Updated: Oct 22, 2021
I cannot take credit for the declaration, but I subscribe to it fully. Heather Morgan MS, NLC is credited with having said, “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.”
A truism if there ever was one; indisputable, irrefutable, undeniable.
Since I was a dozen years old, I have been preoccupied with food as medicine, culinary anthropology, and the fresh food-enhanced mind-body relationship — a relationship that transcends and links us to the natural world. It isn’t surprising I suppose, that I took a post corporate career ‘hard left’ into permaculture and holistic nutrition.
Our three children grew up believing two fundamentals — first that sleep is delicious, and second that you are what you eat. To this day they sleep deeply and deliciously, and they eat heartily and healthily. They are rich in all that truly matters; well on their way to figuring out who they are and where they will find sustainable happiness.
There is a running joke in my husband’s family, about blueberries. I used to feed the children Swedish Muesli most days for breakfast, with honey and fresh blueberries, and whatever other fresh berries I could find and afford. Occasionally, days started with blueberry smoothies, or blueberry sauce on wholewheat pancakes. In my books, blueberries were a busy mum’s secret weapon. What wasn’t (isn’t) to love about a so-called super food that is portable, freezable, fun, lasts for ages in the fridge, and is easy to add to everything from salads, to soups, even sandwich wraps. My mother-in-law Maria questioned my blueberry preoccupation, but honoured it nonetheless.
Since then, each and every time our children achieved the smallest greatness — good marks on a spelling test, a sports day ribbon, or most recently, a post-secondary or professional victory - Maria credited their success to the blueberries. “Thank your parents for those magical blueberries,” she’d laugh.
She isn’t wrong; what we eat does matter absolutely. In addition of course, to the values that define how we live and love, we are indeed made up of the ‘stuff’ that we eat. Our bodies and brains are made of natural elements that require constant feeding of un-processed natural elements to ‘thrive’. Thrive, not survive.
Survive is what so many of us do, day in and day out, too busy to take the time we deserve to love and feed our bodies and our minds. Believe me, I know this to be true, because I have very often been too ‘busy’ to feed my body and mind as it deserves to be fed, or to get enough rest. For everyone though, eventually, the clock runs down and there is inevitably time to reflect and regret the time we didn’t take when it mattered most.
Consider this: Why is it that so many of us (possible all of us, on occasion) flinch at the price of a four-pack of nutrient-dense avocados or a loaf of locally made sprouted wheat bread, but we have no problem paying $8, $10, even $12 for a drive-thru or convenience store meal of saturated fat-laced, high-sugar, over-salted fast food that does us more harm than good on balance? Fast, that’s the answer I think. Fast food is ‘fast’ and ‘convenient’. Convenient that is, until it isn’t. Until chronic ill health defines us, and robs us of choice.
Let’s not do that. Let’s make time to eat better, to sleep well, and to do both with intention. Better yet, let’s grow some food in whatever outdoor or indoor space we have, and teach ourselves and our children to embrace the mind-body-nature connection that will help us to thrive.
I’ve been there more often than I’d like to admit — burning the candle at both ends, sleeping in a chair in my office, eating gas station popcorn for dinner, and choosing feed over fight. I get it. So much of popular culture, social media, industrialized food manufacturers, and mass advertising seduces us with untruths about the goodness and advantages of centre-aisle factory foods. ‘Convenient’ foods that, coincidentally have been rising in popularity in tandem with the occurrence of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
I wish someone had taken me by both shoulders and shaken some of the good sense that I have now, into me when I was too busy for my own good — when I wasn’t honouring my body and my mind. So let me shake you now, gently, just a bit.
It took me five decades to fully embrace that, making time to learn about the goodness of fresh food, and prepare it with intention, is quite possibly the single most important thing (the second being sleep, in my humble opinion) you can do for yourself, and for your family’s physical health. Tidal waves of research support the notion.
A few fast and healthy practices that have saved me on many occasions involved layering kid-friendly food groups in fun and delicious ways — peanut (or nut) butter, banana, honey, and raisin sandwiches were a favourite, as were cheese, pear, and nut butter. I felt no shame in disguising or re-naming unfamiliar ingredients, but only until there was consensus as to their deliciousness.
Steaming, then pureeing all manner of vegetables to hide in a yummy lasagna, creamy soup, or marina sauce satisfied everyone and speed-passed vital micro-nutrients into tiny bodies. Cooking rice in nutrient rich low-sodium chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth instead of water, is an easy habit to adopt, paying healthful dividends over time.
‘Rollover wraps’ were a family favourite lunch item, but were nothing more than less than visually appealing leftover protein, mixed vegetables and rice or grain, chopped up and mixed with a savoury vinaigrette and remnant salad greens before being rolled up into a fun and coveted (and inexpensive) soft tortilla ‘wrap’
Swapping white Arborio rice for Italian black rice (riso venere, named for the love goddess Venus) for risotto is easy, elegant, and provides a healthy dose of antioxidants and the beneficial minerals magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Repeating just a few best kitchen practices over time, I believe, gives us a fighting chance to offset the stresses of daily life with improved nutrition.
The non-threatening deal that we had with our young children was that, based on respect and consideration for the time and effort I assigned to preparing food for them, they would try everything that I presented. In return, they had our assurance that if they genuinely didn’t like it, they didn’t have to eat it. For whatever reason, that worked for us and for them almost all of the time, and together we explored all manner of ethnic food, vegan food, spicy and bland food — anything at all, even offal and snails — as long as it posed no threat.
For a time, the children took turns choosing menus from the kitchen library of ethnic cookbooks, and I would prepare whatever they decided upon. There most definitely were some interesting and memorable meals, but no complaints given the active role that the children took in the process.
Growing our own vegetables, fruits and herbs teaches us to combine what is in season, in creative new ways, and demonstrates with regularity, the enduring and essential mind-body-garden connection.
This week we made roasted leek, potato and arugula soup with humble produce we grew at home in our front yard garden, and we garnished it with antioxidant-rich dried blueberries (old habits die hard), and antioxidant and oleic acid-rich extra virgin olive oil. We delivered the finished goods, together with the love and intentions behind them to the grandmas, Uncle Pete, and the children, and we froze as much as we could squeeze into the crammed post-fall-harvest freezer
The arugula was a non-traditional add-on based on garden surplus, but it made the beautifully simple, highly nutritious 19th century classic dish even better, providing a nutrient-dense, low sugar/carb/calorie source of calcium, potassium, folate, vitamins C/K/A, fibre, and phytochemicals.
Fighting words, if ever I heard them.
I will leave you with a delicious and highly nutritious lunch idea that relates to my question about the avocados, but has more to do with the odds and sods that I found in the door of the fridge yesterday. Try this and tell me than it isn’t the next great twist on avo toast:
Gluten-free buckwheat bread with spicy peanut butter, sliced ripe avocado, sliced ripe banana, hemp hearts, ground flax seed, chopped raw almonds, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
How good is it? Soooo good. How goes is it for you? Even better — in more ways than it makes sense to list (unless you are allergic to one of the ingredients). The bonus — it is soporific, which means you will wish to nap after eating. And so you should.
It’s flu season, so remember to eat well and get plenty of sleep!