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Kicharee/Kichari

Khichdi close-up on a plate with ingredients. top viewKicharee is one of those perfectly-balanced meals that is great for all people, regardless of their constitution.  High in protein, easy to digest, and a great food for detoxification, kicharee is an all-season dish that you can enjoy anytime, including when you’re feeling under the weather and need something simple to eat.

According to Daverick Legget, author of the awesomely well-written and informative Recipes for Self-Healing, “Kicharee is a traditional Indian dish translating roughly into ‘hodge-podge.’ Together the beans and rice provide strong nourishment for the Qi and Blood. This combination will also help seep excess moisture from the body. Mung beans also nourish the Yin and support the Heart.”

Kicharee is especially tasty as a side dish to steamed seasonal vegetables or fresh fruit. It’s also a great snack for those damp summer days when your fingers and toes look like sausages (due to water retention). Eat some kicharee to drain the damp accumulation that so often accompanies summer-heat.

Below are two different recipes for making kicharee. Enjoy!

Kicharee, Recipe 1

This recipe makes enough for 4-6 people. You can experiment with the combination of spices.

Ingredients

4-6-8 cups of water (8 cups of water will make it like soup, 6 cups like oatmeal, and 4 cups like rice n’ beans)

1 cup dried split mung dahl (also called split yellow mung beans/moong dahl/split yellow lentils)

*soak beans for 4-8 hours to make them more digestible*

1 cup white basmati rice

3 tablespoons butter, ghee, olive oil, or coconut oil

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, finely chopped (you can use ginger powder if you don’t have fresh ginger, 1/2 tbsp)

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1/2 tsp  cinnamon

½ tsp salt or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 small handful fresh chopped cilantro leaves

Directions

1. Rinse split mung beans and rice until water runs clear.

2. Heat large pot on medium heat. Add any seeds (fennel, black mustard) and stir frequently until they start popping.

3. Add oil or butter, then the rest of dry, powdered spices (you are not adding the bay leaves, ginger, and cilantro until later).Keep stirring for a couple minutes or the spices will burn.

4. Add mung beans and rice to pot; coat with spices. Stir frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add water and ginger (if using fresh ginger) and bring to a boil.

6. Turn heat to low, cover pot and continue to cook until split mung and rice become soft (about 40 minutes).

7. The chopped cilantro can be added just before serving.

8. Add salt or Bragg’s to taste.

*If I’ve made my kichari more like rice n’ beans, when I rewarm it the next day, I often add some chicken broth to make it into a tasty soup.

Kicharee, Recipe 2

 Ingredients:

1 cup whole mung beans, presoaked

1 cup white basmati rice

1 onion

small knob of fresh ginger

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoob turmeric

1 tsp coriander

3 tbsp olive oil, ghee, butter, or coconut oil

Directions:

Soak the mung beans overnight (or for at least 6 hours).  Rinse both mung beans and rice. Cook mung beans and rice in 8 cups of water. Bring to boil, turn heat to medium-low, cover, let simmer for about 30 minutes until both mungs beans and rice are soft.

When rice and beans are cooking, finely chop onion and ginger. Cook onions in olive oil or ghee until soft (5 minutes). Add spices (including ginger) and stir for a few minutes. When rice and beans have cooked for 30 minutes, add the onion and spice combination into the rice and beans and stir it in. Cover and continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes (or until water is absorbed). Season with sea salt or Bragg’s. Fresh pepper or fresh cilantro can also be added.

If you love kicharee so much you want to visit the mecca of all things kicharee, check this out. Michael Tierra is a brilliant herbalist/teacher who writes about Traditional Chinese Medicine in an accessible, interesting way.

 


The Qi Sensation: What Should Acupuncture Feel Like?

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Stop thinking about hypodermic needles.

No, really… stop it.

An acupuncture needle is as similar to a hypodermic needle as an earthworm is to a python. Associating the two types of needles can breed unnecessary anxiety that can deter some people from trying acupuncture, which is a cryin’ shame! During a typical acupuncture experience you should feel relaxed enough to drift into a restful state – a state so relaxing that it will often turn into a little nap!

And speaking of naps – because patients so often fall asleep during acupuncture, some community clinics market themselves as Nap Time for Adults. Yes, that’s nap time. For adults. So, tell me. When is the last time you napped while donating blood? Never?

Exactly.

So, Should Acupuncture Feel Like…Nothing?

No! Although acupuncture shouldn’t hurt, it should feel like something. At many of the points, you should feel the sensation of qi. You might feel qi moving, expanding, or dispersing. Other times, you might feel a more generalized sensation, like big waves of energy moving back and forth in your body. Sometimes it’s a slow, deep sinking feeling that will leave you feeling like you’re weighed down to your chair. Sometimes it’s floaty and light and leaves you feeling ecstatic but calm (a personal favorite of mine, and many others). I have one patient who refers to himself as an “old hippy,” and he loves to share how acupuncture is a million times better than LSD. I told him to make a bumper sticker, and I’ll stick it to my car.

Gallbladder 34: Yang Ling Quan Fotolia_95895810_XS

In order to give you a clear picture of what I mean by “the qi sensation,” let’s talk about a commonly used point called GB34.

Gallbladder 34 is located on the lateral leg, near the fibular head. When I needle this point, the patient normally does not feel the insertion. If I want the patient to feel a significant qi sensation at this point, I will adjust the needle until the patient can feel qi moving up the side of their thigh or down the side of their leg (following the Gallbladder meridian). Adjusting the needle means that I turn the needle ever so slightly in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. For those of you who might be wondering…it does NOT MEAN that I jab you until you feel pain.

Normally, I ask the patient to say “ok” as soon as they feel qi moving up or down the meridian. Once they say “ok” I stop adjusting the needle and move to the next point. Patients new to acupuncture are always surprised by this – they are surprised that the experience isn’t painful, and they’re surprised by the qi sensation (which is often unlike anything they’ve ever felt). I’ve never had a patient report that this was a negative thing; in fact, most people love the sensation of clearing out a clogged meridian.  Think about removing a large beaver dam from a bend in the river – the water would rush forth since it is no longer obstructed. This is similar to the sensation that patients report when qi begins to move through a meridian – they feel a rush of energy/warmth to an area of their body that previously felt congested, numb, or painful.

The Many Faces of Qi

The point of acupuncture is to elicit a sensory response at the point or along the meridian. The umbrella term for this sensation is deqi. The literal translation of deqi is  “the arrival of vital energy.”  There are lots of different words to describe the different types of qi sensations, but none of these words translate into “pain.” There is suan (a deep ache or soreness), ma (numbness or tingling), zhang (a full feeling or distending pressure) or zhong (a distinct heaviness or weight).

So, for those of you out there who have wondered if acupuncture consists of a stranger jabbing hundreds of needles in your body while you sweat and feel all of your sphincters clench at once, well…that’s not acupuncture. But it would definitely make a hilarious SNL skit! Oh wait…it’s already been done!

All of my charmingly-amazing humor aside, the experience of acupuncture should feel different, but good. And the results of acupuncture should involve YOU feeling significantly BETTER.

In fact, it’s the number one reason why people come back for more!


Roasted Dandelion Root Mocha

A Liver-Lovin’ Sippin’ Tea!

Feeling irritated? Stagnant? Angry? Explosive?

Honestly, I can’t recommend this tasty beverage enough. Dandelion root (pu gong ying) can quickly cool liver heat , and can act as a great substitute for alcohol or coffee. It’s best when you are feeling stagnant and irritable, or irritable and overly-heated (possible diagnoses would be “liver qi constraint with heat,” “liver fire,” or “excess heat with dampness”).

As for those who SHOULDN’T USE dandelion root (though a single cup of roasted dandelion root tea is unlikely to do any harm, no matter what your diagnosis), scroll down and check out the contraindications.

ROASTED DANDELION ROOT MOCHA Section through soil with a dandelion weed and tap root against a white background

(original version from The Herbal Kitchen, by herbalist Kami MacBride)

Ingredients

3 cups water
3 tablespoons roasted dandelion root (Mountain Rose Herbs carries high quality organic roasted dandelion root, or visit your local apothecary to see if they carry it)
1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs

NOTE: Cacao nibs and cacao powder are the cacao bean in its raw state. Cocoa powder is the product of the bean being cleaned, roasted, and powdered. Any option is fine for the recipe, though cacao has more healing/health properties than the cocoa.

1/2 cup almond milk: can substitute rice, hemp, full-fat cow’s milk
1/2 tsp. powdered cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tsp. sweetener: brown rice syrup, maple syrup, agave, stevia, honey

Step 1: Add water to roasted dandelion root and nibs (if you’re using powder, add powder in Step 3).

Step 2: Bring to a boil, and immediately lower temperature and simmer for 15 minutes (hot, but not boiling).

Step 3: Strain the tea, add remaining ingredients, sweeten to taste, and drink up! Feel your liver qi moving? Good!

CONTRAINDICATIONS: 

Because dandelion could act as a mild diuretic, it should be avoided by those who take lithium or diuretic drugs.

Spironolactone and triamterene may react adversely with dandelion products.

Dandelion could reduce the effectiveness of various antibiotics (I recommend staying away frommost herbs when on a round of antibiotics).

Because dandelion stimulates production of bile, it should be used with caution for patients with gallstones or an obstruction of the bile ducts. Patients with stomach ulcers or gastritis are generally encouraged to avoid dandelion, as it may stimulate overproduction of stomach acid.

People with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin, a fiber widely found in fruits, vegetables and plants, should avoid dandelion.

The milky substance in the stem and leaves of fresh dandelion may cause an allergic rash in some people. People who are allergic to ragweed and related plants (daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds) should consider avoiding dandelion.


5 Ways To Help The Liver Be the Best Liver It Can Be

Since we know that the liver qi is easily constrained, here are 5 suggestions to help you keep it flowing freely. If you have absolutely no clue about what I’m talking about, read this.

1. Know that anger and frustration aren’t inherently bad, but if they’re hanging around like sullen clouds over the sun, perhaps it’s time to take action. Since the liver is the organ in charge of pushing us forward to recognize our potential, perhaps your body/spirit is speaking to you, and trying to let you know that you’ve stepped from the path that brings you the most fulfillment and joy. In other words, maybe it’s time to leave a relationship, change jobs, go back to school, or take more time to care for yourself.* Most of the time, there’s good reason why we’re feeling frustrated or angry. That being said – there is never any good reason to project this anger onto other people, verbally or physically. That’s called abuse.

*I feel like it is important to recognize that in some circumstances, mobility isn’t easy, or even possible. Extreme poverty, marginalized populations, and a lack of resources are often involved. See this blog post if you live in Maine and need some extra help.

2. Spring is the best time to clear our your living space, as well as your liver. It’s still winter, but as no Game of Thrones

character ever said…spring is coming!  Spring is the time when all that green stuff begins pushing up from the ground. Go outside and take a big sniff of air and get some sun on your face!

A deep clean can also do wonders for a stagnant living space. Establishing rituals to welcome spring can help prepare your body and mind for this new season’s energy, and as you might already know – the energy of spring can be large and in charge (see below).

man sings in the shower
See this man using his shaving cream as a microphone? He’s taking care of his liver.

3. Prepare your body for spring. Like the branches of of a tree, healthy liver qi moves in an upward and outward manner. The advent of spring comes with a surge of similar energy that can flood the body with qi and blood that can exacerbate some preexisting health issues. During the spring, if you have a flare up of insomnia, painful periods, nightmares, migraines, digestive upset, or anxiety, your liver is likely involved.  Come in and get some acupuncture for quick, effective relief.

4. Stretch your body, wander, and sing. The liver is associated with the tendons and ligaments in the body, as well as the flexibility of the joints. It’s the organ in charge of being able to move your body smoothly and gracefully. Stretching the body is a physical tonic for the liver.  A  long, good-paced amble around town is also a great way to move qi that’s been constrained. I affectionately call these “urban hikes” and they are the bomb for changing a bad attitude!

As for singing – how do you feel when the sun comes (and stays) out after a long, cold winter. I certainly do a lot of singing on my way to work – as soon as I’m alone in my car, I sing the heck out of some song whether or not I know the lyrics. Belt out some Janis Joplin in the shower. Whistle. Do a round of Do Re Mi with your dorky co-workers. Making music with your mouth can move stagnant qi, since it involves controlled breath work and diaphragmatic control.

5.  Nourish the liver with food. The liver has a profound influence on digestion. Bloating, IBS, acid reflux – many GI issues involve the liver, especially if those issues are worsened by stress or intense emotion. Carrot is a simple, sweet food that can be an effective remedy for digestive stagnation since it gently circulates qi and blood. Here is two (relatively) simple recipes for times when you realize that you have more in common with the Incredible Hulk than you’d like to admit.  Roasted Carrot and Cashew Soup might be one of my favorite soups of all time, and this salad is one of my favorites of all time. And of course, do your best to incorporate all spring greens.

Also, check out my post on Roasted Dandelion Root Mocha. Another tasty liver-lovin’ recipe that you can make at home to help that sexy I’m-going-to-crawl-out-of-my-skin feeling, or that peaceful I’ll-rear-end-that-muther-flapper-if-he-cuts-me-off-again feeling.

And don’t forgot to come in and get poked! Spring is a busy time in the community acupuncture, and as you relax in a comfy chair to take a nap, you might feel better when you realize that a whole room of people are also experiencing the roller coaster ride that is the unpredictable energetics of spring.


Feeling…Irritated?

True story: About a month ago, on a Saturday, my partner and I woke on the wrong side of the bed. We were feeling fed up with the brutal sub-zero temperatures, the freezing rain, and the 4 feet of packed snow that needed to be shoveled from the back deck. I figured that a good sweat was the answer to our bad attitude. When our daughter went down for her afternoon nap, we threw on some ratty t-shirts and white Reeboks and headed downstairs with our exercise mats and 80s-style purple hand weights for an intense 60 minutes of Jillian Michael’s No More Trouble Zones.

HEY, STOP LAUGHING!

We turned on the space heater and rolled out our yoga mats and got ready to make a little sweat. Then…a terrible thing happened.

The workout dvd was missing from its case. And like a calm, grounded acupuncturist who practices meditation and deep breathing, I FLIPPED OUT.  I got on my knees, and in a veritably crazy manner, slammed my fist into the carpeted floor while bellowing “WHERE’S MY  DVD??!!”

The pre-tantrum look.
The pre-tantrum look.

Chris was caught off guard by my sudden lunge from sanity and tried his best to calm me by making sweet promises in dulcet tones. “Sheesh, baby, it’s really okay,” he crooned.  “We can do a different video – how about Biggest Loser’s Weight Loss Yoga?

But no, I wouldn’t be soothed. I continued to pound my clenched fist into the carpet, like an angry ladygorilla. It was just too much. With a new(ish) baby, it was so hard to find time for myself. I felt like I was constantly running around like a crazyperson, oatmeal cemented to my hair, un-serviced brows like furry caterpillars resting above my lunatic eyes. This was supposed to be my time! MY TIME! MY TIME! MINE! MINE! MINE!

A flash of sanity saved me from rolling around on the carpet and throwing feces at the wall (kidding). Something deep inside me slammed on the brakes, and my face turned the shade of a boiled beet as I began bottling my anger instead of emoting it.

It all worked out in the end. My head did not explode and cover the basement with brain. My sane-side got my tantrum-side off the floor and we did the other video, and within ten minutes of moving my body to the annoying charm of Bob Harper’s voice, I felt my anger discharge from my body like steam from a kettle. Later, I urged Chris to forever delete this incident from his brain. I know he can’t do this since the man has memory like a Clark’s nutcracker, but like the sweet guy he is – he promised me he would never remember that I had beat the living crap out of the floor one cold afternoon during the Winter of ’14.

Not this liver.
Not this liver.

So why I am telling this awful story about myself? Well, because it’s a great introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s concept of the liver. And…to be honest, most people like you more if you embrace a moderate amount of self-deprecation.

The Liver According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 

No, we are not talking about the biomedical version of the liver; in fact, I’m going to ask you to forget what you “know” about the liver and consider this organ from a completely different perspective. In TCM, the liver is the organ in charge of maintaining the smooth, unrestrained movement of qi. The liver helps us stay adaptable, so that we can roll with Life’s unpredictable punches. The more constrained the liver qi becomes , the more inflexible (literally and figuratively) we become in our bodies and spirit. The more stagnant the liver qi – the more frustrated we feel.

Also, the more stagnant the liver qi, the more it will generate heat. Liver heat often manifests as piercing headaches, red eyes/face, and bursts of anger (see opening anecdote).

HDR de saule pleureurThe willow tree is a common metaphor used in Traditional Chinese Medicine when talking about the liver. Willows have watery bark sap, which means that the the tree has soft, pliant wood. The roots of a willow are also remarkable for their size and strength. Bruce Lee pretty much explained this connection when he said:  “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”

People. We know that if Bruce Lee said it, it’s true.

You want the liver and the liver qi to stay flexible – not constrained and backed up and hot. We want to be able to bend so that we don’t…crack.

So what to do if we feel like we’re about to crack? See 5 Ways to Help the Liver Be The Best Liver It Can Be.


The Winter of Our Discontent?

Wintah' in Maine.
Wintah’ in Maine.

Is it me, or does it seem like winter has been going on for, like, 10 months now? 

Twice in the past week I’ve had to take a steaming hot shower then jump in place for a couple of minutes in order to warm up after dragging the trash out to the curb. Even with deerskin gloves my hands turned into icy meatpaws within seconds because IT’S TOO FLIPPIN’ COLD OUT THERE!

In fact, it’s been so cold that there’s an 87 percent chance that if I’m home, I’m wearing my fuzzy fleece Elmo pants. They were a gift from my mother that inspired a guttural “blahgg” when she presented them to me (not gracious of me at all, I realize this). I swore I’d never wear them. She said, “Fine, give them back then.” After rubbing the pants between my thumb and forefinger, and remembering how icicles formed in my eyebrows that morning while I pushed a foot of snow from the hood of my car, I scurried to my room, shamefully, and hid them under my other, more sensible pajamas.

(Those dang pants are sooooo warm. I wear them ALL THE TIME, Mom!)

Last week, after snow blowing the driveway in subzero weather, I told a friend that my tongue felt like it might freeze  to the roof of my mouth. He laughed, but I was serious. The cold weather is bringing me down, dude! His response? Eat a tangerine. So, I made a trip to Rosemont Market and picked out six of the brightest, ripest tangerines and brought them home to treat my winter blues.

Tangerines: chasing away the winter blues.
Tangerines: chasing away the winter blues.

It was a tiny miracle – the tangerines were like globes of sunshine that I could subsume, ray by ray. I shared them with my daughter. Her eyes sparked like fireflies with every section she stuffed in her ravenous, 8-toothed mouth. We ate three in one sitting. Then we spun around in the living room until we were both too dizzy to walk straight, counted our toes, and settled down on the couch to read a book about a multicolored elephant that is terribly written but wonderfully illustrated. When she went down for her afternoon nap, I painted my toenails French Pink (which is a color for winter toes, lemme tell you).

Later that day, around the time my daughter woke from her nap, I could tell that the medicinal tangerines were starting to wear off. I needed more help!

In a moment of spontaneous inspiration, I pulled a compilation of quotations from the bookshelf and flipped through it, a desperate woman in awful Elmo pajamas, fearful of the cold.

Winter is nature’s way of saying ‘Up yours.’  Yes, Robert Byrne, yes it is! (It’s always nice to get an amen, as my sister would say.)

By the end of the day, I went to bed feeling pretty good. Good enough, anyway, that I felt I should share this treatment protocol with you. Winter doldrums? Follow these two simple steps.

Step 1: Eat a wonderfully bright, ripe, citrus fruit and let it fill you with something reminiscent of summer.

Step 2: Consider these quotes.

WINTER QUOTES TO WARM THE COCKLES OF YOUR FROZEN LITTLE HEART

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.  -Victor Hugo

When hungry, eat your rice; when tired, close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean. -Lin-Chi

I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future – the timelessness of the rocks and the hills – all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.  -Andrew Wyeth

She stuck her head out and took a deep breath. If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. – Sarah Addison Allen

I gave three quiet cheers for Minnesota. In Seattle a dusty inch of anything white and chilly means the city lapses into full-on panic mode, as if each falling flake crashes to earth with its own individual baggie of used hypodermic needles. It’s ridiculous. -Cherie Priest

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.   – John Steinbeck

Music brings a warm glow to my vision, thawing mind and muscle from their endless wintering.  – Haruki Murakami

In this part of the world, only Maine gives winter the welcome and the worship it should have.  -Tom Allen

In reality, Little Ones, there are two winters. One made for kids; the other for adults. The one made for adults is always too cold and always too long. The one made for kids is always perfect. A kid winter is an endless and wild snow carnival where all the rides are free. – Carew Papritz

Winter is the time for stories, staying fast by the glow of fire. And outside, in the darkness, the stars are brighter than you can possibly imagine. – Isabel Greenberg

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. – Albert Camus


Acupuncture Research: The Down and Dirty on the Double-Blind

Before we get into the nitty gritty, please know that this post will make more sense if you have read Is Acupuncture…Real Medicine. Read it, if only for the great story of your *calm* acupuncturist, Lauren, getting super pi**ed off and then…and then….doing something about it!

Okay. Now for the down and dirty on the double-blind.

Efficacy vs. Effectiveness Research through Magnifying Glass.

In the world of research, it’s important to distinguish between an effectiveness trial and an efficacy trial.

Effectiveness trials compare two treatments under conditions in which they would be applied in typical, routine care. These trials don’t really give a schnitz about the underlying mechanisms of how something works – they’re simply designed to find out which treatment works better. The results of these trials are often applied to clinical decision-making (i.e. for a patient with acute low back pain, how does acupuncture compare to physical therapy).

I like to compare the effectiveness trial to that certain type of Mainah’ that comes to the clinic, plops down in the chair,  and says “Don’t care what you do, just make me feel bettah.”  They simply want to feel well enough to ride the sled on the lake for a couple hours without pain, and if you can do that, expect peppermint fudge on the holidays.

The efficacy trial asks a more…. demanding question: Does treatment X perform better than placebo? The efficacy trial looks to understand

whether a treatment has effects beyond the “context” or “ritual” of the treatment (i.e. is the patient feeling better simply because a medical professional focused attention on their needs?).  The goal is to figure out whether the treatment has a specific impact on disease, as opposed to nonspecific effects. Efficacy trials are often referred to as “explanatory trials.”

I liken the efficacy trial to the type of patient who comes in knowing nothing about acupuncture, and once they feel better after a treatment, proceed to go nuts with curiosity. Truly. It’s a weekly occurrence. They come in for their 2nd treatment and say something like this: “My back pain is better, and I think it might be the acupuncture. Do YOU think it’s the acupuncture?”

Listen. I’m trying to write an objective piece here. But for the sake of transparency: I always believe it’s the acupuncture.

Over the next couple of weeks, that die-hard-curious patient does some research of their own, and they attempt to remove ALL POTENTIAL INTERFERING VARIABLES that could have influenced the lessening of their back pain. They want to know FOR SURE whether it was the acupuncture or the new multivitamin they started, the morning stretches, or the new pillow they bought.  They stop the multi-vitamin. They stop their morning stretches. They put their therapeutic pillow away for a couple of nights.

Then they watch, feel, and listen.

The results?

Let’s just say that acupuncture has been around for over 3000 years.

Time To Get Serious: Big Ol’ Problems in the Field of Acupuncture Research

In November 2007, The Society for Acupuncture Research held an international symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1997 NIH Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture. The symposium reflected the considerable growth that had taken place in the field of acupuncture research; however, it also brought to light a wicked big issue. Acupuncture performed well in the effectiveness trials, but failed miserably in the efficacy trials.

WHAT??!!!

The results from the efficacy trials sunk the hearts of acupuncturists around the world, and it became the favorite argument for those of the…anti-acupuncture tendency. The irony of all of this? No one was discussing the glaring gaps in knowledge that affected the way these studies were carried out. What do I mean by that? Am I making excuses for acupuncture? Well, you be the judge. Read on.

The research methodology used in much of the research was far from perfect; in fact, some of it was simply poorly designed. This was somewhat understandable, seeing as acupuncture did not (at that point) have history as a commonly-researched modality of medicine.

The hardest thing to understand? Why were some people so rabidly attached to the results of poorly designed research.

What do I mean by this? Below is the EPL (everyday people language) explanation of what went down.

THE WICKED BIG ISSUE:  A number of clinical trials reported that true acupuncture is superior to usual care (good results in effectiveness trials); however, true acupuncture did not significantly outperform sham acupuncture (poor results in efficacy trials).

EPL: Though patients feel better when acupuncture is added to standard care, poking someone with real needles isn’t much better than poking someone with toothpicks. In other words, is acupuncture nothing more than the placebo effect at work?

Things to Consider Before You Get on Facebook and Make the Bold Claim that Acupuncture Isn’t Medicine 

The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion. A. Glasow
The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion. -A. Glasow

1. How is acupuncture being defined? An acupuncture treatment is not a simple intervention, and involves point selection according to diagnosis, specific point location, specific needle depth, and specific levels of stimulation. In most of these studies, there was no differential diagnosis (which is essential to an acupuncture treatment, as well as integral to basic Traditional Chinese medicine theory).  The biomedical equivalent? A study of how well surgery worked for low back pain, when some of the patients in the study had knee pain, and no low back pain.

2. Sham needling is not inert. In many of these studies, it showed that the sham treatment can produce a benefit that is procedure-related. What does this mean? Well it means that the “sham” in this scenario is NOT A SHAM! Often times, in these research trials, the sham treatment consisted of toothpicks in a guide tube that were tapped out, like an acupuncture needle, but didn’t penetrate the skin. However, it’s theorized that this type of sham needling might induce a significant physiological response due to microtrauma to the skin. The long and short of it: The sham treatment must NOT mimic the physiologic effects of the real treatment.

Note: Placebos/shams are easier to deal with in drug trials since there is usually an understanding of how the drug being tested is metabolized, which receptor it is targeted to, and how it is inactivated. In order to develop an appropriate sham for acupuncture research, we first need a clearer understanding of the underlying mechanism of acupuncture. And that’s a whole other blog post…

3. Including a sham treatment may reduce the level of effectiveness of the real treatment: In the informed-consent paperwork of a research trial, patients must be informed that there is a 50 percent chance that they will get the real treatment, and a 50 percent chance that they will get the fake treatment – which essentially reduces patient expectancy of receiving the real (effective) treatment from 100 percent to 50 percent.

4. The practitioner in the sham treatment cannot be blinded. Which means… that this is not a double-blind trial! In a typical drug trial, the doctor does not know whether she is administering the placebo pill or the real thing. You can’t do this with acupuncture. Obviously, the dude with the toothpicks in the guide tube knows he ain’t doing the real deal…

So, What Does This All Mean? 

What does this all mean, you ask? Should we stop doing research on acupuncture? Of course not! Embracing biomedicine is important to the health of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Because you know what’s a horrible, no good, very bad idea? Deciding that a system of medicine that has been around for a long, long time (with a great amount of success under its belt) simply isn’t worth your time because it doesn’t happen to fit within your framework of understanding health.

We should, however, encourage clinicians and scientists to recognize that there is more work to be done in order to effectively study acupuncture.

Acupuncture treatments should be studied from the top down (as multicomponent whole-system interventions employing a pragmatic systems perspective), as well from the bottom up (as mechanistic studies that focus on understanding individual treatment components and how the effects of these components interact and translate into clinical outcomes).

Feeling super dorky about all of this? Check this out.  Also, want to learn a little more on the biomedical theories regarding acupuncture? Click here.

And to wrap this up in everyday people language: Before you make any assumptions about acupuncture, demand higher quality research that accounts for the complexity inherent to this form of treatment.

Or come in and try it yourself. Because lawd knows I’d love to poke ya’.

Want to read more? Check out posts by Mel Hopper Koppelman, starting with How to Win an Argument with An Acupuncture Hater and then check out Acupuncture, Science Based Medicine, and UFOs where Mel takes on (and systematically slaughters, in my humble opinion) a writer for the website, Science-Based Medicine. Read the discussion and decide for yourself! 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Ask questions.
Read everything you can get your hands on. Ask questions.

 

 


Is Acupuncture…Real Medicine?

Acupuncture? Or Quackupuncture?

It’s a complex topic, and most definitely a controversial one, and depending on who sits next to you on a flight out of Portland –  it can be a conversation that ignites as soon as it begins.

It was like this, with less hair.
It was like this, with less hair. Add terrible tie.

A couple of years ago, I was seated next to an older man on a 4 hour flight from Portland to Chicago. When all my stuff was tucked away, I sat down and said hello. I figured that if I was going to rub elbows with my neighbor for more than a few hours, I could at least introduce myself. My neighbor happened to be a retired M.D. who, upon hearing that I was an acupuncturist, launched into a rambling history of his career as a surgeon. He mentioned “preventative hysterectomies” more than once, a surgery of which he seemed particularly proud.  Truth be told: he was incredibly annoying, but I kept my mouth shut and tried to keep my judgment at a minimum.

But then, the cincher.

He actually said the words acupuncture, quackery, and snake oil. All words, of course, in relation to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Then he wagged a finger at me and spoke to me like wee child and told me about the superiority of his medicine in relation to the “folk lore of the Orient.”

I looked at him squarely and said, in a not-so-nice-tone, “Preventative is an interesting word choice for a hysterectomy-happy thief and I’m quite sure the only person in aisle 9 who has practiced preventative medicine is me.”

Then he called me “darling.”

I was at a roiling boil. In a moment of desperation, I rang the flight attendant, ordered a small bottle of whiskey to add to my watery coffee (for the sake of transparency… not a good choice for a flare of liver qi), stuffed my earbuds in my earholes, reclined my seat, and pulled the North American Journal of Oriental Medicine out of my bag to read about the practical uses of moxibustion.

The word “harumph” is the only way I can describe his reaction. And by the way, he got up at least 6 times to use the bathroom, which, you know, is an embarrassing issue that acupuncture can help alleviate. (Just a thought.)

When I arrived at my intended destination, I called a fellow acupuncturist and set a time to get a treatment. She treated my liver and released me back into the wild, my spirit refreshed. Acupuncture cleared my Incredible Hulk-like anger faster than an old man can steal a uterus from a woman whose uterus might have been just fine. And I don’t mean this as a bad joke, since this kind of thing is a reality

So, yeah. I felt better after getting acupuncture. I even sent the old goat a couple of qi needles to his kidneys/bladder to try and help him pee less often. But something occurred to me (other than Just let it go) while I was on the table, the acupuncture needles working their subtle magic. I realized that although I can always find it within myself to hold the space for others to have their opinions, there really was no need for him to belittle me. Which meant that much of my anger was real, healthy, and served a purpose. I had to find a way to channel the energy from that anger in a productive way, and do my best to let go the part of that anger that threatened to stitch my stomach to my liver.

My conclusion, after leaving acupuncture with a clear head and a softened belly: I never again wanted to be in a position like that, next to Doc Crotchet, without being able to proficiently defend my medicine in all relevant languages. In other words, I needed to practice talking about Traditional Chinese Medicine in the language of the predominant medical establishment, which is Western biomedicine. Though I had hundreds of conversations with open-minded biomedical practitioners who had a genuine interest/curiosity about acupuncture, it was not the first time that someone had dismissed me as a quack because my medicine did not fit within the boundaries of how they understood medicine, health, and healing.

When I got home, I read through my research notes, then refreshed my understanding of the current  biomedical theories on how acupuncture actually works. And since biomedicine is very much structured around research, I figured that the first place would be to start was there. Here’s what I’ve come up with, starting with the ‘gold standard of research.’

The Gold Standard of Research

In biomedicine, the gold standard in the world of research is the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (RCT). It’s the accepted scientific methodology that when performed produces (ideally) knowledge “untainted by bias” in which physicians base (much of) their decisions within their practice.

So, let’s do a quick review about what this means, and put the information in EPL (everyday people language).

Placebo-controlled: Some of the people in the study are given the real treatment, and others are given the fake treatment (placebo).

Double-blind: Neither the researchers or the participants in the study know if the participant got the real treatment or the fake treatment (the placebo).

Randomized: Assigning participants to the real treatment or the fake treatment is done randomly (i.e. a more complex version of “flip a coin to see who gets what”)

The RCT and Acupuncture

It’s important to recognize that the profession of Chinese medicine has embraced biomedicine as a whole, including the importance of RCTs. Hundreds of RCTs have been done to assess the efficacy/effectiveness of acupuncture; however, interpreting these findings is no simple task. In fact, believe it or not, it’s pretty complicated.

Complicated, but fascinating! Read on.

 

 


The Best Places to Get Well in Maine (for free or a small donation)

Community, Support, and Compassion in Maine

If you are reading this, I hope you are in the midst of a warm holiday season. I hope you haven’t had too much indigestion, and I hope your family isn’t driving you nuts. If you’re having a great holiday – good, this article is for you. And if you’re having a crappy holiday – well, this article is for you too.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on The Grinch. For those of you who are having a total blast this holiday, consider yourself representative of the sunny and optimistic community of Whoville. For those of you NOT feeling a single ounce of warm fuzziness this holiday season, and actually wish that you could erase that annoying rosiness from those bright Whoville cheeks  – well…you’re probably feeling like that for a reason.

Do you remember what transformed the Grinch’s hardened heart? What helped extract him from his misery? It was the resilience, kindness, and compassion of his community.  So, during this season, let us not disregard those who suffer, or who might not wear a smile on their face. Let us never overlook the fact that there are some of us out there, struggling daily due to a lack of basic resources. Basic resources – like food, housinghealthcare, and community. There are also those who are forced, daily, to deal with systemic injustices that involve race, sexuality, gender, class, and ability.

The following is a list of resources in Maine, for everyone.  There are lots of really cool organizations in Maine looking to extend a hand to those in need, or to those searching for community. Some provide a service for a small donation, and most don’t charge a dime. So, bookmark this page and get to know this list. I’ve included blurbs about the organizations from the websites themselves.

If you know of an organization or group that is not listed, please share in the comment section below and I will happily add it to the list.

Drum roll please. Kind People of Maine – here is a list of inclusive, awesome, affordable (and in most cases, FREE) resources for all people.

We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community. ~Dorothy Day

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.  Martin Luther King Jr.

 

A GUIDE TO RESOURCES IN MAINE

COMMUNITY 

Free Acupuncture for Veterans, Portland: A group of licensed acupuncturists in Portland are providing a free acupuncture clinic to veterans of military service suffering from combat fatigue and other associated health issues. This free, weekly clinic is also available to family members of veterans who desire the healing benefits of acupuncture. The clinic is held every Tuesday night from 6-8 pm in the meeting room of the Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue at 76 Noyes Street, Portland, Maine. To allow for maximum relaxation and security during the treatment session, all participants need to be seated by 6:30 pm.

Free Acupuncture for Veterans, Bangor: Bangor Vets Acupuncture Clinic is an acupuncture clinic open to veterans of any war, active duty military, and their family members, to alleviate physical and emotional stress. BVAC services are free. Donations towards the running of the clinic are accepted but not expected. BVAC is held Thursdays, at Grace United Methodist Church, 193 Union Street, Bangor, ME.  Doors open by 6:45 (please be signed in and seated by 7:00).

Free Acupuncture for Veterans, Augusta: We are Maine-licensed acupuncturists who volunteer our time as a way to recognize, honor and give back to our military service men and women and their families. Acupuncture clinic is open every Tuesday evening. Doors open at 6:00 (please be signed in and seated by 6:15). Located at 9 Green Street Augusta, ME

Free Acupuncture for Veterans, Brunswick: Welcoming all veterans, active duty personnel, and their families for Free Weekly Acupuncture! Following in the footsteps of Portland, Bangor, Augusta, and many others nationwide, we model our clinic from Acupuncturists Without Border’s Military Stress Recovery Project. Free acupuncture clinic is Wednesdays 6:00 p.m.-7:15 p.m. Doors open 5:45, please be seated by 6. Located at 62 Pegasus Street, Suite 101, Brunswick, ME 04011

Yogave: We know how tough this economy has become for many. Most of us need yoga in our lives more than ever. By providing donation only classes we want to offer the yoga experience to everyone, so pay as you can. Our goal is to open up yoga to all, even those with less fortune then others without the stress of large fees for a class.  We want to be able to expand and create more opportunity for everyone.

DoYogaWithMe.Com: Okay, this isn’t necessarily local to the state, but I’ve included it for those stuck inside their homes during a brutal Maine winter or for those that can’t afford classes at their local studios. It’s truly an amazing resource. From the website: DoYogaWithMe.com is a free, constantly expanding resource of online yoga videos created by a passionate group of experienced instructors. Our yoga videos include classes, poses, breathing techniques and anatomy videos. Every one of our hundreds of HD videos can be viewed in its entirety without payment. You don’t even have to sign up.

Mom To Mom Of Maine : Mom to Mom is a group of over 200 Southern Maine moms with many different parenting perspectives, backgrounds and lifestyles who have joined together to establish an amazing support network. Part of what makes our group so special is that we are constantly learning from each other, cheering each other on and inspiring each other to do our best each day.

Birth Roots: The Birth Roots model is non-clinical, community based education and support throughout pregnancy and the first year of parenting.  Our programs and events build community, encourage instincts and intuition, address social, emotional and non-clinical needs and promote our philosophy ofCommunity Supported Parenting.” Birth Roots is a 501(c3) non-profit organization devoted to removing obstacles to perinatal health by offering continuous support through pregnancy and postpartum in a community setting.

The Center for Grieving Children: Offering our services for free, for as long as people need them, the Center’s mission is to provide loving support that encourages the safe expression of grief and loss and fosters each individual’s resilience and emotional well-being. The Center reaches individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, and relies on financial contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations, United Way, and special events. The Center is a 501(c) 3 organization.

Equality Maine: EqualityMaine works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Maine through political action, community organizing, education, and collaboration.

MaineTransNet: Maine Transgender Network, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides support and resources for the spafetransgender community, families, and significant others, and raises awareness about the varied forms of gender identity and expression by providing training and consultation for mental health and social service professionals.

USM’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity: The University of Southern Maine’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity seeks to ensure a university environment that is positive, safe and supportive for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, in particular members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Allied (LGBTQA) community.

Access Maine: This website was developed to assist Mainers with disabilities, their families, and providers. Includes everything from community gatherings of like-minded people, to support groups, to accessing information about services and care.

Black Girl in Maine: I started this site in 2008 as a way to blow off steam and frankly to connect with any other people of color who are in Maine or other Northern New England states, whether by choice or by unforeseen circumstances.

HEALTHCARE 

DownEast Community Acupuncture: We are a community acupuncture clinic located on Verona Island, between the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Bucksport.  We offer treatments in comfortable recliners in a large room, providing personal attention, while also healing as a group.  The community model allows for frequent and affordable visits, leading to fast and improved results. Acupuncture treatments are offered on a sliding scale ranging from $15-$35 per treatment.  No income verification required.  No questions asked.  You decide what you can afford.

Maine Center for Acupuncture: Maine Center for Acupuncture was created to provide safe, effective, and affordable acupuncture treatments to families, friends and neighbors in the Greater Portland area. MCA is a place of learning, rest and healing. It is a sustainable community-based clinic that exists only because people pay for their treatments individually and spread the word to others.

Wildwood Community Acupuncture: A community acupuncture clinic is a place where you can get affordable acupuncture in a group setting. The clinic is a quiet, safe space in which multiple recliners are set up in small groups. All treatments are $30.

Androscoggin Community Acupuncture : 95 Park St, 2nd floor, in Lewiston.  First appointment: $30-$50;
Follow up appointments: $20-$40 (You decide what you pay). Please call 207-939-1293 or email lynnwebberlac@gmail.com to schedule an appointment.

Peninsula Free Health: Peninsula Free Health provides health services for those who have no medical insurance and cannot afford private medical care. We are a group of volunteers who are committed to making sure that everyone in our region can receive high quality, affordable healthcare. To begin, we are offering free services on Monday afternoons at the Blue Hill Congregational Church. We welcome suggestions and input as we grow and strive to meet the needs in our community.

Community Clinical Services: CCS provides quality medical, behavioral and dental services to people in Lewiston/Auburn and surrounding areas regardless of ability to pay. CCS is the federally qualified health center serving Lewiston, Auburn, Durham, Sabattus,  Wales, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls, Poland, Minot, Mechanic Falls and New Gloucester.  We serve and welcome children, teens, adult and elders from locations outside our towns, too.

Portland Osteopathic Children’s Clinic: Portland Osteopathic Children’s Clinic is a non-profit health care facility designed to provide free osteopathic manipulative medicine to uninsured and under-insured children.The founders are osteopathic physicians who are currently health care providers in the greater Portland area. They wish to ease the burden of parents who struggle with rising health care costs by providing free osteopathic specialty care.The clinic is currently held on Fridays at the Center for Grieving Children, 555 Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine (www.cgcmaine.org).

2-1-1 Maine : 2-1-1 Maine is a comprehensive statewide directory of over 8,000 health and human services available in Maine. The toll free 2-1-1 hotline connects callers to trained call specialists who can help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Finding the answers to health and human services questions and locating resources is as quick and easy as dialing 2-1-1 or visiting www.211maine.org

Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care: The purpose of the Guide to Navigating Maine’s Health Care System is to offer a basic overview of health care in Maine – what programs are out there and who they serve. Includes resources for Dental/Children/Pregnant Women/Mental Health/Immigrants/Hospital FreeCare Guildelines/etc. Find sliding scale clinics in your area here.  Find free clinics in your area here. 

City of Portland Public Health Division: the next 5 services falls under the Public Health Division of Portland, Maine. If you want all the information in regards to Public Health in Portland, simply click on this link.

Family Health: Includes resources for School-Based Health Centers, Maternal & Child Health, Children’s Oral Health, and Family Violence Prevention.

India St Public Health Center: At the India Street Public Health Center we help Portland residents reduce health risks, prevent HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and manage existing health conditions. Includes the Portland Community Free Clinic, located at 103 India Street, which provides primary care to uninsured, low-income adults living in Cumberland County, Maine. All services at the PCFC are provided at no charge. Also includes Positive Health Care, which is comprehensive primary care services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS, including HIV/AIDS treatment, psychiatric services, case management, adherence counseling, substance abuse counseling, risk reduction education, HIV testing, and an after hours call service. No one is denied treatment because of an inability to pay.

Portland Community Health Center:  Portland Community Health Center’s mission is to provide high quality patient centered healthcare that is accessible, affordable, and culturally sensitive.

Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services: Many of the refugees who have been resettled in Maine in recent years have fled from war or genocide in their home countries, including Somalia, Sudan, and Iraq. They sought safety in neighboring countries and refugee status through the United Nations before they were placed in refugee camps to await resettlement in another country. Many of them have been waiting years, and in some cases decades, to be resettled. Throughout the state, although concentrated in Portland, RIS is contracted to provide primary refugees with initial resettlement (30-90 days post U.S. arrival) and limited ongoing case management and employment services (up to 60 months from U.S. arrival).

Minority Health Program: The Minority Health Program (MHP) addresses the health issues and needs of all minority communities in Cumberland County. MHP links people to needed health and social services and improves community health status through Community Health Outreach Workers (CHOWs) and clinical partnerships.

ADVOCACY black-lives-matter

American Civil Liberties Union of Maine: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is the state’s guardian of liberty. We are active in the courts, the legislature and the public sphere to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for all Mainers. Our priority issues include criminal justice reform, freedom of speech and religion, immigrants’ rights, LGBT rights, privacy, racial justice, reproductive freedom, voting rights, and women’s rights.

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Program: The Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project helps low-income immigrants improve their legal status and works for more just and humane laws and policies affecting immigrants.

Elder Advocates: Linda Weare, LSW, is the City of Portland’s Elder Advocate. She is available to assist senior citizens and their families: sort out problems, answer questions, and advocate for rights. Linda’s role has two parts. First, she provides easy access to information about a variety of services available to seniors in the Portland area. Second, she provides support to health and social service providers so that their services are easily accessible to senior citizens.

Maine Legal Services for the Elderly:  Legal Services for the Elderly began serving clients in 1974 and now has offices in five locations, Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston, Presque Isle and Scarborough. LSE provides persons age 60 and over with free legal advice regarding health care, health insurance, Medicare (including Part D), MaineCare (Medicaid), Social Security and other public benefits, pension and retirement benefits, powers of attorney, consumer matters including creditor and bankruptcy problems, physical and financial abuse, guardianship defense and other issues.

Safe Voices:  The Mission of Safe Voices is to support and empower those affected by Domestic Violence and engage the community in creating social change in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin Counties. Safe Voices does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, or physical or mental ability.

Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence: Our mission is to create and encourage a social, political, and economic environment in which domestic violence no longer exists, and to ensure that all people affected by domestic abuse and violence are supported and that batterers are held accountable. MCEDV mobilizes and coordinates community action through a statewide network of domestic violence projects.  Through these partnerships, we focus our resources on public policy, education, and systems advocacy.

Maine Women’s Lobby: I was unsure whether to include this one, since they don’t offer a “direct service”…but because of their advocacy on a state level, I decided, that they did, indeed, offer services that are essential to the health and well-being of Maine women. So here is the mission of the MWL – you could always get involved if you’re interested!  For more than 30 years, the Maine Women’s Lobby has been working to increase opportunities – through education and advocacy – on behalf of women and girls. Our goal is to ensure that women and girls in Maine can lead healthy and productive lives free from violence and discrimination.  We bring the voice of Maine women through public policy development, education, and advocacy focused on four core issues: economic security, health care and reproductive rights, civil rights, and freedom from violence.

Disability Rights Maine: This is the state Protection and Advocacy agency. It provides free advocacy services for people with disabilities about legal issues related to assistive technology, employment, health care, housing, special education, voting and working while receiving disability benefits. Also investigates reports of abuse or neglect.

HUNGER A grunge textured digital illustration of a group of diverse hands reaching together in unity and support.

Good Shepherd Food Bank: The mission of Good Shepherd Food Bank is to provide food for those at risk of hunger by soliciting surplus food and distributing it to nonprofit programs throughout Maine. This link goes directly to their food map – just type in your zip and find resources near you.

UMaine’s Cooperative Extension: Maine Harvest For Hunger: A way to get involved, on a smaller level, to help feed the hungry (even if you don’t do more than maintain a summer/fall garden). Since 2000, hundreds of volunteers have donated more than 600 tons of fresh produce to hungry Mainers through UMaine Extension’s Harvest for Hunger program. We need your help! Home gardeners, farmers, employers, civic organizations, schools, and volunteers — you can help feed hungry Mainers.

Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative:   Preble Street is a great organization to support. They do so much more than the Maine Hunger Intiative; their mission is to provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty; and to advocate for solutions to these problems.

Community Supported Agriculture in Maine: With over 180 farms and 6,900+ shares, Maine’s CSA community is transforming relationships with food and farms. There is no formula to a CSA. Each is unique as the community supporting it. The bottom line is that people make commitments to farms, and in return farmers make commitments to produce for their members the freshest, most flavorful, highest quality food possible.

Cultivating Community: Founded in 2001, Cultivating Community creates and sustains greater access to healthy, local foods; empowers people to play many roles in restoring the local, sustainable food system; and models, teaches, and advocates for ecological food production.

Maine Farmer’s Markets that Accept EBT Cards: It is simple to use your SNAP funds at farmers’ markets! Most markets process EBT payments just like credit cards, and have a clearly marked table (often called the information booth) where you can pay for purchases and ask questions. Many farmers’ markets offer special discounts to SNAP customers (up to 50% off SNAP-eligible purchases). At some markets EBT and credit/debit card customers are given tokens to use for their shopping. Others give customers a list of the market vendors to keep track of purchases and pay at the end. Either way, it’s a simple and discreet process, and you’ll take home fresh, wholesome food for your family! These are the farmers’ markets currently accepting EBT payments.

 

Thanks for reading! Remember, if I missed something, please leave the information in the comment section below.


Eat This: 10 Simple and Sustainable Dietary Guidelines

Make It Salubrious, Make It Sustainable

You know what’s a good word? Salubrious. It means favorable to health or well-being. It’s not a word that makes any huge promises, and it’s a word that allows a little room for interpretation.

Another good word? Sustainable. It means able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed. It also means able to continue for a long time.

Here's a good mantra! Today I will avoid careless advice.
Here’s a good mantra! Today I will avoid careless advice.

Oh, and one last word. Reality. Our current global reality is that millions of people around the world go to bed hungry every night. Much advice about food and making food choices is simply careless. If it fills your tummy, ANY food has served an important role. Not everyone has the flexibility, time, or money to overhaul their diet, or to buy only the sprouted, the organic, the pasture-raised. If you do have the resources to buy the best food, that’s great. Avoid proselytizing.

With that out of the way, an ideal diet should promote health and personal well-being. It shouldn’t deplete our sacred natural resources. And it should be something that you can pull off, for a long time, as a lifestyle.

So, instead of writing a epic post about all of the different diets out there from which to choose (since it’s already been nicely written), I’m going to share some dietary recommendations that are non-controversial no matter what your foodlosophy.

If you can follow these simple dietary tenets most of the time, then you’re doing something good and you should drop you shoulders and relax a little. And I’m of the strong opinion that relaxation, in all its forms, may very well prove to be one of the the most important variables in the science of staying well.

Simple Dietary Tenets

1. Enjoy your food and the company in which you eat it. You’re sitting down for a big meal with friends. There is a veritable feast laid out before you. You are truly blessed.

Okay…fine. You’re not always in good company. Let’s say you’re sitting down for a work-sponsored lunch, and on a good day, the people you work with resemble a terribly dysfunctional family.

Wait! You are not doomed to stress-induced indigestion! Choose your seat wisely. Use your food as a meditation. You can totally tune out the drivel and focus on the pleasure of a warm piece of whole grain bread with butter. I know this…. because I lived this. There was this one woman, when I lived in Oregon, who called herself an “office manager” but who was really just a crazy, manipulative, awful mutha – – – Mmm, this bread is so chewy, and the butter is flavored with…is that cardamom? Ohhhh, sure, sparkling water with lime sounds nice!

2. Chew your food.  Take time to taste it. There are lots of secret flavors in food. Chew slowly and see if you can discover them.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, apples strengthen heart, tonify qi, quench thirst, promote body fluids, lubricate lungs, and resolve mucus.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, apples strengthen heart, tonify qi, quench thirst, promote body fluids, lubricate lungs, and resolve mucus.

3. As best as possible, avoid the processed stuff. Look at the ingredients. Look for the following words and do your best to avoid them: enriched, bleached, refined. Also, avoid to the best of your ability trans-fatty acids* (look for the word partially hydrogenated oils or ingredients including margarine and/or vegetable shortening) 

*Trans-fatty acids increase total cholesterol, raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Beyond that, TFAs may have adverse effects on cell membranes and the immune system, and may promote cancer and aging.

4. Go easy, sweetie. I don’t like it when people get all whack and start referring to white sugar as “poison.” White sugar isn’t poison. Yes, it can be addictive, and yes, too much of it over time can cause serious imbalance. But it’s not poison. Moderation – the annoying but best way to deal with sweets. Cuz lawd knows I’m gonna have a piece of that icebox cake every now and then!

Side note: Artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup are on my avoid-as-much-as-possible list.

5. As often as possible, eat foods in their whole form, and mix it up. In other words, as often as possible, stay away from the

Fiber. It's what's for dinner.
Fiber. It’s what’s for dinner.

boxed meals. If you’re crazy busy and can’t avoid them, just read the ingredients and chose the ones that do boxed-meals best at whatever your price point. Here’s a helpful little app that can help you choose your foods according to their nutrient density (most body-lovin’ bang for your buck).

a) Carb-lover? Cool! The advice is simple, yet complex…and it’s complex carbohydrates! (badum ching) Complex carbs include whole-grain flours, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans in their natural forms. These are all rich in fiber, which helps you feel full (yeah!) and helps you poo (yeah!). Fiber also slows the absorption of food and helps you avoid blood sugar spikes, which is good for regulating your insulin response.

b) Carnivore? Cool!  As much as possible, avoid meat that is factory farmed, processed, contains nitrates/nitrites or comes from animals that were given antibiotics. Look for the words organic and free-range. If you’re eating beef or buffalo, look for grass-fed. Reality check: This kind of meat costs more.

6. Prepare food with love. We are all rushed at some point in the day, and we’ve all snacked behind the wheel. Remember, these are goals that you are striving to meet most of the time. Had a Snickers while flying down 95N. So what? When you do have the extra time, a cutting board, and a sharp knife in your hand, infuse your pleasure and attention into what you’re making. See Like Water for Chocolate if you haven’t yet. Magic realism? Pshhaw. Food is qi. And so are we.

Community gardening = awesomeness.
Community gardening = awesomeness.

7. Grow your own food! If you have the resources and the desire, do it. A garden can create food for the body and the soul! Interested in gardening, but don’t have the experience, or a plot? Cultivating Community is here for you!

8. Eat more plants. Cuz it’s only gonna help. They’re like a Brillo for your bowels!

Side note: I know a couple of people who say they don’t like eating plants. If you are one of those people who grew up with canned spinach, I’m so sorry. But let me remind you – it’s pretty easy to make a mushroom taste like a steak, and roasted garlic is like mouth magic.  There are also endless recipes online/in print to assist you in learning how to prepare vegetables in a delightful manner. There are also lot of local restaurants who would be more than happy to help you fall in love with the things that grow from the ground. And there’s this, too. Eating healthy on $4 a day!

9. Don’t totally freak out if you can’t buy organic. I, for one, cannot afford to by all organic all of the time. Besides, sometimes I’m craving a specific fruit/vegetable, and there simply aren’t organic ones available. I am also of the mind that it’s better to eat fruits and vegetables than not. Wash your produce before eating. Know the Clean 15 to assist in flexibility.

10. Share. Don’t shame. Share. Whether it be tomatoes from your garden, a crock pot of beef stew, or your favorite recipe, sharing is usually a safe gesture of communion. And for the love of Gruyere, don’t shame. Consider history/culture when you decide that someone’s diet “is killing them.” There are varying degrees of need, and it’s our responsibility to recognize it. Besides, no one wants to sit down next to the proselytizer at Thanksgiving, right? Though… someone has to sit next to Uncle Tony. If it’s you, enjoy every moment of that perfectly brined free-range turkey, and I won’t judge you for that second glass of spirited nog.