headed down to Manhattan to visit my son. I’d forewarned him that on the agenda was an outing to the juice bar in the Castle Hill neighborhood in the Bronx. While we’d discussed this before, he was a little surprised that I was really serious.

Off we went and headed deep into the subterranean underbelly of the sweltering city to catch the first subway. Whatever air there was down there was thick and heavy, and the wait for the train on the crowded platform was trying. But things got better as we transferred to the Uptown 6, which would carry us to our destination. Miraculously, it was an express train, adequately air-conditioned and without too many passengers. The train streamed along, and at the far reaches of its tentacled line, it emerged from underground and rose to its elevated height. I looked out the windows as we crossed the Bronx River and was afforded wide views of the urban industrial landscape.

Exiting the station, we found ourselves in the glaring light and searing heat of the early afternoon. As we walked the few blocks down a commercial corridor, the streets were pretty deserted either due to the heat, or that it was a Sunday and many of the businesses were closed.

Filling the cracks of lack, helping people to feel good.

However, once we found ourselves inside Juices for Life things were chill and there was some good energy. The set up was simple. A counter, a cooler filled with produce, shelves filled with protein and nutritional powders, and some stool seating. Initially, there were just a handful of customers, so we were able to take our time reviewing the varied menu of juice, smoothie, and shot options and placing our order. The counter person, Akil, was very friendly, and gladly abided my many questions. I was pretty hip to everything on the menu except for its offerings of sea moss and bark.

Our juices came quickly, and we sat to sip. Suddenly the place filled with a wave of people, including a street detective. There were obvious regulars and newbies alike. A woman told us that the place is usually busy and attributed the lull to the heat. I watched as the juicing staff of three plus the veggie prepper who kept the cooler stocked, choreographed their steps, spinning, and dosey-doeing with each other. They moved quickly to fill the orders, loading the whirring juicer and blenders, and gracefully catching and pouring the colorful elixirs. Their Juices for Life company T-shirts reminded that Love Is Love. img_4404.jpg

We stayed for about an hour talking with both staff and customers and sampling some shot concoctions. We learned that both rappers visit the store, but Styles P is there more regularly. A wall plaque honors him for his contribution to the community. The Juices for Life website explains its mission of bringing health to ‘poorer communities’ by ‘letting food be its medicine and medicine be its food’. This is a worthy and deeply profound mission. Freshly prepared juices from a bounty of different vegetables and fruits provide our bodies with an easily assimilated and powerful source of essential nutrients. They are a balm to the nutritional needs of our cells required for optimal health, and a salve to the nutritional abuse and violence these cells have been prey to. It was really beautiful to witness the communal toast of good health that each cup of juice provided to all who were there that day.

Training back, I wondered how viable could such enterprises be. Could juice bars become as ubiquitous as the fast-food joints, liquor stores and bodegas that are known to populate such communities? Is the five to six dollar price per glass–which is cheaper than at many similar places–still too much for many to make for a sustainable habit? Or is that cost actually cheaper than many other commonly purchased unhealthy products?

I believe that such initiatives contribute to sowing the seeds of change. And, that education and empowerment will promote changes in disease prevention and the delivery of healthcare. For now, I would love for there to be the opportunity to allow persons who receive SNAP Benefits to be able to redeem them for juices, similar to their expanded acceptance at Farmer’s Markets. Next, I’d like to see juicing kiosks in more places–such as community markets, health clinics, and hospitals. And, and for more cultural icons to use their celebrity to endorse and support health-promoting activities.

To Styles P, Jadakiss, and all those who are making this happen, I thank you. Just one thing, if I may–it looks like you could use an additional juice machine.

And stay posted, my next trip to the city may include a visit to Brooklyn, to check out Francesca Chaney’s Sol Sips.

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

Love Is Love, Elyn

Related Posts: Nutritional Violins, Dance of Diabetes, Where Has All The Produce Gone?

Related Song: Jadakiss–Why

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M & E’s My Plate

My Plate Rap

The dog days of summer barked outside, But inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx where Love is Love.

And Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, Cool inflammation’s heat with Nature’s nectars, Filling the cracks of lack, Helping people to feel good.

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nutritional violins

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

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

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

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Paiute Indian Harvest Exhibit                        Cannonville, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health, Elyn

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

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

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Broken My Plate

My Plate Haiku

I often wonder

What did they eat for breakfast

Those who go and kill?

by Elyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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peepin’ out

easter-2120601_640 (1)Right before Easter, word got through to me that Peeps would now be sold year-round. I can’t say if I was aware or not that Peeps, those brightly colored marshmallow bunnies and chicks, only appeared on the market for a relatively short period of time each year in order to celebrate the Resurrection, but apparently, this change was newsworthy.

Truth be told, I am really naive and poorly informed on certain things, like candy and religion. I have been confused for decades between Cabbage Patch Dolls and Sour Patch candies–I think that is what they are called. During nutritional consults, I confess that I have uttered the words, “Do you eat like Cabbage Patch Doll candies?” Not just randomly of course, but in the context of an assessment when I am trying to professionally interpret someone’s intake while sounding like I know what I am talking about.

Somewhere halfway between childhood and deciding to become a nutritionist, I managed to wean myself off of my predilection for sugar woven into various seductive forms. Maybe the end of my relationship with Peeps coincided with my commitment to a vegetarian diet. Eating anything with a face became more distasteful, even if it was just an adorable ball of fluff. I have managed to avoid the things for a long while except for a time where a co-worker enjoyed flaunting her love of them in front of me like the Adoration.

But, upon hearing the news that Peeps would be popping up in stores on a daily basis, I reacted like Puxatawny Phil seeing his shadow on that fateful Groundhog’s Day. Down into the burrow, I hastily fled. Just when I thought that maybe things were getting a little better regarding our capacity to ameliorate incoming incarnations of sugar, this information startled me. To soften the blinding light of blatant commercialism, I had no choice but to go into the dark place below.

By candlelight, I read the small print. Peeps are stewarded by the Just Born Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. According to the website, the wonderful combination of sweet colored sugar and fluffy marshmallow creates an unforgettable taste experience. And, furthermore, it states a great candy isn’t made, it’s just born. Jesus! Don’t these guys realize how bunnies multiply and that chicks are no slackers either when it comes to population growth? I guess they do. Apparently, 5.5 million Peeps are born each day! OMG. See how!

This pronouncement of a seemingly immaculate conception in Bethlehem, rather than some sticky mess, presented a whole new ball of carnauba wax–one of the ingredients in Peeps along with sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, potassium sorbate, natural flavors and red 3, blue 1, yellow 6, or yellow 5 depending on the color. With 6.8 grams of sugar, each Peep is endowed with 1.5 (rounding down) teaspoons of essentially pure sugar–the kind that sends our bodies into metabolic-altering, insulin-demanding, fat-storing sugar shock. (Maybe best to use them to make amazing dioramas and Peep Shows.)

Eventually, In my quest to find out more about this situation, I was forced back above ground. Donning sunglasses, my research led me to my local national chain drug store where I made a few laps around the multi-aisle candy section disguised as a normal sugar craving person. I was forced to blow my cover by asking the clerk where the Peeps were. She reacted as if I must be from another planet. I did not bother to defend my citizenship as an earthling and neither did I explain the whole groundhog thing. But I did say my query had a scientific purpose–or something like that. Obviously, Peeps were not to be found after Easter. I was six weeks too late.

But, I said, I thought they were available all year now, in a widening array of flavors. She had not gotten that memo. She instructed me to go to the company website if I wanted more information. I thought that was funny. She did add though that this year she had gotten her little daughter some watermelon ones, so maybe I was right. I  stiffened like a stale Peep.

Like Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield who deemed himself the protector of childhood innocence, perhaps I take my influence as a nutritionist of the people and for the people a bit too seriously. In my head, I am charged on a daily basis to personally obliterate obesity, or on a larger scale to clean up this whole nutritional mess and its adherent ills. I liked the care and assistance the drug store clerk had given me despite her initial recoil, and now by association, I cared about her daughter. Could I not issue a global recall of these wolves in chicks’ clothing candies due to salmonella poisoning, avian flu or something to save the children? My usual quandary about how to reconcile the intentions of capitalist markets and the public health smacked me in the face along with another more subtle underlying dilemma–who am I to take sugar from a baby? Don’t they need some sweetness in this cruel harsh world?

Well, I figured it was time to move back up. As by now spring had finally arrived in these parts after the long, extended rodent-predicted winter, I decided it should be safe to step back into the sunlight. Besides, another holiday was upon us– Memorial Day. This one, should actually quell our insatiable appetites, right? But, alas, like Holden, I was once again in for some surprises.

A little weekend travel led me into a highway rest stop convenience store. There, upon the laden Frito-Lay chip rack, I noticed two different generic bags labeled, Doritos Jacked–Test Flavors 404 and 2658. Jesus. I am not positive, but I think the deal is that if you buy a bag you get to let someone know how jacked you were. Have you ever encountered such a thing?

The ingredients list was complete with all of the usual suspects that entice and entwine us. I had a sudden urge to barricade the rack to prevent the innocents from getting their hands on these hyperactivity-inducing substances. But, then I thought, hey, don’t those good folk down there at Frito-Lay and PepsiCo deserve to make a little profit? Just look at all those flavor scientists they are providing work for. And, aren’t our kids maybe just a little too mellow? Besides, I have read the Frito-Lay Promise (link no longer available). Apparently, I can relax, it is all good. And, soon, kiddos are going to be able to make their own snacks on 3-D Printers anyways. Yikes.

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: Wings of Desire

Related Recipe: 5-Minute Carrot Truffles (bunny approved)

(Update 2018: And, oh my goodness, it looks like there is some trouble down on the peeps farm regarding the Just Born Company’s employee pension plan.)

(Update 2020: This just in! Hot Tamale Peeps. No comment.)

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Emma’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

The farmers’ market

Each egg at the dairy stand

A different color.

by Enki

 

 

reporting from the rim of the sinkhole

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

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

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

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A documentary by Byron Hurt

Ah, now I got it. I ran upstairs to the TV room and grappled with the remote. 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.)

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Bryant’s My Plate

 

My Plate Haiku

This isn’t steroids

It’s Collard Greens.

from Ballin’ at the Graveyard (Documentary on a neighborhood basketball game)

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

 

six calories of separation

I am related to Fay Wray. Yes, the actress well-known for her theatrical screams, who portrayed Ann Darrow in the original King Kong film. More dramatically, though inadvertently, she was “the beauty who killed the beast”. I guess lots of ordinary people have some connection to famous ones–but mine is pretty crazy, right? When Fay Wray died in 2004 at the age of 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for fifteen minutes in her honor.

English: Fay Wray's star on the Hollywood Walk...

Fay Wray’s star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story is even a little more interesting. Cousin Fay was born in Canada to a Mormon family who eventually moved to Hollywood. She attended high school there and entered the film industry at a young age. Though most famous for her role in King Kong, she had many film and TV roles in her long career. It was in Hollywood that she met and married my grandfather’s cousin, Robert Riskin. Well, I know you are probably wondering if my connection by marriage counts–but Robert Riskin has a celebrated history as well. He was a prolific playwright and screenwriter–an Academy Award winner best known for his work with the director Frank Capra on films such as It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

So, while they led very glamorous Hollywood lives, the bulk of my relatives lingered in New York. Though many of them possessed various artistic talents, my celebrity relations remained thus limited. Nonetheless, though I live in a tiny circumscribed world, I am tickled by the notion of brushes with fame. My shortlist includes that of being picked up while hitchhiking in Big Sur by Carl Reiner and his wife, and of providing nutritional services to Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Brokaw, Peter Martins, and Bill Bradley during my various stints as a waitress. I actually had a little tiff with Mr. Bradley about a diet soda–he shouldn’t have been drinking the stuff anyway.

And, then there are my amazing nutrition connections. I have mentioned before in various posts that not only do I know Mark Hyman–I lived with him during college; I had breakfast with Marc David; I am pretty positive that I grew up in the same town as Michael Pollan–so that is association by geography; and I did clearly imagine seeing Mark Bittman in Brooklyn one day.

So, already sitting on a pretty full nest of impressive–though perhaps exaggerated–VIPs for a small village girl, imagine my surprise when this happened. A few weeks back, my inbox began to flood with feed from my professional and personal networks about a new book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Everywhere I turned, I was seeing or hearing about this new expose of the food industry. My first reaction was to file this for later. But, then something caught my eye– in the tiny print of the text that appeared on my screen. The author was Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Moss. It took one quick message to my college and journalist friend Ellen to confirm my suspicion. This was not just any old Mike, Mark or Tom–but another very real connection.

Ellen once dated Michael and I knew him through her. Many years ago, when they were together, Michael was assigned to cover the New York State Legislature in Albany where he knew no one–except me, Pete–and baby Morgan. So Michael hung out–and ate–with us. At that time he was finishing his first book, Palace Coup: The Inside Story of Harry and Leona Helmsley of which I have an autographed copy–made out to the three of us.

Though we lost touch a long time ago, I was aware that he was a well-regarded journalist. He had won the Pulitzer in 2009 for his investigation of an E-coli outbreak. So, I was not at all shocked to see that he had written another book. Instead, I found it remarkable that someone I knew was bringing big attention to a matter so near and dear to my own work. The news about the book now seemed more close than far. Eager to get my hands on an excerpt the day it ran in the New York Times, I grabbed the magazine section from my brother-in-law before he even finished his beloved puzzle page.

In the weeks that have ensued since the book was published, Michael Moss has been very busy on the circuit with very public appearances including the Daily Show. Its been nice to see him again. From my perspective, I am not sure that the book unveils anything entirely new regarding how many processed food items are insidiously designed to ensnare its consumers. Much of this has been revealed by the likes of Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, David Kessler in The End of Overeating, and Greg Critser in Fat Land and discussed by people like–me.

However, from my reading of the excerpt, I think what Michael has done is put faces and names to the industry. He got inside and he obtained admissions from those who were controlling the direction and deception of the products–that what they were doing was bad. The depth of the collusion is always chilling to encounter, no matter how many times one learns of it–and for many, this will be new. He writes, “It’s telling that many of the wealthy food executives I spoke to about their products wouldn’t dream of eating the stuff themselves.” How he managed to obtain hidden documents and how deeply he infiltrated, speaks to his highly tuned investigative acumen.

So, here I am again, giddy that I actually know someone else who is poised to affect the societal metabolism. I am not sure how heavy his final indictment was–but he has certainly added to the conversation. Stuff like this makes me want to scream one really huge Fay Wray scream. Believe me–I have it in me–even if it is just by marriage.

Please continue to join me in the collective noise-making about food justice and reclaiming a path toward real food and societal health. Take a peek at this fun video, Unjunk Yourself from the Turn the Tide Foundation. Watch the film, Hungry for Change. Drop me a line, say hi, and share your thoughts. When you are famous I will be so glad to say I know you too–though I am thrilled to know you anyway, right now.

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

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Have It Your Way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle; Three Good Mark(s)

(Update 2020: Did you know that General Mill’s and Hershey are sleeping together and begat Jolly Rancher Cereal which hit the shelves just in late December 2019? Aaaaaaaah!)

Whole-Wheat Bread

My Plate Plate

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen

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

she weighs how much?

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

pond-3046592_1280

Image by Debi Brady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health, Elyn