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It is Always about Good Food

Posted 6/8/2015

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  It is somewhat perplexing to me how I grew up into someone who cares so much about food. My mother never liked to cook and often said something like: "Isn't it too bad that we can't just take a pill or two in the morning and be done with it?" My father, brothers, and I were very lucky that we mostly had cooks, so we were not reliant upon my mother's interest or skills in the kitchen. 

  Being bald, for me, was the worst thing about chemotherapy, but second place was solidly held by loss of appetite and interest in food. I was so sad that I did not enjoy cookbooks as bedtime reading or never opened the new issues of Bon Appetit. As is true for many people, my ideal on-chemo meal was completely carb based and included mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and/or bread. Going out to dinner with friends was especially difficult as nothing on those lovely menus looked good, and I had to sit and think about and look at food for several hours.

  This is something of an aside, but it is a place to get this in: an excellent resource for nausea is this old East Asian remedy: keep a small jar filled with equal amounts of grated ginger root and lemon zest in the refrigerator. Add sugar or honey to taste and either swallow it straight up or add to tea or seltzer water.

  What a pleasure it was when I realized one day that I was thinking about what would be delicious for dinner and happy about going to the farm stand to look for greens and corn. Food is a constant topic of conversation i my office, generally related to what might possibly be appetizing for someone who is on treatment or what is not going to cause further GI distress for someone on a cancer/treatment-limited diet. This is all an introduction to this thoroughly delighted essay by Susan Gubar from The New York Times.

Living With Cancer: Keep On Cooking

Julia put a glass jar of turkey-tail mushrooms on the restaurant table. Drinking home-brewed tea helps her combat the side effects of treatment. The day before a blood test — which would reveal whether or not an experimental drug was working — I placed one delicate bit on the center of my palm. The ridged striations and concentric ruffles reminded me of the tiny angel-wing shells that Leslie’s partner had collected on Sanibel Island for our cancer support group.
When I put down the mushroom to pick up a menu, nothing on it resembled the foods I had been enjoined to eat at a cancer conference I had just attended.
Next to the podium a speaker stood beside a blender in which she put almond milk, half of an avocado, a banana and flax seeds. Conference participants were told to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, to abstain from sugar and dairy and meat. We were urged to avoid white foods and instead to consume dark greens, bright oranges, vivid reds and glowing yellows. Raw and
organic are the way to go, or slow roasted and locally grown. Whole grains should be a staple, but turmeric, garlic and ginger can be added abundantly, along with blueberries, walnuts, wild salmon and especially kale.
Such advice — which arrives in books and emails, on TV shows and websites — surely helps some people and might prevent disease. Decades ago, I was vigilant about carrot sticks, apples, whole wheat sandwiches and milk in my children’s lunch boxes. Yet the food gurus seem oddly irrelevant to those in treatment, at least to those of us around the table. The jar of
turkey-tail mushrooms helped but did not entirely distract us from the difficulties of ordering.

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