Home Again: Hard to stop thinking about food | Commentary


We are obsessed with food in this country. How blessed we are that it is so available here in the United States.

I have interviewed young exchange students periodically in my career. When asked what most stood out in contrast to where they were from, answers typically involved food and its availability or how much space we have for housing.

A student from France said space was so limited that houses were pretty much crammed together and had little inside square footage. She expressed amazement at the large farms and homes and how even city houses were surrounded by lawns and greenspace.

The community where I lived in Michigan had a “sister city” — Moriyama, Japan — and the Japanese students always insisted on coming to the U.S. in October, in time for Halloween. They had never participated in trick or treating before. They’d heard from previous travelers you could get more booty in candy in one round of doorbell-ringing than they’d typically see all year.

One response regarding our supermarkets is forever memorable. The student could not get over how you can walk into an American supermarket and be surrounded by food choices — not just the availability of most anything you would want, but several varieties of each. In her country, they shopped at little local markets or from street vendors.

Unlike some places in the world, even our small towns offer an array of choices unheard of elsewhere, whether a small supermarket or one of the many dollar stores that have sprung up. When we want more variety, we venture into Olean to the larger stores. I like certain foods or household products at certain stores and sometimes have to make it a journey to hit each. When I visit the humongous Walmart, I often recall that young student’s reaction. We are blessed with choices some only dream of.

Until the coronavirus entered the scene, we could also choose from a large array of restaurants, from sit-down to fast-food. These industries have suffered, even as they were allowed to open in limited capacities and it remains to be seen if the jobs and our choices will be further reduced due to this nasty disease. I’m happy we still have options here in the Twin Tiers. Farmers also struggle.

Another coronavirus effect is the number of people revisiting home cooking. Many are baking their own bread, trying new and old recipes and sitting down with their families. This can mean certain items on our grocery lists have been hard to find, such as yeast. With many layoffs and some closings bringing income losses, area food banks also struggle to keep up with more and more people in need of their services. These agencies work hard to provide food and basic needs and can always use help from anyone in a position to make a donation.

You might think my mind is focused on food, its availability and our options. Actually, food is a preoccupation right now. I used to forage throughout the day, looking for “something good,” which typically included chocolate or a fancy coffee. (My late husband and daughter often said, “I don’t know, something good,” when asked what they wanted but could never define what that was. Have you been there?) My previous path was to be constantly obsessing over what great and tasty thing could I find to eat.

Recent health diagnoses have put me on a new path, however. I had a sudden weight loss of 20 pounds, which is good, but being sick is not the way to do it. I am now on a new quest, trying to plan food around a list of “OK” and “not OK” foods related to a medical condition. In some ways, I am just as obsessed about making sure not to eat something I shouldn’t (such as the too-much-loved chocolate and coffees that aggravate the condition) as I am about constantly pondering, “Well, what CAN I eat and not get in trouble?”

As with many conditions and diet plans, lists are available on the Internet. One thing I’ve found, however, is that food lists are often contradictory! I’ve latched on to a few dishes that are pretty good, but the repetition and lack of creativity in meal preparation can get boring. I can read a list and choose items, but I doubt my choices filled nutrient requirements. I needed help with meal plans for the day.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to solve this dilemma until I remembered that our local hospital has helped people with specific needs such as diabetes education. When I called, they said they hadn’t worked with anyone with a request like my condition but would be willing to do so — with a prescription from my doctor.

As I’m writing this, I’ll soon be headed to the hospital for a consultation. I hope to switch my food obsession to actually planning some nutritious meals. But after a time, I hope it’s more of a health regimen for better eating that may also include “something good.”

(Contact contributor Deb Wuethrich at [email protected])

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