My Mother's Medicine

I love to think of how influential a matriach can be. Whilst Mum has only just reluctantly accepted this moniker (both grandmothers are dead, so the mother leader of family is now most definately here), she most definitely changed the eating habits set by the generations before her impoverished by war, migration, and little knowledge about healthy food. We're lucky to live in a country where access to fresh fruit and vegetables is a given, so when Mum decided to educated herself about healthy eating and pass it on to her kids, who in turn pass it onto their kids, she was able to. In the early 70's, mortified by hormones in meat, pesticides on crops and other ag practices, my folks went vegetarian - much to the horror and confusion of everyone around them. Needing to make sure her kids didn't miss out on nutrients, she took herself off to vegetarian cooking classes and read what she could about nutrition.


My Mum and Dad, two months ago, come to tell us some bad news. With a bottle of red wine.

When my sister and I were little we'd sit at the kitchen bench and watch Mum cook, hoping for titbits because we were staaaaaaarrrrrvvvvvvvvvving - as Mum said, not in the way you'd actually die starving, but wait for dinner hungry. She'd give us slices of raw cabbage and capsicum because 'it helps you absorb iron', or get us to stir the onions and garlic 'because garlic is great for colds'. Watching her cook lentil soups, vegetable casseroles, oatcakes, breads and mueslis, we learn a lot about nutrition ourselves. When we leave home, we know how to look after ourselves. Unlike the friends I share houses with in those chaotic days of youth, of parties and wild days, travelling and wandering, I craved greens, good healthy food, and I knew how to cook it. When I travelled around Australia on my own in an old Corolla, living off dole money and my wits, I ate lentils and spinach and whatever vegetables I can find whilst others barely managed two minute noodles (there was always, always money for beer).

Later, Mondays in share houses will be good dinners cooked to to recover from weekends - chick pea curries loaded with vegetables, risottos, stir fries, salads with fried tofu. I loved being house cook (often camp or hostel cook depending on where i was living), caring for people by cooking food that I know will be good for them and help their bodies recover from the battlegrounds of late nights and ingesting substances that enlighten us, but wear and tear at our cells and organs and bones. I drink copious amounts of herbal tea, go surfing and do yoga, and often, go round to Mum's for her food, especially when life gets rough and tough. Besides, her fridge always has the stuff I can't afford - blueberries, salmon, avocados, tempeh, almonds. To this day I still beeline to Mum's cupboard for a handful of nuts if I'm visiting and I'm starving, and I feel like a kid again, in need of sustenance.

My father is fighting his battle with cancer now, like so many do. We've gone through the stage of incredulity - how does a vegetarian surfer yogi end up with cancer, for goodness sake? We learn it's an indiscriminate disease, and that it only takes a few months of exposure to chemicals on the ground in Vietnam to fill you with the promise of death by cancer decades later. We wonder if he'd have succumbed a lot earlier if it wasn't for Mum's administrations of healthy food. Did all those nettle brews and wholesome salads and organic cooking keep Dad going just that bit longer? Keep the disease at bay? Or was it a combination of things - exercise, genetics, food, love?


Dad in his Bikram yoga phase about ten years ago, posing for the camera for an ad for the studio.

Now, Dad's in his second year of chemo, after a few months of remission. The first time around, he was in hospital for it and got awfully ill, so much so we thought he was gone. The food was awful. Hospitals seems to think that vegetarian food means over steamed vegetables and tinned tuna. Mum'd cook for him - steamed fish, broccoli salad with fetta and walnuts, bliss balls made of dates and chia seeds and nuts, coconut yoghurt, turmeric drinks. We'd go in and visit him and half the time we'd eat what he couldn't. Dad's gratitude for Mum's cooking escalated in those months. There were times in his life he took it for granted - there's twice I remember him being super grateful for her. Once was coming off a Vipassana retreat with amazing vegetarian food and him saying 'You know, I'm pretty lucky, your Mum cooks food better than that' and secondly, when he thought he was going to die. Nothing like illness to make you grateful for what you got.

Can food cure us? Well, maybe. Of many things. The problem is, we are all unique - what recipes work for some may not work for another, and in fact could be downright dangerous. My Mum is worried about what herbs or other foods might affect the effectiveness of the chemo treatment, which they have put their faith in for now. But she knows that healthy food will strengthen, support and nourish him. I watch her prepare food for him like she always has - with love and care and pride. I have a renewed respect for my Mum and how she deals with things.

We're not sure how long he's going to last. At the moment, it's looking okay - the chemo has shrunk the tumours and he's looking at going on a different drug trial. They have their ups and downs. When his body is processing the chemo, his taste buds are totally shot and he says everything tastes shit. He'll say this over lunch when Mum's served up a hearty soup of black beans, barley, lentils and spinach with homemade sourdough and goat's cheese and Mum will look at me and roll her eyes. She knows it's not her cooking, just how he's feeling. Still, she tries everything. If he fancies pizza, she makes it - homemade dough, organic tomatoes, lots of basil, thin slices of zucchini and red onion and mushrooms. For a few days it was miso soup - the only thing he could stomach.

At the moment, he has his taste buds back until the next chemo, and his strength up again. On the weekend, we visited my sister's as my nephews had their birthday, turning 11 and 14 this month. Her husband makes amazing bean tacos with a huge salad of red cabbage, smoked corn on the cob, roasted peppers, coriander, homemade jalapenos. No cheese, no sourcream - the vegetables feature and it tastes incredible. I watch Dad relish every mouthful and think of how food sustains us when we're ill, not just the nutritional value of it, but the positivity and heartiness of a shared dinner amongst the love of family. When my nephew blows out his birthday cake, I make a silent wish too, for all this good food as medicine to sustain and nourish him for the next onslaught of drugs.

*Dad eating icecream with my Mum's famous rhubarb cake (and my son). Because cake is medicine too, right?*

Desert? My sister's homemade neopolitan icecream cake - because hell, even the most healthy of us need to sin sometimes. We laugh at Dad as he finishes his bowl and eats what I can't, and what his grandson cant - there are three empty bowls in front of him and we're all laughing. Mum too. She knows that a good, healthy diet is also about balance, and enjoying the things you love. Besides, she can't say no to him. He's always loved a good bowl of icecream, my Dad.

This post is in response to @naturalmedicine's 'Food as Medicine' Wisdom Challenge. You can read about it here. It's sponsored by Curie and there are over 40 steem worth of prizes on offer. You can write about recipes, particular foods, family memories, special diets - anything you like! Entries until 27 July.

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13.07.2019 22:21

So glad you can appreciate your mom's concern and caring with her cooking the best and healthiest foods available for her family!
It was only after I had had my accident and lost my health for a bit did I really appreciate how my mom had cared for and nourished us plus how precious our health is and not to abuse it!
That's quite the picture of your dad in his Bikram yoga phase! I thought for sure it was a stock photo - He's quite a handsome man!
Damn those wars and the havoc they cause in peoples lives!
I'm sure all that love and care your mom gave played a big part in keeping him going through these rough times a long with you being so healthy and health conscious too!
Thanks for sharing your story! But I'm glad I just finished eating a big meal before reading it, for all the mentions of those delicious foods would have made me real hungry!

13.07.2019 23:54

Hahah yes I was hungry when I wrote it! Funny, people have been telling me my Dad was handsome my whole life, even my friends at high school haha (he would have been mid 30s to early 40s then). He has only deteriorated in last 2 years due to illness, we really noticed it at fam dinner on Friday looking at pictures from fam holiday in Bali 10 years ago.. he looked sooo much.younger and fitter. Damn those ravages of time! I do feel closer and more appreciative of Mum, a shame it takes a tough time to really know what you have got, as you say.

Funny, at the time of that photo he thought he looked old and decrepit haha! Then that ad went in the local paper and everyone was amazed. I miss those days of daily yoga with Dad. We moved to vinyasa and less heated classes which was better and more spiritual but we did gain a lot of fitness and got very thin from all that sweating!!! It was an intense practice I learnt a lot from, even though the guy who started it was a bit of a nutcase and morally bereft.

14.07.2019 00:03

I think it's so wonderful that you could do yoga classes with your dad - your family seems very close and pulling tight together to support your dad! Sending love and hugs your way!

14.07.2019 05:22

And back tp you. Hows hubby?

14.07.2019 05:36

Excellent post!

Any time in the last 12 years I've been in the hospital long enough to be needing food, I've had my husband bring it from home. That food in hospitals will kill you! It's really bad!

Good on your Mum to teach herself and then her family.

14.07.2019 00:17

Thanks!! Mum jokes if it was her,she'd have to eat hospital food - Dad's speciality is scrambled eggs with parsley but that's about it lol.

14.07.2019 03:52

Your mom sounds AMAZING. I think that one of the aspects of healthy food we miss is the value of the INTENT and LOVE behind it, as its own natural medicine.

Savour the moments - and the ice-cream cake when you can, once in a while!

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14.07.2019 01:45

She truly, truly is. I am very grateful for her and would like to think I inherited her resourcefulness too. I think I've only become very, very concious of the intent and love behind it in the last few years - before then, I was just like 'yeah, my Mum's a freaking awesome cook' and was aware I was lucky to grow up in this household!

Savouring - very much so. I did give Dad my loved chocolate section - see the kinda sacrifices I make to my beloved parents? He he. Honestly, those three bowls in front of him - even he saw the humour in that.

14.07.2019 03:54

there was always, always money for beer

Beer is food. Beer is liquid bread! Lol

Food truly is the biggest contributor to sustaining a healthy life, or ruining an otherwise healthy body. I was amazed to learn all the health benefits of herbs I was using for years when I began studying medicine.

Many herbs have a positive correlation with supporting chemo therapy. I’ve not read of any with negative interactions. Your mom sounds like a really great woman. She definitely raised a great one!

14.07.2019 03:52

Aw stop it you! Thankyou! πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š

I guess when i tell them to try something like reishi they are a little more uncertain.

14.07.2019 05:38

What a wonderful post, your parents seem amazing! It was so great that your mom taught you how to take care of your body, which you passed on to your children. I really wish all the best for your dad. It seems like no matter what, cancer is the thing looming over all of us. But it's by no means unbeatable. Good nutrition certainly has its part in it. And so are good laughs, of which there seems to be no shortage in your family.

14.07.2019 08:47

We are pretty good at the laughs. Even when we thought he was a goner we were joking about. I feel pretty blessed to be with a family who is capable of humour even in the darkest times. We are hoping he will be around for a few years yet! Its tough when you love someone so much. But all of us must die.

14.07.2019 10:21

I still love that first photo of your mum and dad - it speaks volumes and the studio photo is a treasure (as is the cake one because I love real moments). I can relate to your mum because I am the first in the family to step onto a new path and become passionate about food and nutrition. I do try to help my parents and everyone who enters our home, appreciate and truly enjoy food and see it differently so maybe that's one of the roles that was meant for me. my mum always made food seem like such a chore and my mother in law also does not like to cook. Something that was taught to that generation I suppose?

14.07.2019 12:41

Maybe they just slaved at other things too much, or had too many demands on them. I hate cooking when I HAVE to and sometimes I go on strike. Like Friday. Jamie had to make puttanesca.

14.07.2019 21:12

My mum used to say how cooking was a chore and burden for women, making it sound so bloody awful then she'd tell me to come to help her because I should learn how and I'd be like ..uh ...sorry ... gotta help dad change the shocks on the truck. She didn't exactly sell it to me when I was a kid. I feel bad now that I look back.

14.07.2019 23:32

I love the "he HAD to make" .. I sometimes go on strike as well but then we don't eat. I've been fed while injured but it is a rarety. I do 99.99% of the cooking normally.

14.07.2019 23:34

Your Dad is such a handsome guy!
I'm still not sure what to add to this food-medicine contest. Reading other's posts. :)

14.07.2019 13:06

Anything you like! A favourite food, a recipe you love, an experiment...

14.07.2019 21:17

Ummm...I guess I find something to write about.

15.07.2019 04:45

It sounds like you had an awesome mum.

Watching her cook lentil soups, vegetable casseroles, oatcakes, breads and mueslis, we learn a lot about nutrition ourselves.

I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of six when me and my best friend formed our own fund raising group called 'the wildlife gang' πŸ˜‚

Ha ha, my mum being a bit of a hippie agreed, but she did struggle at first with the issues of nutrients etc. She learned quick though and that's exactly the type of food I remember getting. We were really poor when I was growing up and strangely enough, the wholefood vegi diet was cheaper, apart from a few luxury items like vegi sausage mix which I was hooked on.

Desert? My sister's homemade neopolitan icecream cake - because hell, even the most healthy of us need to sin sometimes.

@riverflows that cake looks so good. I'm hungry now 😁

14.07.2019 16:36

Never read foodposts when you are mildly hungry! Snap, I was vego at 6 too. Aw your club sounds so CUTE! I need to know more about it.

Gawd being vego in Englands north must have been novel at the time! I found it harder to be vego in England when I was there. My son went last year and said there is so much more variety now, but fresh veg wasn't as easy and cheap as here and lots of stuff in plastic. We used to get a vegie box delivered from Hugh Fearnley Whit's venture. I did eat celeriac in the UK for the first time.. that is pricey here! Now dreaming of celeriac, potato and parsley mash..

14.07.2019 21:16

Your mom is a huge inspiration! How amazing that her early attempts in your childhood was your foundation to where you are now @riverflows! I was excited when I started reading your post, as I've missed out these past months. But I am saddened to hear of the battle your dad has. I'm sure, despite everything tasting shit that you can all still have a laugh over ice-cream. I hope you will share many many more happy ice-cream moments

14.07.2019 18:36

Hello @buckaroo!! Was thinking about you the other day. How are you?

Yes its been a bit sad but we are working through it.

14.07.2019 21:24

Food is our most important medicine, I wish more people would make that connection. Your mum is amazing and you are lucky that you had such a healthy upbringing. My sister changed her diet initially and she looked so well, but it was really hard for her to maintain it, she really needed more support with doing it. Let food be thy medicine xxxx Love you wonderful Rivers xx

14.07.2019 20:53

Yes, luckily Dad was as keen on the whole venture as she was, but he never learnt to cook! She was a gorgeous woman, your sister! πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š

14.07.2019 21:23

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16.07.2019 00:47

I love this peak into your family's ( food ) history. It's inspiring, heartwarming and mouthwatering, all at the same time.

P.S. My dad loves ice cream as much as your dad. I guess we always keep that little kid inside of us :>)

18.07.2019 11:22