i made it!
sorry it’s taken me so long to post, i have had quite an adventure so far, and no time to get to an internet cafe.
my first couple of days in india were a whirlwind…by the time i arrived via train into dehradun i had been traveling for 38 hours. to my surprise, my coordinator told me upon deboarding the train that i was to spend my first week in india in a tiny village called Patti, up in the foothills of the himalayas. i knew i would be going there, but because it is so remote, i thought they would ease me into it. guess i thought wrong!
there were two other students, which made me very happy, since there was to be barely any electricity and absolutely nothing to do for the week outside of our clinic. i figured at least i could make some conversation.
the ride up to patti was unbelievable, four-wheeling it up these winding mountain roads. pretty scary, but thrilling nonetheless. we passed by many other villages along the way, which would end up being villages that the doctor, dr. paul, told us he visits each month. in total there are about 28 where he sets up clinic. they each consist of about 15-20 families, very tight-knit; primitive and rural. it looked like a movie set in another era.
we arrived in patti to find a small compound with screen doors which opened to little rooms with cots. there was a cook living there, a pharmacist, and the doctor, who comes in every week and leaves his family to treat patients in the villages. his clinic was attached to our compound and in the mornings, after being awoken with hot chai tea, we would go upstairs and watch him go to work. at night we would enjoy our dinner and listen to them play us music using only their voices, an indian flute and a bucket as a drum. it was actually quite beautiful.
the people were so warm, but culturally they were quite an extreme for me to witness. they have absolutely nothing, but somehow they make it look beautiful. the women in their bright colors and beautiful nose rings and bindis, and radiant skin! they seem happier than any people i think i’ve ever met. there is no such thing as materialism, only bare essentials and everyone, mostly the women, spend their days tending to crops, feeding their families, and doing the work of the village. apparently the men stay at home and relax most of the day!
watching dr. paul at work was extremely interesting. patients do not need appointments, they just walk in and sit down, not shy in front of anyone who is watching. it’s fascinating to see how they do not complain about ailments- they calmly state what is going on, and he doesn’t do invasive exams. most people have acute medical issues that he helps by giving them dietary advice, ayurvedic treatment, and sometimes an allopathic drug such as tylenol or an antibiotic.
everything is FREE. patients are not charged at all, which is the result of the money students pay CFHI to attend the program. it funds the medications and supplies needed to address the needs of all the villages.
one thing that was really amazing was the lack of drama in life. it is simple yet purposeful, no complaining because there is no other way. we all laughed so much up there and found a way to enjoy our time so completely, even without the comforts we are all used to.
the food that our cook made each day was some of the best indian food i’ve ever had. i felt so energized and satisfied eating in such a balanced way. it was all vegetarian and homemade, right down to the flour that came from the wheat grown outside my window. nothing is processed; it’s prepared in quite a primitive way. i found that none of my food allergies acted up because there are no preservatives or additives. the dairy i ate came straight from the free-grazing cows, and it was raw, unpasteurized- which is illegal in the US! the purity was appealing to my body. it was totally the way food should be.
every other day, we would leave our clinic and hike to surrounding villages, sometimes up to 2.5 hours each way, in order to bring them care. we were joined by one of dr. paul’s 9 health promoters. these are all women who he trains to carry out emergency care and first aid since he only visits heach village once a month. the women are also trained to teach their own communities about sexual education and preventative health. it is community organizing at the most basic level and so amazing to be a part of.
on our hikes, we would meet women and school children who hiked those roads sometimes multiple times a day, carrying baskets on their heads and often wearing no shoes. when we arrived in the villages we would set up a table with medications and the doctor would just start seeing patients right in front of everyone. they were so kind to us, and the kids were adorable. they prepared chai for us, and invited us into their homes.
as i stated above, people there do not really seek health care for chronic diseases most of the time- diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colitis- or even cancer. they don’t suffer from primarily western ailments. it will be interesting to see how that changes just 45 minutes down into the city when i start working with doctors in dehradun.
they have many fast food chains down there and processed garbage available, and they seem far from understanding caloric and nutritional content. i’m sure a lot of them think it’s amazing to taste western food, as bad for you as it may be. good job globalization!
i am kidding, but in all seriousness, up in those villages people are living into their hundreds and they are feeling pretty good! it’s all simple and fresh and there is less suffering. there is a reason they don’t have a need for an ER, as they don’t live in a way where invasive treatments are necessary. everyone performs manual labor, they are strong and moderate in their lifestyle. they eat just enough, they don’t smoke, and they rarely drink.
and the things they do need, devoted people like dr. paul provide for them, and that’s just the way it is. very practical.
it was an amazing experience, more rewarding than i could ever put into words. i am back in the city now, and in an hour i begin with dr. nanda, a homeopathic doctor in dehradun, and from there a reiki/ayurveda master, and a women’s health doctor. this rotation continues throughout the week, so i’ll be sure to keep you posted.
if you haven’t already watched it, i urge you to take a look at jamie oliver’s show, food revolution, fridays on abc.
to most of us evolved human beings, what he is doing makes perfect sense, but as you can see by the obstacles that he must overcome in order to change the way we eat- not everyone has been enlightened yet. we are being presented with the possibility to raise a generation of children who will grow up with a sense that it is more fun to eat legumes than lunchables. this will in turn affect the way they live their lives and raise their own families.
this is one of the most important conversations going on in our country, as our mental and physical health is truly at stake. although alice waters and many others have been pioneers of this movement for quite some time, jamie is the first person to take the podium from a level that is wide-reaching and capable of getting through to millions of americans who don’t understand the often elite world of local food and organic agriculture. whether we want to believe it or not, we are a nation whose education comes mostly in the form of advertisements. so, while the whole country is constantly glued to their television sets, i can only hope that they will turn it to abc on fridays at 9pm and listen to this important message.
the madness cannot continue and it’s so crucial that everyone get behind the cause.
please check out his site and sign the petition to support the food revolution.
while i know i am probably way behind on this one, i had to share that i am reading the most incredible book. animal, vegetable, miracle is novelist barbara kingsolver’s account of the year she and her family moved to their appalachian farm from the tuscon desert and learned to live off of the land. the beauty of this book is that while we learn the details of what it takes to live in harmony with nature and the seasons, we discover that more than sacrifice and discipline, what it really takes is an understanding and appreciation- a LOVE, if you will- for the true value of real food and how that spills over into a love of family and friends and life itself.
i learned so many fascinating tidbits about everything from a five-color silverbeet (swiss chard with amazing rainbow colored stems and leaves), what it really takes to grow asparagus (three years to harvest, but a well-managed asparagus bed can keep producing for thirty years!), and even…turkey sex (let’s put it this way, because of what it takes lethargize them so they dont get rowdy in the coop and to fatten them up for our thanksgiving feasts, they are rendered incapable of reproducing and professionals have to step in- i’ll leave the rest to your imagination).
one of the best things about kingsolver’s book is that she enlisted her family – her brilliant husband, a professor of environmental studies, and her daugther, a college student who knows the value of eating greens on a deep level- to write essays among the meat of the story. these essays are essentially lectures on the true value of the story she is telling us. steven’s writing tackles larger sociologcial, political, ecological, and economic issues such as the price we pay for purchasing food grown in other countries. local food can be seen as snobby and elitist to so many people- i see this all the time. but in reality, beyond sacrificing quality by purchasing soy products from brazil while we are living in kentucky, we are not supporting the farmer in south america that we imagine out there in the fields. in fact, we supporting an international company that has cut down acres of rainforest to grow the soy, destroying indigenous populations.
camille, kingsolver’s daughter, eloquently shares with us anecdotes about growing up in a rather unconventional (although perhaps we have our definition skewed!) 21st century family. she shares recipes with us which exemplify how we can use so few ingredients and create incredible flavor, as long as those ingredients are organic, and humanely and properly raised.
the simplicity of the message of the book- you are what you eat- and how profound it feels to comprehend it (for so many people who i’ve spoken to that have read this), is proof to me that our society is in desperate need of getting back to our roots. of feeling that immense sense of connection to the deepest place inside our own nature. it is an inspiring, self-reflective place, yes. but more than that, it is a motivating place. in realizing our fundamental goodness- the potential we possess and that our natural environment possesses- a chord is struck within us, motivating us to actually use what we have and who we are as healthy, good people and do some actual GOOD in the world. letting go of ego, of our desire for the fastest, biggest, quickest “solution” to our problems, and just learning to think about our place on this earth within the model of a new paradigm (or perhaps ancient…they say everything comes back around again).
it’s time for real change. we are dying, literally. our bodies, our land, our culture…it is dying. every house on the block looks the same. we eat packaged foods that contain ingredients we can’t pronounce, made up by a person in a labcoat and which need extra chemicals just to produce a taste we could easily grow in our own backyards. we are dropping like flies because our bodies are so inflamed and covered in layers of fat, and yet we are still nutritionally starving. we believe in dogma but not in spirituality. we think we are decent people, but we don’t connect with and support one another. we take pills whose side effects result in having to take more pills, and yet we don’t even realize that perhaps the treatment actually lies in eating something green with our dinner, or maybe even in getting a hug from someone we love.
it’s time to start thinking about these things. we are compassionate and good and alive. our bodies deserve better, our earth deserves better, our culture deserves better, and our hearts deserve better. let’s stop starving and start living.
isn’t it always exciting to learn about an idea which you never spent much time thinking about but which flicks that lightbulb switch in your head and shifts your paradigm a little bit?
that’s how i felt when i read this article in the washington post today, in honor of earth day. kate heyhoe, in her new book “cooking green,” has asked that as we all reassess our carbon footprint today, we also take a look at how our “cookprint” is measuring up. it is easy to get so caught up in eating local, green food, that we forget about the energy we are using to actually prepare our meals.
heyhoe introduces the term ecovore (which i love!), explaining that while locovores buy and eat only local food (within a 100 mile radius), this is not practical for most people, and surprisingly, is not always the most sustainable food. ecovores, on the other hand, eat foods that are in harmony with the environment, both locally and globally, taking into account their current degree of harmony, and how that might change in the future. she says, “our food choices are, at any given time or in any given place, in constant flux, because of changes in ecosystems, economics, and technology.” i love this point. we must recognize the stratifications that are a result of constantly changing sociological, ecological, and economic conditions all over the world and factor them into our decisions about what we eat and how we eat it. one food that is sustainable this season, may not be next season, and we’ll need to choose something else.
heyhoe also notes that being “vegetarian” or “vegan” is self-limiting in that it doesn’t account for the fluidity of global conditions and is not enough to sustain a small “cookprint.”
most of her tips regard cooking methods and appliances in the home, illustrating how we can make smarter choices (which is what being green is all about). a few practical and simple ones are:
-use your toaster oven! heyhoe explains that a standard oven wastes 9% of its fuel through excess heat that doesn’t go into cooking your food. toaster ovens these days have the capacity to cook anything from simple toast to pizzas to roast chicken! i use mine constantly.
-use an electric kettle, but instead of using it to make tea, you can pour it into a glass baking pan and make lasagna with your boiling water, first tenderizing the noodles and then using it to blanch the vegetables as well. you can save washing extra pots and pans, and pour the water out to water your plants.
-nix the garbage disposal. it wastes energy and is antithetical to the ecovore principles because it encourages us to waste!
-fill up empty gaps in the fridge and freezer and it actually will use less fuel! of course, instead of wasting food, try to fill them with containers of water. how easy is that?
-bake multiple dishes at one time when you are using the oven in order to reduce fuel output.
-when boiling water, multitask and pour some of the water out of the pot to use on other items you are adding to your meal. it takes a lot of energy to boil just one pot of water. and you know how none of us ever add our pasta to boiling water until it is bubbling so much it is practically spitting at us? well, it just isn’t necessary. a gentle boil is the same temperature as a raucous one, so turn down the heat until it’s just boiling enough.
-freeze your leftovers and reuse them for other meals, and eat more raw foods! heyhoe makes a great point when she talks about eating lower on the food chain. it is shocking to realize how many gallons of water go into creating a single serving of beef (2600!) and chicken (408!)…in comparison, a serving of almonds takes 12 gallons, which is still a lot.
this valuable information is definitely encouraging me to think before i buy food, prepare food, or even order in a restaurant. i hope it does the same for you!
can you imagine reading that on your next prescription slip from the doctor?
as some of you know, i am going through a personal battle in my family with cancer. this is part of the reason i have decided to focus so much of my energy towards educating myself and others on wellness and nutrition. althought to many of you it may seem blatantly obvious, it is an uphill battle to convince the mainstream healthcare system to emphasize the importance of proper nutrition as a preventative measure against chronic illness and disease and also as a treatment for it. although everyone “knows” that eating right is important, as i have stated before, these are all subjective terms and clearly open to interpretation, as nutritionists in hospitals are serving sugar substitutes and nutrient-lacking foods like bagels to patients who are in desperate need of positive energy to their cells.
yet another example of a backwards, irrational bureacracy, the healthcare system that is in place just simply does not cater to the essential needs of patients, and it is frustrating and very sad. i believe that everyone truly would like to see a change, and that this is not the fault of the people within the system who dedicate their lives to attempting to make people healthier. but there is a structural issue here that regards implementing another tier to our system in which a more holistic approach can be seriously taken into account for each patient in the country. this is not a replacement for modern medicine in any way, but a supplementation that will benefit everyone and eventually be able to prevent issues such as diabetes and obesity, heart disease, cancer, and strokes. it is all about education, giving people the (simple!) information that they need to bring home with them , changing their lifestyles and improving the quality of their lives.
i was so thrilled to read the l.a. times yesterday and find this article about dr. david servan-schreiber, a brain cancer survivor. in his book “examining anti-cancer: a new way of life,” he explains that before his diagnosis, like most people, he separated medicine from food, but eventually his eyes were opened to the fact that “food is a low-grade pharmacological intervention, three times a day every day, that can profoundly influence your biology.”
i have always wondered why we consider a pill that comes from an orange bottle behind the counter at the pharmacy to be legitimized while we put thousands of other chemicals from food, vitamins, the environment, beauty products, onto and into our bodies that we simply seem to overlook, never taking into account that they might have an effect on our physical and mental chemistry.
the foods that have been studied and found to be strong cancer-prevention candidates include ones rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish and fish oil), leafy green vegetables (from the broccoli and onion families), the berry family, the citrus family, spices such as turmeric and ginger, and polyphenols such as resveratrol (found in red wine) and catechins (in green tea).
servan-schreiber also emphasizes the beneficial role of other complementary practices for the spirit and mind, such as yoga and meditation.
but the debate as to whether or not it is ethical for doctors in positions of authority to give patients advice that is not scientifically proven regarding food and spiritual choices is a hot one. on one hand, some doctors think that just because it “makes sense,” they do not have the right to prescribe dosages of recommendations for fruits and vegetables or daily yoga practices, and they would prefer to steer clear of any hot water by stepping outside of the nutrition/lifestyle conversation at all.
on the other hand, servan-schreiber believes it is wrong to wait for absolutes on this subject. “I think it’s medical negligence not to give this information to patients, because people will die without this advice and they will not hurt themselves with it,” he says.
i agree. aside from the guidelines that ARE obvious to many people and which have been proven to be sound (don’t smoke, eat less red meat and sugar, more plant food), doesn’t the public deserve information about exactly what they can do to further promote their health in more detail than that? this is not just a matter of scientifically proven facts- but that is the point. we are constantly getting information on studies that are often not “proven” until too many people have suffered. i believe that most people would prefer to have a healthcare professional at least validate that there are steps they can take that can only be beneficial, whether or not hard science can prove it on a chart or a graph. it would also empower people to know that they have some control over their health. yes, it is a responsibility on the part of healthcare professionals to give out any advice, but with this information people would also be able to, for once, TAKE responsibility for themselves, which would eventually benefit all of the overworked doctors in the longrun as well.
and i find that this whole debate between doctors on this issue to be a microcosm for the institutional inefficiencies that i was discussing earlier. the premise of the system is based on absolutes, in a world where we have proven time and time again that there are no tangible ones. isn’t it time to start making room for a complement to our system that is not considered alternative, but is welcomed inside and invited to stay for good?