Mom wasn’t eating. She was batty, not always oriented to time or place, but she wasn’t eating. The place thought she was just obstinate – or that her appetite loss was a manifestation of her disease – whatever that might be.
When I arrived at the “memory care center,” I asked her why she wasn’t eating . “The food is terrible. Its bland, they don’t know how to season.”
There it was – my mom, her brain might be a bit batty, but her taste was spot on. So I tasted her food – and she was right. She had lost twenty pounds on a couple of weeks, and at 87 you just can’t do that, besides what else was happening to her, she needed some strength.
Mom raised a cook. She taught me taste, flavor, combinations. It wasn’t easy- because growing up in Ketchikan, Alaska you didn’t have a lot of fresh food. The food we had was amazing – salmon, halibut, red snapper – all just a fishing pole away. We had seasonal wild berries, some planted rhubarb, and raspberries – but our vegetables came in a can. This was Alaska in the 1960’s – it wasn’t until later we were able to enjoy frozen vegetables.
But from that fare mom raised a cook. The salt shaker was not spared – she taught me that seasoning isn’t over salting, and that you can’t make up for a lack of seasoning with a salt shaker once the meal was cooked. She taught me that one note dishes are boring, and even if you have cans you can add spice to bring alive tastes. In this remote place of the world – where we had one tv station that started broadcasting at 5 pm and aired two day old NBC news reports – mom taught me about curries.
I went back to my dad’s house and made her a small meal, something simple – a hamburger- but it was a good burger, and some salad that popped with flavors. Not too much, she had not eaten much in several weeks. Mom devoured it.
That meal began mom’s recovery. I told my dad to bring her a burger sometimes from Wendy’s – and other foods. He did. Mom was able to come home. Good cooking- without it mom would have not eaten, she would have declined, and not come back.
So when I look at my son, in the kitchen I realize – I have to teach him to cook. Someday he may return the favor. And at least I can keep him from the bland world of institutional cooking that prevails in America.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.