Chicago Loop holiday shopping – part 1, hot tips

Seasonal shopping is easy if you work and/or live in Chicago’s Loop, especially if you’re nearby State Street! If you plan it right, you should be able to get almost anything you need by simply popping over and strolling down State Street on your lunch breaks or on your trip home from work.

One good reason to shop State Street on your lunch break is because even with holiday store hours, stores downtown simply do not stay open nearly as late as their suburban counterparts. Whereas in the suburbs, some stores will even stay open till midnight during the holiday rush, downtown, most stores close by 9:00 at the latest during the holiday season; and depending on how long your shopping list is, that may not give you enough time to get everything you want in one enthusiastic sweep of State Street.

Think of everyone you want to bless with a gift this year; make your list; check it at least twice to avoid last-minute panic shopping. A good idea is to always buy a few extra gifts and have them ready to avoid an awkward faux pas in case someone you didn’t expect suddenly presents you with a gift. Make them something universal and unisex that you yourself wouldn’t mind having, like a Starbucks gift certificate, in case you don’t end up giving them away.

Also have booze or pop handy for any holiday parties to which you may be invited. Now Loop pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, sell alcohol as do other stores, like City Target.

Holiday shopping can be daunting, but if you break it up into little bits here and there on your lunch breaks or trek home from the office, you’ll be done before you know it. Start now before a blizzard hits and walking becomes sloppy, even treacherous – already the temperature has plummeted and it’s snowed in the Windy City! Besides, as you know, stores are only going to become more crowded and chaotic with each passing day leading up to the Christmas.

One more thing to keep in mind, perhaps the most important: Remember to buy yourself something too! Whether out of a sense of reward for having gotten all of your requisite shopping done, or due to a feeling of self-love, or for no reason at all, splurge a bit and get yourself something special!

The Presence of Presents-2007


Chicago: Where the holiday action is, part 2


Part 1 in this two-part series announced the kick-off of the holiday season in downtown Chicago. Here is more of what’s happening during this jolly month ahead across Chicago:

Through January 8 – Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. Navy Pier boasts one-of-a-kind shops, famous food spots, carnival rides and entertainment of almost every type and truly is a wonder to behold and enjoy during every season. But at this time of year, the decorations are larger than life. Plus Navy Pier hosts its annual Winter Wonderfest, including ice skating, which is like a holiday paradise for all ages.

December 8 and 15 – Fairly recently, I discovered the famous Cloud Gate in Millennium Park talks and tells its story. Now there’s singing there too through mid-December. On Friday evenings at 7:00 p.m., there will be choral performances and gigantic sing-alongs around “the Bean.”

December 8, 15 and 22 – Andersonville Late Nights 2017. Late night shopping, especially at holiday-time, while common in the suburbs, is rare in the city. Get some late night shopping in at the fascinating neighborhood of Andersonville. Seasonal fun and specials go on all around you to brighten these very special nights. Andersonville is a very vibrant neighborhood that really shines at this time of year. Click here for a list of deals and events. A special event that takes place in Andersonville (originally an area where many Swedes settled) is the Swedish tradition the Festival of Lights on Wednesday, December 13.

December 8-23, 26-31 and January 1-7 – Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. In my article about Lincoln Park Zoo, I pointed out the fun never stops at this zoo. Driving along Lake Shore Drive at night, the zoo looks like a magical place with its colorful lights – and it is. Don’t just be content to gawk at it from afar; join the Zoo Lights winter revelry which includes food, drink, a holiday market and live music – and it’s free!

December 9-24 – If you’ve not yet experienced the way the Music Box Theatre celebrates the season, I highly recommend it! Think you’ve seen all the classic Christmas movies too many times already? I guarantee you’ve never experienced them quite like this. Many attendees really get in the spirit by dressing up, bringing props including noise makers, reciting famous lines and best of all, singing along to these old-time movies. The Music Box Christmas Double Feature & Sing-A-Long will put you in the Christmas spirit! You can catch a single feature too if you’d rather. Check the website to see the schedule and order your tickets – get them while you can, because this is a very popular event. Devotees to this event go faithfully year after year.

December 12 & 19 – The Do It Yourself Messiah at Millennium Park. George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the most glorious oratorios in history – and one of the most popular especially at Christmas time and Easter. The music is so elevating, it’s natural to want to sing along. Here’s your chance, under the guidance of conductor Stanley Sperber and along with famous singers and musicians. Not much into singing? Maybe you should be! Several studies have concluded that singing is good for you: for your heart, lungs, circulation, sinuses and brain, immunity…as well as being emotionally uplifting and, ultimately, relaxing.

Add to all the great shopping and entertainment and sights to take in downtown, there are also great places to dine and drink. Whether grabbing lunch or enjoying a meal before the trek homeward, these are fascinating places to dive into the mix of regular locals, local tourists and people from around the world.

If you live downtown, there’s no excuse to miss all Chicago has to offer at this time of year, whether to join in an event, or simply enjoy this beautiful, colorful and classy city.

I advise you get up and out; take a revitalizing walk (perhaps at least partially by pedway if it’s frightfully cold) enjoy all that Chicago has to offer, from it’s gigantic events to the green and red-lit buildings to the planters bursting with fragrant evergreens and all the touches of beauty that Maggie Daley added to this town that transformed it from an old grey city to one of the world’s most beautiful.

If you don’t live downtown, Chicago during the holiday season is definitely worth at least one if not several trips downtown to make a day or a weekend of it; bring the whole family!

Happy Holidays! Shop, eat, drink, be merry, stay safe (be vigilant) and have fun!

Stay warm and dry via Chicago pedways

About two weekends ago, yours truly was playing in autumn leaves on a sunny day so warm, no jacket was required. But since then, as usually happens in Chicago, we basically skipped temperatures in the 60’s or 50’s and dove straight down to the 40’s and 30’s — and at night, even dipping into the 20’s!

From bikeways to pedways, it’s good to know that the city of Chicago provides many ways for its citizens and visitors to get around comfortably. The pedway system is most popular in the winter, but also handy on those unbearably hot sweltering days of summer as well as during precipitation or high winds.

When it turns cold, the heated pedways become flooded with pedestrians. The pedway is a labyrinth of mostly underground hallways and tunnels plus some sky bridges. Using pedways and cutting through buildings to escape the harsh weather is the savvy way to get around.

There are several buildings downtown that are a block long, one right after the other in some areas (like in the south LaSalle Street business district). Explore a bit as you traverse the city on foot; find out which ones you can cut through to do part of your commute indoors to escape the elements. Be aware, however, that your chance of utilizing these routes is drastically reduced as 6:00 p.m. approaches when many buildings close their thoroughfares.

However, if you’re walking along State Street or one of the shopping districts, there are several department stores and malls one can cross through going any direction. You might even get some shopping done if something catches your eye as you pass through. Hotels are also good for ducking out of the elements and snaking through indoors, sometimes even shaving off two blocks’ walk in nasty weather.

But the pedways are really where it’s at, and there are several of them running like an intricate maze under the city as well as above the city.

In the 203 North LaSalle Street building, not only is there the CTA train system with underground walkways to connect with trains shooting out from the city in all directions, but on the second floor, there is an indoor pathway through several buildings all the way to State Street. Take the escalators to the second floor, walk east, and you’ll soon find yourself in a catwalk. You will go up and down stairways at times as you wind your way through the buildings lining Lake Street, finally crossing through the back hallway of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel with ATM’s, shops, and places to eat before emerging on the corner of either State and Lake, or if you enter the hotel and jut through the lobby, State and Wacker. Obviously the same route can be taken in reverse.

Pedway Swimming Pool-Health Club
Swimming pool off the pedway

But the really long and amazing pedway is one that goes all the way from some of the residential buildings on the south bank of the Chicago River east of Michigan Avenue all the way to City Hall — or if you prefer, you can turn south in the pedway, heading into the center of the Loop, emerging on an escalator in the Three First National Plaza building, across Madison Street from Chase Tower (bank), where you can also cut through.

There’s more than one train depot in this pedway where you can stop to shop, eat, grab a cocktail, even swim at an underground pool! This amazing pedway gives you access to the Michigan Plaza on North Michigan Avenue, with its awesome array of businesses, eateries, stores, services and salons. It also takes you to the Cultural Center, then on past LA Fitness to Macy’s, then to the eating spots and shops at Block 37 and on to various municipal and office buildings including the Illinois Center. Mentioned here are just a handful of the buildings you can get to via the pedway.

Insider tip: While you’re in the pedway, you are indoors. Take off your hat and gloves, unbutton your coat and loosen your scarf. If not, you’ll find yourself sweating, which is not a healthy way to exit the pedway back into the cold on the other end.

Exploring the pedway on your own can feel like an adventure, but it can also be a bit daunting if it’s new to you. Just like the street above, people are scurrying along — especially those catching trains — plus there are some less populated sections with almost a seedy feel where someone may ask you for money.

If you want to become a pedway pro, try a pedway tour. There are several, most costing about $20 or $25, and they’re easy to find on the Internet. Wear your walking shoes and outerwear that’s not too bulky to carry, because the tours last an hour or more — that’s because the Chicago pedways are so amazing! On tour, you’ll learn some Chicago history that will fascinate and amuse while you learn to navigate the underground matrix.

Find your voice…and use it!

Chicago Ideas Week’s 2017 “Finding Your Voice with VOXX and Queens Brunch” lab was geared toward women, but men can use these techniques too, because we all need to find our voice and speak up. To not do so is stifling.

Every women has a voice, but women aren’t always encouraged to use their voices (and are sometimes even discouraged from speaking), so not all women are used to sharing their voices. And it’s hard to use your voice if you don’t even know your voice. This workshop and what I will share with you here will assist you in finding and utilizing your voice. Once you do, things should start to look up in your life.

The workshop started out when we were asked to do a couple of small exercises. The first, although so quick and simple, felt extremely liberating: We wrote down on a piece of paper something we wanted to expel. Then we crumpled it up and threw it away. Next, we were asked to stand up and shake various body parts to loosen up, something we should do any time we feel tight/stressed. That of course felt good too.

The organizations VOXX and Queens Brunch were described and a bit about each group’s founders (Lisa Sorich and Rosetta Lane of VOXX and Shayna Atkins of Queens Brunch).  VOXX is about bringing women together to give them the chance to share their voices. Queens Brunch is an organization that brings women together to find their voices over brunch. A practice at VOXX is two women sitting on a couch sharing what they have learned.


Kari McGrath and Torri Shaaron were invited to come up to the stage and make themselves comfortable on the couch. What followed was a conversation between them that was very frank and open, thought-provoking, inspirationally stimulating and potentially life-altering to those in the audience who needed to hear these women’s stories so we too could find our voices.

McGrath said she had been feeling “like a bird in a cage” who couldn’t find her song. She described this feeling as energy-draining, especially as she was the type of person who really invested herself and “gave 110 percent.” When she was let go from her job, it felt like she was set free out of the cage. She described this as a beautiful shift. Subsequently she got into coaching and built a business helping others to “show up.“

Tidbits of McGrath’s wise advice:
We each have a story. Write your story the way you want it to be.
Follow other story tellers because it’s helpful to learn that somebody else has a similar story.
We have several characters living within us. For instance, there can be chatter in our heads that tries to discourage us, makes us doubting whether we are good enough, whether we should even try to do something amazing. Ignore all that; hear a different voice!
Get rid of preconceived notions; let go of what you think it should be like. Throw all that away. One concept to throw away, for instance, is that of “perfect timing.” Don’t wait for that!
When what you are doing comes from your passion, it makes sense and it all falls into place.

Shaaron quit her job in engineering, and although still not employed, she now has her voice. She believes in disruption: Speaking up and challenging the norm, throwing away the rule book. When she does re-enter the workforce, she knows she “wants to work only with nice people.”

Some of Shaaron’s words of wisdom:
Sometimes you don’t know what “there” looks like much less how to get from here to there…but you know you have got to get there. Her motto is “Just start.”
Sometimes you voice is challenged and you have to stretch our of your comfort zone. The biggest challenge can be you own self-doubt. We all want to be liked and respected. Sometimes you need to stand up and speak out.
Important values: Respectful honesty, being kind, staying true to the mission.

Kari mentioned that our center is where our voice lives. So she had us get quite, comfortable  and close our eyes while she led us on three visualization journeys. Readers, try these feel-good confidence-boosters yourself:

  1. Think back to when you were at your best, the top of your game, confident, you were in the right place at the right time and things were going your way. How did that feel?
  2. If you had your own billboard, what would it say?
  3. Imagine yourself about to go on stage to make a presentation and a voice addresses you by name and says, “In the next few moments, when you get on stage, you will make an impact that affects everyone in the audience for the rest of their lives” What would you want that impact to be?

Next, we were given brief questionnaires to fill out. Readers, fill in the blanks for a better understanding of when your voice gets locked and how to unlock it:

  • When I am passionate, I sound like:
  • My voice gets small when:
  • What I want to say more of, more often is:
  • My voice is unlocked when:


After another similar fill-in-the-blanks exercise, a request was made that two folks from the audience volunteer to go to the couch and talk about how these exercises helped them. Here are some of the highlights of two one-on-one couch conversations that followed:

A strongly patriarchal upbringing can lead to an ongoing fear of authority.
Many of us have lost jobs; this led to the discovery that often it takes losing a job in order to find our voice. This is not unusual.
You can say you were “fired” or “let go.” The second way of looking at it is obviously more positive and, in fact, freeing.
We are all making it up as we go. So it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” And also to call on others for help or advice.
First things first: You have to “be there.” Being more present to one’s own heart, soul, gut will enable you to know exactly how you feel about a situation before you speak.
No matter what you’re going through, “You’re going to get through it.” Keep going.
Let your light shine — but also let the light in!

Atkins of Queens Brunch wrapped up by imparting some gems of wisdom:
When people network, most people seek to network up. But what is often overlooked: It’s very important to network across as well.
She feels most fervent when she knows she has a tribe at the end of her journey. Women, find your tribe or collect a tribe around you.
“You can start over. You can do anything!”

Make a difference: Raise your voice

The Chicago Ideas Week topic was “Journalism + You = Power,” a timely topic  in the current media environment where the term “fake news” is used a lot, yet this Chicago Ideas Week presentation went far beyond that trend, to where each individual can make a difference. In attendance were mostly writers and those in marketing and public relations, although this class would have been valuable to anyone who wonders what news they can believe anymore and what, if anything, they can do about it.

Although this Chicago Ideas Week lab was interactive, we soaked up much knowledge, wisdom and inspiration by listening attentively to our class instructor, Public Narrative’s president. I’ll admit when I volunteered for this writing assignment, I didn’t realize how deeply compelling the presentation would be.


Storytelling – News – Journalism
Storytelling: It’s a form of communication; we all do it. We tell stories for a reason; when a story is told, there’s an intent on the part of the storyteller. Journalists are the storytellers who tell the news. Journalists are accountable to very high standards, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and rightly so. Citizens have a right to news that is reported with the purest motives: To inform accurately.

A lot of what we read and hear now, although passed off as news on “news channels” and “news programs” is not really news. It’s often overlaid with the opinions and highly-charged emotions of the reporters. The expression “fake news” has been used a lot lately, yet it was pointed out the term doesn’t make sense and in fact is an oxymoron. In any case, it’s undesirable when the border between news and op-ed are blurred by those who report the news. It’s especially injurious when public alarm is caused — and we seem to be in a continuous state of this lately.

There are several different types of news. Basically, news is meant to tell something that happened, but it can also be informational, announcing something that is happening or is going to happen. How-to news is also informational.

An example of everyday observational was shown: A story of something that had happened, posted to Facebook, backed up by pictures and a video. Someone commented on the post explaining what had specifically happened on the train that caused the delay. The author of the story thanked her commenter and asked who she was and also looked her up on the internet. Turns out she was a spokesperson for the CTA, a trustworthy source. Now everyone who read this post knew what happened and why. That was news.

Credible Journalism
There are a few different types of news, and there’s non-news: Propaganda, opinion, advertising, entertainment (some of it true) and public relations – trying to pass themselves off as news. This includes infomercials that sometimes even look as if they’re on a legitimate news site, but most people now-a-days can spot marketing ploys that come disguised as news.

So how does one know if something they read or hear is actual news and not one of the above-mentioned foolers?  The first thing to ascertain is: What is the intent? Is it to inform, entertain, persuade? Beware of biases. Look at who the sponsors of the program are and who advertises on their show or site.

Also good to note is the news source. “News organizations that are more transparent are generally more credible.” In early times, newspapers were very slanted, depending on who owned them and their beliefs. It used to be that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were strictly conservative or liberal as were the dedicated readers of each. Now, not so much anymore. But even newspapers tend to have some native advertising, so stay aware. After all, news is a business; it takes money to produce the news, and in order to stay afloat, ads are part of the business that make that possible.

On social media, countless stories are passed along continuously, often as a knee-jerk reaction. Before you pass something along, consider your own credibility: Make sure what you’re sharing is true. First, do your research. While you read a piece, after perhaps a couple of introductory paragraphs, you should start seeing attribution, which denotes true news. Attribution can be in the form of sources cited (actual names and titles), context (this year’s budget versus last year’s), verifiable quotes and links that lead to respectable internet sites that can back up what is being said.

Don’t simply believe everything you read. Be a fact checker, do a little digging; reading the news isn’t a passive activity but a participatory one. Why is this important? So you get real news, so you share only what is true. By doing so, you are being a good citizen. Everybody needs to be able to rely on the news, which should be comprised solely of legitimate facts.

Good citizenship and the news
As citizens of this country and consumers of the news, we have a right and a responsibility, per the First Amendment to keep news honest. It was put forth that “We are the checks-and-balances of the news. We depend on the media to be our guardian; we in turn need to be guardians of the media. The democracy depends on us. The news organizations uphold democracy.” Does one individual have any power in this regard? Yes! How?

To Do:

  • Know who is reputable, someone without their own agenda whom you can believe. Our class instructor curated her own list of seven to eight people who are in the know and checks them first thing each morning. Some of these are, as she put it, “people on the ground” who sometimes report something before it even breaks in the regular news…Wouldn’t it be great to have your own list like this? Then you would be intelligently informed as to what’s really going on, minus any reporter’s slant or bias, minus fear-mongers. You can do this: Scout around for trust-worthy journalists. Now you know how. You can (and should) be in the know.
  • Next, if you are not subscribed to any news source, find a good one and buy a paid subscription. Many seem to be under the impression the news should be free, especially in this information era. When you become a paying subscriber, you are helping uphold the First Amendment. Still, the news service is a business and it needs funds to produce the news. Just as you would expect to pay your bill at the dentist, paying for news is no different. By subscribing, you can reward the hard work countless people in the media are doing for you.
  • When is the last time you interacted with a news outlet or journalist? Perhaps you don’t realize: You have more power than you think! News providers are beholden to us to get it right. Communicate with them, be it a strong disagreement with what you’ve read or if you feel they’ve done a particularly good job presenting coverage on a story. Our class instructor assured us that editors and journalists read their mail; they want to get it right; that is their duty. Your communication with them doesn’t have to be lengthy. A simple “Thank you for taking the time to write this” can be compliment enough to keep good news coming. The more you communicate with the media, they will start to recognize your name and the more influential you will become. We live in a democracy; let’s raise our voices…so we can ultimately live in a more ideal world.


Can’t bring yourself to meditate? Mini-meditate!


Author’s Note: I originally published the following article in 2015.


Chicago Ideas Week presented what everybody needs — especially anyone who exists in a noisy environment: A class on how to meditate amidst distractions. It was held outdoors so participants could truly practice this concept. The class was billed thusly: “…learn how to use your surroundings – even the bustling Michigan Ave. – to become grounded and meditative.” And that is exactly what we did – even more so than expected, actually, because it was surprisingly chilly with a cruel wind that just wouldn’t stop. Talk about learning how to meditate in challenging conditions!

For those of us who dwell in the city, the distractions of traffic and people passing by are so common anyhow, we barely notice them. But sitting in an open plaza exposed to a wind that rumbled between the buildings with the sound of rolling thunder, trying to keep our hoods from blowing off and our noses from running — now that was distracting.

But part of a meditative philosophy is to accept what is – embrace it even – and not just cope but make the best of it. And so if we could meditate and do our minds and bodies some good in this setting, we could probably succeed at this just about anywhere.

Our meditative lecture and exercises were led by Jacquelyn Brennan and Kelly Moore of MindFuel Wellness, a company that organizations hire to come in and counsel their employees on all things wellness. We managed to do three meditative sessions throughout the event: A two-minute meditation for openers, a five-minute mid-class meditation and ended with a full ten-minute meditation.

We also did some light stretching; it felt good to move around a bit and get the blood circulating in hopes of generating some body heat. We learned about breathing, anatomy and posture and how these interrelate to meditation and affect our well-being in day-to-day living. Despite the cold weather, concentrating on one’s breathing took us inside our bodies, where it was warm; and as long as we continued to focus inward, this was ideal.

Kelly opened with mention of just a few of the benefits of meditation: A decreases stress and high blood pressure as well as mental clarity, good immunity and whole-self well-being. Jacquelyn introduced the concept that breathing properly is key, not just while meditating but in our lives at every moment. Today’s civilization creates a fast-paced lifestyle and we tend to react to this with shallow and sometimes even rapid breathing. Breathing like this is not good for the body or ones hope for peace of mind. An interesting bit of trivia was mentioned: Navy Seals snipers slow down their breath for accuracy.

We may be cutting down on our capacity to breathe properly by 30 percent with poor posture. Ideally, we need 60 to 70 percent of our lung capacity to breathe deeply and all the way down to our core. Slouching can reduce your lunch capacity by 30 to 40 percent. When it comes to posture, how is your forward head position, also known as FHP? For every inch your head is forward, you add 10 extra pounds of stress on your neck joint and back and this stress spreads out to impact the whole body. Mind your posture!

Here are some tips to meditate well: Focus on breath so your mind won’t wander. Find a yoga pose you like and sit comfortably. Yoga poses are actually designed for comfortable sitting. You can create meditation at any point during your day. Try to put yourself in a position where you won’t be disturbed – but don’t make the lack of a quiet place an excuse not to meditate. Even five minutes of deep breathing, really concentrating solely on your breath as much as possible, is a form of meditation. Heck even a one-minute meditation can be helpful. And there are several ways to meditate. Do what works for you.

Now you know a bit more about meditation and that it is important and distinctly possible to incorporate at least mini-meditation – anytime and anywhere – into your life – you have no excuse: Just do it – every day!

And I highly recommend being present at Chicago Ideas Week, which happens every autumn, to enhance your life immeasurably.


Better nutrition now can make you and your future generations healthier


Author’s Note: Below is a reprint of the article I did for Chicago Ideas in 2015.


Among its many features, Chicago Ideas Week presented “Food as Medicine,” a panel discussion moderated by Monica Eng, producer at WBEZ and featuring Geeta Maker-Clark, M.D., clinical assistant professor & coordinator of Integrated Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; Rebecca Katz, chef, author of several cookbooks and founder of the Healing Kitchens Institute and Michel Nischan, chef and founder & CEO of Wholesome Wave.

Author’s disclaimers:

  • Almost nothing in the article is verbatim, but rather, paraphrased per the author’s take on what was said.
  • Whereas each panelist responded to all the questions, what stood out most to the author is what was included in this article, although each participant contributed loads of fascinating nutritional information.
  • Ideas put forth in this article are not necessarily presented in the order in which they were discussed but were organized for cohesiveness.

Eng opened with a heavy statement: The #1 cause of death is the quality [or lack thereof] of ones diet.

Maker-Clark confirmed that food is a most powerful drug. We take it every day, several times a day. She added that a healthful diet can improve or even prevent any chronic disease.

There’s a science called nutrigenomics: Food alters the way our genes are expressed. We are born with a genetic map. Stress, toxins and food affect this. We don’t have much control over the toxins in the environment; we can learn to cope with stress, but it’s a constant part of life. Food is the variable over which we have the most control. You can change your gene expression by the way you eat and live your life.

Know yourself: What are you most prone to? How can you eat in a way to optimize who you are? She recommends if you want a doctor to help with this, turn to one who practices functional medicine or integrative medicine. Eng cited this is also known as “Oriental medicine.”

We all have a genetic predisposition toward certain diseases or ailments. Food can act like a switch that either flips on the DNA in our bodies that triggers those diseases or stops us from ever getting those diseases. If you don’t get a disease to which you are genetically vulnerable, you start to create a different gene pool for future generations in your family so that they will no longer vulnerable to those diseases anymore.

3Eng asked: How is it that we have medical schools that don’t teach nutrition?

Maker-Clark revealed that, having been through medical school herself, although doctors are taught very comprehensively about the human body and related topics, school curriculums only briefly touch on just the rudimentary basics of nutrition. In fact, nutrition has never really been considered part of a doctor’s business. But now, patients are asking doctors nutritional questions, and many doctors don’t know the answers and have to turn to “Dr. Google” themselves.

In the culture in which she was raised, even children grow up learning that foods can have medicinal properties. In her own practice, she started to realize at a certain point in her career that she was simply becoming a “medication manager” and wanted to share yoga, stress reduction and healthful eating. Thus, she has made it her mission to bring culinary medicine to medical schools where she teaches nutrition to a class by cooking and eating together.

Eng asked: How did we (the U.S.) get where we are today regarding food?

Nischan responded it likely started when we needed to move armies of stomachs; food technology strived for efficiency. For instance, convenience foods can travel farther better and withstand extreme conditions.

Also, modifications to foods were made with the greater good in mind: In an attempt to feed the world, there’s been a striving to make food more available and more affordable.

Hippies started the health food trend, partly as a rebellion against “the man” but also because they didn’t want any chemicals in their food. But this has gone too far with salt, sugar and other seasonings having been vilified.

The public school systems are now trying to feed children healthier diets, but they’re overcooking it and leaving out the herbs and spices that would make the food taste good. This is non-ideal, as children’s taste buds are very sensitive to bitter foods.

4Eng mentioned: “Bringing the yum.”

Katz cited she is all about “the power of yum” and for good reason: If it doesn’t taste good, you won’t eat it, simple as that. Some people see salt and sugar and fat as major bad guys to be eschewed entirely. But a pinch of sea salt, the use of olive oil and, yes, even a bit of natural sugar can make an otherwise bland and boring dish, that’s also good for you, palatable. She is also big on lemon as a flavoring and lemon zest. Herbs and spices can be used to build flavor. Food should not taste like “hippie gruel.”

Maker-Clark agreed it is key that food be fun and pleasurable. She says she has a cartoon in her office portraying someone who says, “I lost 30 pounds on the reduced joy diet.”

Eng asked what each of the panelists’ favorite recipes were. Maker-Clark said hers is roasted miso tahini cauliflower. Katz makes something she calls “the everything drizzle.” Nischan’s favorite is scrambled eggs with roasted garlic, chopped kale stems and shallots.

Eng posed: Which diet is the best, most healthful? There are so many out there right now.

The panel unanimously agreed diet is a very individual thing – there is no “one size fits all” – but one thing is for certain: Plants are where it’s at. Maker-Clark recommended lots of vegetables in all different colors. Nischan advised avoid highly processed carbs, especially high-fructose corn syrup and packets of “cheese powder” passed off as a dairy product.

One needs to listen to and be in touch with ones own body: What makes your body feel good – or not? Perhaps try the Aruvedic approach.

Audience Q: How we can overcome “food insecurity”? (This term applies to those who cannot afford healthful foods, which are often far more pricey than junk food). Maker-Clark said she feels there’s validity in frozen and canned goods, which are less expensive than fresh foods.

Audience Q: How to quit a sugar addiction? Maker-Clark answered it takes time, one step at a time. Try to replace refined sugar with a sweet vegetable — i.e., maple syrup on a sweet potato. Nischan said turn to your family, community and a support group for assistance for a sugar addiction or any type of addiction.

And that wrapped up another Chicago Ideas Week event packed with great information and inspiration for us to live better lives.