Do you find yourself taking pictures of your food and sharing them on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram? What is it about food that mesmerizes us, and why do we share these photos of our epicurean experiences?
Obviously, food is more than a necessity for fueling our bodies. In a provocative series of articles, WomanScape shines a lens on a few special women who are changing lives with their creative, loving, and meaningful recipes. They show us how food can be a powerful source of romance, healing, and empowerment.
Jeanette Chen is one of these amazing women and her recipes are both healing and beautiful. The photographs of food are an arresting feast for the eyes. But the real magic in Jeanette’s kitchen is the healing properties infused in her food. Within and outside of the kitchen, Jeanette is a kind of modern-age “food whisperer”.
Her journey as an innovative cook and healer is unusual, even though Jeanette says her talent essentially stems from the passion she brings to cooking. While it is certainly one of the main ingredients, it doesn’t fully explain why over 200,000 people visit her website each month, let alone the over 1.25 million Google Plus followers.
A quick tour of Jeanette’s website – http://jeanetteshealthyliving.com – and her past are revealing. The website has a number of organizational tabs that include a typical “Recipes” index usually found on cooking sites. However, the website gets interesting when you navigate to the “Special Diets” tab and see the drop-down menu. It illustrates Jeanette’s dietary knowledge and provides a broad range of unique food groups for many dietary groups: gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, cancer-fighting, liquid/soft-food diets, pureed soups & sauces, and low residue diets. This range of special needs provides help for many people but the unexpected tabs on “Faith” and “Healthy Living” take Jeanette’s “cooking” to a whole new level.
This unusual combination and vision about the role of food’s interconnectedness is what separates Jeanette from a crowded field of chefs and other cooking websites. Links to articles prompt readers to consider food in the broader sense, while still recognizing its critical role in realizing a healthy self. As I scroll through the pages of Jeanette’s website, it reads like a colorful photo album, chronicling her ever-evolving journey in colorful photos and delicious recipes infused with a deep faith in God, an understanding that all life is precious, and a selfless desire to serve others.
The power behind Jeanette’s culinary expertise has evolved organically with each stage of her life. Jeanette appreciated good food growing up, as both of her Chinese parents loved to cook. Yet, she didn’t develop a real interest in cooking until she met her future husband, Michael, at the University of Rochester. They studied engineering and each graduated with a masters degree in business administration, but their opting out of the lackluster and expensive meal plan at school sparked Jeanette’s interest in cooking.
Making her way in the world and working in a leadership position at General Electric (GE) as a managing director in corporate finance, Jeanette juggled a busy life. When Jeanette decided to leave her job to spend more time with her family after the birth of her fourth child, she couldn’t have known her new career path had already started and never would have guessed just how quickly it would grow.
One of the women at the office who had worked for Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jeanette and Francine’s work relationship developed into a friendship, and Jeanette began making meals for Francine as she went in and out of treatment. When Jeanette left GE, Francine sought her help once again only this time she needed help getting to medical appointments because she didn’t have any family living nearby.
Jeanette was happy to help and became a trusted friend, developing a more personal relationship with Francine that included driving, cooking and visiting her regularly. It was this desire to help Francine and others in need that prompted the creation of healthy soup recipes (like the Thai Coconut Curry Soup pictured here) and recipes that could help fight the side effects of chemotherapy. Kindness stirred Jeanette’s creativity and knowledge turned spices and special ingredients into healing recipes that addressed side effects from cancer treatments, like mouth sores, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, and difficulty chewing.
As her friendship with Francine evolved over an eight year battle with breast cancer, Jeanette’s husband Michael encouraged her to blog as a way to journal and organize her healing recipes. Before long, people were logging onto Jeanette’s website for advice and assistance. Sadly, Francine succumbed to cancer but Jeanette continued to work with others, many of whom did recover. These experiences and the positive feedback from people who shared how much Jeanette’s help meant to their ailing loved ones motivated Jeanette to continue to grow and shape her healing foods.
Over time, Jeanette discovered that the food science of recovery was only one part of the healing equation. It was equally important to develop foods that appealed to a variety of tastes to fit individual preferences, and patients’ changing tastes and needs. This was a much bigger challenge because what worked for one person might seem tasteless to another. As well, preferences for certain foods, tastes or textures changed as illnesses or diseases progressed or receded. This meant that healing foods needed to be constantly re-examined or re-imagined. Recipes like Jeanette’s Roasted Root Vegetable Soup needed to be as individual as the people who sought her help and her cooking advice.
When the youngest of Jeanette’s four boys developed food sensitivities, this created yet another opportunity for her to develop an entirely new category of healing recipes to help people with food restrictions. Since starting her website in 2010, Jeanette’s healthy food recipes have certainly grown. Her joy of cooking and working with others has followed suit, influencing and reinforcing other areas of Jeanette’s faith and learning.
Many women caring for sick relatives and friends log onto Jeanette’s website often searching for soft food diets or liquid foods that provide rich easy-to-digest, nutrients. Jeanette stresses the importance of using a wide variety of healthy organic vegetables for soup broths and recipes, but she also admits that individual taste is the most important criteria when deciding what recipe to make.
There’s no room for an ego when it comes to helping cancer patients make food selections. Jeanette has seen friends and family request the same recipe over and over again because it brings them comfort, even though you might assume they might want something new and would get tired of the repetition. Recipes that can be enjoyed over and over again by cancer patients are Jeanette’s Mango Coconut Milk Smoothie and Clean Eating Lentil Soup because they are super tasty, clean and nutritious. In every recipe, Jeanette listens carefully to what people want and need.
Listening is an important ingredient when deciding which foods to make, and there are times when nothing seems to work. What someone may have liked before can completely change; this is understandable as patients experience physical challenges from their illness or side effects like a loss of appetite or an inability to taste occur.
One of my favorite recipes from Jeanette’s website that’s popular with other women is her Overnight Breakfast Oatmeal and her avocado toast. They are quick and easy, protein-packed meals that are definitely her most popular downloads.
Men love Jeanette’s Ghost Chili Hot Sauce and Super Bowl recipes like Black Bean Turkey Chili that are healthy crowd pleasers. Jeanette’s recipes are designed to please a wide variety of tastes and needs. Lately she has been working more with cruciferous foods like cauliflower and kale because they are highly nutritious. This makes me extremely happy. If you’re like me and love roasted cauliflower after years of hating cauliflower as a kids, check out Jeanette’s Roasted Cauliflower and Beet Hummus recipe. One word for it: divine!
So where does Jeanette go from here? Until recently, her faith in God and her service to others has been a quiet ingredient. New posts by Jeanette, sharing her devotion to healing the body and mind with inspirational links to articles and philosophical resources, seems like a great direction and a natural fit. While it takes courage to share one’s journey Jeanette has never shied away from following her intuition about how to live and bring deeper value and insight to others.
Jeanette’s passion for food and its healing goodness is a gift. Food is more than a source of nourishment when we cook with a spirit and creativity that fuels our soul. No wonder our world has fallen in love with photographs of delicious-looking food that invite you to experience bright colors, interesting textures and comforting qualities! Believing we are tapped to do meaningful work on earth, no matter how glorified or humble, helps us to realize a life rich in purpose. Explore the “Faith” section of Jeanette’s website as welcome food for thought, knowing that daily meals are often rushed and many families even forgo communal meals at the kitchen table. I will continue to follow Jeanette’s healthy recipes and invite you to do so, as I wish you a delicious journey through life. Fill it with the very best ingredients.