On February 9th I had the pleasure and privilege to introduce the first in our Healthsource food speaker series, Joan Gussow. Joan is a widely acclaimed nutrition educator who is credited for sharing her insights about sustainable food decades before it became a popular tableside topic. She has also been called the Localvore Movement Matriarch – a title that she says is heavy but one that I think fits her extremely well.
Joan began her talk by sharing that she felt slightly intimidated (imagine, Joan Gussow intimidated?) at the prospect of speaking in Vermont. Why? Because Vermont is at the center of the sustainable food movement, and Vermonters understand that healthy food actually has a lot to do with health. She applauded not only the work that we are doing here at the UVM Medical Center to provide healthier food, but also all of the hospitals across the state that are working hard to make changes.
Next, Joan moved on to talk about how, early in her career, she was proclaimed an extremist when she described, – in her words, “eat less meat, less fat, more vegetables and whole grains and a little dairy.” She does make it sound simple – which is a good lesson for both health care professionals and the public. She reflected on the preponderance of new products entering the market, and the impossibility of being able to stay abreast of exactly which products claim to have which nutrients — another reason to follow her basic advice to eat wholesome, whole foods instead of focusing on nutrients.
Joan then shared with us the real reason that she started to garden, which is based on her belief in the importance of eating in season. At one time she really didn’t know what local food she could eat from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley in January. Finding out became a lifelong journey of discovery.
For many years now Joan has grown all of her own vegetables, and some of her own fruit. Her disappointments and pleasures in the garden have been many, with some of the more memorable encounters described in both This Organic Life, and her latest book, Growing, Older. In Growing, Older, she describes in somewhat brutal honesty how, after the death of her lifetime partner, she finds companionship in her garden – a companionship that had been there all along. She feels that she is never alone in her garden.
As an avid, but only a somewhat successful gardener myself, I found the last lesson of Joan’s gardening experience to be especially meaningful: “Hope is the lesson that nature keeps teaching me.”
Diane Imrie is Director of Nutrition Services at the UVM Medical Center.