Every summer before I entered a new grade level, I was always on top of three things: school supplies (especially my neon-green pencil box during elementary school years), reading all my homework and binders from the previous school year, and filling out all the necessary enrollment forms. On these enrollment forms, I remember a particular question on the medical history document:
"Food Allergies? __________________"
I always wrote "None" or "N/A". I loved all foods then. Nothing phased me. My gut was a solid rock. I was my friends' "food garbage disposal" during recess and lunch times. Maybe my parents knew better. For some reason, I don't believe they didn't.
In the last year or so, it's been a large learning curve understanding allergies to particular foods and environmental triggers. There are a multitude of variables I believe have attributed to my sensitivities. I was born in America from a mother who just arrived to the US: new environment, new social dynamics, new people, and new foods. Talk about stress. After a year of breastfeeding, I was fed soy milk. Due to low-income status, I grew up with free breakfast and lunch programs. No need to get into that. And while my parents did their best to prepare traditional Vietnamese foods, I question all those sources: where did it come from, who grew it, and how was it grown? Long story short, I have a compromised immune system, and I believe my conception and how I grew up nutritionally has greatly affected my everyday viewpoints on food and motivations toward food justice.
The thing is, I don't think this would be such a large problem had I was born and grew up in Viet Nam. Sometimes, I feel like the most sustainable thing for me to do, from nutritional and evolutionary perspectives, is to return to Viet Nam. This isn't to say that I shine a spotlight on Viet Nam, its culture, and its cuisine. And this isn't to say that globalization hasn't reached Viet Nam, and consequently, may have influenced my nutrition and development had I was born and grew up in Viet Nam. I believe it would it may have been less of a problem: I may not have to think about food allergies, food exposures, and wellness as much as I do here in the US.
I do question the cultivation of rice and soy and introductions of sugar and wheat. Coincidentally, and like many forms of oppression across the world, these foods have one thing in common: the colonization of people.
I think about the "Vietnamese sandwich", the "bánh mì". Thin slices of delicious meat and/or fermented animal organs with rendered fat, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro and chili peppers, a dash of fish sauce, and salt and pepper. All of this wrapped up in a wheat- and rice-flour baguette slathered on the inside with liver pate and mayonnaise - French concepts combined with traditional Vietnamese foodways. While I have less qualms with the pate and mayonnaise, I'm unsure the French introduction faired well with Vietnamese nutrition.
I think about phở, a gelatin-rich animal bone broth soup with thin slices of meat and/or organs, fresh herbs, and lime. I question the origins of the noodles, bean sprouts, and ginger/black bean sauce. And here in the US and presumably other developed countries, what is the source of these ingredients sold in supermarkets and made in restaurants? I cringe thinking about MSG, preservatives, additives, sugar, and how these plants and animals are raised to create a bowl of phở.
My body is an amazing organism in and of itself while hosting many other organisms, as well. Especially because I live in an urban environment, I'm sensitive to physical spaces and how it affects my body: levels of oxygen, fumes in a room, people smoking, and inhaling exhaust while walking underneath or by a freeway. I taste the difference between a pastured egg and an industrially-raised egg, and my throat constricts unfavorably when I realize that I've eaten the later. I savor, honor, and respect an animal that has been raised with care as opposed to the rigidity, off-putting smells, and flavorless meats raised in confined spaces. I can smell if food, particularly fruits and vegetables, have been sprayed and/or washed with chemicals.
I live and nourish myself fully. If I stumble, I trust my body and mind that I'll get back up. While I don't live in fear, I do live with caution. I do my best to live in celebration. These experiences motivate me to help others live and nourish themselves fully.