Food rules

Christmas was quite delightful this year (the belatedness of the annual Mystery Milo notwithstanding). We had a good group of folks with us, and “Sherlock Holmes” certainly didn’t disappoint as far as holiday escapism, and the uncanny desirability of Robert Downey Jr., were concerned.

The only part that made me slightly unhappy was when we went to Changsho for dinner afterward. We got the big table with the lazy susan — does anything speak of joy and inclusiveness more than the big table with the lazy susan in a Chinese restaurant, I ask you — and sure enough, I was That Person who had to take her entree off the lazy susan and hoard it to herself, because I couldn’t share what anyone else had ordered.

I’m going to be That Person for a while, it seems. Essentially, there is more bad acid floating around in my gastrointestinal system than at a Grateful Dead tribute band concert, and I need to change a lot of eating habits fast. After a couple of months, when things calm down, I should be able to have the occasional quesadilla or slice of pizza.

But until then, I’m one of Those People, those people who can’t share. I can break bread with you, but that’s about it. Oh, and those fabulous Ugly Wintry Mix cocktails you all came up with? Yep. None of those, either. Which means I might now encounter Mr. or Ms. Pushytipples of my own, now that I’m not drinking much. (Or, more likely in my case, Mr. or Ms. Terribly-Concerned. I can have a drink occasionally — very occasionally — and while I appreciate being warned of things like unexpected rum in eggnog and habaneros in the queso dip, I also appreciate being treated like an adult. I am at the moment eternally grateful to one of the Fabulous Bureaucrats, whom I had dinner with two days after my diagnosis, and who unblinkingly sat through my dithering about whether or not ketchup was on my new list of forbidden foods, as well as my consumption of two glasses of white wine. The FB in question knows me well enough to know that I can’t change all my habits overnight, but change they will when I set my mind to it.)

Before all of this mishegoss went down, of course, I knew that food and identity were deeply linked, as were food and sociability: it’s pretty much what the food chapter of my book is about. But having to make a lot of changes, fast, brings certain issues into even sharper perspective.

For one thing, there was this brilliant you-know-you’re-middle-aged-when moment a few weeks ago, when I met a friend at Casablanca for a cocktail-hour business meeting. He immediately apologized and said he couldn’t eat, because he had a colonoscopy the next day; I, of course, couldn’t drink, as I have gastritis. (We ordered hot waters, he shared his broth with me, and we left a really good tip.) Not sharing food turns out to be as good a bonding experience as sharing it, though I doubt restaurateurs would agree.

It’s also been interesting to see how many of my friends with a strong ethnic identity have been quick to share recipes from their own cuisine with me. I’m not just appreciating their food; I need it. Their Greek, Bosnian, Filipino, Russian recipes will save me from my own sick body and restore me to health.

So in at least two cases, having restrictive food rules has brought me closer to people who either have similar — permanent or temporary — restrictions, or people whose ethnic identity is complemented and complimented by what I can eat. I’m sure I’ll run into others, as time goes on: people who disbelieve in my condition, or the way my doctors and I are treating it; people who will take it as a personal affront that I cannot eat or drink their particular favorite food; people who, one way or the other, make my biological condition into some kind of metaphor of rejection, perhaps rejection of something they hold dear.

Yesterday’s “Coupling” addressed that, from the perspective of a food consultant/chef who finds it impossible to form relationships with men who have food rules. She writes, “Gradually, I realized that a willingness to try new foods spoke to a person’s general openness to the world and new experiences.”

It may. Or it may speak to a person’s number of taste buds, or to their immune system or bowel functioning. Our bodily processes may be a metaphor for deeper psychological issues — or they may simply be the sometimes working, sometimes on-the-fritz results of a complicated and frankly klugey system. (No offense, but how anyone over the age of 25 can believe in Intelligent Design is beyond me. Wait ’til your knees start going and see how intelligently you think you were designed then, kid.)

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