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.
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.