Food, expectations and “Goodbye,Vitamin”

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Placing Alzheimer’s right at the center of changing dynamics with ageing parents, the struggles of caregiving, a heartbreak and the slow realization that life may not be turning out as expected.

My sister once said jokingly that I should probably read a book or two that does not have food in its title. Maybe I should, but let me make it clear at the very beginning, the title “Goodbye, Vitamin” was not the reason I picked up this book. The fact that the author, Rachel Khong, was the editor of Lucky Peach, the popular food magazine, and wrote this wonderful essay about documenting food and the resulting memories…. mmmm maybe had something to do with my selection. However, if it’s OK with you I would love to have my food lenses on as I peruse through anything and everything.

Goodbye,Vitamin places Alzheimer’s right at the center of changing dynamics with ageing parents, the struggles of caregiving, a heartbreak and the slow realization that life may not be turning out as expected. Amidst all of that, there is our altered expectation from food in the advent of a disease. From sustenance and indulgence, we turn to hope and cure.

In Goodbye, Vitamin 30 year old Ruth moves back to her parent’s home to help with her father’s Alzheimer’s. She is battling her own personal loss of a broken engagement. Memories become important now with each passing day, and Ruth tries to help with the memories when they seem so fleeting at times, comforting otherwise and painful the rest of the time. There is something else that also becomes important. Food.

“Mother hands us each a B-12 pill, which we wash down with celery juice. B-12 builds myelin, she explains, which our nerves need to fire. Celery, a “brain food”, contains luteolin, which combats infalmmation. 

The house is virtually snackless. She’s emptied the pantries of foods she’s deemed harmful. Everything is a potential cause of the disease. Cereals and breads contain sugar, and high blood sugar exacerbates the disease.Saturated fats raise the risk of the disease.”

My interest (somehow it does not seem like the right word here) in how food changes purpose in the presence of a disease is not new. Reading Goodbye, Vitamin stirred a few words that first took shape in me through my own personal experience. Last year, a day mid October, I was pressure cooking chick peas which were later to be sautèed with a few mustard seeds, curry leaves, a dash of grated coconut and a pinch of salt. I was staring out of the window of a 60 year old kitchen thinking about how, in a few days, pressure cookers in all the neighbouring homes would whistle away cooking the lentil of choice for that day. I was making something recommended by the hospital nutritionist as an ideal evening snack. In a few days, the same would be made by most of the neighbours as a celebration and offering for the Navarathri festival of dolls. It was ironic, my family got a head start with the whistles, but we did not feel celebratory.

If something major makes us turn to food in reverence, the smaller blips in life make us seek comfort. I read Goodbye, Vitamin on a sick day huddled in bed. Apart from the book the only other thing on my mind was a bowl of “peppery hot rasam”- a watery soup eaten mixed with rice. I stopped at one point to think how we crave food based on these memories. No one ever conjures up an image of a pill they were given when sick. Such is the effect of food. It nourishes us- body and soul.

This intricate web of food, memories, expectations and then some more food- this is what I kept thinking about after I finished the book. (I also thought about painting finger nails on bananas as Ruth does. I seriously think it could have some kind of profound effect on my day.) As always I am amazed at how deeply food influences everything in our lives. We for sure are what we eat.

This is not a review by any means. I am merely jotting down everything I thought about- which is just one aspect of this wonderful book that manages to portray the grim moments in life with a dash of unexpected humour. I just seek food everywhere I go.

“For dinner I make lamb chops seasoned with rosemary. I read that it’s the “herb of remembrance,” so I put in on the lamb and I put it in the mashed potatoes. But it’s too much rosemary, and it’s really not good. What I will remember, I realize, is this failure.”

For more information visit the author’s website

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