Monday, 26 October 2015

Some more thoughts on food and the language of cancer.

“If you don’t butter your toast right to the edges, don’t bother making any.” - Laurence Byrne

As you may know if you have read previous blog posts, I have been trying to eat more healthily recently and one of the ways in which I have tried to accomplish this is by reducing the amount of dairy in my diet.

Pre-diagnosis I ate a lot of dairy. This was partly due to my vegetarianism and use of cheese as the main focus or substitute for meat in many meals, and partly because I just really bloody loved the stuff. I loved halloumi, paneer, emmental, gorgonzola, camembert, brie, gouda, wensleydale, goats cheese, mozzarella, edam. Indeed, I would say that cheese was the biggest culprit in my dairy-rich diet.

The next dairy product I consumed in abundance, and inspiration for this post, was butter. This was largely due to my love of bread, sandwiches, toast and an inherited love of a thick lashing of proper butter courtesy of my grandad. He spreads his butter (Kerrygold Irish salted real butter, always) so thick that it leaves teeth marks. The opening quote to this blog entry was said by my Grandad many years ago, and I find it to be a good mantra for life. 

I am also an ardent drinker of tea and coffee. During my theory days at university I would easily buy three cappuccinos throughout the day, and drink copious amounts of tea and coffee on returning home. Eggs were perhaps next on the list, and I would eat them perhaps two or three times a week. I would also eat yogurt often, sometimes twice a day, for breakfast with fruit and then after dinner as a dessert.

Once I sat down and thought about it, I realised I was consuming wayyyyy too much, and I realised that something had to change. I have found that this has happened quite organically in some respects. Cheese no longer held the appeal it once did due to the fact that I was completely overloaded with cheese-based meals as the vegetarian option on the uninspired hospital menu, the fact that my neutropenic diet limited the types of cheese I was allowed to eat (no unpasteurized or mould-ripened cheese) and finally because I reintroduced seafood, fish and chicken back into my diet.

I began to look for ways to reduce the other dairy products in my diet and the way I went about this was by researching vegan alternatives and vegan recipe ideas online. What I found really surprised me. There is a massive, thriving, staunch and militant community of vegans on youtube, particularly among beauty and lifestyle bloggers. If you search for “healthy breakfast ideas” I can guarantee that if the recipe includes anything that basically isn’t raw vegan, in the comments section you will find numerous posts along the lines of THAT OIL WILL GIVE YOU HEART DISEASE AND CANCER or YOU ARE SO STUPID IF YOU THINK EGGS ARE HEALTHY YOU WILL GET CANCER AND DIE. 

Here we go again with the victim blaming, I thought. Yup, all this was my fault for being a bit too fond of Lurpak. Again, it’s a case of people just not thinking about the link between what they are saying and how it might be perceived by actual people with cancer or heart disease or diabetes. It made me think about how we talk about these things in the public sphere more generally. When you are on the healthy side of the population, it probably doesn’t seem insensitive to offer these instructions where eating X and doing Y will mean you probably won’t get cancer. But again, therein lies an unavoidable binary - those living with cancer or heart disease or whatever must have eaten X and done Y, the stupid idiots. 

Of course I am not denying the fact that certain lifestyle factors, amongst other things, may contribute towards a person's risk of developing the disease. Indeed, it’s something I am trying to become better at myself. But it’s not as simplistic as don’t eat that if you don’t want to get cancer, otherwise you never would have heard the story about your mom's best friend’s cousin who ran twenty miles a day and ate only avocados and mint tea and she got cancer. Or your brother’s girlfriend’s grandad who smoked 60 a day and lived to the ripe old age of 102. 

According to Cancer Research UK, 4 out of 10 cancers might be prevented. And of the 9 listed lifestyle factors, 6 relate to diet or nutrition. They include: keep a healthy weight, eat fruit and veg, drink less alcohol, eat less processed and red meat, eat a high fibre diet, and eat less salt. The other three are: be smoke free, be sun smart, and be active. 

While I am keen to cut down on my dairy, I am reluctant to cut it out altogether particularly because I am at an increased risk of osteoporosis anyway as a result of my treatments and I worry about increasing this risk. It’s something I need to do a bit more research on, and also, I still freaking love cheese.

Recipe for the crispy tofu Vietnamese rolls featured above:

Cripsy tofu Vietnamese rolls
(vegan) starter/appetizer
prep time: 15 mins
cooking time: 5-7 mins
serves: 2

For the Vietnamese rolls:
4 rice paper wrappers
1 carrot, julienned
50g mangetout, julienned
5cm length of cucumber, seeds removed and julienned
1 spring onion, julienned
a handful of beansprouts
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
100g firm tofu, drained
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp teriyaki sauce

For the dipping sauce:
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp mirin
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp chilli oil
½ tsp chilli flakes
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
the juice of ½ a lime

1. Start by placing some boiling water in a medium sized bowl and set to one side to cool. (This will be used later to soak the rice paper wrappers).
2. Cut the tofu into long strips about ½cm wide and about 5cm in length. Coat thoroughly in cornflour and set to one side.
3. Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan over a medium-high heat and add the tofu pieces. Use a pair of tongs to ensure all sides are browned evenly, around 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle with teriyaki sauce.
4. To make the dipping sauce, combine the sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar and lime juice. Then drizzle with the chilli oil, and sprinkle over the chilli flakes and coriander.
5. Ensure that the bowl of water has cooled down slightly. Take a rice paper wrapper and soak in the water for 5-10 seconds until you feel it soften completely, then lay out on a chopping board or plate. Leave for a few seconds to dry before placing the carrot, mangetout, spring onion, cucumber, beansprouts, coriander and a few pieces of tofu on the bottom third of the wrapper. Don’t be tempted to overstuff the rice paper wrappers as this will make them more likely to tear; you’re better off making extra rolls to use up any leftover filling. 
6. Once you have your filling arranged, fold over the bottom edge and roll upwards until everything is enclosed, then fold the two sides inwards and continue to roll upwards until fully closed. Place seam side down on damp board or towel until you are ready to serve.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Grace

    Thanks for this blog, so true. I agree with you whole heartedly about the blame culture that exists in some quarters. It can be very hurtful. We humans always look for reasons for things happening. We seem to be programmed to look for patterns. This is often invaluable but sometimes can be very negative so that it becomes my fault that I have cancer. I eat red meat bacon and sausages so QED I'm asking for it.
    We try and steer well away from the Internet to avoid this kind of stuff and we have very few vegetarian friends. That is not to say we don't eat vegetarian food, far from it.
    We try and eat a 'mediterranean' diet as much as possible, lots of fruit and veg and olive oil especially.
    I hope you are keeping well.
    Best wishes