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The carrot or the stick?

      Can food really heal?

For many people a cancer diagnosis is a massive wake up call for healthy eating. One of the most agreed upon tactics is to change your diet –  to eat vegetarian or better still – vegan food, and go organic. Exercise and meditation are also actively encouraged.

What would you do if you had been vegan and organic already for 17 years when you got a diagnosis, had a regular yoga routine and already been initiated into the joys of meditation. I mean there is not much you could do to tweak that. Plato maintained that food was medicine (wisdom he probably inherited from Arabic and North African sources). My herbalist the amazing Christopher Hedley maintains what you need is always growing in your garden or in your nearby surroundings, a total bonus for Guinea-pigs like me with a jardin full of lush rained upon grass and cleavers. But seriously, it’s big business, and there are many proponents of what exactly constitutes an anti cancer food diet.

Some diets espouse fruit and veg in abundance. Some diets espouse strictly no fruit because of the sugar. Cancer feeds on sugar – hence the use of glucose injections when having CAT scans to see where the cancer has spread to – the cancer cells gobble up the glucose first and thus expose themselves – and also one of the reasons that grape fasting has its successes as a health modality. In trojan horse style the cancer cells get fooled into gobbling up the high sucrose grape nutrients that have a highly toxic component called revesterol hidden in them.. well toxic for cancer cells at any rate.

So eight summers ago I initially swallowed the no fruit idea and reluctantly abandoned my staple habituary breakfast of lots of lovely fruit with sunflower seeds and cut out all sugar, and most starch and lived on beansprouts and juice, and the odd oatcake, and got very thin which alarmed all my friends but which I profited on by buying lots of very small very femmy clothes of the kind I had never wanted to dance with before from proper Oxford street shops that I had never entertained before (hmm wonder what  Susie Orbach would make of that). My mother gave me the Jane Plant books which espouse a vegan diet with high protein content. Jane Plant was a medical doctor who attributed her recovery from breast cancer by becoming vegan and eating soy. And wrote a book on it. I have to admit I was aghast  – not because it was my mother you understand, but because of her insistence on eating lots of soy products.

The soy diet is always backed up in the west by statistics correlating Japanese cultural dietary habits with low breast cancer rates. What is seldom mentioned is that :

a) South East Asian use of soy is not generally as a main protein. That is they don’t eat soy on a daily basis instead of meat. Soy is packaged for the western consumer as the meat substitute at the expense of beans and pulses.

b) The soy used is seldom processed the same way as here in the west and this processing is likely to create high levels of heavy metals. Heavy metal toxicity is well documented as being stored in breast tissue.

c) Soy has a high estrogen content which is a bit suspicious for a hormonally imbalanced cancer such as breast cancer, although advocates of soy would say much of that is phyto estrogenic which is ‘good’.

This fact had not gone unnoticed by me, as I have been a vegan since 1987 and had done my fair share of caning processed soy products especially during my time spent enthusiastically trying to convert french meat eaters with comparative soy sausages and the like. I also came across much anecdotal evidence and general consensus when I was staying at a womens’ temple in North California in 2008 about the high rate of breast cancer of women in the networks I was around and the proliferation and use of processed soy. (Tempeh is unprocessed soy btw).

Hmmm. Well I guess the jury is out on that one.

After bean sprouts, and trying to go raw but just getting cold and grumpy inside I decided to try metabolic typing and blood group diet. I sent off the blood sample, I can’t remember how I did it, but it came back with the earth shattering information that I was blood group O, the original meat eater, and to optimize my immune system meat was required. Oh ironies of irony for a herbivorous guinea-pig. Furthermore I was told that in order to find out how fast my metabolism was I would have to go on a controlled diet of meat three times a day. I balked at that as it didn’t make sense to me. I mean eating meat made sense, but not in the quantities that were required.

I decided to leave the metabolic typing but to follow the blood group diet – thus breaking my codes, ethics and preferences and try and eat meat either from organic health food shops, or straight from the organic farmers market and cooked at friends houses as a more ecofriendly alternative to chemotherapy.

It took me a year.

To get my head around it.

You see I had not become a veggie voluntarily. I had only discovered the joys of food when I left home – vegetables that weren’t frozen, spices and herbs, real garlic, bacon, and had had 4 glorious years of what to me was quality quaffing. I became a veggie through an unwitting Damascene conversion that occurred spontaneously and rather randomly when I was about 22/23 years old. I was tucking into my favourite Sunday evening takeaway – chicken tikka masala- in the Limehouse flat I shared with my french boyfriend after a stoned sunny afternoon by the Thames.

I looked down and just suddenly saw a plate with bits of dead animal on and it looked obscene and unnatural and wrong and I knew I could no longer eat meat. Just like that. I became vegan shortly after in response to the way animals were farmed and diary cows were treated and battery hens suffered

So the re-education mission took a year. I also knew that I needed to eat digestive enzymes that came from ox bile or something like that and that if I was going to work with this cancer using alternative methods I had to let something go. I had to make a trade. I spent many times imagining a chicken running across my path and me wringing it’s neck. Whilst thanking it and blessing it. Getting my head around the fact that it is not the action it is the intent.

A year of envisioning chicken running in front of me, at random times, and me wringing their necks, in deep gratitude for the sacrifice.

A proper mindfuck and the first of many during the last eight years.

So a year or so after I decided to eat meat I nervously trotted off to Fresh and Wild in Stoke Newington. I had arranged a meet up for the meat up with an old friend, ostensibly for moral support, though he was barely able to stifle his incredulity that I was going to eat meat in front of him, which worked well with my contrarian nature. I chose a chicken breast cooked in lemon, eyed it suspiciously for a while as it lay on the plate in front of me, and then the next minute I had eaten it. It had been relatively painless. And I felt great.

I went to my parents and requested organic steak. I ate it with quick relish. They were dumbfounded.

For three months I ate meat once or twice a week and my body liked it. It was weird. For the first time in my life I understood the statement “it’s nice, but its not meat” – a refrain often timorously uttered by house guests that I would harshly dismiss as I thrust a plate of gourmet vegan food and insisted that not only did my guests eat it – no option – but that they vociferously agreed with me that it was better than meat.  I would find myself standing at the counter of some posh organic food deli/place as I surveyed the dishes available. The beautiful colours of the vegetarian dishes would leave me cold, whilst the chicken/lamb or beef casserole would sing a song of loud joyous affirmation. It was like my third eye had opened and become a magnet. A magnet for meat.

After about three months, I was once again eating a warmish chicken breast in a health food shop when all of a sudden I just felt cold dead flesh in my mouth and in-between my teeth, and knew this no longer felt right. And I stopped.

That was quite a few years ago now, but the experience had quite a profound effect on me. I love having a vegan diet, but I am no longer so adamant about it. I will eat the occasional egg if it feels right, or a bit of sheeps cheese but I guess I am lucky that after 25 years vegan food is my default and preference, my programmed recipe databank. This interlude taught me an invaluable lesson though. A lesson to not stand in judgement of people doing things that I didn’t think were right. A lesson in the fact that maybe it is never the action, but the intent and context of the action. A lesson that by creating a positive vibe and love for the informed choices we make we can influence and inspire hundred times more than if we wittingly make others feel bad for their lifestyle choices.

I will conclude this lengthy epistle by affirming that as a guinea-pig I will take the carrot over the stick any-day –  though if I was a dog….

One comment on “The carrot or the stick?

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