Let’s talk about food. No, not the delicious new hamburger joint around the corner, the fact that your mom makes the best nasi goreng in town, or how much you like that particular chocolate ice cream they sell at that particular supermarket. Let’s talk about what food actually means to us, aside from how it tickles our taste buds and delights our senses.

After a few weeks of vague symptoms (nausea, bloating and unexplainable random stomach-aches) my doctor told me that I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, in short IBS. It basically means that your bowels are or have become oversensitive for various components within the food products we daily consume. Nearly 10 percent of the inhabitants of the Netherlands have it – including me.

My doctor prescribed a strict diet I had to follow for six weeks to allow my bowels to function as normal again. The diet is called FODMAP and has some interesting rules, such as the exclusion of gluten, lactose and glucose, but also disallowing more than ten grapes (?), avocados, apples, cashew nuts, onions and garlic, chick peas, and honey, among a lot of other products. I bet all food lovers can understand how bummed out I was. While the first few weeks are pretty rigorous, after that one is allowed to eat more and more formerly excluded foods to find out which of the components within the products they are allergic or intolerant to exactly.

When I told one of my friends that I was diagnosed with IBS, he said: “So now you’re that person who asks for gluten-free food in restaurants.” I pondered for a while, before answering: “I guess I am.”

As usual, this made me wonder. Having been a vegetarian for six years, I am quite used to people rolling their eyes at me at the dinner table whenever I mentioned that I didn’t eat meat. Sometimes, they had the heart to ask me why exactly, but most of the time they were blatantly irritated by the fact that I did not eat it for a purpose that was different from simply not liking it.

See, that is the thing. It is all right to not like certain vegetables, fruits or dishes when you solely do not like them. However, if the reason you are not eating it is, in a certain way, outside of your own personal preferences (because hey, let’s be honest – I do love meat. I just didn’t feel comfortable eating it), then all of a sudden it becomes a burden to others. Why is that, I wonder?

Food and eating are a delicate subject to us all. It fuels our bodies, but when we have too much of it, it will also limit us. Every person is different in their eating habits and those likes, dislikes and customs are actually one of the few things we completely tolerate about one another. Yet, if the reason of our food habits surpass the concept of liking and disliking, it starts to annoy people.

My current condition regarding food intolerance seems to provoke even more collective intolerance in society. I guess gluten-free food is associated with hipster people (you know, who also buy cucumber-water at the local supermarket, no offense), meaning that it is sort of ‘cool’ to eat gluten-free – which, understandably, can lead to some rolling of eyes – but what about the people who are actually intolerant to gluten or other products?
I think it has something to do with the fact that persons cannot always draw the distinction between snobbishness and actual diets, be it voluntary or limited due to a syndrome or sickness. But even then, should it really matter?

In my opinion we should all be a little more tolerant of other people’s intolerances, though that might be difficult to do sometimes. I do not think I’m being a snob here – it is just some food for thought.


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