On food, life, and stay­ing out of the can­cer mall

Pizza? Dough­nuts? Kiel­basa? No, thank you. We are kale peo­ple. Black­berry peo­ple

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LATHAM HUNTER Latham Hunter is a writer and pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and cul­tural stud­ies; her work has been pub­lished in jour­nals, an­tholo­gies, mag­a­zines and print news for over 20 years. She blogs at The Kids’ Book Cu­ra­tor.

The Spec’s list of 10 fi­nal­ists in its search for Hamil­ton’s #city­dish read like a gas­tro­nomic death wish. Here is how many things from the list that I would eat, or al­low my kids to eat: none. None things. Never. Peo­ple like me are often seen as Deb­bie Down­ers who don’t un­der­stand that we’re here for a good time, not a long time, etc. Per­son­ally, I just want to stay the hell out of the can­cer mall.

Let me ex­plain: my friend Ni­cole’s mother has stage four lung can­cer. Shortly af­ter she re­turned from her first trip to chemo­ther­apy, Ni­cole looked at me, kind of shell-shocked, and said, “Latham, it’s like a MALL. But in­stead of stores, there’s chemo. It’s like a can­cer mall.” I was re­minded of the scene from The Ma­trix where all the hu­mans are marinating in pods of goop while they’re plugged into … some­thing. I was never clear on that par­tic­u­lar plot point.

Frankly, it’s not hard to scare me with dystopic vi­sions of can­cer treat­ment. When it comes to can­cer, I’m all set in the fear de­part­ment. Per­haps it’s be­cause my hus­band and I com­mit­ted the wildly op­ti­mistic act of hav­ing five chil­dren with no ex­tended fam­ily to help with their care. I guess I feel like I should hang around for as long as pos­si­ble, prefer­ably with all of them alive, too. But I know five women my age who’ve got­ten can­cer re­cently (and I hardly know any­body).

You can’t guar­an­tee your­self a can­cer­free life, but you can cer­tainly play the odds: some­where along the line I re­al­ized that al­most ev­ery­thing my fam­ily was eat­ing had, in my mind, a pri­mar­ily anti-car­cino­genic prop­erty. We’ve gone way be­yond the abol­ish­ment of junk food and the switch to or­ganic.

I once read, for ex­am­ple, that eat­ing ex­tra-dark choco­late with blue­ber­ries helps the body ab­sorb the anti-car­cino­gens in the blue­ber­ries. So I’ve been eat­ing them to­gether al­most daily for more than a decade. My kids do the same, to the ex­tent that if one spies an­other sneak­ing some choco­late, they’ll yell, “Hey! You haven’t had any blue­ber­ries!” I also read that eat­ing av­o­cado with spinach helps the body ab­sorb 13 times the amount of nu­tri­ents from the spinach, so for years we had spinach salad with av­o­cado al­most ev­ery day (then I found out that Monarch but­ter­fly habi­tat in Mex­ico was be­ing threat­ened by av­o­cado farm­ing). We only drink wa­ter be­cause al­co­hol is a car­cino­gen and most other drinks are sug­ary.

We fol­low a veg­e­tar­ian diet for many rea­sons, but one of them is the fact that vege­tar­i­ans have a lower risk of can­cer. My fam­ily’s daily in­take in­cludes car­rots, cu­cum­bers, broc­coli, spinach, toma­toes, mush­rooms and blue­ber­ries. De­pend­ing on what’s in stock at the store, we’ll also eat can­taloupe, sweet pota­toes, as­para­gus, straw­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries, red pep­pers … th­ese are the high-im­pact, can­cer­fight­ing fruit and veg. White pota­toes? Corn? Don’t make me laugh. No in­deed, we are kale peo­ple. Black­berry peo­ple.

We don’t eat fried foods be­cause heat­ing most oils to a cer­tain de­gree makes them car­cino­genic. Any­thing fer­mented is good be­cause bet­ter gut bac­te­ria just might help ward off can­cer. I once made my own fer­mented tea but I don’t want to talk about that.

Sugar is prov­ing to be the fi­nal fron­tier. Safe al­ter­na­tives like ste­via are painfully ex­pen­sive. My poor 12-year-old son has re­cently dis­cov­ered bak­ing, so we fre­quently find our­selves ne­go­ti­at­ing frag­ile com­pro­mises; he wanted to bake me a birth­day cake with “REAL IC­ING SUGAR, MUM.” I said that if it was my cake, maybe we could try the choco­late ic­ing that uses puréed cashews and dates, in­stead? He rolled his eyes at me and fumed. So no, it’s not al­ways easy.

Many will read this and think I’m crazy (or even cruel) for lead­ing my fam­ily into this diet. But here’s the thing: I think you’re crazy for not fol­low­ing it. For a long time, I was slightly em­bar­rassed or apolo­getic for the way my fam­ily eats, as if it were the prod­uct of un­seemly para­noia or sever­ity. How­ever, this food life — hap­pily scarf­ing down steamed as­para­gus with my kids, lick­ing le­mon juice and olive oil from our fin­gers — is some of the purest joy I’ve ever known. Do I ever, for one sec­ond, wish that I was eat­ing sausage or dough­nuts? Never. They hold zero ap­peal. Food is meant to sus­tain and en­rich life, not take it away, and we are at a tragic point in our cul­ture when the bulk of what peo­ple eat in­creases their chances of mor­bid dis­ease, per­cent­age point by per­cent­age point. If blue­ber­ries and dark choco­late of­fer a chance, no mat­ter how small, at a life raft, who am I not to take it?


Blue­ber­ries — one of the can­cer-fight­ing foods Latham Hunter and her fam­ily swear by.

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