When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to have access to plenty of good food, as well as an iron stomach that allowed me to blissfully eat my way through whatever meal was being served. I never needed to give a second thought to the allergens, sodium or grease content in any of the food I was consuming. My mother happened to be a nutritionist, so most of the food we ate at home was pretty healthy, but at holiday time, all bets were off. My friends and I could help ourselves generously to extra servings of festive fare and treats.
Fast forward to my adult years and it seems like everyone I know is struggling with some version of a serious food-related issue, either of their own or on behalf of their offspring. This has become such a large part of our collective culture in recent years that comedians have relied on it for creative fodder with mixed results. But, of course these are very serious issues for those who suffer. Some of my peers have diabetes and high blood pressure, so they are discriminating about what foods they will eat. Several of my friends have kids with life-threatening peanut allergies, which by 2017 had become 21% more prevalent than in 2010.
As for my family, my daughter–who has been putting up with varying degrees of stomach distress since she was born–was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease last week. Ironically, her diagnosis came smack in the middle of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, which aims to increase visibility of these incurable and sometimes debilitating conditions for the people who suffer from them.
I happened to be aware of Crohn’s, because a dear friend from college had been diagnosed right before I met her at 18 years of age. I remember her frequent stomachaches, and a surgery she’d needed not long after our graduation. After my daughter’s news, I recently called that friend to ask questions. Not only was it wonderful to catch up with her, it was also reassuring to hear how well she’s doing. She gave me some advice to share with my daughter, and she recommended the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation as a great resource. She shared with me how she thinks people are far more empathetic and aware now about digestive issues than they were back then.
With meals as a large component of the holiday season, I have been giving some extra thought this year to those unlike my younger self. Those without ample food. Those without stomachs of steel. Those without family or friends to celebrate with.
For my part this holiday season, I plan to support our local food bank, to check with my guests in advance to make sure at least some of our menu agrees with them and to reach out to some of the people in our lives who I suspect may be feeling lonely. We certainly can’t fix everything, but we can and should try to help those around us feel more comfortable this season. At the same time, we can’t forget to keep our sense of humor about things.
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