Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's This All Been Working Toward?

I have been contemplating writing a book intended as a support for people experiencing challenges with eating as a result of changed health status. Because I want to share my learnings about this topic more speedily than the time it takes to write and publish a book, after much thought, I have decide to  launch a new blog, the content of which will, one day I hope, become the book I dream of creating. In thinking through and in doing some preparation for this blog/book idea,  I felt a little pang that 'Summer In Chawton' was left hanging. I felt the need to bring it to a close and to let interested readers know how to connect with my ongoing work on the application of learnings about the history of feeding the sick to address present-day issues of eating and feeding with changed health status, and optimizing the nutritional status of people in hospital.

'Summer In Chawton' was created in July 2010 to help keep my friends and family in touch with my studies as a Visiting Fellow at Chawton House Library (CHL). It served the same purpose again in May 2012 when I returned to CHL as a Visiting Researcher. This final post serves as a sum up of how I have used the work I did at CHL, and an invitation to follow my work on a soon-to-be-launched blog entitled 'Eating With Changed Health Status' ( 

I presented the findings from the 2010 visit to CHL as the 'sample class' during my interview for a tenure-track professor position at Acadia University. The focus of this presentation was my belief that present-day transitional diets (the transition from nothing-by-mouth (NPO or NBM) to clear fluids to full fluids to 'light diet') are holdovers from beliefs in the four humours. This view is aided by two observations; that there is no evidence of physiological benefit of these diets, and that early ad lib feeding (feeding a person what they want when they want it) post surgery results in improved and faster recovery, greater patient and family satisfaction, and earlier hospital discharge. I got the position at Acadia U in 2011, and have since received two grants to further this line of inquiry.

An Acadia University Research Award funded my return to CHL in 2012; the purpose of that trip was to gather additional evidence that there was some truth to the idea that transitional diets had their origins in feeding to balance the humours or to convince myself that I was totally mistaken. The result was reaffirmation of my earlier belief - I felt as though I had cracked a code. Everything I read from the period seemed to relate to this idea. Words such a 'nourishing' and 'wholesome' took on new meaning; their use in medical books in Jane Austen's time was in connection with the supposed effects of foodstuffs on the humours. Jane used these words herself in the character of Mr. Woodhouse in Emma.

The second grant, a SSHRC Small Institution Grant, is funding a project to track the evolution of the use of clear fluids, full fluids, and light or soft diets from 1840 to the present. 1840 is the date of the last cookery book I studied at CHL so the search carries on from there. Our findings completely  support the 'holdover' idea.

I framed this line of inquiry as 'Feeding In Hospitals As Though Recovery Matters', and have made several presentations to garner support for the notion of collective efforts to optimizing nutritional status of people in hospital, and to encourage additional research. The result, I happily report, has been the emergence of some spin-off research projects.

I presented locally to clinical dietitian colleagues in Yarmouth and Kentville, Nova Scotia to encourage collaboration on research projects. The result was that Renee Racine, a dietetic intern at Annapolis Valley Health, conducted a project to ascertain surgeon, dietitian, and nurse perspectives on the rationale for the use of transitional diets. Another intern, Allana Kerr, will continue this work in 2013.

I presented my research on the historical antecedents to present day hospital feeding practices as part of a panel entitled 'Feeding In Hospitals As Though Recovery Matters: High Time For Evidence-based Practice' at the International Congress of Dietetics in Sydney, Australia in September along with two dietitians who work and conduct research in surgery nutrition, Kate Willcutts (USA) and Sharon Casey (Australia). There was a standing room only crowd and enthusiastic reception of our ideas. Our international trio has had a proposal accepted to present a workshop on this topic at the Dietitians of Canada conference in Victoria, British Columbia in June. We are pleased we have the opportunity to further our work together. 

Alas, this post draws 'Summer In Chawton' to a close. I don't imagine I'll return again to study at Chawton (although one never knows). This blog served its original purpose and attracted the attention of more than my family and friends (as I note from the readership stats). My thanks to all who took the time to read it.

Thanks all!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What a week!

Phew! I have been on the go all week.

Wednesday night Anna and Cindy treated me to a wonderful meal at Anna's house. So delicious. They wanted me to see a documentary on Mrs. Beeton so we watched that, and then Anna brought me back to Chawton. What an absolute gift to have met them. I took Anna a small token of appreciation, some organic eggs from CHL. The chickens have been uber productive here of late.

A fabulous trip to Bournemouth on Thursday to meet Dr. Kip Jones (Bournemouth U; Performative Social Sciences). Kip was exactly the person I needed to meet; his work is inspirational! And he was so encouraging. He did a private screening of his film, Rufus Stone, based on Kip's (and others') research. I hope we get to screen it at Acadia when it is finally released.

Back to Chawton on the train, my thoughts a-buzzin'. As a result, I finally figured out my website, after years of not knowing how to include all my varied interests. That Kip, what an inspiration.

Friday to Jane Austen House Museum for the treat of my life. Had a quick meeting with Louise (Director) and Sue (Steward who was going to help me with textiles in storage) about two documents I can/will create for them out of my time at the museum. Then, Sue took out three boxes; one containing lace wedding attire from 1813, one a wool and silk spencer from 1817, AND Jane Austen's lace shawl. Imagine. Took lots of pictures (will post when camera recharged).

I loved that Jane's shawl had a number of repairs...very cleverly done. Sue and I were in wonder at the needlework.

Today (Saturday) I took the train to Stonehenge. It is relatively close by and I thought, why not? When will I get here again. It was an overcast day; good. No chance of overheating. There were loads of people there (as always). Just beyond the parking lot was a path through a field to burial burrows so I went up there. A great view and far, far away from the crowd. Enroute I passed a table bearing a sign "psychic readings" although no one was about...truly psychic, I thought. But no, on the way back the reader had arrived. Imagine a cross between Friar Tuck and Crocodile Dundee...

There were local strawberries for sale off the back of a truck pulled up on the other side of the fence from the parking...a nice change from the packaged sandwiches inside the gates. Trains were not busy. A lovely day out.

When I returned this evening, the shepherd I spoke with yesterday had delivered my fleece. It just fit in the new bag I bought in Salisbury. Speaking of, what a great town is Salisbury. I'll definitely return there. Found some wonderful gifts for the family there!

And now an evening of packing. Early day tomorrow; travelling all day.

There and back again...getting ready to go again

Spent the weekend travelling to Church Stretton in Shropshire to see Lucy and Rachel. What a gorgeous place; we took a shuttle up up up into the hills of the Long Mynd, visited an historic lead mine (partially restored buildings and incredibly interested/helpful volunteers) where we walked underground and met a BAT! We were in its territory, after all. A beautiful part of England on the Welsh borders. Worth a revisit!

I learned (or rather, had reinforced) how much I love pub meals, I had reinforced that the food in England is pretty darned fantastic, that rumours of the ickyness of English food are erroneous, and that requiring gluten free foods has not yet posed a problem wherever I have eaten. All wonderful.

Lucy and I went to the local theatre to watch a British farce...the play was fine...the toupee on the fellow selling goodness, what was that? Bald is BEE-AUTIFUL fellas! No toupee required!

Then back to Chawton on the train via Winchester where I strolled by Jamie Oliver's new place, Union Jack's. Since it is a pizza place, did not stop for a meal (read about gluten avoidance above). And, I was tired and wanted to get back to Chawton.

Bought some groceries to last through to Saturday, got the bus to Chawton, made a curried chicken meal to share with Sarah, Education Officer at CHL (who has bell ringing practice on Monday nights so I offered to provide her with a meal). Sarah and I had our yummy curry. She went off to bell ringing and I sat on our front steps listening to the bells and the birds. Quite absolutely perfect.

Today I was back at the Jane Austen House Museum to finish going through the JA Society news bulletins since 1949 for mentions of textiles. I studied some of the pieces more closely, and tried to figure out how to provide the Museum with something of use about their textile collection in the limited time I have here. I think a person could do that project full time for a number of months, or for a thesis.

Tomorrow will be my last day in the Reading Room (Thursday to Bournemouth; Friday at JAHM) to wrap up what I want to do here in terms of the invalid's dietary. The research has gone better than I hoped; I have developed a list of questions arising that I will work into the assignment possibilities for students this coming year, have outlined the articles I will write in July, and have prepared presentations for next month and the ICD in September. Such a gift to be able to spend the month here!

I discovered that there will be a conference in Belgium next April entitled, Food in Hospitals: An Historical Perspective. Sent an abstract this morning for consideration for the program (even though the deadline is passed). Regardless of whether I get to present, I plan to attend since it is ideal for my interests.

Friday, May 25, 2012

We're not in Canada anymore!

On my way walking to Chawton House from the Jane Austen House Museum where I had spent the day starting to catalogue the textile collection, I happened upon a fun-looking community event with lots of kids and parents...complete with bouncy castle and everything! I asked a Dad and his son (about 6 years old) what was going on. "Oh, the annual sports evening, a fund raiser for the school!" "Yes", chimed in the little boy, "My Dad is going to work the bar". WHAT? Work the bar? At a school sporting event. Clearly, Toto, we are not in Canada anymore. Just IMAGINE getting that past the Food and Beverage Guidelines for Use in Schools! I giggled all the way here at the thought of that. How hilarious. You will note the bar table set up prominently upon entry to the sports field.

Rule Britannia...and make sure there is a bar!
Ubiquitous bouncy castle...ubiquitous sheep on the hillside.
OK...back to the JAHM. I spent the day going over the database of what they have there in terms of textiles. A LOT. A lot a lot a lot. I have next week to work on it and there is simply too much to get through so I'll spend the weekend figuring out how to best approach it.

There are some pieces that Jane Austen herself made. If I actually get to hold those things...what a great privilege that would be. Pieces are behind glass so I can't take great photos of them but that is surely what I would like to do. I'll make a list of the pieces I would like out of the cases...gulp!
Of greatest interest to me are the sewing kits. There are two of these; I wonder what is inside them? One made by JA herself! For any other textilians out there, I know you will be as interested as I am to find out. Non-textilians wonder what the heck is the big deal...kind of like how I don't really understand being a member of the R2D2 Builders' Guild. That's OK...we all have different interests.
Needle case Jane Austen made for her niece
Sewing kit with WHAT??? inside

Lunch at Cassandra's Cup. Right across the road from the JAHM. This unassuming little building, and I had the best lunch I think I have ever had...a fish unassuming little name but absolutely incredible. Prawns, two types of salmon, hot baby potatoes, celery root and apple salad, cold beets, tomato, cukes, and mixed lettuce. All gluten free, all fantastic! I'll be back next week while working at the museum.

THE quilt...from whence came those cottons?
And then there is THE quilt, the one that Jane, her mother, and sister stitched. The photo is a part of the border. Small diamond pieces of all the various prints used in the quilt. It boggles my mind to think where these came from given that England didn't yet have a cotton print industry. Such variety of prints.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Local Fleece and a Trek into London, dull and windy. I worked in the morning, read more about Florence Nightingale, then at 3 pm walked to Jacqui's where we talked fleece, spinning, textile politics and economics, health care and public education (Jacqui works as a nurse), arts-based health education and research, living in old houses (we were sitting in what used to be a dairy), documentary film, and textile awareness/ public education. A fabulous time.

Jacqui gave me an amazing bag of fleece; two-toned grey and tan. It will look amazing spun up! London with the early morning commuters...for a city of millions of people, it was incredibly quiet everywhere I went. Were people preparing their bunting to hang out for Jubilee weekend? I dunno - but not many people around. Visited Charing Cross Road bookshops (got some books on the humours, early thoughts about circulation of blood, and a history of surgery), had a coffee and people-watched in Leicester Square, took the Tube to Euston in time to attend the British Sociological Association Food Studies Group meeting on Kitchens in Living Memory. Fascinating research; has to do with efforts to help the elderly stay in their homes and changes to kitchens that would facilitate that. Two of their learnings were that kitchens used to be much larger, and that...wait for it...the 'working hexagon' was more efficient than the 'working triangle'. That means, add in a recycling/waste management area, storage/pantry, and something that I forget now to the traditional sink, stove, frig trio. Makes sense. Kitchens in the 1920s seem to have made a bunch of sense with everything at the reach of the food preparer. Interesting stuff.

Went from there to the Wellcome Institute and Museum (History of Medicine); exhibits were closed as it was Monday...found some wonderful (perfect for my studies) books at the Book Shop there. Then hopped the train back to Alton and read about humour-based medicine all the way home. Stopped for a coffee in Alton...more people watching, then walked back to Chawton. Such a day of walking! Being Monday night, the bell-ringers were practicing. Lovely.

Although I came here only 2 weeks ago with a notion that transitional diets derived from humoural medicine, I am now absolutely convinced. It's painfully obvious; the wonder is we haven't known it. Spent today categorizing what Florence Nightingale called 'liquid' and 'light' foods (her recommendations for diet progression in 'Notes on Hospitals' (1863), and preparing my seminar presentation for the Visiting Fellows seminar on Wednesday. This evening, I'll work on categorization of foods according to beliefs about effects on humours.

I write this in the back garden, sun is starting to set, have a cup of tea, and there is SO MUCH BIRDSONG! As we used to say at home when the birds were so chirpy, "Hey, I'm over here...I don't know if you know I am over here but I am over here"...that's birdy speak. It is downright noisy back here...I can hear at least a dozen types of bird calls right now. Usually the rescue chickens and duck contribute but not right now.

We have settled on 7 pm as the time we three researchers convene in the kitchen to prepare our dinners; it's just about that time now so off I go.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Fayres, Below Stairs, a Spinner and a Fabulous Dinner

Golly, I love rhymes. That title just appeared as I typed it without even thinking about rhyming. Love it!

Yesterday, Saturday, a gorgeous warm spring day...chilly again today but the heat appears to be off in the Stables and I find it mighty chilly. Soon time to go down to the Snug.

 Lucky for lovely weather; much going on hereabouts that depended on good weather.

The day started with a walk into Alton; saw another dog poo related sign that made me laugh out loud again...closed circuit TV evidence of not picking up poo??? Seriously?

There was Alton History Days at the Assembly Rooms. Local history clubs had extremely well organized presentations and binders of historical material about local towns and villages; I was happy to get into the Assembly Room main hall, former site of country dances, etc. The Town Crier was out and about crying out announcements. Hear ye hear ye, etc. I visited five charity shops on the High Street (although I don't think it is called that), ever on the lookout for vintage linens, and found a 1951 biography of Florence Nightingale [started reading it this morning - excellent story, highly recommended...I had to tear myself away to write this].
Assembly Rooms Alton

Interior - Alton Assembly Rooms

After shopping for the Global Food Revolution meal at the Stables (more to come on that), popped into the Chawton Fayre and bought two things; a pot of rhubarb-fig jam (yum!), and a book of Harry Potter themed cross stitch patterns en francais. Now, I am not an HP fan, nor do I do cross stitch BUT when something makes you laugh and you can take it home for 30p, then get it. That should be a rule.

On the way home, stopped into the Jane Austen House Museum gift shop. While there, a woman (Jacqui) came in to ask about the spinning wheel to come to the house, and could she do a demonstration. Well....I sidled on up, introduced myself, told her I was also a spinner and weaver, told her about my textile cataloguing at the JAHM, and asked where I could source some local fleece. "From me!", was her answer...much to my astonishment. The upshot is, I am invited for tea this afternoon to pick up some fleece with the promise I shall send her some from Canada. Textilians...gotta love 'em!

The staff in front of Chawton House
In the attic (where maids lived)
Then...(thank goodness for days off) to an open museums event (part of a national event held yesterday, of which the event in Alton was also part) at Chawton House Library on the theme of  'Life Below Stairs at CHL'. Excellent. Staff were in Edwardian dress playing roles (convincingly) of scullery maid, parlour maid, and footmen...poor fellas in their wool suits on a hot day...other volunteers offered explanation of various rooms and daily life as it would have been in that particular room (e.g., the dining room, the servants' hall, etc.), still others ran a tearoom. It was all wonderful. I estimate about 300 folks or so attended. Fantastic event!

And finally, to wrap up the day, I had invited housemates, Lori and Marilyn, to celebrate Food Revolution Day. I made a dinner (pretty darned good it was too!) of foods produced in England (except I used Alaskan salmon as I couldn't find any other sort of wild salmon, and one red pepper from Holland). Greek-themed. Yogurt marinated chicken, salmon, baby roast potatoes, beets, carrots, roasted red peppers, and tzatziki (cucumber, yogurt and dill). Marilyn and Lori had bought 'tubs' of local ice cream from a local dairy at Cassandra's Cup (the local tearoom) so that finished off our meal. A 'tub' here holds 119 ml (just shy of 1/2 cup). Happy I was to have an occasion to contribute to the food revolution!

Here's the link to Jamie Oliver's lovely film to promote the event:

Go Jamie! Go, all of us!

Learning from 1753; BSA Food Studies connection

In reading the Introduction of  'The Compleat Housewife' (Elizabeth Smith, 1753), I came across a sentence that reminded me of my friend, Mary Sue Waisman, and her passion about connecting people with and through food (see her cookbook, Flavour First). The sentence was meant to be a dig at others who were creating cookery books, those she referred to as 'copiers'. It reads:

"...many Things copied from old Authors, and recommended without (as I am persuaded) the Copiers ever having had Experience of the Palatableness, or had any Regard to the Wholesomeness of them; which two Things ought to be the standing Rules, that no Pretenders to Cookery ought to deviate from." 

So there...test your recipes when you are publishing a cookbook (or putting them on the Internet!!!!). This was promoted even in 1753; one would think this would be standard practice by now...enough of my soapboxing...

Monday, May 21, I'll attend the British Sociological Association Food Studies Group meeting in London. The topic is "Continuity and Change: Aspects of the Food Environment across the Life Course", about the life course of the kitchen. Here is the promotional blurb:

"Across the life course, the kitchen can be a central hub of activity. Long discussed as gendered space, in ageing populations the kitchen provides a perfect case study for addressing issues of person-environment interaction where age, gender, class, culture, health and well-being are central.

This paper reports on research involving social gerontologists, ergonomists and designers which studied ‘Transitions in Kitchen Living’ (TiKL) as part of the ESRC’s New Dynamics of Ageing Programme.  The aim was to work with a purposive sample of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s living across the range of mainstream and supportive housing where the kitchen was still very much a part of everyday life. Following detailed pilot work, two interviews were conducted with 48 older participants (aged 61 to 91 years, born between 1919 and 1949) in Bristol and Loughborough. Prior to the first interview, people were asked to record a housing history and then using an oral history approach people’s experiences of kitchens throughout their lives were recorded prompted by key life events. A second Interview concerned their contemporary kitchen and how well it met their needs. Other tools gathered personal demographic details, routine activities, and photographs recorded aspects of the kitchen that were particularly liked or disliked.

This talk focuses on both the oral history data and the study of the contemporary kitchen to understand how issues of continuity and change throughout the 20th century as food equipment developed in diverse housing circumstances.  For example early experience of cooking in a coal fired oven led to the coming of gas and electric cookers while ‘staying put’ for an older person may now depend on microwavable food."

Dr. Sheila Peace is Professor of Social Gerontology.  A social geographer by first discipline, she gained her PhD in the area of environment and ageing now her area of expertise.  She is co-editor of Ageing in Society: European perspectives in Gerontology, Sage Publications (2007).

Looking forward to it! Coordinator, Rebecca O'Connell, has extended an invite to join the group for lunch afterward! Looking forward to it all.