Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Tomatoes at Last

September 20, 2012

It is September, and I spent much of the summer growing two tomato plants that are the size of small trees. At last, I picked three, ripe, yellow tomatoes yesterday. There are many more on the vine. Until I pick them, these first three are worth about $10 apiece in the cost of the plants, slug bait, time and water.

I have worked and worked on my book, Notes from an Island Food Oasis. Or, The Clueless Eater.

So far, I have been told that 1) Notes from an Island Food Oasis is a terrible name for a book, since it sounds incomplete; 2) I need to include EVERYBODY in my book, not just the people on this island; 3) I need a more definitive arc to this book, and 4) I need to be IN this book more.

The quest for good, healthy eating began when my doctor told me my cholesterol was 300. After an initial year of confining myself to mostly local, healthful, unprocessed food, it had lowered, but not enough to suit her. Then came a year of taking statins. Not good. My cholesterol came down still more, but my intestinal tract felt as though I had been swallowing steel wool scouring pads. I decided that I would rather drop dead of a stroke than try to function while feeling sick all the time.
My GP sent me to a specialist, an endocrinologist, who looked at me skeptically.

“You have no health risks,” she said. “You are not overweight. You are not diabetic. But your triglycerides are high.”

I described my family history to her of strokes and diabetes. She sent me home with orders to take four fish oil capsules a day. I looked up high triglycerides and found that this was part of an overall condition called metabolic syndrome. It usually goes along with diabetes and excess weight. It is prevalent among Hispanic women. Oh great.

So I decided to lose those extra ten pounds. I gave up breakfast cereal in favor of black coffee and fruit. For lunch, I have water and raw vegetables and fruit. Then I have a regular, balanced dinner. It has taken about three months, but I am now two pounds from my weight before I had a child. I don’t feel any differently, and was surprised when someone remarked on my loss of weight.

As a fiction writer, I guess I am blind to myself. How do I include the invisible figure in the mirror (like a vampire) in a nonfiction book? I must also, I was told, make every chapter title COMPLETELY self-explanatory; it must be evident from the table of contents what each chapter is about. This is so very different from fiction, where one tries to draw the reader in, to explore the mystery and find the answers along with the writer.

I’m giving myself until the end of the year to come up with a draft that answers these questions, one way or another. What has been your experience eating locally? Did you see an improvement in your own health?
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Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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