Writer’s Block: Foods for thought

When my fiancé and I go out for dinner, a recurring conundrum invariably occurs.

I am sensitive to some foods. I need to be cautious in my menu choices. It’s not so much the foods. In many cases, it’s the chemical additives. Plus, the unsaturated fats, lying in wait eventually spurring an urgent call to Roto-Rooter asking to unclog my arteries, are always upper-most in my thoughts.

Our food-ordering process usually goes something like this:

Elyse Kaner
Elyse Kaner

Waiter: “Hi. May I take your order?”

Me: “Yes. I would like the salmon. No seasonings, please. No MSG. Please put the sauce on the side. Substitute the risotto for cooked vegetables. I would like a salad but please put the salad dressing on the side. No beverages for me, thank you. Just water. With no ice, please.

Waiter: “And for you, Sir.”

Fiancé: “I’ll have a nap.”

OK, so my fiancé deserves a gold medal for putting up with my ordering idiosyncrasies. A lengthy diatribe of unmitigated cuisine preparation requests. But I’m just protecting the home front, to ensure I won’t go into a narcoleptic spin or something equally as taxing before we leave the restaurant.

Last weekend I ran into a woman at the grocery store. She looked to be in her 30s. She had two kids. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. She and I were admiring the Applegate Organic products in the meat section. No antibiotics used. Humanely raised. No fillers. Gluten and casein free, no nitrites or nitrates added, a product label stated.

I quit eating conventionally grown foods cold turkey, she told me. She made the switch to organic foods when she learned of her mother’s diagnosis a while back. Her mother has gone the organic route as well.

The woman talked about pesticides – about the chemicals in our processed foods, in the soil, in deodorant and in cosmetics. Specifically, she spoke of a chemical in mascara.

I, being no slouch in the organics department (I’ve eaten mostly organic foods for more than 18 years now), chimed in that I special order my clay-based lipstick made in Germany. The woman said she buys her cosmetic products from other countries as well.

Fewer chemicals, she said. “I don’t want my kids eating foods with all those chemicals,” she opined at the end of our conversation. “I want to eat foods like my mother ate when she was growing up. Whole foods.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

In addition to eating whole foods, I have avoided MSG for eons. Monosodium glutamate is a chemical additive, a flavor enhancer usually found in Chinese restaurant food. I used to feel rotten every time I ate it. Couldn’t figure out why. Even if you ask if there’s MSG in a restaurant’s food and the answer is “no,” it still might show up in the soy sauce they’re using. MSG is disguised under many names.

My family was a voracious user of tuna for years. I once saw some unfamiliar words in the contents listing on the can. Tuna. Check. Water. Check. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Wait a minute. I called the 800 number on the can to see what the heck I was eating. They said HVP is MSG.

Other names for MSG or that contain MSG are autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, sodium caseinate, seasonings and, here’s the corker, natural flavors. There are many more, but I need to move on to another topic.

Food-can linings coated with chemicals. Bisphenol A, a phenol compound that gives the insides of metal cans a golden color, is used to keep food fresh. Do these chemicals leach into our food? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out. I try to stay away from them.

I’ve noticed some products, Eden Foods for one, that sells its beans in cans with BPA-free can linings. From my research, cans coated with phenols are cheaper to produce than other food preservative solutions out there. But isn’t one’s health worth spending a bit more and getting a better product?

I guess the key to eating healthy is, like my grocery store compadre said, going back to eating whole foods, as our parents did and our parents before them.

One look in the obituary section of the paper reveals an onslaught of people dying earlier than their parents.

Could it be something’s amiss in our foods?

  • I would love to know the name of the brands of make up you use from Germany. thanks.