The drumbeat to eat and buy "local " is growing ever stronger here and across the country. This is the first story in an ongoing series about farmers and food producers in the Lowcountry.
Neita Wiese lay curled in a fetal position on the floor of her office, feeling pain that she likens to being squeezed between two elephants.
It was June 23, 2005. Wiese was 49, and she was having a major heart attack.
The start of the day had sounded no distinct alarms for Wiese, then a Realtor with Prudential on Broad Street. She woke feeling very fatigued, perhaps a little flu-ish, but well enough for work. She had "floor duty" that morning at the office, a business lunch planned and was supposed to play golf that afternoon.
But after walking up a flight of stairs and sitting down, she began sweating profusely. "I was thinking that I was having my first hot flash," she recalls.
Within minutes, she started feeling indigestion and nausea, then chest pain.
"The onset was so severe and rapid, I knew what it was."
The receptionist summoned help. Soon, Wiese was looking at a pair of firefighter's boots and hearing a reassuring voice.
But Wiese was far from being saved. She had 100 percent blockage of a main artery. EMS used a defibrillator on her 10 times between her office and the Medical
University of South Carolina. Her heart arrested three times.
Ironically, Wiese once worked for the American Heart Association in Dallas as national marketing director of its defibrillator program, and later sold cardiovascular pharmaceuticals. Still, her heart attack came as a surprise. She had low blood pressure, no family history and had been an ex-smoker for five years.
Wiese survived that horrible day. With the insertion of a stent, she got another chance at life. So she quit the old one and started over.
Wiese's new life centers on making heart-healthy food, specifically three kinds of vinaigrette-marinades: a garlic, a red wine and her latest, a sugar-free citrus. All have zero trans fats and cholesterol, and the citrus has no sugar or sugar substitutes as well. "And it has taste," she says.
Wiese of Mount Pleasant was prompted into the food business by a friend. As Wiese recovered over the summer after her heart attack, the friend made a suggestion. "It's a good time to bottle your vinaigrette while you're in your fuzzy slippers-and-robe mode," she told Wiese.
It was a family recipe that Wiese's mother used on salads and her dad as a marinade for meats. Wiese had begun making it in her 20s as a gift for her clients.
"I would make this during the holidays and put it in wine bottles that friends would save for me during the year. I would put a bow on it and a business card."
But Wiese's brush with death gave her and the homemade mix a new purpose. She realized the vinaigrette and marinade, already well-liked by friends and family, might have a wider audience, especially for people in search of healthier products.
Wiese launched her Neita's Charleston line in 2006, moving from her kitchen to commercial bottling, while continuing to be involved in the mixing and tasting process. The products were sold at local specialty stores at first, but Wiese has since gained national outlets, including Dean & DeLuca in New York, Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Kansas City. She's also got shelf space in Whole Foods and Piggly Wiggly's Newton Farms store.
Wiese sees her products as having broad appeal, from health-conscious young women and moms to men who just like to grill. She also touts multiple uses for the vinaigrettes and marinades, such as a dipping sauce, a drizzle over steamed vegetables or in a sandwich in lieu of mayonnaise, butter or ketchup.
Meanwhile, a grateful Wiese is happy to stump for the cause: promoting heart health and knowledge about heart disease. She's a frequent guest speaker, a spokeswoman for the local Heart Association's Heart Walk, and has been asked to participate in AHA's national 2008 Go Red for Women campaign.
"I'm very, very lucky, and I know it," she says.