Tagged Books

Is Selfie Culture Making Our Kids Selfish?

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Michele Borba

Michele BorbaCredit

The psychologist and parenting expert Michele Borba says society’s fixation with the selfie is having some unintended consequences. She sees children mimicking not-so-nice behavior in adults and fewer grown-ups calling them out.

In “UnSelfie: Why Empathic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” her 23rd book, Dr. Borba combines scientific research with tales from real-world families and offers concrete tips on how to cultivate kindness.

We talked recently about “selfie syndrome,” ways to flip the focus away from the self and specific activities to build empathy in our children. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

Q.

You suggest in the book that technology disrupts kids’ emotional lives. How?

A.

You have to have face-to-face connection in order to read emotional cues and experience where the other person is coming from. If the average kid is plugged in – let’s just say what Common Sense Media says is 7.5 hours a day – you’re not having the opportunities to look face-to-face. You can do that in FaceTime. You can do that in Skype. It’s not like you’re throwing the entire thing out. It’s finding ways to make sure there are opportunities where your child won’t lose the critical core skills of not only empathy but connection and social skills. We’ve failed to realize that all of those social skills are learned and they need practice. What we’re not doing is helping our kids practice.

Q.

Your book talks about kids and their often-inflated egos. Is this a repercussion of the 1980s self-esteem movement?

A.

Yes. Unfortunately, we misinterpreted self-esteem. I wrote five books on self-esteem, but my whole concept of self-esteem was it was layered. Real self-esteem is a balance between two things. One part is feeling worthy and likable. The other part is being capable to handle life – having the skills and competence.

What we did on the self-esteem bandwagon is we did the whole thing of helping the child feel worthy but without the competence; it backfires. Our praise, if we keep focusing on you, after a while, the kid begins to forget there’s others in the world. And the other thing is they become more and more dependent upon us. We kind of bubble-wrapped the child. We helicoptered them and we didn’t teach them the skills to be able to cope. We’re going to have to re-tilt the balance.

Q.

Let’s talk discipline. You cite a lot of problems with approaches like spanking and yelling, which are known as detrimental. But what’s wrong with time outs?

A.

Time out works if you do it the right way. It’s impossible to discipline wisely or well if you’re in distress or your kid is in distress. It’s better to say, “Let’s separate from each other and let’s calm ourselves down.”

But just sitting alone doesn’t help the kid think through the impact of his actions on others. When your kid comes back out, you need to say, “I’m disappointed in you. I expected better of you because I see you as a caring person. How would you feel if that were you? What are you going to do differently next time?” That’s the piece that research says we may be missing.

Q.

Just what is “selfie syndrome?”

A.

Self-absorption kills empathy. Narcissism is “it’s all me.” Empathy is feeling with someone. Empathy is always “we, it’s not me.” The problem is kids are tuning into themselves, and what we need to do is flip the lens and start looking at others. We started to emphasize one side of the report card and we forgot the other side, which is “You’re also a caring human being.” Let’s redefine success so it’s not just a GPA, but it’s also a kid who has heart.

Q.

You suggest that some activities, such as chess, reading, watching movies and recess, boost not only academic achievement but increase empathy. Why?

A.

Chess is about perspective taking. Kid are not thinking of themselves. They start thinking of others. New research on reading shows that emotionally charged literary fiction like “Charlotte’s Web” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” where the kid can catch the feelings of the character, makes the child not only smart but nice. Chapter books (such as the “Frog and Toad” series) are short and easy, and more parents are skipping literary fiction in favor of a chapter book because they think it will boost their kid’s vocabulary and reading comprehension. What they’re missing is the rich moral dilemma. Movies and literature are the same. Think of the kind of movie that stirs your heart, like “Dumbo.”

Following are some of Dr. Borba’s tips for how to flip the focus and cultivate kindness.

  1. When your children walk out the door, remind them to do one or two kind things each day.
  2. Show that you value kindness. Do not just ask, “What you get on your test today?” but, “What kind thing did you do?”
  3. Praise your kids for being kind in the moment – when they have earned it: “That was being kind because you offered your toy to your friend.”
  4. Make kindness a regular happening. Put a box by your front door for gently used items and when it fills up, drop it off together for a needy family.

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Alzheimer’s Disease as an Adventure in Wonderland

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A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.

A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.Credit

In her memoir “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” Dana Walrath uses drawings and stories to chronicle three years of caregiving for her mother, Alice, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The experience turned out to be a magical trip down the rabbit hole of memory loss, an outcome that inspired Dr. Walrath, a medical anthropologist who taught at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and who also studied art and writing, to share their tale.

Refusing to accept the dominant narrative of Alzheimer’s disease as a horror story, Dr. Walrath used the techniques of graphic medicine to create “Aliceheimer’s,” an 80-page, 35-picture tribute to her mother’s animated mind. Graphic medicine uses text and graphics to, as she writes in the book’s introduction, “let us better understand those who are hurting, feel their stories, and redraw and renegotiate those social boundaries.”

We spoke with Dr. Walrath to learn more about graphic medicine, how the book came into being, and what it can teach others about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s an edited excerpt of our conversation.

Q.

You say that “Aliceheimer’s” found you, not the other way around. What’s the backstory of your story?

A.

After a lifetime of mutually abrasive interaction, my mother moved into my home when a lock-down memory-care unit was her only other option. The years of living together not only brought us closure, but it also integrated my disparate career threads. Medical anthropology, creative writing, visual art — who knew they were connected? I sure didn’t. But Alice must have. During dementia, she said to me, “You should quit your job and make art full time.”

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A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.

A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.Credit

Q.

What is “graphic medicine” and how did you discover the genre?

A.

I started making “Aliceheimer’s” comics before I knew that graphic medicine existed. Watching Alice — a lifelong reader who was finding straight prose too hard to track — eat up books like “Maus,” “Persepolis,” “American Born Chinese” and “Fun Home” when she lived with me, made me certain that to tell our story I wanted to use a form that a person with dementia could access. When a fellow medical anthropologist introduced me to graphic medicine, I knew I had found my tribe. The “Graphic Medicine Manifesto” defines graphic medicine as “the intersection of the medium of comics and the discourse of health care.”

Q.

Which came first: your drawings or your stories? When and how did they merge?

A.

The drawings came first. If you page through “Aliceheimer’s” looking only at the left-hand pages, you can read the original comic, a love story in pictures. I started writing short vignettes, each one in response to one of the original drawings. I began posting them on a blog until the content felt right for the intimate interior of a book.

Q.

How did the “Alice in Wonderland” theme come into play?

A.

My father had read it out loud to us as kids, and during dementia Alice and I often recited parts of it together. But the day I cut up a cheap paperback copy of “Alice in Wonderland” to depict Alice’s bathrobe, her favorite garment, I knew I had found the voice for the story. Life with dementia is filled with alternate realities and magic, both scary and uplifting. Accepting wonderland as our baseline made day to day life an adventure.

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<strong> </strong>A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.

A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.Credit

Q.

How might “Aliceheimer’s” influence the medical, artistic and caregiving communities?

A.

I would love to see “Aliceheimer’s” contribute to reframing dementia as a diversity issue. Of course there is loss involved, but the more we can see people living in this state as useful true humans who might teach us all something about living in the present, about knowing sides of our loved ones that social processes kept inaccessible, the better it will be.

I would love for the medical community to start to touch on the opportunities for closure and forgiveness that this condition might bring instead of the ongoing fight for the cure. For artistic and caregiving communities, I hope the book empowers people to tell their stories, particularly in comics form.

Q.

In “Aliceheimer’s,” you suggest new ways of thinking about Alzheimer’s. How did your mother’s memory-stealing disease open your mind?

A.

The dominant zombie story of bodies without minds strips people with dementia of their humanity and interferes with creating new kinds of familial connections. How many of us have the privilege of knowing our parents as children? Through connection we heal. Comics lead us to light because, subconsciously, we associate comics with laughter, and we need permission to laugh at sickness and not just describe it in medical terms. Laughter is respite. It opens new possibilities for how to cope.

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A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.

A page from “Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass,” by Dana Walrath.Credit

Q.

What suggestions do you have for people caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s?

A.

Learn to read the signs and messages embedded in your loved one’s actions. Often what looks delusional is an attempt to express a deeply felt need or desire. Dementia has them communicating through a code that we can track. Use the “Yes, and” principle from improv — in which you accept what the other person has said (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”) — to build on what your loved one is experiencing instead of contradicting them, and it will be easier to decipher his or her intentions.

Dementia lets all of us connect back to our deepest memories, to a time when we could communicate — give and receive stories — through the looks in each other’s eyes, through touch, facial expressions, actions and gestures. In this way, even in the midst of loss, dementia lets us heal.

What American Parents Can Learn From Chinese Philosophy

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Here’s the conventional wisdom about raising kids in modern-day America. Teach them to know who they are. Encourage them to think big and to aim high. Show them how to play to their strengths and plan a route to future success.

But there is a better way to turn a child into a flourishing adult, one based on just about the opposite of everything we think we should do. This “new” way is actually very old – over 2,000 years old — and is inspired by the wisdom of Chinese philosophers including Mencius, Confucius and Laotzu.

Consider what they might say if they were raising today’s children:

Stop Looking For Your Passion

I used to believe that even in infancy, I could get a sense of my four children’s personalities in order to raise them the way that was best for them. Cultural mores reinforce the notion that self-exploration is important, especially in adolescence, when teenagers are figuring out who they are. By the time they fill out the Common Application for college admissions, they’ve learned how to distill the core of themselves into 650 words. And central to that core identity is their passion, or what makes them unique.

But Chinese philosophy has taught me that that seeking who you are and what you love is dangerous. When you look within to identify yourself, including your proclivities, your strengths and your passions, what you’re really seeing is a snapshot in time. When I encourage my children to figure out who they are and to be true to that, I am limiting them to who they think they are at this moment, without understanding how much people change.

Chinese philosophers correctly described human beings as complex, multifaceted beings bumping up against other complex, multifaceted beings all day long. We shift in every interaction and every experience and are developing all the time. I am now trying to teach my children to see themselves as endlessly fluid people who have the ability to develop new interests and to change.

Keep Playing Pretend

We raise our children to be sincere, to express themselves honestly, to be in touch with their deep and true emotions, and to have a healthy skepticism for anyone or anything that seems “fake.” But the Chinese philosophers knew that playing pretend serves an important purpose, not just in childhood but for adults as well.

Pretending to be other than who we really think we are is similar to a Confucian “as if” ritual. These are the daily moments during which we briefly become a different person, like when I greet an acquaintance on the street with a smile even though I was just fretting over a difficult conversation I had with a colleague. By viewing these small “as if” moments as an exercise in breaking from who we think we authentically are or what we are sincerely feeling in that moment, I am not just teaching my children to be polite or nice. I’m teaching them not to fall into the trap of always being true to who they are.

Live Life as a Series of Ruptures

As children learn what they are good at and what they aren’t, what they love and what they don’t, they gradually winnow out the things that seem irrelevant and uninteresting. My oldest plays soccer and reads history books, and no longer has time to explore drama. And who can blame him? In an increasingly pressurized and anxiety-ridden environment, playing to your strengths seems like the most sensible and efficient way to head into a future career.

As I read Mencius’s writings, I had an epiphany: how efficient is it, really, to make firm plans for a future career, only to have to shift gears years from now when you wake up and find you are living a life that is the result of decisions made by the person you were at only 17 years old?

Encourage your offspring to pay attention to everything, to do things they’re not good at precisely because they’re not good at them.

See the Merits of Self Restraint

American education, with its focus on class participation and its valorization of extroverted leaders, socializes our kids into becoming proactive, expressive and assertive learners. Our children learn that the self-advocate, the one who puts himself out there, is more likely to garner club leaderships and glowing teacher recommendations, thus setting him or her on the path to future success.

But when we emphasize self-assertion, our kids become trained to always see situations in terms of power balances, to calculate how they can jump in to any situation to show the world who they are. This sort of training cuts directly against the Chinese philosopher Laotzu’s concept of “strength through (seeming) weakness,” which rests on the basic truth that human beings are all affected by one another. A self-aggrandizing but clueless student fails to recognize how his actions breed irritation, resentment or even contempt from fellow classmates. But there is an advantage in being someone who is not always trying to dominate the room.

While I once worried that my children’s quieter natures would prevent them from being seen as equal players on life’s stage and fretted over how to teach them to be more assertive and stand up for themselves more, I teach them differently now. I tell them that the greatest impact can be had when they understand how to shift situations by paying attention to the emotions and relationships that undergird every situation.

Attend to the Mundane

The Chinese philosophers saw the world as one of endless, shifting relationships. That’s why they emphasized that we have influence over the trajectory of our lives when we focus not on who we are, our plans for the future, and self-assertion, but on learning how to relate well to others.

Caring for one another is hard work. It requires endless awareness, adaptation and responsiveness. But it is one of the most important and rewarding things we do. This is not just how our children will become better people and live better lives. It is how they can create a better world.


Christine Gross-Loh is the co-author, with Michael Puett, of “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life,” from which this essay is adapted.

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How Well Do You Know Your Food Labels?

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New food products making claims about health and nutritional attributes are on the rise. With the average American grocery store carrying 42,214 items, it’s easy to see why a trip down the aisle can leave you scratching your head. Test your supermarket savvy with this quiz.

Sophie Egan is the author of “Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies — How What We Eat Defines Who We Are,” on which this quiz is based.

Dr. Thomas Farley Takes on Big Food and Big Tobacco

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Credit Dan Deitch

A century ago, most local health departments concentrated their efforts on fighting infectious diseases like cholera, polio and tuberculosis. But today, many health departments have a very different focus: cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, some of America’s leading killers. Fighting these diseases often means promoting changes in lifestyle and behavior, and no health department has done that more aggressively than New York City’s.

Under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York’s health commissioners — first Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, and then Dr. Thomas A. Farley — took on smoking, sugary drinks, sodium, trans fats and binge drinking. Those battles weren’t always successful. A state court struck down the city’s controversial soda tax initiative, and critics complained that New York City was becoming a “nanny” state.

But Dr. Farley, who served as New York’s health commissioner from 2009 to 2014, says the city’s efforts helped demonstrate that the key to eradicating lifestyle-related diseases is by changing environments — making bad choices harder and good ones easier. He makes a case for this approach in his latest book, “Saving Gotham: Billionaire Mayor, Activist Doctors, and the Fight for Eight Million Lives,” which shares the behind-the-scenes story of the Bloomberg administration’s radical approach to fighting chronic disease.

Dr. Farley, who later served as the Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Health at Hunter College and chief executive of the Public Good Projects, is now the health commissioner of Philadelphia, where earlier this month the mayor proposed a soda tax as a way to fund schools, libraries, and parks and recreation centers. Recently we caught up with Dr. Farley to talk about his book, his battles with the beverage industry and how his approach to public health may have influenced other health departments around the world. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Q.

Why did you write your latest book, “Saving Gotham”?

A.

I wanted to show that there’s a way to fight disease other than through expensive medical care. In the United States, we spend roughly twice as much per capita for medical care as other high-income countries, and our health statistics are close to last. People naturally assume we’re going to solve this problem through medical care. But it doesn’t fit with those statistics. There’s a different approach — a public health approach — that costs very little. The book tells the story of how with using that public health approach we were able to prevent the leading causes of death and save many lives.

Q.

As New York City’s health commissioner you led many public health campaigns. Which had the most impact?

A.

I would say it was our efforts to reduce smoking. During the time of the Bloomberg administration, smoking rates fell by about 25 percent in New York. Since then they’ve fallen by about a third. That’s about 400,000 fewer smokers. And that alone should save thousands if not tens of thousands of lives. At the same time, sugary drink consumption fell by about a third, and heart disease mortality fell by about 40 percent.

Q.

Did these efforts ultimately translate into an increase in life expectancy?

A.

Absolutely. During the Bloomberg years, life expectancy at birth in New York City increased by about 3.2 years. During the same period, life expectancy in the U.S. as a whole increased by 1.8 years. So we were fast outpacing the rest of the country, and that increase in life expectancy was bigger than it was in any other big city in America.

Q.

Some of your health initiatives created a lot of controversy. Where did you find the most resistance?

A.

There was controversy, but most of the resistance came from industry. In the book, I show how some of the biggest risks today are coming from companies that make, sell and market products that over a lifetime make us sick, like cigarettes and sugary drinks.

When New York City passed the smoke-free air rule that made bars and restaurants smoke free, it was a radical idea. And that idea has now spread across most of the U.S. and almost all of Europe — so much so that it’s almost hard to imagine what it would be like to have smoking in a bar or restaurant. The book shows how those good ideas can quickly spread from one city to others, despite resistance from industry.

Q.

The beverage industry says that sugary drink taxes disproportionately hurt the poor economically. How do you respond?

A.

I would say that the poor are disproportionately suffering from obesity and Type 2 diabetes as a consequence of sugary drinks. They drink more sugary drinks now than people who have more money. Because people with lower incomes are more price-sensitive, they will disproportionately benefit from efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption.

Q.

The new soda tax proposal in Philadelphia was presented as a way to generate more revenue for the city, rather than as a “sin tax.” Do you think that will make it more appealing to the public?

A.

This is something that is central to the mayor’s agenda, and I think his way of approaching it is terrific. The revenue from the sugary drink tax will go for pre-K, for what they call community schools — which is providing services for children so they can stay in school and learn — and for rebuilding the city’s parks and recreation centers. All of those preferentially benefit people of lower income in Philadelphia. All of those are very popular and will benefit health over the long term. It’s a great way to match up the benefits of the tax revenue with a source of revenue that is also good for health.

Q.

You have spent a lot of time fighting the beverage industry. Have you seen any change in their response over the years?

A.

The beverage companies understand that they’re going to have to change the way that they do business. And they are making changes — but they’re not making changes fast enough. They still market very heavily these products that are major contributors to our health problems. In the end, they will move only as fast as we push them.

Q.

How did New York’s health initiatives impact the greater public health landscape?

A.

That was another theme I tried to bring out in the book. This is the story of a local health department reinventing itself to take on the biggest health problems of our time. Before the Bloomberg period, most local health departments were seen as organizations that did restaurant inspections and rat control. We showed that local health departments could take on smoking and make a meaningful difference in life expectancy. That model is now being copied by local health departments around the country. And that’s why I think local health departments are where you’re seeing public health innovation right now.

Q.

Are there any common misconceptions about the role of public health agencies that you have tried to dispel?

A.

A thing that people often don’t understand and that I hoped to show in the book is that health is political, but not in the way that most people think. If you ask most reporters about the politics of health, they’re going to talk about Obamacare. But as you saw in the book, the fights we faced over health were with the tobacco industry and with the food industry. I hope people read the book just for the story, because it’s a great story, but that in the end they will have learned the great value of public health.

How the ‘Dirt Cure’ Can Make for Healthier Families

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Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein

Dr. Maya Shetreat-KleinCredit Tanya Malott

Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein has a message for the parents of small children: Don’t be afraid of dirt.

She is a firm believer in the idea that children in Westernized countries today grow up in a world that can be too sanitized. They spend less time outdoors exploring nature and more time in front of screens than they did two decades ago. They eat foods that are heavily processed. Many do not know what it’s like to taste fresh, seasonally grown foods plucked from a garden with nutrient-rich soil.

Dr. Shetreat-Klein, a pediatric neurologist in New York and an instructor at New York Medical College, explores these themes in a new book, “The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids With Food Straight from Soil.” The book delves into research that suggests that spending time around farms, parks and other green spaces can benefit children in surprising ways, protecting against allergies, enhancing immune function and potentially even improving attention span and academic performance.

Dr. Shetreat-Klein wrote the book after a frightening experience with her youngest son, who started wheezing, breaking out in rashes and showing signs of delayed cognitive development after his first birthday. Various doctors suggested it was nothing to worry about.

But Dr. Shetreat-Klein eventually went to see an allergist who determined that her son was severely allergic to soy. Weaning him off of soy, which is added to many processed foods, proved difficult at first. But a week after eliminating soy from her son’s diet, Dr. Shetreat-Klein noticed that his problems began to dissipate.

She and her family then set out on a journey to reconnect with nature. Despite living in the Bronx, one of the most densely populated, urban counties in the country, they started growing their own food, taking trips to farmers’ markets and going on nature hikes. They even raise their own chickens.

Recently we caught up with Dr. Shetreat-Klein to talk about her book, why she feels so strongly about exposing children to “good old-fashioned dirt,” and what families who live in urban areas can do to get closer to nature. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Q.

You’ve said that your son’s allergy was part of the impetus for this book. How so?

A.

It was the beginning of my investigation into how food impacts children’s health, why children are so allergic today, and how this impacts their cognition, development and behavior. I learned for one thing that food has changed dramatically in the last 20 years – from the way it is grown literally from seed to sprout to plate, how it’s processed, and the kinds of additives that are used. Children’s environments have changed, and so have the foods they’re eating.

Q.

Explain what you mean by “dirt cure” in the title of your book.

A.

Dirt means three things to me. It’s eating nutrient-dense food from healthy soil. It’s being exposed to certain microbes. And it’s spending time outdoors in nature.

Q.

Why is it that children who grow up on farms tend to have lower rates of asthma and other allergies?

A.

We used to think that children who grew up on farms were healthier than children in urban environments because they were exposed to more microbes. But studies have found that the number of bacteria in urban environments and on farms is similar. The difference is the diversity of the bacteria. Microbial diversity seems to have a very powerful impact. Children’s immune systems are very social: They like to meet and greet a lot of things. It seems the more they meet and greet, the more likely they are to be in balance, and the less likely they are to let any one microorganism grow out of control, as occurs with infection.

Q.

What is the microbial diversity like in soil?

A.

In one teaspoon of soil there are more organisms than there are humans on our planet. Soil houses about 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity. What we also know from studies is that when children spend time in green environments – in natural playgrounds, for example, or in parks and forests – they perform better on standardized tests, they’re more creative, they’re happier and their cortisol levels are lower, so they’re calmer and less stressed. And I think that might be somewhat related to the kind of organisms they’re exposed to when they’re playing outdoors.

Q.

Can you talk about how microbial diversity in soil relates to food?

A.

The organisms in soil have an impact on the health of our food. Part of what makes fruits and vegetables good for us is the phytonutrients in them – the things that make cranberries red or coffee bitter. Phytonutrients are part of the plant’s immune systems. Organisms in the soil that we might think of as pests actually stimulate plants to make more phytonutrients. So these small stressors actually in a sense enhance our health. Being exposed to different organisms improves the health of the plant and it improves our health as well.

Q.

Based on your research, what are some things you would like to see change?

A.

I think we need more outdoor and nature-based curriculum in schools because this actually benefits children from a health perspective and a learning perspective. Children are more focused and they perform better on tests after they’ve spent time outside in nature. In Japan there’s this idea called “Shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, which means taking short visits to the forest. It’s been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in the body and boost beneficial hormones. We know there are many physical benefits to children being outdoors and being physically active in nature

Q.

As someone who lives in New York City, how do you manage to spend time in nature?

A.

We live in the Bronx, and although a lot of people may not realize it, the Bronx actually has a tremendous amount of parkland. We go to Van Cortlandt Park as well as the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, which are all very close by. We live by Riverdale Park, which is a beautiful little forest. We visit Bear Mountain and Rockefeller State Park and go on beautiful hikes. And we go to Central Park. It’s actually not that difficult to get to a lot of these places for a day trip.

Q.

How do you incorporate the food philosophy you’ve talked about into your life?

A.

When I was initially going through this journey, I lived in an apartment. But I found an office in the Bronx that had an empty lot out back and I decided to start a garden there. The soil was like dust, so we had to enrich it. And we planted a food forest. There were fruit trees. I grew cold-hardy kiwis, beans, melons, berries and then vegetables. We ate fresh produce that we grew in the garden. And I decided to keep chickens.

Q.

Do you still maintain it?

A.

Now I live in a house with a little yard so I keep the chickens in my garden and we grow vegetables there. I like to know where my food is coming from. I want to eat eggs from chickens that are scratching outside and exposed to the sun and nibbling on greens. So I did those things and although it was difficult, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. It was far more accessible than most people would imagine. We also shop at farmers’ markets once or twice a week to stock up and add to what we’re growing.

Q.

How does your family get involved?

A.

I have three kids and they love it. It’s a family affair. They help me plant. They help me weed. They run outside when I’m cooking dinner to harvest celery, parsley or tomatoes. Sometimes in the morning they run outside to see if the chickens have laid eggs. My husband helps too. He appointed himself keeper of the chickens.

Q.

What are some recommendations for people who live in very urban environments?

A.

Take a trip to the forest with your family. It may be difficult during the week, but maybe you can do it on the weekends. That’s another reason why we should also be valuing green spaces in cities. Community gardens are also wonderful. So are farmers’ markets. They expose children to fresh foods, which taste completely different. And it also exposes them to potentially healthy microbes through the traces of soil that might be left over on the fruits and vegetables when you buy them at a farmers’ market.