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Heating Up the Kitchen

young people eating snacks while sitting at blue picnic table

This is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.

After a healthy al fresco breakfast of cereal with soy or whole milk, bagels, and fresh fruit, Mission Thrive Summer participants concluded their second week by playing Rose-Bud-Thorn, an exercise in which they named their best and worst experiences of the week.

With rose being a reference for best experience of the week, Mission Thrive Summer student Keishan explained: “My rose was cooking.” His thorn, he said, was the realization that the Mission Thrive Summer program will eventually come to an end.

After cleaning their dishes the students headed into the kitchen for a special presentation.

Len King, senior research chef at McCormick & Company, and Rachel Gooding, associate research chef at McCormick, put on a cooking demonstration with fried green tomatoes as the starring food.

 “Vegetables have different chemicals that helps them ripen,” said Chef Len, holding a green tomato grown in one of Real Food Farm’s greenhouses.

After asking students to name their favorite foods, many of the students giving fried chicken and macaroni a thumbs up, Chef Len explained that processed foods are high in sodium, which is why it’s important to cook from scratch and to use as many fresh ingredients as possible. Chef Len also mentioned, that using a touch of oil for a shallow fry is a healthier way to prepare foods.

The chefs also discussed various spices, both fresh and dried, that students can use to make foods more interesting.

After the chefs’ demonstration, students got down to the business of making a sumptuous lunch of fried green tomato sandwiches with bacon on organic bread, accompanied by a salad bar with farm-grown vegetables. Fried red and yellow beet chips were a novel side dish.

Students were reminded to use the bear claw knife method they learned during Mission Thrive Summer when slicing vegetables to protect their hands. In addition, students were taught how to use new cooking implements, such as a mandoline, a tool with adjustable cutting blades for slicing vegetables.

Students quickly mastered the art of breading the freshly sliced tomatoes in quinoa and cornmeal. They prepped sliced chicken and strawberries for a salad bar, which also featured a big bowl of farro, an ancient high-grain that tastes a bit like brown rice.

To top their salads students created their own olive oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressings using different spices. They enhanced their sandwiches with a home-made mayonnaise they made from scratch.

The fried green tomato BLTs were a hit. “I would definitely make these sandwiches for my family,” said Jonathan, a recent graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts. “Especially for my dad. He’s trying to eat healthy. This would be good for him.”

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.