Sunday, August 03, 2014

Diabetes on Madison Avenue, in New York, and Becoming a Xicana Foodie Activist

Her reply was immediate.  “It’s like pulling teeth sometimes,” Diabetes educator and nutritionist, Celia Chu-Diep said.  I had just asked her how difficult it is for Diabetes patients to follow at least some of the suggestions Diabetes nutritionists recommend: to initially attend Diabetes education classes; to attend support group meetings; to become committed to seeking and eating very different kinds of meals.  “It’s not easy for them.”  Celia talked about how individuals either just want a pill and do not want to change their eating habits.  Others do want to change, but find the journey to better nutrition quite confusing and overwhelming.  There's a lot of misinformation out there.  Also, any food we eat that we don't cook ourselves, always contains hidden sugars.  Individuals who travel or have a busy schedule often reach for what is convenient.  Convenient foods most often will have hidden sugars too.  While traveling in New York, it wasn’t easy for me.  Even that day, walking up Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s upper east side to Mount Sinai, there were many temptations.  A string of restaurants and fast-food shops line the streets on either side of the hospital.  
Busy day at Mount Sinai Hospital
Luckily, on that day, there was a mini farmer’s market across the street from the main entrance to Mount Sinai.  I stopped to have a hand-picked bean salad and a handful of raspberries from a local farm. Of course there was the temptation of the apple crisp bowls being sold at the next table.  I could even see the brown sugar crystals coating the apples.  I told myself, "okay, if I want more 'sweetness,' just buy another basket of raspberries."  And I did. Raspberries are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, which makes them a low glycemic index food, (meaning it is absorbed slowly in the body so you don’t have a sudden jerky sugar high.  Sugar "jerks" like that are cumulative.  You may not immediately see or feel how one sugar high affects the body, but years later, it all catches up and complications begin to rapidly appear.  By then, it's too late).  Had I eaten the apple crisp, I would have experienced a quick “high” and then a sudden low. Learning to have a conversation with yourself before you choose something to eat that is not from your kitchen is always a good idea.  

Raspberries are high in antioxidants and fiber.  A most wonderful fruit to snack on.  I buy them when they are on sale and then I freeze them.  They freeze very well. Do not wash them before freezing.  Wash them after you defrost them.  
Information outside of Celia's office at Mount Sinai (IMA stands for "Internal Medicine Associates"
This adventure – visiting Mount Sinai – took place a little over a week ago.  I visited Celia at Mount Sinai Hospital because I’d been wanting to get a glimpse of Diabetes education in various parts of the country.  And in Celia’s work, she observes that her Mexican, Puerto Rican, African American, Asian patients all have a hard time avoiding the cultural pressure of eating foods like pan dulce, polvorones, coconut cakes, fried bananas, in addition to fatty meats.  And even when they do, one visit to a restaurant may ruin any attempt to eat “healthier” because of all the hidden sugars they use to prepare food.  And again, I could relate to what she was saying.  This past year, due to the pressures of my work, which demanded an unusual amount of restaurant dinner and lunch meetings, I succumbed to losing what I thought was a sure footing in healthy eating.  Instead, the hidden sugars in restaurant food had me craving more and more unhealthy foods – a chemically induced rabbit hole that was very difficult to escape. Although it was a difficult few months, it taught me a lot about the nutritional challenges in our U.S. society.  
IMA: Internal Medicine Associates A1C tracker.  What this shows is the average individual with Diabetes will arrive at Mount Sinai with an A1C level at 10 (that's really high) and after receiving care and nutritional information, their A1C levels do come down.  But as you can see, there are setbacks at times.  This is normal.  As Celia points out, "It's not easy."
This is why I always first tell friends who ask me questions about Diabetes and what to eat:  Be kind to yourself.  As Celia pointed out:  “It’s not easy,” mainly because you have a huge “food industrial complex” (a goliath) always there hoping you’ll devour it and get sucked back into the vortex.  Take one step at a time and see eating healthy as an adventure—not something continually restrictive. 

In Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  a Year of Food Life, she writes how the food industry “made piles of corn and soybeans into high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and thousands of other starch- or oil-based chemicals.  Cattle and chickens were brought in off the pasture into intensely crowded and mechanized CAFOS (concentrated animal feeding operations) where corn – which is no part of a cow’s natural diet, by the way – could be turned cheaply and quickly into animal flesh.  All these different products, in turn, rolled on down the new industrial food pipeline to be processed into the soft drinks, burgers, and other cheap foods on which our nation now largely runs—or sits on its bottom, as the case may be . . . "

"Certainly, we still have regional specialties, but the Carolina barbecue will almost certainly have California tomatoes in its sauce (maybe also Nebraska-fattened feedlot hogs), and the Louisiana gumbo is just as likely to contain Indonesian farmed shrimp.  If either of these shows up on a fast-food menu with lots of added fats or HFCS, we seem unable either to discern or resist  the corruption.  We have yet to come up with a strong set of generalized norms, passed down through families, for savoring and sensibly consuming what our land and climate give us.  We have, instead, a string of fad diets convulsing our bookstores and bellies, one after another, at the scale of the national bestseller.  Nine out of ten nutritionists (unofficial survey) view this as evidence that we have entirely lost our marbles.  A more optimistic view might be this:  these sets of mandates captivate us because we’re looking hard for a food culture of our own.  A profit driven food industry has exploded and nutritionally bankrupted our caloric supply . . . Can we find or make up a set of rituals, recipes, ethics, and buying habits that will let us love our food and eat it too?  Some signs point to “yes.”  Better food—more local, more healthy, more sensible—is a powerful new topic . . . It reaches from the epicurean quarters of Slow Food convivial to the matter-of-fact Surgeon General’s Office; from Farm Aid concerts to school lunch programs.  From the rural routes to the inner cities, we are staring at our plates and wondering where that’s been.  For the first time since our nation’s food was ubiquitously local, the point of origin now matters again to some consumers.  We’re increasingly wary of an industry that puts stuff in our dinner we can’t identify as animal, vegetable, mineral, or what." (13 – 17)

Kingsolver's memoir of her own experiment (eating only what she grows and cooks) is a fascinating story, and inspiring.  For the past few years, I’ve grown vegetables (chard, kale, tomatoes, chiles, broccoli) in my backyard and have had great luck in harvesting/freezing and also cooking and freezing dishes so my garden serves me year-round. Celia was telling me that New Yorkers (and not just middle class New Yorkers-- she was talking to me about New Yorkers living in the Projects) are coming together to build community gardens wherever there is space:  on the roof, on balconies, and where there was a parking lot, now there may be a vegetable garden.  It's exciting to hear this news.  

For me, in the past two months, I’ve gone a step further.  I’m on, what I call, a “food adventure”—avoiding all meats, dairy (it was difficult to say “no” to greek yogurt and many kinds of cheese), and grains (but I was already gluten free), and cooking mainly greens.  You may be thinking:  well, what is left to eat?  And what is left has been indeed the amazing adventure, because once you're in "the plant world," the choices are endless.  I had no idea, such a rich world awaited me.  I’ve decided to follow what’s called a  “whole foods plant-based diet.”  I eat a lot of beans, lentils, vegetables, soy, fruits (mainly berries), and nuts (primarily almonds, walnuts, pepitas, some pistachios).  Coconut and olive oil are basic cooking staples (and coconut oil works well in smoothies and in the making of delicious sauces). Ginger, garlic, and all kinds of spices (cumin, turmeric, etc.) are also wondrous additions to recipes.  

pinto frijoles
A "whole foods plant based diet" has helped me recover from the difficult semester I had (all that restaurant food I had been eating).  My glucose numbers have lowered and remained stable and I’m feeling good!   I also feel like a Xicana radical food activist, my own healing agent, using food to improve my well being.  Some of the research I’ve read explains that a "whole foods, plant-based diet" improves cardiovascular well being.  And that is important to me because cardiovascular complications are most common with those of us who have Diabetes.  Most individuals with Diabetes die from stroke, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, and they also suffer from neuropathy (another cardiovascular complication). My experiment is to follow this “whole foods plant based diet” adventure for about six months and then I plan to go to my doctor to check (by getting a complete blood panel) and see if and how my experiment has affected my cardiovascular system. I’ll definitely keep you posted.  I'm not the only one on a food adventure!  There are other Xicanas having exciting food journeys. 

Two other Xicana food activists who are also professors: Catriona R. Esquibel and Luz Calvo, have a cooking club you can join.  
Professors Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel
They have “The Decolonial Cooking Club” on Facebook and they also have a website:

Here's an interview with Luz and Catriona: Click Here!

On their website, they write:

“As U.S.-born Latinos/as, we have much to learn from the way our ancestors ate.  Eating our ancestral foods can help us prevent and treat the diseases that result from adopting the Standard American Diet.  The central tenet of our project is “La comida es medicina” [Food is medicine]. As Chicana professors, we have seen firsthand the effects of the Standard American Diet on our bodies and on the health of our family, our students, and our community.  U.S.-born Latina/o communities are facing a health crisis, most notably with Diabetes but also with heart disease and many cancers.  It is difficult to fight for our people and our culture if we are sick and sluggish.  We believe that it is time to reclaim our cultural inheritance and wean our bodies from sugary drinks, fast food, and donuts.  Cooking a pot of beans from scratch is a micro-revolutionary act that honors our ancestors and the generations to come.” 

Every so often, I’ll be posting recipes and updates.  (Here’s one below.)  Querida La Bloga reader: I am sending each and every one of you healing energies and good wishes that you may think about your own food adventures and what that might look like! 

Avocados have excellent nutrients, high fiber, and really good fat!  

This recipe is by Rachael Campbell:
Title:  Avocado Kale Chili Salad (Vegan and Gluten Free)
Description:  Kale is a form of cabbage.  It is full of antioxidants, anti inflammatory nutrients and cancer preventive nutrients.  It is very high in iron, vitamin C, B complex groups of vitamins, and calcium.  Kale contains sulforaphane particularly when chopped or minced.  It also has a chemical which boosts DNA repair to cells.

Enjoy every bite of this healthy and nutritious salad:

n  1 bunch kale (Tuscan kale or curly leafed scots kale) stems removed
n  1 ½ avocados chopped
n  ½ red onion small thinly sliced
n  ½ cucumber thinly sliced
n  red chili sliced to taste
n  coriander to taste

--1 avocado
--6 teaspoons lemon juice
--6 teaspoons lime juice
--1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
--1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
--coriander to taste
--salt and pepper to taste
--flaked almonds (for Garnish)
--red chili sliced (for Garnish)

  1. Remove stem from kale, wash and chop coarsely, place into mixing bowl
  2. Grind or RUB a bit of salt and pepper into kale and let it sit for about 10 minutes to enhance flavor
  3. Add chopped avocado, red onion, cucumber, red chilies, and coriander.  Toss gently through salad
  1. Place ingredients into a blender (or, for those with a vitamix machine, use your vitamix) and blend on high speed for about a minute
  2. Toss dressing gently through salad
  3. Garnish with flaked almonds, red chili sliced, salt and pepper to taste
Sending you healing energies from New York!


msedano said...

i'm thinking how one's epicureanism needs to make room for a big helping of stoicism and flexible pragmatism. pero así es, ¿no?

Anonymous said...

wonderful, Amelia! So sorry to have missed you in NY. Being totally gluten free, I too must navigate the dietary jungle of the city, and I applaud you!

Anonymous said...

try this new cafe run by Maestro Don Manuel Rufino, beautiful healing foods and people in New York

tlt said...

Wonderful post! I am home and eating healthy again! I feel wonderful and am losing weight again. 5 pounds so far. I will make my doctor's appointment and get the diabetes test as you suggested. Also, I am gluten free. It is hard since everything seems to have gluten. But, I feel so much better and do not crave food; I am naturally hungry. Theresa from UMKC