Thursday, April 4, 2013


I started this blog to share my love of Việt food and my nutritional lifestyle that promotes healthy, sustainable choices as I healed myself from auto-immune issues through food.  I am not a food professional.  I am a home cook--albeit anthropologically trained in the culture of Việt Nam at the doctoral level, investigative research analyst for almost a decade, and partially raised by my ông bà ngoại|maternal grandparents which informs my approach to the social history of foodways.  I am a improvisational, free-hand cook which means I don't always use measuring devices or follow recipes/instructions.

My Story*

After a lifetime of allergies, digestive discomfort, and chemical sensitivities--none of which my Việt Nam-born siblings share--I came to realize I was allergic to onions, sulfites, and especially food additives which are abundant in many of the condiments of Việt cooking (and present in American processed foods as well).  When I went to Việt Nam for the first time in 2000 for fieldwork, most of my symptoms abated.  I returned determined to eat organic foods.  Living in the Bay Area, organic food is accessible and plentiful.  Nevertheless, I continued to suffer seasonal allergies, chemical sensitivities, and continually elevated eosinophil levels.

At some point or another, while reading up on Pottenger's cats in order to educate myself about biologically appropriate raw foods for our cats, I read some of Weston A. Price Foundation's materials around native, whole foods nutrition which made an impression on me though I didn't attempt to adopt it beyond the basic principles of "eat what your ancestors ate."

In 2007, I tried the Eat Right for your Blood Type diet.  I eliminated wheat, dairy, corn and a host of other things.  For the first time in my life, my allergies went away for the most part which I attribute to eating avoiding most of the problematic processed foods rather than the quasi-scientific blood type approach.  I got pregnant right after this, and diet went out the window.  Nevertheless, anytime I felt them creep back, I eliminated dairy & wheat and the stuffy nose cleared up. 

When my daughter was born, we realized she inherited my allergic tendencies (weakened adrenals) exacerbated by the haagen daz bars I ate in the last trimester instead of high quality protein, and was allergic to dairy primarily, and sensitive to wheat.  So our family renewed our commitment to additive-free, organic/sustainably-raised real food when possible to heal our leaky guts.

As the cusp of 2011, I had a lot on my plate--I was a working mom at an intense workplace with monthly travel, volunteer contract negotiator for my staff union with weekly travel, my grandfather died, I started taking college courses on the weekend, we relocated to be closer to family and I gained a 1 hr commute each way, oh and I was still nursing my co-sleeping 3.5 yr old.  We "ate healthy" but what wasn't on my plate was a lot of vegetables and whole foods.  Did I mention I worked next to a panaderia | Mexican bakery?  Yeah.  Mmmmm donuts!  Something had to give--I'd already sacrificed much of my social/activist life and to a certain extent my relationships--and so, it was my health that finally gave away.  I burned out or when I'm more bleak about it, I had a nervous breakdown.  It's taken me 2.5 years to crawl, claw, and climb my way out of the fatigue and flatness of life that I thought was just a measure of working zombie parenthood.  i won't get too into how I healed myself in this blog (a longer recounting of my journey over here and here).  Suffice to say it was by eating organic, real foods, hydrating, cultivating self awareness, and sleeping a lot.  I firmly believe Food is medicine.

Along the way, we've become foodies that occasionally buy a whole hog (heritage and organic and directly from the farmer, natch) and found it vastly superior to any supermarket or "natural" pork. (Red Wattle pork has been known to make me cry.)  We became one of those people:

Actually, we do have a dose of practicality & humor about this.  We strive not to be zealous.  (Except when it comes to pork.  I'm known to start flame wars about pork.  They are monologues since no one cares to contest me, but just so you know...)

After spending a couple of years recuperating from adrenal fatigue syndrome, I've eliminated wheat, dairy, refined sugar, soy, food additives, alcohol, additives/preservatives, and stimulants (no more cà phê sữa đá--sob) to heal myself (along with nutrition response testing & whole food supplements and a lot of energy work).  For anyone growing up in America, it is very hard to give up those highly addictive things--especially without sugar or wheat or dairy or alcohol or coffee to make up for it.

We don't adhere to any particular "The NEWEST Miracle Diet".  We eat what feels right to our bodies ("bio-individuality" is a term I was recently introduced to that I like without knowing much about or thereby attaching myself to the intellectually copyrighted product that goes with it).  My nurse practitioner (who is also an acupuncturist) called it anti-inflammatory diet and I'm sure there's a affinity to GAPS diet/Primal diet though I've never read much on either and I happen to believe--along with archeologists, anthropologists, and microbiologists--that humanity has evolved the capacity to digest grains after 10,000 years.  There's an affinity to Weston A. Price too although I think its recommendations can be overly generalist/universalist with a bias towards its main constituency of Euro-Americans, especially in its raw milkism (just because it's good for some people doesn't mean it works for the other 95% of humanity;  I mean my ancestors did not consume non-human milk in any form).  Occasionally, we indulge in things we shouldn't; though more often than not, I pay a steep price for indulgence.

As we started to care more about what went into our food, we started to really see food as medicine--the old adage: "you are what you eat" speaks truth--and to enjoy real food.  The end result is that we are the normallest people and we really like to eat good food.  We are usually too busy eating to take photos of everything we eat.  So I'm sorry this blog won't be sexy and monetizing in that way.  (I should also mention that I don't know how other foodies manage to take DSLR quality photos in the middle of making something and not get their very expensive cameras dirty beyond belief--tripod and remote in a ziploc perhaps--or spend precious moments of their lives prolonging the task of making a meal to pause & take photos of every iteration.  Although I am an amateur photographer myself--I use a Lumix G5 because a DSLR is too damn heavy to take to birth events--I rather enjoy the challenge of taking good photos with a crappy droid phone camera.)

[I should also mention that my beloved big brother has been working in the high end restaurant industry for decades (we're talking Michelin stars, James Beard, and well-earned snootiness, not yelp dilettante snootiness) and he has always introduced me to delicious, gourmet food & wine.  I had my first taste of caviar albeit with tortilla chips when I was 16 or 17, which is a big deal to a kid fed by food stamps and single, working mom cooking (not bagging on it, it's just filled with shortcuts).  And I will still go on and on about that 1986 Vouvray that tasted of innocence and unicorns...  Dude, you know what to get me for my birthday, right?]

So what is the point of this long-winded narrative?  I eat Real Food and when it comes to Việt cuisine, I eat Real Phở.

When I say real, I mean food that is grown in the earth--not in a factory/laboratory--without the use of synthetic, toxic chemicals.  This is how food has been cultivated since humanity became agrarian.  There is a perception out there that organic is a lifestyle choice--a bourgeois lifestyle choice.  To that I respond: Food is a human right.  Food is medicine.  Food is political.  At a time when multinational biotech conglomerates own 82% of the seeds worldwide, ergo almost all the food that humanity relies on, choosing organic is not a privilege, it is an act of resistance.  Saving seeds and growing one's own food is revolution.  Stick it to The Man, grow food, not lawns; support local organic farmers.

Getting back to cuisine--Việt food is marked by its mutability--"fusion" in the popular cooking parlance--a distinctly Southeast Asian palate converges with influences from Indian, Chinese, French, Khmer cuisine.  All these flavors can exist in the same dish and yet still be distinctly Vietnamese (I mean I had Viet sushi in Sai Gon in 2000.  It was Japanese inspired for sure, amaebi, but only a Viet person would think to throw chili paste in the wasabi.  Chili + Wasabi = Double Punch.  Viet ingenuity, that's how we won the wars.)  Moreover, most dishes are highly personalized so that each person sitting down at that meal can have it the way s/he likes it.  I find using whole food ingredients--organic or sustainably-produced when possible, without chemical additives--heightens the experience and enjoyment of the food.  While I like to take food to its ancestral roots, I am not a purist.  I enjoy boosting the nutritional content with superfoods.  I've been known to put kale & zucchini in my soups.

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!
*My disclaimer found here. You can direct any questions to my lawyer Bob Loblaw.

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