Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grow your own - don't wait for the US food supply!

Here are a few of last week's headlines from news outlets in the US and UK and blogs around the world:

Pure and simple, in spite of the abundance of produce you see at grocery stores and farmers' markets, the US does not grow enough fruit or vegetables to provide the recommended "5-a-day" amount to  every person living in the US. In fact, the US grows only about half of the fruit and vegetables needed for this recommendation to optimize overall health. In addition, the scientist who is quoted in this study (Susan Krebs-Smith, PhD of the National Cancer Institute) also noted that people tend to overestimate the amount of exercise they really do, which of course also is a contributor to overall good health. 

How to take those two observations and turn them into a better reality right now (rather than waiting for the USDA to get its agricultural policies in line with the US Dietary Guidelines) - why, plant a garden, of course! I'll bet you knew I was going to say that. :-) 

Here is another little known fact. 

The USDA reports that ~13 million additional acres are needed to grow the produce required in order for the nation to consume the amount of domestically produced fruits and vegetables as recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. 

Does that seem like an enormous amount of land? Where to obtain those acres? Not a problem!

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that there are more than 31 million acres of grass, an area equal to the size of the New England states., and over 80% of this grass is found in residential lawns.
(The Lawn Institute, Rolling Meadows, IL)           

This is not difficult math! :-) We have plenty of space in this country to make up this difference and more. Get down, get dirty, get gardening, get healthy!

With cancer centers not only wanting to treat a person's cancer but get them on the way to overall good health, it makes perfect sense to me that combining healthy food and exercise by gardening is a no-brainer so to speak. :-) 

One of the biggest trends is increasing interest in vegetable gardening with 35% of US households participating in food gardening in 2009. (National Gardening Association) I encourage all cancer centers to begin leading by example by planting their own version of a Cancer Victory Garden™ in whatever space they have (using current landscaping space, container gardening, window gardening, roof-top gardens, digging up some of their lawns, even digging up pavement - Cleveland Clinic did this!, etc, etc).

Two additional advantages to consider when advocating gardening for good health:

1) The US currently imports food or ingredients from 150 countries. Growing your own food (and preserving it for use later when it is not available seasonally) increases your personal food security plus the bonus of reducing your family's carbon footprint. Although it may not have affected you personally, the recent havoc with airline flights due to the Icelandic volcano eruption did disrupt food travel between many countries. That was "small and short-lived" by comparison to what could possibly happen in the future from any number of reasons for alterations in global transportation.

2) Growing fruits and vegetables in this country is more expensive than growing commodity crops that are subsidized by the US government (such as corn, soy, wheat as three examples), Growing and thus purchasing organically-raised fruits and vegetables is even more expensive and will be until USDA agricultural policies are changed to actually promote and support the growing of healthy food that is recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. Growing your own fruits and vegetables organically is easier and less expensive than commercial growers doing so on a large scale. Thus you are able to increase your consumption of healthy foods that are also good for the earth for less cost, increase your real exercise time, get some vitamin D from being outside in the sun, connect with the importance of stewardship of our soil, and even have fun doing so!

Even more reasons and benefits of gardening are in my first posting at my CancerVictoryGardens blog.

I repeat -
Get down, get dirty, get gardening, get healthy! It's time to take all avenues to health into our own hands, literally! :-) Start small, be successful with your first steps, then go big!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How has cancer changed me?

I encourage you all to look at the beautiful photos being posted on the New York Times website along with very short essays of how life has changed for each person who has posted their photo. I have just randomly selected a few and taken a few minutes with each person to think about what their words capture of their cancer journey and compare and/or contrast it with mine.

In addition, here are comments from other readers, most of whom are cancer survivors, who offer longer personal and poignant views of this journey called "cancer survivorship", what is sometimes referred to as membership in the club that no one wanted to join.

There is a wide range and depth of views and feelings from all ages of people. Some of these comments do demonstrate that it is possible to "move on" in a healthy way, but more comments show that there are many cancer survivors with a multitude of unmet needs, people truly struggling with life after cancer.

I was particularly struck by one woman's comment that her oncologist told her to stay angry because angry people take charge of their health. Perhaps there is some truth to that, however, I think I would modify that statement to say that anger can be a very effective short-term coping mechanism if it is used to take stock and take charge of one's health and life after cancer, but emphasize the short-term aspect of that "assignment".

On-going anger can also kill a person's spirit and the joy of living today (which is all any of us have, of course), and I remember the instant I realized that. With that flash of insight so many years ago now, I completely accepted that cancer (or long-term complications of cancer therapy) may indeed kill me at some point in the future (I could live with that!), but I would not allow cancer to also kill my spirit today. In effect I was no longer going to give cancer permission to potentially kill me twice. Nope, nope, nope - once, yes, but twice? - no, I was not going to allow that any longer.

How has cancer changed me? There is so much I could say; it is hard to narrow down to 150 words or less as requested for the photo collage. Restricting my thoughts to life after my third cancer diagnosis, i.e., my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, here is what I said with the photo I submitted to the New York Times tonight:

I am a childhood cancer survivor with multiple additional cancer diagnoses and health problems.  After my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, I finally let go of my fears and anger at living under Damocles sword for decades to turn around to embrace instead of run from my cancer experiences, which (1) helped me develop deep compassion for all who suffer, (2) widen my world beyond imagination or expectation, and (3) gave me the focus and push to get back to dreams forgotten or put on hold (starting an organic farm).

I hope that if I am a few steps ahead of others on this cancer journey, I am able to hold up a light to make their path less difficult to see and follow.  We are all here to help each other.  Cancer has taught me that, too, over and over and over again.
Diana Dyer, Ann Arbor, MI, www.dianadyer.com

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, May 10, 2010

Too nice a day to spend it on the computer

So I'll make this posting brief, very brief, at least as brief as possible!

Lately you may have read in the news about controversy surrounding a partnership between the Komen Foundation (Race for the Cure folks) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (now called just KFC) where KFC is donating money to the Komen Foundation for each special promotional pink bucket of chicken purchased.  The gist of the controversy is that many people and organizations have called this Komen-KFC partnership an example of "pink-washing", a term coined by Breast Cancer Action, which describes a situation "when a company purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink product, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease". In this case the pink bucket of chicken (grilled or fried) is representative of the multiple food items sold by KFC that are very high in calories/fat, which contribute to being overweight, a scientifically accepted cause of post-menopausal breast cancer, with a second factor being that KFC is an example of the over-representation of fast food establishments in neighborhoods or communities that are considered "food deserts". 

In addition, last week the President's Cancer Panel released its newest report called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What we can do now, which in a nutshell said that said many more avoidable cancers than currently acknowledged are being caused by pollution, radon gas from the soil, and medical imaging scans in addition to those caused by what are called lifestyle or personal choice behaviors (smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, poor food choices such as inadequate fruits and vegetables), with a call to increased research in this area.

Both have met with an almost astonishing combination of excitement, hope, fury, scolding, polite distancing, and a yawn.

Basically I think these two issues are pitting those who believe that cancer (and other chronic diseases) are pure and simple caused by individual choices of behavior and/or lifestyle factors versus those who see the bigger picture that choices are often formed and limited by the larger environment of which choices are any one person's default choice within their culture.

In our society, we currently have created an environment where it takes a great amount of knowledge, work, and resources to lead a healthy lifestyle whereby each and every day we resist all the advertisements and temptation to do otherwise and don't smoke, choose and have access to good food (healthy, green, fair, affordable), a safe place to exercise, and minimal exposure to pollutants in our air, soil, and water, let alone from articles of daily living like make-up, clothing, carpeting, the lining of food cans, etc, etc.

Cancer is a very tough task-master. No one should be saying that any one person caused their cancer by any one thing they chose to eat (i.e., fried chicken as just one example) or do (or not do) once a year. However, patterns of what we do or do not do or is happening to us, patterns of what is available for us to choose to do based on knowledge, affordablilty and accessibility are important. This is called synergy where 1 + 1 + 1 is equal to more than 3. The concept of synergy works for both ways, (1) what is potentially beneficial, i.e., eating a combination of foods that contain thousands of phytochemicals working together at very low levels that together may interrupt or even reverse cancer processes = a good thing, and also (2) what is potentially harmful, i.e, the low-level of multiple pollutants that each of us has in our body, including, sadly enough, newly-born children, that may also be working together to cause or promote cancer processes, however, in this case, synergy is likely to = a bad thing.

What to do,, what to do? Listen carefully to the messages. Who stands to gain with these types of campaigns or reports? Who is protesting? What is the "agenda" for each of the messengers, whether promoters or those on the backlash side? 

Briefly, (because I really want to get outside before it starts raining again) I am troubled by our increasingly unbalanced food and agriculture systems, which make unhealthy food cheap and easily available, our more and more polluted environment, and by partnerships between organizations and funding donors where there is questionable motive, all of which may be increasing disease instead of health and wellness. 

Here is how I ended my comments to some of my professional friends about these two news events last week:

• We must be the change we wish to see in the world. ~~ Ghandi

• No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. ~~ Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797)

• Healthy soil grows healthy food and healthy food nourishes healthy people who create healthy communities. ~~ Angie Tagtow, MS, RD

Change is such an up-hill climb, but we are all here to help each other.  I hope that some of what I post on my three blogs, on my website, and in my book is helpful to my readers. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Continues 2010

Spring rains have finally come and so far, so good, meaning our basement has been dry.  This is no small accomplishment and gives us some cautious confidence that we can start moving out to the farm with some reasonable hope that a lot of our "stuff" to be temporarily stored in the basement will stay dry until we unpack what isn't essential for day-to-day operations.

Here are a few photo updates!

(Photo: Garlic field with our growing pile of boulders in the background. We have found several large piles of field stones on our land, too, which we are hoping to use to make a "stone-look" foundation for our barn and maybe even some stone posts at the entry to our driveway.)

(Photo: Kaya helping to pick paint colors for the front door - finally! - and keeping "guard" to let me know if she sees or hears anything important.)

(Photo: The driveway extension and barn site prepped and ready for the next step. Those big white things are not beehives in the background, but instead are large rain barrels to collect water from the barn roof for a future trickle irrigation system.)

(Photo: Dick using the new gadget to excavate the buckthorn and other invasive species that are too small to use the tractor to pull out and too big for me to dig out. Both "Mr. Shrub-buster" and this gadget are wonders! I just noticed that you can see our new circle drive in the background, done by the same guys who did the barn site prep.)

(Photo: Zingerman's Deli where we sold most of our first crop of green garlic last week. A personal chef in Ann Arbor, MI has bought the rest of our  green garlic crop. Next fall we'll plant much more that can be harvested in the spring. Note - the only reason there is not a line out the door at Zingerman's, which there always is on a typical Saturday morning, is that I took this picture yesterday morning during the University of Michigan's graduation ceremony with special guest President Barak Obama.)

(Photo: My new green garden boots, bought at The Tractor Supply Co., our new favorite store. If they don't hold up, I'll spring for more expensive boots in the future, but these were too cute and inexpensive to pass up!)

(Photo: Full moon rising over our garlic field last week - I'm going to post this photo at the top of my blog for a few weeks, but wanted to have it here, too.)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD