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Learning from the Best: Being a Health Nut

By Kent Slocum

Quinoa image courtesy of glossophilia.org

Today--Ordinary Heroes

For more than a decade, I have taken my health, and nutrition, very seriously. “You are what you eat,” the old adage goes, and even though the Frenchman who coined the original phrase has been seriously paraphrased, this undeniable aspect of our lives still rings true. I regularly eat foods so varied that it is easier to list what I don’t consume: fast food, snack products, processed meats and cheeses, sugary drinks, and Jif® peanut butter. Although I attribute much of my well-being to abstinence from coffee or a regular exercise regime, the true heroes of my health are my parents (see Figure 1 below).

Last Century--Origin Story

Fig. 1 My parents taught me the basics of a healthy lifestyle.

A more accurate portrayal of my healthy habits would have my mother and father placed in center-frame. Working together as a team, my parents have deeply instilled the importance—and blessing—of bodily health in every one of their five children. But in order to understand the simple and syncretic way they have impacted my life, it is necessary to take a brief journey back to the twentieth century.

February 1997---San Jose, California

A baby cries in a cramped apartment. Parents Peter and Melissa Slocum are in the confines of the small kitchen just off the dining room, surrounded by dishes and obscured by a cloud of steam. Today is the first Saturday of the month: Cooking Day. On this day, the husband-and-wife team gather all of the necessary ingredients, summon their strength, and work mind-numbing hours to cook and freeze thirty days’ worth of food, enough to last a family of three for a month. This isn’t a novel idea: thousands of households have embraced the once-a-month cooking concept. However, the idea has revolutionized the Slocum’s health and vitality. For twenty-nine days of the month, having dinner is as simple as taking a meal out of the freezer and cooking it in the oven. Not only are fast food and take-out a thing of the past, but these frozen meals are far fresher and healthier than the housewife’s standard fare of mac and cheese, fish sticks, and pre-stirred peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Unknowingly, Peter and Melissa have just begun a voyage of dietary discovery, one that will have repercussions far into the future.

"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1826

June 2003—Eugene, Oregon

I was only seven when it happened. My father started biking to work, and suddenly I was catapulted into the world of physical exercise. Every day, my entire family had to elevate their heart rate for at least a half-hour. As it turned out, Schoolhouse Rock was right—circulation really is a craze— and I faithfully circulated around the block five days a week with my younger brother and sister in tow. The daily lap requirement started low: a full mile of running, then a mile of walking. Exercise didn’t make any sense at that time, but the workout was a parental mandate, so what was a young man to do? I ran. By the time my fourth sibling was born, I was regularly running and biking two to three miles a day, learning to conquer the fiery feeling of my lungs gasping for oxygen. Sometimes Dad ran with me—at other times, Mom jogged nearby. In this way, I came to love the outdoors and equate it with some of my most cherished family moments. It wasn’t just jogging, biking, and playing outside: countless hours were spent skating, swimming, jumping on a pogo stick, and tottering on stilts. Even as a busy high school student, I still carve out space in my busy schedule to break out-of-doors and gain new inspiration in the fresh air. With so many bike paths, hiking trails, and parks, there is no excuse for staying indoors.

Millet image courtesy of realfoods.co.uk

Fig. 2: Millet has impressive levels of nutrients.

December 1944—Colditz, Germany

The breakfast revolution was born in the most unlikely of places: the attic of a centuries-old castle. Working in secret, a daring group of desperate Allied prisoners were secretly constructing a glider, with which they planned to escape the unforgiving prison. To strengthen the glider’s fabric covering, the men ground up their daily ration of millet (see figure 2), adding water to create a thin paste that made the repurposed bedsheets as stiff as wood when they dried. Who would have guessed that seventy-two years later, this unusual grain found itself into my breakfast bowl, strengthening bones rather than glider wings? Few would have labeled my morning meal as earth-shattering, but this ancient grain and its unassuming cousin, quinoa (see figure 3), turned my world upside down.

Quinoa image courtesy of brainscape.com

Fig. 3: Quinoa is considered a complete protein.

After years of oatmeal and cold cereal, my Mother had freed me from the chains of modernization. Unlike wheat, barley, and oats, millet and quinoa have mostly escaped the twin dangers of industrialization and modification. No longer was breakfast a chance to fill up on empty calories—I was starting the day with powerful, fiber-rich nutrients that made me strong and turned Mom into a superhero.

November 2014—The Large Intestine

Despite the fact that I have been in school for fifteen consecutive years, I am certain that I have learned more practical information about health and nutrition from my parents than any class or textbook. After I recovered from a bout with pneumonia, Mom worried that strong doses of prescribed antibiotics had killed many of the beneficial bacteria in my digestive system. Following some research, she enlisted the support of Dad to begin a campaign to replace the vitamins and live cultures that my body so desperately needed. Obtaining fresh milk for kefir, eating regular portions of unsalted nuts, substituting sprouted-grain for whole-wheat bread, and eating spinach in place of lettuce cost more time and money, but my parents love me so deeply that they are willing to expend energy and make sacrifices. In return, I am honored to carry on their nutritional legacy. As I prepare to attend a four-year university, I have no intention of slowing down or falling into a dietary rut. In fact, I can hardly wait to see what exciting health opportunities are waiting just around the corner.

Heroes are overrated. Inspiration Isn't.

About the Author

Though born on November 24, 1996, in San Jose, California, Kent Slocum has spent most of his life growing up in Eugene, Oregon, where he was home-schooled for sixteen years alongside his four younger siblings. Having been accepted to the University of Oregon’s Lundquist School of Business, he will begin work on his Bachelor’s in the fall of 2016, with the goal of pursuing a Southern California internship with The Disney Corporation.