“We are but a moment’s sunlight, fading in the grass…”
That line is some lyrical imagery conjured in the song “Get Together”, covered by a number of artists, particularly as a clarion call throughout the 1960s. It has been coming to my mind as of late, in thinking about humanity’s place in this huge universe, in a humbling sense.
We may say we’re living in tumultuous times – much of which has seemed to crescendo in recent months with an international pandemic. But it may be equally fair, historically speaking, to say no generation is without its turmoils; indeed it seems to be a hallmark of change – the ebb and flow of it, the give and take, the fear and hope, the stagnation and progress – all inevitable factors of the ultimate inevitability of change.
Human biology is not ever wholly separate from the world around us. We are intricately linked in sharing minerals, vitamins, molecules and other elements. In a poetic sense, you could say we reflect the world around us, and are reflected in it. In a holistic approach to thinking about health, we consider and examine the body as a whole, functioning, intricate system, where everything ripples and effects everything else within the system – nothing exists as “separate” or in a functional vacuum. It is only a small leap to then consider the whole of life through a holistic lens – that is to say, that we are each part of the larger functioning “body” of the living world, so to speak. That perhaps, things which happen to our own health, our own bodies, may sometimes be a reflection of things going on in the world around us and our reaction to it, and vice versa.
(e.g. It is certainly interesting to think about how the more polluted our planet has become the more polluted our bodies have become in some instances as well, or that the more someone pollutes their body the more they may then develop a mindset that contributes to polluting of the world.)
One fascinating holistic theory of health is found within the thousands of years old practice of Traditional Oriental/Chinese Medicine (TCM). Here, the major organs of the body are also considered to be linked to emotions. Perhaps this concept was “ahead of its time”, as modern studies into psychosomatic responses (that is mind-body connection, and how thoughts and feelings can impact our physical health) have now begun to confer with what these ancient notions posited.
But it is not linear, it doesn’t go only in one direction. It could be that issues with the organs contribute to imbalances in the mood and mental state, or it could be that a persistent mood and/or mental state begins to wreak havoc on the physical bodily systems. Often its not even so black and white as one or the other, but rather both, simultaneously, like a feedback loop.
This whole essay, admittedly, is just waxing philosophically along a line of exploratory thinking… I present it merely as a thought exercise to encourage the reader to consider how they may, even in a myriad of subtle ways, potentially influence the world around them, and that it too may influence them and their well being. An important point to ponder in times being driven so visibly by sweeping change.
Here are a couple of such tangents that have come to my mind…
In the line of thinking of TCM, the Lungs are sometimes referred to as “The Princess” organ. They are highly sensitive to “exposure”, due to drawing in from the outside world with each breath. They are said to rule the Qi, or the body’s life-force energy. They are more vulnerable than all other internal organs, to invasion from detrimental outside influence. The emotions associated to the lungs are grief, sadness, depression, and worry in excess. Conditions which are said to be exacerbated by these emotions include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, COPD, and frequency of colds and flus. (The lungs are a primary target of the Covid virus – Viral cells go in and damage lung tissue and function.)
Within this, in our current times, facing an epidemic, it makes me think about how people are suffering grief from the loss of normalcy of their daily lives pre-pandemic. Grief from loss of loved ones dying from the virus. Depression from being cut off from friends, family, their jobs etc…
Do we perhaps weaken ourselves, render ourselves more susceptible to negative outside impacts, through the suffering of grief and depression?
Holistic thinking towards health focuses on working to prevent things from getting worse, to strengthen the body’s systems and their functioning so as to stand stronger in the face of any health challenges that may, and do inevitably, arise.
TCM considers the Liver “The General” of the organs. That which is essentially keeping all the other organs and bodily functions “in line”. A good general helps ward off attacks from invaders – similarly, the liver helps protect the body from all sorts of poisons and pathogens, as well as overload from chemicals (including medications), by way of being the primary detoxifying organ of the entire body. The liver has more regenerative ability than any other organ in the body. Like a general, the liver is a strategic planner, by way of excreting various, necessary hormones into the body at different times as needed, and helping the immune system more efficiently get the upper hand in fighting virus and bacteria, by cleaning up and excreting cellular “waste” from the blood which was created by the blood cells fighting the infectious organism.
The emotions associated with the liver are anger, rage, irritability and frustration. Mood fluctuations and severity are often seen as associated symptoms, to varying degrees, in conditions that involve and/or impact the liver, such as PMS, blood sugar imbalances, Hepatitis, alcoholism and more …
Many people are suffering a lot of anger right now. Anger over feeling like time and freedom in their life is being restricted and/or “robbed” from them. Anger from suffering inequity. Anger that no one has THE winning answers to fix the national or global situations we face, or aren’t implementing them.
In battle, a “bad” general, through recklessness, poor planning or bravado, may get their soldiers into terrible situations, causing much suffering and casualties as a result, even among their own troops. Persistent frustrations, turning into anger, turning into rage, can be equally destructive in our lives and to our health.
For anyone suffering any incessant grief, depression, sadness, or frustration and anger in their lives, prior to this pandemic or since, this is not to condemn the natural range of human emotions in some simplistic, arbitrary designation such as “bad” vs. “good”. But rather to call attention to the connection in how, when we may get stuck and spiral down into emotions that become so persistent they become unhealthy, that negative emotional experience can become detrimental to the body’s total health, enjoyment of the experience of life, and adaptability in the face of change.
Arguably, a focus on better mental/emotional health practices and care should be considered a key player in the strength of our health and total body wellness.
Consider how the world around you may be affecting your moods, consider the chance that continual, badgering, negative, unpleasant feelings may be affecting your physical feelings and function. Is there anything within your control that you can do to help better the world around you? Especially if affecting any change for the better could also help you feel better emotionally and/or physically? Is there anything you can do immediately, in your own life, for your self-care, that could positively influence your mood? If so, great, take it on! If not, then try to breathe, relax, learn and practice de-stressing techniques, accept that you cannot control everything.
Now flip that around and also consider how your mood may impact the world around you. Is your being angry, frustrated, depressed, or suffering grief negatively impacting lives around you, hindering any process in the world around you which could otherwise possibly grow and move on and change for the better? This isn’t to make you feel guilty for feeling your genuine feelings, but just to encourage you to try and step outside of your own perspective long enough to see a wider picture in how you’re connected and can influence things around you. That is a lot of potential power you can wield just in you being you.
Humans often cause themselves extra degrees of suffering when unhealthy mental or emotional blockages find them standing, desperately, like a stick in the mud of the river of change. A futile position. The hands of time will not be turned back, neither the tides of change. Remember, “We are but a moment’s sunlight, fading in the grass” …Don’t waste your precious life, your energy, your health, on fighting the inevitably of change. Rather look for the ways you can flow within it, finding peace, possibly helping to direct it in a direction you can feel safe and satisfied to go. Your health may just fair the better for it, as you embrace and reflect the new world around you.
So if you’ve read Part 1 of this little blog series then you’ve learned some handy tips and tricks to use in meal planning for weeks or months at a time. This may help inform your shopping trips to make sure you’re less wasteful of both funds and ingredients, and it cuts back on impulse buying as well as the amount of times you need to venture out into the public pandemic lands!
But maybe now you’re taking a step back, looking at your filled in monthly meal calendar, and you’re thinking, “Yikes!”, “This doesn’t seem very healthy”, or “This doesn’t really include enough staple and shelf stable foods”, or “Ayiyi! I have family members with particular dietary needs, how can I keep everyone fed and happy even with special dietary requirements?!”, and “Am I forgetting anything?” …So then what do you do?
I’m going to outline some considerations into category groupings for you to review. They may not all apply to you and your household’s situation, but they may provide a launching point for fine-tuning your own planning.
A. Economy and Perish-ability
Certainly one of the main concerns for almost every household will be cost! Stretching the dollar per servings provided in the food. For this reason I tell you – if you weren’t already aware – dried bulk grains and beans, as well as frozen and canned vegetables and fruits, are going to stretch the farthest – (compared to box meals, frozen dinners, ordering out etc…) But don’t go buying them willy-nilly just because it feels nice to see your pantry cupboard full. Or because you figure if you get a random varying selection then surely, you assume, it should suffice for enough meals? Instead, buy with plan in mind so nothing goes to waste – that means have recipes already predetermined! How much of what kind of bean or grain does each meal you plan to make call for? Do the math of the servings per packaging and make sure you buy enough. Same goes for your canned and frozen veg.
Also, remember the adage “waste not, want not.” The etymology of this phrase traces to the 1700s, but it was popularized in the United States during the 1930s – no surprise there, with that being the time frame of The Great Depression, in times of scarcity every little thing ideally needed to serve a purpose and not be wasteful. What this looks like in practice for your planning means that if a recipe you’re making calls for 2 cups of cooked beans, but the bag of dried beans you’re buying can make a total of 8 cups of cooked beans, then also come up with a plan for those other 6 cups so you don’t end up with a partially used, open bag of beans sitting around doing nothing else for you!
Now this isn’t to say you should just focus on shelf-life and not eat fresh vegetables and fruits of course. In terms of nutritional value per bang for the buck the produce selection goes like this:
Locally grown, in season = most nutritious Then…
Regionally grown, in season
Grown wherever, but “in season” at the time wherever it was grown and harvested from (e.g. Tomatoes in the summer may come from somewhere near by. Tomatoes in the winter probably come from somewhere further south and/or warmer like California or Mexico. Apples in the summer may come from South America, apples in autumn are more likely local or from the pacific northwest such as Washington and Oregon etc…)
Frozen fruit and vegetables
Canned fruit and vegetables
The other produce form worth mentioning is dried fruits and vegetables. While they do have excellent shelf stability, where they fall on the nutritional value scale has a lot more to do with the manufacturer. How was the produce grown (is it organic?), how it is dried (dehydrated or freeze dried?), how is it preserved (are chemicals added “for color and freshness”?)… Non organic dried fruit and veg brands are more likely to add unnecessary extra “ingredients” such as sugars, and things to make the coloring appear bright – (which is just a marketing ploy and has no bearing on the freshness or nutritional value of the food.) In some cases dried fruit/veg may be able to retain more nutritional density than both frozen and canned options, in some cases it may not, but over all I would say dried fruit and veg is pretty tied with frozen and canned fruit and veg, nutritionally speaking.
Obviously fresh produce can only keep so long compared to many of your other pantry staples. You may plan one whole month’s worth of recipes and go buy nearly EVERYTHING on your shopping list for it, but if you try to buy one month’s worth of fresh produce some of it will no doubt have begun rotting in your crisper before you get around to using it nearly 30 days later.
The strategy I’ve found works best for incorporating the fresh produce into your recipe meal planning, while minimizing needs to go to the grocery store is thus: Recipes calling for more quickly perishable fruits/veg must be prepared in the earlier part of the month’s meal plan. This may include Tomatoes, Avocados, Cucumber, Summer Squash like Zucchini and Yellow Crook-Neck, Mushrooms, Spinach, Leaf lettuces and/or “Spring Mix” salads, and most fruits. Recipes calling for produce which have longer “fresh” shelf life capacity can come later in the month. This produce may include hard/winter squash, potatoes of all kinds, cabbage, and cauliflower. Most hardy “cold season” greens can keep for a few weeks decently as well – including Kale, Collard Greens, and Broccoli. I’ve found Romaine lettuce hearts last longer than any other form of fresh lettuce purchased. Corn still on cob and still sheathed in its husk can keep for a decent length of time refrigerated. Citrus fruits have the longest “shelf life” of the fruits, followed generally by some melons and apples, and bananas can hang out for a couple of weeks depending on how green they were when first purchased.
Another cost-savings potential, depending on the amount of workload you want to get yourself invested in, is that it may actually be cheaper in some instances to buy a bunch of fresh produce and then go home and blanch it and freeze it yourself, instead of buying little pre-packaged frozen bags of veggies and fruits. Its not the most convenient thing, and depending on the produce it won’t always be the cheapest method, but it is something worth considering nonetheless when pinching every penny, or even simply looking for more ways to productively fill your time while staying at home.
Besides bulk whole grains, beans, and produce, some other staple items (with long shelf life) to plan to have on hand for scratch-cooking meal purposes include: Cooking oils. Flour. Salt. And sugar (or other preferred sweetener of your choice). You may also want to check on how stocked you are in any condiments you use regularly in meals/cooking. This may include Ketchup, Mustard, Soy Sauce, BBQ Sauce, Salad Dressings, Bouillon cubes or paste, Salsa etc…
B. Whole Foods for Health and Affordability
This next point builds on most of the ideas in the first – in that the closer a food item is to its natural state, and the more in “bulk” you can then buy it, the more nutritious it will generally be as well as typically more cost-effective. But point A. was mainly centering around the planning for cost and shelf-life, so lets now talk a bit more about the nutrition.
Plant and Animal based foods have naturally occurring concentrations of nutrients that form during the growth of said food. The “healthier” the practices involved in growing the food are, and the riper it is at time of harvest before getting to you, the more health it will have to pass along to you. The more something is heavily pulverized and/or cooked – i.e. transformed in ways farther from its original state – the more nutrient loss it may suffer. (This is why many processed foods have to have vitamins actually added BACK in to the food product as part of its manufacturing and you see it on the “ingredients” list.) Water soluble vitamins get left behind in the water used to boil something down. Frying could leach fat soluble vitamins out, as well as the exposure to the extreme heat damaging antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, and other beneficial compounds in the food. Cracking, grinding and pulverizing – particularly of nuts and grains – exposes them to oxidation wherein they begin to go rancid quickly.
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t chop or cook your food in any way. I’m merely encouraging you to be mindful of how many steps, and how extreme the methods, it takes to get any said food item from the field to your plate essentially. But I understand convenience is king also – especially if you’ve got a bunch of stir crazy children at home with you, or maybe your workload increased while working from home, or maybe you’re mood isnt feeling very stable right now due to the weight of whats happening in the world, and so you want to, even need to, keep things gentle and easy for yourself? We all must find what our own “middle ground” is for coping, and make the menu plans manageable for us.
Here is an example of a line of reasoning to try and find what would be the middle ground for you and your situation while keeping health in mind… Take oats for example – A common hearty breakfast food. They’re mineral rich and full of fiber. They have a good long shelf life. They are multi-purpose, in that they can be served as a hot cereal porridge, baked into snacks and treats, ground into a flour, and can be certified gluten free for those with such allergy concerns etc…
The most whole form would be to get the whole oat groat, which resembles a tough long grain brown rice. You can then cook it whole, much like you would do with rice, or you can first coarsely chop or grind it yourself in a food processor or high speed blender to make it more like the texture of steel-cut oats, or turn it into a flour. However, most people, (myself included!) are not going to bother with this (you’ve got to “choose your battles” so to speak).
If you wanted to buy some oats still as close to whole form as possible, while saving yourself some steps at home, you can get steel cut, or you can get whole-rolled oats – a form which then helps speed up their cooking time (where the whole groats have been pushed through a machine that flattens them, which is something we do not have the ability to do at home in our own kitchens!)
But say you still can’t take the time to cook steel cut oats, or even a whole rolled oats? Then you can get plain quick cooking oats. “Quick Cooking” is simply where they’ve taken the whole rolled oats and chopped them up a bit further so that when you cook them they absorb the moisture quicker, thus reducing the total cook-time.
But maybe then you don’t have the ingredients to flavor and dress up your oats how you want to? Say you don’t want to take that time? Or maybe your kids just won’t eat it that way? Well then you get the quick oats that come in pre-flavored serving packets. But note that this is the least cost effective per serving, and generally the least “whole food” form to obtain said oats. …Actually, the least whole food form would be a processed oat based “cereal”, the kind you’d eat cold in some milk. That is so far removed from the original whole grain form, even more so than pre-flavored quick oats pouches. But we all generally have to cut corners sometimes, and make various sacrifices, so you just need to figure out what that’s going to look like for you and your family. For example, maybe you compromise on the pre-flavored quick oats pouches, but that’s made up for by ensuring the whole family eats plenty of fresh vegetables as opposed to canned?
With whole food nourishment considered as the baseline for our planning, we now move on to the next point…
C. All Quarantine and No Treats makes you a Dull, Grumpy, Sad Person
That heading may be an overstatement for some, but I think its safe to say that the phrase “comfort food” exists for a reason. And if there’s anything that the mass collective consciousness and physical body needs right now during these times, it is a nice little dose of comfort.
Notice I said “nice” and “little”! – I’m not advocating any binge eating of course, it is unhealthy, it can be unsafe, and its uneconomical. I am not suggesting that feeling depressed, angry, stressed, confused, scared or any other sensation is an excuse to respond in proportion with food, let alone junk food particularly. But ultimately food equates to survival, and it has been part of human social connection surely since the dawn of humankind, therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that food at this time is going to take on all sorts of various meanings and levels of importance for people, coping with their feelings, and even in merely trying to survive.
Some people may plan and possess the most fortunate of circumstances to be able to use this time of self-isolating as an opportunity to try cooking more, eating healthier and getting into better shape. Others are not so fortunately privileged. And still others may have the best of intentions but then their feelings, or obligations that arise, prevent them from being as busy in the kitchen as they may have originally hoped.
Basically all of that is to say that smart pantry planning ought to include some quick and easy foods, some snack foods, some things you may consider “treats”. For health and economical reasons this shouldn’t make up any majority of the pantry, but to leave it out entirely could find you weeks in to this whole mess of a situation feeling more sad, less motivated, bored with your food options, too tired to cook AGAIN and so forth.
Personally I think one of the best treats for a wholesome feeling is homemade chocolate chip cookies. But it is something which, in my busy “normal” every day living, I rarely take the time to indulge in. Now I’ve been social-distancing at home for over a month and in that time I’ve made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for the whole family twice. We’re not eating desserts and junk left and right and with every meal of every day etc… but having those few instances of that different special thing to look forward to does make a nice counter balance to some stress and “sameness” of the situation.
It doesn’t even have to be a sweet treat. Another quick and easy go-to “comfort” food for my family is to have a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Did I make the tomato soup from scratch? Nope. But I use one that is organic and has no sugar or preservative chemicals added. And we are a non-dairy household, so the cheese is a different sort of exception all together – but even in the realm of dairy-free cheeses there are more vs. less healthy options to choose from.
D. Planning for Special Dietary Considerations
Another important point of your planning is what to do when anyone in your household may have special dietary needs. Of course the easiest thing is when everyone in the household eats the same way, that way no extra special things need to be accounted for. Perhaps during these “stay at home” times the family can come to an agreement wherein at least any of the “shared” family meals will cater to the person(s) with dietary needs/preferences, so you don’t find that you’re having to purchase for and cook up 2, or 3, or 4 completely different meals at a time, every time?
You should also take in to account how “special” products for differing diets may actually be more scarce at the store right now. If they are unique enough outside of the mainstream American diet then the store probably doesn’t typically keep much on hand any given week anyway. – If they maybe only have a small handful of people buying the item(s) once or twice a month usually, then they’re not suddenly going to think to order a bunch more of it right now. Conversely, if its something that’s growing in trend – such as a keto or paleo diet specific product, or even something gluten free – there may be more people clamoring for it than you ever could have imagined, meaning despite the store’s best efforts to keep supply up with demand, its just not going to be readily available.
For these reasons, when you’re going to purchase specialty dietary items, this is one area where you may want to consider going a bit beyond “plan” and at least doubling up on what you’re getting. You may not need it right away, but you may need it later and not be able to find it. Don’t go wiping the entire shelf out if it can be avoided, that’s just common courtesy. But if you’re buying 1 or 2 boxes of a special gluten free crackers you normally eat and like to have on hand, go ahead and get 3 or 4 instead, to last you twice as long and reduce risk of running out and not being able to find it again.
The same rules of basics staples we’ve been talking about otherwise still apply to the particular dietary needs. But if people in your household eat differently, consider where the compromises can occur which can make things more cost effective. e.g. Can everyone just eat the gluten free hamburger buns so that two types of buns don’t need to be purchased? Or maybe, because the gluten free buns are more expensive, its better to purchase both types, but knowing the one person eating the gluten free buns will have them last 3 times as long if they have the buns all to themselves? These are the types of mathematical decisions you’ll need to make to be most effective in your planning and pantry stocking.
E. Final Notes
Don’t forget Fido! If you’re stocking up for your household then your pets need to count too. While there may be less likelihood of any pet-food shortage, the whole point of stocking the pet’s pantry is still to avoid how much you’re going to need to be going out in public risking exposure or spreading of the virus. If your pet is on a special diet of any kind (especially for a medical reason) then definitely get a bit extra if you can, as the more rare/small-company “special” brands and formulas could be more likely to see issues of shipping delays, ingredients/manufacturing shortages etc…
Also, when you are considering quick and easy, and/or healthy, shelf stable options to stock up on don’t forget about the kinds of supplements that act as meal replacers and enhancers. Such as protein powders to be added to smoothies or homemade protein bars. Greens powders to enhance smoothies or juices and be an easy way to get more green foods into the diet. Fruit powders for adding to smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt. And “super foods” such as dried goji berries, chia or hemp seeds, maca root powder etc… they are called “super foods” because they are very nutritionally dense – meaning a little bit of them goes a long way in terms of giving your daily diet a dose of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
In summation, the foundation of wholesome pantry planning would look like this:
When the word went out nation-wide, that citizens should consider getting anywhere from 2 weeks up to 1 month’s worth of groceries, and then stay home in order to help flatten the curve of spreading Covid-19, a lot of people understandably became very worried or scared as a result of these orders.
The mind tends to take the news and run with it – “Well, if I need to stock pile, then I’d better REALLY stockpile! If 1 month is called for why not just go ahead and do 2? or why not 3? Oh no! What if everything about my known-world collapses and there is no more food?! Then I better stock up like there’s no tomorrow!” Conversely there has also been worries such as “How can I afford to stock pile enough?”, “What is ‘enough’?”, “How much do I stockpile to feed my whole family?”, “How do I stock pile and then make it last instead of stress eating it all too quickly while I’m just stuck at home?”
All of these lines of thinking caused many people to “panic buy” – which means not just stocking up on essentials of things which are immediately or soon needed, and that you’d regularly use anyway. Rather it is to stockpile all kinds of things which, in some cases, are even beyond what would seem rational or obviously usable. For example, I wonder how many people bought pounds and pounds worth of dried beans, but almost never actually make a point in their normal daily lives to cook and eat beans as such? Many people may not know what exactly to do with such things that they stockpiled – and if you don’t know how to cook it and don’t know what to make with it, are you really going to be inclined to use it? Maybe you will use it because it’s all you have, and/or you don’t want to waste it, but you may be unhappy or discouraged while doing so. Not to mention “panic buying” is what leads to sudden supply chain shortages which will inevitably effect everyone’s families – so best to shop responsibly with a plan in place.
The thought process involved in these fear-driven shopping excursions largely center on quantity per cost, and shelf-life for storage. Or even simply the craving of “comfort foods” for instant gratification coping. While these are important and valid concerns to address when planning a well stocked pantry, they cannot be your only considerations or you may end up with a hodge-podge of items which you and your family are not sure what to do with, and are not feeling fully satiated by. Additionally, having a bunch of odds and ends with no forethought plan on what to do with them, means you run the risk of having to keep going back to the store just to get random additional ingredients to build complete meals with. Thus defeating the entire purpose of the “Stocking up to stay home” directive in the first place.
It is just a fact of the times we live in that many people do not cook as much at home, or from scratch, as they did a couple of generations ago. Some would admit they don’t even know “how”. This presents an added challenge for some people who are wanting to stock up on food goods so as to stay as much away from public exposure as they can, and yet they aren’t experienced in planning meals and preparing them for themselves or family. These are indeed self-sufficiency skills which must be learned and practiced.
Personally I come from a family of “doers” – meaning, we tend to put nose to the grindstone and “get things done”. Menu planning for weeks or even months at a time comes naturally to me, and though I knew both of my Grandmothers were adept “meal planners” they didn’t directly teach me what they did, it just seems the mentality that leads to such planning was enough of an inherited trait that I picked up on it myself as an adult, when taking care of my own household and needs. But to make use of a skill, and to be successful with it, requires more than just a mentality, it requires taking the action, doing the work, and whatever tools prove helpful for the process so that we can achieve what we set out to do.
On that note I will share here a link to the very basic digital menu planning worksheet that I made and currently use, just in case anyone else wants to try their hand at more detailed planning and pantry preparedness. I used to do all of my planning on paper, as the tactile nature of it was easier for me to absorb mentally and really think it through, but that grew very tedious month in month out. Technology can help some things go faster, (or stay neater than my hand writing is at least), so I’ve moved to a digital table which I just reuse each month by adjusting the dates and filling in the changes to the menu plan. Once it is complete then I print a copy and post it to the refrigerator where all can see.
You will find the planner I created in google .docs HERE.
When you click on the link it will take you to my example version of the planner which is not able to be immediately edited for your use. In order to save it to be editable for personal use, you must go to where it says “file” in the upper left hand corner, and select the option from the drop down there that says “Make a Copy” (Note: This will only work if you are logged in to your own google account, or create a free google account/login of your own.) It will then save a copy to your own google drive which you can then rename and edit as you please, or even download to your desktop to use it offline.
How to Use the Planner:
I shade in the boxes red if the day has already passed before the menu plan is active. For example, sometimes I may not get around to creating the menu plan, or going to the grocery store to buy the necessary items for the plan, until I’m already a few days into the month. So I fill those boxes in red to show I am not covering those dates on the plan as they have already passed.
You’ll notice that the day 2 box on the example document has a menu plan that says “B -, L – , and D -” denoting a breakfast, lunch, and dinner planned. That is demonstrating one optional way to do the fullest menu plan that you can do, where each meal of each day is accounted for on the calendar. The reason the entire table is not filled out this way is because my own family tends to eat a lot of the same few things on rotation for breakfasts and lunches, to the point they are household staple items and need less day-by-day planning from me at this point. So in order to simplify my job of creating the plan (and keep it all to one printable piece of paper) I mostly just focus on accounting for dinners, while already knowing what main things to keep stocked for breakfasts and lunches.
The “Notes” track of boxes under each date is where I make a note of something going on that day which may effect how that day’s menu gets planned. For example, if there is an event going on in the evening (such as a yoga class) then I’ll need to plan a dinner for that day which will be quick and easy to make, and doesn’t need a lot of time and planning. If there was a morning meeting at work maybe you would need to change your breakfast routine that day? If your company or school provides you lunch, then you’d change your lunch plans accordingly etc… Or maybe you’re going to be going on vacation and don’t need to plan anything to cook at home for a certain number of days? Then write in “on vacation” and leave the corresponding date block blanks. When there is a note in the note track I highlight it in yellow in order to make it stand out and be more noticeable and memorable.
When planning your menu, think of what things you can cook that will be in large enough quantities that you can have it as leftovers and it will carry you over a day or two – meaning less planning over-all that you will need to do, and a bit less ingredients you’ll have to buy. It is highly recommended to cook in quantity and have leftovers as often as possible, because it is more friendly on your budget, as well as a time saver – (it saves time both in cooking preparation, as well as in mental space for the planning). Just be sure that the day you enter in a menu item which you know will produce leftovers, that you then enter the word “leftovers” for as many days relevant proceeding it, so that you know the meals for those days are already taken care of by way of the leftovers.
Lastly, the list of “Regular Standby” foods at the bottom of the document, under the menu planner calendar, is a list of things I tend to always fall back on making and having ingredients for on hand. In other words, they are things I can turn to every month and plug in here or there into the menu calendar in order to make the “planning” easier. It is a good strategy to create a list of menu items you want to always have in the rotation, because then it saves some time and mental capacity for your planning in the future, you aren’t always having to come up with new things for every meal, of every day, of every month in other words. Also, it is a way to make the family happy, as you will have “crowd favorites” that you know everyone enjoys and looks forward to. You can even incorporate it around a sort of ritual tradition – such as something like “Taco Tuesdays” or “Pizza and Movie Night on Saturdays” etc…
Further General Words of Advice Include:
Don’t be afraid to look up new recipes every month to throw some new and different things into the rotation and keep it interesting.
But also don’t overwhelm your kitchen workload, your family’s taste buds, and/or your grocery budget by feeling overly ambitious or obligated to come up with new and/or exotic things to cook all of the time!
Plan for things you generally know you like and will indeed eat, in order to avoid impulse purchases and potential waste! In other words, shop with a plan in place instead of just walking into the store and randomly grabbing things that catch your eye as you go.
Be sure to include some allowance for treats such as desert and/or other “snack” foods like chips, crackers etc… If you don’t have at least some “treats” on hand then you’ll end up wishing you had. If you don’t plan to keep some enjoyment in your eating habits during any long-term lockdown, or even in a normal monthly routine, morale goes down, and you’ll be more tempted to spend extra money impulse shopping, and throw off the plan you painstakingly took the time to assemble.
If you find it difficult to plan for a month at a time then start by just filling out the calendar planner for one week at a time.
Since some grocery items are more perishable than others (e.g. fresh produce), and since budgets may not allow for purchasing a month’s worth of groceries at a time, it is ok to plan the menu with the whole month in mind but then only do the shopping for it weekly or bi-weekly. A special exception would be the Covid-19 concerns and needing to reduce public exposure, in which case the more days you can plan and afford to stock up for, in order to avoid going back to the store again, the better!
When it comes time to make the grocery list (either typed or written) there are two ways which I generally recommend structuring it: One option is to input all of your list items grouped into categories according to where you’ll find them in the store once you go to shop – this creates a seamless “traffic” flow as you navigate through the store from one side to the other. You will get in and out faster this way, stay focused, avoid back tracking, (and generally come in contact with less people) this way. The other option is to group your list items according to the menu plan recipes – this method ensures that you don’t end up forgetting anything you need for any particular recipe – For instance, lets say you need to buy spinach for more than one recipe. But writing it only once on your shopping list means you may not remember to buy enough to cover the multiple recipes you planned that need it! Whereas listing it more than once, but grouped according to ingredients per-recipe, reduces the likelihood of you needing to make extra trips back to the store just to get any forgotten but needed ingredients. Personal Note: Because I have the store layouts mostly memorized at this point, I can tend to accomplish goals of method #1 out of habit, so now I more often tend to use method #2 for the list making, as it keeps me from forgetting anything critical, especially if I end up needing to visit more than one store in order to find everything on my list.
Many times over the years, from friends, co-workers, and family alike, I’ve had people say to me, “Wow, you plan out weeks of groceries at a time? You cook from scratch regularly at home? I need to get better about that too!” – But often they’ll also admit they don’t know how or where to begin. Not knowing the how and where, when faced with something suddenly disrupting our daily routines and livelihoods the way this viral epidemic has, can indeed by a daunting and even scary thing! So I hope that by sharing these tips here it empowers you in learning a helpful new skill, and something which may be able to aid you in feeling more calm, collected, and in control of you and your family’s well-being.
Stay tuned for the next blog post as we continue on this theme – Part 2: The Goods. Are you at all unsure of what to buy to put your money where you mouth is, so to speak? That is, feeling unclear of what is best to stock up on? In the next post I’ll draw on my holistic nutritional studies background, my 18 years of plant-based living, my knowledge of special-needs dietary considerations, and my experience of planning meals for varying numbers of people, and I will give an example of what a well stocked pantry, optimized for health considerations, may include.
I’ve titled this blog entry from inspiration by the famous poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. In said poem, Thomas is seemingly reflecting upon life and death. About how the good and wise and wild among us – even though understanding death/darkness is something inevitable as a fact of life – do not merely fade away in to it, but rather, leave their mark somehow by “raging against the dying of the light”.
Right now it seems like there is a two headed coin spinning, in the mix of mediums that is the global and social media speaking of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the one side we have bad news, the scary news, the troubling news, the disheartening news, the fearful news – whatever facts and fictions are tied up in all of that is beside the point. On the flip side we have good news, the attempts to shine some light at an otherwise dark experience haunting humanity at this time, those who are trying to stay positive and spread hope, to share humor just to lighten the mood or brighten someone’s day, or in the very least distract themselves – whatever facts and fictions are wrapped up in all of it is, again, beside the point. The “point” that I’m referring to is that this metaphorical coin is still spinning, and we don’t know where all or how its going to land. But we need to recognize we do have a say in the matter.
Any moment in time, in history, is an opportunity for change, because in truth nothing ever stays the same. But some incidences, historically speaking, become benchmarks for heralding change. We citizens, we humans of society and peoples of the earth, we make our history. So I feel compelled to argue the point that this experience, the world over, is presenting us with a chance to really delve deep into not only contemplating, but admitting to, the kind of lives we want to lead, the kind of civilization we must build for our future to be resilient and sustainable. After this global scale experience, nothing will be quite the same as before – (though there will no doubt be elements fighting for it to be, and some wishing that it was). Rather than fight the constant current of change, we should try to become clear and ready to stand firm in what we hope to achieve within it – this is imperative, so that we do not just simply get washed away with current.
For generations we have uselessly built and fed into mentalities of war, of domination, of exploitation, and an unstoppable march for what we deem “progress” (in a sense, not unlike a virus) – of which is ultimately unsustainable. We write literature of conspiracies. We become obsessed with “zombies” in entertainment – with post apocalyptic themes increasingly capturing the imagination. Some people make jokes about who they would want in their “squad” when civilization collapses, others consider the exact same thought but with all joking aside.
Ironically, the largest global conspiracy yet known to sweep the public masses during these frightening, confusing, challenging, uncertain times, is the hoarding and plundering of toilet paper (a sort of strange symbolism in a way – craving and coveting something that is a soft luxury with which we wipe up our messes). Though for as much as there is truly bad and sad news pouring in across the world, due to the many casualties of this virulent virus, as well as poor preparedness and/or mismanagement on the part of governments and corporate powers – we also see courage, and hope, and every-day people pitching in to help. We see the power of localization – as many individuals, local officials, and states look for ways to do their part to make a difference, to be of service, for the betterment and survival of the species.
Herein we catch sight of a silver lining, the glimmer of what could be. That even despite wars and other infighting, humans have always been communal creatures – that is, we are an animal that has survived and gotten to where we are today ultimately because of community, because of working, learning, and growing together! We are reaching a point, with such a globally connected modern world, that we are no longer isolated tribes, cultures, countries, and pockets of micro-communities, and we can see that throwing any stones now can have global repercussions. This thought crosses the mind: Perhaps it can be a blessing in disguise? That this experience which has potential to actually teach us, and help us better our infrastructures and planning and preparedness for the future, did not have to be birthed out of the aftermath of something as terrible as another human-on-human world war? Rather it comes from a human-standing-with-human effort to weather this “storm”, which is birthed of nature, and part of the natural processes of life and death here on this earth. Hopefully we look and see a common humanity, as we are each susceptible to the tolls this virus can take. As we are no less a part of the wider natural world.
When we are looking at our facebook news feed, youtube, instagram, (and wherever else we are witnessing “news” of what is going on day by day, and how we are each finding our ways to get through it), we see so much of people just trying to get by. Of course all we are generally ever trying to do is to get by, but now we all feel it more profoundly, now we can really see it in one another’s faces and hear it in our voices. Trying to “get by” now seems to take on a different meaning and emphasis. Thankfully, instead of mass violence, coups, protests, mutiny, militias, zombies, pitchforks and the like, proving to be some sort of dominant modus operandi in our species, instead many people are obliging themselves to acts of thoughtfulness and care. Gentle acts. Quiet acts. Even intentionally silly acts. It turns out that the quintessential human – in this big, giant, messy, global family we are all part of – apparently mostly wants to knit, bake, garden, write, teach, call and check on granny, sing a song etc… and humbly keep a roof over their head, food on their table, have a safe space for their loved ones, and just hopes to receive decent, fair, life-saving medical care should the need arise. These are basic acts of survival in their own right, as well as acts of gentleness, of creativity, of craft, of expression, of belonging and purpose, of family and community. It shouldn’t be surprising, and it is certainly not wrong, to say this is who we are. These hopes are nothing that should be so difficult to ask, nor to expect or maintain.
The world we have built for ourselves is in many ways richer in resources, capital, technology and potential than it has ever been. What we are learning now is where the limitations of various systems and ways of operating are, and where it has gotten us (or failed to get us) – and to that we should indeed “rage, rage against the dying of the light”, as Mr. Thomas implores. Because what kind of world is it for anyone, really, if our greatest expectation or aspiration for the future we can imagine is a dark, dreary, dirty, dreadful, unjust and merciless place? The future is not written in stone. The “unknown” nature of it doesn’t automatically mean it must be a bad and terrible place. Through this great time of pause, and patience – as we work our way through coming out the other side from panic and pandemic – we should look to see what doors have now presented themselves as opportunities to consider walking through to go gently into that new day.
Our previous article touched on the importance of balance for stress/inflammation… I’ll reiterate some here, and then also throw in some top choices in immune supportive lifestyle habits and supplements you can consider incorporating into your self-protection plan.
So again, what is NOT being talked about enough, even by governing/medical authorities, with regards to immune health? …The BIG three – Stress, Inflammation, and Sugar! All three of those things can overlap and trigger one another, and all three of those things depress your immune system’s functioning!
Stress contributes to more stress – the sympathetic nervous system is there to protect us in the extreme “fight or flight” scenarios… it releases a hormone chemical cocktail into your system to trigger necessary survival reactions. Those chemicals temporarily tamp down the immune system and other “less immediately essential to survival” systems. Trouble is, in our modern culture, we tend to be perpetually stressed, so we just have the chemicals in our system almost constantly, without much chance to rest and recover and let the parasympathetic nervous system come in on the back end and do its job to help the body re-balance.
The more the stress response happens, the more on edge our bodies are essentially “trained” to be. Meaning you have to ACTIVELY take conscientious measures to nurture and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system response to kick in the “Calm down” chemicals, so to speak (and thus let your immune system get back to functioning more optimally again, as well as everything else).
Things that have been proven to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous response include: A good, long, uninterrupted sleep – i.e. “a proper nights sleep”. Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercise practices. Meditation. Spending time in nature. Doing creative/artistic things/projects. Playing with your pets and/or children (assuming they aren’t the main source of your stress).
Inflammation – many people are chronically inflamed and they may not even know it, because inflammation isn’t always just chronic pain (though that’s usually a good giveaway)… Some foods (sugar being one of the worst) trigger inflammatory response in the body, seasonal or chronic allergies are a form of a chronic inflammatory state, food allergies as well, auto-immune diseases, latent tooth and/or gum issues etc… Inflammation is a stress on the body, at least especially when it goes on for long periods of time. Keeping it under control, not just out right suppressing it, but trying to help encourage it back to a normal/healthy balance, is essential for Immune function as well as over all health.
Lifestyle practices that help reduce inflammationinclude: A diet high in (as in predominantly featuring) fruits and vegetables – most of them contain compounds which support healthy inflammation response. Reduce or consume NO sugars, or at least no “added” sugars. Get a proper nights sleep. Do gentle exercises regularly (if you work a desk job be sure to get up and walk around periodically throughout the day). Herbs that help a lot with systemic inflammation modulation are Turmeric, Ginger, and Boswellia as the top three… though there are a whole host of others.
For general, baseline immune support –
You can consider supporting your body from just the nutritional foundation angle, and/or you can choose to add herbs in to the mix, or go strictly herbal. The choice is mostly due to personal preference, though some health conditions may warrant leaning just one way or the other – for instance, herbs may be more likely to interact with prescription medications you might be on where as nutrients would be less likely. If there are any questions or concerns you should talk with your doctor, or I often suggested people speak with a compounding pharmacy as they will have more knowledge, and books on hand to consult, regarding your prescriptions, yet they also tend to be more familiar with and open minded to natural health supplements as well compared to your more basic chain pharmacies.
1. Vitamin C – Timed release, or liposomal (i.e. fat soluble) forms will stay circulating in the body longer, and thus may increase absorption, while also reducing the likelihood of stomach cramps and diarrhea that can be caused from high doses of C. While there is no proof it or anything else will prevent or treat Coronavirus, the Chinese have an ongoing study, started in February, where they are administering up to 12g intravenously to patients as a possible measure to reduce severity of illness and speed recovery time – but test results are not expected to be published until September. That being said, Vitamin C it is a key nutrient in connective tissues in our organs (such as our lungs) and may help protect them from invading pathogens. Vitamin C also helps the body properly alert the white blood cells to protect the site of infection. Many animal studies over the years have demonstrated how vitamin C could help protect against bacteria and virus. Our bodies cannot produce vitamin C so it must be consumed from outside sources such as our foods and supplementation.
2. Vitamin D3 – This vitamin is often understated in its important roles of immune modulation. It works in the innate immune system and helping the body fight infectious agents. People with low Vitamin D3 levels are more susceptible to getting respiratory illnesses. At our latitude/longitude here in WNC approximately 20-30 minutes of full sun exposure on at least our face and arms (with no sunscreen on!) can give us a heaping dose of vitamin D3 through our skin – (Note: A bit longer exposure time is needed for people with darker skin tone as melanin blocks some of the sun rays). Otherwise consider supplementation.
3. Selenium and Iodine go hand in hand working in the body for thyroid health, but it has also been found that they help the body prevent and stop infections. People can be prone to deficiency in both of these minerals due to the fact that our soils don’t contain them as much as they once did, so even our produce grown in said soil is less nutritious. The thought is essentially that low Selenium contributes to more inflammation and oxidative stress, which makes hosts more susceptible to damage from virus and their mutations, which can contribute to the formation of new viral strains. – This intriguing research paper from 2011 explores further links to viral epidemics and origins in populations of selenium deficiency: https://link.springer.com/art…/10.1007%2Fs12011-011-8977-1 )
4. Zinc – Has been demonstrated to help the body combat upper respiratory illness. It is possible to get “too much” zinc, so people need to be careful how much and how often they are administering this mineral, especially in children who need smaller doses than adults. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Zinc for an adult is 15mg. Taking 30 or even up to 50 milligrams for further immune benefits can be tolerated by some people in times of immune need – provided it is done for short duration – a week or two max before taking a break. Zinc in supplement forms, especially at higher dose levels, often upset people’s stomachs so it is best taken with food, or divided doses throughout the day instead of a large amount all at once.
1. Thyme – This herb is a personal favorite of mine for lung and respiratory support. It is also worth mentioning because it is cheap, easily grown, easily found in the grocery store, and is very strong in its support of healthy respiratory function. Normalizing mucous secretions and helping kill pathogens. Thyme Essential Oil – the highest concentration of the herb’s compounds, can be used to make all natural hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial cleaners. Thyme tinctures and other supplements taken internally help ease congestion and boost immune functions. You can even steep fresh or dried thyme leaves and drink it as a tea, or make a strong thyme broth, breathe in the vapors deeply while you sip.
2. Elderberry (As well as Elder Flower) – Of course we can’t get around mentioning this potent plant. Compounds in the fruit have been shown to help stop some flu viruses from replicating, shortening severity and duration. Elder flower are generally understated and not as easily come by in supplements, but possess compounds particularly beneficial to sinus and respiratory ailments. If you grow your own, or get any whole berries to make your own syrup just be careful to remove stems and seeds as they contain some mildly toxic compounds that give some people diarrhea. Also, people with auto-immune conditions need to be careful with this plant as it could potentially exacerbate an already hyper-active immune state causing them to feel worse instead of better. Note: For any questions or concerns regarding sudden and currently circulating info about Elderberry contributing to “Cytokine Storm” reactions please see this educational video clip I made addressing the subject as it stands currently: https://www.facebook.com/MiddlePathWellness/videos/1080596908984913/
3. Oregano – This herb, used as a supplement, is most often found as “Oregano oil”, which is oregano extract concentrated into an oil base (typically an olive oil base is most common), this is different from Oregano Essential Oil. Essential oils are highly concentrated and caustic substances which can be dangerous and even toxic if used in high and/or very frequent doses. Oregano oil extracts (the kind using another carrier oil as a base) are meant to be taken internally for some duration as needed for the immune system. Compounds in this plant are known to assist in fighting bacteria, virus, and fungi. While the supplements are more concentrated for effect, it still is not a bad idea to consider cooking more with oregano at this time to get more into your system. You can try steeping it or making broths with it as recommended with the Thyme leaf.
This all just scratches the surface of possibilities out there of course.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been in practice for over 2,000 years and it hits on further complex herbal blend formulas of which I have admittedly less direct familiarity with in regards to some of their herbs, but my personal experience with Chinese formulas is they are frequently reliable to work, and they can work fast, so I recommend them as well, assuming they were formulated by a practitioner and/or company that knew what they were doing creating the formula.
So that is some of the top most reliable things I’ve found over these 20+ years of study and experience. I certainly hope it serves you well in your wellness journey.
Mad Cow Disease, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, Ebola, Cornoavirus – in an age of global connection through the ease of jet setting, it is reasonable to be concerned by the speed and virulence at which bacteria, fungus, and virus can spread between populations. In the instance of all of the aforementioned diseases, (which have all been declared pandemic, or possible pandemics needing serious monitoring, just within my lifetime), the “scare” largely comes from the fact that they were all conditions which governing bodies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and/or the World Health Organization (WHO) didn’t have any foresight of or plan for. I don’t just mean travel restrictions and quarantine containment, I also mean biological defense in terms of vaccinations, antibiotics, understanding of natural immunity etc… because in all instances they were newly identified strains of disease – new enough to the human population that the spread of them was at first happening faster than the knowledge, understanding, and thus ability to “control” them was.
In the face of a highly unknown, but potentially very lethal agent, we are certainly right to take any/all precautions for our own health and the health of our loved ones. But I have to wonder how many people stop to think about the fact that these health agencies, medical professionals, and the news media always start their “precautions/preparedness” list off by telling people they need to be washing their hands with hot water and soap, and avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth (and should they touch their faces they should go right back to washing their hands). These two basic rules are proven to halt the spread of most illness causing bugs! So do we only pay close attention to this when there is a looming pandemic threat? Think about it, how mindful are you of these practices in your day-to-day life, regardless of whether it is “cold and flu season”, regardless of whether you’re feeling ill or have been around someone who was? I have a sneaking suspicion that these guidelines must be repeated over and over again because on average the easiest fall-back habit is to NOT be mindful of these practices.
Did you know that there are many countries in the world where they do not even know about hand washing? They do not know it is important. They do not teach it to their children and communities. And/or they do not possess the resources of soap and clean water to be used for the practice with any consistent basis. Is it any wonder that many, if not all, of these pandemic threats we’ve faced over the past few decades have origins back to animals and/or economically disadvantaged communities with much less infrastructure or knowledge about hygiene for the sake of public health?
But, lest anyone use aforementioned considerations as an argument to justify xenophobia, consider the flip side of the cultural spectrum. Here we are (or assuming so for the likely readership of this blog) in a country where the majority of us do indeed have access to clean water and soap on a daily basis, we have education and trained medical staff and governing authorities who, on behalf of the benefit of the entire population, tell us repeatedly the importance of these simple but critical measures. Yet how many of us can say we really, consciously, consistently (i.e. regardless of pandemic threat scares) practice it? …What sort of excuse do we have really?
Of course while this hygiene practice may be at the top of the list of verified precautionary measures, there is still a huge elephant in this emergency room that we DO NOT talk about enough in our culture. That is the intimate trifecta link between Stress, Inflammation, and the Immune System! I believe the more that we can all understand the connection between these three process of the body, the more that said knowledge is power to maintain better health, even in the face of pandemic threat.
When the body is under any kind of mental, emotional, or physical stress – whether it be of positive origin (such as excitement and/or anticipation like an upcoming vacation, going skydiving, or welcoming a new baby into the family etc.), or be it negative (e.g. stressing over finances, career, relationship etc.) – our inherent wild mammalian bodies behave as they are biologically meant to, by pumping us full of stress hormone chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, in order to signal a “fight or flight” response. This is a survival mechanism, but while it is happening many other systems in the body have to take a back seat (including our immune system!) We did not originally come about in a world of constant media bombardment, long-distance travel and communication, air/water/soil pollution, engineered foods, fossil fuels etc, so when we are under such persistent, chronic stress, our body has little chance to recover and rebuild, and we begin to suffer long term health deficits as a byproduct to these stressors.
Stress and inflammation tend to be similar to a “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” sort of scenario. Stress triggers a rise in inflammation markers in the body, which contributes to more physiological breakdown – including of the immune system. But chronic inflammation causes the body to produce more stress-response hormones. It is a vicious cycle, but either way the immune system still takes a hit.
So lets recap – What all do we have likely working against us? (Besides any irregularities in our hand-washing habits that is.)
Environmental stresses – Meaning exposure to persistent air, water, or soil pollutants. Upheaval and damage to your way of life as caused by extreme weather events. This category could also include the toll it takes on our body to be constantly so germ-phobic that we expose ourselves to noxious cleaning chemicals by spraying everything down with sanitizers constantly, or the over-prescription of antibiotics – both of which doesn’t allow us much of any chance to build up any natural immunity to anything in our environments. (Note: Environmental stress may be a big contributing factor as to why the Swine, Bird, SARS, and now Corona viruses – all predominantly respiratory illness – came from China initially; which is a highly dense populace that has far less stringent environmental controls on their air quality. That is to say, with poor air quality comes less healthy immune/respiratory function, and with dense population comes more ability to spread illness, so voila! the makings of a perfect storm for pandemic to get a foothold.)
Societal stresses – meaning the pressures of politics, cultural or religious expectations, educational demands (finals, thesis writing, getting good grades etc), career demands, finances, gender expectations, racial conflicts, or contrasting opinions on “behavioral norms”.
Familial stresses – meaning strained relationships with spouse, siblings, parents, or children. Keeping food on the table and a roof over your family’s head. Worrying about caring for everyone else and sacrificing your own health in the process.
Physical/Emotional/Mental stresses – being any injury to the body, dealing with and trying to overcome any trauma, over-working the body (even if the intention is positive – such as going to the gym – you can still over do it of you’re not careful), bottling up issues and not getting help for them, or even something as simple as not getting a regular good night’s rest.
All of this is to say that if immune strength and protection from super-bugs is what we are worried about being prepared for, then there is clearly a vast range of immune impacting concerns to be taken into consideration. It is not that doing a relaxing meditation to unwind from stress is magically going to protect you from a pandemic, but NOT making efforts for stress reduction and inflammation response control in your life does contribute to a gambling roll of the dice for your immune system, should you be faced with any germs. So consider nurturing a lifestyle habit of less hypersensitivity, less reactivity, less outright fear, and instead seek calm, peace, and objectivity.
The other biological immune booster we need to be aware of is the health of our gut. 70% of the cells that make up our immune system are in the lining of our digestive tract, which means most of our ability to build immunity and have a healthy immune response, starts with gut health balance. What is this mainly referring to? Well, bacteria mostly. What an amazing accomplishment of nature, that our body functions by way of using “good” (beneficial, symbiotic) bacteria to ward off and help fight the “bad” (pathogenic, pandemic) ones we may get exposed to! Of course, even though most of these beneficial probiotics live in our digestive system there are also some beneficial bacteria found in the lungs, the sinuses, the mouth, and on the skin – in other words the “bad” bacteria we get exposed to have to fight to travel through multiple entry points of our system, encountering many road blocks along the way, just to get settled in and begin a full-on infectious invasion. The stronger those road blocks are the less likely the germs will stand a chance of taking hold. Have you ever come down with the flu and wondered why someone else in your household did not? Even news of this Coronavirus is saying that some people are carriers for it but never know they have it because they get no symptoms, while some people only get a mild head cold, while others get an extreme manifestation to the point of it being life threatening! It is not something unique, special, or odd about the Coronavirus, (or any other pathogen), rather it is about the unique response to said pathogen by each individual’s immune strength and physiology.
Recall all of that talk about stress and inflammation linking to immune function? Well, the imbalance of healthy gut bacteria (called dysbiosis) contributes to inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, which is a physical stress on the body. Or, someone who is under stress may be more likely to not take care of themselves – eating less healthy foods, not sleeping well, having no time to exercise etc… – which makes gut imbalance a possible side effect.
Several studies by microbiologists are finding that by examining the contrasts of the digestive system microbiome between urban and rural dwellers, even across various countries and continents, all point to some repeatedly interesting findings. In many cases the rural dwellers tended to be exposed less to chemically treated water, highly processed foods, and antibiotics than the urban dwellers. If they consumed more whole-foods based diets they inadvertently were consuming more prebiotic fibers which helped to boost the strength of the probiotic colonizing bacteria in their guts. Additionally, the rural dwellers had higher exposure to a wide variety of bacteria from the soil, water, and air around them, which could actually be beneficial in helping their body build more natural immunity (i.e. immune strength). Consequently, findings show that the rural dwellers had lower over-all instances of chronic illness and of “Western diseases” that affected the urban dwellers. *(For further reading on some of these studies see links at the end of this post.)
Of course with everything the best balance of truth is usually somewhere in the middle. You don’t want your kids to be smeared with cow dung and eating daily doses of dirt per say, but neither would it be ideal to chemically sanitize their microbiotta and immune systems into oblivion either.
So, with the hand washing and hygiene control measures being the #1 line of defense in stopping spread of pathogens, it stands by the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. But all the hand washing, or practically drowning yourself in elderberry syrup or Tamiflu, will only go so far if you’re constantly stressed, sacrificing your total health and well being and quality of life, crashing your immune system, living in fear of pandemics. It is ok to be cautious, but maybe try cautiously optimistic? Don’t just wait for the CDC to tell you so – Remember, that any and every day is a good day to take care of your health!
*For further interesting reading on some microbiome studies check these out:
I’m feeling reflective as we are nearing the new year, new decade, and 1 year anniversary of the founding of Middle Path Nutrition and Wellness. Prior to opening, I got the question, “Why Canton?” on more than one occasion. Though I won’t argue that it is certainly a plus to work closer to where one lives, and spare a long commute, the real driving factor was the desire to serve the community I call home.
Some people dislike small towns – they feel it is stifling, or invasive, because everyone knows so much about everyone else. I grew up in a small town and could certainly see some validity in such points. But I moved away as a young adult, and lived in a very large city for nearly a decade, and though I adapted and learned to appreciate some things about it, I also missed the simplicity of a small town. Small towns are closer knit with their stories, and often carry their rich histories on the tips of the tongue of all the locals. Small towns are the lifeblood of Americana.
I’ve come across some press that speaks of how small towns across America are seeing more revitalization over the course of the past decade – as many people have been leaving larger city metro areas in search of a quieter life, or a closer community to raise a family in – or whatever other host of reasons the articles may come up with. I’ve certainly been witnessing it myself here, and I’ve been a part of it no less!
The beauty of supporting your small town, and revitalizing a small town, is that it creates a unique thumbprint for the region. Suddenly you meet people face to face in the shops who actually have a vested interest in providing great customer service and real human connection, because they are your neighbor, or they go to your church, or your kids are in school together etc. The individuals providing for the needs of a community in a small town, are able to create spaces and offer product and services that are special, more curated and unique, and just for you – as opposed to the big-box, cookie-cutter appearance of the national corporate offerings.
In a small town, residents are more able to have a voice – to the city officials, to the business owners – and to be heard. Better able to help shape the offerings of what is around them, in their community, for the enrichment of their own lives. Sure, maybe you don’t always get everything you’d like from it, but getting to express your interests more directly is a privilege that is far more lost in bureaucracy and numbers in larger cities.
I’m writing this now, in a sense, as a little love note to small-town America. Being in business here a year now, meeting folks new to the area or even new the state, and hearing what lured them to this beautiful region – and meeting so many people who’s families trace their roots back to these hills and coves over several generations – has been so much a pleasure!
I invite you all in! I love to hear your stories. I love to share. I am grateful for everyone here who has been so supportive and encouraging, and I’m grateful even for just each curious person who’s wandered in the door, sometimes amazed to see this little town waking back up again. I thank those who’ve said to me, “It’s about time Canton had a place like this!” or, “I always hoped we’d have a place like this!”, and especially those that have thanked me… because it lets me know that I’m meeting my mission in helping my community.
Be individual, be unique, be proud! AND Be connected, be supportive, be humble.
I think that nicely sums up all the best of small-town America.
This wellness center was borne of a love for people and place. The shop and services we offer may help keep the lights on and doors open, but the greatest meaning comes from the people sharing the space. Indeed, the vision for opening here was one of crafting a space for sharing. We share knowledge of plants, and the body’s amazing capacity for healing. We share commiseration in sickness and times that are tough. We share love of these mountains, of our neighbors, and the comfort of a small town. We share skills that may help better each other’s lives in some way, no matter how small. We share creativity and inspiration, and this has been one of the greatest blessings of the space so far – the number of artists in the community who have felt moved to share their talent for the sheer love of creating.
When we think of health, our culture tends to conjure images of trim runners in a marathon, bulging muscles lifting weights, clinical offices and lab coats, and salads upon salads. Or conversely, and as many with chronic illness would tell you, we may instead dwell on when we feel our lowest, (wondering if it could possibly even get any lower), and the thought of “health” as more synonymous with the absence of it. But these fragmented pictures are only partial truths in contrast to the complexity of each individual life. The state of being that motivates one towards peak fitness, or sees them suffering, is not merely physical, rather our mental noise and emotional baggage weighs in and influences outcomes and experience as well.
Human beings have largely been a tribal, communal species. Even if the stark, obvious, scientific reasoning justifies this on a “safety/survival in numbers” theory – the fact remains, regardless of primitive motive; historically we have developed further via interaction with others, or (at best) in cooperation with others. This idea goes hand-in-hand with humanity’s penchant for creativity. Before the printing press and internet, all of our histories and traditions used to be passed down in stories, even refined over centuries with further creative flare to poems and songs, not to mention expressive imagery such as drawing, painting and carving.
In our media-tech saturated modern life, so often I see the seeds of creativity within us get killed off before they even get an attempt at sprouting. So busy are we to entertain the time investment. So inundated are we by the myriads of output there is in the world, that we think, “why should I do -this- or -that- when someone else has already done it better? Become more famous? Made more money?” etc… We snuff our own potential. We do not allow ourselves any patience. We do not practice anything – instead we expect to be masters at first attempt, and if we know we are not then we relinquish even the process of trying. Amazingly enough, so many people who are creative in many ways on a daily basis, hardly find space to even give themselves credit – the self deprecating “starving artists”, long a specter of our “society”.
Technology is a tool which can also be used to create amazing works of art. Our modern media dissemination can help creativity in far flung corners of the planet see the light of day, where in the past it may never have even traveled as far as next door. But we cannot let the saturation point make us shy away from our own inner inclinations to share and be expressive. Maybe your expression comes out in building a beautiful budget spreadsheet? Maybe it comes out in 3D computer modeling for your favorite games? Maybe its in your kitchen, cooking food for those you love? Maybe its in how you arranged a bouquet of wildflowers? Maybe its in your words? Maybe its in a journal you keep just for yourself? I think that last point is of particular importance – that the spirit of expression is unto itself, and it is more important that it be expressed, period. Even if its not for the whole world to see. First and foremost we should express things for ourselves, for our own catharsis.
If we cultivate creativity in ourselves, if we nurture it in our children, if we support it within our communities, perhaps the state of mental/emotional well being in our culture would improve? Perhaps we would find more meaning in our lives because we actively put it there? Perhaps we would find more connecting points, more similarities in the shared human experience? Perhaps our total well being will feel addressed in a way that no one pill, or exercise, or diet alone could touch upon. The concept of holism, in application to health, is understanding that we are all more than just the sum of our parts. Finding a creative expression you enjoy is a way of solidifying that understanding.
Essential oils are chock-full of concentrated plant compounds, and by compounds I’m talking about CHEMICALS! This can sometimes be a scary word to natural-health leaning folks, but we need to break the stigma down in order to get at the truth, because what you don’t know not only adds further confusion to the information pool, at worst it could actually hurt you and your loved ones.
Just one single drop of an essential oil typically has an average of 20-30 milligrams of active chemical constituents from the plant within it. An essential oil is up to 100x stronger, i.e. more concentrated, than it would be just found in general consumption of the plant. To put that into some perspective allow me to give an example of an herbal compound breakdown from a product formulation – A formulated Oil of Oregano capsule product, that is intended for internal consumption, may be standardized to contain a guarantee of up to 70% carvacrol per serving – (carvacrol is one of the known “active” compounds in oregano for human health benefit) – and each serving of one pill is 510 milligrams of oregano total, 45 milligrams of that being the oil, and 70% of that oil being carvacrol, meaning 32 of those milligrams in the total capsule is the compound carvacrol. Keep in mind this pill also has a base oil such as olive oil, and/or emulsifier such as soy or sunflower lecithin included in the capsule as well, so it has a carrier and fills the capsule out. In addition, the extraction process for herbs in tincture and pill form is typically different than that of essential oil distillation. So the point here is that you’re not consuming a whole pill full of straight oregano essential oil. Yet there are a growing number of people who consume multiple drops of all sorts of various essential oils daily, something that is not encouraged and prescribed by any seriously trained professional aromatherapist or clinical herbalist.
To make matters more confusing, some years ago companies launched with claims that their oils were “therapeutic grade”, leading many to believe that the oils were somehow inherently different than every other essential oil on the market. However, this was strictly marketing terminology and not any sort of regulated term – much like the flagrant use of the word “natural” being thrown around in the food products industry, anyone can use the term and it doesn’t necessarily ensure anything about the product.
It is true there can be varying grades of quality to essential oils, and many factors come in to play to create the conditions for the product – such as; where the plant was grown, when it was harvested, how it was harvested, how the extraction is done, whether or not solvents are used – and if they are, whether they are natural or synthetic chemical solvents, how the end product oil is bottled and stored, how long it sits before reaching the consumer market etc…
More recently, marketing using the term “food-grade” for essential oils has unfortunately generated further implication for use or delivery by the general public that is actually not congruent with clinical aromatherapy training, nor education in proper use with essential oil safety . While the FDA usage of the term “Food Grade” does include plant extracts under the FCC (Food Chemical Codex) and GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) lists, they are not meant to suggest applications for consumption to the general public. Remember, essential oils are no longer just the plant – herb, root or flower – and therefore they’re not equivalent to herbal preparations such as found in food, extracts/tinctures, syrups, infusions or macerations etc. Proper use of essential oils includes safety, education and common sense about their chemical compounds.
Another factor that many consumers may not consider is that there are a number of plants that we extract these essential oils from which grow in very specific parts of the world and/or under rather specific environmental conditions. This can limit the avenues on how it gets to the market. Some producers are mindful of the growing, extraction, and sourcing, with regards to not over harvesting and damaging ecosystems, not contributing to threat or endangerment of the plant species, and not subjugating the indigenous people where the plant grows (whom often are doing a lot of the work in the supply chain process). But the mindfulness comes with a cost, and so some manufacturers would rather buy in to a bulk of essential oil, or raw materials to make their oil, cheaply, even if that means forgoing any thought or care towards the aforementioned concerns. If a company is not being transparent with regards to its sourcing of its plant materials how can you be sure it is being ethical about it? If they’re not seeming ethical about it, how much more sure can you be about the purity/quality of the product?
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Adverse reactions from improper or over-use of essential oils, based on assumed safety and lack of proper training and knowledge, has been growing in recent years. It is beginning to prompt stricter regulatory measures in Europe and may well soon follow suit in the United States. While regulation for safety concerns may sound like a good thing at face value, the trouble is often that bureaucracy may overstep bounds for the sake of control, and thus make it increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, to legally obtain and/or use some particular plant substances. Basically, what the irresponsible use of essential oils has created is a “one bad apple spoils the bunch” scenario – and so when there reaches a tipping point of backlash to the industry, and outcry from medical professionals dealing with people who have injured themselves with oil usage, it not only gives the practice of clinical aromatherapy a bad name, and may dilute the product stream and availability of these valuable plant medicine/extracts to the public, it may even contribute to ceasing consideration of funding for legitimate scientific studies into the plants and their compounds.
This is not to say that products on the market are intending to be nefarious and misleading. But it is worth noting that its easier to sell more product if people go through it faster, and people will go through it faster if they think they should be drinking it, or encapsulating it and taking it as a oil filled pill daily, and using it on their kids and their pets and everything else with profusion. Just like we are seeing a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria due to over prescription and over use of antibiotics by the medical community over the past several decades, it is reasonable to conclude we could face similar issues – increasing resistances and/or acquired allergies and sensitivities, due to over use of the potent plant chemicals found in essential oils.
Essential oils are a indeed a plant’s most concentrated medicine. They are amazing wonders of chemistry that deserve further study and respect, and they hold much potential benefit for the user. There’s a right place, right time, and right application for oils – and that is not to be inundating yourself with them constantly. All the more reason to consult with educated professionals, read from well researched authors, and consider that sometimes the wisdom of nature can be “less is more”.
Here are some recognized safety experts, educators, and resources regarding aromatherapy, dedicated to proper/thorough training, so you can dig more into the topic if you so choose:
I’ve worked in and around the natural/preventive health world for over a decade and I’ve been studying in the related arena for even longer than that, and something that is surprising to me in all of this time is just how few men seem to be involved in proactive and preventive health measures.
Statistics for the industry as whole, nationally, favor women – be it as customers shopping for supplements, organic foods, or health services. For those seeking supportive modalities such as massage, yoga, acupuncture etc. the response I witness is predominantly the same from men – “My wife/mother/daughter/sister would love that, I’ll tell her about it” – but the idea to men that they could seek it for themselves seems to make many almost squeamish. And for every person that enrolls in professional training for massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture school etc… females tend to outnumber their male classmates.
The average age range of the men who do decide to dabble in preventive health care measures tends to be 55 years and older. Perhaps, faced with the physical toll of aging, some motivation factors start to kick in for self-care, or at least self preservation? Although many times I’ve observed men may not even seek any help without an insistent or persistent nudging from a friend or relative (often a female). Does our culture instill a notion that it is a weakness for men to seek help or betterment for their own well-being? Do the men feel somehow “less-than” for even asking and seeking help?
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, women in the United States have an average 5+ year lifespan longer than men. In racial minorities sometimes the gender gap in life expectancy is even greater. In fact, men’s mortality rate is quite higher for 8 out of 10 leading causes of death in America:
Male : Female death rate ratio
1. Heart disease
4. Chronic obstructive lung disease
7. Alzheimer’s disease
8. Influenza and pneumonia
9. Kidney disease
10. Septicemia (blood infection)
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
According to information in studies from Harvard Health – [men die at a faster rate than women; the overall mortality rate is 41% higher for men than for women. American men are 2.1 times more likely to die from liver disease, 2.7 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS, 4.1 times more likely to commit suicide. Men not only die younger than women, but they are also more burdened by illness during their total lifetime. They fall ill at a younger age and have more chronic illnesses than women. Although women see doctors more often than men do, men actually cost our society much more for medical care beyond age 65.]
Yet in studies conducted as part of the Blue Zones project, examining the 9 regions of the world with the highest amount of centenarians in their populations compared to the entire rest of the world, men were thriving well past 85 years of age and at similar rates as the women. This in part is demonstrating that there isn’t necessarily de facto inherent biology causing health limitations in men.
All of this would seem to suggest that men are in greater need of proactive and preventive measures for health in our country. And/or perhaps that part of what contributes to the more positive statistical numbers for women is that they are more prone to taking an extra step in pro-active wellness.
In a study conducted by the NIHS in 2012 the factor that contributed consistently to a man’s likelihood of seeking complimentary or alternative health care products or services was to enhance his sports performance. While there is nothing wrong with being dedicated to your sport and wanting to do your best, it is disheartening that it seems only in the adulation of this performance is what drives these men to consider taking care of themselves.
If there is a biased, underlying cultural stigma that hinders a man’s willingness to be proactive with their health and well-being we need to start consciously dismantling this unhealthy and unfair foundation. “Live Fast, Die Hard” may be a great motto for a movie action hero, but perhaps your friends and family would actually prefer to enjoy your company longer if they’re able, and certainly wish the best for your health and functioning and quality of life.