My Grandmother, the Chicken Killer

Ninja Chicken
“Eat only the animals you kill.”
Yesterday, while sitting in a restaurant with my 94-year old aunt, Jean, she told me that her mother, my grandmother, was an exceptionally skilled chicken killer.
(From living in Brooklyn, I know that backyard chickens are all the rage.)

Mary:  Really, did my grandmother raise chickens?
Jean:  No, she killed chickens as a favor to the neighbors.
Mary:  Where did she get the live chickens to kill?
Jean: The man sold live chickens off the truck. Chickens in cages were loaded onto a flatbed truck then driven into the neighborhoods.
Mary: Why didn’t my grandmother buy chicken at the store?
Jean: That was expensive, and she knew these chickens were fresh.
(Mary: FRESH? I guess. She had to kill the damn thing! Nowadays, people won’t even touch a raw chicken, let along MURDER it.)
Mary:  So, what was this skill? How did she actually kill a chicken?
Jean: She would feel around the neck and SNAP it in the right place. It was so fast. She pulled the head away from the body.

Backyard chicken lovers, let’s take this relationship to the next level!
How to kill a chicken*

“The recommended neck dislocation method is to grasp the bird’s legs in one hand (usually the left), holding the legs at about waist level, and the head in the other hand going diagonally across your body down to below your right hip. The beak should protrude between your first two fingers and, gripping tightly, you use the heel of your palm against its upper neck to provide the necessary pivot. In the one movement, you’re supposed to wrench downward (that is, up with the legs, down with the head) and twist the head sharply up and back. There should be an audible click of dislocation; however, a very strong may pull the head right off, which would be rather upsetting. If you practice beforehand (perhaps on an already deceased chicken), you will certainly know what force to use as well as if you possess  the strength to do it.”

But wait (sorry) there’s more. The bird gets decapitated and eviscerated with the skill of a surgeon. Then the chicken gets dunked in scalding water followed by an ice bath to make feather plucking easier. Finally, the chicken is cooked very quickly before rigor mortis sets in.

Just think, that was only eighty years ago and, still, many, if not most, people around the world kill the meat they eat. At least they know it’s fresh.

Your thoughts? Would you eat meat if you had to kill it first?

My Mondays Are Meatless

Here it is the second Monday after the commotion started when a USDA headquarters interoffice newsletter encouraged employees to choose meatless meals on Mondays in the company cafeteria.

Meatless Monday” is a worldwide public health campaign to go meatless for health one day a week. A New York City ad man from Don Draper days working with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other big-league players started the crusade. (It shows the power of working across silos.) The USDA newsletter article was not an official position, but it offended the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and a few Republican senators, and so the USDA retracted the statement, removed the newsletter, and apologized to the beef industry. The Meatless Monday folks were not directly involved, but free publicity is good.

It’s All About the Cooking 

Volumes of research show the vegetarian diet is much healthier than a diet full of meat. Not that I’m against meat, a little is nice, but I learned how to be a vegetarian back in my hippie days, and so beans, grains, nuts and seeds, tons of vegetables, and eggs and cheese are simply my staple ingredients. Being a vegetarian is not about “Choose My Plate” with segmented meals, meat-and-potatoes style. Vegetarians tend to eat mixed dishes where grains, beans and cheese become a full meal salad or dish for the first time around and for leftovers.

A recent survey showed that 28% of Americans don’t know how to cook. (I wonder what the others call “cooking.”) Since that 28% is just starting out, they should learn how to cook vegetarian-style. I can attest to the long range health benefits. Here are three meatless recipes that I am cooking this week: Mary’s Wild Rice Salad (bring it to a party); Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans (impossible to stop eating); Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook Zucchini Feta Pancakes (a summer classic). In August, I try to serve every dish with tomatoes and sweet corn on the side.

Your thoughts: Were you aware of Meatless Mondays? Do you take part?

Are You An Intuitive Eater? Take the Test

I am finishing up my presentation for the Women’s Health and Fitness Expo on Saturday in Kingston, NY. Lucky me! I get to go to Rhinebeck, a place where fairies flower-bounce in the glade. (Ahem, back to work.) I’ll be speaking on behalf of Diets In Review, discussing intuitive eating, the only weight loss method that makes any sense to me. I’ll be using a scale (questions – not a device for measuring weight) to portray the mindset of an intuitive eater vs. a traditional dieter. Take a look and see.

This Intuitive Eating Scale has pretty good questions, but it is by no means the only test in town. I’m not even using it correctly, insofar as it is meant to be a Likert-type scale (rate your answers from strongly disagree to strongly agree), not a True or False test. But, the way I see it, all incorrect answers call for some soul-searching. Like many research tools, this scale has been validated for Caucasian, middle-class, healthy, normal weight college students. Still, the level of agreement is highest for non-dieters (individuals at peace with food).

Take the Test
The correct answer is always “yes” except when (R) is present, when the correct answer is “no.”

  1. Without really trying, I naturally select the right types and amounts of food to be healthy.
  2. I generally count calories before deciding if something is OK to eat. (R)
  3. One of my main reasons for exercising is to manage my weight. (R)
  4. I seldom eat unless I notice that I am physically hungry.
  5. I am hopeful that I will someday find a new diet that will actually work for me. (R)
  6. The health and strength of my body is more important to me than how much I weigh.
  7. I often turn to food when I feel sad, anxious, lonely, or stressed out. (R)
  8. There are certain foods that I really like, but I try to avoid them so that I won’t gain weight. (R)
  9. I am often frustrated with my body size and wish that I could control it better. (R)
  10. I consciously try to eat whatever kind of food I think will satisfy my hunger the best.
  11. I am afraid to be around some foods because I don’t want to be tempted to indulge myself. (R)
  12. I am happy with my body even if it isn’t very good looking.
  13. I normally eat slowly and pay attention to how physically satisfying my food is.
  14. I am often either on a diet or seriously considering going on a diet. (R)
  15. I usually feel like a failure when I eat more than I should. (R)
  16. After eating, I often realize that I am fuller than I would like to be. (R)
  17. I often feel physically weak and hungry because I am dieting to control my weight. (R)
  18. I often put off buying clothes, participating in fun activities, or going on vacations (hoping I can get thinner first). (R)
  19. When I feel especially good or happy, I like to celebrate by eating. (R)
  20. I often find myself looking for something to eat or making plans to eat—even when I am not really hungry. (R)
  21. I feel pressure from those around me to control my weight or watch what I eat. (R)
  22. I worry more about how fattening a food might be, rather than how nutritious it might be. (R)
  23. It’s hard to resist eating something good if it is around me, even if I’m not very hungry. (R)
  24. On social occasions, I feel pressure to eat the way those around me are eating—even if I am not hungry. (R)
  25. I honestly don’t care how much I weigh, as long as I’m physically fit, healthy, and can do the things I want.
  26. I feel safest if I have a diet plan, or diet menu, to guide my eating. (R)
  27. I mostly exercise because of how good it makes me feel physically.

Your thoughts: How did you do? What do you think of the questions?

The Year of Couves?

Here’s a headline that grabbed my attention: Health Nuts Declare 2012: The Year of Kale. “People are weird about Brussels sprouts and cabbage, but are willing to give kale a try,” a chef says. At  Social Media Week 2012 in New York City, experts begged the question, “Who is kale’s PR agent?”  And how did Anne Hathaway fit into her snug Catwoman suit? She told MTV, “I lived on dust and kale.” Food bloggers, restaurateurs and kale chip makers alike are all crazy for the lowly kale. But, as for me, I was eating kale in the highchair. We called it “couves”.

Portuguese Kale Soup

People of Portuguese decent living along the Southeastern Massachusetts coast eat a lot of kale in the form of soup. They call it Calde Couves or Sopas Calde. (At least that’s what I think they are saying.) My father was a first generation Portuguese American, and so kale soup was a staple in the homes of our extended family.  Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef from the area, makes kale soup too.

Everybody’s soup recipe is a little different – it might contain cabbage, kidney beans, tomatoes, carrots, and even pig’s feet – but the common ingredient in Portuguese Soup is always couves. My kale soup is a victory over animal fat. I simmer beef shank and chouriço (Portuguese sausage) in water with a handful of split peas for hours, and then I remove the cooked meat, pick off every strand, and toss the fat, bone and sausage skin. And then it’s into the fridge where the broth sits until the hard fat rises to the top for easy removal. Next, I add kale, cabbage, potatoes, and the fat free meat back to the broth and simmer until tender. Tasty, low calorie, wildly nutritious (see the label), and ultra-trendy. That’s our couves!

Kale Soup Recipes

Your thoughts: Have you added kale to your diet? Have you tried kale soup?

My Intuitive Eating “Aha” Moment

On LinkedIn, I am a member of the Intuitive Eating Professionals Group, where Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, group founder, asks us to “share something…that is not included in your profile, perhaps an “aha” moment in your career.”  I am inspired to share my “aha” moment after attending the BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) national conference on Saturday, where I learned that, treatment-wise, not much has changed over the years.

In 1985, I worked in a large gastroenterology practice affiliated with a teaching hospital. I saw lots of eating disordered patients because one of the docs did medical evaluations of patients with bulimia and AN. At the same time, another gastroenterologist performed a procedure with a device called the Garren-Edwards Gastric Bubble. A deflated ‘bubble’ made of stretchable plastic (like a pool toy) was placed by endoscopy in the stomach of a severely overweight patient.  With the pull of a cannula, the bubble was inflated and left in place to fill the stomach while the patient followed a low-calorie diet. That’s where I came in. The bubble was developed by a team at Johns Hopkins. It was all above the board. The hospital asked us to do the procedure, but we stopped after a patient got a small bowel obstruction from the bubble. Those were interesting days. My patients’ eating patterns were all over the map.

But my “aha’ moment came by way of a patient referred by an internist for a simple weight loss diet.  She was a favorite patient, a young woman of my age, overweight but far from obese, with my mother’s maiden name. We were doing the balanced, flexible diet thing with a focus on behaviors when one day, she looked at me and said, “Mary, you don’t understand. I peek behind the curtain, and when my husband drives away, I make a batch of scalloped potatoes, and I eat the whole thing.” Aha! I thought, “they didn’t teach us this in school.” And then I thought, “this is really real.”

I was lucky because psychologists who specialized in EDs would stop into  the office. They turned me on to Susie Orbach, Fat Is a Feminist Issue (1978); Geneen Roth, Feeding the Hungry Heart (1982) and Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating (1986) and, of course, Hilde Bruch. Evelyn’s book, Intuitive Eating (1995), wasn’t published yet and there was no Gurze catalogue. But, I read and read and saw lots of patients, and attended Geneen’s workshops,  consulted with therapists, and taught others how to do it. And now it’s wonderful to see so many dietitians espouse the non-diet approach. But, after all those years, the pills, shakes, meals, stomach stapling (but not swallowing pool toys) are all still here.

Your thoughts: Why don’t more people give up dieting and follow a non-diet approach?

When ‘My Plate’ is a Bowl

Today is the first of March and the start of National Nutrition Month. That’s when my professional association, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), turns up the volume on eating healthy. This year, their theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape” in keeping with “Choose My Plate,” Michelle Obama’s USDA campaign.

And so, Diets in Review asked several of us nutrition and fitness professionals to share a picture and some words about our own plates. Read their article today, Mary Hartley’s Plate for National Nutrition Month. I kick off the month-long series.

Now, I’ve explained that I don’t take pictures of my food. Like tattoos, it’s a generational thing. And my only camera is the one in my iPhone, which is not the best. And then, wouldn’t you know it, Michelle Obama forgive me, but my typical plate is a bowl. In the article, I deconstruct the contents and reassemble them, so to speak, back onto a plate, and say more about the nutritional content. Read it and see.

The My Plate campaign is made to guide eaters of the “Standard American Diet” –  a supper of meat/chicken, with a starch and a vegetable on the side.  I almost never eat like that. When I was a young adult and learning how to cook, I was a vegetarian and those habits stuck. I love to say, in all my years, I have never cooked a steak. Not that I don’t eat steak because I do every few years, but an 8-ounce petite filet lasts me for three yummy meals. I’m just a happy Flexitarian. And my dietitian friends are mostly Flexitarian too, and they are mostly slim and healthy and free of pills.

Here are the recipes for Gypsy Soup and Cheesy Cornbread. The soup is very healthy (thank you Mollie Katzen and the Moosewood Cookbook) and the second is not quite as, but both taste out of this world.  Enjoy!

Your thoughts: What do you think of this year’s National Nutrition Month message?

The Road to Damascus

Damascus Bakery, that is, and Sahadi’s too, two authentic Middle-Eastern food markets on a stretch of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, that have been in operation for over 50 years. Sahadi’s is all about barrels of grains, boxes of nuts and spices, containers of olives and dried fruit,  hundreds of cheeses, aromatic oils, and so much more. Check out Sahadi’s Fine Foods Catalog and take the time to peruse the many nuts and legumes. At Damascus Bakery, the fresh breads and pastries are to die for. Roll-ups, meh, right? Not after you’ve been to Damascus. This exotic oasis is a healthy 2-mile walk from my place. There, I buy prepared food, dried fruit, nuts, and my beloved Olympus Greek Yogurt. During my visit last week, I took some photos, which don’t do justice to this Fertile Crescent, but still, you get the idea. There’s no reason not to eat healthy food in Brooklyn.


The Case for Fermented Foods

I am convinced that we should be eating more fermented food. I mean, how could humankind eat fermented food for 10,000+ years and then stop in one generation? And now probiotic pills and food additives are supposed to fill the gap?  Gimme a break! Eat fermented food.

Fermentation is an ancient method of preserving food that predates recorded time. Fermentation introduces essential microorganisms into food and then into the GI tract. During food fermentation, bacteria or yeasts break down carbohydrates into easy-to-digest carbon dioxide, alcohols and organic acids. When the living bacteria enter our bodies and reproduce, they become our intestinal flora. (I call it my internal compose pile.) In the gut, the bacteria digest food to make it more absorbable. For example, fermentation changes indigestible lactose into digestible lactic acid, and in grains, fermentation destroys phytic acid, a substance that blocks the absorption of calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. The bacteria in the gut actually produce nutrients as the food is digested; B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids are synthesized during the fermentation process. And in addition to their digestive benefits, the bacteria confer primary immunity all throughout the body.

Any Food Can Be Fermented

Familiar fermented foods include brined vegetables, like sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, beets, onions and garlic, kimchi, capers, and olives, and pickled meats, fish and eggs; dairy ferments, such as yogurt, cheese, kefir, sour cream, and buttermilk; the bean ferments, miso and tempeh; fermented grain products, including beer and porridge; fruit juices fermented to wine, cider and vinegar; honey mead and the fermented tea kombucha – plus, all sorts of foods that we’ve never heard of from faraway places. To get the benefits, fermented foods should not be pasteurized.

Fermented Foods ARE Prebiotics

Read this powerful 2007 statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in their Report of the FAO Technical Meeting on PREBIOTICS:

“…Modern day humans do not ingest sufficient quantities of lactic acid bacteria or their growth stimulants including non-digestible carbohydrates. In addition, there is a growing recognition that events taking place in the intestine and influenced by microbes, have major consequences for human health.”

What About Sodium?

But Mary, you might say, “What about the salt in fermented food?” Well, fresh food has very little salt, and about 75 percent or more of the sodium in the American diet is added by the food manufacturer. There is sodium benzoate, sodium propionate, sodium nitrate, and 50 other sodium-based additives, not counting sodium chloride, table salt, in processed food. If we didn’t eat processed food, then we’d have room for the sodium in fermented food.

Your thoughts: Do you eat fermented foods?  Do you plan to start?

Oldways’ African Heritage Diet

Calling all nutrition educators, health professionals, teachers, families, church groups, and other interested parties!  I am here to show you the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid created by Oldways, the non-profit organization that promotes healthy eating based on cultural food pyramids. It is meant to reconnect all African-descendants to their healthy heritage foods and eating style.

Oldways’ website has great information about the African Diaspora, the term used to describe the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Atlantic Slave Trades. The Diaspora took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different parts of the Caribbean and North, South and Central America where the African diet was blended with local foods to shape a unique new cuisine. But, like all traditional diets, the framework remains the same: fresh plant foods, especially fruit and leafy greens; tubers; beans and nuts, including peanuts; rice, flatbreads and whole grains; oils; fish, eggs and poultry; yogurt; sauces of herbs and spices; and minimal consumption of meats and sweets. (Processed food and fast food are not on the list.)

In a great webinar from Oldways, Jessica Harris, the African Heritage culinary scholar, discusses African diet. She said, in Africa, it is common to eat spicy stews served over starch. I remember that was the case with the patients from Liberia I saw at the HMO where I worked in the late 1980s. The Liberians described a big pot of veggies (greens, sweet potatoes, plantain, cabbage, eggplant, okra, etc.) with beans and a bit of shredded meat or fish, served over rice, and fufu, a fermented cassava dumpling. The food was both nutritious and balanced, but always a variation on the same theme. They also had a communal kitchen and shared meals, to the point of sharing one big bowl. My guess is that those two practices, repetition and sharing, made overeating less attractive. And I believe the women took turns cooking for a month. Their system just keeps sounding better.

And so, when I think about it, African heritage food awareness is the starting point, but the key to success may rest in sharing all aspects of the meal. Really, since we’re cooking, we might as well cook for a crowd. It’s less expensive and more fun. It’s the old way.

Your thoughts: Will you broadcast the Oldways African Heritage Food Pyramid? Who else thinks sharing meals is a good idea?