Health Maintenance or Disease Treatment?

I have been a registered nurse for 37years, I can’t believe it’s been that long!  I have worked with everyone from newborns to people 100years old and older.  Over my career I have come to believe that the most important medication we can take is the food we eat.  I ate a pretty typical American diet for about 54 years.  I battled my weight and tried about every diet you can think of to lose weight.  Then my husband started reading The China Study  and coming home and telling me about it and talking about becoming vegan.  I was raised in a “meat and potatoes” household, my favorite foods were cheese burgers and steak and baked potatoes.  I didn’t want to hear about becoming vegan!  Then he told me that he had read that you could eat the same number of calories that a meat based eater would in a vegetable based diet and lose weight.  He had me there, I had tried everything and was desperate to lose weight.  So New Years Day 2010 we went “cold tofurkey” as I call it and went vegan. 

I discovered that I was very sensitive to dairy products, that they were very inflammatory for me.  Giving up dairy the frequent muscle aches I got with even minimal exercise vanished.  My energy level skyrocketed.  I lost 40 pounds in the first 9 months.  It was an adjustment to give up the comfort foods I was raised on but I was super motivated by how much better I felt.  Veganism is definitely a life style change.  It has been an interesting journey and our vegan diet has evolved over the years.  At first we ate a lot of “faux meat” products, seitan, tofu, stuff that looked like meat but was vegetable based.  Slowly I came to realize that the processing it took to make vegetables and grains look like meat probably wasn’t where we wanted to be.  It is possible to be a junk food vegan, potato chips, french fries, vegan sausages and a lot of sugary sweets can all be vegan.  We have broadened the range of veggies we eat and eat mostly organic.  We eat more beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds and less “faux meat” and processed food.  90% of our shopping happens in the produce department.  It’s amazing how hard it is to find a good variety of organic, locally produced, non GMO produce in the average grocery store.  When you go looking for vegan recipes you come across a lot of information about how important those things are.

I was inspired by my own experience to want to share with others how much healthier we can be if we eat healthy.  I wish that our healthcare system did more teaching about how to eat and stay healthy and less treating the diseases that result from failing to do so.  There is a lot of money to be made by cranking out pharmaceuticals to treat the problems that result from not realizing that the most important preventive medicine we can take is the food we eat!  And food manufacturers stand to make more money the longer their products will last on the shelf even if it is at the expense of the nutritional value.  Ever notice that the number of ingredients that you can’t pronounce on your food label often exceeds the ones you recognize as food.

We need to take control of the food we eat rather than letting advertisers and manufacturers tell us what we should be eating.  They are feeding us a diet that is causing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and untold other health problems.  I don’t want people to have to wait as long in life as I did to discover how much healthier they can be.

I see Mama Squash Co-op Market and it’s foundation as a way to help educate the community about good healthy eating and make the foods that make it possible readily available.  To that end,  in conjunction with graphic arts students at College of DuPage I have developed a coloring book to help teach kids (amd their families) what it means for food to be organic, locally produced, sustainably produced, and not genetically modified, and why those concepts are important to eating well.  I have also started a Mama Squash Co-op Market Healthy Eating Meetup.  We meet the second Tuesday of each month at various locations in Villa Park and share tips about eating healthy.  You can find out more at  I can’t wait till we actually open the store, but there are important things we can do in the mean time.  I hope that popular support will help us get Mama Squash Market open as soon as possible!

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Fighting for Food Equity

Part of me lives angry - especially at work. So, I'm surprised, but pleased when my patients tell me, "You're always smiling" "You're always so positive - even with all you see." I'm glad that I can hide that. My colleagues are great, my boss is fantastic and I love my patients - so it's none of the usual. Today was a hard day for a couple of reasons, so the anger is at the surface and as the day comes to a close, it's mixed with a tired sadness. I primarily diagnose brain dysfunction and provide some treatment - cog rehab, psychotherapy and behavioral health interventions. Today's patient provided a good example of what makes me angry. She has diabetes, several family members have died of diabetes and a brother is disabled from diabetes. She cannot work, has no income and is depressed. She had worked for several years, for very long shifts until she became ill. She is not alone. Many of our patients are on dialysis (complication from diabetes), several have had amputations, several have had strokes, several have had family members that have died. These patients are of all races and all educational levels. I also supervise a trainee in one of the endocrinology clinics that is called, "The Last Chance Clinic." After you get past the inconvenient name, you can imagine the stories of our patients in this clinic. A couple of years ago I realized that so much of our mental and cognitive health lies in the food we eat, by way of warding off the most common chronic conditions, including diabetes. It was then that I began to look for how I could be involved in positive change in this system - because without changes, we are all fighting a very painful, expensive, and unnecessary uphill battle. Diabetes and many of our current chronic conditions are preventable with diet and healthy lifestyles. A line from "The Weight of the Nation" goes something like: "This is not a national disaster like a tidal wave, we created this." The movie refers to what a vicious cycle has been created between the food industry, fast/stress eating and the medical industry. In agreement with social scientist Albert Bandura, the movie points out that individual choice is only a small piece of that puzzle. And so when people wonder why I spend so much time working towards the creating of a food cooperative, this is why. It's for there to be more food equity - so that everyone can live a healthy life. (It's not for the organic arugula, but that's OK, too.) I try to be positive and I it has been said before: "No one has more fun than KK!" And I think that is at my disadvantage at times because people who do not know me have come up with very off conclusions about who I am based on my seemingly confident, happy appearance. And it is true, I love life and I have fun, but part of me lives angry. But I'll accept this anger until we reverse this dangerous trend.

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