Tag Archive | bryant terry

reporting from the rim of the sinkhole

At about 4 PM, a few months ago, 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

Documentary by Byron Hurt

Ah, now I got it. I ran upstairs to the TV room and grappled with the remote. Mastering 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. It seems PBS offers a few different channels these days, and I don’t get the one on which the program was aired. Instead, what I did find on 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 ingesting drinking 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 which 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 millenia 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 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 relative 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–clean food, governmental responsibility, education and cultural adaptation.

And so, that is why the work of Bryant Terry and the film of Byron Hurt is so important–and why folk should watch Soul Food Junkies and align it with their own food foundation. And, why you should quickly sign on to the Food Summit Revolution 2013--a series of incredible interviews on these urgent food and health matters that will be aired between April 27th and May 5th.  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

My Plate Haiku

Food made joyfully

As a gift of time and self

Feeds body and soul.

by Anne-Marie

My Plate Photo by Nirinjan

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michelle, my first lady

Dear Michelle,

I have been worried about your husband Barack’s eating habits. From following him on the campaign trail during these very arduous times, it seems that news items abound about him chowing down on ribs,  chili dogs, pizza and pastries. Yes,  I know  that  he needs to go meet and greet his constituents and that he is eager to support small business owners around the country. This does mean that he must go and find where the people gather–and that is often in settings that involve the communal act of the serving and eating of food. I deeply appreciate that he is of the people and can get down and chow down with the common folk. I also I know he is a very generous guy and stories have reported that he is sometimes buying goodies to bring back to his hard-cranking campaign workers or public servants in the numerous locations where he has touched down.

pumpkins grown by farmers, carved by zena and tomas

I do not mean to undermine his profound need for nourishment to keep him going, but it seems that a lot of yellow and red light foods are speeding their way down his own gullet–with obvious gusto–and with no traffic infractions being incurred.  Just for those of my readers who don’t live in the world of childhood nutrition education, the traffic light metaphor refers to a system of identifying foods as either green, yellow or red light signifying always, sometimes or rarely ever to be eaten.

I am reminded that when Barack’s friend and mentor, former President Bill Clinton was in office, his legendary appetites were the subject of much attention and downright mockery.  I believe he lusted for Philly Cheese Steaks. So, why are your husband’s eating habits not garnering the same scrutiny?  Unfortunately, unlike pudgy Bill, it is because he is thin–actually, it is worse than that.  He is skinny. I say unfortunately, because being skinny can sneak up and bite ya.  I imagine it must have been a bit disconcerting for you when that burly pizza parlor owner, came right over and just picked poor Barack right up off the ground with that big bear hug.

With all the attention on obesity, we forget that the non-obese can suffer health consequences as well and are equally vulnerable to the effects of poor diet, smoking and stress–which I know are issues your husband contends with. These can be more detrimental than just extra pounds alone. I think I heard that he has quit smoking–so that is good.

I will assume that when at home, our dear President consumes lots of White House grown organic vegetables, and grass-fed, hormone-free animal products prepared by some of the best chefs in the land. And, that he plays basketball and does other activities to stay fit. Hopefully, he also has a team of massage therapists and other holistically-oriented practitioners to assist with his well-being. Maybe he just eats these red light foods when he is on the road–like kids who go crazy for sweets at other people’s homes when such foods are forbidden in their own.

Believe you me, I do know that it is  impossible to control our husbands’ behaviors. Here I am a nutritionist, and my own hubby has quite the pedestrian sweet tooth. No amount of my homemade kale chips can keep him from occasionally going out and finding a bag of Cheeze Doodles and the perfect dish of ice cream. I bet Hilary knows what I mean. Still, I am wondering, if given your highly touted platform and efforts regarding the urgency of improving nutritional status and decreasing the burden of illness on our nation, whether Barack could and should be modeling more healthful eating behaviors.

I was troubled by a story I heard on the radio just last week. NPR reported on what Obama and Romney were doing to sustain their non-stop high-energy requirements on the final leg of the campaign. This was right before Hurricane Sandy changed the agenda. They  interviewed some campaign assistant who started out by saying that when Barack got off the plane that morning, he headed right over to get some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. You probably don’t know that I have a little, shall we say, vendetta against Krispy Kreme, so you may want to read my posts, Kicking Butt with Krispy Kreme and Magic Doughnuts–The Nutritionist’s Nemesis. So, upon hearing that, I was all ears.

It got worse. I was shocked to then hear Barack himself saying something to the effect that all that nutrition stuff is your thing, but he doesn’t care. It is an election year and the White House will be giving out lots of candy for Halloween. My, I don’t know how you felt about that, but I was disappointed to hear such an off the cuff remark that indicated to me a disregard of the real importance of proper nutrition in improving the health of our citizenry. To really turn the tide on the dire consequences attributable to the standard American diet  (SAD) will take more than lip service. It will take courage to exhibit true leadership in this matter–and leading by example. Sugary sweets are not a substitute for the relief this electorate truly seeks; and perpetuating good-natured excuses and exceptions for our food behaviors will not reduce our massive health costs and its drain on our economy. That quick sugary fix will ultimately lead to a massive crash in mood and energy.

Never you mind. Your husband still has my vote. Yet, I am writing this with trepidation as the election is still a few days away. I do wish for him to have four more years–healthy years– in office. I hope it will not take a quadruple bypass surgery for him to appreciate and attend to the benefits of a healthful and vegan diet as it did his friend Bill. It would have been nice if while stumping in North Carolina he had stopped in at that wonderful restaurant, The Laughing Seed Cafe that I mentioned in Forks on the Road.

Though Barack might not need them, the future of health care, Medicare and Social Security are seriously on the line right now–and we need him to make sure that those programs are there for those of us who will. Perhaps too, with a second term, he can work to integrate some more holistic preventive health measures into Health Care reform.  Please, keep up your good work and see if you can get Barack to eat his beets. I read that he does not like them. Do let him know that betalain-rich beets are blessed with many healthy benefits. Great for the cardiovascular system and the lowering of high blood pressure. And, that makes those beautiful red gems a nice little aphrodisiac food too–wink wink.

Respectfully,

In health, Elyn

PS.  As you ready to advance your agenda for the upcoming term I hope you consider the work of chef, food justice activist and author Bryant Terry whose inspiring work is focused on opening the doors to a future where everyone in this country has access to tasty and healthful food.  http://www.bryant-terry.com/

Trick or treat?  Thoughts or comments?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/01/obama-doctor-president-st_n_480450.html

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121010160411-203080237-x-ray-vision-carrots-changing-how-our-children-eat

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/11/pizza-shop-owner-scott-van-duzer-on-bear-hugging-president-obama.html

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/president_barack_obama_diet_7PxbdwfaMCyEKla9ZEc8HO?photo_num=14

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie