Gluten talk and beyond

“ ‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it.”

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Any time a bunch of women gets together who are passionate, interested or even just a bit curious about a topic I’m interested in, I get excited.

And just such a thing happened this morning.

During first service, a dozen or so women from my church met for an hour of gluten talk. At least that was the original topic when the class was announced, but by the time we had the meeting, it had become more of a “food group.” We talked about more than just gluten intolerance. Other food allergies and sensitivities were on the menu.

Those who led the group this morning (and, in case you’re interested, will again next Sunday – same time, same place) are:

  • Anita Swanson, who shared her story of wheat intolerance, breastfeeding, children with allergies and her journey to figuring out how to keep her family healthy. Anita is married to our pastor, Brent, and they have three precious little boys who are a big part of Anita’s “food story.”
  • Valerie Gunter, whose story is similar to Anita’s because of birthing babies, breastfeeding and having to figure out some food sensitivities and intolerances she didn’t realize she had – all because of her kiddos’ health problems. Valerie is married to Matt, a local veterinarian.
  • Sandee Steiner, local farmer, real estate mogul and mom. She and her husband, Max, host the church’s annual fall festival on their farm, where the kids get to run around until they’re silly, hang out with cows and other critters, have hayrides and generally get themselves giddy in the autumn sunshine (yeah, some of the adults do, too). Sandee, an engineer, is concerned with all the crap (sorry, Mom) that American cattle farmers and chicken producers feed to and inject into their animals. Sandee offers kefir starter to anyone who would like to make her own kefir (Anita made us delicious banana and blueberry smoothies with kefir, and the ladies also let us sample two other homemade, gluten-free foods). Sandee also offered to teach us how to make our own cottage cheese.

And then there’s me. No, I wasn’t a host of the meeting – I’m just a loudmouth who’s always interested in learning something and passing along the “insights” I’ve gained. Yeah, I can be obnoxious about it, especially if you’re not at all into what I’m talking about.

I’ve been on my own “journey to fitness” for the past three or four years, and it has taken me until recently to get serious about what goes into my mouth and that of my husband (a Crohn’s sufferer).

Sure, I’ve lost about 50 pounds (and gained a few back), but it hasn’t always been with the healthiest, wholest, least-processed foods you can buy. That, however, has been changing, ever so gradually.

I’ve been getting rid of processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, wheat and other grains in the past several weeks and increasing my consumption of “good fats” and eggs. But that’s a story I’ll tell you another day. Another story for a later day: I’m training to be a certified wellness coach (online classes, plus a trip to Colorado next month for on-site training). And … all this food and research talk has gotten me to thinking about becoming a registered dietician (I waver between the nutrition part of fitness and the physical-fitness part – I got certified as a running coach in August and definitely want to do some continuing education – maybe a second bachelor’s degree? – in some area of fitness).

But let’s talk about some of the resources discussed this morning. The ladies in charge handed us a packet of resources (including recipes, not included here), and the ladies listening wanted some of those put together online somewhere. One even requested a dedicated Facebook page for the group. Until they’re able to make that happen, I’ll collect the list of resources here, updating this particular post as I have time to add them (I’ll send updates to the church’s Facebook page). And if you’d like to suggest your own resources or tell your story, please click the comment link at the bottom of this post.

Also, I was taking notes furiously for a friend who couldn’t make the meeting because she was cheering on her daughter at the Little Rock Marathon (go, Mary!), so I didn’t get to look at all the books on the table. So, for now, I’m going to hit the high points with the promise to add to it later.

Disclaimer: Not everyone agrees with every word or claim made in each one of these resources. They are simply offered as a starting point for more information.

BOOKS

Wheat Belly and Wheat Belly Cookbook by cardiologist William Davis. I’m reading these books (with apologies to the county library, which sent me past-due notices on them last week. I promise I’ll return them tomorrow, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy my own copies). Some in the medical field have criticized Wheat Belly, calling Davis’ admonitions about wheat and carbs “scare tactics,” but I find it interesting that a lot of these critics DON’T EAT WHEAT. One reviewer, a psychiatrist, takes issue with his “sloppy” work in some of his medical stories and analogies. I understand her point, but at times she seems to be nitpicking.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This one is on my to-be-read list. I read Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto a few years ago. He has good things to say. His catch phrase: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I suppose I need to move Omnivore up on my list.

The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin. Don’t let the word “diet” scare you away from some of the good things the author has to say – this, according to Valerie Gunter, who recommended the book. (She had to give it a catchy name, didn’t she?) Virgin guides the reader through an elimination diet to help determine whether there’s an intolerance to certain foods.

MOVIES AND VIDEOS

Food Inc., a documentary that takes “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry,” according to the Internet Movie Database. We didn’t have time to talk about this movie today – just a brief mention.

“Unblind My Mind,” a TEDxYouth Talk by Dr. Katherine Reid (16 minutes; also search for “unblind my mind” on YouTube). I mentioned the video at this morning’s meeting, and I had a request to post the link. Reid, a biochemist and mom of five, started researching food additives and eliminating particular foods from her autistic daughter’s diet. Within a few weeks, she noticed a marked improvement in the girl’s behavior. The culprits for Brooke: free glutamate (think MSG) – which goes by at least 50 names – and casein, a milk protein. In the video, Reid talks about the gluten/casein connection with excess glutamate. She started a nonprofit organization, Unblind My Mind, to more fully explore the topic of food’s effects on our health.

WEBSITES

Salad in a Jar. This is my own recommendation, although I didn’t have time to mention it at the meeting. On a Facebook group I’m a member of, I had complained about having to cut up one salad for work each evening (rather than a bunch of it days in advance) because of brown lettuce, and someone pointed me to Salad in a Jar. The site’s founder (who’s not selling anything) shows how to chop your salad greens ahead of time, vacuum seal them in mason jars and prolong the (refrigerator) shelf-life for several days. This not only saves time but money, as it helps cut down on food waste. (I bought a vacuum sealer, and I love it; if you’d like to borrow it, let me know.)

That’s it for now, folks. It’s past my bedtime, so I’m stopping. Later I’ll add info on some of the places, local and otherwise, where you can buy some of the natural, organic, gluten-free or other foods talked about this morning.

If you or a family member is experiencing health problems that can’t be explained, cured or eased with traditional remedies or modern medicine – or if you’re simply interested in exploring new ways to be healthy by changing your diet – talk to Anita, Valerie or Sandee at church, or post a comment here and I’ll put you in touch. I’ll also be happy to share what I’m learning as I research healthful eating and foods. And if you’d like to tell your story at Suzy & Spice, let me know – I’d love to have you as a guest writer. I’ve already recruited Anita to write a post!

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