A Taste of Wellness, by Guest Blogger, Mike Verano

A Taste of Wellness

In spite of food fads, fitness programs,

and health concerns, we must never lose

sight of a beautifully conceived meal.

Julia Child

My wife, Kathy, and I spent most of 2010 dealing with the effects, side effects and after effects of my cancer treatment.  Through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, we were challenged to find new ways to look at life.  One of the many things we re-examined during this time was what we put into our bodies.  While I was told that my illness, a rare form of thymic cancer, was not brought on by anything I did, and that there was no particular anti-cancer diet that could prevent it reoccurrence, we both became committed to bolstering our bodies’ natural defenses.  We also knew that certain foods, if eaten fresh, could provide a degree of cancer protection.

Firm believers in the “you are what you eat” mantra, Kathy and I knew there were things we could change in our eating habits that would, at the very least, improve my bodies ability to recover from the onslaught of the toxic mix of chemotherapy drugs and cell destroying radiation therapy.  The only formal advice about diet I received during my treatment was related to the fact that chemo was going to change the way food tasted to me therefore, “eat whatever does taste good to you.” The other suggestion was from a dietician who addressed my problems with swallowing due to radiation induced esophagitis with the tip, “be ready to liquefy everything you eat.” 

The challenge to construct our own cancer-fighting, cell rejuvenating, meal plan, was something we were going to have to piece together ourselves.  We knew that neither one of us were wired to live the vegan life; mostly because of my personal philosophy that anyone who survives cancer treatment is entitled to a healthy portion of filet mignon now and then. We did think, however, that we were able to sustain a culinary path that limited contact with foods known for their lack of anything even remotely healthy.

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we decided that the wisdom of eating foods closer to their source increases the odds that one is ingesting more nutrients than chemicals.  The problem we faced, as our green thumbs turned brown and the spring garden we planted succumbed to summer’s fierce heat, was obvious.  Where was all this great tasting, good for you, local, food going to come from?  While we live in what we displaced Northerners smiling refer to as “grow country,” we were at a loss to figure out how to bring the fruits of others’ labors into our home.

It was no small “miracle” of its own that we discovered the Off the Vine website and were astounded to discover that its hub was almost literally in our own backyard.  We chalked this up to one of many serendipitous discoveries we have made while on this cancer journey.  Excitedly, we reviewed the offerings on the website. We envisioned ourselves dining on meals skillfully put together with ingredients from farms and dairies whose owners we could actually meet and talk to were it not for the fact that Kathy and I are card-carrying introverts who still do not know the names of most of our neighbors.

These days, when we sit down to eat fresh meals hand picked from the Off the Vine website, we can’t help but reflect on how this year started.  From hospital food and meal selections from those great chefs, Ben & Jerry (ice cream was one of the few foods I could eat without experiencing the sensation of swallowing glass) to foods so fresh that eating them becomes a celebration of our new life, we feel blessed to have come so far. 

Kathy and I never knew that fighting cancer could bring about such a positive turn in our lives. It pushed us into a new perspective on the age-old problem of finding meaning in the seemingly meaningless surprises life presents us.  We don’t consider our new diet as anti-cancer but pro-health.  In this way, each meal confirms our efforts to move beyond illness into wellness, from treatment to recovery.  Not to mention that eating local tastes better than we could have ever imagined our current taste extravaganza being a stew made from chicken, chorizo sausage, potatoes, and kale all from the local contributors to Off the Vine.  Take it from someone whose taste buds were chemically in a coma for three months, it’s Off the Hook.  (Recipe to follow)

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