• Making food — as a resource for moms
     | February 27,2013

    Adam Caira / Staff Photo Tara Carpenter grinds vegetables that will be used to create her Purple Potion in the kitchen of her Barre home Tuesday.

    BARRE — A happy belly is a happy body, according to Tara Carpenter, a personal therapeutic chef.

    Carpenter, 38, of Barre, provides cooking services throughout Vermont and the Upper Valley. She worked for many years as a macrobiotic chef and consultant and started her own business, Happy Bellies, about a year ago.

    “I healed myself with food, with the diet that I promote, which really got me passionate to do this work,” she says.

    The services she provides — personal chef, private cooking instruction, cultured food preparation, seven-day meal plans — are aimed at providing digestive wellness through gluten-, sugar- and yeast-free foods to alleviate certain conditions and provide overall health.

    Though the science to date is just beginning to get a handle on the link between our intestinal flora and the immune system, what we do know is that certain “good” bacteria both correct deficiencies in the immune system and increase the number of infection-fighting cells.

    Carpenter will be at the second annual Pregnancy and Baby Expo on March 9 at the Holiday Inn Express in South Burlington and the Good Beginnings Baby and Child Expo on April 13 at Montpelier High School.

    Happy Bellies also provides a service that previously wasn’t available in Vermont: placenta encapsulation. Say what? A placenta is steamed, dehydrated and ground before being put into capsules, which are then taken by the mother for the four to eight weeks after the birth of her child.

    “That was a path I wasn’t prepared to step on. I’d never heard of it, I never had any desire to eat my placenta, and no matter what the benefit I wasn’t going to eat it raw,” says Carpenter. “I did some research, and something about encapsulation felt very right, and the work I was doing with nutrient-dense foods, it was not too far off to do work with placentas.”

    Though even the word “placenta” is enough to put some people off, and there haven’t been many studies to support the claims that placentophagia in humans is beneficial, anecdotal evidence abounds. Pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding tax a woman’s body, and humans are among the few mammals that do not routinely eat their placentas to reacquire some of the nutrients lost.

    “To go into a mother’s home and be able to replenish her and put something in her body that is giving her energy and strength and helping to balance her moods and hormones, this work is a gift,” says Carpenter.

    Carpenter says the feedback she and other certified encapsulation specialists across the country get is overwhelmingly positive. Mothers report increased energy, less postpartum bleeding, increased milk production and improved sleep cycles. Many mothers who have had postpartum depression after a previous birth report more balanced moods and easier transitions into motherhood.

    The practice is becoming more popular, most recently publicized by the actress January Jones, but Carpenter stresses that certification is extremely important.

    Carpenter, through her work as a personal chef, is a qualified food safety manager and follows strict OSHA guidelines (which use the same sanitation methods as food service establishments). She says she has also trained under OSHA and EPA guidelines to be certified in the handling of blood-borne pathogens and medical waste.

    “I like to do things by the book,” says Carpenter.

    To have her placenta encapsulated, the mother — if she has not had a home birth — must have the means to bring it home (typically a zip-close bag and cooler). Carpenter says hospitals will not package or store it because they treat the placenta as biohazardous waste, though they will provide ice, and since it is considered an organ it is illegal for anyone else to transport. Carpenter also advocates for a short-term lotus birth, which involves leaving the umbilical cord uncut for about three hours so the baby can receive the nourishment still present in the blood flowing between the placenta and the baby.

    Carpenter, who is on call for the mother two weeks before and two weeks after the due date, then travels to the home and sanitizes the kitchen to process the placenta.

    Depending on the size of the placenta, it can yield 65 to 200 or so capsules, which can be frozen for longevity. Carpenter can also flavor them in grape.

    The window for encapsulation is 72 hours, but if it’s frozen the placenta can be processed at any time, though Carpenter recommends directly after birth as that is when consumption is thought to be most beneficial.

    Carpenter just established mentorship a month ago and can take on apprentices for those interested in learning how to provide encapsulation services.

    “It’s not for everyone, though people are becoming more and more comfortable with it. That’s part of what I’m doing to normalize this idea; it’s natural and it’s just something that can be really helpful,” she says.

    Carpenter keeps up a blog and is working on a cookbook and guidebook for digestive wellness and balanced gut flora. She intends to keep it thorough but simple.

    “My whole thing is making things digestible — both easy-to-digest foods to take stress off the system and also my recipes and diet recommendations in order to easily understand and integrate digestive wellness into one’s life,” she says.

    For more information visit Carpenter’s website, www.happybellies.net, or call 272-3524 or email happybelliesservices@gmail.com.

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