When I think of ‘aging gracefully’, it is not the wrinkle-free skin and perpetual youthfulness that come to mind but living independently and enjoying every day until the final goodbye.
Growing up, I got to see that a lot. Many of the elderly I knew lived on their own managing the best they could and getting occasional help from family, and some moved in with their loved ones when they became too frail.
I lost my grandparents at a young age, but we had many elderly neighbours who were part of our lives.
When I grow old and wise, and if I ever get to be 101 years old, that is, I want to be like John Hillman. You may have seen the news about this gentleman, but if you haven’t, well, this story will warm your heart in a special way.
Mr. John Hillman is a veteran, British-born and Canadian by marriage, decorated with four World War II Campaign medals, including the Burma Star, and presently a resident of the retirement home Carlton House in Oak Bay on Vancouver Island. You can read about his life and outstanding service here. Mere sentences in that abridged biographical note can easily become entire chapters in a book.
Do you remember the first couple of weeks of Covid-19 and the toilet paper shortage? Then came the flour and other dry supplies, followed by yeast. Next came the seed shortage. Suppliers in town could not refill the shelves fast enough, so most grocery stores and points of sales have restrictions on how much a person can buy.
Not to forget, we went through and are still occasionally witnessing a shortage of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. Things got better with restrictions, yes, but what a jittery bunch we are.
Some people eat too much sugar and others watch too much TV. I read news and get too involved with it. It is good to stay current, no? Yes, but there is a darker side. Many of the stories are upsetting and often times there is no closure after a particularly heartbreaking one. I cover many in my columns, and then I keep on hoping that there will be some resolution, closure for victims and their families. Sadly, that is not the case. Oblivion is a horrible mistress and our faulty justice system enables it.
My hands smell of basil and tomatoes. I just picked the first four Roma San Marzano tomatoes from our new garden. It’s all heirloom veggies this year. They are plump and red and pushing into the thick stem with a force that leaves grooves on their sides.
The basket is half-full of potatoes; they’ll be dinner and lunches. The potato berries are hanging bright green, round and tempting (do not, for they are toxic!) as I let my hands crawl deep in the dirt where the yellow and red tubers are. It’s pure reverence, seeking food and then cooking it. The simplicity of a meal cooked from the food you grow, no matter how small the crop… there is a mark left on your heart. It fills you up.
I pick a green taut pepper and fill my hands with more basil;
purple. For a moment, I indulge in remembering my Dad’s hands handing me
tomatoes and carrots to taste; the smell of summer nights when the sun drips
honey-coloured warmth all over the horizon and the garden delivers promises; my
Mom’s delicious light summer meals. Everything else peels off for a few brief
moments and the plenitude of now is beyond rewarding.
I was to write a post about sugar and its ill presence,
about candy bars that are wickedly awaiting by the checkout tills now in bigger
packages. OK, maybe they have been around for a while and I just noticed them.
Thanks to my Mom and that garden magic that started with strawberries, pears
and red currants in the morning and ended with tomatoes and carrots and herbs
of all kinds in the evening, I have a missing sweet tooth. But I did notice the
bars this time. They were big and indecent.
The stats on obesity in North America (and beyond) are grim. 1 in 3 adults in Canada are obese and may require medical assistance to manage the symptoms. The many adverse health effects that obesity causes are daunting to think about. High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, arthritis, sleep apnea. Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years though some recent study pointed out to a mild decrease between 2004 and 2014 (I believe mild cannot be a pacifier for the sizeable problem that childhood obesity has become.)
Where are we now? People indulge and lament at the same
time, they eat and overeat because sugar does that to you. Portions grow, processed
foods abound and sugar finds its way into almost everything…Sugar was never a
true need but has become a want of gargantuan proportions. Meanwhile…the good
food grows too. If we want it. In gardens, in pots, in farms from which we buy
at the market…
Food we ferment so the good bugs in it can help our microbiome (the bacteria we carry inside and, on our bodies, a camaraderie that keeps us healthy.) I am experimenting with a new sourdough starter just for fun while a loaf is resting in the fridge for tomorrow’s baking. By the window there are summer pickles and pickled turnips (I know what you might think, but they really are so tasty!).
Hippocrates said that food should be our medicine. And yet… so much of it has become our enemy. Food is never supposed to make one sick; real food that is. Or obese. You eat as your body requires, you move and you celebrate both. Being alive comes with a need to eat, yes, but we need to rewrite the terms. Actually no… we need to remember them.
One tomato bite at a time. Or beans if you prefer. Or a new
potato, cooked to perfection. This kind of indulgency never comes with fear,
but with gratefulness.
If you were to sit with us for dinner on any given night, you would be privy to a recurrent conversation that surfaces whenever social issues such as poverty, violation of human rights and modern-day slavery, refugee and climate change-caused disasters are brought to our attention via news, books or any other sources: why don’t wealthy people help more? And why do some choose to act in ways that take away from those who have little to begin with?
It’s disheartening to have to ask those questions.
Every now and then I play an interesting game with myself. I
deliberately avoid buying more food when we still have enough supplies in the house
to make a few more meals. The process conjures creativity but that’s what makes
it interesting. That’s where empowerment sprouts.
Seriously though, why
Why not decide on a menu and then shop for ingredients? Spoiler
alert: this is not a cooking post; as you will see below, it goes far beyond
that. Why cook with whatever available, when available? Because: