I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a foodie. I have quite a fascination with the food I eat. I love learning about what it is, where it comes from, and how to cook with it. I enjoy trying new and novel foods and I try to use fresh, high quality ingredients when I cook.
I haven’t always been this way though. Not so long ago I used to not pay attention to what I was putting in my body. I was blissfully ignorant of what was in my food, only caring about whether it tasted good or not. Because I grew up eating home cooked meals made with good ingredients (Thanks mom!) I was somewhat aware of what was “good” for me and what wasn’t, but it wasn’t something I gave much thought to.
This apathy bled over into cooking. While I learned to cook as a child, I didn’t particularly like it. During summers, my mom would give my sister and I each a night to cook dinner. I did enjoy picking new recipes to try, but cooking itself was difficult and time consuming so I didn’t do it much. This attitude remained until college.
During my first year of college I had a meal plan and no access to a kitchen. The dining hall food was good for about the first month of the semester then rapidly declined. The food was super-salty and kind-of flavorless and I missed mom’s cooking. During my second year I also had a meal plan, but didn’t use it much. I felt sick a lot this year and dining hall food was NOT good for an upset stomach. I did have occasional access to a communal kitchen so I would make myself egg drop soup, but I didn’t make much else as kitchen was gross. I moved to an apartment with a kitchen the second semester of my sophomore year and I started to learn to cook out of necessity.
My junior year of college was when I learned about my food sensitivities. Suddenly I had to pay attention to the ingredients in food, since there were a lot that I couldn’t eat. It was tough at first, because at that time I was afraid of food; it had made me feel so bad in the past and I had no idea what was “safe”. Eventually I adjusted to my new diet and started cooking quite a bit more since my sensitivities took away the option of most prepared foods, and a lot of restaurant foods. I probably do 95% of my own cooking now.
As a side effect of having to look for the 9 foods I couldn’t have, I started paying more attention to ingredients in general. Some I recognized, some I didn’t. Most I could pronounce, but only because I took organic chemistry. The more I paid attention, the more I started to question things. Why were these ingredients in my food? What purpose did they serve? What were their benefits? What harm could they cause? Unfortunately the answers to those questions have a lot of grey areas, with the only discernable pattern being moderation.
Dealing with food sensitivities is challenge and frustrating at times. Add being more aware of, and wanting to avoid, certain other ingredients/ways of growing food/packaging, and food gets complicated really fast. Some days I feel like there’s nothing I can eat that satisfies all my preferences. Most days I compromise. If it’s not local, it’s organic. If it’s not free of weird ingredients, it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients. The only thing that I’m firm on is avoiding my nine sensitivities. Moderation. Even in trying to be healthy, moderation is key. I’d go insane if I didn’t compromise, and I’d starve.
While it would be easy to focus on what I can’t have, the food sensitivities, I try to seek out new foods I can eat instead. This has lead to some wonderful discoveries. Some of my favorites new ingredients are: pomegranate molasses, mochi, tamarind paste, beets, sesame oil, and lentils. I’m amazed at the existence of all the different types of rice, (I grew up eating minute rice), salts, olive oils, and vinegars. I’m also fortunate to live in a place where exotic fruits are easily found in farmers markets. I’ve tried jaboticaba and lychee, mangosteen and black sapote (also known as chocolate pudding fruit; it makes excellent smoothies). There’s even a star fruit and a mango tree on campus! Choosing this attitude makes the food sensitivities seem much less of a tragedy and more of the push I needed to start exploring a new world.
I used to have a horrible relationship with food. When I was healthy, I ignored how it affected me. When I was first sick, I was afraid of it. Now, I’m much more aware of what’s in my food and how it makes me feel. I’m in the process of becoming more aware of where it comes from, how it was produced, and how it gets to me too. There is still a little fear, and I think there always will be. I can’t forget that food made me feel so bad for so long. Even still, seemingly safe foods, foods I’ve eaten hundreds of times, will randomly make me feel bad. But mostly, I love food. Cooking is a wonderful blend of art and science. The creativity, colors, and combinations of flavors beautifully blended with chemistry make for some tasty dishes. While I may have nine things I can’t eat, there’s a whole world of things I can left to discover.