Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine!
By Sherri Beachfront Lewis
February 17, 2010
As I gleefully shop at my natural food markets and fill my reusable environment-friendly shopping bags full of greens, beans, whole grains and non-dairy products, I truly feel blessed by the choices I have and how fortunate I am to be able to afford to eat well. And yet I sometimes wonder: Have we discounted the importance of food as a healing component? Has the accessibility of HIV drug treatments made us so passive that we forget that we can still be our own best physicians if we are in touch with our bodies, minds and inner beings?
I was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s when HIV was still considered a death sentence. At the time, there were no effective medicines to fight HIV. So I had no choice but to seek alternative treatments. I had to think outside of the box because not doing so would mean I'd inevitably succumb to AIDS.
I was determined to go to any lengths to stay healthy -- even if it meant eating seaweed! And I did! From seaweed to wheatgrass to acupuncture and visualization with Dr. Bernie Siegel (an oncologist who joined forces with a woman named Louise Hay at life-changing workshops that I attended), I sought out alternative treatment information like my life depended on it because it did.
I was determined to reclaim my life, to sustain my health, to learn how to live with HIV, and to remember that food was my medicine.
"Food, glorious food, I'm anxious to try some," the chorus of orphans sings in the grand musical "Oliver." How important is food? It provides healing and nourishment on so many levels -- emotionally, spiritually and physically.
There are an abundance of choices for those who want to become more conscious about food they eat: You can try a healthy vegetarian diet or start eating macrobiotics. Or you can decide to just become more conscious about the quality of your daily food choices. There are so many options for people with varied lifestyles. What is universal is the necessity for healthy food to sustain life and keep your immune system strong. I am fully conscious of this fact, having counseled countless people -- including friends with HIV -- for over 20 years. The notion of food as medicine wasn't always understood. But when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Even though I'm on effective HIV medications, I still eat like my life depended on it. I often catch myself singing as I decide which greens to pick and what to prepare each night. I make going to the market a daily event, and it is a real pleasure. And I love my broccoli! You just can't eat too many greens! I know you think I'm crazy. I thought the same thing when I began shopping with my macrobiotic teacher and she sang and spoke to the vegetables like Dr. Doolittle-gone-veggie! Through this process, I learned that, "The more live foods you eat, the more life you have."
It's a basic principle and a reasonable concept. As the person at the register rings up my bags of healthy foods, I catch a breathe of gratitude. How fortunate I am to able to fill up bags full of organic delicious foods. Squashes and carrots and healthy treats for that sweet tooth! I have learned how to nourish myself in a way that I believe has enabled my healthy immune response during my many treatment-free years (when no treatment was available!) and continued to provide me with good health when effective drug therapies were introduced in 1997.
I believe that the physical effects of good eating were imperative in slowing the progression of my HIV infection. Conscious, healthy eating also empowered me during a period where I felt powerless due to the lack of effective drug therapies. I had the support of wonderful mentors, people who understood how important it was to feel cared for. The importance of healthy food played such a significant part in a feeling of well being. I came to learn that it is not just nourishment for the body but also for the soul.
As a Jew, I know that food has always been the centerpiece to the Jewish household and the story of the gift of life -- manna fell from the skies and nourished the Jews through their years in the desert and sometimes the deserted times of our lives. When manna fell to the earth for the hungry and needy, it was the sign that we were being watched over and that we would be OK. Born were faith, hope, love and nourishment from that act.
Unfortunately, too many HIV-positive people can't access healthy food. They don't have the money and they don't even know where to begin. But there are organizations that can help. In Los Angeles, Project Angel Food has been helping to feed people with nourishment and compassion for two decades. The Project helps people living with HIV, cancer and other catastrophic illness who would otherwise be unable to feed themselves. The volunteers at Project Angel Food prepare meals with love, they deliver the food to the recipients with care and tenderness, and they provide a service that changes lives by truly making and delivering, as they call it, "food with love."
This year marks the 20th year that Project Angel Food has provided meals with love for those in need. One of Project Angel Food's many fundraising events throughout the year is the Angel Awards. I have had the wonderful experience of being part of the Angel Awards and have seen firsthand the effect that this organization has. I attended the Angel Awards when they celebrated the 20th anniversary of Project Angel Food by honoring their heroes, the ordinary that do the extraordinary, day after day, meal after meal, year after year.
VIDEO: The Angel Awards 2009
At the 2009 Angel Awards, Sherri interviews Project Angel Food's dedicated volunteers about how they got involved in the project.
At the Angel Awards, the organization's founders were astonished by how far they'd come from humble beginnings to owning their own building with a new, professional kitchen to cultivating a thriving volunteer and donor base. Project Angel Food has touched so many lives. Twenty years, 6 million meals! "For life, for love, for as long as it takes."
There are food programs similar to Project Angel Food in many cities. In New York, there is the amazing organization, God's Love We Deliver; in Atlanta there is Project Open Hand; and in Chicago there is Vital Bridges. Many other cities have excellent programs like this where people with HIV can get healthy food to strengthen their bodies. So whether you have the resources or not, "Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine."
Sherri Beachfront Lewis was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987 after a routine blood test for her marriage license. She was one of the first women to be diagnosed with HIV in the United States and still be alive and well. In the past 20-plus years, Sherri has worked with and coordinated numerous HIV/AIDS research and advocacy efforts. She's been a columnist for Arts & Understanding Magazine, a national HIV/AIDS publication, highlighting the stories of women living with HIV/AIDS. She has graced the cover of POZ Magazine and been featured in the Washington Post. Sherri has performed with Sheryl Lee Ralph and Patti La Belle at DIVAS Simply Singing, and with Broadway CARES/Equity Fights AIDS in her hometown of New York City.
Sherri recently reclaimed her entertainer's identity as Sherri Beachfront, an 80s pop diva, as the host of Straight Girl in a Queer World -- a series of 60 podcasts for Here! Networks in which she interviewed a wide range of fascinating guests between 2007 and 2008. Download and listen to Sherri's podcasts!
Become friends with "Straight Girl in a Queer World" on Facebook!
Speaking engagements: Sherri Beachfront Lewis is available to speak to groups. Contact Sherri about speaking at your organization or event!
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November 30, 2011 - Imagine, Visualize, Act: A Blog Entry by Sherri Beachfront Lewis
October 25, 2011 - Walk, Talk and KLEAN: A Blog Entry by Sherri Beachfront Lewis
November 9, 2010 - Life Is Best in Drag! A Blog Entry by Sherri Beachfront Lewis
October 22, 2010 - D as in "DOG," as in Vitamin D: A Blog Entry by Sherri Beachfront Lewis
August 13, 2010 - Romeo Is My OWN: A Blog Entry by Sherri Beachfront Lewis
Interviews With Sherri:
Former Pop Star Sherri Lewis Talks About Living With HIV (October 2009)
This Month in HIV: Tips and Tricks for Coping With HIV/AIDS (November/
Washington Post Profiles HIV/AIDS Advocate, Singer Sherri Lewis (December 23, 2008)
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