A look at life at the intersections of wellness, culture, and current events

Author: Markita Lewis

Thankfulness on an Anniversary

Thankfulness on an Anniversary

A year ago I made one of the most dramatic decisions in my life. I packed up all of my things, said goodbye to my friends and family, and moved to Los Angeles with only a vague idea of what life could be. Shortly after […]

My Personal Nosedive

My Personal Nosedive

Warning: Mild spoilers for S3Ep1 of Black Mirror titled “Nosedive.” I watched my first episode of Black Mirror by accident. The show has been on my “To Watch” list for several months, especially following the buzz for the “San Junipero” episode. I heard that Black […]

Synaesthesia: What is the taste of the color blue?

Synaesthesia: What is the taste of the color blue?

This fall, the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists (IASAS) is collaborating with the Art|Sci Center of UCLA to bring a series of events to Los Angeles to teach the general public about synaesthesia and bring together the international community of synesthetes. Through art exhibitions, the first IASAS Synaesthesia Symposium, and multiple live performances, the worlds of science, art, and synaesthesia are beautifully brought together.

But first: What is synaesthesia?

When I told my coworkers about these events, this was the first question they had for me. In short, synaesthesia means “a union of the senses.” It is a neurological condition in which a person experiences crossed responses to a stimulus. Someone may hear a certain word or name and experience a taste sensation. Sounds can produce certain colors, or even be coupled with a certain scent.

To date, there are at least 80 different types of synaesthesia that have been identified among synesthetes (individuals who have synaesthesia). And according to existing data, about 3.7% of the population who has some form of synaesthesia (though the absolute accuracy of this number is uncertain).

Building Bridges Art Exchange Gallery Exhibit

The series of events began with the opening reception for Synaesthesia: What is the taste of the color blue? at the Building Bridges Art Exchange. The gallery space was crowded as we experienced the interactive works of art. Along the way, I got to have some interesting conversations with other gallery visitors about how we process the world, the possibility of having a type of synaesthesia without having the language to identify it, and how Chris (and Daniel, and Lisa, and myself) tasted to a synesthete who processed words and flavors together. I taste like a pizza-flavored Combo, by the way.

My favorite non-interactive piece was looking at the Taste Map of the London Underground, where an artist assigned a certain taste to every stop on the tube. Some of the flavors included rubber, licorice, and baked beans. I’d love to say more the individual works, but I don’t want to spoil everything for you!

Synaesthesia Dance Experience!

At the opening reception, there was an advertisement for a Synaesthesia Dance Experience happening at the beginning of October. Work interfered with my other plans that weekend, so I decided to check it out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the theater, but I was extremely pleased by the time I left. The evening started  with a music performance in which we drank cherry Kool Aid, YooHoo, and grapefruit LaCroix to experience the sounds that one synesthete experienced/felt when she sipped these beverages.

The acts following that showcased a variety of talents – burlesque, ballet, aerial arts, group performance, and more! My favorite was done by a tap dancer. She rigged her outfit so that when she moved different parts of her body, not only did it produce a sound of some sort (words, dog bark, ocean sounds), it changed the color of her outfit. At times it was fun and easy to follow, but when layers upon layers of sound and color and movement merged with each other it created a chaos that was overwhelming on the senses.

Watching this performance made me realize something. While seeing the world in this different way can create beauty and a new way of interpreting the world, synaesthesia can make the world chaotic to process. After attending this event, I felt like I understood my friend with synaesthesia a little bit better. I felt more in touch with my own sensory perceptions and reflected on how I perceived the world. These events made me want to learn more about synaesthesia and other ways we differ in neurological processing.

The exhibit at the Building Bridges Art Exchange in Santa Monica is open to the public until November 15, 2017. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area!

#MeToo: Sexism and Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

#MeToo: Sexism and Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

If you’re one of my readers from Louisiana, you may already be aware of the John Besh scandal that came to light this past week. NOLA.com, the online version of The Times-Picayune, released details of an 8-month investigation on the disgusting sexism and sexual harassment […]

Nutrition Basics for Beginning Roller Derby Players

Nutrition Basics for Beginning Roller Derby Players

Hello everyone, I am Octavia Hustler, skater for Angel City Derby! When I’m not on skates, I work as a registered dietitian in Los Angeles. So why am I writing about this? Batty Davis from ACD reached out to me a few weeks ago to […]

From Brunch to Obsession: Bergamot Oranges

From Brunch to Obsession: Bergamot Oranges

Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to have brunch with friends who you haven’t seen in a long time. On a recent Sunday, I did exactly that. Along the way I also found a new flavor that I absolutely love: bergamot oranges.

That morning I drove over to the Beverly Hills farmer’s market behind City Hall to find some vegetables to go along with an egg scramble and a nice bread to balance the mostly savory spread we’d begun to plan. The vegetables were easy enough to find, though the search for bread came with a few more decisions. I finally decided on a loaf of raisin challah to accompany our brunch. Right before I left the farmer’s market, I stopped by a tent from Aris Natural Food and sampled several varieties of their sheep’s milk yogurts.

I would like to start by saying that my experience at the tent was absolutely lovely. The vendors who spoke with me were quite friendly and had great personalities. It also helped that I was showered with compliments with every sample that I tried from their booth. Several of their flavors were quite standard – strawberry, blueberry, and cherry- but still delicious. I was impressed by their apple caramel yogurt which was very rich and tasted like dessert. Then, the vendor let me sample the pergamot (also known as bergamot) yogurt. Seconds after tasting the yogurt, my face lit up at its sweet, citrus flavor. The bergamot was refreshing and felt very light compared to the other yogurts. Out of all of the yogurts available, I knew this was the one I had to purchase.

Fast forward to brunch.

After we ate our main brunch of egg scramble with veggies, freshly cooked bacon, and cantaloupe (for them), Kyla warmed the challah. Ultimately, we used the yogurt as a spread. The combination of the light, airy challah with the flavors of the yogurt was a winner – we absolutely loved it! I’m sure that if I didn’t have self control, I would have eaten the entire loaf in one sitting just like that.

Challah is truly amazing if you have not already tried some, by the way. Photo from Pixabay

Now I want to buy some bergamot preserves or something of the sort to get that same flavor!

Out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research on the bergamot. It is a citrus fruit with a green color similar to lime, bearing a pear-like shape (check it out in the featured photo). Production of this fruit is primarily limited to the Ionian Sea coastal areas of the province of Reggio di Calabria in Italy, though it is also grown in southern France, Cote d’Ivoire, and southern Turkey.  For you people interested in essential oils, it may be beneficial for digestion, relaxation, as a mosquito repellant, antispasmodic, and antiseptic (I strongly recommend doing research before deciding to use any essential oil).

As far as food goes, it is well known as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea, and recipes I’ve seen on the internet have used bergamot primarily in baked goods. Extracts from bergamot may lower cholesterol and fatty deposits in the liver, as well as lower blood sugar (according to this study). It’s surprisingly difficult to find any nutritional information on bergamot oranges in particular, but I assume it may be similar to other orange varieties in providing excellent amounts of vitamin C and varying quantities of calcium, potassium, thiamine, niacin and magnesium.

If you are into foods that are somewhat sweet, somewhat sour/tangy, then this fruit is something that you should try. It is quite refreshing and would satisfy the palate of anyone who loves citrus fruits!

Docs to Watch: Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth

Docs to Watch: Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth

When I talk about looking at the intersections of culture and wellness, this documentary is a prime example of what I mean. Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth is a new documentary produced by Quincy Jones III that looks at health behaviors within […]

My friends at the UN: A reflection on Charlottesville

My friends at the UN: A reflection on Charlottesville

Seeing the events in Charlottesville, there were many topics that I could have easily written about in response. I could have written about racism, the President’s responses, or the hypocrisy in defending hate speech that leads to real violence against other people. Or, I could […]

Advice on making a lifestyle instead of a diet

Advice on making a lifestyle instead of a diet

In 2009, Michael Pollan published a book called Food Rules. It’s a relatively short book that has 64 bits of advice on what to eat and how to eat. Some of the advice is useful, depending on what your life circumstances are. Some of the advice seems a bit pretentious to me, for example “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language,” or “avoid food products that make health claims.” In the case of the “Health Claims” bit of advice, there is literally a health claim for fruits and vegetables. You probably shouldn’t avoid those. Anyway.

Over the years of majoring in nutrition science and subsequently becoming a dietitian, my diet has changed dramatically. I like to think that I eat generally “healthier” but I don’t obsess over what I eat, nor do I feel guilty about anything I eat.

I have my own set of personal “food rules” that I like to call my ideal diet, and it’s been really useful to me. Not only does it have goals for eating certain foods, it also includes goals for food behaviors. Behaviors that I have developed over the years, and behaviors I’m still working on. Overall, it helps me keep a good balance as far as eating goes. And it’s not a diet – it’s just what I’ve integrated into my life.

I want to share these bits of advice with you so that you can start a healthier lifestyle without feeling miserable about it. Here we go!

Learn how to cook

At some point it stops being cute when you say “Lol, I only know how to cook ramen and toast.” You owe it to yourself to learn how to cook something. You don’t have to be David Chang or Wolfgang Puck, but you can learn how to cook some rice and bake fish. Roast a vegetable, even. Learning how to cook is advantageous in many ways – you can control what goes into your food, you can feel proud that you created something (hopefully) edible, it’s usually cheaper, and you get to have leftovers! And that’s only the tip of it!

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Try cooking something new every week (or at least once a month)

Once you start cooking, you can venture out to new foods and cuisines. Did you ever want to learn how to bake bread? Do it! Is there a dish that you want to recreate from a restaurant? Go ahead! Is there a new food item that you saw on Pinterest? I’m sure you can try it out! Sure, not everything will come out good (like my attempt to make chicken paprikash) but it’s worth finding out what you’re capable of. Also, you’ll get real tired of cooking the same 3 recipes on repeat.

Only one dessert per day (at most)

I like dessert. Sometimes I have dreams about eating cake, and they are great. I can eat a lot of dessert if the opportunity is presented to me, so I try to be mindful. If I’m going to have dessert, I try to have dessert only once a day. If there are multiple dessert options presented to me, then I think about a few things: which one will taste the best, which one have I not had before, and which one have I had recently. It helps me keep a good rotation of desserts without eating all of them. Yes, it can be sad to not eat all of the sweets, but it’s also sad to suffer the short- and long-term effects of excessive added sugar.

Figure out your food group goals

I have a food goal for all of the food groups. I consider the variety of items within the food groups, the amount that I want to eat per day or per week, and what foods I always want to have stocked within my fridge. For example, one of my fruit goals is to always keep apples in the house (and indeed there are some jazz apples in my kitchen). Another goal I have is to try different kinds of breads!

Photo from Kaboompics

If you don’t like it, it may be because it was cooked the wrong way

There’s a lot of food that I eat now that I didn’t think I would eat 10 years ago. Much of that is due to it being cooked the wrong way (too mushy, too dry, too hard to chew, etc) or by not having the right flavors. Give a food a shot by trying it several ways to see if you dislike it completely, or if there are certain ways that you’ll eat it. Due to international trade and mixing of cultures, many cuisines use the same ingredients in vastly different ways (varying in cooking style and flavor profile). Maybe you hate sauerkraut, but you love kimchi or curtido. You’ll never know until you try it…which leads me to my next bit of advice:

Try it for yourself

Word of mouth for some foods can be terrific, but in other cases it can be terribly misleading. The first thing that comes to mind is how television programs and movies promote the perception that all vegetables taste bad. For example, Brussels sprouts. Have you ever heard someone speak favorably about them on a popular television show? I doubt it. But have you ever had Parmesan-encrusted Brussels sprouts? Or how about honey and soy roasted Brussels sprouts?  I find them to be absolutely delicious. If you solely depend on other people to tell you what you should and shouldn’t like to eat, then you may miss out on really good stuff. The perception of taste varies between each individual (the science is very interesting, especially for “supertasters“). What may taste terrible for one, may be amazing for another! Gulp by Mary Roach briefly explores the science of taste in case you’re interested in learning more.

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak

Figure out your food needs in different environments

How I eat at home is quite different from how I eat at work, and there is surely a different set of considerations for the gym. Many environments force us to adapt our eating habits, and not always in good ways. Think about what can help you perform optimally (e.g., around workouts) or can throw your eating habits out of whack (e.g., snacks in the office or staff cafeteria). If you have a plan, you don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard.

Consider all dimensions of food and nutrition

This one varies on what you find important to you. Food is so multidimensional, and can include nutrition, taste, culture, health, accessibility, labor, craft-work, agricultural methods, sustainability, and more! Food doesn’t simply exist to nourish (or malnourish) us, so I think it’s important to think about your relationship with food, and the world’s relationship with food. Doing that may alter the way that you eat, or the way that you think about food. Before you do move forward with any significant changes, make sure to do research and find information from reputable sources (shoutout to Pubmed!).

Listen to your body

This one is super important! Your body can tell you a lot of things about your eating patterns. It can tell you if you’re dehydrated (drink more water!), if you’re not getting enough fiber (shoutout to the Bristol stool scale!), or if you’re eating too much or too little. Paying attention to how you feel physiologically after eating certain foods (heavy, tired, energetic, etc) can help guide you towards what kinds of foods you should eat more or moderate. Also, take notice of when you eat. Are you eating because you’re hungry, or because you’re bored? Once you figure out what your body needs, it makes a world of difference.

Disclaimer: This isn’t even the full extent of what I try to do to eat healthy, and I don’t even follow these all of the time. I do try to continuously figure out what works best for me based on research, new experiences, and learning about the complex topic of food and nutrition. You can try something similar, but ultimately food is highly individualized and there is no “one size fits all” eating pattern. Furthermore, how you eat is going to change throughout your life so go along with the adventure. 🙂

Until next time!

CONFIDENTIAL: Why everyone needs to have a secret project

CONFIDENTIAL: Why everyone needs to have a secret project

Today I’m working on a secret project. I’m very excited about it, and I’m putting a lot of effort into making it, but it’s a secret. None of you will find out right away what it is. Some of you may never know what it […]