24 August 2008


The Latin words cum, "with", and panis, "bread", combine to form the source of the word company. Initially, the word was relational, corresponding with the word companion.

I’ve never been able to watch people eat alone without becoming profoundly sad. It’s one of these weird idiosyncrasies that I have possessed since I was a young girl. I remember one day in particular when I was about 15 and was cutting class from high school with my best mates. We went to McDonalds for french fries. That was the cutting class routine. As the group of us chattering, french fry and coca cola toting young delinquents converged at our favorite table, I noticed my neighborhood bus driver, an older gentleman with a full head of bushy grey hair and little coke-bottle glasses, sitting alone a few tables away. He was having a McDonalds breakfast – you know the scrambled eggs, the round disc of “Canadian bacon,” the packet o’ hash browns, and pancakes with that fake butter and “maple flavored” syrup. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, and I suppose I began to cry because my friends started asking me what was wrong. I’m not sure if it was the un-nutritious meal he was mindlessly consuming (my mother was a “health food nut” so I had already developed a food consciousness at a fairly young age) or if it was that deadened look he had in his eyes as he mechanically drew the fork of loveless food into his mouth. I couldn’t eat my rebellious french fries that morning. I was consumed with the image of my lonely bus driver the rest of the day.

I remember seeing that same deadened look in the eyes of my father when he ate. Even as a young child, when we still ate meals together as a family, he always preferred to be quiet and remain alone in his thoughts. He never commented on the food, never even seemed to taste it. He just consumed one unconscious bite after the next, as if he were just fulfilling the very basic tasks of feeding the stomach and clearing the contents of his plate. Years later, after my parents divorced, I would feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I felt the weight of my father’s loneliness, visiting him in his dentist office on his lunch hour and seeing him eat a sandwich alone at his desk, or imagining him going to his favorite deli in the morning for his bagel and coffee that he would probably eat alone in his car.

When I was a bartender at a fancy oyster bar/restaurant, I once served a single, older gentleman an entire 5-course dinner along with a champagne toast at the bar on New Years Eve. We spoke very little. He was quiet and shy and not particularly attractive and didn’t talk to anyone at the bar except to clink champagne glasses and say, “Happy New Year.” I was so busy shucking oysters and pouring champagne that I had little time to tend to him. He mostly sat quietly, ate each course, drank his champagne, and then left. I cried my eyes out later that night.

To this day, I really cannot pass by a lone eater with out busting up into tears. Now I’m not talking about the student who’s flipping through a copy of Foreign Affairs while sipping her mocha frappuccino and munching on a scone, or the Wall Street exec that is talking on his iphone and checking stock prices while eating his steak frites. I’m talking about the lone eater that doesn’t occupy him/herself with anything else but his/her food, and the surroundings. This just breaks my heart.

I know that all of this is a mere projection of my own inner sadness and sad experiences with loneliness. For all I know, all of these people could have had the most enjoyable times dining alone. Still, I can’t help feeling that all the loneliness in the world is expressed through the faraway gaze of that one lone diner.

This past weekend, Mark and I went to visit our friends, Stephanie and Bea, who live upstate in a small cottage in the woods. Along the way we saw beautiful sunflowers growing along the road.

Mark and I made ourselves at home in their kitchen and immediately cooked up a beautiful dinner.
I cooked some white beans for a summer Tuscan salad and assembled a Caprese salad with fresh heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and fragrant olive oil.

Stephanie made this beautiful ruby red beet dip.
The weekend was filled with beautiful meals comprising of fresh food grown in their garden or from local farms, good wine, wonderful conversation, and good company.

18 August 2008

Can children under 5 survive on a vegan diet? Not that we have seen.

Please check out this beautiful slide show that illustrates Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)'s current nutrition project in Burkina Faso. The text is in French, but I offer an English translation below.

The levels of chronic malnutrition and mortality that we see in the field say a lot about the types of nutrients that are essential for early growth and make a strong case for the need for animal proteins in children of the age of 0-5, the years when children go through the most rapid growth and are most vulnerable to malnutrition.

Rapidly growing children have specific nutritional needs and small stomachs. They require food dense in energy and diverse in nutrients, which is best achieved by providing them animal-source foods such as dairy, eggs, meat or fish. Soaring food prices have exacerbated malnutrition, with families not able to afford food nutritious enough for young children to grow and both avoid and overcome disease.

For regions with long-standing malnutrition problems, conventional food aid does not include specific foods for young children. Milk powder was removed from relief food targeted at children in the late 1980s when milk surpluses subsided. Since then, children have been receiving fortified blended flours based on wheat, corn, and soy, that contain no animal-source food – a diet which pediatricians do not recommend for children under two. It contains poor quality protein and far too many anti-nutrient factors that inhibit absorption of essential minerals such as zinc. What we are seeing with these standardized food distributions is a rise in severe malnutrition and child mortalities.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 178 million children that are malnourished across the globe, and at any given moment, 20 million suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition. Malnutrition contributes to between 3.5 and 5 million annual deaths of children under 5 years of age. We estimate that only 3 percent of the 20 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition receive the UN-recommended treatment they need.
Here are some articles and epidemiological surveys that we have compiled through our work in the field:

Burkina Faso: Traitement de la malnutrition dans la region du Nord

Slide Show translation:

In September 2007, MSF launched a program to treat children suffering from acute malnutrition in Titao and Yako in the Northern region of Burkina Faso, where the level of malnutrition is chronically high. By the end of June 2008, a total of 13,600 children under five years of age had been seen, with a 90% cure rate.

We have 7 Outpatient Feeding Centers. We also have a Therapeutic Feeding Center, which is basically an intensive care hospital. Any child who develops a serious medical complication, like respiratory infections, tetanus, conjunctivitis, malaria, or even diarrhea, must be hospitalized. After three months of activity we treated 4,000 children for severe malnutrition, and this year we have seen another 6,000 children.

The bracelets you see are called MUACs and stand for “middle upper arm circumference.” This is a simple tool and fast method that allows us to measure the degree of malnutrition in a child under 5. We have also implemented a higher cut-off point so that moderately malnourished children can be treated before they reach the level of severity. Among all the children who show up today, we admit about 50% of them and the number seems to be increasing.

After we weigh and measure the children, and determine if they need to be hospitalized or not, we distribute a ready to use therapeutic food called Plumpy’nut. Plumpy’nut is made from powdered milk, peanut paste, vegetable oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals. It does not need to be refrigerated, mixed with water or cooked. Children eat it directly from the sachet. Depending on the child’s weight, they take it two or three times a day. And they come back to the outpatient feeding center once a week for a medical check-up.

MSF treated more than 150,000 children in 2006 and 2007 in 22 countries with nutrient-rich therapeutic and supplemental food.

17 August 2008

Raspberry Harvest

I'm so looking forward to the next part of Steph's two part blog. While she prepares that, I thought we might visit a tiny red fruit that many of us love so much.

Not long ago, Steph wrote an excellent blog post about berries. In our conversations, she's encouraged me to share a little about one of our local small farm crops; the raspberry. The other day, Craig and Jane Floyd of Laketown, Utah generously allowed me to visit, photograph, videotape and assist as they went about their raspberry harvest. Craig and Jane are educators by training, and their business, Chad's Raspberry Kitchen, named after a son, is a part of the next phase of their life together.

11 August 2008

Two reasons why I am winning the fight.

Last week, I wrote about the miraculous results of my recent blood work. My cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose numbers have never been better. I feel better. I'm taking less medication and am becoming much more active again. I probably haven't been able to do a decent run or workout since my bypass surgery last November. But slowly, I'm bouncing back. Can I actually reverse my heart disease? Some think so. If it's at all possible, here are the reasons:

1) Diet
2) Love

Let's talk about diet first:

About 2 months ago (since the inception of this blog), Mark and I decided to embark on a new way of eating for life. I was inspired by a book I had read by Jordan Rubin entitled, "The Maker's Diet." That's right. What would Jesus eat? I gave the book to Mark to read and it spoke to his sensibilities as well. Rubin endorses a diet of organic and seasonal vegetables and fruits along with grass fed meats, pastured chickens, and wild caught fish. There are very few carbs in his diet, aside from the fruit, although he encourages you to begin to incorporate some dairy, grains, and legumes into the later stages of the diet, after one has already controlled their insulin levels. Then Mark and I discovered other similar philosophies in eating that also discouraged carbs such as Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, and the Paleo Diet. These two philosophies grew from anthropological studies which suggest that the human body has evolved to eat certain foods, which include meat, vegetables, nuts, berries, and some fruits. You guessed it - these are hunter/gatherer diets. These studies also suggest that the human body has not (yet) evolved to be able to adequately digest and assimilate sugars and grains (there is much debate about beans and dairy as well, but I'll save that for another time). According to these sources, this is why so many modern diseases that seem to be on the rise include celiac disease (gluten intolerance), Chrohn's and other types of inflammatory bowel syndromes, cancers, heart disease, as well as the alarming rates of auto-immune diseases. Now I am not saying that this is gospel; however, there is some very compelling evidence out there that I encourage you all to read.

One of the wonderful side effects of this new diet is that my sugar and starchy food cravings have disappeared. What does this mean to a woman with an eating disorder? FREEDOM!!! This may be the first time in my adult life that I am not turning to food for comfort, out of boredom, out of procrastination, or for whatever reason we sometimes feel the urge to binge. The urge is just not there. Now at first I thought it must be psychological since I am feeling so supported by my partner, by my friends, and by this blog. The love is definitely carrying me through. BUT, I just came across some scientific evidence that shows that refined grains, sugar, and industrially processed vegetable oil actually promote a larger appetite, thus the propensity to overeat. Could this be why, as a nation, we are becoming larger, sicker, and our appetites keep increasing?

Check out this study and the article which follows:

British Journal of Nutrition
Whole Health Source

About the power of love?

Stay tuned.

04 August 2008

The Cholesterol Dilemma and What to Do with all these Lovely Summer Tomatoes

On the food front, it's been a busy few weeks of shopping, harvesting, cooking, freezing, canning, and storing. On the health front, I saw my cardiologist last week and my blood work came back phenomenal!! My total cholesterol level is the lowest it has ever been, and my HDL/LDL ration is also the best it's ever been. My triglycerides and glucose are also at an all time low. The interesting part about all of this is that I have been eating more animal fat and dairy than I have in years. What I have cut out completely in my diet however, is sugar and all grains.

Now I'm still not convinced that cholesterol is the big evil culprit for heart disease. I sent a short letter to the New York Times a few years back stating my skepticism and I guess they felt it was relevant enough to publish it (read it here). It was based on an article about "C-reactive Protein," an indicator of inflammation in the system, that can be detected in a blood test. According to this article and two New England Journal of Medicine studies, nearly half of all people who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels. Inflammation seemed to be a stronger risk factor than cholesterol. Since then, there have been numerous studies, reports, and articles on the "myth" of cholesterol. I became skeptical about cholesterol when Pfizer really started pushing their prized statin drug, "Lipitor," and following this huge marketing push, the national standards for acceptable cholesterol levels suddenly went down - meaning everyone who used to have an acceptable level of LDL at 130, was now at risk (level went down to 100) , and was subsequently put on statin drugs for prevention. Here are some links to some more about this subject:

What I’m Reading: The Great Cholesterol Con

The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics

The Cholesterol Myths

Surprise, Cholesterol May Actually Pose Benefits, Study Shows

Last week I had my good friend, Maria, over for dinner. We were both in the mood for something light and fresh and decided to whip up some gazpacho and have it on my roof to watch the sunset. Maria has her own garden and brought over some beautiful Italian arugula that she grew from seeds she smuggled over from Italy. This arugula was much stronger and spicier than the kind we get here in the US. We tossed the Arugula in a simple dressing of olive oil, a little lemon, and salt and pepper. Than we both grabbed a bowl of gazpacho, a hunk of manchego cheese, and some olives, and head for the roof.

When I lived in Spain, I had a hard time with the food. The majority of Spanish cuisine consists of meat - mostly ham and sausage. Everything else is heavily fried and served with some sort of mayonnaise concoction. I was never a big meat eater and back then I was convinced that the high fat diet of Spaniards was going to kill them (that and their chain smoking)! However, I've come to learn that the Spanish have a much higher life expectancy than we do and have lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Go figure.

Anyway, the one food I enjoyed on a daily basis was gazpacho. There is nothing better on a hot summer day than a cool bowl of this glorious soup. It doesn't resemble that chunky stuff they call gazpacho in most American restaurants (I think somewhere along the line, someone confused Spanish gazpacho with Mexican salsa or Pico de Gallo). It's smooth and creamy and slightly sweet. Here is the way the old woman I lived with in Spain made it. Note that there is no garlic in this recipe. She always said that it was "not nice for women to smell like raw garlic" and that "you would never find a boyfriend that way." Ha ha!! I believed her.

Anna's Gazpacho:

3 large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes
1 italian or green pepper
3 small cucumbers (mideastern are the sweetest)
1/2 small onion
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish or California - one with a green color and grassy flavor
some stale bread soaked in tomatoes (optional)
2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a blender except the olive oil. While blender is on, slowly pour the olive oil in last to achieve a nice thickness to the soup.

Pour into bowls and drizzle a little extra olive oil on top. Top with chopped vegetables. I like to use avocados and sometimes chopped eggs.

Mark's sister, Sharon, also recently sent me this recipe for Tomato Sauce. She is the second person who told me to roast my tomatoes before canning them. I'm going to use this recipe (with some added fresh basil) for my next canning venture. It looks like you can also freeze this as well:

Roasted tomato sauce

(from Kitchen Comforts)

Dsc_0404_2 Begin with garden-fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes of any and every variety. I usually plant some plum tomatoes for this, but by the end of the summer, I'm throwing all varieties into the pan. Clean the tomatoes and core them and put them in an 11X17 inch pan. Peel an entire BULB of garlic and scatter the cloves throughout the tomatoes. Douse with extra-virgin olive oil. Roast at 450 degrees for about a half an hour, until the whole house smells like summertime and the tomatoes are blistered. Pull the pan from the oven and sprinkle with fresh, whole basil leaves. Dsc_0410_2 Cover with foil and allow to cool until you can handle it comfortably. Carefully transfer everything (including the juices) to the blender. You'll have to bend in two batches. Whirl it all together and pour it over hot pasta. This makes enough for 4 pounds of hearty pasta.Dsc_0415_2

I usually cook two pounds to feed my family. So, the other half gets poured into a gallon size zippered freezer bag and then frozen flat on the freezer shelf. In the middle of winter, thaw, heat, pour and remember the summer!