By Stephen Ornes
Nashville's 'Clean-Eating' Crusader
Impassioned nutritionist Randy Pendergrass extols the health benefits of locally grown, minimally treated food
By Stephen Ornes
One of Pendergrass’ earliest converts was his wife, Janell. “He had to do a little selling, but it didn’t take much,” she says. Janell Pendergrass, also a Nashville nutritionist, works at Vanderbilt Hospital a few miles up the road. She was sold on a local organic diet, she says, after the two of them went to visit a local farm that is sustained by a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. (Read more about CSAs in “Where to Find Local Foods.”)
“We started buying local meat about seven years ago,” Randy Pendergrass says. “I tell people to go meet a farmer, and once you get hooked up with one place, whether it’s vegetables or meats or whatever, they’ll get you connected with whatever you’re looking for. It’s a community.”
A Survivor’s Transformation
Pendergrass hasn’t always been such a devoted local-vore. Early in his career as a nutritionist, he says he had a hard time following the advice he now gives his patients.
“My 20s were filled with fast food and Cokes and a bunch of junk food,” he says. Just before Thanksgiving in 2002, he came down with flulike symptoms, including a scratchy and sore throat. “I lost my voice and it never came back.”
For months, Pendergrass waited for his hoarse voice to clear. He saw speech therapists who told him he probably had nodules on his vocal chords. Finally, in February 2003, Pendergrass saw an ear, nose and throat doctor about his condition. “He took one look at my throat and said, ‘Something’s not right,’ ” Pendergrass recalls.
The doctor diagnosed Pendergrass, just 32 at the time, with stage I laryngeal cancer on the left vocal chord. “When I got that diagnosis at that age, oh my goodness, I was just stunned,” he says. “I really didn’t have any risk factors.”
The primary risk factor for laryngeal cancer is tobacco, but Pendergrass didn’t smoke. And while the National Cancer Institute estimates that, in 2010, 12,720 people will be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and 3,600 will die of the disease, of those new cases, less than one-half of 1 percent are among people under the age of 35.