Tag Archive | diet related health problems

Sid Caesar Salad

It happened again–my finding a nutrition-related story (or it finding me) where I least expected it. This time it was not “not a laughing matter”–but actually rather amusing.

Always appreciative of those who have made the world a funnier place, the recent passing of comedian Sid Caesar led Pete to look for some footage of this icon of American humor. I sat nearby as he clicked here and there on his computer. He immediately started laughing, listening to the “double talk” for which Caesar was particularly famous.

Image result for sid caesar health food restaurant

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca Health Food Restaurant

Soon I was giggling with him. A few minutes later, he told me to come to look at what he just found. I leaned over as he played a sketch for me from Caesar’s long-running TV show, Your Show of Shows, called Health Food Restaurant. This piece dates to the early 1950s. Caesar and Imogene Coca play a married couple out to dinner at a fancy New York City restaurant. Yet instead of the steak, sausage, snails and hot tamales that Caesar craves, here at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen where Coca has taken him, there is only Pala Paka plant blossoms; the Vitamin B1 B2 B3 C D and H Dinner for Two; homogenized bone meal and wheat germ with a side of cructose; and spaghutti, made from a cabbage extract and a cauliflower derivative. Caesar of course mocks, whines, pleads and gags his way through the menu as described by the waiter, played by Carl Reiner–who you may recall, I once met. But, impressed by the youthfulness and vitality of the other diners, and in an earnest attempt to appease his wife, he forgoes his personal desires and literally digs into the dinner salad served with a set of gardening tools for silverware.

Although “health food” and “plant-based” proponents and movements have probably been around since our Paleo beginnings, there was just something very surprising about seeing this sketch which was made during a period after which we seemed to have left vegetables behind on rural farms and before the Back to Nature movements of the 1970s. It was a time maybe of boiled potatoes and blanched green beans at best which also coincided with the peak years for deaths from heart disease. As this interesting history details, it was also a  time marked by an increase in the use of hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils and the advent of pasteurized milk.

I am not sure we can pinpoint the nadir of the American diet. Though the 1950s can be critiqued for its focus on meat and dairy along with the increased use of processed foods, plasticized fats, and high smoking rates, things seem to have gotten a whole lot worse since then. I don’t think we have hit bottom but there are some signs we are beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages.

Perhaps I am just being a little naive. Just as we don’t believe that people in the “old days” ever had sex, maybe I can’t imagine the nature of health food consciousness before my own time and the dietary context in which it existed. Though the use of refined sugar is presented as a modern-day scourge, its grip took hold long ago. A brief look into biographical information about health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne who was born in 1914–ages ago–interestingly states that he described himself as a sugarholic and junk food addict as a young boy with associated behavioral problems. His early education about natural foods changed the course of his life. Of course, attention to the attainment of physical, emotional and spiritual health has coursed through human history, the admonishment of gluttony is a big theme in the Bible, and there have always been grandmas telling us to eat our vegetables.

Nonetheless, Health Food Restaurant seems quite anachronistic for its day–at least six years before Jack LaLanne’s pioneering fitness show began airing nationally in 1959. Although it was just a spoof, it seemed rather prescient addressing current anti-aging and food toxicity issues. One of the dishes is mentioned to be good for the ankles. The edema of the lower extremities is a common symptom of poor heart, kidney or liver function. Interestingly, Sid Caesar who seriously battled alcohol addiction and depression eventually became a devoted natural food and fitness adherent to which he credited his healing–and maybe his longevity, being 91 at the time of his passing.

The sketch touched on a few things that I think about. It reveals the intensity of our food attachments and belief systems and even their influence on relationships. Though we usually reference money, sex and religion as divisive issues, food, and eating habits probably belong somewhere on that list.

Additionally, it looks at the center of a society’s dietary culture at any given time and how far out is its fringe. How and why did the standard American diet evolve and deteriorate in such a relatively short period of time compared to other cultures? What was sacred and what was sacrilege as we shifted from rabbit stew and acorns to beef and potatoes, to chicken nuggets and french fries? Nature, economics, politics, biology, capitalism, and science all drove this complicated national trajectory. For all that was good and bad, it seems that we did not slow down and smell the Pala Paka blossoms and those that did were either ignored or derided. It is interesting now to see how the tide is turning as we confront current health and environmental crises. It is those who were on the fringe who may be forging our new direction.

Mockery is an innate behavior with evolutionary purposes that makes us defensively joke before we proceed. Some from the tribe must be brave enough to venture out while the others sit back and have a good laugh at their expense. Thank God laughter seems to be good for our health. I am particularly grateful to those who bless us with their humor because as I look down as I stomp around in the primordial swamp of our food culture, I see far too many swollen ankles–enough to break my heart. RIP Mr. Caesar.

Well, as they say at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen, “Good Health To You and Good Health To Everybody”.

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 2020: RIP Carl Reiner who recently passed away at age 98–vital until the very end.)


Susan’s My Plate Drink

My Plate Haiku

Do you carrot all for me?

My heart beets for you, with your turnip nose and your radish face,

You are a peach. If we cantaloupe, lettuce marry.

Weed make a swell pear. Author unknown

(This post is dedicated to my friend Susan who is heading out to join the Peace Corps. May her plate be filled with tasty Armenian cuisine and her heart  with good things.)

morose meals and human bites

Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with...

Eleanor Roosevelt Image via Wikipedia

I am pretty certain that McDonald’s is purposely trying to get my goat. They know I have not cared for them for a really long time. It goes way back. Firstly, I never liked that red and yellow color combination. I find it jarring and it reminds me of a bad mix of mustard and ketchup. Then, there was the whole clown thing. As a child, Bozo viscerally upset me. When McDonald’s fashioned Ronald after Bozo it was like a recurring nightmare. I was confronted repeatedly by the image I thought I had successfully avoided by outgrowing children’s programming. I am sensitive that way. On top of this, I think their restaurants smell bad.

I recall in high school coming home after eating at McDonald’s, climbing into my mom’s bed not feeling great, and deciding to become a vegetarian. I can’t swear the two events occurred simultaneously, but I carry a strong association between them.

Then of course, as a whole foods advocate, nutritionist, and mother, there was no way I could find love in my heart for this child-seducing fast-food corporate giant. I did my best to be the David to this Goliath, but the Happy Meal made me lay down my slingshot. By that point, not only were kids enchanted, but the parents were as well, and I felt defeated.

Still, I was shocked recently when driving down a local highway. I came upon a McDonald’s billboard displaying a gargantuan coffee drink, with a Marge Simpson hairdo-sized topping of whip cream styled with a Mark of Zorro chocolate signature. The huge letters said, ” Chocolate Drizzle is a Right, Not a Topping”.

Since they know I don’t watch much television and therefore might miss their commercials–what better way to get in my face than with a billboard. So what if I tell my clients that  McDonald’s will not pay for their medical bills and medications should they develop nutrition-related health problems. Or, that I do use their bathrooms on occasion. This still seems like an overblown, petty and morally bereft response to our personal tiff.

Is this subliminal or just plain out seductive and manipulative advertising? Or is it downright obnoxious? I get that this is just advertising and that companies rely on it to promote their products. I do watch Mad Men–on Netflix. But to be raising chocolate drizzle to the status of a right in a world where many are denied their true ones is indecent. This assumption about simple entitlements overshadows and ignores the sanctity of our real human rights which according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to matters such as life, liberty, security of person, freedom from servitude, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. They extend to include a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and their family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care, and necessary social services. Drizzle does not make the list.

Am I being too sensitive again? Should I lighten up? From where I sit, there are more important rights to assure than drizzle. Here are some examples of things I see that may make me a tad jaded. One day last week I had five clients. Cumulatively they weighed 1,576 pounds. Individually they weighed 382, 366, 284, 292 and 252 pounds. The 252 pounds belonged to an 11-year-old boy with early signs of diabetes and other distressing diet-related health problems.

One morning this week I saw three clients right in a row. They ranged in age from 35 to 48 and were on 17 prescriptions between them–mainly for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, reflux, and pain–lots of pain. I am tempted to list them. They make for an interesting mix of consonants and vowels. Later, I saw a woman who described a recent McDonald’s meal to me which consisted of 1800 calories.

On a daily basis, I speak with people without kitchen tables, homes, jobs, beds, medical insurance, sufficient medical care–and adequate food. I see kids who can’t go out and play in their neighborhoods and who might not graduate high school.

So, don’t go there with me McDonald’s, asserting that chocolate drizzle is a right. You know that drizzle is not a right but a chemical mixture of corn syrup, dextrose, water, sugar, glycerin, hydrogenated coconut oil, cocoa, food starch-modified, nonfat milk, natural and artificial flavors, salt, gellan gum, disodium phosphate, potassium sorbate, soy lecithin, and artificial flavors. And that it sits atop beverages that contain up to 390 calories and 59 grams or 15 teaspoons of sugar. More importantly, you know that the billions you have to spend on advertising can cover up that bad smell especially when money is tight and food comforts.

When the inequities have been evened out, when health care is guaranteed for all, when the growing of healthy food is more supported by our government and made available and affordable, when rights are not confused with privileges and when corporations are held responsible for their actions–then McDonald’s and I can end our feud and sit and have a conversation. Maybe we can meet at my office.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who worked tirelessly to establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wrote, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small that they cannot be soon on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood they live in; the school or college they attend; the factory, farm, or office where they work. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Let’s not belittle this beautiful description of what really matters.

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


My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?  by Julie