Friday, July 11, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy

It's probably no surprise that I inhabit the internet quite a bit. In addition to all of the things one has access to and the informational goldmines out there, I find the interaction between people to be inspiring. "Iron sharpens iron." A recent conversation with a mom of a boy with burgeoning sensitivities brought back a flood of memories of what it was like for us when all this food stuff was new with us. When we paused on the brink of the abyss, not knowing how desperate things could and would become. We talked about how some children self-limit their foods out of fear. Out of a sense of losing control and desperately grabbing for the last edge of solid ground.

Developing food sensitivities is a horrible, out-of-control feeling. Control is definitely at the root of food issues and for a very good reason. There's a fundamental betrayal in all of this. Almost nothing, if not absolutely nothing, comes closer to the core of our psyche than what we eat. We can live without physical intimacy, but we can't live without eating. Food is one of the defining aspects of a culture and it is part of defining who we are individually as well. One of the basic "getting to know you" questions people ask is, "What do you like to eat?" When we can't trust our food supply or our food intake, we are whatever/whomever...on the most basic and earthbound level we can reach. If we don't have safe food, what do we have? If we can't trust our food to nourish us, what can we trust?

We know that we can't trust other people to tell us if something is safe. Some people can be trusted, but not most. Tool Guy can't travel for any length of time without getting zapped. Despite all the precautions. Despite lengthy questioning of the food preparers. Despite doing all of the "right things." This sort of thing pierces to a molecular level. Literally. And it becomes scary to think that we can't trust our eyes or that we can't develop a reliable strategy to protect ourselves.

I remember what it felt like when we were losing foods. Things that were safe last week weren't safe this week. One time the Hobbits would eat something and it would be yummy. The next time they ate the very same food, even food from that same batch that was fine the last time they ate from it, they reacted. And it was usually favorite foods. This shatters any sense of comfort anyone has about food. You scramble to find the common thread...some clue...some predictor of what is going to explode in your face next time. It feels safer to not eat at all, which is, of course, impossible. Sleeping with the enemy.

And the more severe the reaction, the deeper the anxiety. This can be hard for some people to understand, even other people with food sensitivities, if they aren't high reactors. As much as I loved the flip tone of Against the Grain by Jax Lowell--I adore wisecracking, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge writing--I can't bring myself to recommend it. Someone who suggests, when at a party and faced with dicey food choices, scraping the caviar off of the cracker with one's teeth and tossing the cracker rather than appear de trop or affected doesn't live in the same world I do. She isn't sleeping with the enemy. Not someone who mail orders food as if it were takeout from the corner Chinese restaurant. The more sensitive the canary, the less concerned about perceptions and the more concerned about sheer survival.

It's scary for the Hobbit, the child, the person to whom it is happening. One day corn was okay for him and then it wasn't. One day tomatoes were okay for him and now they aren't. What's going to turn on him today? What's the common thread? Vegetables? I can see why he's not wanting to eat vegetables. Losing food in a very painful way makes us hyper-defensive.

The Hobbits themselves never reacted by self-limiting foods, but probably because our worst reactions weren't physically painful...just soul-scalding rages--which made me want to do the limiting foods...I'm the gun shy one in our house. But food sensitivities do that. Everyone wants to be able to put food in their mouths without feeling like it will explode in there.

This is why I developed the style of eating we have. Some folks are surprised to find that we don't eat a wide variety of different foods, but, honestly, when I look at indigenous peoples' diets, I don't see as wide a variety as is advocated by Western import-dependent cuisine. We eat plain. Meat, a few vegetables, a few kinds of grains, some fruits and that's about it. And it is the same stuff. Over. And over. And over. And I let the Hobbits pick what they want. At every meal. I have a collection of things that I can make up at a moment's notice and each of them can choose from that list for each meal. My MIL quipped once that it's like living at a diner. But given the severe limits imposed on us, I want them to feel like they have some degree of control over what they eat. Of giving them as much control over what they eat as the limits of their reactions permit.

Exotic cooking is fun and exciting and I do like trying new things. Mostly, though, for day-to-day cooking, I like things that are comfort foods. Foods I can throw together without giving much thought to. Foods like chicken salad. Just the ticket for sultry July days. This is one of those recipes that I throw together as a bit of this and a handful of that. See? Not much thought to it. Comfort food. Yeah.

Chicken Salad

1-1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3-4 chicken breasts
1 tsp. seasoned salt
3-4 handfuls of Tinkyada pasta
pickles, chopped (opt)

Make mayonnaise. Since I like my chicken salad to be tangy, when I make the mayo for this, I double the vinegar and leave off any maple syrup or sweetener. Sprinkle seasoned salt over chicken breasts and grill out for 10-15 minutes each side or until done. Boil up pasta. I like to follow the package directions and boil my water first, then drop the pasta in the pot and cover without disturbing for 20 minutes before draining. They're right. It makes perfect pasta every time. When the breasts are cooled, chop into small, bite-sized chunks and mix with remaining ingredients. Delicious served hot or cold.

So as we walk this pocked-marked road toward healing, we're picking our way through the land mines...making our food choices carefully. That uneasy dance of sleeping with the enemy.

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