Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Food Sleuth back again, too!

Back in February, I wrote in my blog about the end of publication of the very informative Food Sleuth newspaper column written by my friend and colleague Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD. I ended that post with one of my favorite quotations:
Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.
~~Martin Buber

Melinda's journey has now taken her to a new destination where her insightful voice and questions focused on investigating food and nutrition issues will have an even wider impact as she helps people to "think beyond their plates".

Tune in to hear her new radio show, also called Food Sleuth, as she interviews a different guest each week. It airs live every week on Thursday at 5 pm (central time), but all shows are archived on the KOPN Public Radio Station web site (Columbia, MO) to listen on-line or download for future listening. The format is a 30 minute interview with an author, film director, or researcher as a single guest, each having experience and thoughtful opinions on a wide variety of issues concerned with the healthfulness, sustainability, social justice (and more) of our current food system.

I know Melinda will always ask the guest to provide action points that have personal plus more far-reaching benefits.

I'm eager to catch up with the archived interviews and look forward to upcoming ones. All people who eat (hmmm, I think that is just about everyone....) will benefit from a wider understanding of how their personal food choices can shape the world in which we live both now and in the future.

I hope you can tune in to hear Melinda and her guests help you "think beyond your plate"!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When will "big food" go the way of the ashtray?

Two columns in the news today fit hand in glove: (1) Ellen Goodman's column from The Boston Globe "Putting Obesity of the Business" and (2) a USA Today article "Cost of treating obese patients soars to $147 Billion.

I admit that I look at and react to far too many of the processed foods (and portion sizes) available everywhere (i.e., restaurants, ball parks, amusement parks, state fairs, movie theatres, etc) with the same eyes and revulsion as if I were seeing ubiquitous ashtrays. As a multi-time cancer survivor also trying my darndest to prevent or delay the array of other expensive and debilitating chronic diseases now occurring with alarming frequency in this country (some of mine like osteoporosis and heart disease are a result of my cancer treatments), I am first and foremost very protective of my health (no first or second-hand smoke for me nor that gigantic deep-fried onion in a serving size perhaps meant for 20 people), but I am also aware that every choice I make with my food is the final point of an entire food system that impacts much more than just my personal health (from climate change to social justice and much in between).

Knowledge is power. Although I have not yet seen it, I do recommend viewing the documentary Food, Inc. Many food companies may only have their profits for their bottom line, but each of us does have the ability to change something about the foods we eat to both improve our own health and everything else that is a part of our personal foodscape.

For starters, and only as a first baby step, eating much less meat will have the largest impact on improving your personal health, reducing global warming, and changing the current food system from one based on the chemical model to one based on a biological or ecological model. I actually wish the Meatless Monday education campaign was turned on its head to promote Meat on Monday Only! Since that will likely not happen soon, try reducing meat intake (especially red and/or processed meats of all kinds) to only 3 days per week plus also cutting your typical portion size in half. For the other days, choose from the dozens of meatless recipes on my blog and on my website that are family-tested and approved as tasty (job#1!) and health-promoting. Use as many locally and sustainably grown ingredients as possible, meats included (yes - I still use imported olive oil among other items not grown in my local area or even the US).

Your actions are an important part of the necessary sea-change, a multi-focused, multi-person solution to the many problems our country faces that are inter-connected as all biological systems are. Your actions are necessary and will make a difference. :-)

Be the change that you want to see in the world.
~~ Mohandas Gandhi

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coming Back!

It is hard to imagine that more than 3 months have slipped by since I last made a blog entry. To say life has been busy would be both a simplification and an understatement. Only in the last week or two have I have started to feel that I'm able to get my head above the water line to look around, breathe deeply, and see "normal life" again. It feels great! I mean that sincerely. As I enjoy activities without feeling like I need to be somewhere else or doing and/or thinking about a dozen other things, every cell in my body is soaking in these pleasant experiences and feeling a deep sense of gratitude while relishing the normalcy of little things, like:

• Attending a summer picnic with other Michigan Lady Food Bloggers
• Going to my farmers' market for the first time since the end of March
• Cooking and cleaning (yes I enjoy that!) for out-of-town friends visiting recently
• Hosting my dietitian book club (this time was a potluck instead of me cooking)
• Weeding, weeding, weeding (yes, I love weeding, but more on this later)
• Lightening bugs, baby toads in our community garden, a dragonfly visit, and garter snake surprises!
• The smells of summer – grilling, bonfires, suntan lotion, bug juice, flowers, mowed grass, fresh rain, recently harvested garlic drying in the garage, you get the idea
• Bird songs, buzzing honeybees, crickets, katydids, laughter, silence (no highway noise – more on that later, too).

I'll fill you in with just the highlights today with more details in follow-up postings.

First, an update about my mother. Many heart-felt thanks to all who wrote with support about this difficult challenge for my 84 year old mother and my family after her stroke in April. Short story – her stroke was considered mild, which means recovery from a stroke more severe than hers would be even more difficult. Hats off to my mom for taking the phrase "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste" to heart and giving it her all. She is back to her home now after a hospital stay which included carotid artery surgery plus an extended stay at a rehab facility (to say this facility had disappointing food would be both true and kind), living alone, with much still to be worked out regarding a living situation for her optimal safety and enjoyment of life. I give her all the credit in the world for accomplishing what she has done to get this far. She is not yet satisfied with her recovery, but she and her bridge partner did come in first place last week. You go, Mom!!

Next an update about me. After several years of looking, looking, and more looking, all the while refining what we were looking for and watching both the housing market implode and our savings disappear, the evening before my mother’s stroke, my husband and I finally took the leap and put an offer in on another house with some acreage near our current home where we plan to start a small organic farm, raise much of our own food, and also grow enough to sell at local farmers’ markets and to local restaurants/delis. I know we are bucking the trend (we no longer qualify as “young farmers”), but making this type of move has been our dream for a long, long time.

We have purchased a foreclosed property, thus there is much to do to get the house ready to move into plus get the land ready to farm. We have not yet found the perfect name for our farm so suggestions are welcome and will be actively considered! Our main focus will be garlic (my husband’s food love) along with my favorites: kale (of course!), all Brassica vegetables, other leafy greens, and dried beans. I’m going to have to seriously figure out how to discourage the local groundhogs from taking 90% of my beans, as they have done at our community garden (grrrr….).

We closed on the property during the last week of May. As soon as we had signed on the dotted line, we drove out to the property, and without even turning the key to enter the house, we picked all the chive blossoms we could see (they were everywhere - “chives gone wild!”). I came right home and made chive blossom vinegar, our first harvest and product from our new house. In addition, as we stepped out of the car that evening, I could hear a wood thrush singing from some of the woods on the new property. I knew I was “home”. :-)

In the few weeks since purchasing the property, my husband already has built a bee hive and has it in place, we now have a new well that will provide water for the house and irrigation when necessary, new septic tanks, the land at the back of the home has been re-graded to attempt to dry out the basement (in addition to first connecting and then re-directing downspouts away from the foundation!), rebuilt a door and door frame to keep the animals out of the house!, fixed the roof and chimney to keep the water out of the attic! (next comes fixing all the plumbing to keep it from raining in the house when we turn on the faucets), and weeding, weeding, weeding (good thing that I enjoy weeding!), chain-sawing, mowing, and bush-whacking, all to be able to find and get to the house plus other parts of the property along with figuring out where our gardens will be.This is just for starters. :-)

I mentioned that we had been looking at homes on acreage during the past several years for an opportunity like this. For a wide variety of reasons, we were discouraged about the homes and/or property we had been seeing (we had gotten very good at talking ourselves out of everything!). We officially had given up, but when this property came on the market late in March, we went to see it anyway without any hopeful expectations.

What “did it” for me? As I stepped out of the car in front of this home, I instantly realized that I was hearing a deafening chorus of frogs greeting their prospective mates instead of the traffic on one of the many expressways in our county. That was music to my ears. Falling asleep to the sound of the spring peepers heard from our opened bedroom window on the first warm night in March at our previous home in Illinois was a spring ritual that I have missed during the 22 years we have lived in our current home in Michigan. I admit that I didn’t really care about the condition of the house at that point. What “did it” for my husband? As soon as he stepped out of the car in front of this home, he just took off rambling over the acreage and came back from his walk convinced this property was for us even before he stepped into the house to see what problems it had. Instead he simply said, “We’ll figure out any house problems later. We can work with and love this land.”

Having our own land for both extensive gardening and enjoying the seasonal changes of the natural world has been our joint dream since the first days of our marriage. This “big lifestyle change” is neither a whim nor a new dream, but a long-held deep desire that has been put on the back burner several times by many aspects of life (in addition to my extensive and complicated medical history as a cancer survivor), which have always taken precedence by demanding our complete attention and energy. In fact the opportunity to purchase this home was nearly derailed by the synchronous occurrence of the many challenges associated with my mother’s stroke.

However, thankfully, I remembered some thoughts from the husband of a woman I knew who recently died from cancer. In a tribute to his dear wife, he said these words of wisdom, “If you have a dream, make it happen.” We actually did back out of our offer on this property twice, but the opportunity kept coming back to us, so we took several deep breaths and made the commitment to not let fear rule our lives, but instead put our trust in our dreams and the abundance of the universe. I’m glad I remembered his thoughts, which both inspired and galvanized me to not let our dream slip way but to finally make it happen.

We have taken on this huge lifetime project with energy, joy, and enthusiasm. We hope to heal this sadly neglected little spot on the planet by bringing love, life, and beauty back to this home and land. We cannot foresee if we’ll have 3 days, 3 years, or 3 decades to do so. No matter, we will both live and die happy knowing we have experienced and enjoyed both life and restoration together.

As an added joy, our old dog Kaya is ecstatic about becoming a farm dog so late in life. She has learned a new word (farm) and jumps and twirls (in spite of her lame leg) when we say we are going to the farm. It is enormously satisfying to see her happiness and contentment at the farm, whether exploring a new smell, a new animal (so far only a near miss with a skunk!), or just lounging while watching me weed, weed, weed.

This is a longer update than I thought it would be. I'm glad to be back. :-)

I hope you also seek your dreams and make them happen, sooner rather than later!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

A few photos for your viewing pleasure!

(My first peonies, taken home from the farm to enjoy)

(Chive blossom vinegar beginning - simply place washed chive blossoms into white vinegar, steep in a dark spot for 2-3 weeks, strain and place the vinegar in a clean jar or bottle. Other May friends appearing are lily of the valley and mint. Special Note and Addendum to avoid any possible confusion and/or mishap - DO NOT consume Lily of the Valley in any form; enjoy the smell and beauty, but do not eat this plant or try to make vinegar from it. Whew - hope I've made this clear!)

(Chive blossom vinegar strained and bottled on left - actually the photo does not do justice to the beautiful color!)

(A dragonfly came to rest on my hand out at the farm.)
(Kaya supervising while enjoying the smells, sounds, and sights at the farm - I am sure that I am weeding somewhere!)

(One example of weeding in progress - clearing the sidewalk in order to get to the front door! In addition, we have already been ruthless in our efforts to get rid of the ivy growing into the garage!)