I first heard of Donna Karan’s organization, The Urban Zen Foundation, in 2007. I was moved and inspired by her mission of bringing an integrative, holistic approach to western medicine and patient healing. Much of her focus is patient advocacy for men and women coping with cancer. At the time I was working in research for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and had direct relations with end of life patients on a daily basis. The foundation resonated with me and I praised it often with our patients. I know that meditation, herbs, yoga and massage relieved and comforted many of the people I met.
Since then, Urban Zen has expanded its mission and so have I. Programs and workshops include children’s well-being, cultural needs, nutrition and food, Haitian relief and more. It wasn’t until this January 2010 that I finally attended my first workshop in their West Village studio. It was long overdue.
This was workshop #1, Rightsizing Your Waist and Plate, of a six part Food Solutions series they are hosting throughout 2010. The morning began with a presentation by Dr. Lisa Young author of The Portion Teller Plan. Eyes were wide as she discussed portion control in America and over consumption. From 1960 until 2000 portions have increased in everything from sodas, bagels, beer, candy, chips (all the good for you foods) by at least 50%. A bagel in 1960 was 2-3oz compared to 4-6oz in 2000 and the average coca-cola bottle has gone from 6.5oz to 20oz, over 3 times the size! The equivalent of a bagel today = 15 cups of popcorn, 1 muffin = 7 cups of whole grain cereal, 1 pint of OJ = 3 oranges and the average steak at a steakhouse has the protein equivalent to 18 eggs. The talk concluded with her mentioning that the genetic cause of obesity in America is only 1%. She might be onto something here….
Nutritional educators Stefanie Bryn Sacks and Amanda Archibald hosted the all-day event, providing educational information as well the coordination of a hands-on lunch. Our group of at least 60 put together a meal that included soups, grain salads and bean dips all prepared at our tables with nothing but knives, measuring cups, hot water boilers, blenders and the organic, vegetarian ingredients that were donated by Whole Foods.
One of the highlights of the day was the Flights of Flavor demonstration/discussion. Placed on every table was a flight of food (sampling of foods presented side by side for sensory evaluation). Think wine or cheese tasting. The flights each represented a different “veggie style” – groups consisted of 1. beets, butternut squash and sweet potato, 2. daikon radish, turnips and bok choy, 3. brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage (all were raw and cut into very small pieces). Many people had a hard time differentiating each cluster, what some found sweet others found bitter. What Amanda does is break down foods into categories such as sweet, neutral, earthy, bitter, spicy, tart, grassy etc…I think this is a great way to have fun with kids, significant others, family or friends and experiment with your taste buds and senses. Find what groups you like, explore and open yourself up to new foods found in that category you might not have otherwise tried. You never know, you might be a huge fan of turnips and arugula if you like spicy food and parsnips and fennel if you like sweet foods.
I have been invited to attend the 2nd workshop of the series tomorrow: Dr. Kenneth Bock and Dr. Stephen Cowan present Food Solutions: Managing Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies.