Local Hero:

The Secret's Out! Ask Randy Pendergrass!

By Julia Ozburn
Have you ever found a really good deal and wanted to keep it a secret? That's how many of Randy Pendergrass's regular Defensive Eating Seminar participants feel about the free monthly discussions that Randy leads at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. The "regulars" want to keep it a secret because they can ask Randy questions about nutrition in a relaxed environment. Randy, a licensed sports nutritionist who has worked at St. Thomas Hospital for fifteen years, also provides participants with a free collection of resources.

Randy is well known at the hospital, especially around the Dan Rudy Cancer Center nurses. When a question comes up about a cancer patient's nutrition, the answer is always, "Ask Randy." When Randy realized he was often hearing the same questions, he started offering the Defensive Eating Seminar series. Since the series started in 2007 Randy has helped hundreds of patients, including people who have been treated at other hospitals. It is very simple: Randy cares. He is passionate about what he does and he loves to learn. It is this passion and desire to stay current with nutritional information that has earned him his nickname, the Guru.

It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally Randy does not know the answer to a question. This will lead him to research, and he will find an answer. For someone who is ill, Randy's efforts are a blessing, providing needed information when he or she may not have the time, resources, or knowledge to understand issues about nutrition.

In addition to his nutrition training, Randy is a strength and conditioning specialist and licensed massage therapist. The combination of professional expertise and his strong physical appearance makes the fact that Randy is a cancer survivor surprising. "When I tell patients that I am a seven-year throat cancer survivor, they immediately listen to me more carefully," he says. "I am very serious about nutrition and being proactive with my health." 

After Randy's cancer diagnosis, he began buying only local foods. "I spend most of my day counseling patients who have metabolic disorders and patients with cancer," Randy says. "The first thing I tell patients is they should not drink soft drinks, of any kind." His next favorite piece of advice: "Buy local foods from local farmers." Jenny and Darrin Drake, owners of Peaceful Pastures farm, have been supplying Randy and his wife with meats for six years. "There is no comparison between Peaceful Pastures meats and other meat sources," Randy says. "The taste is incredible and it is nutritious."

The secret about Randy is out, and he is receiving more invitations to speak to groups about nutrition. "I try to educate my audience about healthy eating, disease prevention and management. I try to stay ahead of information and keep my patients informed about what I have learned." 

In addition to his regular Defensive Eating Seminar, Randy speaks around Nashville at places such as Baptist Hospital, YMCA groups, and newcomers' clubs. At every lecture, Randy pulls out a copy of Local Table magazine and tells his listeners, "This is an incredible resource to learn about local farmers." He opens it up and talks about the value of eating in season, and eating freshly harvested local produce.

Last fall, Randy went to visit Delvin Farms. Walking the halls of the hospital is quite different from walking the fields at the farm, and Randy relished every minute, especially the opportunity to have a conversation with Hank Delvin, Sr. about issues of food and agriculture. An outstanding healthcare professional connecting with an outstanding local farmer-we need more of that! So don't be surprised if you find that a conversation about eating healthy and eating local ends with two words: "Ask Randy." 

The Defensive Eating Seminars take place at Seton Support Center at St. Thomas Hospital on the second Friday of every month, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. For more information about seminars and lectures, call 222.6136 or write to RPende@stthomas.org and "Ask Randy."