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Nutritionist Joan Gussow now calls herself a Foodist

Prominent nutritionist and organic gardening advocate Joan Gussow spoke at the Wilton Library on the occasion of the publication of her new book Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables. She was introduced by Chef Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room Restaurant, whose book Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place Once Recipe at a Time is a well-regarded paean to the fresh local foods movement.

Nischan called Gussow’s writings and talks profoundly influential to generations of chefs, gardeners and farmers. Gussow (Ed.D.) is the Professor  Emerita and former chair of the Nutrition Education Program at Teachers College of Columbia University. Her book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader is considered an extremely influential text on eating locally and seasonally, and this continues to be a major thrust of her speaking today. Nischan’s restaurant also provided the food for the reception that followed. These sandwiches are shown in the slide show along with Nischan himself. Gussow said that she hasn’t bought any vegetables in many years, since she grows everything in her 1000 square foot garden along the Hudson. She says that people should get used to eating locally and eating what is in season at that time of year rather than importing food from around the world. Apparently she feels it is Good For You to eat only the small number of vegetables available during the winter months regardless of their nutritive value. Gussow is now 81 and has been working and writing in this field for more than 50 years. She told a few engaging stories about encounters with skunks and woodchucks. She also noted that her husband died 13 years ago and that she didn’t miss him at all. Much of the interesting part of her talk came in the question period, where she made a number of helpful and ascerbic comments on the state of food and gardening.
  • Nutrition hasn’t really advanced much since the 1950s. We know that there are thousands of chemicals in food and in our bodies, but we still don’t know what is needed.
  • The Food Pyramid is simply a joke. It includes things like exercise, which have nothing to do with food and nutrition.
  • There are so many chemicals in the body and we only have studied about 30.
  • If I were teaching nutrition today, I would not call myself a “nutritionist,” but a “foodist.”
  • ABC Salad is made by shredding apples, beets and carrots, and is delicious.
  • Mache or corn salad plant is a winter annual that gives you fresh greens in the winter.
  • Most research trials on the health and curative effects of single compounds, such as beta-carotene fail and are likely to fail because our systems are more complex than that. All single nutrient trials are likely to be unsuccessful.
  • Sweet potato plants exude a sticky substance than can “glue together” small particles of silt to make better soil. This works for the related daikon plant as well.
  • She plants clover in the pathways in her garden because it greens up earlier in the spring and almost never needs mowing. It is only considered a weed because lawn weed killers have not been developed that can kill weeds without also killing clover. Therefore cover was redefined as a weed.
  • She uses chicken manure as part of her fertilizer.
  • Rather than having a compost pile, she buries her garbage throughout the garden.
  • She buys Promix compost, made in Canada. You should beware of US-based compost, as US regulations don’t preclude the use of sewage in compost, but Canada does. (Sewage can contain heavy metals.)
  • She takes a multivitamin each day. She also takes glucosamine, but doesn’t believe that it works.
  • She is not a vegetarian, but went through a period when she didn’t eat meat because she didn’t like what they did to commercial meat. She now gets her meat from a farmer in upstate New York.
  • If everyone in the world were vegetarians there wouldn’t be enough plants left for the animals and they would starve.

    Much of the main part of her talk was devoted to the repair of her garden along the Hudson which flooded seriously in the spring of 2010. You can see the damage and resulting repaired garden on her website, or you can buy her book. In fact she mentioned that possibility several times. However, the moral seems to be that if you have a mansion overlooking the Hudson and put your garden in your front yard, it is going to flood from time to time, and that if you have substantial resources at your disposal you can hire people to fill in the low yard and replant all your plants. Read the full article here. 

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