“You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,” said the Red Queen. “Alice -- Mutton; Mutton -- Alice.” The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and Alice returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.
“May I give you a slice?” she said, taking up the knife and fork, and looking from one Queen to the other.
“Certainly not,” said the Red Queen, very decidedly: “it isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to. Remove the joint!”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
When I started working on this blog, Bob asked me to write about what we eat. Not what we should eat, but what we really eat. After polling a few poz people I know the answers seem to be as all over the map as there are people scattered around the globe.
The Canada Food Guide suggests that we eat X amount of fruits and veggies as well as a fist full of protein at least a couple times a day. My doctor recommends pretty much the same thing, and while I try my best to eat well, I find that I, and many others, am simply very human when it comes to food and the consumption thereof. I do know that my personal relationship with sugar and caffeine has deteriorated as I get older: which is probably good, but is at the same time horribly tragic.
In my informal poll I found that some of us manage to strictly adhere to eating whole foods – grains, dairy, a little meat and enough fruits and veggies to make Mommy proud. But there are also those of us who chow down on burgers and fries, frozen pizza, wine and chocolate cake. While the latter choices may not be the things our specialists would prefer we eat, I think it simply shows the diversity that is our community. We’re not always good and we’re not always bad: we’re simply people – whether we’re living with HIV or not.
Poverty also plays a significant role in the way we eat. I knew a man who found a lot of his food in the bins behind grocery stores. If you think about it, and if he’s choosing wisely, there’s a lot of discarded food that can be cooked well enough to provide nutrition; and if you spice the crap out of it, even better.
For those with limited incomes, eating what’s on sale (not necessarily what’s best), may seem the only option. I regularly check the cheap bin at the store to find the dented tins of whatever that I might toss into a soup or pasta; and you’d be surprised at what’s available for very little money. I also make sure I buy fresh vegetables – again, when they’re on sale and generally in season. Fresh food isn’t always financially out of reach; we just have to be clever about how we shop for it.
Of course, for those of us dealing with particular illness (e.g. Diabetes, HepC co-infection) our choices might be different than those people not dealing with those diseases. Hopefully, we’d avoid the foods that aggravate our condition and choose those that assist us. We might fall off that particular wagon every now and then, but if we keep the bad stuff in moderation we should do okay. Some of us struggle to lose weight while others (like me) struggle to gain it: some of us are allergic or can’t digest certain foods, while others are able to eat dinner and the plate on which it’s served. We’re all different and we must pay attention to what our bodies tell us is the best thing to eat at any given moment.
And there must also be joy in what we eat. If we simply eat to survive and stay away from those things we love because they’re “bad” for us – what’s the point in that? Health concerns aside (and I’m certainly not suggesting that a litre of ice cream for breakfast is a good idea), we must be able to find some balance that allows us to remain happy as well as healthy. Indulgence in sweets every now and then, or pizza, or potato chips or a large helping of something with the nutritional value of cardboard, gives us something that makes us feel good. Chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches might not be food groups unto themselves, but they certainly have their place in the scheme of things and can provide comfort to our souls.
When we can find the balance between what we’re supposed to eat and what we want to eat, I think we can let go of the stick with which we beat ourselves and stop thinking that HIV and the food guide rule our lives and start living. After all, we’re not here for a long time – even if we live to be a hundred.
Wait! I think there’s an éclair calling my name