Because “everything is related to everything else” — at least that’s the answer, perhaps apocryphal, that Buckminster Fuller gave to his students in response to the question of why he took three hours to answer a single question. So bear with me while I attempt to connect the dots between the thick green “broth” that I just had for breakfast and a few legendary people in and around Hollywood — and our neighborhood.
Hal Bieler is the link.
Dr. Harold Bieler (1899-1983) began practicing medicine in 1916, first in West Virginia, then in Idaho, later in Pasadena, followed by a long stretch in Capistrano Beach.
According to his blockbuster book, “Food Is Your Best Medicine” (1965), he was convinced by one of his professors of the value of diet-based therapies for illness and for health. (The professor had witnessed Bieler suffering a serious asthma attack; on his advice, Bieler cured himself with diet.)
I’m neither a biochemist nor a physician, so if you’re interested in his approach, you’ll have to make up your own mind.
But what I am is a close reader, and 20 years ago, when I read “From the Journals of M. F. K. Fisher” (ca. 1993), I was particularly struck by references to “Hal,” especially in the 1940-1941 journal entries from Hemet when her second husband, Dillwyn Parrish, was dying from Buerger’s disease: “We have lived pretty much as Hal prescribed for about nine months now, and he says that he sees great improvement …” (March 1940); “I called Hal at 8:00 feeling that he might be away for the Labor Day weekend …” (September 1940).
Years later, in another book, I learned that the actress Gloria Stuart, a lifelong friend of Fisher’s, also was a patient of Dr. Bieler’s, as was another Fisher friend, the librarian and writer, Lawrence Clark Powell.
But, likely, Dr. Bieler’s best-known patient and advocate was Gloria Swanson, a longtime devotee of health, organics, and careful diet. “Dr. Bieler taught me in 1927 that your body is the direct result of what you eat as well as what you don’t eat. Every day I live merely reinforces his lessons,” she wrote.
Hancock Park resident Brooke Anderson is a granddaughter of Gloria Swanson. “Dr. Bieler was a huge influence on my grandmother, from her twenties on. In my life and that of my mother’s (née Gloria Swanson Somborn), we were drenched in the world of organics — fruits and vegetables in particular, and also with Alta Dena products from raw milk.
“Grams (as I called her) was obsessive about food and diet, all of which she learned from Bieler. ‘I know my body,’ she said. ‘I don’t stuff it full of bad food. If I have a pain somewhere … pain, as Hal Bieler told me in 1927, is a divine signal, telling you to take care of yourself with proper diet.’”
“Bieler’s broth” was a staple of Gloria Swanson’s household as well of that of her daughter, and later of Brooke Anderson. In his book, Bieler does not present the broth in recipe form, but writes that potassium-rich vegetables “supply the alkaline needs of the pancreas and salivary glands.”
Anderson said she still makes the broth when she is feeling fatigued: 1 cup green beans, chopped; 1 cup celery stalks, chopped; 1 cup zucchini, chopped. Add water to cover, cook until soft, then blend. (All ingredients organic, of course, and, sorry, no salt.)
After reading a few food-blog entries on the subject (the broth still has a lively existence online), I added a handful of organic flat-leaf parsley to the mix.
Have been receiving a few divine signals lately — so why not? A cupful three times a day. I rather like it.
By Paula Panich