December 10, 2010

Greens, Grains and the Grocery Store with Client Advisory Board Member Dorothy

Dorothy Kemp, DC resident and member of the Bread for the City Client Advisory Board, recently took Allison, a Bread for the City intern, grocery shopping. Let’s join them as Dorothy shares her experiences with being happy and healthy with an affordable, plant-based diet.

Dorothy chose the P Street Whole Foods for our grocery shopping tour, because of the bulk food options. But as we enter the store, Dorothy makes a beeline for the vegetables. Tonight she will be cooking a quinoa and winter vegetables dish, but is quickly distracted by the leafy greens -- rapini and dandelion greens are her choices today. “Don't worry, these aren't from your yard.” These are added to her usual purchase of mixed salad greens, sold for under $5 a pound.

Dorothy, who has for years been eating a primarily vegan diet on a limited budget, laughs about the grief she gets from friends and family for her love of salad. “People are always asking: 'Why are you eating that?' Cause it works!”

“For me, not having meat is no big deal – I'm still healthy and hopefully the planet is a little cleaner. We have so much abundance and so many selections to make, and hopefully we can help each other make some of the healthier choices. And it's not just affordable, but you can save money! Beans over meat, whole grains in bulk, vegetables…. The meat -- I don't miss it!”

Dorothy's number one tip is to get to know the bulk foods section of stores like Whole Foods, with a wide variety of healthy whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts available more cheaply than in boxes or in pre-packaged meals. Whereas in the other aisles, a box of rice can cost $3.00 a pound, in the bulk aisles, it's only $1.69 a pound. In this video, learn two of Dorothy's tricks - knowing how much pasta is enough and knowing where to look for grains:

“Once a week or so I would try something different, try a new grain I didn't know, see if I like it,” Dorothy explains how she came to love quinoa – a seed that cooks like a grain but contains all essential amino acids and is a staple in her cooking throughout the year. (It sells for $3.39 per pound in bulk versus the equivalent of $6.00 per pound in other aisles). We agree all the options might be intimidating for someone who's never seen this section. “I would start with something that they're familiar with – raw nuts, plain rice. And then if there's something that they'd maybe heard of, or something they see on the list of grains, look it up and try to figure out how to use it.”

An incremental approach to eating healthier is something that Dorothy has applied in her own life and does not hesitate to share with friends. “I always encourage people to share what they've cooked. If you make enough to share, they'll usually say, ‘This is not bad!’” She's found that some of the main obstacles to healthier eating are attitudes about meat and sugar. With no shortage of creative alternatives, Dorothy finds that she can convince friends and family that other options exist. For folks who don't like beans, she recommends starting with hummus. Not interested in cutting out sugar? Try using less sugar and adding fruit and cinnamon to oatmeal.

“I like being 64 and being able to tell people I can still run for the bus, I can still bend over to tie my shoes, I'm looking forward to being able to live a few more years,” she explains. “Eat what you know is good for your body and makes you happy, and doesn't clog your arteries. And don't apologize for it!”

At the same time, the challenges of making healthy choices are not lost on Dorothy. For her, the idea of food justice means “everyone should be able to have the best quality food that you can have, should be able to have a decent meal on the table. In a country of such abundance to still have people who don't have access to good food – it's like how people don't have access to good healthcare. It is a right to eat well, to be able to nurture your body.”

Sharing good eating habits with neighbors sounds like a good place to start. Here are some other tips from Dorothy:
  • Avoid the packaged foods. Why? “Too costly, too much salt, and you can make your own!” Steer toward the bulk foods aisle instead.
  • Take one step at a time: We're brought up on a lot of meat and sugar and something like brown rice has a texture that someone might not appreciate the first time around. Mixing whole grains in with regular cereals for breakfast or combining brown rice and white plain rice, can be a way to transition towards healthier meals.
  • Explore meat alternatives: Learning about how to sneak beans into meals for friends and neighbors was a highlight of our trip through the aisles - anything from cooking chili with vegan “meatloaf” to offering hummus as a snack.
  • Bleach bath for your produce: Protecting yourself from the herbicides and pesticides on fruits and vegetables doesn't have to involve spending loads on organics. Mix a teaspoon or so of bleach in with a bowl of water and rinse your produce in it. This removes all the chemicals without leaving any taste of bleach.
  • Olive oil and low sodium chicken broth: Cooking with a little of either of these makes for a cheap and easy way to add tons of flavor to your veggies.
  • Get to know portion sizes: Knowing how much food is appropriate for your body can save you money as well.


Ed Bruske said...

There is a real dilemma in proposing "meat alternatives" to a population that may be suffering disproportionately from obesity and diabetes. These are indicators of "insulin resistance," meaning they will only tend to add more pounds and aggravate their conditions by consuming carbohydrates, which trigger insulin, the fat storage hormone. This is doubly a dilemma because the alternative would be greater consumption of calories from quality fats (best) and protein (okay), both of which are vastly more expensive that the poverty diet of rice (or grains) and beans (or legumes). But these are issues that desperately need to be explored in greater depth where low-income populations are concerned.

Sharon Feuer Gruber said...

Ed is right that this is a very complicated topic that touches upon issues that desperately need to be explored. But the "poverty diet" of grains and legumes, as he called it, also often consists of lots of inexpensive meat, and I support Dorothy Kemp's attempt to introduce her friends and family to other options, including using beans in chili and snacking on hummus with vegetables. The way I see it, there is no one right answer for insulin resistance and diabetes prevention, as we're all biochemically unique. My take on this post is that the writer is talking about what works best for her body -- on a budget, and keeping in mind her concern about the environmental impact of eating what would likely be conventional beef. Ed is accurately summarizing the concerns of many (including the Slow Food and Weston A. Price Foundation movements), and those are credible points, but the vegan Physician’s for Responsible Medicine diet also works for many diabetics, which is part of why, in my opinion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to address obesity and prevent diabetes. For example, the patients I work with in Bread for the City's medical clinic all devise a diet catered to their particular needs – health concerns, monetary resources, taste preferences, available time for prep, ability to move around the kitchen, culture and tradition, etc.

Ed Bruske said...

I don't put much stock in dietary advice from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is a fanatically lipophobic organization. In fact, there are only two absolutely essential macronutrients in the human diet: protein and fat. Of the two, fat is the only one guaranteed not to trigger an insuliln response. It can be fairly simply state: people who are diabetic, pre-diabetic or insulin resistant should not be concuming carbohydrates, which pretty much rules out a vegetarian or vegan diet. Therein lies the dilemma: if we argue against comsuming meat on environmental or ethical grounds, it leaves a huge segment of the population wondering what they are supposed to eat. And it is precisely that population that to a large extent finds itself without the financial means to sustain a protein/fat-based diet.