Cravings and Squicks

Warning – this post contains discussion of vomiting.

Food, being, ideally, a sensual pleasure, is one of those things that we either really love or really abhor. Individual foods, I mean.

As children, we go through phases where we dislike different things, based on taste, texture or smell. As we age, those tastes usually adapt and progress, and we willingly eat spinach or beans or whatever food it is we hated so ardently in our youth.

The one exception to this is when food becomes associated with a traumatic event, particularly something physically traumatic like a serious illness. Watching it all come back up can turn us off from ever desiring a particular food again.

When I was a kid, my Mom was a big fan of cream of tomato soup. She always added additional milk to our soup, in part to cool it and additionally to make it creamier. Except one day, the soup was too hot and the milk curdled, although I didn’t know it at first spoonful. Haven’t been able to eat cream of tomato soup since then. I can’t, to be completely honest, even watch other people eat it, especially if they break crackers into it.

Crackers and jam was the first solid food I was offered once after a bout of stomach flu (which conveniently began while racing around Halifax Harbour in a speedboat – we all thought I was just seasick at first). I can eat crackers with anything else on them, I will happily and joyfully eat jam on anything else, but thirty years later, I cannot eat crackers and jam together.

Cannot is the wrong word to use though, because obviously I can, I am capable of, eating a simple cracker with jam on it. It won’t kill me, and I think I’ve even done it under duress at least once. But the idea of crackers and jam sets something off in my head that sends me hurtling back to my little pink bedroom; I can picture the bed linen, the curtains, the toys and books, the collection of Barbie dolls, and that plate of crackers and glistening red strawberry jam than went flying onto the floor as I made a dash for the bathroom after the first bite.

My most recent bout of stomach flu has done pretty much the same thing. Almost all the foods I ate the day it hit are now verboten. I can’t, suddenly, stand the smell of my beloved coffee. The thought of the bread pudding I had at a local café for brunch freaks me out, and the dear, unassuming piece of lemon meringue pie I ate when my stomach first started rumbling and I simply assumed I had coffee gut and needed more food, may well be lost to me forever. Is there life without coffee and lemon meringue pie? I may have to discover.

More intriguing than the squicks is what I find myself craving. Once I had consumed litres of Gatorade, apple juice and flat gingerale, and the idea of solid food came back minus the shuddering, it was actually to my childhood I went again. Chicken noodle soup, damn the vegetarianism, would be the only cure. Then vegetable soup with beef broth. Both had restorative powers, despite my ethics. A tub of raspberry sorbet wedged into the back of the freezer officially became my favourite food ever. I even found myself craving Granny Smith apples – thin slices, exactly like the ones that garnished my plate of bread pudding. Theoretically, the apple should be off the list, but perhaps because it was crisp and fresh, it’s allowed to stay as a “good” food.

My brain seems to have a category it refers to as “clean, fresh food” that it leans to in times of physical crisis. Hangovers, the day after acid trips back in the 80s, and recovery from illness all demand salad. Not swank fancy salad with sundried tomatoes and olives and cheese, just iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, maybe some grated carrot. And French dressing. No, I don’t know why. I didn’t even have French dressing in the house today for my salad binge – I had to dig out a recipe and make some, but French it had to be, all brilliant reddish orange and tangy. This was not the time for single-origin olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar and freshly chopped herbs. My homemade stuff wasn’t quite as satisfying as if it had been the cloyingly sweet bottled stuff from the evil corporation (or better yet, if the entire salad had come from Red Lobster, complete with croutons and a slice of cold Bermuda onion), but I do have to draw the ethical line somewhere, even when it comes to cravings.

Over the next few days as my body recovers and I start eating larger portions of richer food again, all of these cravings and squicks will fade away. Of course, I will go back to drinking coffee, absolutely I will patch up my spat with eggs and cheese, citrus fruit (I threw up a whole glass of orange juice) will go back into regular rotation. But in the meantime, I am curious to learn what my body (and brain) thinks it wants and doesn’t want.

I tried to convince myself that I could continue to eat like this forever; little tiny portions of light but nutrient-packed foods, but I know it won’t happen. Eventually I will answer the call of chocolate and red wine, or a nice hunk of aged Mimolette. Definitely the devil’s starchy fingers in the form of double-cooked French fries. Or perhaps Red Lobster or something significantly worse.

The body wants what it wants and right now, it’s my job to see that the good stuff goes in and the bad stuff stays out. I am but a servant to a precocious and temperamental master.