A great city (Chicago), a trip to an organic dairy farm in southern Wisconsin, old friends, new friends, and delicious food both on the farm and at The Green Zebra restaurant in Chicago last night for dinner. All in one day - I went to sleep last night truly content!
I am attending the annual meeting of The American Dietetic Association (ADA), being held in Chicago this year. I started the trip by taking the MegaBus with a friend from Ann Arbor to Chicago instead of flying or taking the train. I do think we may have been the oldest people on the bus, and we certainly were the only two with a real suitcase (!!) instead of just an overnight carry-on or backback, but the trip was comfortable and on-time, and did I mention cheap?? The excitement was the 20 minute dinner stop at a fast-food truck stop along the way. We had brought our own food (hummus and veggie sandwiches, apples, and water) so we tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, as we were clearly out of our personal and professional comfort zone.:-) The bus driver was very emphatic that he would be leaving with or without us, so most people stood in line, got their food, and brought it back on the bus to eat. The rest of the trip to Chicago smelled like the junk food haven we had just left. I don't think anyone would have noticed the smell of our sandwiches if we had chosen to eat them on the bus!
Friday morning had me up bright and early to load up on a comfortable bus for a pre-conference trip to an organic dairy farm in Elkhorn, WI. The trip was organized by the Hunger and Environmental (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group of ADA with ~35 dietitians taking advantage of this pre-conference opportunity to see a working organic dairy farm up close, meet the family who runs the farm, and ask as many questions as desired. Although I am a member of HEN, I didn't really know anyone on the trip at the beginning, but kindred souls have a way of connecting, and I felt like I ended the trip with numerous new friends.
The Krusen Grass Farm is owned by Altfrid and Sue Krusenbaum and is one of over 1200 family farms in the Organic Valley Cooperative throughout the country (a brand of organic dairy products and organic meats under their new Organic Prairie brand that you can find in food stores). They milk 130 dairy cows on 280 acres of rotated grazing land during the growing season, which in Wisconsin is April-November, with an additional 100 acres planted in various grasses and legumes that are harvested to provide grass and forage for food during the winter.
It is a beautiful farm, and guess what, there was absolutely no unpleasant smell that might make one want to hop right back on the bus and head back to the city with blinders (and noseplugs) on about where our food comes from.
A nutrition professor at The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has had the milk and beef produced on this farm analyzed for conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a cancer-fighting compound with other health promotion activities in our body, and found the level to be 300% higher in the organic milk and beef when compared to the analysis of conventionally produced milk and beef.
I have consumed only organic dairy products since 1995, but, when I first found out about the existence of CLA a few years after that, (CLA is produced by ruminant animals (cows and sheep) and found in the fat of their food products, with higher levels being in the food products from grass-fed animals than those fed grains), I changed the type of dairy foods that I consume from non-fat to low-fat. I don't know how much CLA in a diet is enough to optimally promote cancer-protection or other health benefits, but I want some in my diet. During lunch on the farm, I decided to try drinking whole milk (for the first time in maybe 50 years!) and have to admit that it was delicious. :-)
Coming back to the hotel, I met up with some of my great "old" friends (Kathy Rhodes and Janet Simpson) to have dinner at The Green Zebra restaurant in Chicago. I have eaten there once before. Be sure to make reservations, which I didn't do the first time but was lucky to have somehow talked my way in! I wasn't taking any chances this time and made our reservations months ago. Ending the day with delicious, seasonal, mostly local foods with very good friends was a perfect way to wind down the day. We only ordered 3 courses each, which we shared so all could taste, and even though these are considered "small plates", we were so full that there absolutely no room left for dessert or even a cup of coffee or tea. I mean that so don't feel scared off by the prices. Having spent so little on our bus ride to Chicago, we did feel we could treat ourselves, but next time, I think we will each order only 2 dishes so there is room for dessert. Next time?? Yes, we were already asking about availabilty for tonight and thinking about a "road trip" for the dietitian book club that I coordinate at home. :-) :-)
I'm off to explore a little of Chicago this morning before meeting up with friends to head down to the convention center for registration. Then the starting gun fires this afternoon for 3+ intense, action-packed days of educational sessions, exhibits (I'm signing my book at AICR's exhibit floor booth on Sunday), receptions for various practice groups (I'll be attending the Oncology Nutrition and HEN receptions), and more dinners. The event I am most looking forward to is HEN's "Film Feast" where four short documentaries will be shown that explore various food and water sustainability issues along with discussion of ways that dietitians should be involved and leading the way toward developing a new food system that promotes access to nutritious food and clean water from a secure and sustainable environment.
What a perfect day! I mean that. :-) New experiences, new friends, old friends, great food. In addition, I was able to reflect on my early desires to study environmental biology, how that desire shifted to studying nutrition, (something "practical"), how my career began with a focus on nutrients delivered by IVs to critically ill patients, 20 years later shifted to the meaningful work of blending my personal experiences as a cancer survivor with my professional expertise as a dietitian helping other cancer survivors reduce their risk of recurrence and improve overall health by eating whole and healthy foods to optimize an internal biological environment, how eating whole, healthy, and locally grown foods help to preserve the natural resources and beauty, life, social structure and culture on our planet and communities, and finally how my personal and professional lives seemed to have merged to come full circle to where I began 30+ years ago wanting to be an environmental biologist. :-)
Truly, the rest of the conference will simply be a bonus for me. I've already had the perfect day!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD