Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Food Rights & Responsibilities

Former site of Rawesome, August 2012.
You needn't study the face of the currently incarcerated 65-year-old James Stewart in the Ventura County jail, as I did recently, to get an accurate picture of the state of the food rights movement here in southern California. It's written all over the facade of what was once the location of the Rawesome private food club at 665 Rose Avenue in Venice:  "No Trespassing" reads a sign presumably posted by one of the more disgruntled property owners.

For me, both images are equally disheartening, darkened by government agenda, ongoing private disputes, questionable choices, apparent betrayal and a formerly outspoken and bright-eyed community now largely absent.

It's a marked difference, at least by my observation, from the events of this time last year. Immediately following Rawesome's most recent raid on August 3rd, 2011, several community members and I were echoing rally cries and waving American flags in protest outside the downtown LA courthouse, where raw milk man James Stewart, farmer Sharon Palmer and Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader Victoria Bloch Coulter were due to appear in court on charges related to selling raw milk. Our numbers were small, but our message (which was picked up by local newscasts) was mighty: "Government officials who think they can come between us and our food rights better think again!"

But now I wonder whether those rally cries were loud enough even to reach our own ears, let alone the government regulators who launched this provocative attack on food rights. How could they have been loud enough, when these images are all that remains of Rawesome, formerly one of southern California's meccas of specialty health foods? And how could they possibly be loud enough now to compete with all the cinematic-dramatic revelations surrounding Aajonus Vonderplanitz and his role in this bizarre tale, the many inflammatory online remarks crucifying Sharon Palmer for alleged misdeeds now proven to have been completely fabricated, and the holier-than-thou judgments against James Stewart for actions that appear to suggest he may be merely mortal, after all?

Like d'Artagnon of The Three Musketeers film (alas, I never read the novel), who journeyed to France for the sole purpose of whole-heartedly joining the Musketeers only to discover they'd just been disbanded, it seems I arrived on the Raw foods scene ready to thrive within a new community, only to watch it crumble to pieces. One might argue that I was mistaken ever to assume it was well organized. And even if that be the case, how long are we willing to accept it as an excuse for inaction?

When I first met each of the Rawesome Three (at different times over the last year or so), I was quick to offer my thanks and support, eager to assure them that I was a big fan of their work - meaning that I appreciated the risks they took to provide me with healthier, fresher alternatives to conventional foods. While I certainly meant every word of those offerings, I realize now in hind-sight that perhaps I took it for granted that they already had more meaningful help and support than they knew what to do with. Any service or kindness I could offer, I thought, surely had already been covered ten-fold by friends, neighbors, community members, volunteers and the like... But I couldn't have been farther from the truth.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cake & Consequences

Easily one of the greatest offenses perpetrated by the modern medical community (and there are many), particularly where the so-called treatment of diabetes is concerned, is that it plays to the sick person's often desperate desire just "to feel normal again". 

I remember vividly how vulnerable I was, trembling behind tears as I sat in my endocrinologist's office for the first time after diagnosis. Still quite frail after 5 days in the hospital, I endured a seemingly endless onslaught of new information about what was required of me in managing my condition so that I might live well with diabetes. But can one really live well, in a state of chronic illness? Isn't illness fundamentally the opposite of wellness? "Just make the best of things, and try not to think about the future for now," seemed to be the message I was getting from my doctor. I would always be diabetic from now on, he had said. And if he could be considered mercilessly direct about anything, it was that. 

Compassionate, attentive and supportive as they were generally, however, it was never with the help of my endocrinologist or dietitian that I would learn what it really means to live with a chronic health condition. In the end, medicine has only served to prop up my ego, crutch after crutch after crutch, since the moment of diagnosis. It began with synthetic insulin and the suggestion that I substitute diet soda for regular. I was told I could still enjoy burgers and fries, so long as I didn't eat a whole order of fries all by myself. Things didn't really have to be so different, it seemed, and that was exactly what I wanted to hear. Please, oh please, tell me more about this diabetes of convenience. At one point, I had become curious about nutrition's role in health and was told by my dietitian that there was essentially no difference between organic and conventional foods. And later, when I received test results indicating elevated protein levels in my urine, I was told there was nothing I could do that would change things and that I should just take the pill that had been prescribed. 

And slowly, the truth began to sink in... Even though much of what I was being told did seem easier than changing my whole lifestyle, none of it made any sense.