Except: Empty Plate: Food~Sustainability~Mindfulness By Tammera Karr and Kathleen Bell
In an equally real sense, researchers know that elasticity and adaptability during challenging events like pandemics, and life transitions; are a combination of how well-nourished the brain and body are — through mindful choices about nutrition and other behaviors. The conscious decisions to eat healthy foods, get quality sleep, spend time in nature, limit the ingestion of disrupting or harmful media/substances, or to take a moment of pause for gratitude — all constitute nourishment for our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Whole-brain perspective leads to renewed skills
Critical and whole-brain thinking, along with common sense, are often referred to as being not so common. The reality is that our modern education can be sorely lacking when it comes to past generations’ skills. Often, we are out of practice in using skills of common sense. Although we can look at history for clues on how ancient peoples survived and thrived, it doesn’t give us their expertise, nor the luxury to take the time to live as they did.
As we begin a new decade, our world is entirely different than ever before. Even if we might have the skill, time, and environment that supports a romanticized lifestyle of bygone days — we have to ask ourselves. Do we really want to work that hard? Can we give up the many facets of our modern world that define us now?
The incorporation of mindfulness and sustainability into the broader idea of nourishment for modern lives isn’t about turning back the calendar, politics, environmental agendas, or religious beliefs. It is about owning the choices we make and being the best version of ourselves, along with helping the next generation view their empty plate with open eyes of wonder and possibilities.
Bringing calm to chaos
Expanding ones perspective through the combined lenses of mindfulness; tradition, and science, it can allow for the best of all views to guide; and bring a balance between modern and traditional approaches to health, lifestyle, and nourishment.
Mindfulness is not solely limited to the practice of meditation; mindfulness also includes the ability to discern and make choices based on knowledge, facts, and intuition. Mindfulness is that moment of pause to recognize and acknowledge the present moment before moving forward, which may allow us to see both obstacles and the possibilities before us.
It is easy in the modern world to view ancient cultures and people with either idealism or disdain; believing modern society is somehow more advanced and superior to past cultures without pizza delivery, electronics, and central air. However, biases are not limited to only those of the past. There are times we pooh-pooh someone who lives in a metropolitan area for eating industrial fast-food instead of selections labeled organic; or roll the eyes over a modern homesteader making cheese and canning. How we view food, in particular, and the way people eat, is all about perspective.
The same is true about where diet and food fall into one’s thoughts about health. Clients may feel reading labels and buying health food is a waste of time and all a scam. Equally, clients can become so obsessed with the health and cleanness of their food they are practically paralyzed in the market; worse yet, it becomes almost impossible to enjoy a meal with them. This last part is so important because, as a species, we have shared a meal with others since the beginnings of evolution. This need to commune with others while eating plays a role in why restaurants are popular, especially for singles; eating with others allows for sharing ancient memories tucked deep in cellular mitochondria.
First, let’s be honest; the American food culture has been pretty messed up for over eighty years. There are real reasons to be concerned about food and water (we will look at water more later), especially where safety and quality are concerned. Part of the difference between the current generation and one’s great-grandparents began with the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. By the 19th century with the assembly line’s initiation, canned and frozen foods began taking society from the farm or backyard to the Piggly Wiggly. It wasn’t until the end of World War II and the Agricultural Chemical Revolution that mega-corporations opened Pandora’s box of newly available chemicals for food crops and food manufacturing.
The late 20th century brought first-world countries (as defined by the UN following World War II) to a roundabout in healthcare approaches. The 21st century views on health care are a blended version of allopathic, integrative, traditional, and holistic models. These varied approaches can be at odds with each other, adding to consumer confusion and frustration. However, the silver lining of this moment-in-time is a growing acknowledgment and understanding of the priceless value that food from traditional and cultural sources provides.
Twenty years into the new millennium means four to five generations of individuals simultaneously alive today on the planet; some of whom have been taught to believe the Doctor Knows Best, Science is Good, Traditional Medicine is Quackery, and Better Living Through Chemistry. Additionally, the tech-industry is influencing food trends in ways that resemble bad science fiction. Bland or flavorless meal replacements like Soylent® are being touted as foods to prevent climate change — and better for the environment than eating livestock. Neither of these claims can stand up to fact-checking. The pandemic of 2020 revealed that airplanes, many industries, and fossil-fuel-powered vehicles were far more at odds with global climate conditions than cattle.
Thankfully, the younger generation of Millennials is embracing traditional agriculture, homesteading, gardening, and animal husbandry: along with artisanal and traditional food preparation. The authors cannot know for a certainty that generations following the Millennials will embrace and value sustainable lifestyles in the same manner — but we hope they do.
The pandemic of 2020 also brought about a return to the kitchen. With stay-at-home orders in place for months on end, individuals reacquainted themselves with the once mysterious room and unfamiliar activities of kitchen. The developments of 2020 gives hope that the growing challenges of food insecurity in the United States (due to affordability, availability, mobility, and multi-national food manufacturers controlling the type of foods available in many areas) can be ameliorated. A study released in 2018 on food insecurity in older adults found food insecurity was significantly associated with economic factors. The findings showed higher values for the prevalence of chronic diseases, poor management of chronic diseases, and decreased health-related quality of life in older adults living in communities. The cycle of food insecurity and chronic disease begins when an individual or family cannot afford enough nutritious food. The combination of stress and poor nutrition can make health management increasingly challenging.
Additionally, the time and money needed to cope with these health conditions strain the household budget, leaving little money for essential nutrition and medical care. This causes the cycle to continue, increasing the risk of worsening existing conditions. When food insecurity is present, sustainable health and mindful living are unattainable.
In the fall of 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported on the growing food insecurity in Latin American countries. It is easy to compartmentalize our thinking about food into what we see in the local market and be blind to the multitude of areas where food is affected by seemingly unrelated events in global economies. One area involves fossil fuels and transportation, as the Wall Street Journal article titled “Venezuela’s Food Chain is Breaking, and Millions Go Hungry” outlines. When gas, diesel, or canola oil-based fuels are unavailable or production is limited or halted, farmers are unable to fuel tractors or farm equipment to plant and harvest. When transportation of food falters due to fuel shortages, millions of tons of food spoil in depots, fields, and aboard cargo ships. What increasingly becomes available to consumers in countries like Venezuela are “junk” foods and non-edible items. Ana Nunes, a sixty-two-year-old retired municipal worker in western Venezuela, shared in the Journal article her meals consisting of a few corn-flour arepas (pancakes), and continued to say “instead of quality foods, the markets sell garbage like animal hides and rotten cheese.”
When individuals have access to community gardens or live close to food production; accessibility allows people to harvest and store foods while the nutrient content is at its highest. The availability and use of fresh foods provide quality nutrition, not empty calories. Historically, it has always been true that when humans have access to abundant food supplies; advances in culture, intelligence, and adaptability happen. When changes in local area economies involving increased availability of fresh foods occur, the population has a high capacity to produce positive, healthy changes that influence sustainability. This is a key component of humanity’s sustainability that involves the greater or lesser availability of fresh food. When vacant lots are revitalized into community gardens in large cities, people come together; and food insecurity in the elderly and in impoverished areas lessens, with the addition of countless other benefits.
During clinical practice, Tammera has had many clients who were children during the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II. A recurring comment from these elders pertains to food and hunger; “we knew we were poor, but we never went hungry; there was always a garden and food to eat.”
Something to think about.
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CDSP, CNW, CGP
Over the years, clients have asked many questions, but the questions on cookware safety seldom come up. It is generally the clinician interviewing the client that most frequently asks the question about what kind of cookware was in use. Now with the internet and social media, questions like – “Are nonstick pans toxic?” “Can aluminum cookware cause dementia?” “Are my dishes full of lead?” and “Are my scratched pans still safe?” seem to be everywhere. Frequently, the responses and answers are based on outdated information. So if you are shopping for new kitchenware and are uncertain, begin by reading the chapter Gizmos and Gadgets for the Kitchen page 51, in Our Journey with Food Cookery Book 2nd edition, you’ll find there’s a wide range of choices in cookware material; such as cast iron, stainless steel, copper, glass, and ceramic. By and large, they are all safe when purchased in a mindful manner. Keep in mind when it comes to cookware, your experience, comfort, and enjoyment of “all things cooking” is determined by the quality of the tools you use.
What tools are selected will depend on the type of cook you are, your kitchen area, and your level of experience. Not on the health risks from the tools used. As someone who cooks inside, outside, on an electric range, gas stove, barbeque, and wood fire, I can assure you the heat-producing surface determines what pot or pan is used as much as the quality. World over, individuals prepair meals each day in cookware Americans would refuse to use – yet America and other western cultures have skyrocketing dementia numbers.
In 1965, scientists discovered that feeding rabbits very high levels of aluminum produced changes in the rabbits’ brains resembling Alzheimer’s. This was later proven to be incorrect. Aluminum is a naturally occurring mineral found in water, plants, fish, and animals. Aluminum plays a role in cell formation, especially skin cells. Broccoli, a proven health food, also contains aluminum. So what about the argument over organic and inorganic aluminum? To be honest, most of us are guessing and relying on theory and interpretation. Aluminum cookware has been in use since 1807. Just like cast iron; aluminum is released from pans when acidic foods are cooked. The acidic properties of food interact with the metal affecting the protective coating or finish on the cookware. Lightweight aluminum is an excellent heat conductor and highly reactive with acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus juice. Such items can cause aluminum to leach into food, imparting a metallic taste and leaving the cookware with a pitted surface. These are the same foods that leach iron from cast iron and can damage poor-quality stainless steel.
There have also been reports aluminum is present in the brains of people with dementia and Alzheimers. This can be found in the early work done on Alzheimer’s when an autopsy was the sole avenue of determining Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Now with the availability of CAT and MRI scans, the location, development, and the “cause” is far more complex than one thing. Overall health plays a role, including diet, diabetes, the microbiome of the mouth, the environment and genetics. A groundbreaking text by Russell L. Blaylock, MD, in 1997 called Excitotoxins, revealed the damage to brain cells when MSG and Aspartame, along with naturally occurring glutamates in high levels, are present in the diet. These chemicals affect the cell’s ability to regulate fluid, resulting in the cells bursting and leaving behind trace minerals like aluminum. While this research has been pushed to the shadows in favor of designer therapies, it still has value. Over the last 3 decades, research on Alzheimer’s has linked a wide range of causes, only to be disproved and only looking at the brain as a single organ, not part of an amazingly complex life form. Today we face a new paradigm in Alzheimer’s research linking oral bacteria and its effect on tao proteins. Now the question has changed to a different “what if”.
Lifestyle may be your biggest protector.
The tools we use for the preparation of food are important, but they are only one element of our lifestyle that supports well-being and longevity. When we narrow our focus to one thing as a cause, we also miss dozens, if not thousands, of other elements contributing to health. A narrow point of view assumes everyone is affected by a potential toxin or gene expression in the same way. Yet, as our technology opens the window to more information, research finds our bodies are capable of achieving homeostasis even under extreme challenges. Our bodies have been living with heavy metals and naturally occurring toxins from the beginning. When an individual cultivates well-being from a broader perspective, incorporating all aspects of nourishment- risks diminish along with the burden, confusion, and fear over what kind of food, cookware, water, air, or medicine to use.
In our book Empty Plate: Food~Sustainability~Mindfulness; Kathleen Bell and I share volumes of science supporting how our daily lifestyle choices make the difference in disease rates and longevity. A literature review expands the concept of nourishment and how more than food is necessary for health.
Expanding the definition of nourishment to include lifestyle and environmental sources beyond diet.
Tammera Karr, PhD, BCHN™, CNW®, and Kathleen Bell, RN, MSN, CNM, AHN-BC™
National Association of Nutrition Professionals and American Holistic Nurses Association
Published February 13, 2022
The purpose of this literature review is to expand the limitations of the common scientific definition of Nourishment to a broader holistic understanding relating to health. Is Nourishment limited to nutrients extracted through digestion? Or does Nourishment also include elements ingested from exposures to environment, culture, beliefs, social, connections, wavelengths, and smells as well as calories? To Nourish is to provide food or other substances necessary for growth, health and well-being. Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and society. The authors demonstrate evidence that food alone is not sufficient to sustain human health and vitality.
Nutrients in food become information and control aspects of human biology and physiology, but Nourishment is not derived solely from food, Nourishment enters the body through multiple pathways. For example: Research shows that taste develops in the womb before birth as the fetus is introduced to foods the mother consumes. Fetal growth and development proceeds without the physical ingestion of foodstuffs; Nourishment is provided through the mother. Additional research illustrates health of both mother and child are affected by multi-faceted environmental, cultural, and biochemical factors.
Wellness can be viewed as an active process of becoming aware of (mindfulness) and making choices that support the dynamism required to maintain homeostasis. Holistic health and well-being are outcomes of constant interaction between and among many dimensions of human life. Balance is achieved via devoting significant attention to each of the interrelated elements that comprise Nourishment. Lack of attention to one or more of these elements results in imbalances that may lead to deterioration and disease. By redefining the concept of Nourishment the reviewers’ intention is to illuminate the deficiencies of remaining within the confines of a reductionist paradigm, and to highlight possibilities available in the quantum era for persons to develop and regenerate health.
From this abstract, we have now written a full paper due to be published in the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Newspaper through Pacific College of Health and Science.
By Tammera J Karr PhD
What are your must-have gizmos, gadget, tool, or appliance in your home or RV kitchen?
This question had come before me frequently of late and got me thinking about all the tools we have available today, designed for one form or another of food preparation. It is quite overwhelming when you do a small search on Amazon, Overstock, or Wayfair for Kitchen tools and appliances. As a food historian, I have seen kitchen tools from colonial days to the present, some have lasted over the centuries, and others came and went. The one tool every kitchen has at least one of is a knife. History and archaeology can show us blades of every shape and material dating from man’s earliest forays into tool making.
When reading about pioneers coming west and what individuals started with, then left along the trail; the list is long from furniture to wood cook stoves, books to rugs, copper pots, and pans to bone china. But the knife always seemed to make the list of must-haves. When families packed up their belongings and moved during the dust bowl, the kitchen knife was secured in the load once again. So what about today – does the humble knife still have relevance with food processors, electric carving blades, mincers, blenders, and more?
Ohh, Ya, our fascination with knives is still very real. Each time I open one of my social media pages, an ad for Damascus steel kitchen knives with wood, ceramic, bone, and composite handles of every size and color greets me. I feel like a magpie drawn to shiny – wanting this one and that.
Unlike the pioneers or my grandmother, I have to consider the requirements of another kitchen appliance that rules supreme – the dishwasher. My grandmother never had to weigh the acquisition of her mixing bowls, hand tools, dishes, and knives against Dishwasher Safe. Ok, many folks don’t have dishwashers, but what about microwave ovens?
The microwave oven made it big in the mid-1980s when the once expensive countertop high-tech oven became affordable to the masses in North America. A whole new approach to cooking took the states by storm. Candy, bacon, rice, and potatoes in minutes, and soon freezers were filled with not the functional aluminum oven TV dinner but the snazzy plastic dish quick meal. I admit that this is one electric appliance short-lived in my kitchen and RV. After three years of not even using the microwave’s timer function in our RV, we removed it and turned the space into convenient storage for those kitchen tools used almost daily. I enjoy cooking and find it as fast as ready-made meals. The motions involved with preparing a meal are timeless and allow one to slow down and take stock in the day’s events while flavoring the food with intention and care. On the practical side, I’ll admit at home and in the RV counter space to use those nifty knives on will always win out over another electrical gadget.
Did you grow up with Pyrex? Pretty much every wedding from the 1940s to the present has had at least one set of Pyrex mixing bowls if festive or retro colors. Countless batches of popcorn, salads, mashed potatoes, and pasta have been offered up to family members in Pyrex over the decades, and they were the first freezer to oven to tableware of the modern age. There are downsides to grandmothers stoneware and Pyrex. The heavy metal content and exposure from ceramics pre-2015 are serious considerations, especially if children eat from these dishes. But will this champion of the kitchen be replaced with Silicone? Maybe, but there is a lot we don’t know about silicone cookware – remember how Teflon took over the kitchen in the 1970s and 80s? Today we know there are health dangers from cooking and using Teflon, so much so that the US government banned its use. Ok, they may have excluded it more for the threat to the ozone than your health, but we will take this win any way we can get it.
There are still more appliances filling the cupboards; electric frying pans, instant pots, hand benders, ice cream makers, popcorn poppers, and more. When it comes down to it, just how many of these appliances do we really need, or even use more than once a year? If we were loading a wagon to head west today, how many of these would be left behind? There is something to be said for simplicity. When we use the knife, rolling pin (reminiscent of the mortar and pestle), and spoon, we are using tools that have passed the test of time. The physical motions we do of slicing, chopping, ladling, pouring, rolling, and pressing are little changed from that of the pioneers or ancient peoples who first settled our world. When explorers of old went forth, simplicity ruled due to practical needs. Today millions of people in other parts of the world still use rudimentary kitchen tools to prepare their daily meals; these tools may have been passed down through generations or fabricated from available materials. Why they are still in demand comes down to serviceable, dependable, and portable.
Consider the appliance invasion that may have been going on in your kitchen. Before buying the newest gizmo, pause and ponder how much space it takes up, and if its value is real or just because everyone else has one. Keep those tools that increase the enjoyment of cooking, that connect you to family and friends – the rest pass them by in favor of less stuff to weigh you down.
To read more on the modernization of the kitchen by Tammera Karr
by Tammera J. Karr
The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt as a substitute for ivory. By treating cellulose, derived from cotton fiber, with camphor (both naturally occurring substances), Hyatt discovered a plastic that could be crafted into a variety of shapes and made to imitate natural materials like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory.
In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. Baekeland had been searching for a synthetic substitute for shellac, a natural electrical insulator, to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States.
Plastics Come of Age
World War II necessitated a significant expansion of the plastics industry. Almost exclusively made from fossil fuels, the market was ripe for the development of (1935) rayon, nylon as synthetic silk, used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows. During World War II, plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.
It wasn’t long till plastic was everywhere and thousands of products were made of plastics. But by the mid-1960s American perceptions as plastics were no longer seen as unambiguously positive. Plastic debris in the oceans was first observed in the 1960s, and Americans were becoming increasingly aware of environmental problems.
Unlike natural fibers, fur, paper, and metal, plastics last in the environment forever, breaking down into micro-plastic beads that are ingested by birds, fish and animals. Current research is finding plastic particles incorporated into the flesh of marine life and land animals. The modern reality is our lives are heavily invested in plastics, computers, cell phones, carpeting, clothing, cars, planes, phone, electrical, water…… everything we need or do has plastic involved.
Unintended consequences to our health.
As I scanned through research articles on phthalates, the common form of plastics found in animals and humans. It became clear that the government and industry websites and reports were slanted to protect industry versus human health. Over and over I saw statements like “more research needs to be done, effects are unknown at this time, small studies” …. This all reads just like the cover-up reports before the effects of agent orange on veteran, and civilian health could no longer be denied.
Red flags started waving, especially after seeing studies recently released on phthalates linked to motor skill deficiencies. This study published in February 2019 and updated again in January 2020, says.
“The findings suggest that maternal exposure to phthalates in late pregnancy could have long-lasting adverse effects on motor function in children in later childhood, particularly in girls. There was also evidence that childhood exposure to phthalates may have more harmful effects on motor function in boys.
“Almost one-third of the children in our study had below or well-below average motor skills,” says senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D., professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School.”
Researchers from the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine published their findings in 2019 on phthalates and gene expression. This research group out of Switzerland wrote the following statement:
“Phthalates, one of the most common endocrine disruptors, are commonly used by industry in many plastic products — toys, clothing, baby bottles or even medical equipment — as well as in cosmetics. Guidelines are beginning to be imposed to limit their use; their toxic effect on the endocrine system is worrying.
Indeed, the exposure of male fetuses to phthalates can have devastating consequences for the fertility of future individuals by modifying the regulatory elements of the expression of genes responsible for spermatogenesis. …… phthalate susceptibility depends largely on the genetic heritage of each individual. These results, to be discovered in PLOS One magazine, raise the question of individual vulnerability as well as that of the possible transmission to future generations of epigenetic changes that should normally be erased during fetal development”.
Other studies from 2015 and 2017 said:
“Early childhood exposures to specific phthalates were associated with depressed thyroid function in girls at age 3, …. Phthalates, a class of chemicals thought to disrupt the endocrine system, are widely used in consumer products from plastic toys to household building materials to shampoos”.
“Early exposure in the human womb to phthalates disrupts the masculinization of male genitals, according to a study presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego”.
Ok, I think I have made my point here about the unintended consequences of plastics to our environment and human health.
To real food, and the products from nature that make life sustainable.