A brief and incomplete list of things I am not supposed to eat: Bacon, fried foods, dairy, gluten, citrus, tomatoes, mint, coffee, egg yolks, dark chocolate, anything too acidic, anything too fatty, or anything too spicy. Do I stick to this? Um…. (points to the sky) HEY! IS THAT A SPACE SHIP?!
The first time a doctor told me that I had to break up with a food was in 1989. I’d been having these sharp pains in my side and when I went to the doctor, based on my family history he said: “It sounds to me like you have gallbladder disease.” I was sent for an ultrasound, and no stones were discovered. He told me, as he checked things off on his clip board in an ‘I’ve-got-other-patients-in-the-waiting-room’ sort of way, “Stay away from bacon, fried foods, egg yolks, orange juice, or anything too spicy. See the receptionist to make your co-pay.” Oh. Ok.
After that, over the years, in addition to gallbladder disease, I’ve been told that I have lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, IBS, gluten sensitivity, and that my stomach is basically an acid factory. (The latter being the only condition I decided to accept medication for, because, quite frankly, I was unable to manage the horrible symptoms with diet alone.) It sounds pretty depressing, but honestly, I’m pretty lucky in that you can feed me pretty much anything. I love whole, natural foods every bit as much as I loved McDonalds as a kid. I always tell people that I’m easy to feed, and it’s the truth. I really do adore grilled salmon with sautéed baby spinach and brown rice. I could have that every night and be totally happy. Chicken breast with cilantro and mixed grilled veggies? Bring it on! Fresh fruit with yogurt or cottage cheese? Pass me a spoon! Quinoa… with pretty much ANYTHING? Hell yes! But ask me if I want a slice of really good pizza or if I’d like to go get a traditional New England summer seafood plate overflowing with fried scallops and French fries and … after a moment’s hesitation and the odd prayer that I won’t die an hour afterwards… I’m also going to say “absolutely! What time and where??”
Look, I’m half Italian, and my other half doesn’t know it’s not. Stick a slice of sausage pizza under my nose and I’m going to bite. If I get your hand, oh well. And let’s look at that: Gluten laden crust, tomato sauce, dairy melted over the top, and spicy, fatty sausage. So what happens to me when I indulge? It depends: if I have been a good girl for weeks on end, then probably nothing but the addition of another pound or two. But, if I’ve cheated within the last 24-48 hours, let’s just say I’ll regret the indulgence in a big way, and spend a few hours laying on a beach towel on my bathroom floor begging God to forgive me and swearing I’ll never do it again. Of course, He and I both know that’s never lasted very long…
Back in the days when I had cable TV, I watched a LOT of Food Network. Oh, how I loved Emeril Live and Good Eats! Now that I’ve told the cable company to go pound sand with their insane fees, I look forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings so that I can watch Phantom Gourmet.
(If you don’t live in the Boston area, you’re missing out. http://www.phantomgourmet.com/ShowPage.aspx )
Why the interest in looking at food I can’t touch, taste, or even smell? Well, I suppose it’s for the same reason people look at porn. Really sinful foods plated well and shot from seductive angles … cheese bubbling and sauces oozing for the camera… are just enough to calm the odd craving for something that, should I actually consume it, would get me into a lot of trouble. I mean, let’s face it… if I had mozzarella sticks and garlic bread, fettuccini Alfredo and bacon wrapped scallops, crab rangoons and triple layer chocolate cake every time I wanted to, I’d probably already have had a heart attack by now and I’d definitely be ten feet wide.
Despite all these food restrictions and “conditions,” I actually consider myself lucky in that when I walk into a supermarket, I’m fascinated and awestruck by the produce department. It’s goofy, I know, but really… the colors, the shapes, the scents… and my mind starts going off in 50 directions as to what I could do with each lovely fruit or veggie: what I could pair it with, and how I could prepare it. I suppose this is God’s way of helping me through all the horrible food break-ups I’ve had. Someone like me who loves rich, heavy, gooey foods could easily have given up and just continued to eat all of the things I was advised not to, gained 200 pounds, and developed congestive heart failure or just spent my life morbidly obese stubbornly refusing to change my ways… maybe THAT is the non-Italian half of me rearing it’s life-saving head.
I also consider myself lucky in that there are worse conditions I could have. A friend of mine has all of the same ailments as me with the exception of the gluten sensitivity; but she also has conditions that prevent her from being able to eat anything with tiny seeds, or eating garlic, or drinking vodka, and I’m sure there are other things on her forbidden list that I’m forgetting. She and I maintain a healthy sense of humor about our food predicament, and thank God we have each other to laugh with.
If your doctor tells you that you need to say goodbye to a beloved food, or foods, don’t despair. Believe me: It’s truly not the end of the culinary world and if you’re willing to try new things you’ll find there are fantastic things you have been missing out on. If not for my health consciousness I never would have tried sushi, which I would now choose over Alfredo sauce any day. If not for my “conditions” I would never have attempted cooking Thai rice noodles, which I now love enough to marry. And… when all else fails… there’s always food porn.