Friday, April 30, 2010

Free Ice Cream!

On Wednesday night my friend and I had just completed a grocery tour for clients going through a month-long detox and we drove by a Baskin-Robbins with a line out the door and down the block. What was going on? I later learned that it was 31 cent scoop night and understood the power of such marketing schemes. I'd had my fair share of scoops on Ben & Jerry's free cone days, sometimes waiting on line for up to half an hour. The allure of free ice cream is something that has long fascinated me. Years ago when I was in Israel there was a blood drive called "Pints for Pints" where you received a free pint of ice cream for donating a pint of blood. Dangling the carrot in front of the donkey has morphed into dangling the free snack item in front of the donor, walker, runner and it reminded me of the freebies I used to get at races, something overlooked by Clyde Haberman in his otherwise amusing New York Times column this week, "Walk, Run or Maybe Nap for a Cure."

September will mark ten years since I first "raced for a cure" in the eponymous Susan G. Komen Foundation event. At the time my mother was in remission from breast cancer and since we'd been walking partners for a while we signed up for the 5k in Central Park together. When we picked up our materials she was given a special pink survivors shirt and baseball cap and was asked how many years she was in remission so they could adorn the brim of her hat with the appropriate number of stickers. Since it was just under six months, they cut the pink ribbon sticker in half and pressed it onto the hat. That day there were 27,000 participants and it was powerful and moving to see so many bodies and to read the notes pinned to people's backs with names and faces of loved ones whose lives they were celebrating or commemorating. It was also the slowest "race" we could ever imagine. In that sea of chatty women sipping their morning coffee, pushing strollers, catching up with old friends, my mother, a lifelong New Yorker bred to walk with purpose, who strolls at around 3 mph and powerwalks closer to 5, began to weave through the crowd in effort to find a better stride, her longs legs extending forward, her elbows pumping high to gain speed and to knock anyone else out of the way. Next year, we decided, we would start with the runners. But the following year the race was on the morning before Yom Kippur and so my mother opted out and I went on my own. Again it was crowded, so I moved to the front behind the runners where I figured that walking fast would be better accomplished but when the race started I found myself jogging, and then running all the way to the finish. I haven't stopped since.

By now I've run just about every distance from 1.7 to 26.2M for many causes and cures: for child abuse and domestic violence, for leukemia and lymphoma, breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers, heart disease and hepatitis. In some cases I've raised thousands of dollars, other times I simply paid the registration fee and was looking to challenge myself and maybe set a PR. I've run alone, with friends, with my ipod, with my sister and could go on and on about my tumultuous ten year love affair with the sport, the challenges of hydration and nutrition and injuries and life. But while sports nutrition is something I hope to hit upon later, more curious to me is the gluttonous post-race binge. If you've ever done a race, hopefully you've made it to the finish line. And after having your chip removed you may have taken a photo, received a medal and grabbed a cup of water. And then depending on the scale of the event, you were likely treated to a host of goodies. I've gone to post-race parties with everything from bagels and bananas to Krispy Kreme donuts to Trophy cupcakes to Jamba Juice to Sabra hummus. But all that was nothing compared to the New York City AIDS Walk.

Perhaps because New York City is the epicenter of the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic, or the way the event was popularized by a Seinfeld episode, the AIDS Walk stands in a field of its own. Several years ago my sister and I signed up for it, assuming it would be like all other races. Though it was promoted as a walk, we would edge our way to the front to clear a running route for ourselves. But when we got to Central Park to find some 40,000 or more people there, we had to change our plans. We were unsure why we were given shopping bags and why everyone was moving so slowly. It started out just fine. Marching bands played along the way. Groups of high school volunteers giving out orange wedges and Capri-Sun drinks, many of which had already been discarded and were paving the road. We turned these down, but as other walkers stepped on the packets with their straws in place our ankles got juiced. Slowly the items grew more enticing. Boxes of cereal, pretzels, chips, cookies, Turkey Hill ice cream, followed a mile later by Ben and Jerry's, followed a mile later by Haagen Daaz and then Starbucks ice cream bars at the finish. After nearly two hours on this very slow and crowded course, my sister and I were incredulous. Other walkers had two or more full shopping bags of goodies by the time they finished, and after what felt like full-scale trick-or-treating session, it was entirely possible to actually gain weight on this six mile walk. And while it was wonderful to see that so many companies were supporting AIDS work, we wondered if all this food might have been better donated to those in needs, to food banks to shelters or institutions. Or had anyone suggested to the homeless population that they make their way to Riverside Drive with a shopping bag or two to collect some free food? I haven't participated in an AIDS Walk since but my suspicion is that the economic turn has led to fewer freebies and I don't think that's such a bad thing. Did we really need five different kinds of free ice cream? And what was the secret to keeping them all from melting?

All joking aside, I don't think anyone is signing up for races in order to get the free food at the end. My sister will joke that she does it for the t-shirts, another friend likes the medals, but each of us has some deeper reason. Whether to connect to a cause in a meaningful way, to join a friend in their cause or to set a new personal goal, I intend to race for a cure this season and maybe you will too. And if you're interested in free ice cream, that's also fine. Just sign up here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lunchtime Lessons

Tiki Barber, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jamie Lee Curtis and now Queen Rania of Jordan: it seems that anyone who is anyone is writing a children's book with a moral message. Queen Rania's new book, The Sandwich Swap is the tale of two girls who bring very different lunches to school - one brings hummus on pita and the other peanut butter and jelly. Each thinks the other girl's lunch is disgusting, but in the end they overcome these judgments, swap sandwiches and learn important life lessons.

Queen Rania has been getting a lot of press for the book, appearing recently on Oprah and Good Morning America. She explains that the book stems from a similar childhood experience that taught her the importance of embracing diversity. It reminded me of my own childhood experiences in the lunchroom, where the take-home message was often very different.

My K-8 elementary school offered a hot school lunch program, but by middle school most kids were bringing their lunches from home instead. Hot lunches provided a certain democracy. Everyone had the same options and there was little room for judgment. Brown bag lunches, on the other hand, could determine your social status. I still remember trading my lunch of reheated frozen Lender's bagel with cream cheese with the girl whose mom had meticulously packed her tuna, flatbreads and a red delicious apple. Another girl used to bring a cheese sandwich and her lunch bag usually included a personal note that her mom. And I will never forget my friend Jen's sardine sandwich. I couldn't say whether she brought it once or a few times, but it attracted so much attention that she never brought it again. In theory, sardines, rich in calcium, iron and omega-3s, are an ideal lunch for kids. But while they pack a strong nutritional punch, they are also blessed with a pungent aroma that left my friend exiled to the end of the table. In our lunchroom conformity was the order of the day and your sandwich could determine your social acceptance with little room for diversity.

Queen Rania anchors the new book in what she sees as a greater need for acceptance and understanding in a post-9/11 world. But in an age when most schools are nut-free I wonder if The Sandwich Swap isn't a bit anachronistic. How many children with food allergies are warned by their cautious moms not to taste their friends' lunch, lest it contain milk, eggs, wheat, soy or another food allergen that may result in anaphylaxis and a trip to the emergency room? And the message of such extreme vigilance, rather than teach us about the joys of diversity and difference, would seem to have the opposite impact, heightening our perpetual post-9/11 paranoia.

To her credit, I think the Queen is picking up on an important point by using food as a cultural representation. Because while food allergies may be rampant, most kids today eat sushi and phad Thai and guacamole and have more international palates than ever before. And maybe we can use that as a first step toward world peace. In the meantime, I hope my friend Jen considers sending her daughters to school with some sardines. It will help them build strong bones and strong character.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mind the Gap

For the sake of full disclosure, I should let you know that this weekend I am attending a workshop on Mind-Body Medicine, which has framed my voice and intention today. If that creates a negative visceral response for you (like you can now taste undigested items from earlier meals in your mouth), then this may not be the post for you and you should feel free to come back when I once again tackle some of the crazy food trends that are so popular lately.

Over the past week some of you have asked whether I intend to write about nutrition. If by that you mean, will I spell out daily menus, diet tips, healthy recipes and superfoods? Then no. Thankfully I have plenty of teachers, colleagues and friends, wiser than me, who have undertaken similar types of projects and I can recommend them to you. I will, however, share my thoughts and ideas about nutrition. They're based on what I've heard, read, studied and experienced though I can't claim to have any more wisdom than my 30 years has provided. I don't promise to practice what I preach and in a few years I may rescind every word. But that has been my point in starting this blog: to take aim at our food and wellness beliefs and examine the extremes to which we've taken them. My focus isn't on calories but on quality of life through awareness, mindfulness and acceptance. When we see a gap between where we are and where we think we should be, rather than beat ourselves up we can practice compassion. Then move, act, create opportunity and change. And stop taking ourselves so darn seriously.

At the center of this approach is the concept of mindfulness, something I've been playing with recently. My first introduction to mindfulness just over two years ago was a bit of a disaster, and ended with me in tears and a room full of strangers offering me hugs. It was awful and frustrating. I could barely sit still, let alone watch my thoughts - thoughts like, "I could be on my way home right now or out tackling my to-do list, making better use of this time." But eventually I found mindfulness techniques to be calming and healing, and I'd like to think that in an era when Facebook asks us at every moment, "What's on your mind?" we have more opportunities to notice our thoughts than ever before.

What does mindfulness have to do with food and nutrition? Just this: what matters more than what we eat is how we eat. Are we paying attention to eating cues? Do we chew enough to really taste our food? How quickly do we eat? Where do we eat? At the television or computer (as I am now)? Are we eating out of hunger, celebration or to fill emotional void? The problem with most diets is that you spend way too much time thinking about food when you're not eating. Mindfulness insists that you consider the food while you eat it.

I was thinking about this yesterday after reading Gluten-Free Girl's very raw, deeply personal post. She's a local Seattle-based gluten-free food blogger with a tremendous and loyal following who just published her second book. I've used her site to search for recipes and enjoyed reading her profess joyful eating even while on a restricted diet. Then I came across this week's post, in which she reveals her struggle with weight, something she'd been hiding from her readers. She confesses to using food to suppress the pain of recent years: her baby daughter's illness, her mother's battle with breast cancer and her own decision to take Tamoxifen prophylactically, ending any chance of having more children. She is a food writer married to a chef. Food is her career and her livelihood and now it is her biggest challenge.

Earlier this week I was at the gym, flipping through this month's Journal of the American Dietetic Association (my elliptical machine reading), which features original research entitled, "Dietary, Weight, and Psychological Changes among Patients with Obesity, 8 Years after Gastric Bypass." What is striking about the follow up study is that while more than half of the patients were successful in maintaining significant weight loss eight years after surgery, their eating behaviors and psychological states remained largely unchanged. Despite losing more than 50% of their body weight, patients showed no significant improvement in depression and anxiety levels and more than half the patients reported binge eating or night eating within the past month. The authors concluded, "Although the operation itself leads to drastic changes in the volume of food consumed, it does not resolve difficulties faced by the patients..."

Changing the size of your stomach does not rewire the brain to perceive food or body image differently. That takes work and it will look different for every person. One approach might be mindfulness. Countless books are devoted to this approach. Gluten-free Girl has embraced this idea and outlines her plan, "I'm still going to be eating great food. I'm just going to try to do this more mindfully."

The first part of this weekend's Mind-Body class focused on mindfulness, which is why I chose to address it now. But what was emphasized most was to enter meditation and contemplative studies with a smile on our hearts. Cultivating an ability to accept and smile and laugh at what we find is what makes this an effective practice for creating a healthy relationship with food. Eat mindfully. Even if you're eating Cheetos.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Feast for Your Eyes

Over the years I've attended and been involved with many film festivals and for me there's always been a strong connection to food. As a festival volunteer this once meant making sure that directors and producers had enough to eat in the green room. Another time I had to locate pâté in New York City for a French film crew. Last year I attended SIFF with my friend Julie for a screening of "Food, Inc." which we followed up with a delicious meal and discussion of the health and nutrition issues addressed.

This coming weekend the Student Nutrition Association at Bastyr University is proud to present the 2010 Film Feastival, featuring "Fresh" on Friday night and "Food Fight" on Saturday night. If you're in the Greater Seattle area please consider attending - both films have generated great hype and if I were not already committed to a weekend seminar on mind-body medicine I'd be there too. If you make there I'd be curious to hear your feedback.

On that note, it feels appropriate to leave you with one of my favorite locovarious movie scenes:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Love, the Earth

Happy Earth Day!

In celebration and appreciation of all the earth has to offer us, I am offering The Doctrine of Signatures, which is an herbalist philosophy shared by homeopaths and naturopaths that believes "like treats like." This morning we discussed this in class and I thought I'd share it, for those who have never heard it before.

The idea is that whole foods resembles a body organ or physiological function and that this pattern acts as a signal or sign as to the benefit the food provides the eater. I searched through some old emails and found this short list of examples of Whole Food Signatures, which I've copied below:

A sliced Carrot looks like the human eye. The pupil, iris and radiating lines look just like the human eye...and science shows that carrots greatly enhance blood flow to and function of the eyes.

A Tomato has four chambers and is red. The heart is red and has four chambers. All of the research shows tomatoes are indeed pure heart and blood food.

Grapes hang in a cluster that has the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell and all of the research today shows that grapes are also profound heart and blood vitalizing food.

A Walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles or folds are on the nut just like the neo-cortex. We now know that walnuts help develop over 3 dozen neurotransmitters for brain function.

Kidney Beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function and yes, they look exactly like the human kidneys.

Celery, Bok Choy, Rhubarb and more look just like bones. These foods specifically target bone strength. Bones are 23% sodium and these foods are 23% sodium. If you don't have enough sodium in your diet the body pulls it from the bones, making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body.

Eggplant, Avocadoes and Pears target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female - they look just like these organs. Today's research shows that when a woman eats 1 avocado a week, it balances hormones, sheds unwanted birth weight and prevents cervical cancers. And how profound is this? ... It takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. There are over 14,000 photolytic chemical constituents of nutrition in each one of these foods (modern science has only studied and named about 141 of them).

Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the motility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcom e male sterility.

Sweet Potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics.

Olives assist the health and function of the ovaries.

Grapefruits, Oranges, and other citrus fruits look just like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.

Onions look like body cells. Today's research shows that onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells They even produce tears which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes.

All I know is that my signature will never look as cool.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Prince and the Pauper

I first tried Little Lad's while working in Lower Manhattan a few years back. A vegan colleague of mine who knew I had vegetarian-like tendencies recommended it as a lunch spot and kept trying to drag me with her. Wary of this card-carrying PETA member's intentions, I repeated declined. But she had managed to pique my curiosity. The place was run by a Seventh Day Adventist family from Maine and I had fond feelings for such establishments since my summer studying in Prague, where I became a regular at a Seventh Day Adventist-run vegetarian eatery called Country Life where I would anticipate walking through the door to the cheerful daily greeting, "dobry den!" Recalling the delicious buffet where I'd first discovered a love for carob and buckwheat (not together), one day I snuck out during lunch to try the famous $4 buffet at Little Lad's.

Tucked beneath street level in one of the office buildings on Broadway, Little Lad's is like an old dingy lounge with an outdated 1970's feel. It offers an array of soups, salads and veggie-rich entrees which you can pile on your plate cafeteria style. Before leaving you must wait in line to pay for the all-you-can-eat goodness. Captive as you wait on line, they subject you to graphic videos detailing the cruel treatment of animals and advocating why eating an animal-free diet is the only humane thing to do. The images were jarring and I remember trying to look away, instead fingering through the goodies on sale near the checkout - most notably Little Lad's popcorn, the pride of their business in Maine. I escaped relatively unscathed and returned there for lunch a few more times, even bringing some friends who I knew would appreciate the experience. Each time I went I was amazed to see how crowded this secret subterranean site was with Wall Street types. So when a friend of mine started a new finance-related corporate job Lower Manhattan last week I couldn't resist. This friend, whom I will call "Derrick," had just moved from Seattle back to New York and the basis of our friendship was an ongoing joke about how I was a "dirty hippie" while he pretended not to be. If not for our mutual love for The Godfather we would never have been friends in the first place, but over time we became regular movie buddies and would split dinners, which meant he had to tolerate my food intolerances. If he was not the one to coin the term glutard, then he was surely the one who introduced it to me. Over time he softened and was even sensitive to my dietary constraints - probably because a ridiculous number of his friends were equally glutarded. So last week when he declared on Facebook that he was now working Downtown, I innocently suggested he try Little Lad's for lunch, that it would remind him of Seattle.

Then I got the call. I saw it was "Derrick" and was curious what he wanted midday, and when I picked up he shouted something like, "you sent me to a hippie den!" He proceeded to describe his lunchtime foray to Little Lad's where he didn't care for the conservatively dressed home-schooled owners' daughters' tirades about subjects ranging from misguided American eating patterns to, not surprisingly perhaps, the obsolescence of school. He was shocked to hear these young girls - who instead of being in school were working at their parents' restaurant - go on and on about how to eat. He said they had some silly phrase: "breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper." I was amused to hear him saying this, having sat through a lecture last week where my instructor recited the same dictum, not the least bit ironically. And though he was bewildered by the number of people eating there, he admitted that the food was delicious. Not only did it remind him of Seattle, but he met somewhere there who was from his old neighborhood, Capitol Hill. We laughed about that and said our goodbyes. I later noticed that before he called he'd actually sent me a text message: "At your hippie vegan propaganda place. Videos and everything. They won't get me!"

Approaching the end of my second year in Seattle, I feel like less and less of a New Yorker. But there are still moments when I can beam with pride for knowing some of the insider secrets. Like the hidden subway station under City Hall. The tiny community garden on Jane Street. The Vanderbuilt Motorway and the greenway to Fort Totten. Hidden gems. Like Little Lad's, which I'm happy to learn has survived the decline of Wall Street. It's reassuring that there's still a place in Manhattan where you can eat like a prince and not leave a pauper.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Main Entry: me·shuga·vore (locovore in Hebrew)
Etymology: Yiddish meshuge, from Hebrew mĕshuggāʽ: crazy

Today is Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. If there were a good Israeli joint in Seattle I might celebrate with falafel and lafah and hummus and tehina and salat and chips like this:

Guess that will have to wait until I'm in Israel this summer...

Chag sameach!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Axis of Evil

In what appears to be the conspiracy to end all others (in my world anyway), Scientific American cited an article that appeared in the American Journal of Public Health revealing that health and life insurance companies have major investments in the fast food industry.
The largest burger backer was Northwestern Mutual, which had invested $422.2 million in publicly traded fast food corporations, including $318.1 million in McDonald's, according to Mohan's research.

Now I'm not as naive as you might think - I get it, insurance companies want to make some money. But here's the problem I see with it: if fast food chains are doing well, their stocks are up but our health is down. That means we will be submitting more claims, demanding more payment from the insurance companies to pay for statins, heart and gastric bypass surgeries. On the other hand, if (in my imaginary world) Americans jumps on the wellness bandwagon and skip the fast food joints and embrace healthier options, fast food stock plummets, insurance investments suffer. So while we might be more healthful and submit fewer claims, demand less payout from insurance, we have to worry whether our insurance policies will have any value after our years of premiums have been gambled away against us. Fortunately, in this utopic vision, we'll all live to 120, die peacefully in our sleep and there will be affordable public healthcare to all who need it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Arts and Sciences

On days like these I miss my home delivery of the New York Times. I miss leafing through its pages by hand. Today's Magazine is entitled, "The Science of Living a Healthful Life," and I have already read every article. I also have a strong opinion about every article and if you and I were to sit down to Sunday brunch we could have some engaging conversations that might last until dinner. But one piece that caught my interest and warrants mentioning here is about Dr. Mehmet Oz, the latest self-help god, admitted to the pantheon of Oprah's expert deities. Celeb surgeon, author of the You book series, founder of Healthcorps, the title of article basically sums it up: Dr. Does-It-All.

I've always liked Dr. Oz. I've seen him appear countless times on Oprah in his blue scrubs, demystifying human anatomy and physiology. He made it okay to talk frankly about digestion and GI function, scoring him major points in my book. But I am slightly skeptical of anyone who appears to be the latest superman, wunderkind, jack of all trades. So maybe I was looking for his Achilles heel while reading about this perfect husband and father, surgeon, author, talk show host, radio host, non-for-profit health educator. Where was the flaw in this otherwise perfect human specimen?

It came on page 3, where writer Frank Bruni, describes Dr. Oz's eating habits:
I never saw him without a portable larder of baggies, plastic containers and Thermoses of food and drink, and all of it — every crumb, every drop — was healthful: low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with brightly colored berries; spinach; slaw; raw almonds; raw walnuts, soaked in water to amplify their nutritional benefit; a dark green concoction of juices from vegetables including cucumber and parsley. Roughly every 45 to 60 minutes, as if on cue, he would ingest something from his movable buffet, but only a bit, his portions assiduously regulated, like an intravenous drip of nutrition. It was the most efficient, joyless eating I have ever seen.

The details of this "joyless eating" could not be overlooked by Bruni, who spent several years as the Times' restaurant critic and recently authored a book on overeating. I don't think it's too much of a leap to assume that these biographical details likely place him at the other end of the eating spectrum as someone who enjoys eating immensely. Someone for whom a green concoction and carefully regulated drips of nutrition would be an awful sentence. Dr. Oz may have it all figured out, but, as his wife, Lisa, is quoted as saying, “He doesn’t have the relationship with food that a lot of people have.” Turns out he is a god indeed, and in this respect I find it difficult to connect with his approach.

While I certainly take health into account when I make food choices, lately I am more and more attuned to taste, preference and satisfaction. And though it is equally important to consider the nutritional content and make sure we are eating a wide and varied diet consisting of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, there is a psychospiritual-emotional component that should not be overlooked. I think about this more intuitive approach to eating often, surrounded as I am by a thousand future health providers obsessed with the science of wellness. My school is a petri dish for healthful living. The best selling cafeteria items are beets and kale. To raise awareness about eating disorders, students focused on orthorexia, encouraging students to eat less healthfully, even handing out free cans of Coke. If that doesn't paint the full picture, my friend Ginger recently posted a great definition for a "Bastyrian," as a "person or persons carrying containers of fermented foods in clay pots around with them daily wherever they go as to improve digestive health and promote flora growth in gut." You get the picture.

When you look at the statistics we are doomed. We are an overweight nation, fighting chronic disease and spending tons of money to fix the problem. We need people like Dr. Oz to write us owner's manuals, and talk about our poop and teach us that yes! there is a connection between what we eat and how we feel! And that's important. But maybe it's because we're missing the point. Sure, we eat for health and energy but we also used to eat to enjoy, to take pleasure in what the natural world has to offer us, to nourish ourselves, to commune and to celebrate. And while I was disappointed with Dr. Oz's joyless eating, it only reinforced what was wrong with the entire issue of this week's magazine. It was focused on the science of healthful living, when we all know that it's actually an art.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Buy the Cow?

Last night instead of attending my classmate's potluck dinner, I was forced to lay down and relax, alternating an ice pack and heating pad to relieve my inexplicable back pain. I felt badly about canceling on dinner, but more than that I was disappointed to miss an opportunity to spend time with the thoughtful and intelligent group of women with whom I take classes. Hailing from all different walks of life, my classmates bring a wealth of experience and insight to the increasingly controversial discussions we've been having in class. One of the more interesting topics we covered this week was raw milk, in response to a recent article that appeared in The Seattle Times.

I should preface this by saying that I had never given much thought to raw milk. I spent most of my life in New York City, detached from farms and gardens, and had never even considered purchasing or drinking raw milk. As I entered the world of natural medicine I met a growing number of people who swore by raw milk, and consumed it to the exclusion of all other forms. To summarize the arguments that played out in class this week, many of which reflected the views of the Weston A. Price Foundation, raw milk constitutes a whole food and therefore is the most nutritious. The process of pasteurization, intended to destroy harmful bacteria also destroys many of the alimentary enzymes and nutrients, and even argue that it is responsible for the rise in food allergies and even chronic disease. Homogenization, which breaks up the fat particles so that store-bought milk has a smooth consistency, has also been linked to health problems. Additionally, one student extended the argument to the treatment of dairy cows, the content of their diet and the administration of antibiotics and hormones to increase their milk output.

So what's the problem with raw milk, and why are there such extensive milk laws in each state? The challenge is quality assurance. The Seattle Times article lists some of the recent cases of E. coli in Washington state that have been linked to raw milk. Concerns have led Whole Foods and PCC to pull raw milk from their shelves, forcing raw milk drinkers to buy directly from the farm. And some argue that this may be for the best. Going to the farm means there is less chance of contamination, greater connection to the farm, to see the living conditions and treatment of the cows and a boost for small, local farms. Since stores can't assure the quality of the milk, it protects them and their customers (especially pregnant women, children and the immunocompromised) from potential harm. And yet, those who are not quite as committed may simply resort back to commercial milk.

In addition to learning more than I've ever known about milk, some important themes emerged from this discussion. The first was an important point regarding nutrition recommendations for our future clients. While we make personal decisions regarding our eating own habits, it's important to recognize that as health care providers we must beware of liabilities and risks associated with our suggestions. Additionally, the whole question of raw milk seemed to blow the top off our "Bastyr bubble." I'm pretty sure that most nutrition clients are not even close to the point where their major concern is raw milk or not. Let's wean people off of refined grains and sugars and sodas and fast food and then worry about questions like raw milk.

An interesting point was raised by a classmate from the Midwest who explained that in her state the sale of raw milk was illegal. The only way around it was to buy a share of a cow, whose milk you were then entitled to and did not have to purchase. I considered how revolutionary this concept was, how it completely flipped the old adage on its head. Why buy the cow? So you can get the milk for free!

After all this discussion of milk I had dairy on the brain. So the next day in my Therapeutic Cooking class when we prepared a meal that included an enticing non-homogenized local yogurt, I decided to reconsider the place of dairy in my diet. It's been over a year since I gave up my beloved dairy products in the hopes that it might resolve some health issues. But since it did not seem to have any significant effect, I decided that Grace Harbor Farms yogurt topped with strawberries and chocolate would constitute my foray back into the rich world of dairy. I started with three small teaspoons of yogurt, weary of how I might react. But the cool feel on my tongue and the thick, creamy texture on the roof of my mouth gave me such pleasure that I decided it was time to welcome this delicious and nourishing food group back into my life. Maybe it's time to invest in a cow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kosher Kitsch

There are certain foods that I associate with my Jewish upbringing. So when my alarm went off this past Monday morning and I awoke to the distinct and familiar smell of chulent I was momentarily confused as to why I had set my alarm on Shabbat, or Saturday, a day when I don't have to worry about making it to class or to work on time. I quickly remembered that I don't make chulent, nor did I even grow up in a house where the traditional Jewish dish slow-cooked over Friday night. And yet the familiar smell wafting up to my bedroom conjured a warm nostalgia for a past that never was. (In fact it turned out my roommate had been making bean stew overnight.)

Apparently I was not the only one to make a fake kosher connection this week. In Tuesday's New York Times there were not one but two articles highlighting misguided philosemitic food trends. The first piece highlighted the growing number of consumers buying kosher products for quality assurance purposes, which must be satisfying to the Hebrew National ad men, who spent years trying to convince us that they "answer to a higher authority." I can assure you that the only thing higher about most kosher food items is the price.

Meanwhile, a second article that same day described a Jewish deli in Berkeley whose owner removed salami from the menu because salami did not meet his ethical standards. He was quoted saying, “It’s industrially produced meat that gets blessed by a rabbi...We all know that isn’t good enough.” Actually he's right, that isn't good enough. A rabbi's blessing does not a kosher food make. In short, the role of the rabbi in the kosher food industry is to serve as a supervisor to monitor that kosher dietary laws and practices are observed. And while the laws of kashrut are fairly complicated, at the heart of this article was the simple question: what happens when you replace all the ethnic foods from a Jewish deli to meet sustainability and health criteria? Seems like you lose something in the process...


Last week I turned 30. On the eve of my birthday I invited a few close friends to my house for dinner. True New Yorker that I am I resisted the urge to call a potluck and instead ordered Salvadoran takeout. That night marked the end of the week-long Passover holiday, a time when traditional Jews abstain from unleavened bread, grains and legumes, and I was craving some Latin American fare. I ordered some vegetarian pupusas and tamales, bunuelos and enchiladas, and could barely resist picking at the sweet smelling platanos fritos during the car ride home. When we sat down to eat one my friends commented on my “interesting” choice of fried food. I chuckled and let the comment pass but it kept creeping up, repeating on me like a bad burrito. I began to wonder, what has happened to American society? Who took all the fun out of eating?

Immediately I thought of Michael Pollan, the botanical journalist-cum-food guru who first informed us that we faced an “omnivore’s dilemma,” that the corporate food system was evil, that government subsidies have destroyed not only our agricultural system but our diets and as a result our health. But to blame Pollan would be misguided. In his articles as well as his books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and most recently, Food Rules, Pollan seeks to reframe our thinking and remedy our national eating disorder, one that might be described as an interesting marriage of two very different, but not unrelated trends – the growth in production and consumption of “edible foodlike substances” and the rise of “nutritionism,” or the reduction of food to a list of nutrients and bioactive compounds. He urges us to turn back in time, return to the garden, to the kitchen, to the good old days, when eating was functional but also communal and ceremonial, when we sipped red wine and ate dark chocolate because they were rich and festive and delicious and not because they contained phytochemicals that could prolong our increasingly stressful lives.

I honestly don’t believe Michael Pollan is to blame. But sometime in the past few decades, amidst the rise of celebrity chefs, the Food Network, Paula Deen, Alice Waters, farmers’ markets, the Slow Food Movement, CSAs, we all went a little crazy. Maybe it was the pesticides on our fruit, the BPA in our water bottles, E. coli in our spinach, or the salmonella in our peanut butter that made us snap. We developed food allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, and many of us, with the best of intentions, became what I will heretofore term locovores: individuals who adheres to a strict and rigid set of eating practices based on political, ethical or religious beliefs and take their diets a little too seriously. You know you're a locovore when food choices become all consuming and interfere with friendly interactions, when non-life threatening dietary concerns override social graces. Call it the anti-omnivore's dilemma.

To be fair, I consider myself a locovore par excellence. I was raised eating strictly kosher food and was a picky eater, obsessively eating one food for an extended period of time. There was the year of Sicilian pizza, the spring of mushroom barley soup, the summer of fluffernutter on pita bread. I have a lifelong distaste for white bread, I eschewed red meat in high school, kissed gluten goodbye two years ago and have most recently eliminated dairy. I am an active member of a CSA that supports a small, local, organic farm, generally purchase organic produce and wild fish and frequent farmers markets. I am working toward a master’s degree in nutrition at a school for natural medicine in the Northwest, foodie capital of America. And that is precisely why I recognize the magnitude of the challenges we face, how serious a crisis we are in and why we must avoid taking ourselves too seriously.

“This American Locovore” is a project intended to provide portraits of the foodie scene today through the biased eyes of a skeptical and earnest nutritionist-in-training. Admittedly, I am both a product and a critic of the foodie zeitgeist, so I will not escape my own mocking scrutiny. I dedicate this blog to my locovoracious compadres: picky eaters, choosy moms, gluten-intolerant, lactards, raw vegans, orthorexics and macrobiotics. I am bemused by your ways and thank you in advance for providing such nutrient-dense food for thought.