Don’t sugar the pill

Ivana Kadija

Ivana Kadija is made up of sugar and spice and everything nice, metaphorically speaking. Photo: Brian Wimer.

The final in a week-long series of profiles on moms I know in honor of Mother’s Day 2011.

Don’t mess with Ivana Kadija, especially if you’re either a multinational food processor or its lackey government agency. If you do, this otherwise holistic and somewhat spiritual mother of two just might shift into what she laughingly calls her pit bull mode.

“A pit bull with lockjaw,” to be more specific.

This is because Ivana’s on a mission. She wants to “to defend real food and unmask the imposters that make up the Standard American Diet (SAD).”

Mission oriented mom

As a great lover of food and all its sensory delights, Ivana has made it her passion to cook it and look into it’s history, cultural elements and what it’s made up of.

I love food. Eating it, cooking it, studying it. I also believe that what we eat affects our bodies, our minds, even our feelings. Food has a further function than building bodies. A cultural imperative. I don’t think we will survive if we don’t rediscover our food roots.

It’s that quest to rediscover food’s simplest yet most nourishing qualities that left her aghast when her kids entered public school and hit the cafeteria. It was then that Ivana gained insight into what passes as a nutritional food program. She wasn’t having any of it.

The crux of the problem: our kids are getting 25% of their calories from sugar on average! This is a substance that has not been available except in tiny quantities and only seasonally for 2 million years. And we have nearly doubled its consumption in just the last 30, concurrent with the obesity epidemic.

We’ve known for over 100 years that sugars drive obesity, which drives diabetes and heart disease (sorry, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not fat). Recently, thanks to Dr. Robert Lustig of UCSF, we’ve learned that it is not only displacing necessary nutrients – it’s toxic.

While the health establishment “impishly” calls for us to curtail our consumptions of it, they have effectively done nothing tangible to address the problem. Sugar still has no Recommended Daily Value (RDV). USDA guidelines remain at 35% by weight of any individual food item.

When was the last time you baked something that was 1/3 sugar by weight?

Rage against the machine, and some quiet work, too

Many of us are aware that American foods, especially in their institutional expression, not only fail to provide the proper nutrition, but are the end product of a country dominated by corporate interests who push their substances like drug dealers on an unwitting public, shaping both perception of what’s okay to consume and our state of health that ensues. To get really cynical, this shapes the business world, providing the perfect funnel into the money-interested medical and pharmaceutical establishment.

The whole matrix of it makes most people feel helpless. But Ivana feels empowered to fire back, even in simple ways at the grass roots level.

I don’t believe we can afford to wait for the Institute of Medicine, the AHA, the USDA or the FDA. They have failed us miserably. I believe that today we have to take our health and, more importantly, our childrens’ health into our own hands.

To that end she’s currently working as chair of the Charlottesville School Health Advisory Board on recommended regulations to address the issue on a school-wide basis. She’s lobbying for a comprehensive approach, meaning educating parents and addressing food in the classroom, after school nutrition programs, and at school-related celebrations.

The hope is that the school board will adopt a few regulations for implementation in 2011-12 and commit to working with us on a 4 year plan to significantly reduce sugar and sodium and to eliminate trans fat (hydrogenated oil). Since most processed foods contain sugar and salt, the obvious alternative is increasing whole foods, as well as encouraging non-food rewards and fundraisers.

Going mobile

I first learned about Ivana’s efforts to go from local activism to national activism when she and some friends, with the help of her filmmaker husband Brian Wimer, were chosen for a competition on transforming fast food.

Her second round entry, which we covered on Transition Voice, was designed to hit back just as hard at the front end pushers—the cartoons, clowns and corporate movie tie-ins—that make an end-run around parents to get their products into your kids’ mouths, and more importantly, into their heads.

Ivana’s team’s take was to use the same kind of highly targeted messaging to unmask and deconstruct exactly what corporate ad guys were doing to create manufactured need and want in our kids.

I loved her team’s entries because after working years in political coverage and on national issues, I know corporations are going to fight like starving dogs for their profits. We can’t be, er, kittens, in response. We have to be like Ivana’s pit bull.

Her team didn’t win, but she hasn’t given up. Not by a long shot.

I believe that more parents need to hear the real story of sugar. I’ve submitted for a grant to produce with Brian a viral video on sugar, a la The Story of Stuff and Girl Effect.

A woman’s work is never done

As if all of this doesn’t keep Ivana busy enough, she also has a private practice in Charlottesville called Yourishment. “I help people (one-on-one and in groups) lose weight, rid themselves of chronic pain, get over sugar addiction, provide real nourishment for their families and… enjoy life.”

She also lectures locally and teaches nutrition label reading in area schools.

What’s it all for?

And where are her kids amidst all this activism? At the center of her heart and life. It’s for them—and all kids by extension— that she hopes to make a better world. For her this ultimately begins at home where they cook together, garden, play, study, create and just live.

But as much as the day to day activities in her home create the story of their life, sometimes she just has to step away from that hub of activity. Then her favorite thing to do is grab the girls and head out for a local walk in a nature spot.

That is the only time that we can be truly tuned into each other. Or maybe it’s just me that has to be removed from home, office, kitchen, computer, phone, laundry, projects, clients and my business in order to be able to just listen.

It’s ruff out there

We women are multitaksers, to the nth degree, and we have been since time immemorial. Now it appears we have to be pit bulls, too, ever vigilant against a corporate and government plutocracy with it’s greedy eyes and salivating mouths staring at our babies from birth as mere repositories for the capitalist machine.

Is it any wonder that moms like Ivana are starting to growl?

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.

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