I’ve always been a believer in the power of food to make a difference to a person’s wellbeing and so I was intrigued to read more about a newly released cookbook ‘Eat for your Life’ by Australian chef, Alison Taafe. Alison’s life and outlook on food changed the day her sister, Laura, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
After an initial operation to remove the tumour, Laura underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment and experienced debilitating side-effects. Shortly after, secondary tumours were found in Laura’s bones, and she received the news that she had as little as two years to live.
After exhausting all of the traditional options available in Australia and determined not to give up on her sister, Alison started researching alternative therapies and discovered a treatment program in Mexico that claimed to be having success treating cancer*. Convinced that this would make a difference to Laura’s life Alison started making arrangements to get her there. She established a charity – Eat for a Cure – and began raising the necessary funds to help pay for her treatment. She also started reading more about the healing power of food and devised a number of healthy recipes to help complement Laura’s treatment program.
Thankfully, Laura was declared cancer free in May. Alison’s experience inspired her to write this cookbook so that she could share her learning with others.
What I like about Alison’s approach is that it is realistic. Her recipes are easy to prepare and use ingredients that are easy to source or are in our kitchens already. While I don’t necessarily advocate turning to alternative therapy in lieu of proven medical treatments (and in this instance I understand it was a last-ditch effort when all other options had been exhausted) I do believe that healthy eating can assist the improvement of serious medical conditions, and indeed our life.
Alison’s story is an inspiring tale of never giving up, even when the odds are stacked against you, and I think it’s a story worth sharing and thinking about. Keen to find out more, I interviewed Alison about her experience.
Alison has included one of her delicious recipes for you to try and offered a copy of her book as a giveaway for she cooks, she gardens readers. Details at the end of the post.
*nb. The efficacy of this treatment has not been proven.
An interview with Alison Taafe
Tell us a bit about yourself – where did your interest in food come from and how would you describe your cooking style?
I’ve been a chef for 32 years and food has been a major part of my life since I was 12. I went to a grammar school in England and my home economics teacher, Mrs Carey, was the first person to tell me I should think of pursuing a career in food as I loved cooking and was good at it. So I took her advice when I was old enough and applied to get into what was considered the best culinary school in England – the Westminster Hotel School. My school wasn’t impressed as we were expected to go on to university and study law or some other intellectual pursuit. Instead, I left school at 16 when I was offered a place at Westminster. Funnily enough when I started winning awards and doing well, my old school starting showing off about it! Also, my grandfather, Herbert Ede, was a pastry chef and warrant officer in the Royal Navy where he was renowned for his wonderful pastries and wedding cakes. He died when my mum was only 15 so I never met him, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about him and I like to think a love of food and cooking is in my genes. My cooking style has changed a lot in the last four or five years since Laura’s diagnosis. I was classically trained in rich food with an emphasis on presentation and flavour. Today, my food is all about nutrition and making healthy food look beautiful, taste great and feel like an indulgence – just one that is good for you!
Your sister Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer and has faced a life-changing battle to survive. Tell us a little bit about the journey and the role food played in her recovery.
Since Laura’s diagnosis, I’ve learned to see food as medicine for the first time. Laura was faced with healing her life through food and natural medicines after we exhausted most of the traditional medicines available to her in Australia. My job was to work with the list of foods Laura could eat as advised by the Hoxsey diet (not many) and come up with recipes using food she enjoyed to nourish her throughout the treatment phase and beyond. Laura continues to astound us all with her recovery and her whole family (husband Rory and two boys Zak, 8, and Elliot, 12) has come on board with her diet which has changed the family’s way of life for the better.
What did Laura’s doctors think of your approach?
They told me straight not to waste what time she had left with embarking on a special diet. As I mention in Eat for your Life, one doctor suggested I let her eat doughnuts, drink coffee and climb Kilimanjaro if that’s what she wanted to do. Most oncologists are focussed on chemotherapy and/or radiation as a cancer treatment because that’s how they’ve been trained and what is expected of them. Of course they support healthy eating in general but diet doesn’t really come into it. All the nurses who know Laura though love the book and promote it as much as possible.
You’ve just released a cookbook called ‘Eat for your life’ – how did that come about?
Purely and simply as a response to Laura’s diagnosis. Instead of allowing the tragedy of Laura’s cancer to devastate and paralyse me and my family, I decided to look for the blessing in the burden. I started out trying to clean up Laura’s diet and to help her get through cancer treatment with healthy, nourishing foods. As I researched foods, I found alternatives for healthy alternatives for the foods blacklisted by the Biomedical Clinic in Mexico where Laura sought treatment. I started experimenting with new ways of preparing food – such as raw foods and using special ingredients. That led to other recipes being developed for other chronic diseases or ailments which other members of my family had, so I compiled them into a book of more than 200 recipes.
I seem to suffer a lot from stress, what foods should I be eating to try and manage that better?
I too, am prone to stress – so chapter 8 which focuses on stress, is my chapter! I discovered that you become more susceptible to stress when you eat foods that cause cellular stress or oxidation, such as those with cooked food toxins. Beneficial stress busting foods include those with beta carotene, vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, C and E for starters. That means lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, chamomile and lavender teas, spices such as ginger and garlic for immunity, wholesome sources of carbohydrates, green superfoods and maca which tastes a bit like coffee and basil which is known to reduce stress.
What are your favourite recipes from the book?
I love the raw foods such as raw chocolate brownies (see recipe below), raw apple flan and cauliflower couscous. I also love other cooked food recipes such as: farmhouse potatoes, quinoa and homemade granola as well as some of the dinners I make for Laura using salmon.
What advice would you give to readers of the blog who may find themselves in a similar situation?
Firstly, don’t panic. There is a lot of information out there and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Speak to your doctor or nutritionist before changing your diet and be realistic about what you can eat and how you can eat them. Eating has to be pleasurable as well as health promoting, so create dishes around the foods you like and what you can realistically achieve. All the recipes in the book are easily created by the home cook using ingredients they already have on hand or are easy to source.
Raw Chocolate Brownies
One of Alison’s favourite recipes from her book are these raw chocolate brownies. They are wheat-free, gluten-free and vegan.
- 3 cups raw walnuts
- 1 cup raw almonds
- ⅔ cup raisins
- ⅔ cup Medjool dates
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (Ceylon variety)
- 2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
- 2 tsp ground anise powder
- pinch cayenne pepper
- pinch Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt
- 2 to 3 tsp cold water
- ½ cup pure maple or agave syrup
- ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
- ⅓ cup raw carob powder
- Process nuts to a meal in a food processor but don’t over-process.
- Add raisins and dates and process to combine.
- Add remaining ingredients, except the water and process till sticky.
- Transfer to mixing bowl and add water. Mix well with hands. It should resemble a dough. If not wet enough to form a dough, add a little more water.
- Press into a baking-paper-lined cake tin.
- Make frosting by blending all ingredients in a food processor till smooth. Then spread over brownie and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours until set.
- Cut into pieces and enjoy.
To go into the draw to win a copy of Alison’s new book simply leave a comment on this post. Entries close 10th October, winner will be announced on Facebook and emailed directly. Australian readers only, sorry.
Disclaimer: I received no payment or compensation for this post. One copy of Alison’s book will be given away and has been provided by the publisher. Winner will be drawn at random.
And the winner is!
Lucky number 9! Congratulations Cate.