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At AllergyKids, inspiration matters to us…a lot. Because when you are handed a diagnosis – whether it’s a life-threatening food allergy or a child’s cancer – you need every shot of hope, inspiration and strength that you can get.
So when a friend emailed an article titled, “Happy Anniversary,” the same week that marked the 6 year anniversary of that life-changing breakfast that resulted in a food allergic reaction at our breakfast table, I reflected on how there really are no coincidences. Just lessons.
And we are grateful for them.
And when we hear stories like the one you are about to read below, we feel compelled to share them. Not because we believe that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness, but because they offer so much hope. And hope is the knowledge that change is possible even when it seems hard to imagine.
I have never been into anniversaries. That sounds so un-romantic. I am always aware how many years Lance and I have been married, for example, and secretly psyched when we made it a decade, and kept on going, but I didn’t care about making a big deal about the actual day. I like to celebrate random days, not necessarily THE day.
However, this anniversary is different. It’s significant. It brings mixed emotions. Usually when you say “Happy Anniversary” it’s because that particular day was a celebratory one. A year ago was not celebratory for us. In fact, it sucked. It was hands down the worst day of our lives. I was sitting in ICU thinking all the worst things one could think, crying my eyes out, ridden with shock and sadness.
So when I look at where we are now, I think now that’s something to celebrate! Lately, I’ve been looking at Lance, thinking, “Damn, you look good.” In fact, this past weekend, we were at some hot springs near Winter Park with our friends. We were all coming out of the changing rooms with our swim suits on and both my friend and I took a double take when Lance came out in his bathing suit. He looked fit and strong and healthy and just plain good. My friend said something to me about how Lance looked, I nodded.
And when I think about all that we learned and grew and did and tackled and accomplished in the past year, it makes me beam with pride. We worked hard at getting where Lance is today. We didn’t let anything get in our way…not doctors, not naysayers, not statistics. We just put those aside and tried to be the best students possible. We continued to learn as we went along and added, or subtracted whatever was serving us or not serving us and kept on forging ahead. This included not only nutrition, but meditating, visualizing, resting, learning, learning, and more learning, being conscious in everything we did and being really clear on what we had time for and what we didn’t. It was like the ultimate fine tuning of our lives.
Also, a year is significant because getting to a year in Lance’s case was a big deal and increases his chances all the more. A couple months ago, I started feeling that sense that we were coming up to a year and Lance was doing so good and it made me think of the little engine that could and I kept thinking, “Come on, you can do it.”
While my Dad was in the hospital here in Boulder with his broken leg, I asked him if he would like to see Lance’s last MRI. Since my Dad is a retired radiologist (that specialized in neurology) this whole business with Lance has been a little touchy. I knew without discussing his views that we had very different perspectives on Lance’s condition but he kept his thoughts to himself (thanks Dad, I am eternally grateful to you for that). However, in this bonding father/daughter moment, I showed him Lance’s last MRI and watched him as he stared in quiet disbelief. He really could not believe what he was seeing. Because what he was seeing was practically NOTHING!
We didn’t immediately share Lance’s results on purpose for 2 reasons. 1) We both needed it to sink in and savor it. 2) We don’t want to jinx ourselves and seem cocky (we are still in this game). Basically what was once the size of a racket ball is now the size of a pea (and that could be just dead tissue).
So what we have to celebrate is a successful year of extreme discipline. I don’t think about that day, one year ago, and what it was like. I think about today and how far we have come. I think about how life and every single day should be celebrated, not just that one day. I think about that no matter what you are going through, there is always hope, there is always beating the odds, there is that silver lining. I feel grateful that Lance and I were blessed with that strength and foresight to have the outlook we have had. I hope that no matter what you are going through, whatever adversity you are facing, that you can have the strength to pull yourself out of it. Know that life is constantly changing and if you face your issues head on, with love and openness, before you know it a year has past and you think to yourself (as I do know),”What a difference a year can make!”
About Nancy Gentry: Nancy is living proof that norms, rules (and diagnoses) are made to be broken. In January 2011, Nancy’s husband found out he had brain cancer and had major brain surgery a few days later. Rather than accept the doctor’s dismal diagnosis, Nancy decided to tackle her biggest life challenge with food, juicing, love, laughter, meditation and more and put her and her husband on an uber-healthy trajectory. It took a little while for the burger eating, fried food loving, multi-tasking, too busy running Justin’s Nut Butter president to adapt to this way of life. However today, Lance and Nancy feel they could not be healthier and look back on 2011 as one of the biggest gifts of their lives. Their new balanced lifestyle and attention to every aspect of their lives has given her husband a new perspective allowing him to thrive. Nancy has begun coaching others on incorporating love, laughter and veggies into everyday life (www.lovelaughveggies), creating preventative, inspiring lifestyles for those who want to live life to the fullest and healthiest both inside and out. She hopes to inspire people (and you!) to take care of themselves and learn from their experience and learn how to prevent DIS-EASE by implementing some simple changes in their life NOW. From the non-stop frenzy of producing her own tv show, to the runways of the Parisian modeling world to being one of the world’s first moms to choreograph their husband’s healing from a malignant brain tumor, Nancy is living proof that norms, rules and diagnoses are meant to be broken.
You can follow Nancy and Lance at www.lovelaughveggies.com
This short video has inspired countless individuals, businesses and thought leaders around the world. And today, we are highlighting it once again in memory of Steve Jobs whose passionate work seemed to give others permission to think outside the box and is an incredible reminder that “one man, with vision, courage and unwavering dedication can still change the world“.
So take a minute to watch it and think about what you can do to lend your unique talents and become part of the change. Because, together, we can create a healthy future for our children.
I looked down at the scale and it said 250 lbs. I couldn’t believe it. How did that happen?
I thought about all the diets I had been on over the years. Each one promising, each one failing. Atkins helped me lose 60 lbs. then after a year, I gained it and 50 lbs. more back. I tried liquid and eating pre-made meals (gross) of what I thought was healthy. I’d lose 20 lbs. then stop and gain it right back. Enough was enough.
I love food so I decided I’m going to learn everything about it.
What is real healthy food?
I first gave up sugar. Then it was white flour. My sons were both doing the Paleo diet so I learned from them about eating lean meats, vegetable and fruits nuts and seeds. The first month was horrible. The cravings for sugar were endless. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and likened it to a drug addict. Was I really this addicted to sugar? I started looking at all the foods in my cabinets. Canned foods with corn syrup added, salad dressings w/ corn syrup, whole grain cereals, there’s the corn syrup again! Products I thought were healthy choices were full of corn syrup and chemicals I couldn’t pronounce.
What is going on?!
I began dumping everything that was processed and wasn’t a whole food that was in my kitchen. My cupboards were bare.
I then began watching documentaries to get educated on where our food comes from. King Corn, Food Inc., everything netflix had to offer on food documentaries. My favorites was to market to market to buy a fat pig which was about Farmers Markets and where their food comes from… Wow, what a difference and that’s when I really started getting mad.
It’s also when I noticed children holding large red dye slurpys and I wanted to cry for them! I researched every farmers market in our area and began to learn more about Organic food.
I started talking more and more to my girlfriend Ellen who was concerned about the genetic Alzheimer’s in her family and was researching food right along with me to learn more about fighting disease. My mother passed away of Cancer just two years ago. So cancer is another disease I want to fight off now by making my body as healthy as I can.
Ellen and I got together for lunches weekly to go over what we had learned. I was thankful for this because many people just don’t want to know and we needed to vent about GMO, Pesticides, Processed Food, Corn Syrup and our poor American farmers, seed companies and drug companies and giant food corps. Are they all working hand in hand making our families over weight, allergic, sick and dieing.
How did this happen? And what can we do to make it stop!?
Youtube had an amazing amount of wonderful recipes from our Vegan, Vegetarian, Raw foodies and Paleo friends. I have learned to make my own almond bread. I make zucchini pasta my husband and I love. Together we juice in the morning fresh Organic vegetables and fruit. I still eat meat but it has to be grass fed, pasture finished, eggs too. I can’t believe how wonderful this whole Organic food tastes! Were my taste buds numb before?
It’s been five months. And people started noticing the weight loss.
I’ve lost 45lbs. on this journey so far and I call it a journey because its not a diet. I’ve completely changed what I eat for life. It’s not something I will stop once I lose the weight. I have to much information now to ever go back.
My hope is to continue to lose at least another 6o lbs. but more importantly to get healthy and detoxify my body. My husband has lost 35lbs. and just got back from the doctors. The doctors told him keep doing whatever your doing, you’ve lost weight and your cholesterol went from 246 to 161and everything is within the normal ranges.
And this is a man who never ate veggies.
Learning how to make great organic food has made all the difference.(Thank you Youtube!) I’ve also begun gardening, so often in the afternoon I am tending to our organic tomatoes, zucchini lettuce and bell pepper. Watching the garden grow is an awesome reminder of how its really supposed to be.
I have an 8 month old grandson and two more on the way that I want to inspire and be a part of. I feel like I have a whole new wonderful life awaiting me by discovering whole foods. More then anything, I want everyone to have this gift. Just know that it all started with one change. The rest just kept coming.
By Dana Woldow of P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food
I’ve been working on fixing school food in San Francisco since 2002, and have served as co- chair of my school district’s student nutrition committee for over 7 years. I don’t work for the school district and never have; I am a parent volunteer. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with others who are hoping to drive change in their own school districts. Here are a few key points to understand before jumping into the battle:
1) Fixing school food is a team sport. You will get nowhere on your own, so be sure you have a core group of supporters who share your goals.
2) You have to make the decision going in that, no matter what, you will never, ever ,ever give up until you attain your goal.
3) Change is hard for a bureaucracy, and good bureaucrats always want to do what is easiest; that’s usually just doing what they have always done. You must make these folks realize that you are not going to give up and go away (see #2), that you are going to keep coming at them , and that each time you do, you have more people behind you. Eventually they will realize that it is easier to just give you what you want, rather than continue to do what they have always done while trying to fight you off, and at that point, you will prevail.
4) Fixing school food is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want everyone in the world to like them. There will be those who won’t like you, those who will call you “the food police” or worse, and you may even make a few enemies; you have to be able to shrug that off. I always tell people who are put off by my blunt attitude that fortunately I am not running for Miss Congeniality.
5) Nothing happens overnight. It’s okay to dream big, but break your dream down into smaller pieces which can realistically be achieved. Celebrate every success, even if it is just baby steps. Getting to your ultimate goal will take years; you need to be in this for the long haul.
6) You may not know as much as you think you do about fixing school food. Much (really most) of the media coverage of this issue has been faulty, sometimes misrepresenting the situation, sometimes outright untruths. Some of the loudest voices in the debate have their own agendas to push, which skew the public debate. Try to be aware of who might have partnerships with businesses that may be focused on profit as much as on kids’ health, or a book, TV show, movie, consulting business or service to promote, and be a little skeptical when deciding what to believe. Keep an open mind and be ready to learn from every experience.
7) Every school district is different, and something which works in one place may not work somewhere else. Among the differences are cost of labor, availability of outside funding, quality of facilities, and socioeconomics of the community.8) School food is highly regulated by the government and you have to be aware of all of the regulations; it takes a lot of reading and asking the right questions before you can really understand what is involved in getting to your ultimate goal. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this!
So, with those key points in mind, here is my Everybody’s Guide to Fixing School Food.
Your very first step towards fixing school food should be Getting Educated. School food is tightly regulated by the USDA; your state and even your own school district may also impose further regulations. If you don’t understand the regs, you will get nowhere with your student nutrition director, and without the cooperation of your student nutrition director, you will get nowhere with fixing school food. A great place to start is with Janet Poppendieck’s excellent book “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.” However, at a certain point, you are going to have to confront The Beast – the sections of the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) that deal with school food. Here is the link:
Start with SubChapter A – Child Nutrition Programs, Part 210; this part deals only with the National School Lunch Program; the School Breakfast Program has its own enormous set of regs, but if you understand the lunch regs, it will be easier to understand breakfast. Don’t try to read this all in one sitting; rather, think of it as a resource, the first place you go to try to find out what the regulations are. Skim through and get a sense of what is there.
It is important that you be at least familiar with all of the regs Janet P. discusses in her excellent book. There may come a time when someone who does not want to give you what you are requesting tells you that “the regs won’t allow it” and you must be informed enough to know if this person is telling you the truth or just bluffing to make you go away. You will also find that you have to be a teacher of the regs as well as a student; it will be up to you to make sure that others you come into contact with, including your supporters, key district officials, and the media, all understand the regs too. Right now it is a safe assumption that 99% of them don’t; you will have to understand well enough to be able to teach others. This is a process; you don’t need to understand everything before you begin. Just keep at it and try to learn a little more each week.
Next step is to find a posse of other like minded individuals – parents, students, teachers, school nurses, health care professionals – who are willing to work with you. I call this Getting Organized. This isn’t as hard as it sounds; lots of people recognize that school food is a problem, but most of them don’t know what to do about it, and for sure they don’t want to be the ringleader. You have to be the ringleader, but once you assure people that they don’t have to lead, just follow, you would be surprised at how many people will sign on. Start at your own kids’ school, but branch out from there. If your school or school district has a parent listserv, that can be useful for finding people who share your concern. If you can get just 8-10 people to start, that’s plenty.
Have a meeting and let everyone share their concerns about school food. Brainstorm about what you would like to change. What would your ideal meal program look like? Prioritize the changes – what is most important to your group? Try to break big changes down so that they are manageable, because for your first challenge, it needs to be something you can actually win. A big win early on really galvanizes a group. So, for example, don’t pick something like “switch to scratch cooking” or “use all organic ingredients” for your first challenge – no one gets that on the first try. Instead, something like “Offer fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch” is much more doable.
Pick a good name for your group and get everyone’s e-mail address so you can easily stay in contact even if you can only meet in person once a month. If you have a group member who is willing to set up a website for your group, that can be hugely helpful moving forward. When you wage your various campaigns, it is so much easier if all of the information people need to have about the issue can be found in one place. That way, you don’t need to explain the issue to each person, you can just refer them to your website where they can find everything they need including background, who to contact, what to say, etc. You can also use the site to promote your group’s successes, archive your press releases, and solicit new members. Visit www.sfusdfood.org to see an example of such a site.
Once you have organized your core group, you need to start Getting Connected; this is where you research your school board members to find out which one(s) are most likely to be sympathetic to your cause. Look for people with a medical background, or those with youngish kids in the public schools, or those who have fought similar battles in the past, especially battles based on the idea of social justice, that low income students deserve the same respect and services as higher income students. I think it will be obvious once you know about your school board members, which ones are the likely candidates to support you.
When you have identified one or two, make contact. Don’t be intimidated by these people – generally people on school boards are just like you – concerned citizens who think that they can make the schools a better place for the kids. Call or e-mail your target and ask for a meeting; explain that you represent a group of concerned stakeholders who have some practical ideas for improving kids’ health and academic performance through better school food. Make your pitch for better school food, but make sure your target understands that you are not asking (at this point) for a complete overhaul of school food, but rather for the one thing that your group decided upon – our hypothetical is “Fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch.” Try to get your target to agree in principle that better food would mean better nourished kids; have the documentation with you showing the connection between better nutrition and better academic outcomes (not hard to find on the internet.) Remind your target that when the food gets better, more kids eat the school meals and that brings in more income for the meal program, which in turn funds the purchase of better food. Make sure they get it that you are not asking for something which would bankrupt the school nutrition program. If you sense resistance, at least ask for a pilot at your own kids’ school; be sure you have your school Principal on board with this. The most likely response you will get from your target school board member is some form of “Let me think about it.” That’s fine, but even if you get an outright “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, move on to the next step.
Now it is time for Getting Active. After the meeting, have everyone in your group write to the school board target and thank him/her for meeting with you, and express support for whatever it was you requested. Ask each member of your core group to get just two of their best friends to send a similar e-mail; group members can even write up key talking points and send to their friends to cut and paste into their own message (the easier you make it for people not directly involved in your crusade to support you, the more likely they will do so.) If you have already gotten your website set up, put up all the information there, and then just refer people to the site, where they can get all the info they need (including e-mail address) to write to the school board member. If you can get 25-30 people to e-mail your target about this, all saying more or less the same thing, it is really likely that your target will support it. Individual e-mails are much more impressive than petitions; you want to fill up your target’s inbox, and petitions don’t do that.
At a certain point, your target is likely to refer you to someone within the district administration – either the student nutrition director or that person’s boss. You may need to start the process all over again here, but with luck, now you have the support of your school board target; make sure the district person knows that, as it is invaluable. Make your request; have your supporters e-mail to show their support, and let the district person know that you are not just one parent asking for this, but a group. Be sure to cc your school board supporter on your correspondence with district administrators.
Let’s say you asked for a switch from canned fruit to fresh fruit 3 days a week at lunch, and you got this relatively small change approved; make sure everyone knows what you have achieved. Getting Coverage is essential to moving forward. I highly recommend trying to get one of your core supporters to agree to take the role of PR person for the group; this is a big job and really needs its own dedicated person. If anyone in your group has a media or PR background, that’s the person to court, but really anyone who is comfortable writing can learn to do this.
Use whatever parent listservs are available to get news out directly to parents. Then make a list of all of the reporters from every news outlet in your town who ever cover school or children’s or health issues, everything from TV down to the smallest weekly shopper newspaper. Write up a press release lavishing praise on the student nutrition director or his/her boss, whoever it was that agreed to the change you asked for, as well as the school board member(s) who supported you. This is KEY – do NOT claim the credit and praise for yourself or your group! Thank the district official for supporting student health, and also thank your school board friend(s). It is vital to tell the public that these people value student health and good nutrition for kids above all else (especially if you feel that they only gave you what you wanted grudgingly and maybe they don’t really value student health….) because once you have announced it to the world, what the hell are they going to do – say they DON’T value student health? Make it all about them, and what a hero they are, and how they are following in the footsteps of Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan. This makes it so much easier when you go back to them in another month and ask for the next thing on your list. They need to understand that the decisions they make about your requests are going to be made very public, and that they can be the hero and support better food for kids, or it can go the other way and the public will hear about and react to that, too.
If you can’t get any of the media to cover this as a story, try writing it as an opinion piece for the largest newspaper in town (if they won’t run it, go to the next largest paper, and keep going until someone runs it.) As a last resort, try writing it up as a letter to the editor. Be sure to check the guidelines for letters which your local paper probably has online. If they say letter should be limited to 150 words, don’t go over the limit; keep it short and to the point.
Letters to the editor are a good way to promote your work any time there is an article in the paper which is relevant, maybe something about child obesity, or about the poor quality of school
lunches nationwide, or about growing interest generally in higher quality food, or the White House getting involved in student nutrition. This is a perfect opportunity to let people know that the local angle on this national story is that your schools now offer fresh fruit three times a week instead of canned fruit, thanks to the visionary leadership of Ms. Nutrition Director and Mr. School Board Member, who both prioritize student health above all else, because they know that malnourished students can’t learn. Thank you, thank you Ms ND and Mr SBM! Signed, You, Chair of the Yourtown Student Nutrition Group. This short letter accomplishes so much – it promotes the school meal program and lets people know that there is fresh fruit being served; it highlights the “vision” of two key players whose support you need to move forward; it connects student health with academic achievement; and it lets people know that your group exists and has a voice.
That’s it – lather, rinse, repeat. You are on your way to fixing school food! Good luck! Return to “How To Guides” home page
Return to P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food
You can also learn more from Chef Ann Cooper at www.thelunchbox.org
Written by Robyn O’Brien
I am a huge fan of a woman named Kris Carr. She has absolutely taken cancer to task. Not only did she conquer the disease, but she also dismantled a lot of the barriers that prevent us from accomplishing seemingly impossible goals. And she helps others to do the same.
Kris challenges convention, unbridles creativity and inspires others to create the changes that they want to see in their lives. And her work is absolutely heroic.
So when her blog recently suggested making brownies with black beans, I had to laugh at how crazy that sounded. Always a fan of black beans (I grew up in Texas) and always on the hunt for variations on sweet-treats for my kids, I couldn’t quite picture how to weave the two together, and I loved the challenge.
So I am going to give this one a try. And if you are interested in doing the same, as well as learning more about Kris, her New York Times best-selling books and her incredible take on life, visit Kris’ site for added inspiration at Crazy Sexy Life. And bookmark it.
Black Bean Brownies
-15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
-1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or molasses
-1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
-1 tablespoon cinnamon
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)
-1/4 cup instant oats (gluten free if preferred)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8- by 8-inch pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scrapping sides as needed. Stir in the oats. If too soft, add another 1/4 cup oats or flour.
Pour batter into the pan. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing.
Notes: Because there isn’t any flour these brownies come out pretty dense.
Rolled oats may be substituted for the instant oats. Put the rolled oats in the food processor.
Use optional sugar if your bananas are still green and not very ripe.