Building support for healthy food

Building support for healthy food

Building support for healthy food
Dr. Rob Lustig, Cindy Gershen and a bowl of quinoa salad at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. (Contributed photo)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Sept. 23, 2023) — For 17 years, Rob Lustig and I have been partners in the cause of influencing people to eat regular healthy meals, restricting (or eliminating) ultra-processed and sugar-laced food.

That’s why, one late-summer evening, I was pleased to introduce Lustig to a group of more than 150 at the Women of (Temple) Isaiah event in Lafayette.

Lustig, a pediatric neuroendocrinologist and emeritus professor at UC San Francisco, has spent decades studying the biochemical reactions of nutrition. He and I are co-authors of “The Fat Chance Cookbook,” published in 2013.

Lustig and I shared the Temple Isaiah stage with Congressman Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, who described his efforts to make people aware of the health and economic benefits of good, locally grown food. DeSaulnier, a former restaurateur, noted that federal legislation important to nutrition comes up for reauthorization this year: the comprehensive agriculture bill and the law for free and reduced-price meals in schools.

Culinary medicine

Also at the event were two primary care doctors who this fall are opening a precedent-setting clinic in Lafayette that will include culinary medicine. The way to make primary care a more full-bodied experience is through nutrition, Dr. Naomi Breckon told the audience.

She and Dr. Tracy Hu are co-founders of East Bay Health. The clinic will have a kitchen facility where I plan to provide hands-on lessons in healthy cooking. I will have more details in upcoming columns.

Providing food for thought, Lustig said research shows that 73% of items on grocery store shelves qualify as ultra-processed food, which can be classified as “poison” as it actually inhibits mitochondrial function (producing energy on the cellular level).

Ultra-processed food is Class 4, with the clearest example of the scale being an apple:

  • An apple plucked from the tree is Class 1 processed food.
  • An apple slice is Class 2.
  • Unsweetened applesauce is Class 3.
  • McDonald’s apple pie or apple juice, eliminating the fiber in the apple, is Class 4.

Lustig suggested visiting to get more information about efforts to ensure school cafeterias everywhere serve real food.

At the Temple Isaiah event, we practiced what we preached. My catering company prepared a diverse meal with no processed food. I told the women that it was an example of the food you should eat, and that drew applause.

With assistance from temple volunteers, we made the meal together with love and camaraderie. And after dinner, we listened to the words of a few honored guests.

Mock Tuna Salad

4 servings

15-oz. can chickpeas, drained (or 1½ c. cooked chickpeas)
¼ c. vegan mayonnaise (or hummus)
1 nori sheet, finely chopped
¼ c. red onion, finely chopped
1 T lemon juice
10 capers, finely chopped (or fresh dill, or chopped dill pickles)
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 T nutritional yeast (or miso paste)
1 T tamari or soy sauce
½ T Dijon mustard
½ tsp. white vinegar
Sprinkle of sea salt
Sprinkle of ground black pepper

Add chickpeas to a mixing bowl and mash with a fork.

Add rest of ingredients and stir. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Send your questions and comments to

Cindy Gershen
Cindy Gershen

Cindy Gershen is an educator, nutritionist, chef, and co-author of “Fat Chance Cookbook.”