America’s Newest Diet Guru?

…or America’s latest “health” sanctioned eating disorder in the guise of a fad diet?

Some weeks ago, my friend Ellen sent me a link to this story in More magazine, which bills itself as a publication “for women of style and substance.” Ellen and I were both shocked and distressed by the “substance” of this one:

The article sings the praises of Lyn-Genet Recitas, the owner of Neighborhood Holistic in New York City. Lyn-Genet is “certified” in Chinese food theory and holistic nutrition. Tellingly, neither the article nor Lyn-Genet’s website says who issued these certifications, except to note that Lyn-Genet has a master’s degree from Clayton College of Natural Health (a now-defunct non-accredited distance-learning institution.) The basis of her diet program (“The Plan”) is the theory that different foods can cause chronic low-grade inflammation which contributes both to weight gain and to various ailments.

(According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, there is no evidence that food allergies contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation.)

Nevertheless, Lyn-Genet has had “thousands” of clients lose weight and feel that their health has improved as a result of “The Plan.” Some of the foods that she believes cause problems for a lot of people include:

shellfish (with the exception of scallops), turkey, pork, eggs, Greek yogurt, roasted nuts, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, oatmeal, salmonthe list goes on.

Each person is “chemically unique,” says Recitas. Therefore, according to her, scientific research can’t tell you what foods are healthy for you or not–but her cobbled-together anecdotal evidence can:

“I’d estimate that 95 percent of the people I work with can’t eat oatmeal without gaining a substantial amount of weight. It can cause two days’ worth of constipation and particularly affects my migraine sufferers.

So people going on the plan go through a three-day “cleanse,” and then through an elimination diet rotation, weighing themselves daily and taking detailed notes on how they’re feeling. Lyn-Genet claims that participants should be losing a half pound daily.

There are so many things that are distressing about this article and this “Plan.” For the sake of clarity, I’m going to tackle them bullet-point style:

1. Focus on Weight Loss/Thinness

The article notes that Lyn-Genet, who is 46 years old, has 11% body fat. That is shockingly underfat. 11% body fat would be considered “underfat” for a man of her age–let alone a woman. Being that underfat is associated with its own risks, not least osteoporosis.

Any diet that involves daily weigh-ins encourages obsession with the scale–which is not where the focus need be. Responsible nutritionists recommend weekly weigh-ins and emphasize that results cannot be judged by the scale alone.

2. Tons of Introspection: e.g. “How am I feeling after this meal?”

I think we can all benefit from paying attention to what’s going into our mouths. But this? This is a recipe for an eating disorder. Remember my gluten-free confession? Based on the same kind of thing. This is not to say that if, you know, jalapenos make you sick every time you eat them, that you shouldn’t avoid them. Of course you should. But eliminating whole swaths of foods because of perceived “intolerance” within your body? Bad idea.

3. (related to point #2) Hyper-individualistic

Lyn-Genet seems to think that the most “revolutionary” part of her diet plan is the fact that it encourages YOU YOU YOU to figure out what’s good for you based on your own reactions to everything that goes in your mouth. But really, this is just Burger King philosophy (“have it your way”) with a health-and-weight conscious twist. This is an eating plan that cuts people off from one another and makes communal eating a real pain in the, well, you know. To my mind, that’s never a good thing.

4. (in case it wasn’t clear from above) JUNK “science”

Piecing together anecdotal evidence from clients in a neighborhood practice is NOT research, and calling it “research” is irresponsible.

Shame on More magazine for giving these quack theories a voice and using a specter of extreme, unhealthy thinness to help advertise yet another fad diet masquerading as an approach to health!

Comfort the Afflicted

So my friend Mr. S–who is in his nineties–is in a great deal of pain. He has been in pain for most of his life, in fact, because he fought in the Pacific during WW2 and received a wound that has remained open, painful, and constantly infected ever since. But now he’s got some kind of affliction (cancer, maybe?) on his face and he is almost completely blind. When I saw him on Saturday night, he was in so much pain that he would pause, close his eyes, and be silent for a moment before continuing to speak.

this has very little to do with the post except that my son’s dinosaur/dragon drawings really do make the kitchen a happier place to cook and blog!

He’s never been a complainer. Not ever. Maybe that comes from being an old-fashioned Yankee; maybe from being part of the Greatest Generation; maybe that’s just who he is (and maybe some of each.) But lately, he has been more willing to admit that he is in pain. He has even mentioned some of his war experiences–something I’ve never known him to do. He feels very alone and forgotten. (Mrs. S is there, of course, but staying in a nursing home can still be pretty depressing and lonely)

Bringing dinner on Saturday nights, then, feels like much too little. It can’t take away the pain. In fact, he’s in such pain that he can’t manage to eat much anyway.

We keep going, of course. With food. Because even if he gets down just a few bites, it’s a few bites of something that tastes good and, hopefully, brings just a bit of comfort.

(I should add that Mrs. S has no problem enjoying her food. She eats quietly, deliberately, and heartily.)

This week, I was going to make a variation on the Tuna Noodle Casserole in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (11th. ed.), substituting canned wild Alaskan salmon for the tuna. However, I forgot to put the salmon in, so it was simply Noodle Casserole. It was, if I may say so, quite good. But it wasn’t much like the recipe in the book. (I’ll share it soon. Spoiler: is topped with crushed potato chips, which you leave off at your peril.) Mrs. S. loved it. Mr. S. took only a few bites, but pronounced them ‘good.’

these are LOCAL potato chips! makes them healthier; I’m convinced of it. Oh! And another delightful monster drawing.
can’t believe I forgot the salmon. my mom wisely pointed out that having salmon in might’ve filled us up too much and cut into our appetite for chocolate mousse.
fresh mint and “french dressing” (a vinaigrette)

I wanted to start the meal with some kind of salad that would be seasonal and easy to eat, so I pulled a few beets from the ground, plucked some fresh mint and made a beet and mint salad with vinaigrette. (I don’t even like beets that much–except for beet cake, of course–but this was good, too.) To my surprise, Mr. S. ate almost all of his. Beets can be comfort food! Who knew?

beets are such a great color.

Of course, I had to make something chocolate for dessert because Mr. S. loves chocolate and because a creamy noodle casserole just calls for some kind of chocolate pudding as a finishing course. So we had a French chocolate mousse, made with the help of my beautiful new Kitchen Aid mixer that my mom got me for my birthday. Oh, yum. I made it with Dutch-process cocoa, sugar, butter, brandy, and eggs. (Mr. S. ate a good bit of this. Mrs. S., who is very quiet, gave a hearty “yum!” after her first bite and scraped the dish clean.)

I love this kind of cooking: it’s comfort food–soft, easy to swallow, creamy–from real ingredients. And when you’re cooking for old people and sick people, what can sometimes be comes a liability when cooking for others (for example, lots of cream and butter) is actually an advantage (calorically-dense foods are often just what sick folks with poor appetites need.) I love cooking for my old friends.

I’ve known some kids whose doctors prescribed that they drink this stuff straight. I have to use coffee as an excuse to drink it myself. #loveheavycream

I don’t kid myself that this food is going to work any miracles. Sometimes, for Mr. S., at least, hunger for food is obviously a distant second to hunger for company. This past week, I was pretty sure he would’ve preferred a dish of pain meds to the dinner I brought.

But maybe the comfort is not just in the food. Maybe it’s in the fact that with the food I bring hot, black coffee–his favorite–into a nursing home where the coffee is weak and tepid. Maybe it’s the way my mom insists on helping him cut his food and tells him that he’s not allowed to argue about it. Maybe it’s that we bring cloth placemats and real china and make a big fuss over them in a place which provides quality care but no extra touches.

Maybe we can’t eliminate pain in this broken, hurting world. Actually, I’m sure we can’t. But maybe we can offer each other comfort–the temporal comforts of hugs, puddings, hot drinks–that points to an even greater Comfort–the hope of One who shared our brokenness to the point of allowing himself to be broken, but rose again, securing our healing and wholeness and that of this whole broken world.

a “proof” of true Christian faith.

Early Christian writers claimed that sharing life, including meals, with persons of different backgrounds was a “proof” of true Christian faith. They were convinced that practicing the broadly–even radically–open hospitality that Jesus taught meant that they would welcome Christ himself as their guest—as, of course, Christ himself teaches in Matthew 25—and that their actions would “portray a clear message—that of equality, transformed relations, and a common life.”

Yet, the Christian habit of sharing meals regularly and with “the least of these” all but disappeared as a significant moral practice in the 1700s, along with the major societal and economic changes of that era. Today, if churches feed the poor, they usually do so in the context of ministries like soup kitchens and food pantries; it is the rare group that—like the L’Arche communities founded by Jean Vanier—regularly practices sharing meals across the boundaries of social class and backgrounds.  But it would seem that this kind of sharing more closely approximates Jesus’s ideal. As Christine Pohl writes, “meal time, when people sit down together, is the clearest time of being with others, rather than doing for others.” When we eat with others, we sit on the same level with them, acknowledging our common creatureliness as we stop and do the necessary, joyful business of eating. When we eat the same food, the same food goes into each of our bodies, building up our cells, becoming, quite literally, a part of each of us. We may or may not share much conversation, but we are nonetheless bound to each other in breaking bread together. And Christ is with us.

Sadly, in our society, shared meals of any kind are quickly becoming a rarity—many people regularly eat alone and on the run. A few years ago, the BBC presented a magazine article titled “Portrait of the Meal-for-One Society,” reporting that half of all meals eaten in the UK are eaten alone. The article attributed this trend, in part, to the ubiquity of ready-to-eat meals and to the dramatic rise of single-person households. When I lived in the UK for three years, I noticed how very many people ate while walking around town—the pedestrian culture’s alternative, I suppose, to drive-through food and drink consumed in automobiles. Although I was not able to find data suggesting just how many meals are eaten alone in the US, current research regularly reports a steady decline in the number of meals that children eat with their parents; in a 2007 study, for example, just 39% of 12-17 year olds reported eating with their parents 6 or 7 times per week; 30% ate with their parents three times a week or less.

If eating together is so much a part of being human, and if extending our tables to those who are different from us is such an essential part of living the Gospel, what does it mean that meals shared—even among family members—are on the decline? At the very least, I suspect that it’s a sign of ill health, both physical and spiritual.

Gifts of Grace in Bread, Wine, and Words

We’re back!

SOMEone turned SIX on our trip!

It was a wonderful trip, 9 days of visiting friends and family, most of whom we haven’t seen for a long time, because although my husband and I both went to college in the Northeast, we are back in this general area after 4 years in Europe, 2 in California, and nearly 2 in Chicago.

wagon ride on the streets of Harrisburg

A few weeks ago I had a post on the Christianity Today women’s blog on why it’s good to have people over to your house for dinner, even if it can feel vulnerable and awkward. I didn’t say much in that piece about how accepting hospitality also involves some vulnerability. It means accepting the kindness of others, which in our culture can sometimes feel like weakness. I suspect that’s one of the reasons some of us find it easiest to meet at “third places,” like restaurants and cafes. It’s easier to just go out to eat and order what you want and pay for yourself so that your friends don’t have to serve you and clean up after you.

Accepting hospitality is, I think, a little like accepting grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t make yourself worthy to receive it. Which is why it’s uncomfortable to accept. Accepting grace means admitting you need it. Accepting hospitality means accepting a gift of someone’s time, effort, and resources. Sure, you might bring a thank-you gift or card, but only a cynic would regard that as payment.

But staying with friends, eating with friends in homes–there is something almost miraculous going on there that I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess I can see why Jesus did so much of it. Even where I experienced nervousness at being so close to people I hadn’t seen for years (or, in some cases, hadn’t yet met), joy overwhelmed the nervousness. There is something precious about meeting people in their homes, seeing them with their children and in the place where they are (I think!) most comfortable. You can see that they are not so different from you–whether it’s in the quirkiness of their decor, the occasional crankiness of their children, or the unpredictability of pets, meal plans, and laundry piles.

another lovely PA farm…all the more lovely because of the people we love who live there!

(More than once, our children were cranky, rude, or whiny, prompting our various hosts to say in all sincerity, “your kids do that, too?” Tim & I joke that it’s our ‘ministry’ to help other parents feel better about their kids’ behavior…)

We are home now, but the joy of communing with friends on this trip has made me crave more hospitality in my life–more times of connecting over food and drinks and conversation, more times accepting and offering gifts of grace in bread, wine, and words.

we all should have friends who have grandparents who have ponies!

Thank you for your sweet hospitality, dear friends! We love you so much.

Two Kinds of Potato Pancake

{These recipes originally appeared as a part of a list of 10 favorite colder-weather recipes in the ‘Ten Things’ issue of Catapult Magazine. Since I’m still away–and since it’s getting colder here in the Northeast!–I thought I’d re-post these two recipes for two very different sorts of potato pancakes. Yum!}

Sweet Potato (& Corn) Fritters

This is one of my family’s new favorites, a new twist on our old favorite, potato pancakes (see below). Well, okay, my five year old isn’t crazy about them (yet.) But the rest of us are. Fresh cilantro is expensive (and likely imported) in the supermarket this time of year; it’s fairly easy to grow your own indoors. But don’t leave it—or the green onions—out. The orange, yellow, and green in these make them so pretty. If you’re inclined to be snobbish about frozen veggies, consider that few vitamins are lost during freezing, and that commercially frozen foods are frozen at the peak of freshness—you (and the planet) are way better off buying frozen veggies in winter than buying fresh ones that have been shipped long distances. Plus, recently, I’ve seen organic frozen corn everywhere from Costco to Trader Joe’s. If you planned ahead and froze corn yourself in the summer, so much the better.

Grate 3 large sweet potatoes (I don’t bother to peel them if they’re organic, just scrub and grate). Mix with 1 cup frozen corn kernels, rinsed, 4 chopped green onions, 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 3 lightly beaten eggs, and 1/3 cup whole wheat flour. (for non-gluten eaters substitute 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons potato flour.) Stir in about ½ tsp. salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Drop by ¼ cupfuls into a pan well oiled with 1 part oil (preferably corn or grapeseed) and 1 part butter—enough to keep them sizzling but not floating. Cook about 3 minutes on each side, and keep warm on a cookie sheet in a 275 degree oven while you cook the rest. Serve with a simple sauce of juice from 3 limes, ½ tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional), 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 2 tsp. sesame oil. Add chile flakes if you like things spicy, and please look for soy sauce that is just soy, wheat, salt, and water. (Or, again, if you’re gluten-free, look for gluten-free tamari sauce.)

Potato Pancakes

The Hanukah favorite, perfect throughout the winter! My kids and husband like them with ketchup—they’re kind of like a hash brown, then, but I (and my parents) love them with the more Eastern European toppings of sour cream and applesauce. Either way, they’re cheap, filling, and really tasty.

Grate (again, if they’re organic, just leave the skins on) 3 large potatoes and squeeze in a clean cloth to release some of their liquid. Mix with ¼ cup flour, 2 eggs, and 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped.  If it looks soupy, add a bit more flour. Add about 1 tsp. salt and some fresh black pepper. Drop by ¼ cupfuls onto a hot pan oiled with 1 part oil (preferably corn or grapeseed) and 1 part butter—enough to keep them sizzling but not floating. Drain on paper towels, if necessary, and keep warm in a 275 oven. Serve immediately.