Tag Archive | frances moore lappe

the humanist imperative to nourish and care for our children accordingly

Wednesday morning, upon logging in, I was greeted by the juxtaposition of the following subject line messages in my inbox:

Race to Fight Childhood Obesity from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation;

Censored: Michelle Obama‘s Biggest Mistake from Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances with Fat; and,

Lock-In Drill from my daughter’s high school.

Where shall I start? To begin with, on Wednesdays, I am not at the Health Center, and on that particular morning, my private client needed to reschedule. So, though I receive an onslaught of topic-related information constantly, I had on that day more time than usual to slowly digest these matters that are so relevant to what I do.

receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the...

Frances Moore Lappe receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ragen’s offering attracted my attention first. I have referenced her work previously. She is a committed activist and a powerful voice in distinguishing the difference between health and weight issues, preventing fat-shaming, and, shining light on the lies and manipulations of the weight loss industry. I can always count on her to keep me informed of something meaningful. Here, I learned that Michelle Obama was planning to go on the show The Biggest Loser to thank the contestants for being role models. Ragen’s reaction was quite pointed and the story of what happened when she and filmmaker Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful) tried to field a response to the media is quite interesting. However, it was this comment that contributed to the theme of my day.

The worst thing is that all this focus on the weight of individuals is distracting us from the systemic issue of lack of access. Many people do not have access to the healthy foods that they would choose to eat–including foods that are not genetically modified or full of hormones or government-subsidized high fructose corn syrup. Many people do not have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, or to affordable evidence-based health care. But as long as we focus on little Johnny’s BMI, we don’t have to address the real problems here and we can just keep shaming and blaming fat kids and adults and misinforming them and everyone else about the odds of becoming permanently thin.

I strongly share these sentiments and it took only a few clicks on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s website to confirm this dismissal of the larger issues. The articles in their In the News column included, Schools Find Active Kids Make Smarter Students and Virginia Legislation Calls for School PE Guidelines. Both are sad statements about the current state of affairs on such seemingly obvious matters. I applaud the work of the Alliance which I have discussed before in Diet for a Small Caterpillar, but I am often sad to see their amazing talents and resources going toward small, simplistic efforts to repair an intuitive intelligence that was broken by bad policymaking and vested interests disenfranchising the well-being of the citizens of the world.

I also have a visceral reaction to the term the fight against childhood obesity. Obesity is not the only consequence our children are suffering–it is just one of the manifestations of poor nutrition and the ignoring of all the ingredients that contribute to both physical and emotional well-being in early stages of development. If this were only about obesity, my daughter would not have had to, unfortunately, participate in a lock-down drill. Furthermore, fierce language is not what is needed even when details may make us wish to brandish our childhood obesity-fighting swords.

Thankfully, on that Wednesday morning, I was also fortunate to hear a really beautiful interview with Frances Moore Lappe, who has certainly had a strong influence on my own path. I will leave you with her words.

We don’t have a shortage of food, we have a shortage of justice. As we shift to focus on our relationships with each other, and with the earth, as we align our lives and our economy with what is true about our nature and is harmonious with the wellbeing of nature, we find answers to so many of the questions we face today. Hope is not what we find in evidence, it’s what we become in action.

So, I hope the connections make some sense and perhaps my title of this piece suggests such a shift of intention toward the task at hand.

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

My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie

community-based nutritionist seeking michael pollan

A listless child, one of many kwashiorkor case...

Image via Wikipedia

The time has come for me to pay homage to the food and environmental journalist and writer Michael Pollan, whose book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, partially served as the inspiration for my blog’s name. I say partially because I am fully aware that I have been waist-deep in food dilemmas way before his book came to be.

Many years ago, when I was a mere neophyte in this work, way before food and eating was the omnipresent topic that it is today, I was simultaneously working my first nutrition job with a WIC-Women, Infant and Children Program in some small-town communities while also serving at a hip vegetarian cafe in a cool college town–all the while trying desperately to figure out how to feed myself. By day, I talked the language of subsidized foods; by evening I enjoyed brown rice and salads with sunflower seeds, sprouts, and lemon tahini dressing; and, by night, I chowed down more than my share of the wonderful cookies we baked at the cafe.

Though I knew how to address pellagra and beriberi, I could barely identify, let alone address, my own anxious eating. Back then, in the late 1970s, I also had friends who were struggling with serious eating disorders–but the terms anorexia and bulimia were barely widely recognized. And, I still thought that the main problem with nutrition was hunger in remote places on the globe. Starving children in Biafra fueled my imagination and passion for helping when I was a kid and inspired my decision to become a nutritionist. Today, I don’t even know where Biafra is. Are there no longer starving children in the world or have they just gotten lost and forgotten in this modern feeding frenzy?

In 1981, my husband, Peter and I found ourselves seemingly teleported to Dallas, Texas in my Oldsmobile Cutlass with our total life belongings and two cats–for the purpose of a new job. For us, it was a strange new world. Though I still held strong to my Frances Moore Lappe-inspired vegetarian lifestyle and its accouterments of grains and legumes, my heady purist beliefs were no match for that southern heat. One day while staggering around the city looking for an apartment, we stumbled into a Mexican restaurant. Suffering from heatstroke, we feebly ordered some food. I slipped back into consciousness just in time to see Pete about to dig into some dish covered in carne. Honey, I managed to say, we don’t eat meat. Though we did preserve our herbivorous habits in that cattle raising land, we dove headfirst into 7 Eleven’s newly christened, enormous 32-oz. Big Gulp in order to quench our super-sized thirst. It was just the beginning of the marketing of many super-sized offerings, and it was then that I began to realize that the food universe was shifting.

Within just four years of finishing my nutrition studies, I was working in a clinic addressing eating disorders; and only six years later, I found myself in another clinical setting witnessing the cusp of the obesity epidemic. Neither of these issues was ever addressed in my schooling. My nutrition education taught me about the functions of macro and micronutrients; gross deficiency states; approaches to some diseases and food chemistry–but it never really talked about food–where it comes from, how it itself is nourished, or about the importance of quality and vitality. Nor, how to eat it. Thankfully, by then, I had figured out for the most part how to separate my emotions from my eating, so I was a little better equipped to tend to the cares of others–just in time, for the food and eating tornado had really begun to swirl.

I am grateful then for the prolific body of work and its attendant context that Michael Pollan has so poetically brought to us–rounding out the story of understanding food. However, as it clarifies, it adds to the complexity of my work–and so too, to my dilemmas. Trying to translate this information for the folk I speak with on a daily basis is not easy.

Just the other day, I had a chat with my adorable new friend, Tomazeo, a kid in one of the schools where I work. At just eight-years-old, he is really smart and has good penmanship. He told me his teacher says he is a role model. When I told him that nutrition was a big word, and we were going to write it on his folder, he told me that he knows lots of big words, including especially, absolutely and scrumptious. I agreed that those were quite big words. I asked him if he knew what scrumptious meant and he said, “Especially yummy in the tummy”. I said, “Absolutely.” His big brown eyes then asked me, “Are hot dogs healthy?” Oh my, tracing a hamburger from bull to bun, is one thing–a hot dog is yet another. How do I break the news to this innocent child that scrumptious may actually not be so easy to define.

I am guessing that Michael Pollan got stuck in this quandary as well, which led him to publish his elementary primer, “Food Rules-An Eater’s Manual” which he describes as ‘samizdat’ nutrition. I am not familiar with that big word, and I doubt Tomazeo is either, but Pollan uses it to promote a cultural reference point “as an informal and unsanctioned way of negotiating our eating lives.”

If anyone sees or knows Michael, please let him know I am out here and I could use a big chunk of samizdat. To get his attention, tell him that I think he and I have sprung from the same natural island habitat. A vague mention on his website supports but does not confirm, my suspicion that we are from the same exit off of the big native walking path. We may have hunted the same forests, foraged the same fields–and maybe attended the same high school. Emphasize that I am down here in the trenches and need reinforcements to help me with those who are not yet in the choir. Just today, from Stephen Colbert, I learned that those 32-oz. Big Gulps had actually increased to 44-oz. since my last swallow so many years ago. Yikes!

But, mainly thank him for me. He has truly helped to change and widen our understanding of food and nutrition by leading us to understand what we are eating, where it has come from and its many implications for our health and environment. His investigations have accelerated the positive redirection of policies and practices that we are beginning to finally see come to fruition. And, I bet his writings are now included in most nutrition curricula.

And, just one more thing if I may. While only a few know this about me–and have now probably forgotten–I was a (junior) high school cheerleader–yes. Though I have certainly lost the school spirit thing, this may be a reason to revive my hometown pride along with some perky and breath-draining chants. So when you do speak to him on my behalf, can you add in a little — Goooo Michael!!!!– to help cheer him on? Thanks so much.

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

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Don’t eat anything

Your great grandmother wouldn’t

Recognize as food.

by Michael (Pollan)