Feening For Fennel

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It is quite common for people with lupus to have digestive issues and  last  Wednesday was the beginning of a nasty bout for me.  The timing was pretty bad: I had scheduled an aquaponics training for the very next morning and I  had some very excited farmers looking forward to it.

There was no way to mask the pain so it was great that I was in the company of likeminded  ‘food as medicine’ people: High Garden Center farmer George,  Dr. David Epstein, and Lois Peterson; a PGG board member who is currently furthering her study in  nutrition.

Dr. Dave suggested that I consider adding digestive enzymes pre-biotics  and pro-biotics to my supplement regiment. I was experiencing a flare (an auto immune crisis) so that was sound advice. Fortunately I have all of that on hand… including kombucha of course.  🙂

Lois suggested I go gluten-free and dairy free completely until things calmed down.  She also reminded me of the importance of bone broths when trying to  heal the gut. I grabbed Nourishing Traditions out of my office for reference.  Good thing I did! I had never considered putting wine in my broth! While I didn’t go there this time (with the turmoil in my belly I’ve decided to stay away from alcohol for the moment), I have filed that away under things I will certainly do in the near future. I cooked an organic bird slowly over the course of two days.  In addition I added loads of extras: a cinnamon stick, several garlic bulbs, onion, about 2 inches of ginger,  2 inches of turmeric, carrots and celery.

George sent me into the garden.

Grinning and Bearing it.

Grinning and Bearing it.

He mentioned a few plants that I might want to steep and drink as tea but for some reason I went right to the fennel, popped a few sprigs into my mouth. I have had fennel before in salads but have always remained pretty neutral on it. On this day, however,   I was actually craving it.  And I’ve been noshing on it every day since. Fennel has a licorice like flavor so it taste like candy to me. Eating it, was soothing.

After several days of running into the garden for my fennel fix, I decided to see why my body was asking for it.  After researching it further, it turns out it makes perfect sense.  Here are some of the benefits of fennel listed on juicingforhealth.com:

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Anemia:  Since fennel is rich in iron and histidine, it serves as a good natural remedy for anemia. The production of hemoglobin is increased as a result of the consumption of food containing iron.

Breast milk, secretion:  Lactating mothers can consume fennel juice regularly to increase the secretion of nutritious milk for their infants.

Cancer:  The high content of vitamin C, flavonoids and essential oils in fennel bulb all provide synergistic healing properties for the prevention of cancer.

Colic:  Colic happens because of an imbalanced intestinal flora.  The essential oils found in fennel are useful for rebalancing the flora for remedy of renal colic.

Constipation:  The roughage in fennel seeds act as a stimulant in the clearance of bowels.  By taking fennel juice regularly, it helps to rebalance the digestive tract, thus promotes regular bowel movement.

Diarrhea:  The essential oils in fennel like Cineole and Anethole help to remedy diarrhea. By taking fennel juice regularly, it helps to rebalance the digestive tract, thus promotes a healthy bowel movement.

Diuretic:  The diuretic property of fennel helps in the removal of toxic substances from the body through frequent urination. Thus, it helps to reduce inflammation that causes rheumatism and swelling.

Flatulence:  Excessive flatulence happens due to the highly imbalanced intestinal flora in the digestive tract.  Fennel has the capability to reduce the bad bacteria while increasing the good bacteria that help rebalance the digestive flora.

Hair health:  The sulphur content together with all the right amino acids and essential oils in fennel help strengthen hair and reduce hair fall.

High blood pressure:  The high potassium content in fennel helps reduce high blood pressure and thus decreasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Indigestion:  The essential oils in fennel increases the secretion of digestive juices, helping in reduction of stomach inflammation and in the absorption of nutrients from the food eaten. Since fennel also has anti-acidic qualities, it is used widely also as an antacid.

Menstruation disorders:  As fennel is an emmenagogue, it helps regulate the hormonal action in the female body, easing menstruation flow.

Vision health:  Fennel has unique properties that can help protect from eyes inflammation, as well as with other eye disorders which are directly or indirectly connected to muscular degeneration and aging.  Due to the anti-oxidants and the necessary amino acids in fennel, they help rejuvenate and prevent aging. The juice of fennel leaves when externally applied on the eyes may help reduce eye irritations and fatigue.

I am on the mend! Was it the broth? Kombucha?  Fennel?

I’d say all three.   I’d also say that I am healing my body with  comfort food, soda and candy.  Except it’s real food. And that just makes me giddy.

 

 

 

 

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For Heaven’s Sake, Pack a Lunch

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The eating considerations in my household consists of: two asthmatic sons, a daughter who doesn’t eat meat (for ethical reasons), a husband who is a laser focused athlete who doesn’t eat pork and me…well… I consider all of the above with a heap of auto immune dysfunction.  To say that we give our food serious consideration is an understatement.

So why is that when I read this in an email about a workshop I was scheduled to attend at a local college did I find myself doing a fist pump?

We will provide all materials and lunch as well. Pizza, salad, and drinks will be provided.  Please feel free to bring a bagged lunch if you need to accommodate dietary restrictions.

This is what it said to me:

Get over yourselves. Our goal is to provide you with what you need to write a good grant. We are not going to even attempt to address the over the top food expectations Americans have come to find normal to request. 

Well, because the mother of said children who houses one really funky gut is over it.

I probably won’t eat your bacon or your burger if I don’t know the story behind it and I bring new meaning to the word ‘gut check’ when it comes to eating breads and such. But you will never find me making a food request or insulting the choices made by others.  I will eat what’s prepared or I’ll offer to bring my own with enough to share.

My oldest son did an internship at Elm Street Gardens last summer.  A beautiful organic farm in one of the poorest areas of our state.  He was able to see first hand how limited access to food affects people’s decisions.  He harvested vegetables and processed chicken and meat. He and his fellow interns were given a share of eggs and as much vegetables as they wanted but very little meat. There just really wasn’t any extra meat.  A few of the students with him identify as vegan and they actually had a hard time being limited to just vegetables in the garden. They were used to buying prepackaged items at the grocery store.   “Ma… Have you ever considered how much of what people eat is a complete indulgence?  Hungry people just don’t have that privilege.”

That's my boy!

That’s my boy!

As I find myself experiencing different aspects of our food system,  I understand better why it was important to my parents that I graciously accepted food that was prepared for me by others.  A screw face response to something I found distasteful most assuredly got me ‘dealt with’ later.  In some cases, giving to me meant less for their family.  If I didn’t like it/couldn’t eat it I’d better come up with a creative way to make sure they never knew it!

This face? Not even allowed when I was growing up.

This face? Not even allowed when I was growing up.

How on Earth did we come go from that to making food request when we accept an invitation?

Regardless of our specific choices surrounding food, we should be thankful for the loving intent that comes when people  share.

I decided not to brown bag it and graciously accept the lunch selection at the event mentioned above. Actually… I was running late and only had time to grab a bag of trail mix.  When it was time to eat, I was thrilled to see a glorious salad prepared by the culinary students with vegetables grown by the urban agriculture students.

YESSSSS!

But wait… Did he just say let’s let the vegans go first because there are just a few shiitakes?

Well, damn. lol.

Releasing Judgment- An Easter Tale

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This Easter it was really important for me to get home to Savannah.  I just wanted to be with my family.  Spring is my husband’s busiest season so we decided the kids and I would make the trip without him.  Normally, this would not be an issue but we had an evening wedding to attend in Atlanta on Saturday and we had to get Malik (my oldest) back on campus for an 8am class on Monday. Talk about mission impossible!

But… I was determined.  And I have three pretty awesome kids (two of which are drivers) so as crazy as it may seem for us to hit the road at 9pm on Saturday and return at 9pm on Sunday, that is exactly what we did.

But let me back up a bit.

On a good day I wait until the last minute to get essentials for holidays.  Having just returned from the conference, I was in true rare form. Especially given that right before the conference I learned that I had been accepted into the Black and Latino Farmers Immersion program at Soul Fire Farm.  Add the additional level of social consciousness provided by the conference and springtime temperatures and my body just wanted to veg in the soil all week. Friday evening I realized I wasn’t prepared for a wedding or a road trip.  So I headed to the thrift store early Saturday morning. ;).

While I have taken on several new homesteading practices in recent years, thrifting, recycling, and up-cycling is something I’ve done my entire life. I’ve even indoctrinated my kids to the point that they choose the thrifting when spending their own money. It came as no surprise to them that their Easter best would be ‘gently used’.

I almost cried when I saw this. $3.99!!! Can you say continuous brew?

I almost cried when I saw this. $3.99!!! Can you say continuous brew?

During my haste, I came across a Facebook post of a hometown acquaintance. She was expressing her disdain for those who come to church only on holidays. She expressed that she stays home on those days to avoid dealing with those people.

WHOA! So thankful God doesn’t think that way!  As it turns out, (this year at least) me and my family are said people. I had forgotten some folks feel like that! I guess I was too focused on what this precious time with my family means to me. In recent years, my sister and I have taken turns  tearing up I-16 to get to each other. There are just moments when we know it is time. Leading praise and worship at her church is big part of who she is; I wanted to share that with her this holiday. Judgments be damned! ( I think Jesus is okay with me saying that -btw).

This did, however,  make me think of a spiritual practice I have.

When I notice a behavior that is hurtful or offensive, instead of becoming paralyzed (depressed or angry) by the pain of it, I allow myself to consider if I harbor any of that in my own spirit.  In this case, I started thinking about judgement.  What do I assume about others with limited information? How do I let my own issues seep into my views of others? How have I painted people with a broad stroke?

This is a powerful but difficult thing to do. To really sit with yourself. To consider your judgments without judgment.

So I acknowledged my issues and released them… almost immediately. I’ll continue to do this over and over.  It is a ‘working’ practice.

I love road trips with my kids. I am less distracted. We have great talks. This trip we talked about the resurrection; about rebirth and renewal in our own lives. We talked about Judas. We decided that despite his extreme slimy-ness, his role was critical to Jesus’ mission.

My take on the Easter basket this year.  A small shopping basket with road trip goodies for the kids.

My take on the Easter basket this year. A small shopping basket with road trip goodies for the kids.

So off to church we went. For me it was like riding a bike.  I knew the songs and fit right in with my sister and her praise team (or at least I like to think so- lol).  My kids are not as used to the ‘pew squats’ as Malik put it and we fumbled the offering… putting our donation in the benevolent offering. Oops. But the congregation was gracious and quite kind.

My lovely sister and Pastor McClendon.

My lovely sister and Pastor McClendon.

And like any good southern Easter service, there were tons of pictures taken.

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Every outfit thrifted… total cost: less than twenty smackers!

I think we put together nicely… what do you think?

The Best Food Fight Ever

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Conferences have a tendency to attract like-minded thinkers. When I registered for The Food Justice Summit, I knew I’d be in the company of community supporting, food loving, farm friendly folk like me. However, when  I got the topic list I knew I had to make space in my luggage for some big girl panties. I could tell they were going to go at the issues others have been dancing around…HARD.

Power to the People:

I started the first day of the conference  with this interactive workshop. Amber Burns of New Roots Inc., challenged us to share our food stories with randomly assigned members of the group. It was nice to hear the unique experiences that brought others to the conferences. Again, I am reminded that everyone has a story waiting to be told.

Here I am flanked by two powerhouses: Karyn and Amber of New Roots, Inc.

Here I am flanked by two powerhouses: Karyn and Amber of New Roots, Inc.

#quinoaguilt: Problems and Solutions for Conscientious Consumers

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I met Pilar Eguez Guevara(Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2013.  A few of us connected through our love of food and the study of cultural food patterns. I have learned so much from Pilar; I was happy to be able to hear her speak.

Pilar gave a thought provoking talk on trending discussions(articles, social media, etc..)  that highlight the guilt some consumers feel about how the boom in the sale of imported quinoa las led to food gentrification (yes that is a real hashtag). A similar phenomenon is seen with coconut. Pilar has done extensive research on coconut consumption in her home country of Ecuador; particularly the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas.  The elders of the community explained to her that 50 years ago coconut was consumed at virtually every meal. Today, however, it is consumed (at best) once or twice per week.

While the economy in these regions have benefited from the increased demand in the area of job creation, the dramatically higher prices of the crops have made it challenging for those who live in nearby cities to afford them.   What were once staples in their diet are now reserved for special occasions.

It was clear that the presenters at this conference (at least the ones I had the pleasure of experiencing) were calling for more than food justice. They were highlighting the need for  food sovereignty.

I started day two with a potentially polarizing talk:

The Whitest Profession: Combating Racial and Class Inequities in American Agriculture.

Nathan Rosenburg, Fink Fellow, Natural Resource Defense Council outlined how modern U.S. agriculture policy was shaped in crucial ways by Southern elites during the Jim Crow era. It turns out, that these lawmakers decided that keeping black farmers from achieving success was more important than the clear need to support small scale farming in general.  The result was massive land loss for black farmers and a reduction in aid and support for all small scale farmers. The effects of this are seen in the challenges the majority of farmers face today.

When I walked in and saw Jennie Stephens (Executive Director of Heirs’ Property Preservation) and Natasha Bowens (Author of The Color of Food) on the panel, I did a little happy dance inside. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennie at breakfast that morning. The preview she gave me about her work left me wanting to learn more about Heirs’ Property Preservation.

The organization helps low income land heirs protect their interest. For many, this means helping them understand the true value of their land as well as helping them navigate the sometimes choppy waters one can find themselves in with shared land ownership.

Natasha  is definitely a kindred spirit.  She has spent the last four years gathering stories from Black, Native, Asian and Latina farmers and food activists who are revolutionizing the food system and preserving cultural food ways. She started her project after exploring the intersection of race, food, and agriculture on her Blog: Brown. Girl. Farming.

At this discussion, she shared the story of one of the farmers and it made me remember an excerpt from her book I read recently in Mother Earth Magazine.  There, she shared the story of Sandra Simone.  I related to Sandra immensely. She was an unlikely candidate for farming (a jazz singer) who stumbled into her calling.  Natasha showed tremendous honor and respect for Sandra in that piece and she is just as gracious in person.

I took my silliness with me to Harvard. Thanks Natasha for being a good sport.

I took my silliness with me to Harvard. Thanks Natasha for being a good sport.

Her book is scheduled to be released on April 10th.  I pre-ordered my copy here.

I ended my conference with my dear friend and (traveling companion)Karla Blaginin’s talk:

Bringing U.S. Latinos into the Sustainable Food Economy: The end of nutrition sciences as we know it.

Karla insists that we reconsider commonly understood concepts of health and well-being.  This means, as Karla puts it,  “Deconstructing nutrition science’s notion of food as an entity separate of its social and environmental space.”  In other words the idea of broad, national nutritional/ health standards like BMI and Obesity need to be challenged. We need to consider how people (specifically cultural groups) interact with their food. In doing so, we can support communities as they set their own standards.

Karla and I bunked together at the hotel. My thoughts on nutrition and wellness  are forever evolving… spending the weekend with Karla gave me tons more to consider.

And she made sure that I ate… well and often.

A sampling of the snacks Karla brought from the amazing breakfast offerings from our hotel.  I think I ate every fig and piece of cheese.

A sampling of the snacks Karla brought from the amazing breakfast offerings from our hotel. My portion is to the far right: figs, cheese and dates.

A few notable conference takeaways:

  1. It turns out Diana Rodgers (author of The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook: Over 100 Delicious Gluten-Free, Farm-to-Table Recipes, and a Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Healthy Food)  is responsible for me being at the conference! She told Pilar about it, Pilar told Karla and Karla told me. Ha! Talk about degrees of separation!
  2. You need to check out Equal Exchange. I am not just saying that because they gave be a bag of their organic, fair trade, Congo Coffee and a really yummy chocolate bar.  Okay, I don’t blame you for not believing me but their mission statement says it all:

Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.

How sweet is she? The sweetest for giving me chocolate and coffee!

How sweet is she? The sweetest for giving me chocolate and coffee!

4. I  learned about gleaning from the Boston Area Gleaners. I had no idea that there are people who currently  practice this accent method of improving food security.  They come behind farmers and harvest that which would otherwise be plowed under or what has been planted expressly for donation.  Pretty cool,  huh?

Personal Reflections

Right before I came to this conference I had begun to have conversations with my cohorts and colleagues about the inequities and imbalances I am noticing in my quest to support our local food system. I am finding that I must demand a place at the table. At times, I have to fight for the smallest level of consideration for my organization and the farmers, farmers markets, and communities we serve.  Sometimes I feel like a petulant child with a utensil balled-up in each fist. It was comforting to know that this fight is happening on a larger scale. That people recognize the challenge farmers face. That others are sensitive to the fact that certain populations have been largely left out of the discussion. That people want to fix these problems that affect us all.

I also left the conference with a better understanding of the right to food.

It is not just a right to not be hungry.

It is a right to decide what to feed your family.

A right to not have someone else’s values imposed upon you.

A right to have your voice represented in your community.

Boston was awesome but I’m glad to be home. Not only did I fully embrace the sweet sun that greeted me after 3 days of snow, I returned with a more tangible understanding of my role in  my community.

It’s Spring and there is a lot of work to do…

I think I’ll start in my own back yard.