Opinion

On the side of angels

05 March 2019

nic_jooste

(This column first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Produce Business magazine)

On ‬Sunday‭, ‬September 9‭, ‬2012‭, ‬I participated in the annual Ride for the Roses cycle race‭ (‬a fundraising event for cancer research‭)‬‭, ‬covering a distance of 75‭ ‬miles in four hours‭. ‬I was 54‭ ‬years old‭, ‬as fit as a fiddle and as energetic and healthy as anybody‭ ‬could be‭. ‬Yet only two months later‭, ‬on my 55th birthday‭, ‬I sat in a surgeon’s consulting room and heard the dreadful words‭: ‬“You have colon cancer‭, ‬I have to operate urgently and you will undergo seven months of chemotherapy treatment afterwards‭.‬”‭ ‬

The world stopped‭, ‬followed by a roller coaster of emotions‭. ‬With three young children in the household‭, ‬my wife and I had to dive headlong into this dreaded unknown territory‭.  ‬We had to face questions such as‭: ‬How do we tell the children‭? ‬and What if I do not survive‭?  ‬It was a mix of disbelief‭, ‬fear and grief‭. ‬Yet somehow‭, ‬having my own mortality thrust right into my face spurred me into action‭. ‬Instead of trying to answer these unanswerable questions‭, ‬I asked myself‭, ‬‘What can I do to get through this nightmare‭?‬’‭ ‬My oncologist/surgeon advised me to focus on getting my body as strong as possible for surgery‭. ‬

Fortunately‭, ‬during the three weeks preceding surgery I came into contact with a naturopath‭, ‬who also graduated as a doctor in‭ ‬‘normal’‭ ‬medicine‭. ‬Our discussions opened a new world to me‭, ‬as he immersed me in the amazing world of nutrition as a weapon against diseases‭. ‬

The more I researched‭, ‬the more I realized how little was being done to promote nutrition as a natural weapon against‭ ‬‘modern’‭ ‬diseases‭, ‬even in the face of years of evidence based on academic studies that were being performed all over the world‭. ‬Faced with cancer‭, ‬at the time my gut feelings told me I needed to take matters in my own hands and focus on three primary issues‭. ‬The‭ ‬first one was‭  ‬that I needed to feed my body with healthy stuff that might combat cancer cells and‭ ‬‘power up’‭ ‬my immune system‭. ‬Second‭, ‬I had to ensure that no day would pass without doing some form of exercise‭. ‬Third‭, ‬I had to keep my positive nature intact‭. ‬The rest was up to the surgeons‭, ‬chemotherapy and God‭. ‬

I embarked on a daily ritual of stuffing my body with a vegetable-based juice regime‭. ‬The greener the better‭: ‬juices made from kale‭, ‬avocado‭, ‬cucumber and zucchini laced with soursop and raw turmeric became my daily companions‭. ‬I read up on the nutritional‭ ‬factors of all fruit and vegetables known to man‭, ‬turning my kitchen into an experimental juice factory‭. ‬I embarked on an exercise plan that saw me cover 784‭ ‬miles‭, ‬the same digits as the number of chemotherapy pills that I had to swallow‭. ‬From January 2013‭ ‬to August 2013‭, ‬my chemotherapy treatment continued‭. ‬One day of intravenous chemotherapy‭, ‬followed by two weeks of pills and‭ ‬then one week of rest‭. ‬In the background‭, ‬my fresh produce diet was running at full speed‭.  ‬My oncologist was amazed‭: ‬All through chemotherapy my blood cell counts remained remarkably strong‭. ‬

Fast forward to January 21‭, ‬2019‭. ‬After having been under the close scrutiny of my oncologist for six years‭, ‬I received the magical NED‭ (‬no evidence of disease‭) ‬confirmation‭. ‬At 61‭ ‬years of age‭, ‬I am again regularly hitting the 75-mile mark on my racing bicycle‭. ‬I have recently hiked the length of the Netherlands‭, ‬a total of 310‭ ‬miles‭. ‬I am fit and strong‭. ‬I am one of the lucky ones‭. ‬

So what does this column have to do with fresh produce‭? ‬During the past two years‭, ‬there has been a dramatic upsurge in press releases on clinical studies that prove healthy eating and a positive lifestyle can decrease the chances of falling prey to diseases such as cancer‭, ‬cardiovascular diseases and diabetes‭. ‬Delegates at a recent diabetes conference in South Africa included doctors and scientists from research institutions such as Harvard and Tufts Universities in America‭, ‬Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Sydney University in Australia‭. ‬Speakers brought clear evidence that a plant-based diet can reverse Type 2‭ ‬diabetes‭, ‬yet painted a grim picture of the powerful position of the pharmaceutical companies‭, ‬saying that‭ ‬‘conventional medicine keeps diabetic patients sick‭, ‬fat and drug-dependent‭.‬’‭ ‬

‭ ‬In 2018‭, ‬the World Cancer Research Fund presented a report titled‭ ‬Diet‭, ‬Nutrition‭, ‬Physical Activity and Cancer‭: ‬a Global Perspective‭. ‬The report covered more than 10‭ ‬years of research‭, ‬analysis of 51‭ ‬million people‭, ‬and included scientific publications on 17‭ ‬types of cancer‭. ‬The scientific evidence was clear‭: ‬healthy food and a healthy lifestyle reduce the risk of cancer‭. ‬The European‭ ‬Union’s Science Hub says that‭ ‬‘according to major food and health-related organizations the intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduction in the risk of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease‭ (‬CVD‭), ‬Type 2‭ ‬diabetes mellitus‭ (‬T2DM‭) ‬and some types of cancer‭.‬’

Make no mistake‭, ‬I am not advocating an either/or approach‭. ‬Of course‭, ‬modern medicines have a major role to play in human health‭. ‬But with all this evidence and support for fresh produce as an important component in combating various diseases‭, ‬why is it not included in the standard protocols and treatment plans of health insurance companies and hospitals‭? ‬I strongly believe that the produce industry all over the world should stand united and launch a campaign that says‭ ‬‘FIGHT BACK WITH FRESH‭!‬’‭ ‬

Jim Prevor‭, ‬aka the Perishable Pundit‭. ‬has often said that fresh produce is on the side of the angels‭. ‬To which I say‭: ‬Amen‭.  

Nic Jooste is the director of marketing and CSR at Cool Fresh International‭, ‬a Rotterdam-based global marketing organization for‭ ‬fresh produce‭. ‬

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