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Fostering Community with Healthy Food

top down shot of fruits and vegetables on a dark background

The Institute launches “Five Times a Feast.”

The weather outside was frightful, but cooking together was so delightful at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church for the premier class in our new Five Times a Feast program, held January 28.

Five Times a Feast teaches concepts of daily nutrition and enables participants to practice cooking and large-batch preparation. Empowered with these skills and knowledge, participants are able to address barriers to healthy home-cooking: food costs, time for preparation, comfort in the kitchen, and an understanding of nutrition. A significant number of Baltimore City residents experience these barriers profoundly.

Healthy food access is low in many communities where fast food, corner stores, and carry-out options abound.  Without a personal vehicle, a trip to the grocery store becomes a prohibitive step in making home-cooked meals. Shift-working and holding multiple jobs can place additional time constraints on people. Kitchens that lack a full set of working tools and appliances further complicate the process. Though food blogging is in vogue, without internet access or a cookbook on hand, it’s hard to know what steps to take in the kitchen, especially given the disappearance of home economics classes in school.

With Five Times a Feast, the Institute is making healthy home-cooking one step closer to reality for the participants from Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. Led by our community programs coordinator, Alica Diehl each of the eight classes in the series introduces new concepts and tips for boosting nutrition, managing time, and saving money. She also emphasizes these key principles in every session:

  • Eat real food rather than processed foods, which are often full of sugar, salt and unhealthy chemicals.
  • Prep in bulk to save time. It’s easier and faster to chop and cook a week’s worth of vegetables all at once.
  • Be flexible. For example, if a recipe calls for asparagus, it’s find to substitute green beans if that’s what you have on hand.

The first class focused on eating the rainbow of fruits & vegetables, planning ahead, and shopping the perimeters of the grocery store, where more whole foods and fewer processed foods are located. After the group discussed these concepts, they warmed-up with a game of ‘Would You Rather?’ that got people sharing food-related ideas. They considered: “Would you rather give up fast food or television for the rest of your life?” and, “Would you rather be an amazing singer or an amazing chef?”

Then participants rolled up their sleeves to put their new knowledge into practice, along with a lot of knife skills practice. They sliced, diced, minced, and julienned their way to a Rainbow Veggies and Brown Rice Stir-Fry and made some Gingery Turkey Meatballs (see recipe at the right) for a protein boost. Each serving provides over one cup of vegetables. That’s one-half to one-third a person’s daily needs, depending on their age and sex.

Each participant made six servings—one to enjoy that evening and five additional to take home for the week ahead. This method of bulk cooking is a great way to save time in the long run, and save yourself from making a run to the nearest fast food restaurant or vending machine. When tasty, home-cooked meals are already prepared, it’s easier to make a healthy choice!

How do you make healthy eating easier for yourself or your family?

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.