Food, it’s the stuff you put into your mouth to basically stay alive. You need it as a form of sustenance because your body needs energy and nutrients to actually function. For some, food has become a way of defining a culture, understanding its history, while at the same time also understanding its traditions.
The things that make up a dish, from the spices to the actual cooking techniques used when cooking a dish, define that culture. It explains what people through the history of different societies have eaten and how those dishes have shaped what we eat today. For chefs, food serves as a blank canvas, a way of creative innovation that they are able to share.
In many ways it is very much an art form, from the various ingredients and techniques used to the little details of tweaking the seasoning in each dish, chefs are artists in the kitchen with the goal of creating food that is memorable. In a simple way, food is an easy way of just getting to know someone.
If you ask anyone what their favorite food is, they will probably be able to come up with something – it could be junk food or fast food, something their mom or grandmother made, or just a meal they remember having that has had a lasting memory on them. Everyone has a favorite food. Food is very much the universal unifier because everyone can somehow relate to it. While food is commonly viewed in these various ways, for me food is so much more than this.
When I was in my freshman year I was diagnosed with a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) known as ulcerative colitis. Honestly, when I first heard this I was like, “Is that real disease? I’ve never even heard of it before.”
For those of you who don’t know what this disease is, it’s an autoimmune disease that affects your gastrointestinal system. It manifests as inflammation mainly in either the small intestine or large intestine. At this point there’s no clear explanation of the cause – some believe it’s due to genetics, others think it could be environmental, while others think it could be a combination of these and other factors.
So that was the super scientific explanation of what IBD is for all you future doctors and biology majors. To put it in layman’s terms, there’s a definite possibility you’ll see me do my best impersonation of Usain Bolt, but in this case the finish line is the closest available restroom I can find.
Obviously this is not the most flattering the disease to have to explain to your friends, but you get over it. While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are a number of ways to maintain it and keep it under control. You’re obviously going to be put on a bunch of different drugs, some will work better than others, so it’s really a hit-or-miss trial phase to figure out if any drugs actually work.
A recommendation that most doctors have for those affected is a change in diet – basically cut out anything that your body is sensitive to in order to keep you in a state of general functional health. Honestly, this is something that I had a very hard time dealing with.
Imagine if a soccer player had to give up playing the beautiful game. Imagine if a rock star couldn’t rock out on stage and share his music. For me it feels like the same thing. Getting used to the routine involved with this disease, from taking meds on a daily basis to the lingering pain in your side that just never seems to go away, was a relatively easy change.
But honestly, being told I shouldn’t eat the things that I had grown up with was way more difficult for me to adjust to. The worst is knowing I’m not supposed to eat a lot of the stuff that I used to be able to, from ice cream and popcorn to most of my childhood favorites that my mom would make me for dinner.
The idea that I wouldn’t be able to eat things that I used to be able to is a terrible realization, especially when it’s the dishes that you grew up loving. As an avid foodie, this disease legitimately felt like a knock-out punch. It’s super ironic that the thing I love to do the most just also happens to be my worst enemy as well. It’s just impossible to give up something you love cold turkey – excuse the bad food joke.
When I think about food I don’t just think about what’s on the plate in front of me, but also the people I’m sharing the meal with. This could be close friends or family members or even someone I’ve just met. Food it is just one of those things that’s able to bring people together and take your mind off any problems you’re having – for me, it’s an easy escape from the real world.
Food is far and away one of the things that helps keep me from thinking about the negatives in life. I am one of those people who associates a memory with a meal. It could be anything from decorating a cake with my grandmother when I was a little kid to just catching up with my roommate over a bowl of steamy noodles.
Some people remember a conversation they had or a song that was playing in the background, but for me a memory always happens around food. So this is gonna sound super lame, but when I’m daydreaming and my mind just wanders off, chances are I’m thinking about food.
It could be a memory I had a long time ago or just thinking about a meal I hope to have in the future – obviously creating an illusion for myself using all those Yelp! reviews. But really, food for me is about who you share it with. My friends and family have always been there for me and they are definitely one of the things that has helped me fight this disease.
There are definitely days that just plain suck, but it’s the people around me that keep me going. A perfect day for me is when I completely forget about all my troubles and I’m just out and about with my friends or family eventually leading to a great meal.
To put it simply, a good day equals good food spent with good people. For me, any memory that I have of family, friends and food are my favorite ones because I’m able to share something I love to do with the people closest to me.
So obviously there are days where I just go, pardon the French, “F**k it, I do what I want. I’m not letting this control me.” I obviously know I’m going to eat something that will probably put me in a state of pain and that I’ll want to stay in bed in the fetal position. But it’s a gamble I’m willing to take just because it’s for the love of food.
The next day is always an interesting one because on the off chance nothing happens, and I feel completely fine, I know it’s a good day, definitely adding a tally to the win column. But, more often than not, the beast has won and I’ll be down for the count. You always tell yourself, “You’re not gonna do that again. You’re just gonna end up where you are right now. Please remember this feeling for next time.”
But obviously this mental warning from your past self never actually comes up because in that moment when you have to make the decision to take that first bite, it always seems to lead to a finished plate and a beautiful memory of every savory bite. To describe this experience concisely, it’s the best type of pain.
You knowingly do damage to yourself but you still try to remember every single little detail of every bite. Call me stupid, call me stubborn for doing this to myself but I don’t care. I don’t intend to change because giving up something you’re passionate about is pointless. If you’re going to live your life, do the things you love and are passionate about.
So to summarize: 1) Food for me is about creating memories by way of a bite of food spent with the people closest to you. 2) Don’t let anything stop you from doing what you love – yeah I know that’s super cliché, but that’s how I roll.
People affected with this disease are some of the strongest people I can think of. They are living a life constantly burdened by discomforting pain, an unimaginable amount of meds and doctor’s visits and an uncertainty of when and where the need for a restroom will arise.
They try to live as normal a life as possible while facing these daily challenges and are a true inspiration. For me, they are the definition of a fighter. Whether you know it or not they are fighting, they are fighting against the pain, they are fighting to live their lives. They don’t let this disease hold them back; it doesn’t stop them from living their life and doing the things they love.
This week, December 1 – 7, is dedicated to raising awareness of Crohn’s and Colitis, and all other forms of IBD. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s (CCFA)‘s goal is not only to raise awareness of this disease but also to show appreciation for all the people that are involved in the fight against this disease.
From the people on the front lines in the doctors and nurses, to the unsung heroes in the researchers and scientists, who seek to find a cure, they all play an important role in the fight against IBD. It’s especially important to remember are the people who deal with the disease on a daily basis, the people who fight to live their life in spite of this disease. So I urge you to please support the CCFA by liking their Facebook page or even simply sharing this article and learn more about this disease.
Also, use the hashtag #IBDawarenessweek this week to spread awareness about this disease that people are faced with every single day.