“How would you describe yourself in three words?”
Dom: “ (laughs) I can’t describe myself in three words”
“If you were a country which one would you be and why?”
Dom: “ (long pause) umm…Switzerland, umm, because its neutral?’ (dying inside and trying to keep the WTF look from taking over face)
Clearly the chance to actually prepare something, or anything actually would be preferable to situations like those, which I really wish I could say I made up. Taking the wonderful fact that a presentation allowed me to save myself from, well, myself out of the equation, I realised that I haven’t ever actually put my own story about my passion for food into words before. I decided that I really should pop this story onto my blog, because it might help you, lovely reader, understand me a little bit better, so here goes.
Julia Child, a wonderfully talented chef, author and subsequent TV personality was born in 1912 in America. She is most well known for mastering French cooking, and then bringing it to the American public but, also said some profound things, which have become pretty popular on Pinterest.
I didn’t just choose this quote because she was a chef and I’m really trying to stick with the whole food-themed thing, I chose it because it describes my passion for food perfectly. While trolling the internet looking for some inspirational quote to start this post (cough cough, see above) I landed up on Urban Dictionary. Just out of interest, I decided to check what they had to say about being a foodie and there were some interesting finds including:“The politically correct term for a fat person”, as well as “a person that has no actual interests or hobbies”… But, I think I will stick to calling myself a foodie despite Urban Dictionary’s inspirational words, because I really am an unashamed foodie at heart, with one small caveat.
While food does make me happy, healthy food makes me the happiest of all. I am one of those people who will order a green juice, and love it. I will be able to tell you all about the health benefits of psyllium husks, make you chia seed pudding and tell you that charcoal is actually good for more than just your Sunday afternoon braai. If you do happen to come with me to a restaurant, and this is something my friends know all too well, I will most likely either be standing on my chair to get a good insta-photo of the food in front of us, or making you wait before you start eating so that I can take a photo of yours… or all of the above.
I need to explain where all this health-food nut thing comes from, so I will have to begin at the very beginning of this story and put things in their correct order (is that a bad pun? I think it might be). I was raised to appreciate good food from a very young age. From what I’m told my mom used to go to the organic market, every weekend to buy her groceries, and some of my first solid foods were organic butternut or sweet potato mash with an egg mixed in with it. There was no purity or baby food out of a jar, but there were organic bananas and organic whatever else my mom could get her hands on. I was also a kid with odd tastes. When I was 18 months old my mom and I joined my dad on a trip to Europe, because he was sailing a regatta, and we spent some time in Amsterdam. At one of the restaurants we went to, the waiter brought along a small bowl of complimentary olives to the table along with the bread, which I promptly polished off. When my dad asked them to bring some olives more because his daughter had eaten them all, they laughed as a waiter does at a dad joke (they all do this), and brought another small bowl. Eventually, after the 4th bowl of olives all the wait-staff were standing around our table watching me eat the olives.
Apparently I was a big hit because they also brought me a free ice cream dessert that the chef had made look like a clown. Of course, I remember none of this, but this is the way my dad tells the story. I went through my school career with my friends asking; “What did you get?” when we sat down at break. No matter how early or late, my parents and I always tried to eat our meals together. My mom is Chilean, and my dad is Portuguese, and as they both grew up in cultures which centre around food and where things like chorizo and ceviche are as normal as toast, my life has been no different.
The main part, ha, of my food story begins when I decided to leave my homely Joburg nest where the fridge is always full and there’s always something great for dinner, to study my undergraduate at UCT. This meant, moving into res. I’m not sure if any of you reading this has had the pleasure of experiencing res food. For those of you that haven’t, we had some delightful options… unless you were the first one in the queue for the salad bar and managed to save the single crumb of feta from its loneliness, salads consisted of iceberg lettuce. We had what we unaffectionately nick-named weight-gain Wednesday which included two mini pizzas, on chips, with as much white bread and jam as you wanted to eat afterwards. You knew it was really bad when the dining hall was empty and its usual patrons were in the queue for mac Donald’s.
Anyway. Long story short, I boycotted the food hall, which resulted in me living off muesli, microwave meals, takeaways and sachets of tuna for the rest of my first year at UCT. Before my first year of varsity, I had only been on antibiotics 5 times in my entire life, by the end of it, I was at the doctor’s rooms at least once a month. As my year progressed I became sicker than I had ever been, first year spread was very much not something to put on my toast in the morning and by the end of it I was far more depressed than I ever should have been or ever had been. I went home that December and my mom eventually took me to holistic doctor, who ran blood tests to test for absolutely everything because no one could work out what was wrong with me. When the blood work came back I was diagnosed with, amongst other things, chronic fatigue, two variations of Epstein bar virus (which is the one that you get when you have glandular fever), I was also told that I was pre-diabetic and on the cusp of becoming insulin resistant. I had many symptoms of Celiac Disease and so I was also told that I had an allergy to wheat and gluten.
Chronic fatigue occurs as a result of your body using up its adrenal reserves. Your adrenal glands are responsible for dealing with stress and basically govern your fight or flight response and the production of cortisol and adrenalin. My doctor told me that he usually sees this sort of thing in CEOs or adults with seriously stressful jobs or going through extreme emotional situations. So a 19 year old girl with chronic fatigue is not at all a usual situation. Looking back now, that year was honestly the worst that I can remember. I was always exhausted and on the verge of tears. I used to wake up in the mornings after a good 12 hour sleep feeling more tired than I had when I got into my bed. I wasn’t living the life of a normal first year student; I wasn’t sleep-deprived because I went out on the jol (party for my international readers) every other night. I was too tired, or too sick to do that. I spent the majority of my nights in bed with my laptop and series, or actually reading my course-work ahead of my lectures because I quite literally couldn’t get myself out of bed. On the occasions that I finally felt a little better or pushed myself to go out and jol, I would wake up so sick that I had to go to the doctor again and so the whole cycle would start all over again. I stopped exercising, first properly and then at all, again because it was a big enough struggle for me to get out of bed to get to my lectures. I had no idea what was happening to me, the doctors would give me some painkillers and antibiotics every time I got sick and tell me I must just be stressed from Varsity exams (even if it was at the beginning of the term). To everyone else I probably seemed anti-social and lazy. I didn’t recognize myself, and I had no idea why.
When the holistic doctor asked me what was going on and why I was so stressed, bursting into tears was literally the only reaction I could give because on paper, none of it made any sense. My degree was not that stressful, (insert any and all BA jokes you feel like making here) and I was always one of those kids who loved school and studying had never worried me before (aside from Maths Paper 3). Yes, I had left home and that was an adjustment, but my parents have always given me all their love and support and if anything, my relationship with them was better than it was when I had lived at home. My boyfriend was at a different university so there was that, but we were making the best of it. All things considered, there was nothing in my external environment that could possibly ever have accounted for my feeling the way that I did or for my body behaving the way that it was. The reason for my body being under so much stress? In a more reader-appropriate version of the doctor’s exact words, my gut was “completely wrecked”. Because of this, I was not absorbing any of the (admittedly very limited) nutrients I was consuming. My body was under so much stress as a result that I had completely depleted my adrenal reserves, hence the Chronic Fatigue. My immune system was at an all time low, and anything that I did (like drinking alcohol on the jol) sent me spiraling. My body was running about as efficiently as your car would, if you tried to feed it muesli at every meal and then chucked a few shots of tequils in there for good measure.
I immediately stopped eating wheat, gluten, and processed foods and went straight back to basic, wholesome eating. I also started a few other holistic treatments to help heal my gut and after three weeks, I felt better than I had for most of the year. The longer I stayed off it, the better I got. I couldn’t quite believe that I had managed to get myself even a little bit better, simply by changing how I ate, where courses of antibiotics had failed the year before. Despite the feeling of wanting to move back home at the end of that first year, where everything was just so much easier and safer, I stayed at UCT. I moved out of Res in my second year and into a flat, where I could cook for myself. At this point I was reading anything and everything I could get my hands on about nutrition and food, The Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford and The Wheat Belly are still two of my go-to’s when I want to find something out. I found Jessica Sepel’s blog (have a look here) and she has basically become my guru, shame she doesn’t even know how borderline stalkerish I am. During my third year at UCT I wanted to get myself some sort of certification in nutrition, and so I completed the SSISA short course in nutrition. I toyed with the idea of changing courses and becoming a dietician, but decided against it because the South African Guidelines for how people should be eating are guidelines that I couldn’t even follow because of my own food allergy, and in my mind there is something inherently illogical about that. So, I just decided to stay curious, and read as much as I could find, all the while adjusting my own way of eating to see what worked best for me. I am still trying to undo the damage that I did to myself all the way back then. My story might seem quite extreme but looking back so was the change in my eating habits and lifestyle. Regardless, I’ve seen both sides of what my life could be like, and there really is no argument in it for me.
Last year, I began writing this little food blog. It all started as a means of applying to a grad program, but, truth be told, I think I was just scared to put myself out there and needed an official ‘reason’ to start writing about food. We were told then, to start and write a blog about something we were passionate about and to keep it going for 3 months. Over 8 months later and I’m still going strong. There are people out there, people like you, who actually want to hear what I have to say, and I can’t explain how grateful I am for that. There have been so many times when friends and people that I don’t know have come up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed something I wrote. Whether that is just a polite conversation starter or you being nice, it means a lot to me. I recently decided to buy the domain name for my blog and there are some pretty exciting things planned for its future. This blog has become about something more than just my passion for eating healthily in the same way that healthy eating has helped me. When I look back at my food journey and the way my relationship with food has changed, I hardly recognise the person that I was. I have discovered that I absolutely love to cook and I love finding ways of making recipes healthier without skimping on the taste part of it. This post might be slightly more personal than others but I really feel like my whole blog would be disingenuous if I didn’t share it. The health part of my passion for food is not that hard to nail down and seeing as I have just put you through about 2000 words of my life story, I’m sure you can see why. But there is something about good food that brings people together which I adore. Apart from the fact that good food tastes the way it does, healthy food literally adds value your life, and I am pretty sure that it has completely changed mine. I mean, if you are going to do something that you have to do, like eat, you might as well make it really worthwhile. Anna Thomas puts it perfectly:
“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly”.
If any of you are still reading this, I hope that you managed to find something in this ramble of mine, and if not then please accept this pretty picture as an apology… look there are even some flowers in there.
I love hearing from you and hearing your stories. If you feel like sharing any or if you have any ideas or recipe requests for what you want to read about in future posts, please pop me an email or a comment. Don’t forget to sign up to follow my blog if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, and thank you, again, for all of the support.