Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving and My Omnivorous Dilemma

I love coming up with the titles for these blog entries. I imagine it is a bit like naming paint colors, which is my fantasy of a perfect, fun, low-stress job. Looking at a painted wall or a few paragraphs and choosing a few clever words to encapsulate meaning or essence is my idea of a good time right now. My body is somewhat limited, but my ceaselessly amusing mind cranks on.

Many of you have voiced concern that several of my blog titles contain foods that it might be best to avoid right now: chopped steak, enchiladas, and cake. Any conversation about the effects of diet on my health these days leads to the inevitably fascinating answer to the question, “What are you eating for Thanksgiving this year?” Those of you who know me and Steve and our history of Thanksgiving dinners understand why this is such an intriguing question. For the rest of you, here’s the story:

Steve and I were married in July of 1997. Within the first few months of being a part of a divorced family with my step-children going back-and-forth between our home and their mother’s, I realized we had to face the Thanksgiving Double Turkey Dilemma. Every friend I had as a child who had divorced parents complained about having to do the Thanksgiving turkey dinner deal twice. The first one is always special, but then doing it all over again with the other parent on the weekend was a complete drag. I wanted Ben and Luke to be saved from this emotional culinary burden. Our Thanksgivings would always be exciting, whether we had it on the actual Thursday of the holiday or on the weekend. (Every other year our 2 households alternate.) We decided to never have turkey.

Our first Thanksgiving together we made Cornish Hens, one for each of us. Luke was 4 and Ben was 6, and they thought it was cool that they each had their own “baby turkey.” At that time in their lives, having their own miniature bird seemed like a very grown-up deal, as opposed to being given a piece of something cut off a big bird. Ben, who is now 17 recently informed me that in retrospect, he thinks the idea of giving a small child a “baby turkey” is somewhat gross, but nonetheless amusing.

The next year we had quail, pheasant, and a goose. We named the dinner, “Three Game Feast,” and tried for several years to live up to the name. Goose became the undeniable favorite for all of us, so that remained the centerpiece of each year’s meal. We would just add 2 other birds to the menu each year. Over the years, we have had squab, guinea hen, partridge, ostrich, emu, and 2 kinds of duck (Muskovy and Peking). I tried to find woodcock, but it is illegal to buy a wild bird that was hunted in another state, and not being prepared to become a felon to perpetuate our humorous family tradition, I was forced to accept the fact that we had eaten every variety of legalized fowl.

We branched out and started having anything for Thanksgiving dinner that made us sound cool for having tried it: reindeer (sorry, but yes, we had Rudolph for Thanksgiving), kangaroo ribs, alligator, crocodile, turtle, frog, llama, elk, venison, antelope, rabbit, rattlesnake, yak, and wild boar. Brown bear was available one year, but we all agreed that was going too far; we just couldn’t eat a bear. As this year approached we realized that after twelve Thanksgivings together we might have reached the edge of the food experimentation frontier.

Although it was commonplace on regular days of the year for us to have turkey, chicken, or duck, we had never eaten them in their incarnation as “Tur-duck-hen.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this odd bird combo, it is a turkey, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a duck, and further filled with wild rice mushroom stuffing. The 2 inner birds have no skin, and have somehow been filleted to have no bones. The whole thing weighed over 18 pounds and was wrapped with string to hold it together. It took 9 hours to roast it! This being Ben’s last year at home before going off to college, we realized it would feel like coming back to a beloved tradition to have Three Game Feast, only this time with the three-birds-in–one.

I put aside my growing aversion to animal fat and we made a turduckhen for the displaced Thanksgiving we celebrated last weekend. I had a small piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, but I did not, however, indulge in any chopped steak, enchiladas, or cake.

I have read a gazillion treatises on the nutritional treatment and support of cancer. They range in nature from science to pseudo-science to religion. There are hundreds of opposing protocols that claim they are the most effective. If there was one way that was clearly the best, it would be obvious, and everyone would follow, but there’s not. Every person with or without cancer has unique body chemistry and each cancer has a distinct character. At this point I am guiding my diet by “gut feeling.” I am simply not drawn to most of the animal fat I used to love (ice cream and cheese being my biggest indulgences.) I have never been much of a red meat or pork fan. I eat those things only a few times a year, and have done so for at least 30 years, with the exception of the one year I battled heavy menstrual bleeding and split a local organically raised cow with my friend Christie.

I have always eaten a fairly high fiber diet, but I am finding ways to eat even more lately. I am discovering ways of preparing broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage in ways I never imagined. These are the three vegetables proven to help the body metabolize estrogen into less harmful substances. Living in Santa Cruz makes eating organically easy. When I have a craving for seaweed and miso, or wild salmon, I go for it. I try to ignore the cravings for ice cream or coffee or a glass of wine. I drink filtered water. I don’t eat anything grilled or char-broiled. I don’t eat things stored in plastic. I have always gravitated towards unprepared whole foods. I don’t believe diet caused my cancer, and it feels right to just clean up my act a bit. Any ways I can improve my digestion, absorption, and elimination feel helpful. I am sure I will try lots of different ways of eating over the months and years to come. While I’m open to nutritional counseling, right now my dietary choices feel good. I will keep an open mind, while I guard what goes into my mouth, and now that Thanksgiving is over for my family, it will be lot easier.