For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

January 14, 2013

Tell me yours...

Special diets are nothing new. In fact, new diets seem to pop up like mushroom on a rainy day; some interesting, some scrumptious, some suspect and some probably lethal in worst cases. To me special diets have been a part of my life as far as I can remember. Gaining either in kilos or in knowledge has pushed me to try all kinds of things. Talking about diets, however, is a whole lot different today than it was in the past. I'd like to argue that before the word 'diet' was strictly linked to losing weight or keeping yourself fit. It was even a sensitive and a very private matter: being on a diet was nothingyou wanted to share with the rest of the world.

Safe to say, both of these aspects - the purpose of diets and taking about them - have changed. Nowadays, there might be little or even no correlation at all between diets and weight loss. Neither are they an embracing or an awkward topic of conversation, quite the contrary. Diets are "cool, hip and trendy". It's almost like having no diet at all is lame. Besides, following a specific diet can be both fun and challenging. In addition, diets speak for an individual's awareness, choice and identity in regards to food. Still, as it is with everything, this diet trend has its positive and negative sides.

On the one hand, people forced to follow a strict diet due to a medical condition; a food intolerance or obesity, can more openly talk about their rigorous food selection and thus get motivated and feel more comfortable with it. On the other hand, I feel like (medically conditioned) diets are not taken seriously any more. A person with a gluten intolerance dining out is suddenly considered as a pretentious narcissist making chefs' jobs annoying for no "real" reason: "She's just trying to lose weight or something" was, unfortunately, the response I got from my chef last weekend as I informed him about a customer's request to not have any croutons or breadcrumbs on her dish. I left my grouchy chef to solve this problem - his attitude - on his own. There was nothing I could say or do at that point to convince him otherwise. It's a shame since little did he know that lady in question was in fact celiac, and may I add, didn't really seem to care much about weightless or any other self- indulgence for that matter. Oh well.

...and I'll tell you mine

Like I said, being on a diet of some kind is as common for me as brushing my teeth before going to bed. Choosing to not eat a certain food item or not being able to eat one is like child's play - or so I thought. So seeing as I seem to enjoy testing all kinds of things on myself when it come to food, and because apparently eating isn't complicated enough abstaining from gluten and refined sugars, I thought I'd add a substantial challenge to my everyday eating habits. Why would I do that to myself? Why not! 'Why wouldn't I?', is a more suitable question I'd say. My reasons? For no extraordinary reason other than curiosity and over-eating during the holidays.

I decided to call it my "no SCAM month" (no Sugar of any kind, no Cheese, no Alcohol and no Meat). And no, there's not even a tiny part of me seeking to become vegetarian, vegan or sober for that matter. I simply chose to refrain from SCAM because of my genuine love for them all. If you don't see the point, it's fine, I won't hold it against you in any way. Neither will I encourage you to try it if it seems ludicrous to you. For me, it's like a game, a challenge to measure my self-control.

I had been through a month without alcohol before. It was tough, I won't argue the contrary. Okay, I'll be totally honest with you, I didn't last a whole month. But I did 26 solid somber days. It's still
something. Do I have issues with alcohol? No, I don't think so. I simply wanted to try the (in)famous tipaton tammikuu ("dropless January") many Finn do during the month of January (because they've most probably had a tad too much fun during Christmas holidays...). With the wary memories of that experience, I dreaded the 'A' in SCAM the most. Giving up meat, cheese and sugar didn't sound too bad.

A week into no SCAM, a friend of mine who was curious to know all about my irrational new diet came over. She was hungry. Luckily, I had some leftovers that would be fast headed up to tame her hunger as she would listen to my monologue. A quick stir-fry later we sat in my kitchen with a big steaming plate of food in between us. I gave her a fork and watched her eat with great appetite while I went on and on about my holidays. Somewhere between me describing the delicious tortellini I ate on Christmas lunch and the finger food I had cooked for New Year's Eve, I instinctively grabbed a fork to try whether my food was any good. One bite, two bites, mmm good, talking and talking... "Edith, what are you doing, stop!" I almost choked on a piece of reindeer meat. Damn it! Meat! I had accidentally eaten meat out of reflexes. My first reaction was to spit it out, but that seemed exaggerated. After all, it was reindeer meat brought from Finland by my dear Mother. And to think
that a minute earlier I had told her about my new month long diet. It was going be a lot harder than I thought.

After my reindeer accident I realized it. It's not about abstaining from whatever food item per se, it's about all the collateral social difficulties that come with. As long as you eat alone or prepare your own lunch box, pretty much any diet can be respected without a problem. But try attending a dinner party with all your individual restrictions and you'll probably end up not getting many invites in the future. Just saying... Now in my case, I'm lucky being a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and being surrounded by people that are nuts about anything food related. My weird food behavior this month has been rather well received. Still, two weeks in my diet I've found it hard to lead a totally normal and ordinary life. My opinion about the importance of food from a sociological point of view is even further reinforced. Food is everything it really is.

Today my classmates and I embark on our very first "stage"/study field trip to the region of Veneto. The focal point of the trip is to taste the gorgeous products that the producers we'll visit make for living. Not only do we get the privilege to gain an insight on the quality, labor and efforts needed to provide the product, but we are also being welcomed to the everyday lives of these people. I seriously have a hard time picturing myself saying no to the adorable elderly man who offers me a piece of cheese made with his bare hands.  And if I would decline, I'd without a doubt seem arrogant, disrespectful and ungrateful. But what if I'd be milk intolerant? It would probably be an awkward situation too, but I'd have a solid reason from my abstinence. And we're back to my core argument. Maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe "voluntary diets" are still a hot potato. Maybe one still needs a medical condition to back up unusual food selection?

1 comment:

  1. Even though diets it's what most people talk about, I still find that food choices that people make are not respected by others. For example I sometimes fast as part of my spiritual practice, or choose to remove some ingredients from my diet as health prevention action but what I see is that most people (even the closest ones to me) can't find it in themselves to accept what I choose to eat.
    Diets may be an open topic nowadays but there is still not enough tolerance towards (what I consider healthy) eating habits or respect to the person making changes. This is a wide spectrum and there are many scenarios but whatever those may be the judgement is still there.
    Thanks to those who are supportive and understand though!


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