Corn Pops is mightier than growing your own food…

I don’t understand my father sometimes. I love him so much. He has been an amazing father…
…but, the dude just can’t shake the addictions he has to junk food. He has diabetes and survived renal cancer in 2007. The renal cancer was linked to smoking for 45 years. The diabetes is from his horrible diet.

When I flew out from California to New England to visit my parents and brother this summer, I watched in horror as my father would sit down at the kitchen table and pour himself a bowl of Corn Pops and literally poured 1/2 can of condensed milk on top of them. Did I mention that he has diabetes? I asked him why he is eating like this and he repeatedly tells me that he just can’t shake his addiction to crap food. Intellectually, he knows that these foods (well, ‘unfoods’) are killing him, but he keeps on saying that his body is addicted and that at least he quit smoking (which I am proud of him for doing so).

Now, what I also need to share is that I keep on reading that black folk in the USA have higher rates of diseases, related to poor nutrition. I keep on reading that the urban poor black folk eat the way my father does because of food deserts, lack of access to their own land to grown their own food, lack of farmer’s markets, etc. If one is given better access to healthier foods and is taught how to grow their own food, their nutritional health will change dramatically. But here is the kicker…

…my father has lived in a rural area on 2.5 acres of his own land for the past 30 years. He has his own orchard and garden. I grew up with a man who knows how to grown just about anything in the zone that he lives.

Blackberry from my father's orchard

Hazelnuts, chestnuts, watermelon, tomatoes, peaches, pears, apples, lettuce, squash, walnuts, pau pau, currants, blueberries, string beans, corn, asparagus, rose hips, and blackberries are the many beautiful foods that he grew and I ate like crazy while growing up. My father can tell you why he grows what he grow, and how it helps one’s health. For instance, he grows rose hips so he can get the best source of Vitamin C. He grows garlic for an immune booster. Below is a picture of one of his chestnut trees.

But sitting at the kitchen table with him, or looking at him eat Oreo cookies, a bag of pork rinds, and struggle with maintaining healthy sugar level, hypertension, and weight, you would never know that he is a master gardener, an expert in edible landscaping, and very knowledgeable when it comes to using herbalism. Obviously, despite having everything he needs to be healthier, he can’t kick his addictions to what I call, ‘death foods.’

I know he gets why I eat whole foods vegan diet. He always says that it’s healthy and if more people ate that way they could avoid diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.
It is incredibly painful to come home and open the cupboards and the pantry and see the ‘death foods’ that my father continues to eat. It breaks my heart when he consciously tells me, “I just can’t help it. My body is addicted to it.”  The addictions are obviously incredibly strong, because despite having everything he needs to be nutritionally healthy, he isn’t doing it.

Schizandra Berries That My Father Grows
Schizandra Berries That My Father Grows

And I feel angry, and scared, and at a loss because I fear that my father will be like so many black men who die far younger than they should because they are addicted to these unfoods. His addiction must be incredibly difficult to overthrow, I guess. This man was able to quit smoking in 1 day, after his doctor told him, “You have diabetes. If you don’t stop smoking I am going to cut your legs off in a year.”

But sugar seems to be far more addictive than his Winstons, I guess. I can’t believe that Corn Pops, pork rinds, condensed milk are mightier than growing his own food; mightier than the fact that he intellectually knows what he should be eating; mightier than the 30 years worth of herbalism knowledge that he has.

Corns Pops continue to win. It must be some form of legal crack cocaine. How else do you explain it!?

Obviously, something more is needed to get people like my father to stop eating ‘death foods.’ I’m simply can’t find research or books that looks at how it is possible that despite having his own land, not living in poverty, being a Master gardener, people will still reach for that box of sugar coated sugar Kelloggs cereal.

Does anyone else have this experience with a loved one, or is my father an anomaly?

0 thoughts on “Corn Pops is mightier than growing your own food…

  1. no i see this with multiple people in my family. discussing herbal remedies and healthy options one minute then defending their meat in everything/ fast food/ soda diet the next. not that i bring it up. it’s me not eating that promps the meat rally. they commend my daughter’s eating habits then lecture about the lack of meat the next. what can you do?

    1. I don’t know what I can do 🙁

      I guess what confuses me is that my father knows and says he shouldn’t be eating this crap and simultaneously he also supports my way of eating and knows it is healthy…but then he overdoses on Peppridge Farm cookies. I guess it could be worse: Both my mother and father could have this addiction, but my mother is incredibly healthy and eats far better than he does and has not health problems at all.

  2. This might be about control. Yes, certain foods have no health benefits and can bring about disease and what not. But at the same time, those “death foods” hide the pain of living, numbs you out.

    And sometimes, you (not YOU) think you’re invincible.

    It’s the same thing as not wearing protection during sex because you don’t believe you’re going to catch anything or get pregnant, that only “bad” people or people who behave in certain ways catch AIDS and what not. And yes, people STILL think that way.


    1. Melissa my dear, you are not helping ! LOL

      But yea, I grew up on Corn Pops and I do “crave” the taste, but have not had any since I was probably 21 or 22 years old (mr pre-healthier days from 11 years ago). I swear, they must put something in these unfoods, because I still “dream” of eating the foods I now will make me sick. I crave KFC still. During my pregnancy, I had dreams about eating it and tasted it in my dreams (then felt guilt about it in my dreams). I would love to know what is going on and how it is that I have these cravings for such manufactures foods.

  3. If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t had Corn Pops in about as long as you, either.

    Foods have chemicals in them, so natural, some manufactured. And food is, like you experienced, connected to memory and family.

    There are opiates in mother’s milk so that babies (humans and animals) know to come back for it so they won’t starve.

    Labs in Jersey concoct perfumes to spray on foods (like french fries) so that when you walk into a fast food restaurant, you’re pulled in by the smell – even if you didn’t plan to order them.


  4. B,

    Ok, what follows is an un-scientific way to explain something I know is true from experience…

    Note that your dad’s body system–diabetic–can bring about fierce cravings for high sugar/high starchy foods due to blood sugar levels. Right before I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes (a different disease than Type II, admittedly) as a child, I was suddenly craving all kinds of gross sugar products. I was not that kind of kid, realize. I was not a fist-in-mouth, sweets-eating type of child. But when your blood sugars go up and up and up, and you get thirstier and thirstier, and your system is all out of whack, for reasons I can’t entirely explain (but I am sure you could actually find if you looked for them), you crave the sweets. Whether you know why or not. And it is beyond willpower
    in many cases, my love. It’s a low-down physical need that is driven by the cycle of extremely high blood sugars/low blood sugars/high blood sugars, and so on. Honestly. The issue is staying away from these things long enough to “break” that taste for the sweet, or for the white starch, because these are the items that send our blood sugars soaring. Bring his blood sugars down to a normal level long enough (constant monitoring) and perhaps he’ll crave less crap, and be able to “control himself better” in other words. Hope this helps a little?

    1. I don’t think he has ever fasted in his life… Nor would he have the will to do so, I think. Oh well, it’s complex. I don’t want to judge him, I’m just really worried about him and understand that it’s a really hard addiction….

  5. I feel your pain Breeze, this is the story of my beloved Godfather, and the ‘special’ uncle in my life who has diabetes as well, and my dad who has even more serious health ailments than diabetes, most of which are diet and alcohol abuse related. My dad gave up the drink but continues to eat an absolutely horrible diet high in animal fat and sugar, as does my uncle. These are two men who spent their early childhoods growing up in a rural part of Cape Cod to first generation American farmers, who came from an island plantation and therefore knew how to grow EVERYTHING naturally. I don’t know how this happened to them after such a natural and healthy childhood. Both of them seem to me to be completely addicted to meat and sugar.

  6. Breezer,

    I know you aren’t trying to judge, because that’s not how you roll, but listen: what I am saying is that it goes beyond “willpower” with food or “addiction” to food–when your body is at the mercy of blood sugar levels, it impacts you in many many ways. Physically, even psychologically. You know how you said your dad was able to walk away from his smoking addiction because of what his doctor said? He does have the ability to think on something and decide, NO.

    But when someone is, basically, at the mercy of unsteady blood sugars, something you cannot see, and can feel, but it’s not clear that what your feeling is due to your blood sugars being 350, this can be confusing and frustrating, to say the very least. This is not cool, let me tell you. it’s not just that he “doesn’t want to” but it can be that he CAN’T. Think of it like really having to go to the bathroom, and doing whatever possible to reach one, then just peeing a little bit, and you wonder: Really? That’s it? Maybe that’s not the best comparison, but, bottom line is, his body needs SOMETHING, and when it’s out of whack, it’s pushing him toward the WRONG something.

    And the fight will really be this: to get him to constantly–up to 8 times per day at least, before and after meals–check his blood sugar levels and act on keeping them “normal”–75-120, under 150 at least. And then take his insulin accordingly. This is so so so hard. But when your blood sugar levels are at this “normal” rate, your body craves less sugar. It is that straightforward. The higher they climb, the more your body craves more “sugar.” Also! He told me when I was visiting that sometimes he takes upwards of 20 units of insulin at a time. We chatted about this–this is not a good idea. It is WAY too much, no matter how high your blood sugars are. I told him that this sends your body into yet another cycle–climb, climb, climb, then fall, fall, fall. This makes you literally feel ill. If not sweaty, shaky and, yes–moody–then lethargic and possibly depressed. And definitely, when blood sugars are low, RAVENOUS. For ANYTHING you can get your hands on. And then, yes: if what is in the cabinet is Corn Pops and white sugar…off we go on the cycle again. All of this because of your blood sugar levels. Not coupled with the rest of life, the world, reality outside of our body. And forget anything else going on WITH your body. That’s the thing about being a diabetic–it seems like it’s not really such a big deal, it’s mostly controllable, definitely treatable–largely asymptomatic. But the problem with it is that your body is not cooperating. Sometimes on many levels. And this can make people unhappy, unbalanced, and then your blood sugars contribute to this whole picture, and it is all related, whether or not that is immediately recognizable or not.

    All I can suggest, to really break this, is to start with the blood sugar levels. This is on your dad, but he’s strong and he’s smart, and I think he could do this to start if nothing else. Get the blood sugars down for a few days to start, and keep a journal of foods/insulin taken/blood sugar levels/time/mood. I think the idea to follow through with at this point is to NOT–that’s right, I said not–cut out his sugar. Fine, going to continue to eat sugary cereals? Ok, BUT! make sure blood sugars are good first (within 80-120 range), then check 45-60 minutes after eating. Oh, they’ve climbed 250 points? Hmm. Take a small amount of insulin (5-7 units) and monitor them again in 30-40 minutes. Are they good? Was the sugar worth the extra shot? Ok. Or, are they dropping too much? Have a piece of fruit. And on and on with it. All of this too much? Perhaps skip the cereal/sugar/candy today…You can’t tell anyone what to do, of course. And as you know, I’ve struggled with all of this since I was 9. But, if you can get him monitoring and controlling his blood sugars, he WILL feel better. And if he can commit to say, 4 weeks of doing this (without cutting out the sugar, but constantly monitoring his blood sugars so that they are at the correct levels), he may just feel the blood sugar control feels better than the sugar high/low. And healthier. And that feeling can be– absolutely–addictive.

    PS–I feel I should say before he really starts to adjust his insulin regimen, he should see his doctor…but that’s regardless, he should see a dr. and a nutritionist, and maybe even discuss changing his insulin if it does not work for him (I now take mine before each meal and bedtime). Love ya.

  7. My dad, who died almost a year ago now, of colon cancer, didn’t know much about natural foods or gardening or herbs. While he fell for one health food scam or another (usually some kind of miracle pill or herb to use as a supplement), he continued to eat his high-meat food. Mom, who had learned to cook a fair bit of basic vegan fare for my brother, as well as my partner and me, nevertheless continued to cook fatty meat dishes for him because she didn’t want to deny him his comfort foods as his life dwindled away.

    On the diabetes/diet/insulin note, I recall Dr. Colin T. Campbell, in The China Study, cite an important study wherein it was found that a number of not just Type I, but even Type II diabetes, after going vegan, were able to ditch their insulin. As soon as these same people reverted back to their animal-based diets, however, their systems also reverted back to insulin-dependency. If you haven’t yet read The China Study, I highly recommend it. I actually read it as my dad was fading away yet found myself unable to do anything about it as he was not receptive even to the idea of ditching animal-based foods. After all, his bible told him god had put animals there for us to eat. So how could it be bad?

  8. greetings breeze!

    i’ve come to this same point of frustration time and time again. whether people are convinced about health choices, ethical choices, historical realities, or simple manifestations of fact and truth, acting upon that conviction is a whole other dilemma. there’s something within the being of a person that seeks self-satisfaction, even if at the expense of self-preservation. if a person is not prepared to fight, overcome, or challenge that part of their self, they will succumb, irregardless of the consequences.
    i heard the poet amir sulaiman say something that really stuck with me: “turn yourself on your self, so that you may live”. the rest of the poem/song describes an internal battle and a need to conquer one’s self before attempting to conquer battles that exist outside of one’s self. we all face these battles with varied levels of success, depending on how you describe or measure success.
    this reminds me of the first vegan i ever met. she initiated recycling on campus, gave out peta pamphlets but abused herself via drinking, drugs, and casual sex, that she often regretted, every weekend. it made me wonder how she could have more respect/regard for nature and animals than herself.
    continue to strive to embody the principles that you hold to and encourage your dad when he makes healthier choices. are there any organic imitations of corn puffs out there??? i’ve found that people tend to close themselves off when they feel guilty but that shouldn’t keep you from reminding him of better options, offering better options and making them as appetizing as possible.
    unfortunately, it’s not a battle you can fight for him. until he’s assured of his power to overcome his cravings, he may not even attempt to try. empower him as much as you can, however you can.

  9. No your dad is not the only one! I live in a house with a husband who is addicted to junk! He’ll tell me not to buy it, then when I don’t he gets it anyway! I am trying to kick the addiction to sugar myself. Boy is it hard. I am trying to increase the agave nectar and or honey and eleminate the white sugar. Candy has been my “crack” addiction since I was a child. I supposively gave it up for lent:( I’ve had several set backs, but I am not giving up. I’ve heard that one should take baby steps. Well the meat has been off my plate since December 28/30 and now I am adding dairy. I am starting with the milk and cheese, then eggs. I actually don’t like cow’s milk so it really hasn’t been much of a problem aside from cooking. I have bought my first carton of rice milk. I’ve used soy in the past. Addictions are hard to break in my household. I think that if I had the fruit from your dad’s garden it would be a little easier for me, but you never know until you experience it. I just found your post today via clutch magazine and I am learning so much. I have written down many authors to read this summer.

  10. does enybody know how to grow schizandra? I love this berry but it is quite expensive on buying the dried berries. I live in greece and i am very interested in growing just one plant for my personal needs. Many thanks for any reply

      1. I think “addiction” is way more complex than we really understand, and anyone who says it’s just one thing is over-simplifying.

        I believe that a lot of addictions are partially psychological, or involved with brain chemicals. Foods that we’ve eaten in the past will bring back feelings of the past. If your mother/father/friend that you love used to eat ________ with you, then eating that now will not just remind you of them, but physically bring on feelings of the way you used to feel. This is my own feeling about “comfort food.”

        Past that, there are almost definitely issues with the “body” (and not the mind, even though it’s all connected). You mentioned he’s eating corn pops, cookies, condensed milk. These are all sweet foods, so it makes sense that it would be a blood sugar issue. Combining a lot of fat with sugar slows the absorption rate, so maybe that’s what he’s missing. He’s got all this amazing fruit all over his yard, he just needs to combine it with some good fat — coconut oil, cacao oil, pumpkin seed oil, chia seeds. Fermented foods also can help with sugar cravings, as healthy bacteria eats up candida and other invasive bacteria (which crave sugar themselves). Spicy kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, etc… are all amazing foods for people that can’t kick their sugar habits.

        Anyways, I feel like I’m preaching when I just intended to throw in my own experience and advice. I hope you find a solution. I’ve definitely had my own issues with my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers eating terrible food inspite of their awareness that it’s unhealthy.

Add a Mindful Comment (No Trolling Please)