The story of food and healing began, I think, when my husband decided it would be nice to buy two fig trees from a local nursery. At first the trees sat on the front porch; then, for purposes of easier watering and more sun, they migrated to the middle of the backyard. A couple of months after we bought the trees, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. A few months later, so was I. As we watched the two fig trees endure the unpredictability of the weather, they seemed to share our journey; and despite the storms they still survived to see another season.
The story evolved while I was sequestered for three days in a separate room of the house. I was there by necessity while the large dose of radioactive iodine I’d taken to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue slowly dissipated from my body. In that bare, stripped down room, I ate hard candies until I was nauseous, finished writing a song, and read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The candies kept my salivary glands from absorbing too much radiation, the song told a story that shaped my early life, and the book opened my mind to the possibility that the quality of what we ate could aid in our own healing more than I’d ever realized.
Since then, I’ve read hundreds of words about food. I’ve seen eye-opening documentaries about our modern predicaments with food. I’ve sought to find our own balance in a culture that has largely forgotten the once-established tradition of home cooking, surrendered our stomachs to processed food, and abandoned the table around which we once ate. I’m fully convinced that the best way back to health is to support people who produce real food with integrity, and, if you’re able, to grow and make anything you can at home. The best healthcare plan is the one where we reconcile the fact that we cannot continue to support a food system that is slowly destroying our health with products the body was never meant to consume.
And so the story continues. During this time of year, in the irrigated and populated desert where my parents live, the Palo Verde trees that line the freeways are awash with tiny bright yellow blossoms, and stubby cactus sprout vibrant violet flowers. I’m there to visit my parents, and I’ve brought with me my digital scale, my instant-read thermometer, and five pounds of whole white wheat berries. My mom, who’s undergone surgery after being diagnosed with kidney disease, rests as I help my dad with the cooking duties he’s inherited while she recovers. I’ve made fresh bread almost every morning I’m there, and have given a couple of loaves to friends who have loaned a grinder and a mixer for the task. I’ve made turkey and chicken stock, and then turkey soup, vegetable and greens soup, and, at my mom’s request, a cauliflower cheese soup. I’ve even found a local source for whole white wheat berries, raw milk and pastured eggs, and have turned my mom on to using spinach in the smoothies she has every morning for breakfast. It is my way of bringing food and healing to them, and in my mom’s words, it is medicine to her.
I’m still writing my story of food and healing. I hope you’ll write your own story too. And I agree with Joel Salatin, farmer and owner of Polyface Farms, when he sums it up with these words-“We are in the healing business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the culture. Ultimately, if our work is not healing, it’s not worth doing.”