"working on my faults and cracks..."

11.21.2011

cafe mclean

The present-day grocery store is a warzone. A veritable hellhole of conspicuously edible chemicals, and cleverly disguised, genetically modified organisms in otherwise innocuous foods we've deemed safe, or healthy. But are they really? Granted, we're not buying napalm in the morning, or depleted uranium shell casings in the bulk aisle, but at the rate the modern digestive system is collectively de-evolving, rendering itself incapable of the simplest of tasks, we might as well be. There are certainly cooler ways to die, and at the hands of some allergen the FDA has deemed fit for consumption, will not be hers.

She's the adorable girl next door, and thanks to a recently developed allergy to corn, she's on a special diet. But that's not even the gist of it, as she's also cordially told both gluten and dairy to get tossed. So what happens when you try to banish several extremely important cornerstones of the American food pyramid? Hilarity does not ensue, that's for damn sure. A far cry from even the simpleton rigors of going vegan, this isn't some faint-hearted, fad diet embarked upon lightly - neither for lark, nor self-amusement, as the sheer amount of willpower necessary would fold even a seasoned, self-righteous foodie hipster in half.  It was decided that I, forever the masochist and trying my damndest to impress, would join her for only one CGD-free meal a day (as I will sooner be buried ass-up, than relinquish eating blueberry scones), while she, in a remarkably gutsy outpouring of one-upmanship, would go all three. That was a year ago.

At the outset, the dropping of a few ingredients from your daily intake looks deceptively simple - just eat as though you were an Asian caveman. One such rule of thumb, would be if it wasn't here before we were, it probably shouldn't be on the menu. This leaves plenty of rices, meats, nuts, vegetables (that haven't illicitly bumped uglies with corn), and top-shelf tequila to remain in good humor. Sifting through all the rules, you'll notice that the diet is indeed extremely simple; the complexities arise from using foods that are born out of the supermarket's insatiable lust for convenience and shelf-life. Thus, simplicity isn't just a polite obligation, it needs to be the rule. Lots of simple ingredients, lots of simple cooking. Simple, right? Wrong. A raging hard-on for simplicity won't cut it, because while gluten has become quite a bit easier to avoid (thanks in part to the recent epidemic of celiac disease), that doesn't make the whole diet any easier, thanks to corn, which is in everything. And by 'everything,' I mean goddamn everything.

Looking to snack on a healthy apple? Corn derivatives are employed in the waxy coating used to preserve the fruit's delicious on-shelf appearance. Hoping to fill the empty stomach with a hamburger? Corn in the beef, if that's what they were feeding the animal before it slid seductively between the bun. How about fresh salmon for dinner? If it's not wild-caught, it was probably fed some corn-derived growth accelerator.  Corn on the cob to go with that fish? Hope you're into steamy, corn-on-corn action, because it's usually waxed, just like the apples. What about a few corn chips? OH DEAR JESUS NOT THE CORN CHIPS.

By now, it's clear that this somewhat redundant list only begins to scratch the surface of what's really in the food we eat. A long and strangely depressing list, at that. How deep down the rabbit hole do you want to go? Fancy a cup of tea? Careful, corn is usually used as a sealant to hold the bag together. Aches and pains got you down? Watch it, everyday pain relievers like Ibuprofen and over-the-counter pills like birth control all have corn. Hope you like headaches. And babies. Baking with bleached sugars or flour? C-c-c-combo breaker! Just kidding. Not if they're bleached with more fun corn derivatives, you're not. Mailing a letter to your mother about how hard it blows to be allergic to corn? Get someone to lick the stamp for you, because there are corn-based chemicals in the adhesive. Obviously.

And on, and on it goes. Corn syrup for the sweet things, corn starch for the baked things, dextrin (a corn derivative) for the savory things, citric acid for the preserved things, and the cleverly deceptive "natural flavors (one of which, conveniently happens to be 'the flavor of corn')" for anything with the ambiguous "all-natural" or "organic" tagline. Going corn-free is as difficult in the US, as going rice-free in Asia, or bean-free in places of the world where beans are part of the holy Catholic Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Pinto, obviously). I thought it to be gastronomic suicide, the first time I heard of her undertaking. But it can be done. And it can be goddamn delicious, and a hell of a lot of fun, as I've come to learn.

The first step, is taking a massive, no-holds-barred initiative to attain an intimate knowledge of the foods you eat, knowing their ingredients on a first-name basis. This is made a lot easier by insisting on starting with local, organic meats and produce, and then using the most basic and natural of table seasonings like natural rock or sea salt, peppercorns, and fresh herbs for flavor. For actually cooking, basic oils like virgin olive and coconut oils, make it possible. Filtered water, fresh orange juice, organic ginger ale, and the occasional glass of wine, to drink. It's a massive culinary scavenger hunt of sorts, made all the more thrilling once you realize that Himalayan lamb Vindaloo is fair game, and the only bacon you're able to eat, is the really good shit.

I rode more this year than I ever have. And all summer, the results of the diet blew my mind. I'd always assumed myself to be "fairly healthy," but with the dramatic departure of both corn and gluten, I started feeling surprisingly good - noticing it firsthand when I really started to chase a more competitive spirit for the first time. I'd get on the bike the morning after a proper dinner, and really felt like I could lay down a hammer like never before. A pro-tour caliber diet, if there ever was one, for sure. For better or worse, our bodies are slaves to what we eat. And when you don't know what you're eating, it's almost shocking how much better you could be feeling. An allergy isn't always an inconvenience, sometimes it's a godsend. A matter only of perspective, and the best interest of your own health, and little else. Simple.

Oh, and on a somewhat applicable sidenote, our infinitely wise, idiocratic congress decided that the American diet wasn't already enough of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and recently declared pizza a vegetable. Funny, I don't remember ever voting Beef Supreme into office. To hell with Wall Street, we should be occupying the produce aisle. May God have mercy on us all. 

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