Martin’s dietary needs are leading me to a new relationship with food.
That’s a whopper (excuse the pun?) of a cliché, right?—a “new relationship with food.” Sorry. I’m not coming up with a better way to phrase this phenomenon.
I’m not an unhealthy eater. I wasn’t an unhealthy eater before this chapter, and I’m not now. I’m vegan. I watch my fats and proteins and vitamins. I love to cook and have always done plenty of it, whenever my schedule permits.
Yet until we undertook biomedical intervention and radicalized Martin’s diet, I put relatively little thought into additives, colors, and processed food versus natural. For example, I prefer to make hummus at home, because I can control the amount of tahini (just a dollop) that I add as opposed to lemon juice (plenty) and garlic (vampires refuse even to enter my neighborhood). But from a nutrition perspective, I gave little weight to the difference between (1) blender-whirring raw materials into hummus and (2) buying hummus preserved with potassium sorbate. (Wikipedia: “Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid, chemical formula C6H7KO2. Its primary use is as a food preservative (E number 202).”) Nor did I consider the benefits of fresh-squeezed lemon juice over made-from-concentrate lemon juice purchased in a green-tinted plastic bottle that also contains sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite.
Martin’s diet, along with its other restrictions, excludes additives and preservatives—or as I like to call them, non-food items in food. That means just about any processed food is off-limits. Even when it comes to meat: The meat we purchase must come from animals who ate unprocessed (minimally processed, at most) grains grown without pesticides.
The fact that Martin, who is so sensitive, has responded so well to the removal of non-food items from his diet got me questioning whether fresher and more natural foods would not benefit the whole family. Neither Adrian nor I suffer neurological impairment or, to my knowledge, complications with digestion or nutrient absorption. Therefore, we probably would not experience dramatic changes like Martin’s. On the other hand, what if reducing our intake of non-food items makes us sleep (a little) better, and feel (a little) more energetic, and concentrate (a little) steadier, and possess (a little) sunnier outlook? Might we not end up (a lot) healthier?
Now that I’m no longer employed, I’ve been implementing this like crazy. No more casual eating on the run. On weekday mornings, Adrian and Martin get up at 7:00 a.m. and leave home together at 8:05 a.m. to meet the school bus, after which Adrian heads to work. I, on the other hand, rise at 5:45 a.m. I cook the boys’ breakfasts; organize Martin’s supplements; prepare Martin’s lunch, beverage, and school bag; and also assemble lunch, one protein snack, and two fiber snacks for Adrian to carry to the office. (If the 5:45 a.m. thing is killing me, then at 8:06 a.m. I hop back into bed for an hour.) During the week, no food enters my guys that I have not made myself, except for Martin’s snacks and crackers baked by my mother.
My new standard for the grocery store is the “jar in my kitchen” rule. Mostly I buy fresh vegetables and bulk dried beans, i.e., unpackaged raw ingredients. (No meat or eggs at the grocery store; those I find at the farms or farmers’ markets.) As to anything I want that comes in a package, I search the label for ingredients I could not imagine keeping in a jar in my kitchen. The more ingredients I would not keep in a jar in my kitchen, the less willing I am to purchase. For example, this week I picked up the following packaged items:
• Shim’on Ariche harissa. Ingredients: hot red peppers, garlic, water, salt. Unfortunately not organic. Still, all kitchen-jar approved.
• Imagine creamy tomato soup. Ingredients: filtered water, organic tomatoes, organic onions, organic rice syrup, organic celery, sea salt, organic expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, organic spices, organic garlic powder. The reference to unspecified spices gives me some pause. Homemade tomato soup would be preferable, but alas, a day has only so many hours for the kitchen. Overall, the Imagine soup is kitchen-jar approved
• Orgran toasted buckwheat crispibread. Ingredients: buckwheat, rice, salt. Easy call.
• NaSoya Nayonaise (vegan mayonnaise). Ingredients: soymilk, soybean and/or sunflour oil, cane syrup, vinegar, salt, mustard, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, guar gum, xanthan gum, and sodium alginate. Caution! I was okay with everything until guar gum, xanthan gum, and sodium alginate. Not kitchen-jar approved. But in the end, I did buy the Nayonaise. I wanted it for a creamy salad, i.e., as a minor ingredient in a dish headlined by red bell pepper, pear, apple, daikon, onion, carrot, celery, and turnip. Not perfect, but some allowances must be made for tastiness.
My kitchen-jar rule is made easier by some unusual ingredients in my kitchen. Rice syrup, for instance. Though it’s not approved for Martin, it makes a gentle sweetener for my grown-up baked goods. Or lecithin. Lecithin pops up in many packaged food, and as it so happens, I do keep a jar of lecithin in my kitchen. It’s Love Raw Foods sunflower lecithin, a supplement we use for Martin, from Blue Mountain Organics.
In summary, I have Martin eating 98% fresh, 100% natural, and 99% organic. For me and Adrian, probably 80% fresh, 99% natural, and 80% organic (taking into account our weekend tendency to eat at restaurants).
There’s still the issue of our four cats. Currently, they eat Nature’s Variety canned food and dry food. I wish I could do better for them. When I was in graduate school, and had grad-student amounts of time on my hands, I made cat food at home. William the cat, who has long since died, was particularly fond of a garbanzo-based concoction I used to make with Harbingers of a New Age supplements.
Maybe someday I’ll manage a triumphant return to homemade cat food. Maybe when Martin is recovered.