A Food Demo with Quadriplegic Michael Ogg

Posted on July 28, 2014

I recently met Michael Ogg at a farmers market in West Windsor, New Jersey. Jo Ann Parla (a family friend) told me about an upcoming food demo they were hosting together, and I knew I couldn’t miss it. Michael is a quadriplegic with a passion for food and cooking.

Michael, a former physics professor and current Multiple Sclerosis advocate works very hard to maintain his independence. Yes he requires home health aides to attend to his many a need, but he will be the first to tell you that he lives his life as he so chooses. Just because he physically can’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t do it. So he does it all.


Michael is a regular at Jo Ann’s farmers market and as she has gotten to know him, she has found that his food knowledge can sometimes outpace hers. I’ll be the first to admit that this is hard to do. Jo Ann’s daughter Katie is an Italian food and wine expert. You’ve probably read some of Katie’s work in the New York Times, Bon Appetit or on her Parla Food website.

After Michael attended one of Jo Ann’s most recent food demos, she started to wonder where his food knowledge came from. Michael explained that he often instructs his home health aides through cooking his meals, much in the vein of any Food Network show. Sometimes the aides are not adept in the kitchen, though even if they are, Michael’s standards are very high. It’s like he says “Just because I can’t cook myself doesn’t mean I have to live on TV Dinners”.

Michael’s first food demo was a hit! He and Jo Ann made ricotta dumplings with a pesto sauce. It was delicious, and afterwards as I sat chatting with Michael, Jo Ann kindly gave me seconds.

photo 2 (9) I was hooked once Michael started telling me about his background in physics and his interest in assistive devices. He said two things that will stick with me for a long time.

1. The more violent you are with the garlic, the more violent it will be for you.
2. Losing mobility can help you find new freedoms.

Allow me to explain number two a bit better. Michael’s MS is progressive, which means it… progresses. It has slowly taken his ability to control his body. The last extremity he had use of was his right hand. So he had a wheelchair with a handheld joystick. Only like many MS (and other Neuromuscular) patients, heat causes him to flare. So if Michael got stuck in the heat, he would lose the ability to move his right hand and he wouldn’t be able to navigate his way home. This prevented Michael from doing many of the things that he wanted to do. Now that Michael has lost the use of his right hand, he uses a joystick that he operates with his mouth. Michael’s neck and mouth don’t experience heat flare ups like his arms and hands did. So ever since he switched to that new joystick, he has been able to do the things he wants without fear of getting stuck in the heat.

In regards to number one… I suppose when it comes to garlic, violence is the answer?

If you are interested in attending one of Michael’s food demos, there will be another in the fall. I will update my Facebook page when I know the day and time. In the meantime, I urge you to visit your local farmers market. As Michael told me, the better the ingredients, the less you have to do with them. And this simplicity is something we can all embrace.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Jo Ann Parla July 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Liz – your blog post is awesome and spot-on! Yes, Michael is an amazing person and such an inspiration to us all. His presence at the market every week is a true testament to his dedication for both eating healthy and supporting our local farmers. Venues such as the West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market are not only places of commerce but also a gathering place for locals so that they can feel a true sense of community by seeing friends and neighbors (like Michael) every week. We are all so busy with our personal lives that it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important in life — human contact! Michael has shown us just how important it is to share ideas and make new acquaintances by just showing up! I feel very fortunate to have met Michael at the WWCFM and I look forward to doing another successful, fun and informative food demonstration with him soon!

  2. Megan July 28, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Yummy – that pesto was so so good! And Jo Ann is a pretty good sous chef.

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