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One of the pages I follow on Facebook is Mother Jones magazine.  They have progressive, thought-provoking content.  Yesterday they had an interactive tool on their magazine’s web site – Is Your Food Spending Normal?  I’m a sucker for these types of quizzes.  I also am competitive – I like to win.  So (insert frowny face here) I was at first bummed at seeing that I, picturing myself as Ms. Frugal (I am Scottish and Dutch, after all, nationalities touted for frugality) spends too much on food.

The me who can be negative and judgmental had a little snippy remark to self about comparing checkbook size and waist size.  But then I thought “Oh wait! Create Positive Change!  How can I make this into a GOOD story?”

While I am the first to admit that my food expenditures are not just on apples, broccoli and cod, and that Ms. No-to-Big-Corporations has a robust Starbucks addiction going, I DO think that eating high quality, nutritious food is part of the reason why I spend more —- on Food.

On health care?  not so much.

And I think there’s a correlation.  I had asked my friend Kay, when she worked as a nurse in our local hospital, what percentage of people were in the hospital due to lifestyle factors as opposed to genetics or accidents.  At that point she said something like “over 75%”.  When she and I discussed this again last week, she said she thinks it is well over 90%. This 2005 article “Only 3 percent of Americans live a healthy lifestyle” would seem to substantiate that.  Some common diseases caused by lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, smoking) are outlined in this recent Livestrong article.  And though this article is from 2003, I suspect the depressing facts and figures on how obesity contributes to health and health care spending have gotten more depressing, not less.

I could provide a million links, but you get my point.  As I’ve written here before, when people point out that it costs money to eat healthfully, I always say that I’d rather spend money now on good food than later on cancer or diabetes care.

Does eating healthfully guarantee that I won’t develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes or other lifestyle-related leading causes of death?  No, life does not come with guarantees other than death itself.  But if articles like this one are correct (and if you read just ONE link from today’s blog, make it this one) you can save lots of money for yourself – and the government (as you may well get these diseases once you’re on Medicare – the effects of bad choices often take a few decades to kick in).

So – the Create Positive Change me DOES need to look at some of the unhealthy food choices I make with all that excessive spending (can I justify a Snickers bar?  I’m thinking no.  The Starbucks, however, shall remain).  But I can feel good about the choices I make  – food, my gym membership, even reading Prevention magazine to stay motivated – that are helping me save money – both now and in the future – on health care.

How about you?  How did you do on MoJo’s “Is Your Food Spending Normal” quiz?  Do you feel okay about the results?  Or do you need to make some changes?  I really want to know!

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Mondays are Physical Day here at Taking it to the Streets

{And I’ll call it Monday a few hours early, since I had a special request for this recipe}

My primary health-care provider, Lisa Decatorsmith of Healing Traditions of Barrington, is also a personal friend and neighbor.  She has a daughter who is an amazing cat sitter.  When I called to talk to said daughter to arrange some kitten care on my upcoming vacation Lisa answered the phone and asked “How are you doing?”, to which I replied “oh, I have a horrid flu, but it will pass.”

She told me to make the following tea and to drink “as often as seemed right” {that ended up being 3x/yesterday and twice to keep bad germs at bay today}:

Into a cup of boiling water put

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (she actually said “some turmeric”  – I made up the 1/2 teaspoon part)

That’s it.  Here’s what’s great – within about half an hour of my first cup I could FEEL myself getting better.  Continued my regime of resting, drinking water, and then I had 2 more cups of this tea during the day yesterday.  Result? 

The flu that laid two of my friends very low for days, passed through me in a total of two days (wish I would have called Lisa on Friday instead of Saturday).  Felt fine this morning, but just to keep it that way I had a cup this morning and am having a cup as I write.

You might ask – “how does it taste?” – I know, sounds weird, right?  It actually tastes fine. The cinnamon makes it slightly sweet, the pepper makes it slightly pungent and while I find turmeric a strong flavor (and not a favorite one) it is innocuous in this tea. Having been out of honey, I added maple syrup to the first cup, fearing it would be unpalatable absent a sweetener, but I realized that was not the case and all of the subsequent cups had just what the recipe said.

I’d like to think that the ways in which I’ve been “strengthening my terrain” (to quote the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber from his book “The Anti-Cancer Lifestyle”) have helped too. 

Oh, and I ate chicken soup with 2 cloves of garlic in it for lunch and then added garlic to my dinner as well – I’m sure that was part of the cure.

Total cost?  Probably less than a dollar in spices for tea and garlic.  I had canned soup – so maybe that was another $2. 

Best part?  No insurance companies need participate!

Try Lisa’s tea – it worked for me, maybe it will for you too!

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Wednesday are Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

My paternal grandparents were farmers in Doon, Iowa. They had a family farm with different animals (chickens, cows and pigs is what I remember) and raised different crops. Grandma had a huge garden, even after they moved to town.  When it was harvest time they’d get together with their friends and go from farm to farm. While the men harvested in the fields as a team, the women canned, smoked meats, quilted.

In what we call “the Sixties” which actually occurred mostly in the 70s, there was a small but notable “back to the land movement” with homesteading hippies.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in “Woodstock” – “We’ve got to get back to the land and let our soul free.”

According to Wikipedia “In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002”

But there’s a new phenomena arising – a very different “back to the land” that doesn’t involve “tune in, turn on and drop out” lifestyles. In fact, it more likely involves minivans, soccer playing children, iPads and Starbucks.  “Urban homesteading” (which often occurs in suburbs) is a term being bandied about for the increasing numbers of people who want to take a more active role in producing the food they eat.  From back yard gardens, to keeping chickens and bees, to smoking your own meat, canning, drying food. 

When I went to the workshop put on by the McHenry County Transition group (mentioned in this post) there was information about creating your own solar energy source, canning, soap-making, beekeeping, creating community – an entire panoply of skills that were once the province of only rural folks.  Yes, some of the people attending lived in very rural areas, but the suburb my friend and I are from is far from rural, however bucolic it may appear to be.

I think this movement which fits hand-in-glove with the localvore and sustainability movements which also interest me, is a sensible response to both the ills of the world (as the Transition Town movement talks of – the confluence of Peak Oil and Global Warming) but also with some really good generational synergy – the ambitious sometimes driven members of my generation – the Baby Boomers – are starting to mellow; and the younger generations seem much more focused on connecting with life and one another – not as driven by “success” and greed.  It’s a nice confluence.

I like the idea of getting back to basics. And what is more basic than food, really?  In a world that seems more and more corporate and inhumane, taking back our lives, starting with what and how we eat seems a truly radical act.

Tackling urban homesteading on my own seems pretty daunting to me.  But I remember Grandma talking about those canning parties and quilting bees and getting together “to put food by” and it all sounded very warm and friendly and enlivening.  I could very much welcome that.

Of the 18 posts I’ve tagged “Food” the ones below seem most connected to this topic. So if Urban Homesteading and “rolling your own” (crepes that is – now what were YOU thinking?) interests you, pop in on these topics and please add to the conversation!

Something’s in the Kitchen with Diane (a Whole Lotta Somethings, actually)

More Cohousing Lite – Cooking Parties

Power to the People – Let’s Turn this Country Around!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Farmer Jane

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Food conundrums


Mondays are Physical Day here at Taking it to the Streets

If you’ve been joining me here for a while, you know I read and think and write about food and nutrition fairly often.  It’s a topic that’s interested me since my 20’s (the nutrition part – the food part mostly since I was born).   I became even more passionate on the importance of healthy food as I watched my 46 year-old-friend die of cancer this winter. 

As I began reading more on nutrition I was first struck by how much things had changed over the years.  The books I read in the 70s and the authors who taught me what was healthy to eat (books like Diet for a Small Planet, Laurel’s Kitchen, and Adele Davis’s books) soon gave way to the anti-fat (in foods, not necessarily in us, though the point then was that they were interrelated) mania in the 80s.  So then I read Jane Brody’s Good Food Book:  Living the High Carbohydrate Way and Moosewood Cookbook.

My recent forways are mostly written about in Taking it to the Streets – Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat and Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s The Anti-Cancer Lifestyle being the most recent forays.

After I wrote about Taubes’ book, my good friend Susan sent me a link to The China Study and asked “well, have you read this?”

Because The China Study and Why We Get Fat say pretty much the opposite things.

Then there’s my new juicer.  I eat a lot of fruits and veggies anyway – they’re a very big part of my diet. And I almost never drink commercial juices as they are just WAY too glycemic.  But it would be fun to drink something that’s not water or coffee or tea once in a while – I don’t drink pop, I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t drink milk – sometimes it would just feel nice to go a little wild, you know – like have some beet-kale-pineapple-blueberry-beet green juice.  Which was my first made-up juice recipe (verdict:  Trish and I liked it, KJ reported “this tastes like dirt!”).

Now my juice had no added sweeteners but beets, pineapple and blueberries are all at least somewhat glycemic. then there’s the matter, for Ms. Sustainability here, of all the perfectly good food (which, in juicer-land is disparagingly called “pulp”) which got put in a plastic bag, then into my fridge, and ultimately into my friend Bill’s garden.

So, the juicer – a good thing? or a bad thing?

It IS hard to figure out what one should do.  The bad old days of Beck’s beer, Hostess cupcakes and pizza, while crazily unhealthy, were at least not confusing.  “Taste good”/”Addictive” = I want, therefore I eat.

Now, not so much.  The evidence I see between what we eat and health is just too overwhelming.

The only sure shot I have found – the one incontrovertible food dictum that seems like everyone can sign up for is that sugar is not a good thing.  A tasty thing, yep. Addictively so.  But if you are in doubt, have a look at Gary Taubes recent New York Times article on sugar.

So I continue to read, to talk to smart friends and my so-called “alternative” health care providers (i.e., health care that works) and most importantly, I listen to my body. Which, now that I’ve taken most of the addictive substances away, is actually talking to me rather nicely.  So for instance, when KJ said our little concoction tasted like dirt, and my frugal-sustainable-girl self said “Wasteful!” and my health bossypants said “probably too glycemic” my body said YUM!  I’m going with the yum.

How do you decide what to feed yourself?  What’s most important to you? Is it taste? Cost? Health?  If you had to rank what matters of those three, how would you rank them?  I really want to know!

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Mondays are Physical Day here at Taking it to the Streets

And Tuesdays are  “Idea” day – today, my friends you get a Two-Fer, as I just finished reading Farmer Jane:  Women Changing the Way We Eat by Temra Costa.

What a lot of great ideas!  The book is divided into six sections, each with several profiles of women who are doing cool work around that topic.  The sections are:

  • Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationships
  • Advocates for Social Change
  • Promoting Local & Seasonal Food
  • Networks for Sustainable Food
  • Urban Farm Women
  • The Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers

At the end of each chapter, after reading 3-5 stories of women involved in the topic at hand, there is a “Recipes for Action” section with action tips for Eaters, Farmers and Food Businesses.  Additionally, there’s supplements (aka Appendices) and resource listings in the book and a really great Farmer Jane web site .

While I truly enjoyed the entire book, the “Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationship” section and “Urban Farm Women” probably spoke the most to me.  As someone who is becoming passionately interested in localvorism, hearing of women farmers starting their own CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) was really inspiring.  I LOVED the suggestions for eaters in this section (I’ve greatly shortened them):

  • Join a CSA
  • Start with a small committment and grow it (i.e., shop at Farmer’s markets once a month before you commit to weekly)
  • Shop at your locally owned natural foods store or even better, a member or worker-owned food co-op)
  • Start a food-buying club
  • Encourage more local foods wherever you eat or shop
  • Help those in need (check out www.foodnotbombs.net )
  • Can and preserve  foods

I was excited both because I’m doing some of these things already – but also because I’m not yet doing many of them – more opportunities to make a difference! In my own life and health, for sure – but also in this goofy world.  Every carrot that doesn’t have to be hauled on a truck from California is one more bunch of oil we don’t have to buy from bad guys.  And one more job closer to home.  And hopefully, if I’m buying from local Farmer Janes or Farmer Nicks, it won’t be loaded up with all sorts of horrid chemicals either (like baby carrots in their chlorine baths…)

The other section I loved was the urban farming one.  There are some very innovative women out there making big changes in the world – one empty lot at a time.  Just check out what Willow Rosenthal started with City Slicker Farms! Starting with an $11,000 empty lot in Oakland, CA she has gone on to six little urban farms in Oakland, as well as the highly innovative Backyard Garden Program: “The Backyard Garden Program builds food self-sufficiency by empowering low-income households to grow fresh produce where they live. Low-income households interested in growing their own food apply to this free program.  Our staff then tests their soil for contaminants. Based upon the soil analysis and what the household wants to grow, the household makes a garden plan with our staff.  Together, the household gardeners and City Slicker Farms’ staff and volunteers build a garden in only four hours.”

I LOVE this concept!

But wait! There’s more! They do education, advocacy and consulting too.

And that’s just one of the stories in this highly inspiring book.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can do in my little neighborhood. Already some of us are banding together.  5 households banded together and bought chicken and egg ‘shares’ for the winter (a poultry CSA, I guess) – prepaying Farmer Nick for a set amount of whole chickens and dozens of eggs (for instance my friend Bill & I split 3 chickens and one dozen eggs per month).  Our friend Jen took delivery of them all and then we worked out delivery from Jen’s house in a nearby town to where the rest of us are a few towns away. 

In the past I’ve split a CSA share with my neighbors Pete & Julie.  Last year going to Farmer’s Markets worked out better. 

It’s fun to take back our health and our economy and our lives by the very crucial issues of where we get our food.  I’m not quite ready to turn into a gardener (though you know? I think I’m getting closer…) but getting healthy food that is healthy for me, the planet, the animals I eat and the economy – that’s pretty important to me.

So this book was a great resource for me.  What part appeals to YOU?  And how are you changing the way you eat – for health, the economy, Mama Earth or just because it’s so much tastier and more fun?  Tell us!

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Today, for your consideration, I’ll point you to some of the blogs I read about health, nutrition, wellness and food.

Agrigirl’s Blog – I LOVE Tammy McLeod’s blog!! If you like food, like reading about localvorism, sustainability and enjoy good writing from an insightful woman you’ll love this blog as much as I do. Plus she has a neat ‘signature’ in that she ends each blog post with a relevant recipe.  Today’s offering is about the herb rosemary and its medicinal uses.  Check out Agrigirl!

Ayurvedic Adventure – My dear friend Alan Myers is continuing his recovery from a bout of cancer – he is in India working with Ayurvedic practitioners and blogging about it.  I’ve always really loved Alan, but after all of these years of knowing him as a dear friend, reading his blog is opening up a whole new Alan to me.  What a deep, insightful guy. And what new things I’m learning about healing!  I hope he keeps blogging upon his return from India!

The Heart Scan Blog – I came across this one when I was ardently trying to prove that the current “anti-wheat” movement was a fad, misguided and just wrong.  After reading Dr. William Davis’s blog, I stopped eating wheat.  He says it’s the cause of much of the heart disease in this country (he’s a practicing cardiologist in Milwaukee) and adequately answered my prior rallying cry “humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years” – yes, but they weren’t eating one species – they had variety – and they weren’t eating it by the bushel-full.  A good blog, albeit very one-pointed.

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Mondays are Physical Day at Taking it to the Streets
Tuesdays are Ideas/Information Day at Taking it to the Streets

So today you get a ‘two-fer’ – a book review on a book about nutrition and health.  I wrote a bit about this book when I first started reading it and promised I’d report back to you.

So let me start by saying that if you’re a woman you’ve either read or thumbed through “women’s magazines”.  And maybe you’ve noticed all the eight zillion articles about how you HAVE TO BE thin to get a man and thus, have a worthwhile life.  If you are a thinking woman this perhaps has annoyed you.

I know many women in my community (I’m gay) are insulted by this cultural bias and seem to take it almost as a point of pride to do a little flip-off to “lookisms” and the tyranny of slenderness by just Not.Giving.A.Shit

And while I personally find overweight to be  aesthetically unpleasing, I do agree that having fashion set by gay male fashion designers who seem to want women to look like teenaged boys is rather annoying.

If the whole question of weight were just aesthetics, I’d say “well, to each their own” and not give it another thought.

This book made me take (at least internally – at least for now) a more strident stance.

Because it’s truly a matter of life and death. 

At the benefit concert for my 46 year old friend who just died of adenocarcinoma (111 days after diagnosis) her best guy friend, Greg, said to me:  “You know, I’m getting disillusioned with the health care industry even though I work in it.  A million dollars worth of tests and treatments and this is the best they can do.  Really?  I’m mad!”

I said to Greg that it is my belief that while many of the folks involved are no doubt well-intentioned, they aren’t looking at the big picture.  Ask your family doctor how many classes they took in medical school on nutrition. And think about it – when was the last time you went to the doctor and got nutritional and lifestyle advice rather than a prescription?  If the answer is “within my lifetime” you are amazingly lucky and I want the name of your doctor. 

I keep reading in multiple areas that 75-80% of disease is “lifestyle” – meaning bad food and no exercise. 

And the definition of  “good for you food” keeps changing – which is what felt revolutionary to me about this book.  When I first started reading about nutrition in the 1970s it was all about eating  low-fat and carbs, carbs, carbs.  Dr. Atkins came along in, I think, 1982, but that seemed like a diet-fad to me so I paid it no heed.

This guy – Gary Taubes – basically says that Atkins got it mostly right – but explains the science behind it.  Thanks to him I understand what triglycerides are and how they relate to high-carb eating.  I understand the role insulin plays in regulating your overall health. And I understand why it really is true that sleeping more helps you lose weight.

So the book has this “let’s sell a boatload of copies” title “Why We Get Fat” – and it talks a lot about weight loss.  But I was reading it to find out about health – one of the main benefits of weight loss is very concrete health improvements. 

However, when my brother started eating the Atkins diet (lots of meat, eggs, and green leafy veggies) I was very concerned about his heart as this our family’s weak link – heart disease.  So Mr. Taubes has a whole section “The Heart Disease Argument” in his chapter “The Nature of a Healthy Diet” addressing just that very concern. 

I was telling my friend last night that I’m eager to see what all ‘my numbers’ are when I go for an annual physical later in the spring.  I’m kind of a “show me” girl – so I want to see if the changes I’ve been making – no wheat, very few grains of any kinds, virtually no processed foods, more protein, lots of veggies, fruit and nuts and (other than dark chocolate) no sugar – if that has made a difference.

One thing I DO know is that when I was eating the way I had learned was healthy I was fat and had high cholesterol.  My BMI is still in the overweight zone, but not by a huge amount – so Taubes argument about weight loss seems true.  And I’ll soon see what the other numbers say.

More protein.  More fat (yes, you read that right).  Less carbs.  I’ll tell you one thing – you don’t get very hungry when you eat that way.  The whole point of this is regulating your insulin. If you’re thinking “Well, we don’t have diabetes in my family” I’d say a few things – look around – there’s an EPIDEMIC of diabetes in this country.  And also – unregulated insulin contributes to heart disease (which I knew) and cancer (which I did not) too. 

If you care about nutrition and heath and longevity (and quality of life while you’re living a long time) I HIGHLY recommend this book.  I’m tweaking the way I eat even more based on reading it. 

Oops – time to go put my hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator so they’re ready for breakfast tomorrow.  I’m open to changing how I eat to have a vibrant life – how about you?

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