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The Food Hangover

Or How to Cure the Bad Food Blues


The Food Hangover
I get food hangovers. Other people get them from alcohol and too much partying; I get them when I don’t eat well.
One of the challenges of cleaning up your diet is the increased sensitivity you experience when you eat the “wrong” thing. The more oriented towards a whole foods diet we become, the more we will notice a reaction when we eat commercial, chemically altered food. Some of my friends –mainly those with a military or survivalist background- swear by eating bad food to keep their bodies “in training”, and I have to admit they have a point. You never know where you might end up or what you might have to eat while you’re there.
I’m no saint when it comes to food, but I eat well the vast majority of the time. We grew up with a vegetable garden, fruit trees and berries within arms reach, so my orientation has always been towards the real thing. We had chickens for their eggs and an occasional stew, and friends who were fishermen. Our mom made a mercifully brief foray into the land of insta-food, but I suspect her Italian roots and her palate won out in the end, because Jell-O and Hamburger Helper were short-lived visitors.
Now that I’m an adult, we keep a “flexitarian” diet at our house, eating a dominantly plant-based menu with occasional animal food when we crave the nourishment dense protein can provide. We buy as much organic produce as possible from local farmers, with an occasional item from the “Fresh 15”. We eat lots of vegetables and fruits, do some juicing and make lots of green smoothies, and balance cooked and raw foods according to the season and the weather. Our junk food tends to be organic unsalted corn tortilla chips or organic dark chocolate, with an occasional baked pudding or fruit pie. Goat or sheep cheese is a special indulgence. When we eat packaged food, the ingredient list is generally short and always easy to pronounce –in other words, it’s all food.
The holidays present a special challenge for people like us. Where I come from, food is an expression of hospitality and friendship, and not something to be refused lightly. So we find ourselves walking a bit of a tightrope. And once in awhile we walk into a situation that has no graceful exit except straight through.
I always offer to bring a salad or vegetable when I go to someone’s home for dinner, and that dish has saved me more than once. But it’s a grave insult to only eat your own food, so I dutifully serve myself from whatever seem to be the safest dishes. It doesn’t always work. The chef in me sometimes forgets that folks will make vegetables out of a box, sauce from a packet and cook meat in a plastic bag. 21st century, industrial complex, space-age food just isn’t part of my world, so I’m generally caught off guard when some of it lands in my mouth.
Which takes me back to the hangover. I’ve become so sensitive to chemically treated and “fake” food that it actually makes me feel like I’ve been out partying all night. I’m achy, tired and want to lie around like a lazy cat all day. I’m cranky and want the day to end so I can go back to sleep. It’s a cross between being hung over and being sick.
When I can muster the motivation to actually move around, I have discovered that a few things really help.
Hydration is, of course, the big one. Water is great, but so is organic carrot juice (for the liver), miso soup, or a zesty green smoothie. Broth soups ranging from a simple dashi to a ginger-spiked chicken soup are helpful. When I was in the restaurant business, I developed Cold and Flu Soup, which is also great for hangovers of all kinds. You can make it with chicken stock instead of vegetable stock if you prefer a richer taste, but it is the trinity of garlic, ginger and cayenne that provides surefire active ingredients. Ume (Japanese pickled plum) and kuzu root are also effective. We can certainly suffer through it all and wait until the discomfort passes, as it inevitably does. We moan and sigh, telling ourselves we will never knowingly abuse our bodies again, and we don’t. Until we do. Part of our human beauty is our vulnerability and willingness to suffer for any number of reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if we possessed a fail-safe mechanism to protect us from ourselves?

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