Sustainable nourishment: when a health crisis can bring joy

When we cook for ourselves, our friends and our family, everything about our life slows down.

It’s like living in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, where the kitchen is right in the middle, comfort and communications central. That’s where everyone wants to be! Aromas emanate, from morning coffee to mouth-watering soups, to veggies roasting, to cookies baking. A place to create, to savor, to taste, to reconnect with our food, our health, our family. Ourselves.

Sometimes a health crisis brings us there, right into the kitchen, in search of nourishment. If we  take the time to learn the skills and develop the flavors and rhythms we need to survive, and more than that, to thrive, we can increase joy and nourish ourselves on a very deep level. A silver lining.

I have a concept to help you reframe the way you approach food from here on out. I call it “sustainable nourishment.”

And you may have a bit of a journey to make from point A to point B. If you are experiencing cancer therapy or other health challenges, you may have been put on a restricted diet or picked up information about what you should and should not eat from friends, television, or the Internet. You may have become extremely wary of food. Years ago, one of my friends summed up this mind set. “I became scared of food,” she said. “I was so scared of eating anything bad for me that it was easier not to eat.”

Over time, restrictive diets can cause you to lose your connection to food. But whether you’re healthy or sick, food is literally your connection to life.

Sustainable nourishment is about making those connections within whatever framework is best for your health. It’s also about realizing that there are often better-tasting and healthier alternatives to many of the foods you’ve grown accustomed to.

Let’s bring in flavor.

Linking healthy food with fabulous taste isn’t an accident; it’s a necessity. Even if the components of a food may be healthy, if it doesn’t appeal to our taste buds, we’re not likely to eat it. If we don’t eat, we can’t maintain our health.

So let’s agree: Any food that’s to be considered part of “sustainable nourishment” must titillate our taste buds. But that’s just a starting point. Although science may not have decided whether food can cure cancer, evidence strongly suggests that what we eat may help prevent cancer and reduce risk of recurrence.

Antioxidants in vegetables and fruits, omega-3 fatty acids in some cold-water fish, and phytochemicals in plants help boost our immune systems -- reason enough for anyone to gravitate toward these nourishing foods.

So now we have a fairly good working definition of sustainable nourishment. It involves food that both tastes great and contains the ingredients our body needs to sustain good health.

So that rules out a steady cuisine of donuts (sorry). But it doesn’t rule out much else. That moment when you realize that healthy eating expands your options instead of restricting them...

And did you know that amazing things occur when you sit down to a satisfying, nourishing meal? Your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Levels of cortisol, the hormone that surges when you’re stressed, suddenly drop. Immunoglobulin levels, an indicator of the health of the immune system, begin to rise (that’s good!). In fact, the satiation response is similar to what happens when people meditate. In short, sustainable nourishment from seed to table improves quality of life!

The key is finding the time and energy.

My suggestion: Find a cooking buddy or two in the community, as motivated as you are to shop, cook, and even clean. If possible, include an experienced cook. Their knowledge will accelerate your own development in the kitchen. Here’s a nourishing, fun recipe for you to try with your buddy: my Bento Box Soup.  

Consider cook-a-thons on weekends, especially on Sunday. Once you get the routine down, you can cook, freeze, and refrigerate enough food to provide nutritious meals for the rest of the week. One day on, six days off? Sounds good to me. My friend says it also gives his two children a sense of responsibility for their own nutrition and health. They choose what they want to eat (healthy food, of course), cook it, and put it in individually sized containers to be eaten later in the week.

The best classroom I know is the farmers’ market. Farmers love talking about what they grow and the flavor of their food. Farmers and shoppers alike are happy to share simple, delicious recipes. The food is so vibrant and the smells are so delightful that a trip down to the market is a guaranteed inspiration.

As your knowledge about and experience with sustainable nourishment expands, don’t be surprised if you feel a desire to nourish others. You might even want to host a dinner party. This may come as quite a shock to those who’ve never initiated such social interactions, but I say go for it! Think of it as sharing a gift of life. That’s what I call sustenance.

Whether a health crisis, or a new found food allergy, or simple curiosity opens the door, it’s a life-enhancing move to step into the kitchen.