When I asked vegan cookbook author and cooking school leader Barbara Kerr to be a Veggie Hero, I discovered that she's a rebel! Barbara wrote her own story of health and vegetarianism and it was just too interesting to force into a format too much. So here's our first unortodox Veggie Hero column in Barbara's own words!
What inspired you to go veg?
I am a 25-year survivor of crohn’s disease. Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause inflammation and ulceration of the small or large intestine and eventually malabsorption of the food one eats. It can cause chronic diarrhea, intestinal pain, urgency (when you feel there isn’t enough time to make it to the toilet), rectal bleeding, blood loss anemia, and incontinence of stool and fistula disease. Those that suffer usually suffer silently. It's an embarrassing disease that is not talked about. My goal is to change all that and to let the world know there is hope!
In October of 1994, doctors removed my extremely scarred large intestine and rectum. I felt as though I had been defeated and that I would never be able to help anyone else. At that point in time I had been drug free for one year and three months. However, the day before my surgery, I had my last colonoscopy (a test where a tube with a small camera attached is inserted into the rectum and views you from the inside out). That test showed that I had totally healed approximately two-thirds of my large intestine, which had previously been 100%, ulcerated. Unfortunately, years of scar tissue had developed in my descending colon and rectum, making it impossible to save. I gratefully live with an ileostomy now, thankful to be alive and able to help others. I have occasionally had flare-ups, but can kick one out in 24 hours or less. Please visit my website http://www.tasteofhealth.net/ for detailed information on how I have controlled crohn’s disease drug-free for more than 14 years now.
I grew up a truck driver’s daughter in a family of six, where meat and potatoes were always the main course. At the age of 16 when I first became ill, I went to doctor after doctor and swallowed the handfuls of pills that were prescribed for me. But in addition to that medication, I was also given a special diet. I was told to eat very bland food that was fiber-free. White rice, white potatoes, white bread, casseroles and the like became my diet. I was instructed not to eat anything fresh or raw. No salads, fresh fruit or fresh veggies were to grace my table.
At first this diet wasn’t a problem for me. I was a teenager and fresh healthy foods weren’t at the top of my culinary desires. Sadly, I did not understand that those foods might sustain my life for a period of time, but they certainly would not sustain my health!
Years passed and I turned into an invalid towards the end of my 20s. I spent hours every day in hot sitz baths where I began to read looking for other answers. I knew I was dying and I desperately wanted to live.
I prayed earnestly for answers, asking God to show me what to do. Then I received a little booklet in the mail from my aunt called "Two Months to Live" by Jan Marcussen, in which he shared the story of a man dying of cancer and how the man was given two months to live and told to go home and get his affairs in order. This cancer patient found a doctor that had gotten fed up with practicing “sickness” and had begun practicing “wellness” using what he called “God’s Natural Laws of Health and Healing."
I read the booklet from cover to cover devouring it. I pondered the healing of this sick man after he began drinking “food juices” and following a program of specialized nutrition, exercise, pure water, proper sunshine, being temperate, breathing pure air, getting plenty of rest at night and trusting in God Almighty. Questions began to whirl through my mind. Could doing these simple things REALLY make that much of a difference? The adrenaline began to flow and I got excited that maybe, just maybe this doctor could help me. After placing a few phone calls everything just clicked. My mom would fly out to Indiana to take care of our three-year-old and I had a plane ticket for Florida and would stay at the clinic for four weeks.
Everyday I followed a routine of drinking carrot and green juice on the hour, alternately with water or herbal teas. I also consumed a two-ounce Dixie cup full of activated charcoal powder mixed with olive oil every afternoon. We received herbal enemas once a day, acupuncture treatments, charcoal poultices on any affected areas and morning lectures. Our exercise consisted of what we could tolerate. Because of my need to be near a bathroom I used the mini-trampoline and kept my walking to back and forth on the side walk in front of the clinic.
During this month of being on a supervised juice fast, my body changed in unbelievable ways. After just 24-hours of being on juices, a boil that was forming at the base of my vagina (my body’s method of forming a new recto-vaginal fistula – where your body forms a tunnel from one organ to another) had completely healed! It was just gone. I had spent weeks in pain. I had been to my gynecologist begging him to lance it, but all he would give me were antibiotics (again).
I also noticed a change in the color of my skin. My face had been white as a sheet and now my cheeks were ruddy and pink in color. I was beginning to feel happy again like there was light at the end of the tunnel, and my depression about dying began to lift. I felt freedom like any prisoner must feel as those chains of bondage are released. God was filling me with His joy as He taught me step-by-step about His natural laws for our bodies.
When I left the clinic I made a promise to God, that until this day I have done my best to fulfill. I promised God that I would spend the rest of my life trying to help others not to get as sick as I once had been, and that I would shout the truth of God’s natural laws of health from the highest mountain tops whenever He provided an opportunity.
Let me tell you, when you make a promise to God, and you mean it, . . . doors begin to fly open. Before I knew it I was taping cooking programs in my own home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and they were airing on the local public access TV station. My mother (also to this day my biggest fan) sent one of those amateur videos to Three Angels Broadcasting Network and then began calling them every month to ask them if they had viewed the program yet. Finally, in an attempt to get rid of her (most likely), they watched the program, . . . and liked it. I then received invitations to tape a series of programs on their "Food For Thought" show and then a weekly, hour-long cooking segment was created for me on their flag-ship program every Wednesday, called “Presents." I began flying to 3ABN regularly and volunteered my time and energy for seven years producing vegan/vegetarian cooking programs for their network.
I would like to just stop here for a moment and tell you why I began a cooking ministry.
After I learned about what I should be putting into my body at the juice clinic, I went home with a new outlook on what I should be buying. I invested money in vegetarian cookbooks and began cooking recipes out of them in an attempt to change my family’s unhealthy eating habits. I also would stop into health food stores and buy food items they had prepared in their deli section. Honestly, I was dumb-found at just how bad everybody’s food tasted! Every vegan dessert I ordered was grainy or mushy or had an overpowering taste of honey. My red-headed nature began to emerge and I became more than frustrated at the amount of money and time I was spending on “healthy recipes” that tasted, well, like . . . . . . . . . hmmm . . . . . let’s just say I was disappointed.
So I went to work in my own kitchen sure that I could do a better job than what I was finding available.
How do you handle family holiday dinners?
Thanksgiving was coming up and I wanted pumpkin pie for dessert. I began mixing ingredients together and baked the first pie. Cooled it, cut it, and . . . YUCK. It was disgusting. Into the trash it went. I moved onto pie number two. Same thing. Pie three, pie four. By now it was getting late and I was exhausted so I went to bed for the night.
The next morning I arose and decided to try another pie experiment, so downstairs I went. My father-in-law was visiting from Pennsylvania and was sitting at my breakfast table sipping a cup of coffee when I walked over to the counter and opened the cupboard to retrieve a plate. As I began slicing I heard his voice say, “Barbara, is that pie you’re cutting over there?” Now I was faced with a tough choice. Do I tell the man that’s never eaten a bite of tofu in his life that I have a vegan pie experiment sitting in front of me that I know he’ll turn his nose up at, or, do I allow him to be my guinea pig? I chose the latter. I was grateful the cupboard door was open and my now reddened face could hide behind it. “Cut me a piece,” I heard his voice say. I obeyed and slowly walked around the counter to the table and placed the pie in front of him. I couldn’t even make eye contact. I immediately walked back around to hide my face behind the open cupboard again. A few agonizing moments later he said, “Wow, this is really good!” I said, “It is?” To this day, nine years and counting, my father-in-law still has no idea that he ate a piece of pumpkin pie that was made with silken tofu instead of eggs and canned milk. And that friends, was the moment of birth for my Taste Of Health ministry.
I attribute the success of my cookbooks and programs to my belief that God wants me to do everything to the best of my ability. Excellence, not mediocrity is what He desires. I am on a mission to change the opinion of the world, and to show them that healthy food can not only taste wonderful, but can look beautiful! I work very hard on making my food taste like what it’s replacing and I have thrown away a lot of food over the years. I will say that with any God-given talent, that the more you use it, the more God blesses and multiplies it. With new healthfood companies opening every month, they make my job easier and easier. I think my recipes get better and better and my goal is to create recipes that you can prepare for your family or coworkers and they won’t wonder what in the world you served them.
I will confess that within my own family holiday meals can be a challenge. Every Thanksgiving my family gets together with my sisters’ family of five and my dad’s family of three. My husband, son and I are the only vegetarians in the group. Usually we pool our food, but I always have to make enough vegetarian food that I can replace the entrée, gravy and stuffing, in addition to everything else I need to bring. The challenge really comes in when our company stays for several days and I have to prepare other meals for them.
Just this past Thanksgiving it was my responsibility to make a meal for Friday night for everyone. I planned, I shopped, I cooked. I set the most elegant table with every detail just perfect. I had prepared my Tofu & Spinach Stuffed Shells as the main course, with green soybeans, salad and garlic bread. I made pumpkin roll for dessert. I should just stop here and say that you can be the best cook in the world, but if you have a reputation for making “weird” food, your family won’t ever be able to actually “taste” what you have prepared for them.
Everyone arrived and shortly they took their seats. They all looked nervous and began to make small talk. I noticed immediately that people were filling their plates with salad and bread and not really touching the entrée. Finally my dad took one and then his wife. They played with it a little, talking and pushing them around their plates. Not a word was spoken by anyone about the meal. No one said, “Wow, what a lovely dinner you have prepared”, nothing. I mean come on, if you really hate someone’s food, the VERY least you can do is complement their table or the decorations. It costs us nothing to pay someone a complement.
I was hurt deeply. I had made this meal for many others and I know it tastes good. It just goes to show the power of a person’s mind. If you’ve already decided you’re not going to like something, you’re not going to like it! It’s as simple as that.
I know it’s not right, but next year when it’s my turn for the meal, I’m going to serve them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread with some Kraft mac and cheese as a side dish. I’m going to put out the paper plates and serve Kool-Aid in Dixie cups. I’ll go ahead and put a few candles on the table just for decoration though. I wonder if anyone will actually notice? See, even I can be wounded. Don’t mean to whine!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you eat differently than the rest of your family don’t expect them to just jump on the band wagon. I imagine it will take a lot of time before they don’t think I’m weird anymore. Maybe it will never happen, I don’t know. I have learned that it’s a lot easier and more rewarding to cook for perfect strangers that don’t have any expectations about my food. I love to entertain on Sabbath and have people over for lunch. It is how hospitality was meant to be. Sharing a meal with friends, encouraging each other.
What's your favorite veg food?
I really can’t name a favorite veggie food. I love so many foods and dishes. My healthy desserts are really my forte though, and in my second cookbook there is a recipe for Pumpkin Roll that is absolutely fantastic. The New York Style Blueberry Cheesecake is also mouth-watering good. My favorite entrees are my Penne Pasta Primavera (found in the recipe packet), the Honey Mustard Tofu Steaks (in volume one), the BBQ Ribs in volume two, and the list goes on and on. I tried to warn you.
Do you have a favorite veg book?
My favorite vegetarian cookbooks are of course my own, "Taste Of Health," volumes 1 & 2. I also have a recipe packet available. My books can be purchased online through my website http://www.tasteofhealth.net/ or by mail (P.O. Box 38, Gaston, SC 29053). I’m gearing up to work on getting the recipe packet published into volume three within the next year. It’s a lot of work and money. Please be praying for this project as I know God will bless.
Tofu or tempeh?
Definitely tofu! I am not a tempeh lover.
What did you have for breakfast today?
Breakfast for me usually consists of two choices that I just adore! I LOVE Kashi Go Lean Crunch with a cup of blueberries and vanilla Silk milk. I eat that almost everyday. When I want a change, I will cook up my favorite Belgian 7-Grain Waffles. Oh how I love them, let me count the ways. I will also cover them in berries with a little pure maple syrup and that will be my breakfast feast.
An Update On Taste Of Health Ministry from Barbara Kerr
I just want to take a moment to say “Thank You” to all the loyal supporters of my ministry that continue to call and tell me that they miss seeing me and Linda (former vice-president of 3ABN) cooking in her “kitchen." I have so appreciated your prayers and hugs over the phone. However, I will not be taping programs at Three Angels anymore.
I’ve started doing more cooking schools again in churches around the country. I was also the main women’s retreat speaker in Cape May, New Jersey, this past April. God also opened an amazing door here in Columbia, South Carolina, at Fort Jackson, our military base. I am teaching a class (along with another woman) to the female officers called, “Every Woman’s Battle." It’s a weekly class on sexual integrity as God intended it. The class has been a huge success so far and we are excited about the questions these women are asking regarding the Bible.
My husband, Bill, and I were in Spokane, Washington, in September 9th, giving our first marriage seminar on “How to Get Along”. If you would like details or a reference, just call Mable Dunbar at the Upper Columbia Conference. (509-838-2761)
On September 29th, 2006, Taste Of Health received its non-profit status. We are now a 501(c)(3) and we are excited about that.
Many of you have called to ask if I am going to tape programs anymore. The answer is, “YES” I am going to tape programs again because I want to get back to work doing what God called me to do!
I am saying “Yes” in faith. The HOPE Channel and LLBN have both indicated that they would love to air my cooking programs, but neither facility has a kitchen studio. I am still without a studio or the funds to build one. (I’ve had the plans drawn up for a year now just waiting on God’s timing to be perfect, and His hand to move on my behalf). Last week my friend and assistant, Claudia and I sat down and planned out 120 thirty-minute programs. I don’t know where the studio will be, nor do I have the funds to accomplish this work, but that’s God’s problem. We have a deal - I work, and He supplies my needs.
I do pray that God will use my ministry to bring ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands to know the Savior. Bless the Lord oh my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. To God be the glory!
If you would like to contact my ministry you can do so through my website http://www.tasteofhealth.net/ or by email at email@example.com.