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There is something about eating good home cooking. It’s even better when it’s home grown. Partly, I’m sure it’s the lack of additives and other nonsense manufacturers put in processed foods. Having control of ingredients helps. There’s also something deeply psychological and just plain tasty about fresh food.

For me, food is more than just fuel. Eating is a communal activity, a time for me to spend catching up with loved ones. Cooking can be a communal activity as well, or a creative outlet. I like to savor my food, rather than microwaving a (shudder) Hot Pocket or Pop Tart on my way out the door.

Putting fresh-from-our-garden strawberries in my granola this morning? A-maz-ing.

Sorry, didn’t mean to make you drool.

I know not everyone has time/space/affinity for gardening. It can be time consuming, and it’s not exactly easy if you live in an apartment, or (worse) a basement apartment. (Hydroponics or grow lights are an option even in a basement, though not exactly energy efficient.)

I will say that I highly recommend growing fresh herbs. You can grow them in the ground, in containers on your balcony/porch/patio, on a windowsill, or under a grow light. It’s nice to just throw something extra in the pot. Sometimes, I go outside and stare at my herbs for culinary inspiration. They encourage me to cook fresh food, or even just add a little something extra to an omelet or throw some dill in a salad. I recently acquired some lemongrass, which I’m told makes excellent tea (and Thai soup).

And did I mention pesto, my go-to meal of the growing season? I made some the other day, and didn’t want to butcher my entire basil plant so early in the season, so I improvised. I grabbed whatever herbs looked good – making sure there was a good amount of basil – and used them in my go-to pesto recipe, taken from one of my favorite cookbooks, Veganomicon. This recipe is adapted from the Basil-Cilantro Pesto on page 214.


  • 3 cups of herbs, including Basil (examples: Cilantro, Parsley, Lemongrass, Chives, Thyme…)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Combine everything in a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides periodically with a rubber spatula or spoon. When the pesto is of the desired consistency (in terms of almond size, oil, etc.), EAT. (On pasta, spread on a sandwich, etc.)

This recipe is great for those with ability issues – with no chopping and dicing, it’s very easy on the hands.

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’m not going to go into a detailed review here, as you can find them on many other places on the web.

I was very intrigued by information about the amount of corn in the American food system (often as a result of industrialized agriculture, U.S. food policy and farm subsidies).

One of the things Pollan discusses is that scientists have been using mass spectrometers to determine how much corn is in a various items (a McDonald’s burger, a soda, a human being). To try to summarize:

Plants use carbon as part of photosynthesis. Most plants “breathe in” C-3, or three molecules of carbon. However, when plants open their stomata (“microscopic orifices through which plants both take in and exhaust gases,” Pollan, 21) to take in carbon, they lose water. Certain plants that can grow successfully in arid areas overcome this problem by taking in more carbon molecules per “breath.” These plants utilize C-4 (four molecules of carbon). Corn is one of these plants. In addition, because it’s taking in more carbon at once, corn can’t be as picky about what kind of carbon it uses. Thus, corn has a higher ratio of carbon 13 (a less desirable type of carbon) to carbon 12 (more desirable).

This may all sound confusing and complicated, but the basic outcome is this: carbon 13 has a certain molecular weight, and scientists can use tools (mass spectrometers) to measure that weight and the ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 to figure out how much corn is in different items.

For example, they can tell how much corn a cow has been fed. They can also tell how much corn we’ve ingested and incorporated into our biological make-up (from things such as corn oil, corn-fed beef and poultry, and high fructose corn syrup). According to Todd Dawson, a Berkeley scientist interviewed by Pollan, “We North Americans look like corn chips on legs” (Pollan, 23).

At this point what I really wanted to know was – what are your numbers? What peer-reviewed studies have scientists done? How have they gathered their data? I’m totally interested – tell me more!

Yet whenever I searched for Todd Dawson, corn, carbon 13, etc., all I found was that quote about “corn chips on legs.” Even Dawson’s website doesn’t have much information on nutrition – it’s more focused on mass spectrometer methodology as applied to other uses.

Citation needed.

After much searching, I found a Scientific American article about the subject, with references to a published peer-reviewed study, and another that’s ongoing.

Jahren [a geobiologist at the University of Hawaii] and her colleague Rebecca Kraft collected hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries from three separate Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s locations in six U.S. cities: Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The scientists were looking for the amount of carbon 13 (13C), a variety of carbon with an extra neutron (known as an isotope) that makes its atom heavier.

…The result: 93 percent of the tissue that comprised the hamburger meat was derived from corn. In fact, only 12 samples from the entire country did not show this unique corn signature: all from a Burger King on the west coast. “My best guess is that it represents meat from another country,” Jahren says.

And all of the chicken, in addition to being sourced from just one company, Tyson Foods, Inc., had been fed an entirely corn diet, resulting in a chemical composition that was almost exactly the same from coast to coast. Jahren notes that the isotopic composition of this chicken meat varied from restaurant to restaurant and state to state less than if a sample were taken from just one farmyard-raised chicken.

Talk about the “uniformity of taste” that most fast-food restaurants strive for. (Which is why a McD’s hamburger tastes the same wherever you go – like cardboard and fat.)

Why should we care about the amount of corn in our diets? Cows cannot process corn well, and thus must be given large doses of antibiotics to keep them healthy until slaughter day. This leads to more drug-resistant bacteria in the world (“superbugs”). It also leads to lower amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids in corn-fed beef. Really, if you want more information on the myriad of problems, try reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma or watching Food, Inc. Want something more scientific? Check out the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

So just how much corn is in us? How has a corn-based diet affected the general population? Johns Hopkins researchers are trying to answer that question, and have done a number of studies about things such as the “Public Health Implications of Meat Production and Consumption” and “What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health.” (See Center for a Livable Future website for downloadable pdfs.)

According to the Scientific American article (published in November 2008),

Researchers at Johns Hopkins are now completing a study measuring the levels of carbon 13 in human blood, in an effort to understand how much of the corn in our meat and in the sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup) in our food and drink ends up in our bodies.

I think by “now completing,” they mean “completing and submitting for peer review.” At least, I have yet to find the study. If you find a citation, let me know.

I wanted to take a break from my regularly scheduled health/ability discussions to talk about race, ethnicity, and white privilege. I don’t view issues such as racism as distinct or different from health issues, because they are intrinsically linked. What about the soaring HIV/AIDS rate among young African American women? What about folks with multiple identities (e.g. dis/abled and Asian-American)? I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

Anyway, I was eating in an “Asian fusion” restaurant today with someone, reflecting on table manners and the process of eating. I know someone who is Indian-American (as opposed to American Indian), and I’ve noticed her instruct her son to remember not to eat with his hands when they’re at a restaurant. At home, it’s okay to scoop up curry with naan bread. In a restaurant, he has to use silverware.

I always use naan bread. It’s the way the food is meant to be eaten. It’s really hard to scoop up all of a delicious lentil dish with a fork. Bread (or rice) is a necessary and delicious part of the eating process.

I mentioned this to an Arabic friend of mine, who said that her grandmother and mother always insisted that she use silverware in public when she was growing up. She said they didn’t want her to look “common” or like she was “from the country.”

This seems to me to be an issue of racial/ethnic self-censorship: “We must eat with silverware to prove how white/upper-class we are.” I don’t say this to chastise folks who decide to eat with silverware instead – rather, I see it as another facet of privilege and oppression.

I have much more freedom and privilege eating in a restaurant as a white person, particularly since I’m a white person who grew up with class privilege. (I’ve noticed that people who grew up poor/working class often have similar hang-ups about not seeming “common.”)

If I eat with naan bread at an Indian restaurant, then I am (purposefully or not) showing that I know how to eat Indian food the way it’s “supposed” to be eaten. I can fill a role as an urban, worldly person. Even if I don’t use the naan bread very deftly, I’m still making an effort to fit into another culture – another thing that can get me cultural bonus points.

In writing this, I’ve decided to tie it back to dis/ability issues. I’ve found that I sometimes want to “prove” that I’m still able – either to myself, people who know me personally, or to the general public. I end up trying to be a super-productive superwoman, just to show that fibromyalgia hasn’t got me down. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I start feeling pain or fatigue because of all the work I’ve done. It’s then that my friends have to sit me down and tell me that anyone would be tired accomplishing what I’d just done. My disability isn’t the only thing making me tired, it’s how much I try to do. Feeling the need to overcompensate – to show my disability who’s in charge – causes more pain and suffering than I would encounter if I allowed myself to follow my body’s lead.

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About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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August 2020


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