Tracker Pixel for Entry

(Un)sustainability: Fergus Falls State Hospital, nutrition, and mental health

by Tessa Torgeson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | All About Food | October 11th, 2017

The Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH) ran a glorified commune. They were committed to sustainability long before the hippies of yore and the farm-to-table free-range folks of today. The hospital was self-sustaining, as both patients and staff raised food and livestock on the grounds for nearly a century, from 1891 to 1961.

Far out, man! At its surface, this may seem to be a tale of food and farms, but it transcends simple definition. By exposing how farming and commitment to nutritious food revolutionized care for people with mental health issues and addictions, sadly I am also exposing how far we have regressed, through research and my own experience choking back overcooked chicken patties and brown lettuce in rehab/ detox/ hospital.

The hippies took the word or people’s notions of commune, stripped it naked, dunked it in tye-dye instead of a bath tub, put a joint in its mouth, and sent it off to an orgy. But at its core, a commune is the simple embodiment of cooperation, cohesion, environmentalism.

At the FFSH, nearly every able-bodied and willing patient at the hospital was involved with some part of agricultural production, as it was part of their therapy and recovery process. Farming was familiar to many patients and allowed them a chance to utilize their skills, build confidence, and break up the monotony of daily life. Healthy living, nutrition, plenty of sunlight and outdoor activity, and work were considered an essential part of mental health treatment de jour of the era, moral treatment.

Things usually change for the better, right? I wish. It might be hard to explain the appeal of a hard day of farm labor. For someone in captivity, like a prisoner or psych patient, the outdoors and adding purposeful work to an otherwise monotonous day is currency of its own. It’s the closest thing to freedom you have. Imagine listening to the crunch as you walk over a pile of leaves or sink your teeth into the flesh of an apple and feeling the warm sunshine kiss your skin.

When I was in different treatment settings, our time outdoors was often limited and heavily restricted. In one place, we only got to go outside for a half an hour walk once per day. Imagine that for four weeks. We ate highly processed foods with high fat and sugar contents because it is cheap and easily purchased in bulk. Insurance companies claim there is a lack of data about “efficacy of nutrition interventions in addiction recovery.”

Over 100 years ago, the FFSH grew over 20 varieties of vegetables and traditional grains, had apple and plum orchards, and canned 5,000 gallons of tomatoes and 60 gallons of catsup per year. Greenhouses and root cellars helped residents keep fresh produce for even the harsh Midwest winters. The first FFSH superintendent, Dr. Alonso Williamson, believed milk to be a great cure-all and prescribed it in large quantities, so they had 300 cows who produced over 3,300 pounds of milk per day. Residents were involved in meal preparation and fresh pies were made daily.

Typing this, I can taste the sweet tang of homemade apple pie with its flaky melt-in-your mouth crust and decadent filling. Where I went for treatment, I befriended a cook named Jamie who hid round tins of chocolate silk pie in the industrial deep freezer so she could sneak me extra pieces, and also gave me the pieces of pizza with the most pepperoni. “I know it’s not the best, but clearly it’s better than what you were eating out there, Minnie.” The cook called me Minnie Mouse, she never knew my name, but she always made sure I was fed and wanted me to put on at least 15 pounds.

The standard detox/rehab menu is coffee, pizza, taco-in-a bag of chips, fried chicken, ham sandwiches, casserole, bagels, coffee, wilted lettuce, tasteless apples, pie. Meanwhile fancy pants rehabs offer menus with nutritious, locally sourced foods that are recommended by registered dieticians and physicians. Fresh vegetables, fish, and whole grains. “No expenses are spared when it comes to food service: all meals are organic, locally sourced and prepared by a team of expert chefs,” boasts a review of the luxury rehab center Cliffside, with rooms offering ocean views to boot.

All rehabs and hospitals should be focusing on nutrition, not just the ones that are for the rich and famous. Typically, patients’ bodies are often malnourished and ravaged by years of drug and/or alcohol use, lack of appetite or overeating due to depression or side effects from psych meds, anorexia, bulimia. Quality food helps heal the brain. Specifically, nutrition-rich foods and regular meals and snacks keep blood sugar levels regulated, which is vital for stable mood, concentration, and energy levels.

My doctor told me sugar was just like another drug, which was an analogy that always bothered me, as it seemed to minimize the severity of addiction. I know that sugar affects the same neurotransmitter dopamine (which controls the brain’s pleasure and reward center) as drugs and alcohol. I never heard of somebody losing a job, a family, friends, all their money and their life for sugar.

When I scoffed, my doctor said, “Ask yourself why do you want it so bad, note your mood before, directly after you eat it, and 30 minutes later.” My hands were shaking with anticipation. Salivating, I went to the gas station after the appointment and immediately devoured a bag of Red Vines. Ah, sugar. I felt a rush, and then the predictable crash I had come to know so well. It didn’t offer the oblivion of substances, but I still found myself shortly craving my next (sugar) fix.

[For more pieces like this, visit Tessa’s blog at Off-her-rocker.com. The blog explores what society calls “mental illness”; history of asylums, especially the Fergus Falls State Hospital; and the writer’s own experiences. Tessa writes about resilience and the power and beauty of darkness and rebirth; what we can learn when we see self-destruction as a lesson, moving beyond shame and towards healing.] 

Recently in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Savanna’s Act passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on Friday and will move to the U.S. House of Representatives.The bill, S. 1942, is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comI held it off for as long as I could, but the other day, I caved. I thought I was doing okay. I made all the strong arguments. I applied the five canons of rhetoric, just like you’re supposed…

Saturday, December 15th, 3-6pmJunkyard Brewing Company, 1416 1st Ave N, MoorheadCome bare the elements with us for a good cause. Bring your spare winter gear to be donated to Churches United for the Homeless. Coats, gloves, boots,…

by Josh Boscheejoshua.boschee@yahoo.comphoto courtesy of Mitch MarrEight words that perfectly describe the beautiful spirit of Kim Winnegge."I have given my whole life to words."Those of us who knew her remember these words as a…

Gadfly

Affluenza

by Ed Raymond

What happens if conspicuous consumption becomes global?The latest National Geographic has an editorial “The Global Peril of Inequality” by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond which the entire world should read. The author of many…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

by Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.comUs North Dakotans love our Knoephla soup. I am no exception. I have fond childhood memories of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen making this dumpling soup. From then until today, my taste buds go…

Music

Snow and Flurry

by HPR Contributor

by Jacques Harvieux jacquesthejock@gmail.comMosh pit etiquette 101: The mosh pit is located front and center of the stage.Create a sizeable ring.When the music starts unleash mayhem. If you fall - get up immediately.If somebody…

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller beautifully translates another personal autobiography to excellent results. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is based on the confessional 2008 memoir of literary forger Lee…

SEBEKA, Minnesota – Nearly a century ago the nation was racked by inclement weather, soaring unemployment, and despair following World War I and the lucrative Roaring 20s. The 1930s were an era of dust storms and lunch lines,…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comFargo-Moorhead Community Theatre presents “A Christmas Story: The Musical” which is underway at the Stage at Island Park and will run through December 22. It has been promoted as a show both…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

by Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comphotography by Logan MacraeEver wish you could go to your favorite brewery without leaving your house? Finally, you can (sort of). Kilstone Brewing is now doing limited can releases of some…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

“(Søren) Kierkegaard…has opened our eyes to the shallowness of much of our pseudo-Christian life, and to the outright deception in politics which Christianity has been made to serve.” - William Hubben“The people starve…