I’m taking a breather on the Oregon Coast so I can regroup after months of breast cancer treatment, retiring from higher education, and a major move. I’m not really starting over in this location—I’ve lived here part-time for some 19 years. The push to roll in for this current leg took some doing—months of it. I didn’t try to reflect on the state of my life until I was finally settled and feeling cozy. I do have a number of writing projects on my plate, which I quickly unloaded and began to tackle. Yet one morning, I found myself staring at the blank calendar on my wall, only to experience a major moment of, “Now what?”
I was pleased when the opportunity to join the Central Coast Chorale surfaced, as the choir has added some structure to my free-flowing schedule. Then a friend sent me information on That’s My Farmer, a nutrition and wellness program for cancer survivors. This set of workshops is designed by Samaritan Cancer Resource Centers, located in Albany and Corvallis. While That’s My Farmer has been successful in the Willamette Valley for several years, it is new to the central coast.
It didn’t matter that I received my cancer treatment at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego. All cancer survivors are welcome to enroll (the fee is nominal: $20). Upon arrival, I was immediately surprised by this forward-thinking course which pairs Samaritan Cancer Resource Centers with the local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement—in other words, local farmers. Indeed, the best part of the program proved to be the CSA boxes of luscious locally grown organic produce. Every participant received a new box each week—the specific contents were always a surprise, which added a fun element.
One of the reasons I’m taking time off is this gut feeling I have around the need to rethink aspects of my life, particularly diet, exercise, and emotional well-being. Fortunately, the team responsible for That’s My Famer included a registered dietician, health trainers, and a medical social worker. These speakers covered a range of topics pertinent to my concerns: anti-inflammatory diets, fitness, stress reducers, and mindful eating.
I was already in the know about how fresh vegetables might help my body fight cancer; yet I was fascinated to learn about a new nutritional pyramid. The last time I checked, the food pyramid was buttressed by a nutritional group focused on bread, cereal, rice, and pasta (as recommended by the USDA). However, there is a newer food pyramid under discussion, one designed with a foundation of vegetables. Our dietician, Athena Nofziger, specifically extolled the value of heaping half of one’s plate with veggies. She went on to say a quarter should include a protein dish—a quarter can be devoted to starch.
While I did glean plenty of useful information from these weekly presentations, I particularly enjoyed the informal conversations centering on “what people did with their box of produce last week.” During the first session, participants were given an instructive cookbook, Farm-Fresh and Fast: Easy Recipes and Tips for Making the Most of Fresh, Seasonal Foods by FairShare CSA Coalition (2013). In addition, our presenters passed out informational sheets centering on specific vegetables, the “Local Pick of the Week,” if you will.
One participant had never cooked with chard; one didn’t like beets; one had never eaten leeks; one was at a loss for what to do with a fresh fennel bulb. We were all charged with coming up with creative ways to incorporate this healthy fresh stuff into our meals. The discussions resulting from our homework proved to be though-provoking, because attendees really did roll up their sleeves and experiment with ways to break out of old patterns. For example, one woman made a chocolate cake using her beets as a key ingredient. Several others expressed enthusiasm over the fresh pesto they whipped up. A lot of soups were concocted—salads, too.
For my part, I enjoyed moving away from my usual cooking ruts, which in my old life often included not cooking at all (AKA going out for a meal). I actually like to cook, but not when my days are crazy-busy. This slower-paced “schedule” has afforded me time for leisurely tinkering in the kitchen. I didn’t want all of that good food to go to waste, so I ended up eating way more vegetables than I usually do.
OK, I’m not sure if I’ll ultimately change my dietary habits for good. I’m bound to get back into the fray at some point and live a more stressful life, which means my new diet could easily fall by the wayside. For now, I’d like to continue mulling over fresh organic produce, so I can figure out what to make of it.