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Food as Medicine
Dora Pacias Is Proof of It
“We need to make the health of our bodies and lives our absolute priority. If we do and if we succeed in coming back into balance as we were when we were children, most of our other problems will disappear.”
— Dora Pacias
Dora Pacias, grower of natural foods and teacher of healthy living, together with her life partner, Lorenzo Candelaria of Atrisco, near Albuquerque, is known for her candor. It takes little prodding for her to state that just slightly over a decade ago, she, like so many others in our consumer society, had come to accept her poor state of health as simply part and parcel of getting old. After all, she was already over 65 at the time and beaten down by a lifetime of work as a social worker and mother of three, one of whom had taken his own life.
“It was typical for me to come home from the office where I had been sitting all day and have a quick meal followed by an evening of reading or watching television. The meal might consist of something that I picked up on the way home, a frozen dinner, or something straight out of a can. It didn’t much matter. The good eating habits I had enjoyed as the granddaughter of rural farmers who grew their own food had gone out the window as a result of abrupt social changes and endless media campaigns on television that helped turn me into a junk-food junkie. Sweets, especially, had a special place in my life. Breakfast might consist of coffee and a doughnut. Two or three sodas during the course of the day gave me a kind of pick-me-up where I’d experience a rush of energy for a short while. I could hardly resist a commercial fruit pie, loaded with sugar, white flour and preservatives.”
It was no coincidence that after many years of poor diet, little exercise and a mainstream society-defined purpose in life, she felt physically depleted and occasionally depressed. Significantly overweight, she repeatedly went on crash diets, followed by periods of ballooning out. “Sensing that something significant was off, one day in the year 2000 I had a doctor check my blood sugar level,” she stated. “The doctor was aghast when she read the results—360—together with indications that my cholesterol level was too high, as well as my blood pressure.” Dora was immediately put on diabetes medications. The meds invariably lowered her blood sugar levels, but at times too much, causing dizzy spells and a sense of weakness. The antidote to this was to eat something sweet such as candy to raise the blood sugar levels quickly.
Soon after that diagnosis, Dora went to Mexico, where she spent a year. During that time, while eating the traditional unprocessed foods of that country, she lost 30 pounds and reversed every symptom of diabetes. Upon returning to the U.S. and American food habits, however, both the weight and symptoms returned.
Dora was on meds for six or seven years before deciding to make some important life choices. She began paying attention to her diet and kept a log of everything that she consumed. By doing that, it was possible for her to take stock of how she was feeling and identify certain foods that might contain hidden sugar, white flour or too many carbohydrates, and ultimately, eliminate them. It took just four months for Dora to get off her meds because she was feeling progressively better and experiencing fewer and fewer of the symptoms associated with her illness. She also took up consistent walking as her preferred exercise.
“The big differences in my life really began to take place when Lorenzo and I met and we realized that we saw eye-to-eye on a lot of matters, including the soundness of our childhood diets and ways of life. We had grown up at a time when people worked hard, ate well and lived long. It certainly helped for Lorenzo to encourage the dietary and exercise changes that I was beginning to make, as well as for us to set off together on a totally new and radical direction. In time, that journey led me to reclaim not only my full health but also my passion for living. Today I have absolutely no signs of diabetes or high blood pressure, and my cholesterol levels are normal. I am thin, strong, happy and, best of all, energetic.”
Dora and Lorenzo realized that some foods could act as medicine and restore the body to health. Soon, with the assistance of supportive individuals and groups, they were immersed building a chicken coop, erecting greenhouses and planting acres of chile, corn, squash, melons, watermelons, and every other earthly fruit that would grow on their eight acres.
Now several years into this experiment, Dora and Lorenzo gather their own eggs, make their own yogurt, butter and cheese. From their two greenhouses they harvest a continuous stream of vibrantly colored beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, kale, swiss chard, spinach and lettuce, which comprise most of their daily fare, a good portion of which is raw. Upon occasion, they do purchase meat, fish, beans and potatoes at local markets, but that is about all. Routinely, they go the long way around and concoct simple, delicious meals that require nothing more than washing, peeling and cutting.
Dora spends much of her time planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing, preparing and preserving food, to say nothing of tending the home and keeping up with a tight circle of family, friends and pets. It’s hard work, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Living this way has allowed her to create a life of great meaning and has attracted a multitude of interesting friends and professional associates.
She has also returned to a kind of social work, one that operates from greenhouses and fertile fields. Twice a week, Dora and Lorenzo take their fresh produce to a market at a UNM medical clinic, where the patients make purchases to restock their kitchens.
At 76 years old, Dora weighs exactly what she did in high school. She says she feels far better than she did at 50. To hear her speak, with laughter and verve, about her own journey from sickness to health, from depression to delight and from a size 28 dress to a size 12, is proof enough that food can be medicine.
Alejandro López is a native New Mexican educator, writer and artist.
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