Words and Image by AJ Garcia
“Comete uno nada mas” my mother pleads, “Having just one won’t hurt.” I wish that were true, but it’s not. I politely decline, she sees the pain it brings me, internalizes it, and is pained herself.
I’m one of those gluten-free, mostly raw, plant-based people. Not by choice, either. As a Cuban man living in Miami this is extremely difficult. I am constantly surrounded by the aromatics of dishes from my mother land new and ancient, from pastelitos to fufu de platano; my mouth waters, my stomach growls.
“Ale, no pude dejarte nada, ‘mijo,” my mother says through the phone, “make yourself something to eat.” I go to the freezer and microwave a corn dog and a personal pizza. Once ready, I eat: it tastes good. But I’m just a child and I don’t know what good is, and onions and peppers and girls still scare me.
After my parent’s divorce, I lived with my mom and spent time with my dad on the weekends. My parents, busy busting their asses to survive alone in a hostile land and to give me a better life than they had, did not have much time to cook. I was left to find nourishment from an odd assortment of pseudo-foods, all of which could be made in the microwave in just a couple of minutes. They worked all day, were tired at night. I understand, I don’t blame them. I try very hard to not blame them.
“Eso se le quita,” they all say, “It’s just puberty, once he’s 18 he’ll be good as new.” I turn 18, I’m not.
These “food” products, when consumed in excess, carry a multitude of side effects. I become extremely sluggish yet at night I have trouble sleeping, things shortly take a turn for the worst and I develop rosacea, acne, an abnormal amount of ingrown hairs. When I’m taken to a dermatologist they seem to have forgotten the gut-to-health correlation, it never gets brought up and my doctors decide to take the lucrative route of prescription antibiotics and topical creams. Modern medicine does little to aid my condition; what it excels at is making more of a mess of my digestive environment and my skin issues persist and get worse. I develop scarring.
“Ale tu no tienes nada!” My grandmother tries to convince me that I’m just like everyone else. I’ve gone to her to vent in an effort to not upset my mother any further; I immediately regret my decision. My grandmother cries. We cry, together.
. . . .
Currently I’m very aware and cautious of what I eat. Sadly, it’s all bland, does little to satiate me, and feels foreign. But it has helped me to get better and to heal.
If there's one thing I could stress it's this: stay away from these “food” by-products. Take care of your bodies and eat processed foods as little as possible. These machinations of corporate greed do not provide the fundamental nutrients that we as humans require. They’re created by institutions that don’t give a shit about people who look like their proprietors, much less people who look nothing like them.
If you haven’t yet written me off as some crazy hippy/lunatic/lame plant-based food blogger, then let me recommend one thing: eat the food of your motherland. If you have grandparents, learn from them, have them teach you about traditional dishes, preparation methods, and fermentation processes. Eat your native ethnic food as well as that of other ethnic peoples. These meals actually offer the necessary nourishment needed to keep our bodies regulated. They are prepared with love and old world methods that make the food itself easier to digest; they incorporate vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices; and they of course taste amazing.
Some people may not be as susceptible to food processing as I am, or in the same way as I am. These things can manifest in a myriad of conditions that make pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars. If you have nagging health issues I would recommend taking a look at what you’re eating.
I’m working towards getting clear and getting healthy so that I may enjoy my food again. But I want you to enjoy yours too. Keep traditions alive. Be proud of your heritage. Don’t let anyone poison you.
AJ Garcia is an amateur writer and content creator, an avid gardener and an advocator for real food. If you want to see what he has in the works you can check out his blog here.