Polite Part-Time Pescatarian

I’m constantly confused at what to consume on a daily basis.  Every day there’s a new study listing The Top 10 Best/Worst/High Fat/Low Fat/Cancer Causing/Anti Oxidant/Blah/Blah/Blah Foods to Eat.  And then there are the drinks — green tea, alkaline water, cranberry juice, bulletproof coffee, mint tea, coconut water, soy milk, pomegranate juice — just thinking about them gives me the urge to pee!  I am left feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. So what can I consume?

Last year I read coffee is good for you after years of hearing it would kill me.  Or is it that the caffeine is bad, but the coffee can stave off Type 2 diabetes?  Then there are the soy beans which utterly confound me.  Are they healthy or not?  And fish is best, except ones like catfish or tilapia since they’re bottom feeders with inferior nutrition compared to other fish, not to mention the farm raising crap, and all the mercury in the fish.  I always wondered though, since the Japanese eat fish all the time (like a 1/2 pound a day per person!), do they worry about mercury poisoning like we do?

About eighteen months ago, I decided to go meatless.  I have GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), so eating high alkaline, low acid foods helps reduce the heartburn.  But honestly I can eat something one day that doesn’t give me the burn, and a few days later it does.  Nothing seems to make sense with food.  I also have osteoarthritis, so throw that into the mix and more foods have to be chopped out of my diet to reduce inflammation.

Usually when I travel outside the US, I find my GERD is asymptomatic (I know, I sound like a doctor, right?!).  The food, especially in Europe seems fresher and much healthier than at home.  I love trying the local delicacies wherever I am, and usually find at least one thing that I’ll attempt to replicate at home.  It wasn’t always the case, though.

Many moons ago, I took a high school trip (my first abroad) to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  It was the typical American trip where we traveled through three countries, seven cities and a quick drive by of Lichtenstein all in eight days.  While there I ate food I had never experienced back home.  On Good Friday, a trout was placed in front of me which included the head and the tail.  It was the first time I had eaten something that was staring back at me.  It was ok, but I learned I didn’t love fresh water fish.  Then on Easter Sunday, we dined in a small village where most people didn’t speak English.  My German was not great, so when a gorgeous appetizer consisting of a creamed meat overflowing from a small phyllo dough tower came to rest before me, I devoured it, no questions asked.  Three days later, while chatting with one of our chaperones I found out that I’d consumed sweetbreads…basically organ meat.  I was disgusted with myself for eating it AND liking it so much.  If I’d known it was sweetbreads at the restaurant I’m sure I would have passed it up.  Sometimes it’s just better NOT to know what you’re eating.

As my palate has evolved, I’ve taken more risks whether it be tasting street food in Vietnam, chowing down blood pudding in Ireland or gorging on tripe in China.  That last one is actually cow stomach, but give it another name and what you don’t know, won’t hurt you!  I learned over the years to try it first, ask questions later.  I have huge respect for Anthony Bourdain as he tries everything, but I often wonder how his stomach holds up off camera.

I have to be honest, I haven’t completely given up meat in the last year and a half.  When I first decided to try it out, I knew that I wouldn’t be a full-time vegetarian, since I love fish (saltwater) and shellfish.  So, I saw myself as a pescatarian.  But then I also knew that anytime I’d visit my mom, I’d have to eat meat. And then there’s Thanksgiving, which I love, so I knew that I’d eat turkey at least once a year.  When visiting friends or family, I’m not going to recoil in horror when presented with a filet mignon either.  I find it rude to turn away good food just because I’m personally avoiding it.   I’m a polite part-time pescatarian.  It’s not like I have an allergy that could kill me if I ate something.  That would be totally different.

My friend Betsy was diagnosed with Celiac Disease over twenty years ago (before it became hip to be gluten intolerant).  She would get horrible rashes on her knees and elbows and had to take a drug that could permanently damage her liver if taken too long.  That’s some real shit.  But now everybody wants in on the No Gluten thing.  People say they’re allergic to it, even if they’ve never seen an allergist.  The only good thing to come from this “epidemic” is that the taste of the gluten free food has improved immeasurably.  I remember making Betsy a birthday cake not long after her diagnosis.  I bought a gluten free cake mix from Whole Foods. It smelled like I was mixing wax with burnt plastic.    I don’t know how she ate it.  But she liked it.  I think I put the fake cake leftovers into the recycling bin so it could be made into a plastic bottle someday.

I guess in the end, I have to pick and choose what’s right for my body and soul.  I won’t fit neatly into every diet fad that comes along and as a traveler I want to experience foods from around the world.  Moderation is the key for me.  The only thing I will remove permanently from my diet will be those lists telling me what I shouldn’t eat or drink!


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