On Sustainable Nutrition
Years ago, people looked at me as if I had two heads when I told them what I ate. Today, I have two best-selling cookbooks (and a third on the way) that empower people to enjoy a diet full of super-nutritional clean food. Healthy changes are happening, and they’re happening from the ground up. Together, we are creating a healthier food system, a healthier environment and a healthier future…one choice at a time.
Along this journey, I had the pleasure of meeting Joan Palmer. I’ll never forget that day. Within moments I knew that Joan was passionate about natural health and wellbeing, and accomplished at empowering as many people as she could to embrace good health through natural living. Joan was brilliant and inspiring – I could have talked to her all day!
It came as no surprise years later when Joan approached me saying she wanted to start a school that focused on sustainable nutrition. In September, The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition (TIOSN) will open its doors and welcome its first class. I’m thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking program, to work with and learn from Joan, and to be able to share our recent conversation about TIOSN here with you today.
Terry: Joan, how did you come to this passion and work?
Joan: So many things in life are a culmination of many small events that shape and form us. First, I remember as a child that we ate together every night as a family. I don’t remember the food as much as I remember the ritual. This concept, that what we eat is more than just nutritive sustenance, has stayed with me as I have moved through my exploration with food and my own family. I always start my teaching with a meal that we prepare together. It bonds us in a way that few things can.
I spent the first part of my life in the moderate climate of California where I was born, and where we had yearlong access to beautiful fruits and vegetables. I assumed the rest of the country lived the same way. In my teens we moved to New England in the deep of winter where it was colder than anything I had ever experienced. The food we had access to was very different. Everything was being trucked in from other parts of the country, mostly from California. We couldn’t get some foods we were use to eating and the familiar things tasted different. Even with these experiences I was still not tuned into the food world.
Sometime in that timeframe my Mom read the books Diet For A Small Planet and Laurel’s Kitchen, two books that changed the way we were eating. My mom began making all of our bread and granola, and she and my Dad planted a garden with a small cold frame. That was the beginning for me. I read these books and had a vision of how I wanted to live my life – herbs in my windows and gardens, bread in my oven, and friends stopping by to share them. There was an awakening for me that connected food, lifestyle, health, and happiness. It was years later when my boys were starting school that I decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree in nutrition and to study herbs on a more serious level.
Terry: I still have Laurel’s Kitchen on my bookshelf! I knew we had a lot in common, but the past too? I should have known. That said, starting a new school is a far cry from planting some window boxes! Why not just continue teaching, consulting and creating the change that you already do so well?
Joan: Thanks Terry. I ask myself that same question sometimes. I know the part of the process I love so much is the teaching and sharing component. I present The Art And Science Of Eating, a class at The Graduate Institute, as part of an accredited Master’s Degree. As part of their degree requirements the students choose to intern in areas of interest. I have had groups of interns come to my home to work and study in my gardens and kitchen. They study the subjects of nutrition, health, and lifestyle by learning how foods grow, how to prepare them, making body care products, clean cleaning products, and identifying and using some simple wild food and medicinal herbs. People began asking where they could go to learn more, and where I would recommend they go to get an education in the field of nutrition from this perspective. I didn’t have an answer because it didn’t exist. Out of this, the school began to materialize. It seems as though it has taken on a life of it’s own and moves forward with uncanny momentum.
Terry: What will make The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition different from any other program out there?
Joan: I have researched different programs around the country and have found that they all have their area of expertise. What we are doing is putting all of the pieces together to create a program from the ground up. This is the program that we were all searching for, but that didn’t exist when we went to school. Ideal Education Practices state that we need to incorporate multiple modalities into our lessons, and yet we rarely see it done, especially in advanced programs. That is another one of the ways we are different. We are including classroom work along with the hands-on components of fieldwork, time creating in the kitchen, and practices to take home and incorporate into daily life. We are teaching about the science of nutrition, and also about food on a deep and fundamental level.
A recent article in the New York Times, Breeding The Nutrition Out of Our Food, talked about the lack of nutrition in the present-day food that we grow. We breed in traits that we want, like sweetness or color, rather than nutrition. What the article did not mention was that along with these nutrient deficient-breeding methods we have also depleted the soils of needed nutrients to grow really nourishing food, even if we use heirloom seeds. At the TIOSN we are borrowing from old and new growing practices and putting together a program that will teach us how to nourish the soil by using what grows around us to actually produce healthier food. We will teach about harvesting the food and then move into the kitchen to prepare things in a healthy and delicious way. We will walk in the wilds of our backyards to identify and harvest plants that are local and nourishing and then show what to do with them. We will look at some of our simple healing herbs to learn to make kitchen medicine. All of these subjects will follow the change of the seasons. It is looking at our health and food from a whole perspective. This is what it means to know true preventative medicine.
Terry: Share with us your vision for the future of the school and the field of nutrition and wellness.
Joan: I see this school as a model for teaching many of the new old ways. People are hungry for this information to bring into their lives, their communities and their careers. I feel that the lessons learned at TIOSN are the future of health care, food systems and overall well-being. I see a day when schools, hospitals, apartments, businesses and homes of all sizes grow and prepare a certain amount of their own food. We will have graduates that are ready to go out and bring these practices and information to the public. Not that everyone needs to be a gardener or forager, but there is great freedom in understanding our health and the world around us on the fundamental and deep level that these practices offer.
Terry: There are so many components to sustainable nutrition. Tell us about the areas you’re focusing on and why.
Joan: Food, herbs, gardening, foraging…all of these areas have overlap and are so connected. Woven together they create a very strong program. The science of the human body and food is not only fascinating, but it allows us to understand how things work so that we can make sense of all of the information and misinformation we are bombarded with. Herbs have been safely used for thousands of years around the world for food and medicine. I don’t believe we can eliminate this huge part of our world and still maintain health. We will study and use them as nourishment and as simple kitchen medicine. This flows easily into the area of foraging.
The plants we find in our backyards are not hybrid plants – they are old plant varieties and tend to be higher in nutrition than those grown in most gardens. We will learn some of the common and abundant varieties that grow around us and focus on sustainable harvesting, and then the preparation of them. I am really excited about some of the gardening techniques we will be using. There will be lessons on increasing the soil nutrition in order to grow healthier food. We will grow food and herbs, harvest them and prepare them. Plus there will be a lifestyle component. The days will be filled with hands on learning in the gardens, fields, classroom, and kitchen. And I am excited to round out our program with a growing list of guest speakers that I know will bring another layer to the learning experience.
I am so excited about this program. The world is ready to receive, remember and pass on these new old practices, and I can’t wait to begin this September!