I’m driving along on a smoky fall day, listening to the radio, and I hear Dr. Anthony Iton of the California Endowment, mention the term “allostatic load,” meaning the wear and tear that chronic stress produces in our bodies, an extra toxifying, acidifying burden. Imagine the biochemistry of the folks facing all the emergencies around the world, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, and fires? And those facing chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cancer who also feel that vulnerability and lack of agency. Even watching all the disasters going on in the world will produce stress, and sitting, eating comfort food, glued to the screen to tracking friends’ status isn’t healthy either. I’m not saying, “All stress matters.” Just that all stress affects our bodies.
Our digestion is upset, our blood pressure, our hormones, cortisol and Ph balance are out of whack, and our inflamed joints cause pain, our breathing is less efficient, and …what a mess! And then we pass the stress on to our friends, family and even our pets.
“Allostasis” means adjusting to stress, rebalancing to stay well. How can we re-start breathing fully, unclenching muscles, stop grinding teeth, chewing nails, and feeling that acid gurgling up in our throats? I recommend DOING something about the things that are stressful. I once was discussing with two colleagues the challenges of the South Sacramento food desert. We realized we’d surely be more depressed by the difficulties there, if we weren’t busy trying to do something, however imperfect, about them. Of course, our frustration was infinitely smaller than that of the families struggling to keep their kids healthy with no affordable produce vendors in walking distance. But consider that being sympathetic may be harder on your body if you don’t act. Volunteer. Donate. Support or join an effective organization.
On my farm, in pursuit of allostasis, I can dig in the dirt and connect with those microorganisms that make us feel good. Of course, the weeds aggravate me, but still… Planting anything at all is an act of optimism and care that takes our focus away from the daily disasters. I can take the dogs for a walk around the back field, and as long as 11-pound Ginger doesn’t take off chasing the jack-rabbit who is 3 times her size, it’s very relaxing. Pruning trees seasonally is a pace-changer, shaping a tree or bush to bring about balance and beauty. I wish I felt the same way about tidying up my closet. And cooking something special, simple and fresh that perfumes the house (if it doesn’t burn and smoke) is a soothing and rewarding process. There is a lot of allostasis on the farm, the garden, even the kitchen.
It’s not that on my grandma’s farm there was never stress. But on the farm, they had built-in allostasis-izers. Quality time with the sun and wind, the rhythm of the seasons, tasks to keep everyone busy and useful, social safety nets of the New Deal era, quiet without the constant barrage of worrisome news… And comforting food made by hand from real stuff.
And speaking of comfort food… creamy soups just soothe the soul! Try this warming Pumpkin soup and this summer-into-fall, slightly sweet corn chowder. Turn off the noise and the news and all the stressors and let them warm you from the inside. Take THAT allostatic load!
Creamy Curried Pumpkin Soup
Why this is healthy: Pumpkins are loaded with carotene
Why this tastes great: Warm spices and creamy coconut milk
Why this is easy: Sauté, simmer, blend, serve
- 2 tablespoons butter or substitute or oil
- 1 cup shallots and/or onion, chopped
- one apple, chopped
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups veggie broth or 3 cups water and a veggie bullion cube
- 1 roasted sugar-pie pumpkin (about 2 cups of cooked squash “flesh”)
- 1 can light coconut milk
- Melt “butter” and saute shallots.
- Stir in the curry, salt, and pepper and cook for one minute.
- Add the pumpkin and stir to flavor, then broth and bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to mix in coconut milk.
- Serve with a cilantro garnish (optional)
Poblano Pepper and Corn Chowder
Why this is healthy: Peppers have a load of vitamin A, and the bit of capsaicin is great for circulation.
Why this tastes great : Comfort food without the heavy cream, and the sweetness of corn balanced with the zing of the pepper.
Why this is easy: Sauté veggies, add liquids, simmer. Boom.
1 medium yellow onion chopped
1 extra-large Poblano pepper, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, diced (cut into cubes approximately dice size)
2 cups fresh or frozen corn (cut off the cob)
Salt and pepper
2 cups Veggie broth
1 c thick cashew milk (unsweetened)
½ c parmesan cheese (vegan – I recommend Go Veggie)
Sauté onion, pepper and potatoes until glassy. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cover with broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Mix in corn.
After 5 minutes, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
Add cashew milk and “cheese”. Check salt and pepper for flavor and add if needed.
If you like you can top with a sprinkle fakin’-bacon or add a drop or two of liquid smoke.