where has all the produce gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 

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


Mock Turtle’s  My Plate Plate

My Plate Poem

Beautiful soup so rich and green

Waiting in a hot tureen

Who for such dainties would not stoop

Soup of the evening beautiful soup. by The Mock Turtle


by george, i think he’s got it!

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

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

baked bread on plate near mug with coffee

Photo by Sarah Boudreau on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health, Elyn