There are some people who, for various reasons, assume monumental importance in our lives. Fredi Kronenberg was one of those for me. Like everyone who knew her and her work, I was a HUGE admirer. A consummate researcher, she was a champion of integrative medicine and the food as medicine movement, especially for women’s health issues and those dealing with cancer. She was also my very dear friend.
Fredi was director of the Rosenthal Center for Complementary Medicine at Columbia — and the only woman director of the original set of NIH-sponsored centers for complementary medicine. She spent her last years splitting her time between NYC and Palo Alto, where she was an adjunct professor at Stanford and where she championed the cause of food and health. She co-directed the Nutrition & Health Conference for 14 years.
There were no barriers for her. She never said because I’m a woman I can’t. It wasn’t in her vernacular. She just forged ahead, with energy and joie de vivre. She was driven by curiosity. That’s how scientists change life!
Remarkably, Fredi herself lived for over a decade with non-small cell lung cancer. She was an intensely private woman whose diagnosis was known only to her physicians and close friends. She used every imaginable combination of standard, experimental, and integrative medical practices, to great effect. But even for Fredi, with her encyclopedic knowledge, scientific acumen, research skills and fierce determination to live, making the hard choices was tough. At the same time, the choices she made extended her life over five times beyond her initial prognosis of less than two years!
We met in January of 2007 at Commonweal at an invitation-only event consisting of people on the forefront of complementary and integrative cancer therapies. Michael Lerner, Commonweal president and co-founder, had a very creative way of getting people to talk. He gave those in attendance 5 minutes to speak on one subject. I was the only one talking about food.
Fredi came up to me. So where did you go to culinary school, she queried? Turns out she knew Annemarie Colbin, founder of my alma mater, The Natural Gourmet Institute, really well. She owned my first cookbook on cancer One Bite at a Time. We bonded.
We collaborated on some very meaningful work.
Fredi and I were 2 pixies in a pod! She was the left brain of the enterprise, and I was the right. She was a scientist, I was a cook. She was driving the motorcycle and I was in sidecar, holding on for dear life!
She was a doer, an outstanding collaborator and one of the most tenacious women I’ve ever met. Anything that stood in her way was NOT an option! She was able to get the funding for an extended food and health workshop series for Stanford doctors and cancer patients. Her goal was to educate doctors about the nutritional needs of people with cancer, as well as survivors and thrivers.
She was committed to bringing everyone around the table to empower those with cancer with the idea that what we put at the end of our forks can provide quality of life, deep nourishment and a sense of community. And she did.
We started our workshops in 2007 and the last one we did together was a workshop for patients in 2016. At this workshop we could only hold 50 people, but more than twice that many people showed up. Some people drove hundreds of miles, they cared SO MUCH about being empowered!
These were people in all different phases of their journey, and not just women. Men! Young! Old! Mothers, daughters, and granddaughters, from all walks of life. There were doctors sprinkled in, witnessing what was happening. People were sharing their stories with each other, exchanging phone numbers, talking, eating and reaching out, and physicians were doing the same. That’s what Fredi was about.
At Nutrition & Health this year we talked about Fredi. Tears were streaming down our faces, as we shared stories and remembrances. Her spirit of curiosity and generosity is a legacy I will hold very dearly.
God, I miss her!
I selected the following recipe to share in homage to Fredi because of a funny story.
The Nutrition & Health conference was held one year in Seattle, and dessert at the first lunch were my Chocolate Date Nut Truffles from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. The kitchen made too many. I mean, how many truffles can a person eat? After lunch Fredi was looking over the tables (there were 700 people at lunch that day) and couldn’t help but notice all the untouched, leftover truffles. (Fredi LOVED food and was VERY thrifty.) I need a napkin! she exclaimed. I need something! These aren’t going to waste! This became a conference tradition. We went truffle hunting after lunch. She would fill up on leftover truffles and take them home to her freezer.
I think you’ll find them irresistible, too :)