We suppose we could write a lengthy and thoughtful essay on the importance of the produce industry aligning with athletics and physical activity so as to fight obesity and position the industry as a force for good.
And we could explain how our understanding of this dynamic led us to invite ‘Doc Gooden’to The New York Produce Show and Conference. After all, we already explained that we invited Charles Oakley because of his cooking skills in a piece we called New York Knicks’ Charles Oakley Will Be Cooking Up A Storm At New York Produce Show And Conference.
How about if, instead, we just say that everyone works hard at The New York Produce Show and Conference —learning, networking, selling, buying, building relationships etc., and life should consist of not just meat, but also a little ice cream. So, along with Apio, which will be hosting him at its booth, we invited Dwight Gooden to come and add some fun:
Major League Baseball Pitcher
Q: Produce industry attendees are excited you will be coming to The New York Produce Show and Conference in November. Your amazing career in baseball and record-setting athletic achievements exhilarated and inspired fans. At the same time, you’ve faced many challenges and persevered through much adversity battling drug and alcohol addictions.
Could you share your mission toward healthy living, getting in shape, and eating well? How does produce fit into your diet? How strong is the relationship between nutritious eating, athletic performance and overall well-being?
A: Very important, not just for athletes. Eating nutritiously helps the body recover, stay balanced, and create energy. That’s one way I prepared myself for baseball.
It was put on us at an early age to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. When I was growing up, I was told, “You have to eat your vegetables and then we’ll get to dessert.” It’s very important to establish good eating habits at a young age. When you are older, those habits have already been formed.
Q: Did you ever feel resentful that dessert was dependent on finishing your vegetables? Produce industry executives and parents alike grapple with the right approach in enticing increased produce consumption…
A: It’s important not to force it upon them, but to add vegetables into the meal to make it taste better, or start with fruit, which kids love.
Eating produce is just as important for adults. When I was playing baseball, I was in the heat all the time and concerned about getting dehydrated. I was always grabbing oranges and bananas for the nutrients and to stay hydrated and energized.
Early on, even when I was in little league and then on the travel teams, we always had oranges and other fresh produce at the practices and games to refuel, and we’d drink lots of water. Now kids want sugary sports drinks and salty, processed snacks. They get mixed messaging.
Q: In what ways?
A: Much of that comes from the television and food manufacturers. A lot of kids watching professional sports on TV want to identify with the athletes. They see their sports heroes drinking Gatorade or other power drinks that have so much sugar in them, but eating fruit is most important.
With my own kids, I teach them to drink water. The kids have their backpacks on heading out the door and say, “Dad, I need my Gatorade, and I say you need fruit.” I try to pass down the lessons instilled in me as a child about getting enough fresh produce in the diet.
Q: How old are your kids? I imagine they have inherited your athletic talents…
A: I have all age kids, seven all together! There are five from my first marriage and two from my wife now — a 19-month-old daughter, and six-year-old son. I live in New Jersey now and the weather is not always optimal for outdoor sports. One of my sons plays flag football, a son in Tampa from my first marriage plays baseball and football, and another plays basketball. The teams supply them with Gatorade, but I tell them, make sure you eat fruit. They have Gatorade, that’s fine, but have a banana.
Q: Do you cook healthy meals at home?
A: My wife is the cook. Thank God for the George Foreman Grill! I can grill up all kinds of vegetables, throw on a piece of chicken, and it’s easy.
My wife works out all the time and is into running, so she is always preparing healthy dishes filled with produce. I’m from the South, so I like all the fried food. My wife grills stuff. When we first got married, I had to negotiate with her about fried food. My first wife would cook whatever, but my wife now is into working out her body and understands how eating well is connected.
Q: It sounds like you are surrounded by a supportive environment. How important is that to staying on track?
A: The positive environment helps me a lot in my quest toward healthy living and in overcoming my personal struggles with addiction. When the environment is good and you’re backed by a supportive team, if you’re craving ice cream, or induced by other temptations, it’s so helpful to know you’re not in this alone. When up in age, the doctor says you have to change, and it can be very tough unless you have support.
It’s challenging for kids these days. They go to school and there’s a truck parked outside with greasy food. That’s why you have to start them on a path of healthy eating when they’re young. My 19-month-old will go for vegetables first, when others her age go for fatty foods. We started by putting fresh vegetables and fruit in her baby food. My wife would make sure she was eating nutritiously.
Q: Hopefully, when she’s older, outside influences won’t derail your efforts…
A: Now with computers, video games and texting, kids don’t want to go outside and they don’t understand the importance exercise and eating right plays in their health and well-being. My 16-year-old son has a lot of athletic ability and would do whatever the coach asked him to do, but he wouldn’t go out and run or take a bike ride on his own. Bike riding gets the heart rate up. Diet is essential but it must be combined with exercise.
Athletes are in the limelight where they can make a difference. Athletes should step up more than anyone to encourage kids to eat healthy, ride a bike, throw a ball around with friends. Once kids see the guys they look up to talking about it, they will become motivated. We have to hit them with this message young, even if they are not into sports. I can’t emphasize enough the value of starting these kids on the right track at a young age.
Q: As you’ve taken steps to lead a healthy, balanced life, are you looking to help others do the same? I remember reading about your plans to open a baseball academy back in 2009. Did that ever come to fruition?
A: I’ve had a dream to open a baseball academy for a long time, and it is a dream that is going to come true. I’m working hard to open the Dwight Gooden Baseball Academy and Sports Complex, which will also have a nutrition center and other family support services. Obviously, it’s about baseball lessons and sports training, but it’s also about healthy living and a balanced life. I’ll be able to share my life experiences with drugs and alcohol, the life turns and challenges kids go through.
In Florida where I grew up, weather allowed us to do outdoor sports all year round. But up here in the north, there are many months you can’t do that, so we’ve created indoor sports facilities for kids ranging from 8 to 18. I’ll be doing the pitching lessons; we’ll have softball training for girls, four batting cages, four pitching mounds, and an indoor track. If a brother or sister is not into baseball, we have a full basketball court, a half-size soccer field, and downstairs a video arcade and a golf area for putting, and other activities to keep them from being bored. At first, we thought we would build it in downtown Newark but now the plan is that the complex will be just outside of Rockland County, New York.
Q: Could you tell produce attendees more about the nutrition center and support services? Produce industry executives might want to get involved and donate produce or help your cause in other ways…
A: That would be great. Produce will be in the spotlight. There will be a health bar where kids can get nutritious shakes with all kinds of fresh produce. And we want to provide information about eating right and teach young kids ways to make healthy meals. We have to start there.
My goal because of the struggles I went through is to show kids there’s a better way. I want to give them strategies to handle life challenges so they stay on track and don’t lose their way. I want to talk to kids about enjoying life to the fullest and, most important, creating balance.
Come get an autograph from Dwight Gooden in Americas Hall II!