Archives

What to Eat in Still Troubled Times

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

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

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

kim-daniels-yItVmeh1XA8-unsplash

Beans, collard greens,

Tzimmes, hummus, dahl,

Fatteh, dolma, kibbeh,

Chicken soup with tortilla or matzoh ball.

Figs, plantains, chiles, dates,

Guacamole, and holy mole, spooned upon the plates.

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

All strengthening for the heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questlove and Haile Thomas Bring Nutrition Activism to All Communities

Haile Thomas: The Happy Organization/Keynote Speaker–FoodTank

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

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

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

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

In health, Elyn

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

Living Lively

Haile’s My Plate

My Plate Reflection-The American Stew of Privilege 

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

by Toni (Morrison)

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

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.)

shutterstock_275107754

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

 

be kind to animals

It is Vegan Week in my anachronistic village. Almost a year ago, when I first began to dispense my little stories about food and eating, I was about to join with a few neighbors in adhering to a foodscape that did not include any animal products for one week. To celebrate this intention, we were to share dinners–with a different person hosting each evening.

This idea had sprung from the fruitful minds of two of my neighbors–extraordinary women though just ordinary carnivores. One beautiful, sunny summer day, Carrie and Sharon had taken a day trip to the Culinary Institute of America, where it just so happened that in the bookstore, or perhaps more aptly, cookstore, of all things mind you, it was a vegan cookbook that caught their eye and nipped them in the tongue. The drive home stirred up their giddy excitement of deciding to live in the colorful, ingredient-rich world of the herbivore–for a week. They laid out the table and one night invited me–the vegetarian next door–over for a beautiful and delicious repast.

We all live within the confines of some dietary codex whether we are conscious of it or not and we get quite cozy there. My own vegetarian diet has certainly lost some of its philosophical punch throughout the decades that I have been living it and my food choices can be mundane. So, even though I have many days where my eating may be vegan, when the opportunity arose to be part of the spontaneously conceived next seasonal Vegan Week, I chose to participate.

Our little neighborhood group now has a few Vegan Weeks under our belts. We stroll leisurely over to each other’s homes, sit and relax, eat amazing food, discover nuances and ingredients that a truly vegan dietary requires, hear how badly someone is dreaming of a big, juicy burger and home we go–with no dishes to do. We once shared a vegan picnic at our local performing arts venue.

I realize that for the meat-eaters in the group, going vegan is a big and abrupt change–and they have all been really good egg-replacement-products about it. They have to plan all their meals differently, buy some special ingredients and do without that big chunk of flesh on their plate. By week’s end, they begin to feel the effects of the dietary change usually in a positive way. They seem to appreciate the change though admit that it is not easy.

However, even for me, for whom the omission and inclusion of these foods are not as extreme, the very act of dietary consciousness applied to each bite is profound. Ordinarily, one does not experience this, unless related to a religious ritual like Lent, Ramadan, keeping Kosher or fasting. Or, when going on a diet.  Personally, this week brings up a lot for me to think about.

To begin with, it heightens my vegetarian consciousness. It makes me think about my relationship with the animal world as it relates to the procurement or processing of eggs, dairy, and even honey. How many big resources of the animal kingdom does it take to bring me the little gifts my vegetarian choices allow?

It then makes me wonder about choosing to eat for health, kindness, philosophy or sustainability; and the difference between feeding my mind, my taste buds or my body.  Is there compatibility or dissonance between these concepts? Though I am a very happy plant-eater, I must see if my body feels it needs some of the energy provided by animal food; and, I have to decide if I am comfortable with some of the substitution processed foods sometimes used in a vegan diet.

Lastly, it makes me very mindful of the fact, that every day as a nutritionist, I am asking each and every client who sits before me, to make a commitment to some form of conscious dietary change–and usually, not just for a week, but possibly for the rest of their lives. As Vegan Week was approaching I was doing a lot of doubting. I’d had a lot going on lately and was not sure that I had it in me to pull up the resources I would need to get it together for hosting, extra cooking, special shopping–let alone the sacrifice and consciousness required. This made me appreciate that this is the same resistance that even just the thought of scheduling an appointment with a nutritionist raises.

Interestingly, last November, just after my first Vegan Week, Carrie and I went to see the film, May I Be Frank, about a guy from Brooklyn, whose life is changed when he accidentally steps into a raw food, vegan cafe called Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco. I wrote about this in Meditation v. Medication. A few months later, Carrie was in San Francisco. She ate at the restaurant, texted me a photo of her gorgeous meal and came home with a copy of the cafe’s beautiful cookbook, I Am Grateful.

As my resolve to do the week was weak, I curled up with my now own copy of the cookbook for some culinary inspiration–much like I had done with Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and shared in So, What’s the Dilemma? The story of this film, the restaurant, the cookbook and the people behind it, Terces and Matthew Englehart is quite remarkable and I invite you to get a glimpse or a taste of what they present as a possibility for both eating and living. As the restaurant’s name suggests, gratitude is the foundation of their purpose. Each recipe is named with some affirming attribute like I am Ravishing, I am Whole, and I am Courageous.

Thus informed, I planned my menu which included the cafe’s I Am Giving Marinated Kale Salad and was on my way. I am glad to have the question of what am I grateful for placed before me right now. At this moment, I am grateful for all who share their stories with me and who are open to some dietary consciousness change; of incredible food and the creative people who know what to make with it; and, for my charming neighbors for choosing a culinary theme that includes and nourishes me on many levels.

Is there any particular diet or food change you would like to consider being conscious of making now? Would you like to know what we ate this week? What are you grateful for?

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 Resource: LIVEKINDLY

Related Post: Vegan Envy

IMG_1672

My Plate Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food made joyfully

As a gift of time and self

Feeds body and soul

– Anne Marie