Courage, cheerfulness and…

The meals and methods have changed, but not our love of eating, or our need for it.  Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, November 2004

The meals and methods have changed, but not our love of eating, or our need for it.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, November 2004

Courage, cheerfulness, and a desire to work depend mostly on good nutrition.”
Jacob Moleschott

The author of this quote lived more than 100 years ago, but he probably would get as much or more agreement with this statement today than he did when he first said it.  Though the average diet has undergone substantial and somewhat amazing changes during the past century, the human body’s basic nutritional needs have changed little, if at all.

The dietary changes of the past century are a mixture of good news and bad news.  On the plus side, we have a greater abundance of food available to more people than ever before.  The downside is that most of us expend fewer calories and therefore need that abundance less than our ancestors might have needed it.  And a great percentage of what is available is processed beyond the point of any nutritional value, or laden with chemical preservatives and other additives.

We’re fortunate to know more about our dietary needs than past generations knew.  Less fortunate, for us, is the fact that our decreased need for calories make it more important than ever to maximize the nutritional content of what we eat.  This translates to fewer (or no) rich pastries and fatty main courses, and more vegetables, many of which we learned to dislike from childhood on.

The good news is that we have an ever-increasing number of healthy options from which to plan our meals.  The bad news is that most of us don’t have enough discipline to limit our intake of the delicious, less healthy choices in favor of the ones we know are better for us.  We need not be gluttons to feel guilty about what we eat nowadays, with constant (and often confusing or conflicting) advice coming to us from almost every direction.

Despite the disadvantages of living in the twenty-first century, I would not want to go back to the centuries before childhood obesity and diabetes were among the major concerns.  Malnutrition, rampant infectious disease and increased rates of infant mortality would hardly be acceptable trade-offs.  Despite frequent hand-wringing and doom-and-gloom polemics to the contrary, we are lucky to be alive today.

I’d rather feel thankful for the blessings we enjoy, and renew my determination to use them wisely — which includes sharing them with others, as well as remaining interested (but not obsessed) with eating wisely and well.  I’m convinced part of the nourishment that comes with eating is emotional and social.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as we don’t go overboard with it.

So as the holiday season approaches, I encourage you to celebrate the blessing of good nutrition — the joys of having variety, satiety and sobriety as essential features of our dietary delights.  Santé!

One year ago today:

Thy medicine

And speaking of using our blessings wisely and generously, be sure to click on “Celebrate (again)” on the menu at the top of the page – we have a special day planned on November 10!


  1. bobmielke

    I must admit that because of where I live there is a great abundance of organically grown food available. I found it an interesting paradigm that the Pacific Northwestern population works less physically yet chooses to eat a higher standard of food. There is a good percentage of folks that walk, run and ride bicycles rather than drive fossil fuel vehicles. I’ve never walked as much as I have since relocating here. The distance from my dwelling to shopping centers has been under two miles for 9 years now making walking an option I rarely had before.

    • I really love that about where we live in Alexandria. I so enjoy being able to walk to most of the places I need to go regularly. I have never enjoyed driving as some people do. I’m terrible at estimating distances and hate parking a car in a crowded lot, I’m always afraid of bumping into another car. I do think the west coast has more organic and locally grown foods than most other places we have lived. I guess it’s partly the climate and partly the fact that nutrition and fitness have always seemed to be more popular there. I remember Jack LaLanne used to live in Morro Bay, CA when we lived on the central coast, and even in his 70’s and 80’s he was amazingly fit.

  2. So true! Yesterday at work, I realized that I was feeling almost hostile (for no good reason, yet!) and I realized that I’ve been eating too much sugar lately. Rats. Time to re-adjust my palate ….

    • Susan, I really do think eating too much sugar makes a big difference in how we feel. It took me awhile to notice it, but every year at Christmas time I would get sick, usually with a bad sore throat, cold, etc. I finally started to wonder if it wasn’t because I was getting less sleep during the weeks prior (staying up getting things ready for the holidays) PLUS eating way, way too much sugar while I was doing all my holiday baking. When we were living in northern CA we had fresh, tart lemonade from our neighbor’s lemon trees almost year round, and that plus cutting back on the sugar seemed to eliminate most of the holiday sickness for me. I know eating a healthier diet makes a big difference in how I feel daily as well as how often I get sick. I totally love and crave sugar, but I’ve trained myself away from eating very much that is sweet except for fruit (ok, and ice cream in the summer!).

  3. HarryS

    Ah – moderation in all things.
    Abstinence is one extreme on the curve of moderation.
    For me abstention In the matter of alcohol is a necessity. 🙂

    • Harry, it’s not a “necessity” for me to avoid alcohol but I do anyway. I figure, why take the risk of getting hooked? I don’t even like how it tastes. Plus I’d rather get my calories elsewhere. Jeff and I have alcoholism on both sides of the family and we just don’t want to go there. So I agree that abstinence is often the wise choice. As for moderation, I bet most people would not think I practice moderation when it comes to TEA!! 😀

  4. Julia, even in my lifetime I’ve seen rather primitive methods of cooking, remembering the wood-burning stoves used by some. There were some wonderful meals lovingly prepared in those quaint little kitchens. We are at Willow Tree so we most likely will be dining on some outdoor grilled cuisine. 🙂 Blessings to y’all my friend!

    • Sheila, I was hoping you would get to Willow Tree this weekend. Grilling is such fun in the fall – maybe with a bonfire to go with it? Were you a Girl Scout and if so, do you remember making “Buddy Burners” to cook on during camping trips? Talk about primitive! I have vague memories of seeing those old cast-iron wood-burning cook stoves somewhere, but I don’t remember exactly where – maybe my great-grandmother’s home. I do have lots of fond memories of getting heat from wood stoves at Jeff’s home and his grandparents’ home. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend! Is Jack a happy camper?

      • Julia, I wasn’t a Girl Scout so I missed out on “Buddy Burners” but I’ll bet that was fun. We had a good weekend and even enjoyed a birthday party last night, cookout and cake. 🙂 Jack really enjoys camping, although he hasn’t been “on the road” in the motorhome yet. Bill says if we don’t move it soon the wheels are going to be square. Do you have a visual of the “tin condo” now?

        • Sheila, let’s just say that a buddy burner is made with an empty tuna can, corrugated cardboard strips and paraffin. Even in a tin condo, such improvised “appliances” wouldn’t be needed – so the motor home sounds luxurious. Years ago when my sister and her husband were first married, they lived in a (stationary) house trailer, and were soon planning to sell it. Eric advised them a selling point to include in their real estate ad: “Low mileage.” 😀 Glad you had a good weekend!

          • We’ll just call that another “Eric-ism”! 🙂

            • Sheila, as Jimmy Durante might say, “I’ve got a million of ’em!”

  5. raynard

    Julia ( as the coo coo clock chimes in the background) my youngest sister was telling me about a gluten free clense diet she was on this month.( no need to talk about cake right). As we and my wife drove to NJ to finialize the plans for a family reunion next year.God was finally able thru me, my wife and my sister in law to convience my cousin to have this affair catered. the hotel has a catering staff, we toured the banquet room with the big serving dishes andthe kicker” Walmart ” is right across the street.We took a trip and spoke to the Head person in the deli department who said” I’ll deliver it too you and ” mingle like one of the family lol. ( This was after we told everyone about 2 years ago we renewed our vows and had food catered from Walmart with enough food for more people that will be attending the family reunion and the price didnt ” break the bank..

    • Raynard, I think that’s a good move to have the party catered. Jeff and I have rarely needed to plan a big event but the few times we did get catering, we were always glad we did. Speaking of gluten free, that seems to be all the rage now. I even see gluten free cake mixes – have you ever tried one? I read a book called Wheat Belly that made it sound like wheat is the root of all dietary evils today. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think it tends to put on the pounds. I could happily live on hot bread and butter, but I had to cut back. Oops I think I hear the coo coo singing in the background here too. 😀

  6. Julia,
    Very interesting, informative and helpful. On your thoughts regarding moderation; reminds me of a phrase-“Eat to live, don’t live to eat.” Whatever fits in one plate is my limit. Since I’m all but confined to a wheelchair, this approach, along with a balanced diet, has kept my weight in check. And excercise as is in keeping with my ability.

    • Alan, that phrase is something that I’m aspiring to put into practice as I get older and my metabolism slows down. I know that exercise is more of a challenge from a wheelchair, but as you know, a lot more is possible than might seem obvious. Matt had an occupational therapist who had been in a wheelchair all his life – he was quite muscular and a great role model for Matt. He said that when he was going to public schools before the ADA, there were few ramps and sometimes when his mother would request that they provide him one, they would just throw a board over the steps, which was quite a challenge to get up with a non-motorized chair. But he said it built up his muscles as well as his self-advocacy and determination. But as Raynard says, “I digress!” I do agree that moderation in eating is becoming more important all the time. I just wish I could learn to like salads…

      • I can identify with Matt’s therapist. I contracted polio in 1954-so I had to travel the path of the able bodied, with ingenuity.
        There was a tv commercial at the time-showing little characters in the world at that time. It stated that handicapped people, representing these little characters, felt like a square in a world of circles. It brought the point home.

        • I got a very small taste of what it must have been like, when I had two babies under two, and was trying to use a double stroller in the days before there were curb cuts and ramps. Barriers everywhere. Whenever I get upset about the state of the world, I remind myself that in so many ways, we really have made progress.

  7. Beautiful post, Julia, and one that really resonates with me. I’ve been ‘cleaning house’ nutritional myself these past few weeks, and feel really good about the results. I’ve finally kicked the soda habit (again) and this month I’m doing a candy-free countdown. In November I’m going to focus on portions, and in December, simply staying away from the heavy, sugar-laden food that feel good in my mouth, but feel terrible on the rest of my body.

    I’m drinking tons of water and herbal or green tea in place of that soda and find my taste for sugar waning. The cravings have stopped completely! Now I must stay the course and remember how good this feels, emotionally and physically. xox

    • Alys, I was a soft drink addict until I was 18 and got a bad case of acne. The dermatologist advised me, among other things, to stay away from sodas, admitting that few doctors felt it was a problem, but he did. He told me drinking water was the best thing I could do for my skin. I became a water drinker then and after kicking the soda habit, I never went back. I truly lost my taste for it. I do love to indulge in club soda or sparkling water with just a splash of fruit juice added, and of course, my great indulgence is tea of all kinds. I think you are wise to tackle the whole dietary challenge in defined steps, as you outline. For some great motivation and lifestyle tips, I highly recommend the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, if you haven’t already read it. WOW, was it an eye-opener for me. Fast Food Nation is great too. Re: sugar – I have been amazed at how cutting my intake of it has sensitized me to how much sugar is added to everything. I have a real sweet tooth, so my tactic has been to mix, mix, mix. For example: mix fruit-flavored Greek yogurt with plain Greek yogurt, gradually increasing the ration of plain to sugar. Or making desserts with less sugar (it’s surprising how much less can be used). Focusing on portions is great too. From Wansink’s book I learned the trick of using a smaller plate. Even when I allow myself unlimited seconds and thirds, I do end up eating less. I drink distilled water because I prefer the taste of it, and I do drink lots of it. Good luck! I think you will find (as you already are finding) that the great payoff is in how you feel. For me, weight has not been an appearance issue, but I can really feel it when I am even 5-10 pounds overweight, because of the fatigue and mood changes.

      • Julia, I have read his book. I loved all the food experiments he did and still share anecdotes from his book with others. For me knowing and doing took some time to marry together for a healthy whole. This time things feel different.

        Interesting tidbit about the soda. I’ve not heard that before.

        I have been eating plane yogurt (Sigi or Fage) and adding fresh or frozen, no sugar added, fruit. It’s different, but good. Extra weight is fatiguing. That’s a good way to put it. Sounds like you’re on the healthiest of paths, Julia.

        • Ah, yes, that gap between “knowing” and “doing” gets us every time, doesn’t it? I bet a lot of what you do in your work (maybe even most of it?) is helping people do what they already KNOW they need to do, but have a hard time doing! I find that reading books like Wansink’s (or articles or organizing or whatever) help by giving me a little extra push or two. I’ve learned that the aggregate of all these little pushes is quite powerful…which is one reason I avoid advertising if I can.

  8. Hello, Julia. Interesting…sorry I’m back on pain meds and my thought process is muddled.
    I step back on to my left side and put too much weight on broke hip.
    I don’t drink pop…water, tea or coffee is my beverages of choice. I do drink lots of water.
    I do need give up chocolate!?

    • Merry, I hope I never have to give up chocolate – I am strongly predisposed to believe those research summaries that say it’s good for us! I know it’s good for me psychologically, which counts for a lot. You have the same beverages of choice as I do…if you ever come to visit, we’ll be all set for lots of refreshing chats! I hope you get to feeling better. I’m dealing with a very minor back ache (must have pulled a muscle or something) and I had renewed sympathy for anybody dealing with chronic pain. Take care of yourself and get well soon! I will keep you in my prayers.

  9. I’m clicking through my emails without rhyme or reason and so I’ve arrived at this delicious post, calorie free yet satisfying. If only I could live on well written words alone 😀 I’m almost fearing the Christmas Season celebratory fare. The only time I’ve managed well is when I’ve continued with Weight Watchers through the whole season. I lost 14 lbs the first time we went to Maui. Sounds vein, it probably is. But there comes a time you get tired of always looking for a wrap to cover the buttocks.

    I have some older cook books and they’re a scream to look through. Some from the 50’s are so wild. The food while entertaining looks like crazy space food. I seem to remember a lot of canned for in my childhood. I think we thought it was cooler than growing it in the garden if it came from a shiny big supermarket. They were quite new in the early 60’s here.

    I need to get off the habit of having my nightly glasses of Prosecco. One with dinner and one with my Blogging friends. LOL, oh you didn’t know I was enjoying a glass of wine while I visit? hehe. It’s sparkly and refreshing 😀 But I enjoy it, so I’m weak. They say Red Wine is better for you, but it gives me hot flashes, LOL, What’s a girl to do?

    No wine right now, I’m in bed and J is snoring. Friday nights are pretty casual these days, Cheers my dear xoK

    • I am lucky that my drinks of choice are distilled water or tea (which I almost always drink unsweetened now, though I prefer it with sugar). I figured out years ago that I’d rather eat my calories than drink them. I read an article recently (can’t remember where) that said some research suggests that calories taken in by drinking liquids– fruit juice, soda pop, alcohol or whatever– are more likely to cause weight gain. I think it had something to do with how much your body has to burn to digest the calories. The holiday season is my time to go off the weight-control wagon, but just in the past few years, I seem to have a harder time bouncing back afterwards, so I may try to take it a bit easier this year. If you like sparkly and refreshing, you can try chilled club soda with just a splash of your favorite fruit juice. I love that, and it’s very low-cal. I admire anyone who can stick with Weight Watchers. I’ve known people to lose a lot of weight that way, and it stayed off too.

      Re: thinking canned food was cooler; isn’t it funny how kids always want what they don’t get? It reminded me how my mother was such a good seamstress and made these gorgeous clothes, but most people I knew seemed to look down on wearing “homemade clothes.” My mom was so good at sewing that I loved it. We would go shopping and I would ask her “can you make this?” and if the answer was yes (which it almost always was) we would head straight to the fabric store where I could pick my pattern (usually I would buy Vogue or Butterick designers) and fabric. I got spoiled by that and never felt that a “homemade” outfit was inferior. I tried to tell my friends that having the skill (or the mother) to make a custom tailored outfit was just couture by another name. A woman I worked with said “I like the things your mother makes. They look bought.” 😀 Back then we could save a lot of money by sewing our own clothes, but not anymore.

  10. I wish I could sew like your mom. I actually used to sew many of my work clothes and also bought Butterick and Easy Vogue. We had a store called Woodwards and then Eatons. Both had good fabric departments. Really lovely fabrics at affordable prices. Now, there’s really only a couple of fabric stores in town. Honestly, the fabrics they sell seldom appeal to me. I wish we could shop on line like you do in the States. We don’t enjoy the free shipping and then there’s duty. So it’s too expensive. I’ve collected a number of vintage patterns though. I really fancy the illustrations.

    • Last time I was home, I searched my Mom’s attic hoping she might have the drawerfull of vintage dress patterns she kept for years, but alas! She apparently got rid of all of them. I was so disappointed. I do love the illustrations too, and might even consider trying to make something one of these days if I could get around to it. (AS IF!) Even though I don’t sew much anymore — not even for home items such as curtains, which I made for years — I still can’t resist fabric stores. There used to be a fabulous one in San Francisco just off Union Square; it had the most amazing fabrics that I’ve seen anywhere. I started to tell you to plan a shopping trip down here, but I guess you would have to take it all back somehow. If you drive across the border do you have to stop and declare everything? I think I read someplace about a store in Canada that did nothing but re-sell stuff they got at Trader Joe’s and carted across the border – was it you who told me about that? Trader Joe’s sued them and lost — HOORAY! I love TJ’s but if they don’t want to open a store in Canada, they shouldn’t care that someone else knows a good market when they see one.

      • Oh crumb, Jim and I spent a whole afternoon at Union Square and I missed the fabric store. I guess I’ll just have to get there again 😉 Maybe Alys and I will go again on my next trip to San Jose, we had so much fun.

        I’ve never been in a Trader Joe’s so I’m mystified at the attraction. I guess that guy can’t get across the boarder with $5,000 worth of American goods without claiming them. They must know who he is by now. We always claim everything but never shop over the limit which is $800 per person if you’re staying 4 days or more. You also have to include any gifts or things mailed home on your declaration. Jim never buys anything, maybe a $20 t-shirt. So I have a big limit. I don’t get why people try to be so sneaky, it’d probably be a big hassle. We got stopped at the drive through boarder last time and was asked if we bought anything. We said yes and the amount. We were asked to bring our receipts to the office. As usual, I had them all organized with a tally sheet and what we bought written down. They barely glanced at my sheet and said, “thank you, enjoy your drive home”. So I think if you demonstrate that you’re prepared, it’s easy breezy. It’s not hard to stay under the $$$ amount, it’s the weight thing. You have to under-pack if you plan to do any shopping at all or pay extra to check in. United Airlines told me $125.00 for an extra bag when I was leaving San Jose. I asked, “how much to check an overweight bag? He then said, “that’s $25”. I thought, “why wouldn’t you tell people that *first*?” Honestly, I wondered how many timid seniors pay the $125 if they don’t know to ask the next question.

        • I hope that fabric store is still open. It was such fun, lots of rooms to explore, but I wondered even then how they could stay in business. I’ll try to google them and find out if they are still there. Trader Joe’s is so fabulous. I bet you would love it. Great variety at wonderful prices. Lots of vegan choices available there. I’m not a wine lover but they have a large selection of wines that I imagine are attractively priced too. We like their produce, snacks, dairy, nuts, vitamins, HUGE variety of gluten-free foods (for Matt) and all-natural products. Plus all sorts of delicious treats. I thought about getting a job there just to get the discount, but it would be a disaster where calories are concerned! Smart tip about the baggage (one overweight bag is better than two lighter ones, assuming it can be lifted without risk of hernia 😀 ) I fear you are right; a lot of rip-offs overpriced services are foisted off on those who are too timid to protest. Being timid is, for better or worse, not a problem I’ve ever had. Jeff is like Jim, he leaves the shopping for me, especially when we travel. Tough job, but someone has to do it. Hee-hee.

          • Re: Timid, ‘for better or worse’…LOLOLOL You’re a riot.

            • Hee-hee, that’s a nice way of looking at it. 😀 I’m sure there are many who wish I was more timid, but on balance I’d rather err on the side of too bold than too timid. As if you didn’t notice. 😀

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: